The giant object, which was to change Gonthor’s life irreversibly, arrived without warning one sunny day in June. Everyone who had witnessed its arrival agreed that it had come from above, that it was a miracle nobody had been injured when it landed, and that it smelled very pleasing. As to what it might be, nobody was really certain, although there was no shortage of theories.
Gonthor had just returned home from a particularly successful hunt when the object appeared. He had carried back a chunk of meat that was so heavy his angular frame could barely support it; it weighed several times more than his own body. Those who saw him struggling with his burden shouted encouragement and congratulated him: “Wow, another great find, Gonthor. I don’t know how you do it!” “Nice job, Gonthor. The queen is going to be pleased with that tasty morsel!”
It had been hard work wrestling the giant slab of meat back to the colony, but it was important to Gonthor to bring back such impressive hauls. Of course, contributing to the survival of the colony was reward enough in and of itself, but even though he would never admit it, Gonthor also secretly enjoyed the prestige that came with being such a successful provider. Gonthor’s name was known by all in the colony, and it was often said that the queen favoured nobody more than Gonthor. But Gonthor knew that fame was a fickle mistress, and he was just a few unsuccessful hunting trips away from being shunned in the way that Borognath had been after he returned home empty-handed three days in a row last spring.
It was with this in mind that Gonthor decided he should be the first to investigate this strange new object. If there was food to be found on it, or in it—and it certainly smelled like there might be—he wanted to be the first to discover it.
Gonthor leapt onto the surface of the object. He clambered up to a natural ridge and then turned to face the throng below, who seemed to be hesitating, as though awaiting further instruction. Gonthor was well known in the colony not only for being a great provider, but also for his oratory skills. The crowd waited with baited breath to hear what Gonthor would say, and they did not need to wait long before he came out with some inspiring words: “Have you not smelled this thing? What are you waiting for? Come on!”
The mob cheered in agreement and raced after Gonthor. Within seconds, thousands of them were scaling the strange object, crawling into every crevice.
* * *
“Days like this are what make it all worthwhile,” the hitchhiker thought to himself. The sun was shining, the alpine landscape was idyllic, and this ride would take him directly to his final destination. In just two hours he would be enjoying his first home-cooked meal in weeks, washing it down with a cold beer, following it swiftly with a long, hot shower, and then sleeping in a real bed with clean sheets. It had been a long haul up from Morocco, and the ten days he had spent trying unsuccessfully to thumb a ride in the desert in Spain had not done his morale or his personal hygiene any favours. He had tried to freshen up whenever possible along the way, but after he had been scolded soundly for attempting a furtive shave in the restroom of a restaurant where he had eaten, he had lost his nerve and avoided making any further stealthy attempts at grooming. He knew he must have been in a sorry state and was more than a little self-conscious when he had first climbed into the passenger seat of the spotlessly-maintained BMW. He was uncomfortably aware of how his own body odour created a sharp contrast to the smell of brand new upholstery in the car, which was complemented subtly, but very pleasingly, by the feminine scent of the driver.
However, his unease passed quickly as the young lady, who was about his own age, seemed not to notice the new smell in her car, and soon they were chatting easily as they cruised smoothly down the Autobahn. In fact, they were hitting it off so well that he was starting to formulate a plan as to how he might go about asking her for her phone number when she dropped him off.
It was with a sense of detachment that he first noticed a lone ant making its way across the windshield. It seemed odd that the ant was able to move about quite easily in what must have been 130 km/h winds outside. Then, he realized it was actually on the inside of the windshield. He thought it was a little strange that there was an ant running around the interior of such a clean new car, but he put it out of his mind and was soon engrossed in the conversation again. However, a moment later he glanced back and noticed a second ant had joined the first, and then a third. Within a few moments the ants were flooding onto the windshield at a tremendous rate. It was then that he noticed with alarm that they were streaming out of his own duffel bag, which he held clamped between his knees. He realized he must have set it down right on an ant nest at the last stop without noticing.
He tried to keep the conversation flowing light-heartedly, but his heart was no longer in it as his mind was now firmly occupied with willing the ants to wander back into the bag, or at the very least to stay away from the driver’s side of the windshield, where there was no way his charming driver would not notice them.
* * *
Gonthor’s heart sank. Why did he always have to be so impulsive? Now he had led the better part of his colony into a dangerous situation from which he had no idea how to rescue them. He managed to pull himself together. The others must not see that he was scared, or he might have a mass panic on his hands. He called for calm. “There doesn’t seem to be any way out of this new world,” he roared over the hum of the engine and the incomprehensible babbling of the giant creatures. “The one with the long hair sitting on the left seems to be the queen; if we have any hope of getting back to our beloved colony, it is to get her attention! Fan out and head across this transparent plane. Perhaps she will see our distress signal and return us safely to our home!”
With that, Gonthor began to march resolutely across the plane. He didn’t look back. He knew the others would follow. After all, he was Gonthor, Provider of Meat and Explorer of Pleasing Smells.
* * *
The conversation in the car had ground to a complete halt. The driver and the hitchhiker sat in awkward silence as the ants slowly spread out over the entire windshield, casting strange shadows which seemed to dance across the dashboard. If the hitchhiker had not known any better, he would almost say it was as if those ants were deliberately trying to get the driver’s attention. But of course that was impossible.
If he were a more confident man, he could perhaps have salvaged the situation by making a witty remark to break the tension. But it was much too late now. She would wonder why he had waited so long in silence. Why could he not be the kind of man who acted on impulse, without hesitating and constantly second-guessing himself? Now he had to watch helplessly as his hopes of getting a phone number were silently trampled by thousands of tiny feet.
“Strange how sometimes the elephant in the room can be ants in a car,” the hitchhiker thought bitterly to himself. He made a mental note to record this thought in his book of musings when he returned home.
Time had passed slowly when he had been stuck in that Spanish desert, but it was nothing compared to how interminable this last ride seemed.
* * *
“Daddy is going to kill me,” the driver thought to herself. What had she been thinking? She was way too soft-hearted. She knew she wasn’t supposed to pick up hitchhikers, and now she had gone and gotten one in Daddy’s new Bimmer. And the guy stunk! How the hell was she going to get his smell out of the car before she returned it? And did this guy really think she hadn’t noticed the endless stream of ants marching across the windshield? Who brings an army of ants into somebody else’s car? Was he actually going to just sit there as if nothing were happening? She was definitely going to have to get the car fumigated before she brought it back to Daddy.
By Charlie Taylor