Fascinating Friends – DJ Pendeja
November 19, 2019
When I was small, I started to notice and enjoy the presence of what most people consider pests. Flies, bees, crickets… Creatures who quietly moved into my kitchen or pantry without any consent to speak of – only to meet their demise when the siren raised by my mother ushered in the bottom of my father’s shoe.
At one of these raids, I was drawn to the dutifully trailing army of little black soldiers, seemingly very intent on finishing their task despite the noxious cloud they were about to be enveloped in. It was hypnotic, just like watching dashed lines on the highway become a single blur from a moving car. Each little black blip would replace the next in a matter of moments. But soon the car came to a halt, and all that was left when the air cleared was a speckled trail of dead ants. My parents ushered me away to sweep up, but I yearned to go back into the kitchen to play with them, to learn their little game – how bad could ants really be? I cried myself into muffled hysterics, hoping my father wouldn’t catch the tears on my cheeks, never forgetting it would mean inviting a punishment of my own.
I went off to college in Arizona, I jumped from place to place, moving in with friends I had met in summer classes and school clubs. The empathy I once held for secretive insect tenants was replaced with disdain and, well, dirty human roommates. During college, my various apartments attracted all kinds of infestations that arose out of week-long binge drinking (not cleaning), ordering pizza (not throwing it away), and dirty dishes. When a family of cockroaches moved into our house in Maple-Ash, I was far from enthused. I found no sympathy for the bugs when I caught them skittering away as I flicked on the light. Those gluttonous poltergeists, feeding on our bad habits. I tried to ignore it. But as much as I enjoyed the indulgent laziness I shared with my housemates, the cockroaches I found between my bedsheets during finals week was an omen enough for me. I needed help.
Thus started the cleaning. My ritual born out of pure fear. I wielded bleach and pine-sol injudiciously – talismans to keep evil at bay. My home constantly smelled of chemical-born forests and astringent lemon peel, and who could blame me? I never saw another non-human creature enter that home again.
I landed my first gig after school and moved downtown, to a nice mid-century place sitting neatly at the end of a cul-de-sac. This urban oasis, surrounded by a grassy lawn, and flower beds flanking each side. A large tree towered over the front yard, shading the brick walkway leading to the front door. The moment I took residence there, the extreme rite I developed became more powerful. I was adamant about keeping my home to a single occupant, I had no intention of sharing, feeling just in my selfishness. The scent of pine, citrus, and bleach was familiar enough, and I felt a safe, sterile feeling crawling into bed at night, knowing it was just me. When the pang of sadness started to follow my head hitting the pillow, I pushed it out of my mind. While squeezing my eyes tightly closed, I never let more than one tear escape down my cheek.
Maybe they knew I was lonely.
Keeping the little demons away felt good. However, my well-groomed habits became sloppy. I was used to them leaving me alone, and I had been safely cloistered away for some time with no signs of infestation. I would ignore an errant crumb. Leave a dish overnight. Nothing arrived. It was a quick descent into madness once it started, and the cleaning stopped entirely. The sickly-sweet smell of chemicals was replaced by mildew and rot, and I didn’t think a thing of it. I might burn a candle when I knew I was having guests, but no one expressed any real concern, there was no grand intervention. Eventually, friends stopped coming to dinner – “maybe we could eat out?” I didn’t take offense, I think somewhere in the back of my mind I knew what I was asking for. And it gave me an excuse to leave my house more, right? That is, until even the invitations out were few and far between.
On a cool Friday night in March, I came home from dinner and cocktails at a bistro around the corner. It was the first time I had gone out with friends in what must have been a few months. I smiled as I strolled through my neighborhood, with a slight buzz from a few G&Ts. It felt good to be seen again, thinking to myself that maybe I would tidy up a bit when I arrived home, having made plans with a friend at dinner to open a bottle of wine together at mine the following evening. Suddenly, I felt eyes on me, I could tell from the little tickle you get on your neck. I shivered as it made its way down my back, tracing my spine. I checked behind me, scanned the streets, and I saw nothing. Not even a rumble in the bushes. I attempted to soothe myself as I wrapped my arms up to my chest – keeping out the evening chill coming through my cardigan, trying to quell my uneasiness. I couldn’t shake the feeling.
As I made my way up the walkway to my door, I noticed a short trail of ants. They didn’t seem to be going anywhere in particular, and I left them to it. “Good luck out there,” I thought as I shut the door behind me, securing the locks and bolts, feeling a little bit more at ease to be alone again.
As I padded around my unkempt house, I felt less soothed by my new habits and started to miss the smell of my sterile, synthetic forest. I caught a whiff of what might have been…dirty laundry and moldy Chinese takeout? Feeling queasy (maybe from the drinks, but more likely the smell) I lit a candle, hoping it would bring me a flicker of solace. I donned a big t-shirt and socks like I always did before tucking into bed, setting my glasses with my keys on the kitchen table as I flicked off all the lights and headed back in the darkness to my bedroom.
I don’t remember falling asleep, or even getting into bed, but I jolted awake. Trying to place the source of what roused me, I felt a tickle on my hand. I drew it close to my face trying to get a glimpse in the lightless room, investigating the sensation. A single black ant was making its way from my palm towards my middle finger. Immediately I was shaking my wrist violently, trying to detach the little demon from me. After what must have only been a couple of seconds, I gave up, feeling my way to the bathroom to wash it down the drain. I could barely make out the creature as I watched it swirl and spiral in the sink of the dimly lit space.
While it washed away, I realized I was holding my breath. I sucked in all the air left in the cramped bathroom and let out a satisfying sigh. Now fully awake, I balanced my weight on the sink with both my clean and ant-contaminated hand, which I felt like I might have to chop off now. I felt those tiny phantom footsteps all over my body, knowing they’ll go away as soon as I run my hands over my legs. God, that feeling is maddening, and I was ready to go back to bed without the thought of a hundred crispy devils scurrying around in my sheets.
I moved to make the requisite pat-down that has always brought me comfort, brushing my legs of the ghostly shuffling, when the small anxious flame in the back of my mind ignited into full-blown terror. My breath hitched as my hand connected with the smooth, granular scales that now covered both my legs, immediately invading the terrain of my hand, and rising up my right arm at a hideous speed. Hastily employing my left arm, I reached for the hand towel hanging on the wall next to the sink. I tried to scrape them off me, towel bubbling gently atop their racing bodies. I pulled it down and off my arm with a snap, revealing markings of black-flecked ink and honey smeared from shoulder to fingertips.
Looking around the room, I saw them.
Ants. Ants, everywhere.
Like twilight was invading my windowless bathroom, impossible blackness moving across the walls – the inverse of headlights through a window. So many fucking ants, I couldn’t make out where they could be coming from. The entire surface of my normally white porcelain washroom floor was black and inexplicable crunchy, and these monsters must have appeared as silent as death. I’m certain they were not here when I came in the bathroom to drown their comrade. Scrambling, I reach for the bleach under my sink, spraying indiscriminately at the bastards. I was quickly and devastatingly realizing that although a pile of dead ants was forming, more were appearing at a rate I couldn’t quantify. The silence was replaced by a sickening tap tap tapping as they lined every surface of the bathroom. Grey shadows being replaced by their glittering abysmal blackness. The walls, shower curtain, bathtub, the fuzzy bath mat. God, not the fucking BATH MAT! Smooth inky forms were getting matted into the fabric and fuzz like burrs in your socks. The previously pristine white rectangle now being molested by black, shadowy fingers until only trace threads of white were still visible. It moved like a sea plant swaying in the water being watched at high speed. I felt sick.
I made a run for the bedroom. Every surface of every object, previously clean or not, was covered in those wretched little things. As I tried to flick on the light, a little pile of ants balanced in the switch tumbled into my palm. I yanked my hand away and my face contorted into something indicative of utter terror and total disgust as my silent shock turned into panicked whimpering. There was no respite, no island of tranquil space, and every step left a nauseating crackle followed by the surface succumbing to my weight, like walking through sand. Each step I took left a sticky footprint, and my stomach turned as I saw the black onyx flecks and golden, gooey liquid amassing into a small trickling stream moving downslope the slightly uneven hardwood floors. The tapping sound was now replaced by the whoosh of blood in my ears, and the sharp, hot taste of pennies filling my mouth.
I made a run for the front door, scrambling to get the locks and bolts undone and threw myself into the night. I slammed it behind me, finally feeling a bit of peace to be out of there, mixed with dread knowing eventually I’ll have to go back in. I didn’t have the foresight to grab a phone, and there were no neighbors who would answer the door at this hour to a disheveled girl in a t-shirt and socks, still stained black and gold. Options were scarce.
I sat down on the red brick path leading into my proverbial hell. Contemplating every decision which had brought me here. I held my breath when I saw a single ant, no trail or line to speak of, wander by. It paid me no attention.
At this moment, I felt entirely alone. God, I did this to myself. I shouldn’t have kept them away, being clean and cruel like a pine-scented witch. I remembered the empathy I once felt for them – and now they’re mocking me. I felt anger. Spite. And I couldn’t see a way out.
The single ant from moments ago scurries back, I feel a flicker of fear…and hope. Maybe it wasn’t too late to make amends. It stops just before my feet, they’re strewn out in front of me in the same awkward position I landed in. I can tell the ant pities me. Is it an invitation? He doubles back towards the door.
It must be.
I stand up and brush myself off, my hands catching on the sticky substance covering my arms. Straightening my oversized t-shirt and socks, I attempted to make myself presentable. I wiped my hands on the shirt, dabbed at my watering eyes, and politely opened the door. I make a gesture with my arm motioning for the ant to scurry in ahead of me, and it obliges.
How bad could ants really be?