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Hilltop: A Literary Paper. Volume 1 Number 3

The Ants

The Ants

The corporal watched the day break. He stood up, but felt so tired he sand to his knees again. He stayed on his knees a moment. Leaning over, he shook the sleeping figure of the private lying beside him. The private muttered irritably, went on dozing, then sat up with a start. The corporal was exploring his haversack for food. They decided to eat before they started to rejoin their Company.

The two men sat opposite each other and each opened a tin of rations. The corporal paid much attention to opening his tin. He gazed sadly at the hash in it. They both ate. The corporal picked up the curled seal of the tin and unwound it while he ate. He examined this minor mechanism with interest and wound it into a spiral. He held the spiral in his hand and flipped it from side to side. The private went on eating.

An ant clambered from the corporal's shirt on to his hand. He watched it intently. It crawled over the back of his hand and through the narrow tunnel between his fingers to the palm. He turned his hand over and cupped the palm. The ant rested for a moment. Then it scurried up the steep ridge of his palm. He pushed it back into the pit with the metal spiral. Cautiously this time, the ant sloped around the bottom of its prison, then made a dash up the side and on to his fingers. But the spiral was suddenly there in front of it. It turned around and ran back to the hollow. Slowly it crawled up the side again. He stalked it with the spiral and caught its back leg. The ant felt the weight and fell back again. Finally, the corporal tired of watching its struggles. When it tried once more he smiled indulgently and, squeezing his forefinger, catapulted it with a flick on to the ground.

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Both men had finished eating by this time. They watched the sky, catching a momentary glimpse of three planes as they whined above the screen of trees and vines. The sun was gradually rising higher. They started to sweat, profusely.

The corporal tied a handkerchief round his neck to keep the sweat off the neckband of his shirt. He edged towards the corner of the foxhole and beckoned his companion to follow him. The private was cautious. He persuaded the corporal to wait until they felt more certain they were alone in the gully. They lay on the ground and listened.

Hiding in a foxhole they had found at the bottom of a damp gully, covered with unhealthy jungle undergrowth and sprawling decayed trees entangled with a myriad vines, the two men had spent the night sleeping and keeping watch alternately. They had been cut off from their patrol during a skirmish the previous afternoon. Now it was morning and they must try to return to their Company. But not yet. It was wisher to wait. If any of the enemy were in the gully, they would be easy targets the instant they crawled out of the foxhole. They listened to the incessant clamour of the jungle, trying to distinguish any sounds that might be human.

Through the gap between the two logs on top of the foxhole they watched dark, muttering rain-clouds bullock across the blue sky. The corporal looked at the side of the foxhole. He picked up the metal spiral and wrote his name on the earthen wall. Under his name he wrote the name of an obscure village. He looked wistfully at the inscription for a few minutes. Would these, the letters of his name and his home-town, be the last remnants of his life? Ants were scampering along the side of the foxhole. The corporal watched them leave their fragile footprints, little driblets of earth, traced across his name.

A parakeet flew across the sky, squawking stupidly into the jungle. There was a sudden rustle of leaves. Both men tensed, alert, listening closely. The sky was black now and scowling. There was another rustling, Closer this time. The corporal's hands clutched the trigger of hi tommy-gun. The private quietly crouched at the side of the foxhole, knife in hand. A few drops of rain fell. The two men were suspended, breathless, and expectant. They felt their mouths dry, their tongues hard and swollen. There was a sudden scurry and a big lizard crawled over the logs. They waited. The rain became heavier like the minutes that pressed past them. They listened for suspicious sounds in the undergrowth. There were none—only the steady thunder of the rain.

The rain was so heavy they couldn't see the top of the gully. They decided to start. The corporal crawled an inch at a time over the logs. He waited for any signs that he may have been seen. He shifted his eyes over the confusion of vines and trees. He crawled quickly to a bamboo thicket. He whistled softly and the private slid over too. A fleeting smile passed between the two men. They stood up slowly and looked around. The bamboos were over their head. The rain was still pouring down but the jungle seemed quiet and safe. They slung their weapons and made their way through the rain up the gully.

They were about twenty-five yards from the top when a shot whizzed past them. They flattened themselves behind a big tree. The corporal peered through the leave but could see nothing—nothing but the thousand places a man could be hidden. Under cover of the tree, they edged down the gully again. At the bottom they separated and came up very slowly on opposite sides, crawling on their stomachs through the slime. The rain was blinding. Another wild shot checked them, but they continued to advance cautiously. The sniper wasn't much good. He'd missed twice. They crawled further up the narrowing sides of the gully. Neither of them could spot the sniper.

But on the crest of the ridge the sniper was waiting for them to crawl closer. This time he would let them come near the rim of their prison, then he would squeeze his forefinger and catapult them into oblivion. He smiled to himself.

Suddenly the corporal came into his sights, Only ten rainy yards away. The sniper squeezed it an ant rushed from his cap across his right eye. the shot went wide. He rushed his hand up to brush the ant away. But a burst from the corporal's gun hit him. He fell into the mud with his hand still trying to get the page 7 ant out of his eye. The ant crawled over his face. His arm went limp. Blood poured from his face and chest. The ant crawled into the blood until it was drowned.

But by the then there were a thousand ants crawling over his eyes, his face, his chest, his legs, over his whole body.

There was nothing to stop them.