Short Fiction:


The Thing About Ants and Astronauts

Justen Russell





4000 Words

Behind the Story

I read an article once about ants stealing the explosives from landmines. In short, while performing a different experiment with two high explosives, TNT and RDX, the authors noticed a trail of ants pilfering their munitions and transporting them 20 meters to store in their ant hill. They were unable to find any existing scientific literature on the subject, but anecdotal evidence from some of their peers involved in humanitarian demining operations confirmed that this was actually quite common. Ants like high explosives. In former warzones, the explosives were frequently removed from landmines by ants, or the mines themselves were incorporated into the anthills.

I don’t know why the ants do this They don’t s eat the explosives, they don’t use them as fertilizer (though some ant do fertilize and cultivate crops), there don’t use them in ant on ant warfare, There is just something about ants.

I have actually lived with ants several times. Sometimes by my own fault, sometimes by their ingenuity. The worst infestation was at an apartment building in Toronto where the ants lived in our walls. These were ants that could not have survived the Canadian winter without our central heating to save them. Yet they were perfectly happy indoors. They came crawling out of the electrical sockets before the crumbs hit the ground.

My first apartment in Paris had ants too. It was a tiny, ancient hole in the wall with centuries old stone walls. The ants there were only around in the summer. Somehow, they never found our kitchen, but they loved something in our laundry.

I used to watch them trace the same paths across the floor, and wonder why it is they followed the ones they did. How it was they never found our food. What kept bringing them back even without anything to eat.

One of my test readers mentioned that the title “The Thing About Ants and Astronauts” might be misleading. There is that there isn’t really one thing about ants and astronauts, so to speak. At least, in the story, there isn’t one thing that jumped out to grab them.

I think there is, but maybe that’s my pride talking. In truth, a short story is not as one sided as we sometimes pretend. Though I do all the talking, it is a conversation. Each reader brings something of their own. Each time you read it you will get something different from the same prose.

I’m curious, after reading, what you will think.

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