It was another languid summer day on the estate. Boris and I had spent the last hour squatting over an anthill as the sun beat down on the back of our necks. We'd been naming the ants and making up stories about them, imagining their petty squabbles and dark secrets. Well, Boris was anyway. He was older than me and was always cracking jokes. I didn't always understand them but I'd laugh anyway. I liked that he thought I understood. It made me feel like a grown-up.
“Get out of here! You fucked my sister! You fucked my sister!” he yelled in the high-pitched voice of Mrs. Blackman as he pretended to be one of the ants. Mrs. Blackman lived on the other side of the estate. A few weeks ago she'd had a huge fight with her husband that spilled out onto the square. She walked out of their building with two suitcases and threw them out onto the stone-tiles. One of the suitcases popped open mid-air and all of Mr. Blackman's shirts went flying out and scattered all over the place. She kept yelling over and over again how he'd fucked her sister while the whole estate listened in. Even though I didn't fully understand what it meant, I was cracking up as Boris played out the argument over two ants fighting over a bread-crumb.
“Boris! Jim! Let's go!” Sam's voice echoed to us from across the square and we both raised our heads to look at him. He was urgently beckoning us over by waving both arms over his head. “You gotta see this!”
Boris immediately jumped up and started running so I followed. When Sam said there was something you gotta see, you had to see it. One time he found a bag that had some weed left in it that was totally still good. That's what they told me anyway, they didn't let me have any. Another time, he showed us two foxes doing each other. I didn't always like hanging out with Sam. Boris would pay less attention to me and sometimes they would ditch me when I had my back turned. But I wanted to see what Sam had found so I followed Boris.
We ran out of the square into the shade between two of the tall, blocky council flat buildings that towered over the square. We reached the edge of the estate and were about to cross the street when we heard Liz's high pitched voice calling after us:
“Where you going?”
Boris and I stopped in our tracks. Sam ran a few steps further but stopped as well when he saw we weren't following. He must have hoped we'd ignore Liz too and kept running. Liz was peering out at us from her flat's living room window on the ground floor. She had to stand on tippy toes to see over the windowsill so we could only see the top half of her head, her large brown eyes and straight black hair.
“We're not going anywhere!” Sam shouted back at her as he gestured towards us to keep moving.
“You're lying! I'll tell mum you're lying!” Liz was Sam's sister and their mum was a severe woman who came down on them hard whenever they squabbled. It was not an idle threat.
“You tell mum, I'll beat the shit out of you!” Sam responded. This too, was not an idle threat.
“Just let her come,” Boris said under his breath, correctly figuring this would be the most expedient course of action. Sam rolled his eyes and threw up his hands. This was his way of acquiescing. “Alright, you can come!”
On those words, Liz clambered out of the window and ran towards us, her flip-flops slapping against the soles of her feet. I was secretly glad she had joined, at least there was someone my age with us.
Together we ran down the street, following Sam to who-knows-where. He was running faster than before. I think he was hoping Liz and I wouldn't be able to keep up but we were determined not be left behind. We eventually reached the street with all the abandoned houses. We were always told not come here.
“Junkies'll rip your guts out if you go there,” Boris once told me. I didn't know what a junkie was but I knew I didn't want to meet one. Boris didn't seem worried though so I wasn't worried. Hopefully we'd leave before it got dark though.
We followed Sam through an alleyway between two houses and out into the back garden. The fence separating the two gardens was long gone so it was a big open space. And in the middle stood a beat-up, old, compact blue car. I didn't recognise the logo.
“Woah!” Boris exclaimed when he laid his eyes on it.
“Check it, the doors open!” Sam ran up to the car, opened the driver-side door and sat at the steering wheel. He grabbed the steering wheel with both hands and started making revving and tire screeching noises, shifting his body left and right. Boris got in the passenger seat and put his hands over his mouth, pretending to speak through a head set.
“100 metres, kink right, severity two,” he instructed. As Boris and Sam pretended to be rally drivers, Liz and I walked around the car to get a look at it from all sides.
“Something stinks” Liz said, wrinkling her nose. I noticed the smell as well. It got stronger as we reached the back of the car. It got so bad I had to block my nose.
“100 metres, bear left.”
I took a step towards the boot of the car. Liz reached out to grab my hand.
“No,” she whispered. “There's something bad in there.” I pulled my hand away and continued approaching the boot. She might be scared but I sure wasn't going to be. I reached out and pulled the handle. The boot wasn't budging. I started pulling harder and harder.
“50 metres jump, caution!”
I pulled with all my strength and the boot finally gave. I fell backwards onto the grass as the door swung open. As my butt hit the ground, I heard Liz's shrill, ear-piercing scream. I looked back at her and could see her eyes were wide open in terror and tears were already streaming down her face.
Boris and Jim jumped out of the car and ran around to where we were. I looked back at the boot to see what had Liz so terrified. From my low angle, all I could see was a pale, mottled arm hanging out of the back of the car, fingertips just about reaching the ground. Thousands of ant were swarming about the arm. The putrid smell was now completely overwhelming and I fought back the urge to retch,
“Holy shit!” Sam yelled, his face lighting up in delight. Boris meanwhile, immediately got between Liz and the car and grabbed her hand.
“We're getting out of here,” he said. I tried getting up to get a better look at what was inside the car but Boris grabbed my arm and dragged me away.
“Let me see!” I shouted out as I struggled. But Boris was much stronger than me and effortlessly dragged me away from the car.
“This is so fucked!” Sam shouted, laughing hysterically.
“Sam, let's go!” Boris yelled back,
“Oh, come on!”
“NOW!” Boris yelled with an authority I'd never heard before. Even Sam kept his tongue at that tone and followed. We wordlessly legged it back to the estate. Liz was still crying as we ran but by the time we got back, her crying had reduced to sniffling. We all doubled over to catch our breath when we reached the middle of the square.
“Jesus Christ.” Sam finally said. Liz looked straight ahead, still in shock. Boris kneeled in front of her and grabbed hold of her face with both hands.
“Liz, hey Liz, you OK?” he asked. Liz didn't respond. She seemed catatonic.
“Hey!” Sam interjected. “You better not rat us out, alright? You asked to come, that's what you get!”
Boris ignored him.
“Liz, look at me Liz.” Liz's eyes focused and for the first time she seemed to notice Boris in front of her.
“I'm alright,” she eventually mumbled. Boris sighed in relief. “Alright, let's all just go home.” I opened my mouth to protest but Boris immediately cut me off. “I said. We're going home.”
Sam took his sister by the hand and the three of them went back to their respective flats. I went back to the anthill. I tried making up stories about the ants but it wasn't as much fun without Boris. I picked up one of them and held it up to my face, until I could make out its individual legs and mandibles.
“I saw some of your friends today. They were living in a car.”
The ant didn't say anything back.