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Paraponera Clavata

Himanshu Goel

1

“I could have been home in my blanket watching ‘True Detective’ but instead I’m stuck here in the middle of this merde! jungle.” Emma Marceau screamed it out somehow, which wasn’t easy in her present condition.

Emma and her husband Robert Sharma were in a camp in the rainforests of Nicaragua. Robert was an entomologist, his wife wasn’t perfectly fond of insects. The bumpy ride in the Jeep to get here didn’t help things either.

“Emma, you know this is my chance to get some work done. If I can find the specimens I need for my research it could be revolutionary in entomology. Besides this place isn’t so bad, we have clean sheets and decent food, you really can’t get better than this in expeditions. “Robert replied as he studied his journal consisting of diagrams of various specimens.

“I don’t like this place, and this pitiful excuse for a camp is making me claustrophobic.” She curled herself up in their small tent.
He knew it was a bad decision bringing her along, maybe if she took some interest in his work then she would have behaved differently. He decided it was time that he did something to spark up her interest.

“Come on, we are going outside.” He pushed her back upright. “You won’t get claustrophobic in a forest”.

“The guide isn’t even here right now” reluctantly she got up helped by the push of her husband. ”Alright, alright I’ll come.”

The jungle never failed to impress Robert, wilderness untouched by humans, yet.

“I know a place you will love. It’s not far from our research base.”

He helped her traverse the forest, it wasn’t easy to walk in forest full of poisonous leaves and fruits, but they were wearing Biopro suits protecting them against poisonous intruders but one can never be sure in a jungle like this.

She did love the place, sprinkles of shades of every kind graced this part of the forest, something only nature can fabricate. A smooth rock there seemed to invite them to settle themselves down.

“I knew you would love it.” He said as they settled down. “We have two hours before it gets dark”.
“Maybe this place isn’t so bad” She said as she leaned on to him. For a moment the thoughts of insects seemed to disappear from her mind.

 

II

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

“Pass me the Bisleri, Robbie”.
As she reached out to grab the bottle she swatted an ant away from her hand and it landed in front of Robert. He noticed the ant for a few seconds and suddenly grabbed her hand.
“Honey, we need to go. NOW!” He supported his disoriented wife to her feet, she had never seen him so shocked.
“I’ll explain when we are back safe in our camp” He rushed her back up, walking swiftly through the muddy forest.
She wanted to know what had got him so tensed but followed him without inquiry, the terror on his face was genuine.
‘AHH! I think I bumped into something” her feet hit something in the mud.
“We don’t have time for this baby” but curiosity got the better of Emma and she rolled over the mass with her shoes.
Her hand holding his went cold and clenched tighter.
“Robbie, Robbie!” He turned around and looked down at the dead body covered completely in mud, his worst fears were confirmed. The couple looked down at the disfigured body, it appeared to be a young male from the area but it was impossible to recognise any features or make any assumptions. The face was mutilated and swelled beyond recognition, dozen bite marks with blood pouring out thickly from the cuts. The right shoulders and arms were bulging making an ugly contrast with his left side. Whatever did this was satisfied with the face and half a torso.
“I want you to listen to me carefu-“
“Who did this, what can do-“Emma screeched out barely able to stand still.
 “Calm down, okay! I need you to calm down.” He talked to her as he observed the body carefully examining the bite marks.
“Paraponera clavata, more commonly known as bullet ant. One of the deadliest creatures in the world, one bite can cause 24 hours of unbearable pain and bulging of the wound area. This man seems to have been bit by a whole nest of them, must have died instantly after a dozen bites. He isn’t from our research camp, might be a local gathering supplies.”
“Mon dieu! The ant on my hand.” she realised the reason behind the look of terror in his eyes.
“I don’t understand, can insects be vicious like that, butcher a living breathing person?” She turned her face away from the desecrated corpse.
“No, normally they won’t.” he stumbled. “Bullet ants are found in very few places in the world, Nicaragua is one of them. We took samples from a nest not far from here, I didn’t know the ants would be intelligent enough to notice. We shouldn’t have messed with this jungle, we have put everyone here at risk” he grabbed her hand firmly. ”Our lives are at risk”.
 Hundred metres from the corpse a bullet ant was lingering in the mud, slowly creeping up towards the pair.

 

III
“We can’t run now, that will alert the ants even more.” The ant was a few steps away from Emma, releasing a pheromones trail for others to find him.” We will need to walk carefully and quickly.” It climbed on her boots, it sent out an infrasonic signal to call out the others. ”Don’t panic if you see them, the more they see you move the more dangerous they will be.” The ant climbed through her suit towards her neck, that’s when the couple saw the little devil ant creeping on her neck.
She went still, more still than she had ever been in her life. She remained rooted to the spot unable to move a muscle, imagining her body swollen like that man’s.
Robert rolled up a sleeve over his hand, slowly moving towards the ant. “Stay still, don’t make a noise, don’t breathe.” Slowly his sleeve covered hand was approaching the ant, he knew one wrong move and it could have been… he couldn’t even bring himself to imagine the horror.
Away from the couple a colony of ants were walking on the trail left by the ant that had sent the signal, dozens of ants swarming like a black cloud in the muddy green of the earth.
He squeezed the ant in his fingers till he could feel the insect squish under the pressure. It’s just an insect he thought, a deadly insect set out to kill everyone.
They slowly picked themselves up and began walking towards the camp, every step more careful than the one before. Robert looked back and saw the black swarm of ants advancing towards them, the ant he squished was leaving a trail of pheromones for its companions to follow. It took him a second to realise what the black swarm was.
“Remember I said slow and steady”
“Yeah?”
“Well, we’ll have to run, RIGHT NOW!” he grabbed her elbow and pushed her to run.
“But—“she saw the black swarm. They darted through the murky forest as fast as they could. The black cloud of killer ants was gaining momentum and would soon outreach them.
“THERE! The pool will slow them down.” The pool as he called it was a huge muddy puddle off-track from the way towards the camp.
They sprinted for their lives towards the pool, the swarm reaching closer by the second.
“We’ll need to jump.”
They were two feet away from the edge and the swarm a few feet away from them.
“JUMP!”

 
 

 

IV

Emma jumped as much as she could. She wouldn’t make it, it looked like a 7 feet jump, almost there, almost. Her feet hit the skirt of the land at an awkward angle, the back of her head hit the pool first, and her face submerged into the muddy waters and recoiled back up. She regained vision in a minute, Robert was trying to drag her legs which had made it to the other side, her torso and face completely doused in mud.
Reluctantly she looked back, most of the ants had stopped in the mud, few of them were trying to reach her but they seemed to be still at the moment. She tried to move her hands to push herself out but the mud was too thick, if it wasn’t the ants would have consumed them by now.
He used all his strength and she started moving, slowly, just need a little more he thought as he pulled intensely. The ants didn’t, but there was one hidden from the eyes of the pair, sneaking its way towards her.
“Almost out.” He grunted loudly.
The ant climbed on the edge of her ear and dug its jaw.
The ear-splitting sound that came out from her almost messed up his balance but he hung on to her as he pulled her out completely from the pool.
“I think one got my ear, Robbie, ROBBIE! It burns” she cried out.
He knew she won’t be able to move on her own, worse she could get unconscious anytime. Her screams seem to hurt him as much as it hurt her, the shrieks encouraged the other ants to follow through the mud, but it still did a good job of slowing them down.
He got down on his knees and picked her up by the thighs, the ants would catch up soon. Somehow he held her up tight and started running, he hadn’t even gotten fifteen meters away and some of the ants were already out of the pool, she was unconscious from the pain of the bite, it was hopeless. He pulled the hair away from her forehead and softly kissed her. Her ear had already started bulging out, it would have gotten much worse if they survived.

V
Hakim Khan raced through the jungle on his Suzuki bike, only thing that can be manoeuvred around in there. He was following the scream he heard seconds ago. He had seen three bodies today, he didn’t want to see another. Maybe this one will have some luck, those cursed ants. He told those scientists not to mess with the jungle, but they just wouldn’t listen.
The shriek led him deep into the jungle, the more dangerous parts, the whole jungle seemed to be a minefield now.
He skidded the Suzuki to a stop when he saw them, Robert holding Emma in his arms, her ear swollen slightly, he was bending down to kiss her forehead.
“SCIENTIST!!!!” Hakim screamed. ”Here! I can save you.” He bought the bike close to the couple but still maintained a safe distance, he was going to help them but he had no intention of becoming ant fodder.
Robert couldn’t believe it, he had given up. He picked himself back up, the kiss will have to wait. He carried her to the bike, Hakim got down from it and helped him carry her.
“Hurry up! They are almost on us” He kick started the Suzuki with his hand on the accelerator, Robert managed to squeeze her and himself on the small bike. A French couple and an African hunter trying to squeeze themselves on a small bike would have been a funny sight, but no one was laughing then.
The swarm had formed back completely and was coming their way
The bike darted out just in time, at first it seemed it would consume them all but Hakim knew his way around the jungle, he twisted and turned the bike around losing the swarm.
“Thank you! Thank You!” he almost cried out to Hakim.
Hakim didn’t say anything.
“Where are we going? Sir.” He asked.
“A safe place, somewhere far away from these cursed monsters.”

 

 
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