Prelude to a Catastrophe

Submitted into Contest #140 in response to: End your story with total oblivion.... view prompt


Drama Fantasy Fiction

All of the chattering in the assembled group ceased as Fiona, the Queen, majestically entered the main chamber of the colony. The name of the colony, Westparkia, was derived from its location in the historical downtown park of the city. She strode proudly on all of her six legs to the podium in front and gracefully waved them to acknowledge the cheers from the crowd.

She was in her natural element and milking the situation for all of the adulation that it was worth. Her appearance was unusual, given that most of her time was normally reserved for the laying and tending of eggs in the nursery. However, she had recently become aware that the collective brain of the colony required some urgent guidance and she was prepared to provide it.

Seated in the front of the chamber on a set of earth birms were members of her Cabinet including the Minister of War and the Minister of Foodstuffs. As was the custom for such large gatherings, the Soldiers were seated to her right. Their birms were larger to accommodate their bulkier bodies. Seated to her left were the myriad Workers on whom the future of the colony was highly dependent. They, of course, were major contributors and participants in the collective brain of the colony although they always remained mute in public events such as this one.

Fiona arose on her hindmost legs and began to speak to her assembled followers: “First of all and is our normal custom, I want to start these proceedings by recognizing the long and rich history of our global brethren. As you all know, we represent about 12,000 species on earth and 25% of the entire terrestrial animal biomass. Our distant ancestors have been found trapped in amber that is 100 million years old, far longer than the history of the Others. Keep in mind that we are individually small but also numerous and thus mighty. To quote our sages: we will prevail in the end.” Everyone in the chamber arose on their hind legs and waved their antennae in excitement at the hearing of her evocative words.

“Secondly, she continued, I have the sense that we are losing some of our focus on our three main goals: to feed ourselves, to reproduce, and to defend ourselves from threats from neighboring colonies as well as the Others. First and foremost, we need to develop a plan about how to obtain the food we need to sustain ourselves before the cold sets in. Competition for food in Westparkia is growing each day due to the establishment of neighboring colonies — we need a strategy to reign supreme.”

“I will now call on our Secretary of Foodstuffs to brief us on the immediate plan for replenishing our food supply this very day,” she said. With this, Brevo arose and addressed the group: “Today marks the beginning of what the Others call the Weekend. This is normally a productive time for us food-wise. Many families will be coming to West Park shortly to entertain themselves and to make their food offerings to us. These activities should start in about an hour and we need to be well prepared to acquire and transport these provisions back to the colony.”

Brevo continued: “I want all of the workers and soldiers lined up in an orderly fashion at the colony main exit until I signal that our food foraging campaign will begin. I will give this signal when I have been informed that food has been laid out by the Others. As we leave the colony, the scouts will excrete pheromone trails so that the Soldiers and Workers who follow will know the most efficient path to the food. As per usual, all of you will store the food in your gasters, your social stomachs, and transport it back to the colony where it will be disgorged and shared with the members of the colony.”

Fiona then stood up in response: “Brevo, thanks for your report. We will all be ready for this Weekend food-gathering. We are not that far away from cold-time so we definitely need to stock up on vittles. We also need to be aware that there are a number of competing city-states in Westparkia who will also be taking advantage of the food that is being laid out. Do we have a plan about how to throw them ‘off the track’ as it were?”

“You know, Fiona, we have had great success lately with the use of propaganda pheromones,” Brevo responded. “I have created a special unit to design and manufacture these special scents. I have also selected a few Soldiers to carry them — they will head in a direction opposite to the food to distract Scouts from other colonies about where the best foods are located.”

“Good work on this,” Fiona responded. She then directed her gaze at the Minister of War. “Titus, I have been informed that you have captured a Soldier Scout from a competing colony. I wish to interrogate him. Please bring him forward.”


Fiona, stared dismissively at the Soldier Scout being restrained by a woven fiber chain around his neck and said: “What is your colony of origin and what is the name of your Queen?”

“My colony is named Swingset,” he responded. “My queen is named Aphrodite. We mean you no harm. We are a relatively small colony with few Soldiers. We only seek to share a small portion of the food bounties offered in West Park.”

“I am in a generous mood,” Fiona responded. “We will not kill you which, of course, would be our natural response to the capture of a Soldier such as you. Instead, we will release you. Return to your colony and give my regards to Aphrodite. Also transmit my request to send your Ambassador this very day to meet with me about the allocation of pik-nik benches for foraging in West Park near our two colonies. With this, she waved her antennae, indicating that the conversation was terminated.


About one hour later, there was a low humming sound coming from the front of the colony. A group of Soldiers approached the entrance to the colony surrounding the Ambassador from Swingset, Josephus. He was encircled by a dozen of his own Soldiers. Of course, this was merely symbolic because the whole visiting entourage could be easily surrounded by the Westparkia Soldiers and quickly killed. However, everyone understood that this would make no sense because the rationale for this meeting was to negotiate foraging territory between the two colonies.

Josephus turned to address Queen Fiona who was still at her position at the podium at the front of the chamber. “Honored, Queen, I come in peace at your beckoning and represent my Queen Aphrodite and the neighboring Colony of Swingset. What would you like to discuss with me?”

“Our two colonies are in close proximity to each other and also have equal access to park benches number twenty through twenth-eight,” Fiona said. “My military intelligence personnel inform me that you are a relatively small colony. We would overwhelm and destroy you if we chose to do so. Instead, we propose that we develop a pact involving which benches each of us focus on for food foraging,” she said. “This beats the idea of going to war now.”

“I am predisposed to be generous today,” Fiona continued. “I will entertain the idea of drawing up a pact between our the two of us. I propose that my colony will concentrate on the first seven benches and that Swingset Colony will restrict itself to the last in the row. If we encounter any of you in our bench territory, I will instruct my Soldiers to raid and destroy your colony.”

Josephus considered the proposal for a split second and then said: “This is a fair offer. I have been give the authority to accept your terms. I will transmit the news back to my Queen Aphrodite.” Having said this, he wheeled around on all of his legs, continuing to be encircled by his group of Soldiers, and exited through the front entrance.


The Parker family arrived at their favorite West Park picnic benches at noon. Father, mother, and three children. They spread a table cloth on the bench and unpacked all of the dishes from their picnic basket on the bench top. Their oldest son commandeered the closest grill, their favorite, filled it with charcoal, sprayed on the charcoal lighter fluid, and ignited the pile with a match. This was in preparation for grilling hamburgers and toasting the buns — the meat patties were in pan on the bench awaiting his attention.

“It’s a good thing we got here early,” Dad remarked. “We got one of the best benches. Good shade and great access to the grill.” He then turned to his three children: “You may remember what happened the last time we had a picnic here. You kids were harassing the squirrels and birds, chasing them and throwing ice at them. I want you to understand that this is unacceptable behavior. The wildlife in the park should not be bothered. This is their home and we want to ensure that they have nothing to fear from us who are merely visitors who need to share their space.”

The family seated themselves on the bench and began to contemplate which of the various dishes they would sample. As she scanned the table-top, one of the girls said, with a sense of anxiety: “Oooh, look Dad! There are ants climbing onto the bench and are headed for our food. What should we do?” 

In response, her father folded together the newspaper in front of him and began to swat at the columns of ants which began to scatter. A few managed to escape his blows and started to climb up the dish containing the potato salad. The parents and kids managed to brush the remainder of them off but other columns were heading for the plate of grilled hamburgers.

One of the boys turned his head and noticed that the ants were coming from an ant hill about ten feet from the table. “Dad, I think I have an idea about how to get rid of these beasties.” Having said this, he reached for the charcoal lighter fluid that he had used to ignite the charcoal. He rushed over to the ant hill, soaked it with the fluid, and immediately lit it with one of the matches he was carrying. It caught on fire and the colony was engulfed with flames which soared high into the air. 

“Good job, Son,” Dad responded. “These little bastards won’t be annoying us for a while.”

April 08, 2022 16:28

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Ken Cartisano
06:23 Aug 15, 2023

Ants are fascinating insects. Unfortunately, this is the kind of prompt that dictates the outcome of the story. Once we know we're talking about ants, the ending was easy to predict. Putting the reader in the hive and describing the hierarchy and ascribing tactics based on an ants biology and physiology is what made the story interesting. I don't know enough about ants to gauge the accuracy of your descriptions of them with authority, but I suspect that they were, in fact, accurate.


Bruce Friedman
12:58 Aug 15, 2023

Ken, thanks very much for your comments. This story is an example of the opportunity for the author to delve into previously unknown words such as those of ants. For short stories, the word count limit does impose a limit on the depth to which one can wander and provide greater detail. Again, thanks.


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Kevin Marlow
03:52 May 04, 2022

Stalin said it, a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.


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Graham Kinross
22:20 Apr 14, 2022

Brutal ending, casual slaughter. It reminded me of A Bug’s Life. The movie Epic also deals with stuff on this scale but is almost a Borrowers story. That ending though, ouch.


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Jeannette Miller
23:17 Apr 12, 2022

Fantastic use of the prompt! I was getting A Bugs Life visual while reading and loving it. Then, total oblivion on the ant hill... excellent. A fun read!


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