A Couple Ants Died; or, The Butterfly Effect

by Jesse Ludgin

After weeks of presentations, client dinners, nights out expensed to the company, favors called in, strings pulled, smiles, handshakes, blandishments, and general cajoling, the day had finally come: today Steven Ericksson would discover if all his hard work had resulted in getting the contract for the Essex Bank Building.

Within a couple of years the Essex Bank Building would be completed on the Northeast corner of the intersection of Thirty-Fifth Street and Second Avenue, and it would be fifty-four stories tall. Numerous architectural firms had been commissioned to submit comprehensive bids. One had been selected and their plan was reworked in consideration of the wishes of the board. Countless meetings and phone calls had refined the plans and hammered out every detail, down to the size and shape of the smallest offices, the number of ceiling fans on each floor, and the type of fern to be planted above the fountain in the lobby. Even the color of the urinal cakes had been chosen. The blueprints were drawn-up and etched in stone. The board had already allocated the money and the financial department had already filled-out the proper paperwork. ‘I’s had been dotted; ‘T’s had been crossed. Everything was set to go; the only thing that remained was the decision of which construction company to go with to actually build the thing.

Walking down the hallway in his brand new suit, which had been specifically tailored for the occasion, Steven Ericksson looked like a man who always got what he wanted. His hair had been trimmed, gelled, and combed back, and it looked immaculate. His black leather shoes had just been polished and they shined with the brilliance indicative of an accomplished businessman. His tie was perfectly symmetric; his lapel was stylish without being gaudy; his cuff links appeared powerful, yet refined; and in every aspect of his appearance (indeed, of his life) he paid very careful attention to even the minutest of details for he knew how small things could have a very large impact.

His gait was effortless, yet controlled. His breaths were evenly spaced and heartily resonant, but in a natural way, as though he gave his breathing no thought at all. As he walked he twirled his tongue around the inside of his mouth. This relieved some of his suppressed anxiety without betraying his nervousness. He had even practiced in front of a mirror to be sure that no one could see him doing it.

At the end of the hall he came upon a sleek and modern office door, which he entered with grace and determination. Inside he presented himself confidently to the secretary seated at the desk and asserted his business there. The woman, likely very impressed with his manner, or perhaps already expecting him, let him in to her boss’s office without further ado.

A prim, squirrelly little man sat fidgeting behind a very large desk in front of a wall of windows. Skyscrapers could be seen behind him, and the sun was shining. Steven Ericksson established eye contact immediately.

“George, by George!” (he had prepared this witticism days in advance) “Ha! How the heck are ya?”

They shook hands, effusively on the one side, peremptorily on the other. Each sat down opposite the other. The man at the desk scrunched up his face and looked towards the ceiling.

“My gout is acting up.”

“Oh,” Steven Ericksson rejoined, unflinching, maintaining the same broad and friendly, yet serious smile he had adopted since the secretary. “You really ought to take better care of yourself old boy, take a vacation for Christ’s sake! You work so hard.”

George opened his eyes wide and then blinked rapidly.

“You’re here for the verdict I take it.”

“Why of course, old friend. I thought news as big as this ought to be told in person and not over the phone. I believe in the personal touch. I guess you could say I’m old-fashioned. Besides, I figured it’s only proper to be here so I can take you out after to celebrate. Anywhere you want to go, my treat. They’ll have to scrub the champagne off the walls when we’re through with ‘em! Ha!”

Steven was leaning forward on the edge of his seat, his fingers playing on the tops of his knees below the desktop, his smile too wide now to still convey complete confidence.

George cleared his throat.

“I’m sorry Steven,” he fiddled with his tie, “but we’ve decided to go with the Gainsbury Group.”

“Gainsbury! Ha!—ha-ha, George, Gainsbury is nothing compared to us, why we could build a mountain before they could even build a molehill. Why, just last year—”

“Steven, I’m sorry, it’s, it’s already been decided.”

“But George,” now wringing his hands, “what you want for a project like this is a great deal of experience, and our—”

“Steven—”

“—employees, our employees George, have experience. Gainsbury’s never done a job of this magnitude! You need a—”

“It, it’s out of my hands Steven. The board has decided.”

Steven paused, still smiling, nostrils flaring wide. After several seconds he shook his head and said:

“George, I don’t usually do this. I shouldn’t do this…I really ought not to do this…I could get in trouble. I never do this—but gosh darn it George your business means this much to me! Whatever price Gainsbury gave you, we’ll beat it! And that’s a promise!”

George swallowed some saliva.

“The b-board’s already decided, un, unfortunately. They signed the contract this morning.”

Steven exhaled loudly and fell back into his chair. His smile was gone and he looked puzzled. Several seconds passed.

“Gainsbury? Why Gainsbury? They’re not even a major firm…”

“Well…even though they haven’t been around as long as your company, or some of the others, they have a very impressive track record. Ve-ry impressive.”

Veneer gone, Steven opened his arms wide, questioningly:

“Come on George.”

“W-Well I s-suppose it didn’t hurt that their CEO is the nephew of the wife of our Head of the Board. In fact, between you and me, I believe he was only just made CEO right before they first came to us.”

George pursed his lips and stared at his desk, feeling perhaps he had gone too far.

Steven was overcome with a furious disappointment and frustration, but he was a professional. He knew he might want their business sometime in the future, or at least their positive mention, and he was in the construction business, not the bridge-burning business. He said a brief goodbye, mentioned the need to get to some pressing appointment, suggested playing a game of golf sometime in the near future, reasserted his company’s superiority to Gainsbury, and made a hasty exit.

Outside he felt exasperated, suffocated, beat-up. He loosened his tie and undid a couple buttons on his shirt. He took off his blazer and carried it over one arm. The rest of his day was free. The rest of his month was free. He decided not to go back to the office, but instead to get some fresh air in a nearby park.

Near the entrance he found a bench in the shade of a large oak tree and he collapsed into it with exaggerated exhaustion.

This was huge. His job depended on getting contracts like this. It’s not like he would be fired over this, but if he didn’t come through with something big soon then he’d surely be in trouble. He had kids—big ones who ate way too much, and a wife grown accustomed to a certain style of living. All the work he had put into this project—all the preparation, all the phone calls, all the meetings, all the overtime hours, everything he did both big and small—all for nothing!

Swinging his head around in dismay he noticed an anthill beside the bench. With the tumult of surging emotions in him an old memory was dragged up from the deep and pushed to the surface. In a flash he was brought back to an obscure time in his childhood when once, with the innocent freedom of a child he had stomped giddily all over a bunch of ants and their hill. He had enjoyed himself thoroughly until a neighbor walking by saw him and scolded him. He remembered the shame…he could feel it. Slowly but consistently, like the cement turning in a cement mixer, it mixed-in with his frustration and his disappointment.

Defiantly he stood up and walked over to the anthill. No one could tell him what to do, he was in complete control! He was the master of his own fate, he held all the power of his own destiny!

He stomped wildly on the anthill with the conviction of a man who was wronged and the desperation of a man who realizes, somewhere inside him, how little power he has to control his own future. As he walked away afterward he felt confident that he had destroyed the entire colony, and it felt reassuring to have so much power over these little creatures.

In truth however, he had not destroyed the colony. He had only killed a few ants and destroyed one of the many entrances to a large and otherwise thriving colony. Within minutes other ants came out to carry off their dead and begin rebuilding. By evening the anthill was as good as new and everything went back to business as usual.

At this time there was no one in the park. Downtown itself was mostly empty, as everyone had gone home for the day. The men from the future knew this of course, and had planned accordingly.

A small dark grey cloud condensed slowly behind the bench, hidden between two large bushes. Slowly it gained in stature until the bottom touched the ground and the top hovered nearly seven feet above. Sparks began shooting out along the edges, the inside started to glow, and only the slightest pop could be heard. (It had taken countless trials before they figured out how to minimize the sound.) Sparks gone, the cloud dissipated and revealed a man standing there, looking terribly apprehensive.

He stood in a one-piece, skin-tight outfit of silver. On his feet were large but slim boots, or shoes, white in color, that had red parts on either side that shot back, and looked like wings or foils. From his waist began a large V, silver and edged in red, that protruded out a couple inches from his body, ran up his chest, and culminating in pointed shoulder pads. Beneath this, over his chest and up to a turtle-neck there was a black mesh. Sleek bright-orange sunglasses covered his eyes. His hair was greased back and up, the back of it reaching a full 8 inches diagonally behind his head.

This was not the style of his own day, understand, it was an attempt to fit in with the styles of our time, but unfortunately historical accuracy is exceedingly difficult to obtain when traveling so very far into the past as he was.

He relaxed his fists and looked around with suspicion. After several seconds passed he took one step forward softly, slowly, on the tips of his toes, with immeasurable circumspection. After determining the propriety of this step, he took another, and eventually a third, and a fourth, slowly moving along, walking with the secretive caution you might see from a character in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Continually he looked to his left and his right; he bent his knees skillfully as he walked on the balls of his feet; he made not even the slightest sound and he took the utmost care not to touch anything, not even the bushes that he slinked between.

Out of nowhere a mosquito darted at him. Thanks to his incredible awareness of his surroundings he spotted the villain immediately and he quickly ducked and leapt out of its path, narrowly avoiding a tremendous calamity.

Unfortunately however, in his heroic evasion of the mosquito he failed to properly watch where he leapt and he accidentally landed with his right foot on the recently reconstructed anthill. Discovering this, his face contorted into a look of unfathomable terror and shame. He shrieked, screamed “All is lost!”, touched something on his wrist, and vanished into the air, for he knew that he had made a grievous error.

This time when the anthill was destroyed and a few more ants died……well….you see….they couldn’t just rebuild in the same area since it proved so dangerous and they decided to move a few feet….hmmm…..

The ants were incensed. Being attacked twice on the same day like this and..…no, that’s not it…

Well, it was his boots. His future boots had a completely different effect when they crashed down so calamitously on the colony and…..

You see, ants are a……

The reconstruction of the hill……

Things can only……

OK. To be entirely honest, I’ve forgotten the ending of this story. I assure you however that somehow this misstep of the future-man, when its effects had been multiplied exponentially through the passage of many, many years, had serious repercussions on society—very serious repercussions—and the moral of the story is this: When traveling back in time, one must proceed with tremendous caution because even the smallest event will have enormous consequences.


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