MashStories holds four competitions a year and the only requirements for entry are that your story is 500 words or less and it uses three keywords (provided during each competition). The keywords for my competition were: Congress, Art and Jealousy.

You can read my story here: At the Base of the Birch

And now you can hear the rad podcast version here:

[UPDATE : Apparently the podcast file has been removed from SoundCloud but I’m keeping up this link until I can find a copy.]

[UPDATE: MashStories seems to have closed its doors so, just in case, I’m including the text of the story here.]

 

At the Base of the Birch

A group of Carpenter ants gathered in congress in the finger-thin grooves that surrounded the dead woman and elected a single scout to investigate. The chosen one, who incited no jealousy due to her previous experience with such matters, noticed a glint of light coming from the direction of the corpse’s hand and plotted a route.

She scaled the body at its delicate shoulder, slipped under the hair draped over the elbow and progressed down the dirt-caked forearm as it dangled over the yawning grave like a diving board over an empty pool. At the palm she carefully climbed through the still-wet earth and progressed to the fingers where she, defying gravity, slipped to the back of the hand. Using her mandibles she moved away some of the mud until she could see a green cabochon stone set in a silver ring of familiar Celtic knots. The significance was not lost on her. Over her years watching over the birch grove with her queen and colony she’d seen this style of art on many of the humans that came desperately seeking the woodland magic. It was the descendants of the Celts that sought renewal here but she had never seen their pleas answered.

The previous night the scout and her nest mates had watched a nervous woman dig the grave at the base of their queen’s tree as a cold Autumn rain began to fall. They stayed until the woman patted down the last clump of soil on top of her former lover’s body and fled. They’d heard the loud electric crack several hours later. That morning they discovered their central nest in the rotting birch had been struck by lightning and the body they’d watched being buried was above ground once again – the plastic it had been wrapped in still loosely hanging on its frame in a wet spiral of translucence that caught the breeze and sun rays that fell through the neighboring branches.

The scout, now grieving for her queen as she hung on the corpse’s finger, startled when she felt a twitch and a tremor. Slowly, and unnaturally, the hand turned until the scout was once again standing in the early morning sunlight, pinned in the stare of the corpse. A giant blue smile cracked across its face releasing an acrid breath that smelled of rain, smoke and rotting leaves. The body then drew in its arm until the scout could see the two purple hand-shaped bruises around its neck and one deep gash between its breasts.

****

When the scout returned from her mission that morning she told the rest of her now leaderless brethren what she had found. In agreement, the ants from all of the satellite nests carried their food and supplies with them in four undulating black lines until they reached their new queen and home. With the scout in the lead, the soldiers, swarmers, workers and slaves entered the body at every open orifice.