The ants pause on their journey. They see twenty or so lying dead, flattened, disemboweled, juiceless. They have come far from the pink Tin Tower to this oblong bridge that will take them to the Constellation of Buttons, the Holy Grail, rumoured to carry edible jewels packed with the green of old things, even pools of wine lying dormant, as if unaware of their worth. They have come this far and seen one or two of their own dead, scattered here and there, between black blocks and silver snappers, which they had seen eating ants alive. But this—this massacre—they stumbled on with a stiffening of antannae.
They circle the scene, sniff at the dead, bend their legs, sprint in a single route, maddened, their bellies fluttering with fluid, their sense of smell picking up only white sulphourous scents, their eyes pried open against their will. They do not wail or breathe out regret. Two or three begin picking up the dead, balancing the cardboard bodies on their backs, beginning again the march towards the monument of their dreams.
Inch follows inch, over plastic water tanks, round glass buildings, seas of green and white, orange and golden hoops that they overcome in a thousand inches, a red marble playground that forms their final pit stop before arriving at the place where smell guides them, to where they will meet their end. They know this but, in relief and delirium, with the dead on their backs, they press one foot after another on the ground that changes from wood to velvet to paper.
Now they see the dust they had smelled from when they started out at the Tin Tower. This is it. They lay down their dead and enter abysses, holes, caves, purple apertures and speed around button mounds. They feed on sugar and pieces of green grain and there is no need to alert the rest of discoveries. Everything lies sprawled out, exhibited, explicit, and each ant can do it alone. The dead have been left on the flat grey “Warning” plane and for two days the living move from button to button, forgetting to ask why danger has not yet come their way. They even forget to ask why they have been seeing less of each other. Only the toil matters now; the toil of inhaling charmed particles that will keep them going, that will give them the power to revive the dead, to expand their family, to colonize all the water-tanked, tin-towered, golden-hooped spaces in existence.
But in a second well into the plumping up of bellies, a long wail is heard. The wail says, “Flattened. The Buttons are moving.” They scuffle, feeling the earthquake shift the black earth. They run from one button to the next, some dying, some escaping into holes only to be crushed by a descending button until finally all is silent again. The ant that had first picked up a dead body at the oblong bridge all that time ago emerges from a button moat. It walks from button to button, finding along its way more bodies to pick up, the burden ascending with every inch it takes. It finds another ant still alive and the two collect the dead and pile them on the “Warning” plane. When they have retrieved them all, they set about transporting the bodies to their next destination.
“Where to?” asks the first. “Anywhere but here,” says the second.
One hundred inches after leaving the Constellation of Buttons, the second ant sizzles out and says, before dying, “Sulphur.” The first ant carries on moving.