In the first year of high school Michael Jacobs almost killed a kid. It happened on a class trip to a local farm. He held Derek Robinson’s face in a trough of pig water until he passed out. The teacher had to save him. He pushed on Derek’s stomach until he threw up more water than I thought a kid could hold. No one snitched on Michael. His friends made oinking noises at Derek until he moved schools.
Did you know that flying ant day is different every year? Before school James Peters waits me on my doorstep. His breath is like soured milk. I say okay. We walk to school, wading through clouds of tiny bugs.
We’ve lived on the same street since I was too young to hold my own head up.
The queens and the males fly around so the queen can find a new ant to fuck. It’s ant fucking season dude! He says. His voice is a few octanes higher when he’s excited.
At the end of the street I can see we’re going to pass Michael Jacobs.
I wonder which ants are gonna get lucky tonight, James says. Michael is smirking at us.
What are you talking about buggerface? Asks Michael.
I’m talking about flying ant day, James says. I grab his arm and we keep going.
One time James laughed so hard that snot came out of his nose. He didn’t notice straight away and it dangled like a pendulum. Michael Jacobs took a photo on his phone and showed it to every girl in class. The nickname ‘buggerface’ caught on quickly.
At lunch I sit on the table near the toilets. No one sits here because you have to eat your lunch with the faint smell of shit in the air. I see James enter. I focus on my brown bread and cheese sandwiches. I glance up and watch him go into the computer lab.
When we were kids James loved insects. I would help him make bug collections in the summer. We’d fill glass bottles with ants, beetles, caterpillars, millipedes – anything we could find. He’d get mad if I tried frying them with a magnifying glass or making them fight.
His mother wouldn’t allow the jars in the house. She’d pretend to scream when James showed her his collection. It’s nice he’s got someone to play with, she once told me. I remember it scared me because it looked like she’d been crying.
I meet James at the school gates every day to walk home. When I get outside I can see he’s already there, talking to Michael Jacobs.
Tell me more about these ants, buggerface, Michael says. I walk over and grab James’ arm but he wriggles free. He opens his mouth and Michael headbutts him square in the jaw. I keep walking.
When I get home I wait on the porch. I watch the ants gliding and falling. It almost dark by the time James turns up, dragging his school bag behind him in the dirt. His face is smeared with blood.
We make eye contact and he looks away. He crouches down and makes a cup with his fingers, scooping up a handful of ants. He peers at them, then he rubs his hands together, pulverising their fragile bodies into dust.
Joe Marczynski is a writer and journalist from Leeds, UK. His stories have featured in Misery Tourism and Expat Press. He's written from VICE, The Guardian and The New York Times.