Fiction by Thomas Koperwas
By Tom Koperwas
“Time for your morning treat, Moby!” chuckled Alan. Bending over the fish tank containing his bright red-and-yellow goldfish, he took hold of a large black ant running across the basement windowsill. Holding his hand over the water, he tapped his thumb and finger together to dislodge the insect, but it held firm, refusing to let go. Curious, he brought his chiseled face close to the creature dangling from his finger and muttered, “What makes you so special? We all have to go some time, fella.”
Tapping his hand firmly against the frame on the top of the tank, he sent the tiny creature tumbling into the water. Flailing about on the surface, the ant attracted the attention of the big goldfish. Rising up from the bottom of the tank, Moby opened his mouth and gulped down his morning treat.
“Disgusting!” exclaimed Rose. Alan turned and gazed at his diminutive wife standing in the doorway, her limpid gray eyes burning with indignation.
“How could you do such a thing?!” she cried, knitting her brows angrily.
“What do you mean?” grunted Alan, stepping away from the tank.
“Throwing a poor little ant to Moby when he already has plenty of dried fish food to eat. He doesn’t need a live sacrifice to start his day!”
“Live sacrifice!” cried Alan, his mouth dropping open. “You must be kidding. It’s just a stupid ant.”
“I'm not kidding,” she insisted firmly. “Those ants have just as much right to live as you do.” Spinning on her heels, she ran up the basement stairs to the kitchen.
“Unbelievable!” exclaimed Alan, combing his sandy hair in front of the wall mirror. The tall, lean man grabbed his jacket and bag filled with his metallurgist clothing. Then he pushed open the basement door and strode out to his white Challenger parked in the driveway. “What will she think of next?” he wondered, gunning the car’s engine and racing down the street to the steel plant on the outskirts of town.
Alan, dressed in his silver, aluminized approach suit, walked past a worker bending over a spectrometer, measuring the metal content of slabs lying on the steel plant’s work floor. He paused a moment next to the edge of an empty soaking pit as an overhead crane seventy feet above shifted a cauldron of molten steel. The soaking pit’s cover had been retracted, and the hot steel ingots that had been heated to over twenty-four hundred degrees Fahrenheit had been removed.
Suddenly, the wall of the pit next to his feet collapsed, and he fell in.
“My God!” he thought with disbelief, hanging from the top of the furnace, his gloved hand gripping a metal conduit line. The line, bent and twisted by the jolt of his falling body, seemed to be holding. Down below, the pit was cooling, but it was still a fierce two thousand degrees. He knew only too well what would happen if the line gave way.
Alan screamed and shouted for help, but a steel plant is an incredibly noisy environment. No one heard him. No one came. He soon stopped calling for help. His outstretched arm was tiring, and he needed all the energy he could muster to hold on to his fragile lifeline.
The events of his life moved across his mind. He thought of his wife, and wondered if he’d ever see her again. The passage of time began to slow, till it came to an infinite crawl.
Alan shrieked when the twisted metal line bent under the strain of his weight, dropping him a little bit lower into the sweltering pit. As he hung there dangling in the hot air, his body dripping with sweat inside his approach suit, a strange thought entered his mind. He remembered the ant that had clung fiercely to his hand. Alan looked up at his glove and his outstretched arm clinging to the line.
How thin my arm looks, he thought. Like an ant’s leg. He thought of how a sudden tap of his hand had sent the ant to its doom, and how a sudden twist in the line had almost sent him falling to his own death. Now I know how that ant must have felt.
Alan’s arm was too numb to feel the hands that took hold of him and pulled him out of the pit. “Thank you. Thank you,” he cried over and over again, as the two men dragged him across the floor to the air-conditioned cafeteria.
Alan dropped his head down on the lunch table and passed out. The plant doctor, a balding middle-aged man, was there when he came to. “Take these sedatives before you go to bed tonight. And take a couple days off,” was all he said.
That evening, Rose sat quietly at the dinner table and listened as Alan told her in a calm, matter-of-fact voice about his brush with death at the plant. Refusing any help drying the dishes, she poured him a glass of water for his sedatives and sent him downstairs to the couch, where he could sleep undisturbed. Rose’s mouth dropped open when Alan entered the kitchen an hour later, holding an inverted glass pressed firmly against a postcard. Running around under the glass was a large black ant he’d caught. Stepping outside, he gently tossed the tiny creature onto the lawn.
Reentering the kitchen, she heard him say under his breath, “Moby’s just going to have to acquire a taste for dried fish.”
“Unbelievable!” exclaimed Rose, her face breaking into a smile.
- Thomas Koperwas is a retired teacher living in Windsor, Ontario, Canada who aspires to write short stories of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming in: Anotherealm; Jakob’s Horror Box; Literally Stories; The Literary Hatchet; Literary Veganism; Blood Moon Rising Magazine; Corner Bar Magazine.
Copyright©2021 by Thomas Koperwas. All Rights Reserved.