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Thomas spied the ants as he waited by the back door to the kitchen. At first he ignored their merry procession, his mind overwhelmed with thoughts of the rich, buttery apple pie that he knew was baking in the oven only a few feet from where he was standing. Once or twice he let his eyes flick away from the window in the kitchen door in order to mark the ants’ progression, but it was only after he saw Mrs. Marble pull the golden-crusted beauty from the oven that he gave the ants a real looking at.
From what Thomas could tell, it seemed like the ants were on their way home from a military reconnaissance mission in the kitchen. They marched single file down the concrete steps that led to the kitchen door, across the sidewalk, and into the grass. They each carried a small piece of white fluff on their backs, which to Thomas made them all look like they were wearing little angora sweaters. A grin splitting his face at the thought of ants in knitted sweaters, he decided that the white stuff was definitely not angora, but something edible that the ants had stolen from Mrs. Marble’s kitchen.
Thomas didn’t like anyone stealing from Mrs. Marble—even the ants. Mrs. Marble was the nicest lady in the whole world as far as Thomas was concerned, besides which she baked some of the best pies this side of the Mason-Dixon Line… or at least, that’s what everyone said after they’d sampled one of her delicious desserts.
Feeling like a police detective in search of a crime—a policeman was something Thomas had always wanted to be when he grew up, after being a chef, of course—he decided to follow the ants and see where they were going. He pushed his brown newsboy cap out of his eyes and followed the thieving insects across the school grounds, past the archery field, and back over to the burned-out shell of the West Wing.
There had been a fire in the West Wing a number of years before, and now most people kept away from the building. Thomas thought those people were silly for being scared of an old, burned-out building, but he guessed that anyone was allowed to feel any way they wanted to about stuff that scared them. Though personally he believed that just because something didn’t look perfect anymore, didn’t mean you had to be scared of it. Sometimes a pie didn’t come out looking perfect, but that didn’t mean you threw it away—misshapen pie tasted just as good as any other kind of pie, thank you very much!
On the steps that led into the main entrance of the West Wing, Thomas paused to tip his cap to a girl who was sitting on the topmost step. She had her nose pressed firmly into a book, but she looked up and gave him a quick grin as he passed her by. Thomas spent most of his time in the kitchen, which was where he’d worked… before, but because of this, he didn’t really know the other kids at the school very well. He wasn’t sure what this particular girl’s name was, but he thought it began with the letter N—although he couldn’t really be sure. He was much better at remembering recipes than names.
Before the grin had even left her face, the girl was back into her book. Thomas saw that she didn’t even notice the ants that were marching up the steps beside her. If he’d been the one sitting by an army of ants, he’d sure have noticed them.
Thomas went through the door that led into the interior of the building, his eyes trained on the ants’ progress. Instantly he saw that the line of ants was making its way across the room before disappearing down into a small hole that sat right underneath the hearth of a large brick fireplace. Thomas got as close to the hole as he could, putting his eyeball right up to it, but it was so dark that he really couldn’t see where the ants were going at all.
Suddenly Thomas felt his whole body go stiff as a strange, prickly sensation swept across him. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up at attention. Thomas hadn’t felt anything like this in so long that at first he almost didn’t recognize what it was.
It was only when his teeth started to chatter that he realized what was happening to him. For the first time in more than eighty years, Thomas was cold. He looked up from where he was crouching by the base of the fireplace, and his eyes went wide when he saw what was waiting for him.
He opened his mouth to shout, but only a deep gurgle of fear popped out. It filled the empty room like the hollow sound of the last piece of candy rattling around inside a trick-or-treater’s Halloween grab bag.
When the girl with the book came back inside from her perch on the stairs, the room was empty. She scratched a bug bite on her arm and looked around curiously. She was pretty sure that she’d seen the boy from the kitchen come in here only a few minutes before.
She wondered where he’d gone.
© 2010 Amber Benson