“So wait,” said Zane. “Every ant in this hill is a Platonic ideal?”

“That’s right,” Queenie said. “Over there? That worker is the platonic ideal of a slice of pepperoni pizza. The one crawling up your leg? She is classical music.”

“What happens when one of them is…you know…squished?” Zane said, looking very carefully at the pepperoni ant.

“I beg your pardon,” Queenie said. “Are you thinking of squishing pepperoni pizza out of the universal experience?”

“N-no! Well, maybe. I am a vegan after all.”

“My anthill is eternal,” said Queenie. “When one of my daughters dies, the concept dies with them. It is as if it never existed.”

“That’s impossible,” Zane said. He took a moment for the absurdity of saying that to a talking ant queen and expecting an answer to sink in before he continued: “I’d remember the pizza I ate before I went vegan.”

“Oh really? Do you remember zorgbl? My daughter representing zorgbl was taken by an anteater two weeks ago.”

“You’re just making that up.”

“See? You don’t remember. Pity, too. Zorgbl was the favorite food of many a human. And I’m sure you don’t remember cypipre either, or yttuggmix.”

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Excerpt from the WHPL interview of J. Sturgis Tarboski on August 17, 1985.

INTERVIEWER: Tell me a little bit about your latest book, The Othering of Deerton, out this month from Giraudoux & Strauss of New York. It’s the story of strange object infiltrating a fictional small town with unpredictable and often horrifying effects.

TARBOSKI: Horror is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? Perhaps from another perspective it’s not horrifying at all.

INTERVIEWER: How do you mean?

TARBOSKI: Imagine some of your better ant poisons. It tastes delicious, so the worker ants carry it back to the nest to share. And it poisons them all, poking holes in their exoskeletons so they die of dehydration or causing them to leak hemolymph–their blood–from their joints. To the ants, that is a catastrophe, a horror. To us, it’s cause for celebration. No more ants.

INTERVIEWER: Are you saying that’s he central thrust of The Othering of Deerton? Something trying to eliminate people in the same way that one would eliminate ants?

TARBOSKI: Not at all. The ants could be carrying food contaminated by a nuclear test back to their nest. They die in the same way but there’s no agency there–we don’t care that they die, but we weren’t trying to kill them. My point was only that in The Othering of Deerton we are the ants, and that–to me–is the real horror of the piece. We’re not used to being the ants.

INTERVIEWER: Could you talk a little bit about your influences in this latest work?

TARBOSKI: Of course. A lot of my peers are cagey about influences; I think they like to seem themselves as fonts of universal genius. Me, I think that it’s disingenuous. If nothing else, influences serve as a nice reading list for people that liked the book.

INTERVIEWER: So what’s your reading list for The Othering of Deerton?

TARBOSKI: Well, anyone can probably see the influence of the Strugatskys, whose Roadside Picnic came out from MacMillan about a year before I started writing, and which I can’t recommend highly enough. It’s to them I owe the central conceit, the effect of the utterly alien on the familiar, though they dwell much more on the aftermath while I am much more in the moment.

INTERVIEWER: They are Soviet authors?

TARBOSKI: That’s right. There’s something wonderful about Soviet science fiction. Ants working for a different queen, if you will. I count a lot of foreign influences on this latest book…lots of different queens, if you will.

INTERVIEWER: What are some others?

TARBOSKI: Well, Borges of course, but he’s in everything I write. I’m trying to learn Spanish so that I can read his works in the original Spanish and perhaps send him a letter. But I think the biggest influence on The Othering of Deerton is probably the late French filmmaker Auguste Des Jardins. I met him in 1975 in New York at a press junket, and I had the opportunity to speak with him at length about his masterpiece, Les trois Juliets. Are you familiar with it?

INTERVIEWER: I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never seen it.

TARBOSKI: You’re missing out. It’s a brilliant, brilliant movie. A French woman finds that there are two other women with the same name, same family, same history, and same face living near her in Montmartre. You might have heard about how Des Jardins supposedly found triplets to play the Juliets; some people still think he did the whole thing with trick photography. In any case, like any fan I asked Des Jardins point-blank what the truth was: why were there three Juliets? Were any of the theories about the film true?

INTERVIEWER: What did he say?

TARBOSKI: He said that he didn’t know.

INTERVIEWER: How could he not know if it was his own film?

TARBOSKI: I asked the same question, and he said that it was the most liberating part of creativity. In the real world, there is cause and effect. But in fiction, in fantasy, you can have effect without cause. Your audience will always find a cause, and their cause will be better than any you could ever dream up; by making your effects compelling, you incite them to find ever more beautiful causes.

INTERVIEWER: Interesting. So if I were to ask you where all the strange items in The Othering of Deerton come from, and what their purpose is, what would you say?

TARBOSKI: I don’t know, I’m just a humble ant.

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April 2-May 29: Faced with repeated complaints about fire ant infestations in buildings abutting the quad, Landscape Services repeatedly poisons anthills in the large grassy area using both commercially available products and those sourced from professional exterminators.

May 29: In preparation for the three-day holiday weekend, and in acknowledgement of the lack of recent complaints, Landscape Services ceases its poisoning campaign against the fire ants on the quad.

June 1: Returning students report an “odd” structure in the middle of the quad. Analysis of cell phone photographs shows a small anthill with uncharacteristic “holes.” Landscape Services takes no action, as the observations are not complaints and many employees remain on vacation.

June 2: The first reports of invasive fire ants in buildings bordering the quad come in. Landscape Services dispatches fresh poison; workers report that the anthill has grown to nearly a foot tall and is made of a material that resists crushing. Landscape Services delivers the poison, but the crew is severely stung in the process.

June 3
: Members of the Landscape Services ground crew are rushed to the hospital in anaphylactic shock due to lingering effects from fire ant stings. The remaining employees refuse to venture onto the quad to lay more poison, which seems to have had no effect.

June 4
: The first deaths occur from allergic reactions among the initial ground crew. A commercial exterminator is contracted, and entomology experts are brought in. The structure on the quad is now approximately three feet tall. Buildings with an infestation are closed, and the quad is roped off.

June 6: Entomologists at the state agricultural annex, after examining the ants, report that they seem to have developed a resistance to most commonly used pesticides. Furthermore, a form of hardened mound-building most commonly seen in tropical termites appeared to have spontaneously evolved in the local fire ant population–explaining the 6-foot tall structure that now dominated the quad.

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