I’d like to share with you a bit of flash creative nonfiction. A clunky term to describe it, but I guess this long, unwieldy title is the technical definition for what I’m presenting–the retelling of a true event in my life using the elements of fiction writing. What I have for you is a memory of how I and some of my hometown friends chose to cope with boredom when we weren’t occupied with some worthier task of wholesome hard work in our Podunk little town. We didn’t have movie theaters or amusement parks. Sure, we had home movies, toys, a playground and video games, but those things got old quickly. Nothing was more entertaining than what the natural environment could provide for us. Looking back on this memory, I feel a little guilty. Our behavior was brutal, but I don’t think malevolence was the motivation behind it. Our motivation was simply childhood curiosity.
My friends and I played amongst the timothy grass behind the school playground. This was grasshopper territory. The air buzzed with their sporadic flight. An ant hill protruded amongst the grass like a sun-dried pimple.
We spent a good amount of time watching the ants go about their busy lives, gathering tiny rocks and twigs. Rows and rows of them marched back and forth like platoons of soldiers. We were fascinated by this strange and wondrous world around our feet, having grown bored of the endless repetitions found on the slides and swing sets of the playground. We wanted to explore this new world, touch it and feel it. The only way to further satiate our curiosity, to gain understanding, was to become a literal influence upon this other world, become a part of it, not just a detached observer.
I collapsed my palm upon a grasshopper and winced at the prickly texture of it’s writhing body beneath my palm, then managed to pick it up by curling my fingers beneath it to gently squeeze it between thumb and forefinger. My group of friends huddled around me to examine the grasshopper now within my grasp. Some of them snickered in amusement. One of them talked about it in amazed fascination, delineating the different parts of the creature. Another expressed disgust and turned away as green goo oozed from between the insect’s wriggling mandibles. I dabbed the leaking substance with my finger and grimaced at the sticky texture. The spiny legs–hopper legs, as many of us kids called them–kicked about frantically, the grasshopper utilizing every defense mechanism available to try to escape.
We decided to raise the stakes. Experimentation was the tool for discovery. What would happen if x, the grasshopper, was combined with y, the ant hill? What would happen with the collision of these two worlds?
I disabled the grasshopper by yanking off the prickly hopper legs. Then I dropped the crippled, trouncing body amongst the ants and watched the ant army converge. The systematic swarm of ants was stunning. Most of us kids watched in awe as we observed brutal nature unfolding before us. A group of six or so ants smothered the grasshopper’s body and dragged it down into their home, where, my young mind imagined they dismantled the grasshopper for consumption, piece by piece, the head, thorax, and abdomen.
A heady mixture of emotions surged throughout me. I was stunned! Enthralled! My stomach also sank with the cold heaviness of mild horror because of what I’d done. However, this was more exciting than any slide or swing set! We rushed the field of timothy grass to play our newly discovered game once more.