The wires rise and fall from pole to pole for miles and miles and end where a lone weatherbeaten house stands off the county highway.
The brittle stubble of cornfields stretch flat as far as the eye can see. The October sky above is blue and empty, though there is--strangely-- a band of hazy rust color along the whole horizon that is growing wider.
In the house, the boy's mother hangs up the phone--the line has just gone dead.
She stands still for a moment before stooping to take the bread out of the oven. She brings out a cutting board and a long serrated knife. From the fridge, she takes out the butter dish. From the cupboard, two small plates. These she arranges on the kitchen table. She stands still again, and then she sits in a chair beside the table.
The faucet drips. The sound of a news bulletin on the radio cuts off and is replaced by hissing static. A horsefly taps against the window above the sink. She sits still--stiff almost--and stares at the surface of the table.
She begins to cut her thumbnail into the soft wood of the table’s edge, working it back and forth, cutting deeper. A splinter stabs into the skin under her nail. She winces. Pushing her thumb forward, she drives the splinter in deeper.
The radio goes dead. The ceiling fan slows to a stop. The back screen door rattles a little as a dry and dusty and cool breeze pushes into the kitchen.
Outside, behind the house, her young son--her only child--is trying to catch an ant. He places his cupped hand in the path of a big black ant racing along the cracked earth. It climbs into his palm. He lifts it carefully, as if trying not to spill scooped water, and pours the ant into his other palm, and then pours again onto his forearm.
The ant sprints downward, its legs moving so rapidly the ant seems to hover over the tiny hairs and tide of goosebumps that follow in its wake on the boy's arm. It races straight along the length of the boy's index finger, pauses on the tip, its antennae twitching. The boy lowers his hand and the ant darts into the clump of crabgrass before it.
On his knees, the boy follows the ant's smooth rushes forward and its abrupt stopping. The boy leans closer to the ground. All he can see now is the ant, the crabgrass and the cracked ground. It is a new and vast and varied landscape. Now he is riding the ant, his hands grasping the antennae like reins, steering the ant at top speed through stands of crabgrass trees, over pebble boulders and across gullies of cracked dried mud.
After watching the ant disappear into its underground fortress, the boy stands up. He feels dizzy. He stretches. He looks down at the ant hill and kicks it, cleanly swiping the hill away and exposing dozens of frantic ants. Maybe they will attack him now, he considers. They should, he thinks. It would be fair.
With a start, he hears the slap of the screen door and catches a whiff of freshly baked bread.
He sees his mother coming toward him. She smiles--oddly, it seems to him--but the smile disappears. He sees her apron is smeared with blood. She holds one arm behind her. Her eyes look smeared, too. She has been crying, and maybe still is.
She walks quickly on the flat, packed ground. Almost floating, he thinks. There's an expression on her face he's never seen before. The wind rises. The cornfields rasp. He steps away a pace, and then another. The horizon is black now, and darkness is racing to fill every last corner of the sky.