A simple story about an invasion.
Part I: The Escorts
“We were ready for them when they came. The President declared martial law on Monday, July 10th. By Friday, the Army and the National Guard were in charge of every city and town. Even every farmhouse family across America had a shotgun loaded and lying handy by the TV set.
The entire national defense system was prepared: their missiles were poised, their bombers were fueled up, a finger was always near that red button!
This invasion wasn’t coming from Russia, but from a planet of the star Rigel, but that didn’t matter, either. We didn’t know why they were coming or what they wanted or even what they looked like. But, that didn’t matter either! They were aliens, and we were ready for them, on that golden Saturday afternoon when their great and silent ships came dropping out of the sky.”
I had been mowing the lawn when martial law had been declared. I, like many others, was forced to evacuate into shelters hosted by the American military. We were told to bring only the clothes on our backs, with a promise that all else would be provided; with that in mind, we stepped inside the armored beetle, which would take us to our destination. Once inside, the doors were shut, and we were kept in darkness for the rest of the ride.
Upon our arrival, the doors were opened once again, letting in a paralyzing light from where we once entered. The soldiers who once served as our escorts stepped inside and forced us out from our seats, the butts of their guns to our backs. To this, many complained, but the soldiers retained their blank expressions and continued prodding. This generated outrage and aggravation as some were forced out violently.
”Animals,” a woman murmured.
”What the hell is wrong with them?” yelled another.
”Where are we even going?” groaned yet another.
The anger continued and grew, even as the last of us stepped out into the expanse. Behind us, the doors of the beetle closed, and the thing drove away, deserting us to our fates. Before me, people were being funneled by a large group of soldiers, each carrying guns with their fingers on their triggers. I quickly followed the group into the gathering crowd. As we trudged, there was an occasion where people tried to resist against the line of soldiers. A middle-aged woman with auburn hair even slapped one of them, disparaging him with insults and complaints. The soldier didn’t bat an eye. He simply pushed her back into the crowd and continued his duties with mechanical gusto, intensifying the group’s discomfort. It wasn’t until we merged did a balding, fat man who looked to be about the age of 40 angrily request a meeting with the “leader of this joint”.
Curious stares spread like wildfire among the soldiers stationed throughout and around the tumultuous crowd. Some, as if broken from a haunting trance, started to shiver and cry. Those who did were carried by two of their fellows away from the group and were promptly shot. Each time the sound of a gun rang, the crowd cracked and shook. At last, after the last gun shot sounded, one responded—
”He’s already here, don’t you see? Don’t worry. He’ll come out on his own. Yes. Don’t worry. No, I can’t tell him to come out. That’s up to him,”
”I dare him to come out. That bastard has no right in treating us this way. We are the people—” started the fat man, sweating and fidgeting even as he said the words.
”Oh, but no; you’re not,” interrupted a relatively tall man with frameless glasses, dressed in a blue, striped suit. He swiped his long brown hair away from his eyes, and pulled out a pistol from within his breast pocket. He pointed it at the fat man and inquired, “You—do know the purpose of this facility, yes?” He kept the barrel of the gun pointed at the fat man as he began a slow trot from without the silent mass of evacuees.
He continued. “I suppose not. How dull. Then again, how could you know? Let me tell you, then—this facility was designed originally back in 1849. It was designed for a government project in “alchemy”, as they called it. It was, of course, for the nation’s best interests. To what extent and purpose? Well, mainly the occult. They never got anywhere and never would—it was shut down. What its used for now, is extermination,”—he stopped, and pulled the trigger; the gun’s barrel exploded its projectile into the fat man, who dropped dead—“ha, for you aliens,” he mused, pulling the gun back to his face.
It was utter chaos. The gunshot broke the awe that somehow managed to envelop us, and people quickly began to try to escape or hide. Both were impossible. The so-called shelter was an absolutely massive field of gravel, dirt, and dust; the area was contained by metal and rock walls that rose far up into the sky, which cast shadows down upon those who tried to escape the inevitable. People screamed, people prayed, and people fought, but despite the chaos, no additional gunshots were made. Instead, the soldiers waited patiently as the man in the striped suit cleaned the barrel with a borrowed handkerchief. After he was satisfied with his job, he dropped the dirty thing upon the fat man’s corpse and blew a whistle that commanded silence from the unruly mob.
”Good, I have your attention. My time here is short, so I’ll make this quick,”—he pulled his sleeve away from his wrist and checked the time before resuming—“Out of the three-thousand of you, including the corpse there, there are seven dangerous and deceptive aliens. It is up to you all to find out who they are! If you kill them, then the gates leading to this facility will open. That is the only way. And what if you refuse? Well, simply enough, you’ll never leave. Any more questions? No? Good. Attention, men!”
”Sir!” they shouted in response.
”You’ve all served me well. It is in our purpose now, as you all know, that we are to die before the Transformation begins. In God, we believe. And to him, we shall return. Amen!” he placed the barrel of his gun to his jugular.
”Amen!” they replied, doing the same.
”Wait—” came a wave of incredulous confusion and surprise, but it was overpowered by the simultaneous pulling of triggers. And, with insane looks planted on their crying, smiling faces, they turned to God, and fell.
Part II : Nightfall
Humans are peculiar beings. For them, in desperation, they can muster powers far beyond their own humble capabilities. In order for us to live, then, as beings who have unyielding potential, we must be ruled over by beings even greater—beings that are omnipotent and omnipresent. Such is fear and belief. These beings can bring the best and worst of us out in a flourishing bloom. The act of committing murder, for instance; or, the situation where one is incapable of action. Humans—beings so cruel yet so beautiful; these very essences painted the scene crimson, like an ongoing, bloody nightmare. A crude yet intoxicating beauty. Blood lay splattered in pools and rivulets, making ruby mud beneath corpses and fallen bodies. From these corpses bloomed lycoris flowers of a solemn red, welcoming the dead to the afterlife, in full bloom. But I paid them no mind. All that mattered, was that I had survived the onslaught of death and despair. I struggled to one of the walls and gently leaned against it. There were only twelve left. Twelve out of—how many did he say? Three thousand. I clutched the wound to my side, which bled gently against my palm, and blacked out.
After the military committed suicide, there was a moment of silence and inaction, despite the necessity to act. Then, voices of peace and civility crept its way out of the masses of scattered people. First, a proclamation that all should be assembled. Then, several men and women gathered before the rest of us and tried to organize a method to peacefully determine who the aliens were. and how one could tell the difference between the two races. They promised no harm. Ideas ranged from simply stepping forward from within the crowd—if one was an alien—to making minor cuts to test blood color. In the end, several of the men and women stepped back into the crowd so that there was only one left. He cleared his throat and spoke.
”Well—we’ve determined that no one at all is an alien. This is just a ploy by the aliens themselves—” he pointed at the corpses on the ground in reference, “to get us to kill each other. But we will not fall victim to it! Let’s prove to them that we, humans, are strong and hard to break. We will not be broken by petty tricks! Soon, our very own military will come and save us. Very soon!”
A whisper ran through the crowd. Ebullience. Fear. Hope. We were going to be saved, and soon. As long as we believed this man, we could be—
”Now, then. I’ll just be taking this.” the man who spoke last crouched down and pried the corpse’s pistol from his relenting fingers, “you know, for self-defense in case more aliens come. Everyone, believe in me! I will save you all, I promise it! We will not lose!”
He smiled as he dismissed us. His confidence was infectious. We all consented to his will and went our separate ways about the region, but as most decided to avoid contact, he tried to garner it. He went around helping those who looked sick, and comforted those who appeared ill. He even came to me once, asking if I was alright while he fixed his glasses. I brushed off his presence and ignored him, so he simply shrugged and left. I followed him with my eyes, and after two or three more people, it was then when trouble brewed anew.
”Hey—hey—I’m talking to you. What makes you think you can just run this place like its your playground?” questioned a muscular man framed by a red T. He looked to be in his mid-40’s. His hair wore fringes of brown that faded away from a pool of black. The man was my neighbor, and his name was Allen. Always the aggressive one, he pushed the man holding the gun, and spat in his direction.
In response, the gun was lifted, the trigger was pulled, but no sound was made. No recoil. No bullet. By this time, we were gathered around the two, wondering, pondering, feasting upon our desire to understand and know—our curiosity practically dripping from our eyes.
Allen laughed, “That’s all you got? An unloaded pistol? Here, I’ll teach you how to use that—” he stepped forward and ripped the pistol from the man’s hand. The next moment happened in a flash. Allen punched glasses in the face, and then proceeded to knee him in the stomach and step on his neck when he was downed. Muscles then lowered the pistol and slowly forced it through the lens of the man’s glasses, and into his eye. Slowly, slowly, until the once-so-charismatic man stopped writhing, and his breathing, which grew slower, and slower, and slower, came to a stop. He was dead.
”Do you all understand? This is survival of the fittest! Those who fail to get that will die. And I will make sure of it. I guarantee that this bastard was an alien. I know it,” he cackled and spat, “even if you all didn’t,”
The atmosphere died with his words. People were mumbling, some looked crazy, others twitched; the word “survival of the fittest” resounded throughout the arena. And then, began the chaos. The blood. The death. All that death. Relatives began beating each other. Friends left others to die while they ran; others simply killed each other off to save themselves. There were children screaming. Everywhere. There was at least someone crying. It was then that the cacophony became an orchestra of wondrous sound. Sounds so wondrously abrasive and horrifying as friends and neighbors and family began to slaughter each other mercilessly. And as they did so, they began to change and mutate and turn crude, like tar, in order to continue killing and mutilating the living and the dead; the sound of which erupted, at last, into one final clear crescendo of the grunts of those who lived and the groans of those who were dying. Those who lived were the fittest and untouchable and perfect, despite the scars that pierced them all deeper than flesh that hung barely to their bones. Victory was a thing not to be had. Only challenge. Only pain. And the blood, my God, the blood. There was blood, blood, and blood, like the world had begun to bleed from its every pore. It was everywhere. Everything was covered in it. My hands, my clothes, my hair, my eyes; the people, both living and dead—the tens of women, men, and children, who I’ve killed, smashed, and tore open as they tried to do the same to me. I sighed and stared at the wise and broken glasses that once held our hope within its tinted frames. The blood poured forth from those who fell upon my conscience and remained there, staining my eyes, the lenses, making them opaque. There were only twelve of us left. Only twelve. Only twelve—
I awoke to the sound of distinct crying. The twelve of us who were alive moments before has already dwindled to eight. I looked around for the source of the crying, and noticed a child in a mother’s arms. Protective. Gentle. I felt for the wound that I had sustained earlier, but it had already stopped bleeding. I gently caressed it as I watched the child being cradled in that sphere of innocence. Then, I turned back to the center: the pile of corpses. We were only four days in and people were feeding on the corpses of those we’ve killed. The four who’ve gone missing simply joined the pile of the dead. Truly, truly, a survival of the fittest. Whoever could give up on their kindness and their morals would survive longest, but would live a cannibal’s life. Was it really worth it? I looked away from the cruel display and searched for the way out, but still the doors to the complex remained close. For a moment I was gripped with fright, but I held it back the moment it reared its ugly head within my chest. All I had to do was wait, I told myself, that’s all I needed to do. The days lingered on.
The number of those still alive kept dwindling as time strolled by. We were insecure, hungry, and tired. With our backs to the wall, we waited and watched. Occasionally, one would fall to the ground and not get back up. It was probably the better way to die—to die without even really noticing. Our hunger had to be satiated by savage cannibalism; our thirst quenched by limbs filled to the brim with blood, and the culmination of the spit in our mouths. During our occasional “meal”, those of us left alive would head to the “battlefield” to take a limb or head or innards—whatever our desire. However, fights would often start for the choicest of pieces. The rest of us simply grabbed what we could—rotting or not. The fighters and the scavengers dwindled at the same rate; the fighters felled each other, and we were felled slowly by disease. Eventually, we had taken to simply eating the dirt by our feet.
By the seventh day, there were only four of us left. A man who hardly resembled a man; he seemed more horrendous monster than human. He was covered in dried blood, his clothes long ago discarded. He constantly bit at his fingers and mumbled to himself and rocked to and fro and grabbed at his hair and prodded the dirt and laughed. A strange creature, that. The other was a woman with fiery red hair splotched by bloodied dirt. She always stayed by the side of that young boy from before. The both of them were dilligent in surviving. I stared intently at the boy. He had black, oily hair with a blue tint; his skin looked smooth and untainted. He didn’t have a single spot of blood on his body. He was perfect. I quickly grew envious. Incredibly envious. My dreams were shrouded by nightmare after nightmare because of that—perfect, awful boy. Of what may occur after nightfall, if haunted phantoms or undead vestments should rise from the darkness and consume me, then let them! For the visions of those who’ve died and those who will die and of my own death and of—and of—that—boy! That sweet, poor, innocent boy who is so wretchedly perfect that he is consuming me, and is devouring me, and is crushing me. He was using me. Me, the beast, and he, the master, though he didn’t know it. No, not even I knew it. Though he shouldn’t know it. Does he? Did he? I fought for him on accident, for his preservation, for perfection. He controlled me and turned me to be as I am now, I know it! He’s an anomaly. A being that shouldn’t exist. What is purity in a world tainted by the bloodied revenants of hope? Like my kindly neighbors, both 80 years old, now devoured and re-devoured by myself time after time again, what is worth? Those neighbors who always smelled like autumn, now smelling of rust and blood and dirt. From the start, there was no exit, was there? No exit. And its all the fault of those aliens. Those beings so different from me and the monster. Yeah. Pure. We who thrived on feces and rot and decay and blood and death. We are undeserving. Why do they hate us? I wish they would burn. I wish he would die. That I could crush his very soul between the palms of my hands. But I needed power. Control. Lots of it. Why, why do they have to be like that? Different. Why aren’t they like us? Just who am I? Why must I do as they command? Why! Who, what am I?
I stood up. The sun beat down on me with its overwhelming oppression. The heat created mirages of rooms. Rooms filled with the dead and walls. Walls. Written on, smeared, and oozing out blood. I took slow steps through the ward. The rooms opened into a hall flooded to the knees with blood. I waded through it. Farther and farther. I heard a clink and a clank and a ploosh!, which caused me to turn in fright. A man had fallen into the blood, sinking. Down and down and down into the bloody abyss, until he was too deep to be saved. Perhaps that will be my end, too, I thought, before I continued on. Walking through the blood slowly became harder; the blood slowly rose higher; the hallways, longer; the stench of iron weighed heavier. The halls dimmed, and then, I was drowning and breathless. The weight of the clandestine force pressed down upon me from all sides until a faint lullaby touched upon my ears. I yearned for it, the force inevitably losing its iron hold, as I reached for new hope. I began to run towards the direction of the melody; through the cloistered darkness, and through unseen terrors, and through the blood-filled trails, which made me vomit as the scent of lingering rot finally caught up to my lungs. Time ticked on, and on, and on. The song drew closer, and closer, until—at last, I grasped it! It was a tiny music box that sung melancholic songs. Songs about pastures filled with daffodils and rose buds, swaying in a gentle breeze, the petals drifting away into the sky to inseminate the world with pollination. Of ebullient deers prancing through forests full of trees that reached far into the sky, where in the treetops, the haven closest to the heavens, would the sun-touched songbirds, sing. Of idyllic nations joining together in peace and harmony, preventing wars, preventing loss. And of days on the beach with a crimson setting sun, which dyed the sky as if it were paint in clear water, flowing, drifting, spreading, consuming. Songs of hope and reminiscence and the future, the present, the past; songs that sweetly proposed the notion that life would be okay, no matter the difficulty, no matter the tragedy. It wouldn’t. I reached out with my two hands, and grasped the box, clenching it tight around its ivory-feeling surface, and quickly, emotionlessly, crushed it to oblivion.
Part III: Starlight
I woke with a start. The surroundings were eclipsed by endless darkness. There was no moon tonight. Only stars. They provided the little that they could, but were foiled in granting true light. I looked up into the sky and examined the constellations. It was a beautiful sight. But then, the stench of gore re-animated themselves inside me, and I returned to reality and gagged. The stars were beautiful, but it didn’t matter. Not to me. A murderer is what I am. A serial killer. A cannibal. A ghost. A shadow, like that of today’s moon. I sat for a moment, focusing on sounds of movement. Nothing. I felt around with my hands and felt mud and dirt and feces. Grabbing pieces from the three, I plopped them into my mouth and mixed them into an amalgamation of iron-smelling, iron-tasting mush. I stood and wandered aimlessly in the darkness. The night was my only time of solitude. My only time of peace—only recently, anyway, what with the reduction of the people left alive. And now that so few remained, only I mattered. Yes, only I. I tripped on an outlying limb, but caught myself in midfall by hitching my arms into the ground. I stared down beneath me. It was a woman’s face, though fairly decayed.
”Rozanne—” I mumbled. For a moment, I pondered if she was still alive, but the thought was brushed aside by my sudden urge to eat. I opened my mouth and tore some of the corpse’s skin off and chewed on it as I stood back upright. I started treading forward once more.
”Rozanne—” I whispered to myself, turning the name around in my head.
”Rozanne—!” I called. Desperate, I began calling out her name again and again, looking for comfort, looking for peace, with tears bursting forth like a faucet turned half off.
”Rozanne—! I—I—where are you, Rozanne?” I pleaded to the heavens, “Come back! Come back! Please. Rozanne—”
But she remained in the darkness. Calling for her was hopeless; her presence was as abstract as my desire for her. An uncounselable desire. Yet, I yearned on and on and shouted again and again for a woman who was not there. I fell to my knees and howled and cried; I dug my nails deep into the ground. Then, there was a sound. A response? Then, another. The first was a cry, and the second, a whimper.
”Rozanne? Rozanne!” I ripped my claws from the earth, and in a beastly crawl, lunged towards the source of the sound. I arrived before the woman survivor, and her child laying flat on the ground beside her. Her head hanged low over the child’s peaceful rest.
With a snarl, I demanded, “Where is she?”
”Who?” the woman chirped. Her voice was like some bird’s. Or some angelic being, perhaps, undeserving of the beast before her.
”Her—her—” I responded, confused, impatient. Slowly, I knelt down on my legs, the adrenaline of desire wearing thin. The bestial transformation had ended as swiftly as it had come. Who was I looking for, I thought, who?
Next came a softer voice, one sweeter and more perfect than the woman’s, “Out—out there,” And then, it was gone.
”There?” I asked the child’s voice. No response.
”There?” I asked the woman. She began trembling, but managed a slight gurgle.
”Yes—beyond the battlefield and through the Gate,”
”Thank you!” I turned and saw nothing. Somewhere, there was a gate. Beyond the battlefield. Beyond this void. Beyond the shroud of death. Beyond my fear. Beyond—myself. I turned around and spoke.
”But, nothing there. There’s nothing there.”
She didn’t look up. Tears rolled from her eyes now, and dropped on the boy’s face. She caressed the red-black bruise marks on the child’s neck, and stated, softly, “Kill me,”
She raised her head slowly and looked into my eyes. They were sad eyes. Eyes missing of fear, but given up on life. She begged, “Kill me, please!”
I licked my lips and smiled. I reached for her neck, and held it, encompassing that weak, willing, thread of life. I waited. She closed her eyes and nodded assent, tears once more rolling down her cheeks.
”Then, this is farewell, isn’t it, survivor? Goodbye,” I smiled; I was finally able to kill the source of the purity! The demons of our group, the evils. The murderers, I’ve killed them, I’ve killed them at last! I tightened my grasp around her neck. Slowly. Slowly. Slowly—my smile, slowly evolving into a wild grin. This shall be her execution. Her end. The end. My grip tightened even further, and from behind me, a gear began turning, but to that, I paid no mind. No. All that mattered was this woman, who killed us all. But even as I slowly consumed her voice and her soul, she continued her song and her tears. I exploded.
”Why? Why did you do this to me? Why am I still alive? Why? Why! Why!!” I screamed in her face, my hands, crushing her.
However, she did not answer. She held her child and stroked its fine, blue, blood-clotted hair, and rocked it a little, and sang to it very softly. Her words were in no human language. They were alien words. But grief is a language we all speak.