Archive for March, 2019

Holiday

Posted: March 24, 2019 in Uncategorized

This story is kind of a spin-off of another story of mine, Battle of the Bean, published in 2014 in WPaD’s Goin’ Extinct anthology. It can also be found in Dysfictional 2.

This one will most likely make an appearance in WPaD’s upcoming Goin’ Extinct Too.

 

“Are we there yet?”

“No.”

“How much farther?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’m bored. Can’t we stop somewhere?”

“Will you stop harassing me? We will get there when we get there.”

“Don’t yell at the children, Dax. They’re just restless. They’ve been cooped up in this vehicle for ages. Can’t we find a place to stop so they can get some exercise?” Sky said.

“Where would you suggest?”

“I’m sure there’s someplace suitable around here. How about that place?”

“What if it’s no good?”

“There’s only one way to find out. Scan it.”

Dax entered the coordinates into the computer and read the results.

“Sounds ok, but might be some kind of tourist trap.”

“Well, we’re tourists, so it sounds perfect.”

Dax sighed. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to stop and stretch our legs for a while. Maybe we will find a nice place to camp.”

“That’s the spirit. We’re on vacation. Let’s relax and enjoy ourselves.”

* * *

The place looked promising. Clean air, trees, plenty of water. The children scrambled out of the vehicle and rushed toward the beach. Within moments they were splashing happily in the water.

Sky nuzzled her mate. “See? That was all they needed. Why don’t you relax while I find us something to eat?”

Dax was feeling more relaxed already. The place was pretty nice, he had to admit. Maybe they could stay a while. It seemed like a great place to spend a holiday.

Sky wandered away, taking in the sights while Dax basked in the sun, lying on a large flat rock near the water. Some time later, Sky returned, her arms filled with tasty looking food.

“What are those?” Dax asked.

“I don’t know, but they taste good. Here, try one.” She handed a wriggling, furry creature to Dax.

“Children! Come and get something to eat!”

“But I wanna swim!” Chi whined.

“You can go back and swim after you eat something and warm up for a little while. You don’t want to get a chill,” Sky ordered.

Pouting, Chi and Dik left the water and joined their parents on the beach. Their reluctance quickly turned to enthusiasm when they saw the delicious treats their mother had brought.

“This is nice, don’t you think, Honey?” Sky said, gazing up at the brilliant blue sky.

“It sure is,” Dax agreed, “Why don’t we stay here for a while and camp? Looks like we have the whole place to ourselves.”

“Yes! Let’s do it.” Sky said.

“Yay!” the children shouted in unison.

* * *

The next day, the children did some exploring while their parents napped in the sun. They happened upon a strange object.

“Wonder what this is?” Chi said, examining the rounded metal thing.

“I think it’s some kind of lid. Help me open it.”

The steel door groaned open. They peered into the hole, closing their inner eyelids against the rising dust.

“What is this?”

“I’m not sure. Looks like some kind of ancient ruins. There’s a cave or something down there. Let’s go down and check it out.”

They scuttled down the shaft into the cavern below.

“Look there! Bones! What kind of creature is that?”

“I don’t know, but it’s not one of us. Look, only four appendages and it doesn’t even have a tail! Must be some kind of weird old fossil.”

“What’s that object beside it?”

Dik’s webbed, green-scaled hand reached for the metal object.

“Is it some kind of weapon?” Chi asked.

“I don’t think so. Maybe it’s food or something. Look, I can open it.”

Sniff. Sniff.

“What is that?”

“I don’t know, but it smells delicious! Should we taste it?”

“No, it might be poison. Let’s go and ask Mom first.”

“What’s this other thing?”

“I don’t know, but it looks like it was as important to this creature as that container. It died holding both of them.”

* * *

They ran back to their parents carrying the metal container and the other strange object they had found clutched in the arms of the fossilized remains.

“Mom! Dad! Look what we found!”

Dax and Sky examined the objects their children had found. The container was filled with dry, dark brown granules that had an intoxicating aroma. The other object appeared to be a collection of ancient writings, inscribed on thin sheets of a brittle, delicate material.

“I’ll scan this with the ship’s computer. Maybe we can decode it,” Dax said.

He scanned the documents and then left the computer to analyze the alien language. Meanwhile, the family went out to explore, starting with the cave the children had found.

It appeared to be some sort of underground home, accessed by a metal tube. The remains of a lone life form lay below. Nearby, they found some ancient ruins, above ground. Inside, they found the remains of another life form, and its death appeared to have been caused by a large hole in its head. A metallic object in its hand may have been a weapon of some sort.

“What happened to these creatures?” Sky wondered aloud. “Do you think any of them are left?”

“I don’t know,” Dax said. Maybe those ancient writings will have a clue.”

“Let’s look around some more. These things are fascinating if nothing else.”

Some distance away, they found more ancient ruins that appeared to be untouched since the demise of the civilization that had built them. It was an archaeological marvel, this crumbling city, destroyed by some sort of war or disaster. They found more remains, lying where they had fallen. Whatever had happened, not everyone had seen it coming.

They explored until dusk, and then returned to camp. Dax checked on the ship’s computer to see if it had made any progress decoding the ancient language. It had. The results were amazing.

“Sky! Children! Come here! You have to see this!”

They crowded around the screen as Dax read what the computer had translated.

“According to what the being in the cave inscribed, this planet was once a thriving civilization, but it was destroyed by war. That cave was not a home, but a shelter, built to withstand the blast. It seems that poor fellow went down there to escape the war and ended up starving to death, even though he could have come back to the surface.”

“What made him stay down there?”

“He was protecting a substance more valuable than anything on the planet; the very cause of the war. It seemed this civilization worshiped the substance, until one day the plant that provided it became extinct. When the supply ran out, war broke out. They bombed themselves out of existence with their own weapons. That guy found a treasure trove of the valuable substance down in the shelter, so he went to ground and locked himself in. He had one container left when he ran out of water. He died down there, probably of starvation, locked in with his treasure.”

“The container! That must be the treasure!” Chi exchanged an excited look with her brother. “We just found the most valuable thing on the planet!”

“So, what exactly is this treasure?” Sky asked. “What makes it so valuable?”

Dax leaned over the screen again. “It says here that it’s some sort of drink. They called it COF-FEE.”

 

Copyright © 2019 Mandy White

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Don’t Stop

Posted: March 19, 2019 in Uncategorized

deserted road3

Since this is your first night and all, I’ll just ride along and keep ya company. I’ll help out if ya need it, but otherwise, I’m not even here. Just think of me as a ghost or somethin’. There ain’t a lot to this job, just cram them papers in the mailboxes or bag and chuck ‘em in driveways. Just a lot of driving is all. Oh yeah, you’ll log a lotta miles. We call this route the car killer. Oh, people scoff, sure, after all it’s a paper route, but it’s not like you’re a little kid on his bike throwing a few papers after school. This here’s a real job, and it ain’t for no kids. It pays well, but there’s good reason for it. You’re out here at night, all alone, in all kinds of weather. This ‘little paper route’, as they call it, bought me a shiny red Jeep and paid off my mortgage. Which reminds me, ya might wanna look into upgrading your vehicle to something with four wheel drive. This lil’ sports car you got is cute, and it’s prolly good on gas, but son, you gonna want a four-by when the roads git nasty. You’re gonna be out here before the snow plows most nights, and ain’t nobody around to help out if you get stuck. No cell service either, in most places. If you get stuck, you’re on your own.

You’ll do fine kid, if you just remember one thing: Don’t stop for nothing or no one, no matter what you see. Don’t pick up hitchhikers. Don’t offer rides, and for the love of god don’t stop to offer assistance. If you see someone broke down beside the road, keep moving. Do NOT stop! Ya hear me, son? Even if it’s a wreck. You keep drivin’. Get a safe distance away, find some cell service and call 911. That’s how you help. Don’t never, ever stop, no matter what you see.

I done this job for years, and I tell ya, I seen a lot of things. It’s a different world out here at night. People have no idea. While they’re asleep in their beds, things happen that they don’t see during the day. Animals prowl around, that’s a given. But there are other things, too. Things they don’t see in their happy lives during the day.

Things look different in the dark. Guess you noticed that. No color out here. One of the other drivers I worked with, she had a route over in Dexter, I think. Anyhoo, she dyed her hair all kinda crazy colors. Pink, purple, blue. Every few weeks she’d have a different color. She said it was because she lived in a black and white world, out there at night, and she craved color, like someone would crave a kind of food or something. Her brain wanted to see colors, on account of she slept all day and only saw the night. Ain’t that a thing? I guess it makes sense, though.

Anyways, what was I saying? Oh, yeah. Different. Things look different in the dark. Especially when it’s foggy. Things look like shit they ain’t. A trash can looks like an animal. A tree stump looks like a person standing there. Now, I ain’t no scardey-cat. I seen combat in my time. I been around the block a few times. But this job, it plays games with your mind. Make you see things that ain’t what they seem. I tell ya, there’s one thing that’s always scared the shit outta me – seeing a person somewhere where a person ain’t got no business bein’. Like you’re on a deserted road in the middle of the night, miles from any house. If you see a person out in the middle of nowhere, you can be sure of one of two things: Either that person is in trouble, or they are trouble. You don’t wanna find out first hand. Folks have disappeared on these roads. Full grown men, some of them. Remember that guy awhile back? Vehicle left running on the side of the road. Wallet, cell phone still inside. But the guy was just gone.

I seen some shit out here though. One night, there was a wreck. I stopped, even though I knew I shouldn’t have. Car was twisted, like it’d hit a steel pole doing a hundred. Just wrapped around something. But there it was, in the middle of the road. Whatever it hit, just wasn’t there. I thought maybe an animal, like a bear or moose… but there was nothing, you understand? No blood, no fur, no nothing. I figured for sure I was gonna find a dead body, or someone near death. But the driver’s seat was empty. Nothing. No blood. Airbag wasn’t deployed. If the driver wasn’t wearing a seatbelt they woulda gone through the windshield. Windshield was intact. No way someone coulda wrecked a car like this and not been hurt. And yet they were gone.

In fact, it was right around here somewhere. Yeah, it was that road. The one you’re turning onto now. I always hated this one. Just one delivery, way down the end of the road. Pain in the ass. And way out in the middle of nothing. The wreck was right there up the road. See that red Jeep? Was right there.

Wait – what’re you doin’, son? Don’t stop! Didn’t you hear a word I told you? Don’t stop! Just drive on by.

Aw shit. Now you’ve done it. Sorry kid, you’re on your own. I ain’t stickin’ around for this one.

This is where I get out. Seeya.

* * *

Kevin looked at the stack of undelivered newspapers on his passenger seat and stifled a yawn. He was going to have to get used to this new schedule. He wondered how the other drivers did it. The old guy who had had the route before him had done it for years, up until he died. The pay was awesome, but he couldn’t imagine doing it long term. He figured the job would be extinct soon. The younger generation didn’t read paper newspapers, and the current customers were dying of old age. He gave it five years max.

His GPS announced that he needed to turn on the next street. He made the turn. Damn, it was dark out there. No streetlights. Just trees and fog.

A dark shape on the roadside caught his eye. As he neared the object, the twisted image of a wrecked vehicle became clear. A red Jeep, from the look of it.

“Holy shit!”

He screeched to a stop beside the wreck and jumped out, leaving the car idling.

* * *

“Looks like we need a new carrier for route 8020.”

“Shit! Again? You thought that last kid was going to work out. He seemed really stoked about the pay.”

“Maybe so, but he no-showed last night. And the route was only half finished the night before. We got a lot of pissed off customers. Can’t have that. We need someone reliable. That literally is the only requirement for this job. Just show up and do it from start to finish. Is that really so difficult?”

“What are you going to do until you find someone?”

“I’m the supervisor, so I’ll have to do it until we get another driver.”

“Damn it, Gary, are you serious? I really hate the thought of you out there all night while I’m stuck at home alone.”

“You aren’t alone. You have the kids. And the dog.”

“Still, though. I wish you didn’t have to.”

“It’s part of my job. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. It’s just temporary.”

 

Copyright © 2019 Mandy White

Don’t Feed the Fruit Flies

Posted: March 17, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

swarms.pngDr Rogin was right. These were no fruit flies. Nothing I’d ever seen compared to them. Sure, they were tiny, dark and winged, but the resemblance to anything on earth ended there. The most notable difference was the number of legs the things had. Insects had six legs, arachnids had eight, but these bugs had ten. I’d never seen anything with ten legs before, though I’d heard of one rather obscure case involving a ten-legged creature of Australian origin. What I was looking at had to be one of two things: a newly evolved or previously undiscovered species from Earth, or something alien in origin. Both options simultaneously excited and terrified me. Having seen the destructive power of these tiny swarming creatures, I had no doubt it was a matter of time before humanity was overcome, unless we could find a way to stop them.

The insects, if that was what they were, (I preferred to think of them as ‘bugs’ until I knew exactly what they were) appeared to be evolving. Or maybe it was another stage of their life cycle that we hadn’t seen yet. The new bugs looked different. They had tripled in size, and had pale whitish wings instead of the mottled black wings of their ten-legged predecessors. Their bodies were shiny, black and heavily armored. The smaller bugs had translucent gray bodies with visible innards. Both varieties were unlike any insect I’d seen. As if the ten-legged bugs weren’t disturbing enough, these new ones only had four.

What the fuck am I dealing with here?

“So what do you make of it?” Dr Rogin had slipped into the room while I was looking into the microscope.

“I’m not sure what I’m looking at here. Is this another phase of its life cycle, or an entirely different species?”

“That’s what I aim to find out. Then you can get busy with your job, which is to figure out how to kill them.” He glared at me over the rims of his half-moon spectacles. “While killing as little else as possible in the process, of course.”

Dr. Leonard Rogin was my partner on the project, although we didn’t work for the same employers. He was a senior FDA research scientist who spent most of his time evaluating the safety of products before releasing them to consumers. He was responsible for double-checking my research to ensure that I didn’t endanger any lives in the process of doing my job.

The company I worked for, Evergreen industries, worked in cooperation with heavyweights like Monsanto. My job was to ensure the safety of the. North American food supply by eliminating any possible threats to said food supply.

I used my degree in entomology to study insects for the sole purpose of finding the most effective methods of killing them, and I was paid handsomely for my effort.

These bugs were unlike anything I had ever encountered.

It had all started innocently enough.

A year previously, swarms of fruit flies descended over the Midwest. At first we assumed it was merely a heavy season for the tiny pests, but it soon became obvious we were faced with something much greater. Granted, we had noticed an increase in fruit flies and other pests in the past few years, but nobody gave it much thought. We shrugged it off as ‘just a bad season’ for this pest or that one. How blind we were, not to have recognized the signs.

For the past ten years that I worked for Evergreen, Monsanto and the many organizations that worked in silence beneath them were doing what they had always done – messing with the genetic makeup of plants to produce hardier and more prolific versions. Their mission, as stated, was to make our valuable and life-giving food crops resistant to pests, extreme weather, poor soil conditions and other potentially destructive factors. As the world’s honeybee population plunged into extinction, increased focus was placed on the development of self-pollinating hybrid varieties of all staple crops.

One of the less-talked-about projects was the nuke-resistant crop.

Worried that the threat of nuclear attack was imminent, the powers that be felt the need to protect our food supplies by making them resistant to radiation and other challenges faced following a nuclear strike. For years, scientists had been working (covertly, so as not to create panic) to develop nuke-resistant strains of corn, wheat and other vital food crops. They succeeded, but what they didn’t anticipate was the effect these new crops would have on the rest of the ecosystem.

It’s a well-known fact in science that every living thing has a survival mechanism. Even minute viruses and bacteria have ways of surviving when faced with obstacles. When a body becomes immune to a virus, it mutates in an attempt to circumvent the immune system. When an infection is bombarded with enough antibiotics, the surviving bacteria evolve into antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Darwin called it survival of the fittest – living things adapting in order to survive.

What made them think the genetically altered crops would exist in the same environment as their predecessors without having any effect, adverse or otherwise, on the living things around them? For a bunch of brainiacs, we scientists could be pretty stupid sometimes. We ignored what should have been plain to see until it was too late. And now, there I was, stuck inside my lab at the eleventh hour and no closer to finding a solution than I had been five, ten years ago, before this whole mess began. Back then, there would have been plenty of time to avert disaster if only we had seen it. If only.

The fruit flies appeared to have evolved into the ten-legged abominations I was now studying. Not only had their appearance changed, but their habits had as well. This latest batch of flies was of a more devastating breed than anyone could have imagined. They decimated fruit, vegetable and grain crops. They squeezed through the tiny holes in window screens, coating everything inside and out with a live, buzzing ash-colored blanket. It was impossible to display fresh produce at a market without seeing it covered with the tiny gray flies. The usual pesticides had no effect on them.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when winter came, because it meant the end of what they considered to be the worst fruit fly season in history. But the flies persevered. In spite of sub-zero temperatures, they survived and even seemed to thrive. Extreme temperatures, lack of water and even lack of food didn’t seem to slow them down. They continued to multiply and spread, until all of North America was infested. International flights were halted to prevent the swarms from migrating to the rest of the world, but the outlook was bleak. We knew that it was only a temporary solution; attempting to quarantine an entire continent was neither logical nor feasible. Sooner or later the bugs would spread if we didn’t find a way to stop them.

By the end of the year, their numbers had reached disastrous proportions. Car engines developed problems as the insects clogged air intakes and exhaust. People wearing safety goggles and surgical masks were a common sight on the streets. Due to mass crop dusting, Malathion poisoning in people and animals became commonplace, but the flies remained healthy.

And now, there were these new bugs. Larger, faster and, presumably, even more destructive, though we had yet to see what effect they would have on what was left of the continent’s crops.

* * *

I stared into the twin glass tanks that contained my test specimens. A swarm of small bugs in one, and a slightly smaller group of the larger bugs in the other.

An idea occurred to me.

I placed both tanks inside the glassed-in observation room and then removed the lids. I exited the room quickly, sealing the door behind me.

I had set up a video camera on a tripod outside the room to record the experiment, just in case anything unusual happened. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect, but it was better to be prepared than to miss anything.

I wanted to know how these two species interacted with each other, and if they were indeed different developmental phases of the same organism, or if they were two different animals entirely.

I grabbed a fresh cup of coffee and pulled up a chair next to the glassed-in room to watch.

The bugs kept with their own kind, each forming a thick swarm. It was eerie, watching the two swarms moving about the room, flying in such an organized formation they could have been mistaken for two single organisms.

The swarms stopped and hovered, maintaining a distance of two or three feet between each other. They seemed to be waiting. I knew it was an insane notion, but it looked like they were ‘facing’ each other.

When it began, it was a sight I would never forget. The larger bugs attacked, and I could have sworn I heard a faint collective scream like a battle cry as they charged into the thick black cloud of tiny flies.

The two clouds of insects became one, and the battle cry became a squeal that increased in pitch and intensity until I had to cover my ears. When it was over, only one swarm remained. The larger bugs were the victors.

The big bugs were able to kill the small ones. I had found the solution to one problem.

Now I had a new problem. What else did these big bugs kill? What would it take to kill them?

Oh, dear God. Have we gone from the frying pan into the fire?

I picked up the phone. It was time to call my superiors and inform them of this new development.

* * *

I woke with something wet and sticky on my face. I raised my head from my desk, where I had fallen asleep after my twenty-eighth hour on the job. A document was stuck to my cheek, from the remnants of a cup of coffee, which I had evidently knocked over in my sleep. I sighed and pulled the paper off of my face, then checked my watch. It was ten-thirty, presumably at night.

I hadn’t been home to shower or change clothes in two days, ever since we received word of the government’s 72-hour countdown. If I, and the others working on the problem didn’t find a feasible solution to the bug invasion, we would be relieved of our duties and the military would intervene. They would eradicate the problem by any means necessary. That meant poisons, experimental chemicals, nerve gas, napalm, and if all else failed, Operation Black Flag. Operation Black Flag, named after a popular insect extermination product, involved luring the bugs to remote desert areas and nuking them. Residents would be evacuated, but any who refused to go would meet the same fate as the bugs. That was, assuming a nuke would kill the things. For all we knew, it would kill everything except for the bugs. We had no way of knowing the effects of things we hadn’t tried yet.

There had to be another way. The potential for global catastrophe was enormous, whether by bugs or by humankind’s ham-handed intervention. The time to find a solution was running out. Who knew what kind of horrific nerve gases and biological weapons the US military had in its possession? They let the public think such things didn’t exist, but I knew better. History had proven that we were capable of creating some pretty nasty stuff.

My head spun when I thought about all the lives at stake – not just people, but livestock, crops, and natural flora and fauna were all in danger of extinction. The government assholes didn’t care; all they thought about was winning. They had to prove they were number one, and no little bug was going to knock them off the top of the food chain.

I stretched my arms over my head as I walked back to the lab station where I had been working. A metal rack next to the microscope held twenty-four glass vials, each containing an individual specimen of the larger bug. I had studied them, poisoned them with everything I could think of, and still they lived, bouncing angrily against the glass. Attempts to dissect them had proven fruitless; their armor seemed impenetrable. As much as I hated to admit defeat, it was starting to look like our time on this planet was coming to an end.

The odd thing about the large bugs was, they didn’t seem to be multiplying the way the small ones were. I had yet to catch one in the transition from small to large, either. When the small ones appeared, we saw them multiply exponentially. The larger bugs hadn’t shown up until the small ones had reached epidemic proportions. They didn’t seem to hatch or evolve – they just appeared.

I breathed a weary sigh and reached for a vial containing an untainted specimen. I didn’t know where to turn at this point, except to repeat my previous experiments to see if I had missed anything. There had to be a clue somewhere. These things had to have a weakness.

I was overtired; otherwise I wouldn’t have been so clumsy. When I reached for the vial, the sleeve of my lab coat caught on the rack and I accidentally swept the entire thing onto the floor.

I gasped at the sound of glass smashing. The specimens were free.

“Shit!” I shouted, jumping back from the station. I ran to the door and hit the Emergency Quarantine button. The doors automatically locked, sealing the room and everything in it. The lab was now contaminated, and so was I. Nothing would enter or exit until the threat was contained.

The buzz of the bugs rose to a high-pitched squeal as they swarmed around my head. I swatted at them, even though I knew it was unwise to do so. The little buggers were already pissed off; there was no need to antagonize them. I pulled my lab coat over my head and retreated into the inner office, slamming the door behind me. I leaned against the door, panting, while the bugs hummed angrily on the other side.

Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my neck.

“Ouch!” What the..?

I was bitten! One of the bugs had followed me into the office and stung me.

“No,” I whispered as the strength left my body and I slid to the floor.

Darkness.

* * *

I heard the soft murmuring of voices. At first, I thought I had fallen asleep with the TV on, then I remembered the lab, and the bugs. I opened my eyes tentatively.

I was no longer in the office where I had fallen. In fact, I was no longer in the lab at all. I was surrounded by a bizarre alien landscape. The ground beneath my feet resembled a dried-out lake bed; It was flat and solid, covered with cracks. It reminded me of the Bonneville Salt Flats, which I had visited to watch land speed testing on a couple of occasions. How I had managed to travel from Nebraska to Utah? More importantly, why? Had I been unconscious that long?

I looked around for landmarks; anything that would help me get my bearings. The horizon was hard to distinguish because the sky was the same color as the ground.

“Hello?” I called. “Anybody here?”

I heard a fluttering sound, but couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from. Then more voices, whispering. It occurred to me that maybe I was dead. Was this Purgatory, or some kind of spirit world? I pinched myself, then slapped my face. It hurt, and I felt solid. I certainly didn’t feel like a spirit.

Voices whispered, like rustling leaves.

“Who’s there?” I shouted. “Show yourself!”

The fluttering grew louder, then I sensed movement above my head. I looked up and my jaw dropped in amazement.

The individual responsible for making the sound descended from above and landed lightly on the ground in front of me. She was my height, and looked somewhat human, but that was where the resemblance ended. She had wings. Wings! Her skin was the most beautiful pale iridescent blue, like an opal. Her long wings were long, narrow and clear, like those of a dragonfly, with the same iridescence as her skin. Her delicate beauty was breathtaking. She wore a suit of armor similar to a Medieval knight’s, but form-fitting, shiny and black. A smooth helmet covered her head and a sword hung from her lower back, positioned pointing straight down with the hilt resting at the base of her wings.

“Please accept my apology,” she said. Her voice was light and musical, with an odd accent I’d never heard before. “I didn’t want to wound you, but I had no other choice. All other attempts at communication have failed.”

“W-who are you?” I stammered. “Wound me? How?”

She placed a delicate, shimmering hand on her hip, where a sheathed dagger was attached to her armor. “I had to inject you with serum. I am truly sorry.”

“I am Ilara,” she said, “Warrior. Wanderer. Guardian of the innocent.”

My questions remained unanswered, given that I didn’t have the slightest idea what she was talking about.

“But how? Where?” Questions swirled in my head. I didn’t know where to begin.

“You are the one who can bridge the gap. We need you to communicate with your race, to let them know we are here to help.”

“I don’t understand.”

Ilara turned away from me and made a shrill whistle. The whir of many sets of wings filled the air as more of her kind descended from the sky. I gasped, awestruck at the sight of them. This had to be a dream. I must have hit my head when I fell, and now I was having a most bizarre and wondrous dream. Iridescent wings flashed as a vortex of tiny beings swirled around my head.

Fairies, I thought. They look like fairies!

They alit on the ground and gathered around Ilara, chittering in a musical language like a flock of sparkly birds. Then they lined up in a neat formation, as if waiting for inspection. All appeared to be female, and breathtaking in their delicate beauty.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“We have no home. We are citizens of the universe. We travel wherever we are needed. At this moment, your planet is in dire need of our assistance.”

“The bugs,” I whispered.

“The ‘bugs’, as you call them, are evil overlords who conquer through utter annihilation of all which they encounter. They are eaters of worlds; ruthless, vicious parasites. They will not stop until your world is devoid of all life.”

“I was starting to get that impression,” I said. “Can they be stopped?”

“Yes,” Ilara said. My army has the power to stop them. They are many and we are few, but they are no match for us. You must release us before it is too late.”

“What will happen after you defeat them?”

“Then we will leave your world in peace.”

“And if you don’t defeat them?”

“There is no ‘don’t’. We will be victorious. Listen to me when I tell you, your leaders’ plans to attack the Horde with nuclear weapons will have no effect on them. You will destroy yourselves and your planet in the process, while the Horde grows stronger. They absorb the properties of that upon which they feed. Nuclear weapons will have little effect on them.”

“Nuke-resistant crops…” I whispered, thinking.

“Correct.”

“Why us?” I wondered aloud. “Why our planet?”

“They are the reality you have created for yourselves through your own actions. The Horde is here because the ideal conditions for their existence were already present. They are here because they were drawn here.”

“By what?”

“Why, you, of course. You attracted their attention, and they found your world to be a worthy investment. They are parasites. They attach themselves to existing life forms, and then become those life forms. They are attracted to large masses of life forms – whatever will make the best army. As their army grows, so does their ability to take over larger forms of life. They started with bacteria. Now they have graduated to fruit flies. Next, larger insects. Then the higher life forms. Eventually, you.”

“Us?”

“Yes. Without our assistance, you are on the verge of extinction. This planet and everything around it will become uninhabitable by everything except the Horde.”

“How will they survive once everything is gone? Won’t they die off, too?”

“No. The Horde feeds on low frequency.”

“What does that mean?”

Ilara explained, “Energy vibrates at different frequencies. That which your kind refers to as negative energy – anger, hatred, violence – all of those emotions emit a low frequency. Higher frequencies are at the other end of the scale – love, hope, compassion – all things which the human race claims to practice but only takes part in sporadically.”

“We’re not that bad, are we?” I asked, even though I knew the truth. The company that issued my paychecks was a prime example.

“The Horde are energy parasites, and they are attracted to the frequencies easiest for them to consume – the lower ones. They are like…” she paused, searching for the right word, “like the things you call vampires,” she finished. “Each of them is a merciless vacuum of nothingness. They devour everything they encounter. In the beginning, the higher frequencies were immune to them, but as fear spreads throughout your world, you will become more and more vulnerable, until nobody and nothing will be safe. They are only in their first stages of attack right now. They are generating fear, charging the planet with negative energy until everything on it is ripe for the harvest. You have only seen the beginning of what they can do.”

“And you can stop them?”

“Yes. It is early enough for us to stop them if we attack now. If you wait too long to release our army, all will be lost.”

“So, where are you, and how do I get there to release you?” I asked.

“We are already here,” Ilara told me.

“I don’t understand.”

“We are trapped in the place where you work.”

“My laboratory? But all I have in there are…”

“Bugs,” Ilara finished. “You call us, the ‘big bugs’, I believe.”

I looked around at my surroundings. Nothing looked familiar until I looked up. Suspended in what I had originally thought was part of the sky, I saw a large, shiny silver object. After studying it further, I recognized a familiar shape. A rectangular metal plate, with three round holes and a cylinder on one side… it was a hinge! I was looking at the office door, which I had been hiding behind when I lost consciousness.

Aw, nuts! This is just some stupid hallucination. I’m probably dying from some alien toxin right now, I thought. And just when I’d begun to have some hope that there might be a way out of this mess.

“Not a hallucination,” Ilara said, confirming my theory that this was indeed, a hallucination.

“I was unable to communicate with you,” she explained. “I could hear your thoughts, but for some reason you were unable to hear mine, so I had to take drastic measures. I used my sword to inject you with serum to reduce you to our size.”

I looked down at the ground, which I had thought looked like salt flats. Now I realized I was standing on the tile floor of the office. They had shrunk me!

“I’m your size?” I said, still in disbelief.

“Yes.”

“I’m not going to stay this way, am I?”

“No. I will put you back into your world, but we need to explain some things first.”

“Okay, I’m listening.”

“Once you return to your normal size, you will need to release our army from your laboratory. It is also very important that you release the Horde as well, so that we can eradicate them. If you do not, they will multiply all over again and this disaster will be repeated.”

“But, labs all across the continent have them contained! How am I supposed to convince them to release their specimens?”

“You will have to find a way. The more of them left alive, the greater the risk of re-infestation.”

“Risk, you say? You mean, re-infestation isn’t certain?”

“Not certain, but likely. There is one weapon your race has that can eliminate them, but I do not believe enough of you will use it.”

“What weapon is that?”

“Love.”

“Love?”

“Love energy has the highest of all frequencies. Love, mercy and compassion for each other is the most powerful weapon your race possesses. Sadly, too few of you make use of it. You find it easier to dwell in the anger frequency. Anger is powerful in its own right due to the passion that often fuels it, but it is lower than the frequency of love. If more of you could rise above that plateau to exist in love, the Horde would be driven from this world, never to return.”

“I can’t expect everyone to just drop everything and start loving each other,” I said.

“No, neither do we,” Ilara sighed. “We will do what we can for you, but when the battle is over, it will be up to you whether or not the Horde will thrive again.”

“But, there’s a chance, right? I mean, even a slim chance is hope.”

“Hope is a good place to start. A good place indeed.” Ilara smiled, and the army of iridescent faces behind her lit up as well.

“Let the battle begin!” Ilara crowed, drawing her sword. The rest of the warriors joined her cheer. Silver flashed as they drew their weapons and raised the blades to the sky. Their visors slid shut, and shiny black suits of armor unfolded to encase the warriors’ bodies. With full armor, they looked exactly like the ‘bugs’ I had been so exhaustively analyzing under the microscope.

Ilara stepped forward and pricked the back of my hand with her sword. I smiled as I slipped down into blackness once again.

For the first time since the whole mess began, I felt like humankind might have a future.

 

 

Copyright © 2014 Mandy White

 

I had intended to create something clever this year for the Evil Squirrel’s Nest Annual Contest of Whatever.   The theme of this year’s contest was, “A Squirrel Walks into a Bar”.  And then the day of the deadline dawned and I still had nothing. I looked up some squirrel jokes on the internet to pass the time, and somehow this emerged. Without further ado, here’s my entry:

halloween squirrel

* * *

A Squirrel Walks Into A Bar…

Reggie and Chelsea Chipmunk sipped their beers and stared at the TV screen over the bar. The only thing more boring than playing golf was watching it, but neither of them felt motivated to ask the bartender to change the channel. If only something would happen to break the monotony of the humdrum Wednesday afternoon.

The door of the bar banged open and a squirrel walked in.

“Oh, shit, it’s Silas!” Chelsea said, pulling her hair over her face, as though that would actually help.

“Great,” Reggie groaned. “I wonder what he wants today.”

“I’ll make a wild guess. ‘I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a beer or two today’,” Chelsea said.

“Shh! He’s coming this way,” Reggie whispered.

“Ack! I can smell him already!”

Silas was a large squirrel with fur the color of soot and an aroma that entered the room before he did. He drank heavily, smoked, and never had money to pay for his vices. He relied almost entirely on the kindness of strangers. One would think it would be easy to turn him away, but the truth was, everyone kind of liked him in spite of his shortcomings. His accent made him sound cultured in spite of his appearance, and his sense of humor was disarming; he always had rapid-fire jokes at the ready. Laughter seemed to diminish his stench to an almost bearable level.

He reached the bar and squeezed in between Chelsea and Reggie, slinging an arm over each of their shoulders. “Oy! There’s me best mates!”

Chelsea tried not to gag.

“Did you hear the one about the squirrel who liked humping acorns?”

“No.” Chelsea shook her head.

“It was fucking nuts!” Silas laughed heartily at his own joke and Reggie and Chelsea joined him in spite of themselves.

“What does a squirrel and a ciggy have in common? Both are safe until you light them on fire and put them in your mouth. And, I might add, also quite satisfying.” He reached for Reggie’s pack of cigarettes and helped himself to one, as if to demonstrate.

Chelsea groaned. “Oh, that’s just plain bad.”

“Aha! but your smile says different!” Silas grinned like a rotting Jack-O-Lantern.

“Don’t encourage him, Chels,” Reggie said.

“What’s easier to load, bricks or squirrels? Squirrels, because you can use a pitchfork.” Once Silas had an audience, there was no stopping him.

“A vulture boards a plane carrying two dead squirrels. The flight attendant says, ‘Sorry sir, but you’re only allowed one carrion’.”

Silas waved the bartender over and ordered a beer, then looked at Reggie questioningly. Reggie sighed and then nodded.

“Put it on my tab.”

“A dog was chasing me in the park, so I went up a tree. Should have seen his car, it was totaled!”

“Did you hear about the squirrel who got hit by a car?” Silas was on a roll. “I told them they never should have let me drive! Seriously though, getting run over by a car isn’t all bad. I hear it’s very flattering.”

“But seriously, for real. I need to ask a favor.”

“Aw, here it comes,” said Reggie.

“I need a place to stay.”

“Nope.” Chelsea said. Inside her mind, she screamed in horror at the thought.

“Sorry man, can’t help you,” Reggie said. “We don’t have room.”

Silas turned to Chelsea.

“C’mon, Luv, how about it? I’ll even do dishes.”

Chelsea hated being put on the spot this way. She always ended up agreeing to things she didn’t want to. She had to stay strong. She shook her head.

“It’s like Reg says. We just don’t have the space. We’re converting the spare room into a nursery.”

“Congratulations! You’re going to be a Mum? Are you sure it’s wise to be drinking?”

“I’m not yet, but we want to have kids in the near future. So, you know, we need to have that room available.”

Silas winked at Reggie. “Keep trying, mate. Amiright?”

“That’s right,” Reggie said. “That’s why we need our privacy. No roommates.”

Chelsea blushed and wished for a hole to crawl into.

“I’m not looking for anything permanent. Just a few nights. I have a flat coming up, but it won’t be ready for a week. I’ll sleep on the couch and stay out of your way.”

“Well, in that case…” Reggie said, “What do you say, Honey?”

Chelsea glared at Reggie. He would pay for this. Hell, he would pay for the new couch they’d have to buy afterward. No. He would sleep on the old one for a week first, on those stinking cushions, so he would understand what he’d done.

“I guess it’s already decided,” she said, making no effort to hide the anger in her voice. “You can stay for a week, but only on one condition.”

Silas put his arm over her shoulders, making her want to crawl out of her own skin. “Anything, my dear. Your wish is my command.” His dumpster-breath wafted into her face.

“One week. Not a day longer. And you will take a shower, brush your teeth, and wash your clothes before any part of you touches any of my furniture.”

“I tend to avoid water. Gotta keep me nuts dry!” Silas’ attempt at humor fell flat this time.

“Take it or leave it,” Chelsea said. “That is my final offer.”

“Milady drives a hard bargain. Of course, I will need to borrow your privy to take a shower. And your washing machine. And you don’t happen to have a toothbrush I can use, do you?”

Chelsea sighed. “I’m regretting this already.”

* * *

True to his word, Silas shed his grimy clothing and placed them in the trash bag Chelsea provided, and stepped into the shower with some reluctance.

“Use the shampoo!” she shouted through the door. “Lots of it! I don’t care if you use it all!”

Some time later, Silas emerged from the bathroom looking clean and fresh, a towel wrapped around his waist.

“Sorry for the nudity, Lovey, but me clothes are in the wash. I don’t mind if you don’t. Got anything to eat?” He wandered into the kitchen without waiting for an answer and Chelsea followed to make sure he didn’t break anything or make a mess. She sniffed the air. He still stunk!

“Wait a second. What the hell is that?” She stared at his back, not believing her eyes.

“What’s what?”

“That! That damned white stripe down your back! What the hell kind of squirrel has that?”

Silas turned to look at his back and tail. He shrugged. “Oh, that. It’s nothing. Me Mum always said I was special. I was adopted, you know. She found me all alone under a bush and brought me home. I was always bigger than me brothers and sisters, and had this dark fur with the white stripe. We looked it up on the internet one day, and apparently I am a special breed known as a Fart Squirrel.”

fart-squirrel1