Ok, I thought, ok, you need to move, you need to get Mrs. Coosey out of there, or else you’re going to be all alone. I shook my head wildly, hoping the world would spin back into reality like on the TV shows. It didn’t, but it got me moving somehow. I sucked in a breath and charged out the kitchen door faster than I was aware I could run, fueled by terror. I dashed across the street, vaguely aware of blurs speeding about the neighboring houses, and pounded up the front steps to Mrs. Coosey’s door. The cats dashed about and I kicked them away from me. The door became everything that didn’t make sense to me, and I beat on it with a fury that had me drooling, hoping this nutball of a lady would open it up for me. “Mrs. Coosey! Mrs. Coosey, are you all right? Let me in!”
There was no answer. So I took matters into my own hands and kicked in the front door with my newfound strength, which sent white-hot pain down my wounded shin. The door flew open, rebounded off the doorstop and hit me again as I tore through the bare rooms looking for signs of life. From room to room I raced like a mouse in a maze fixated on cheese. I checked in the closets, the upstairs rooms, the downstairs rooms. Nothing. The house was empty. Like a bad surrealist film, I looked up through where the roof used to be and watched crows hovering above the house.
Cats started spilling in through the door and leaping at my feet. Several of them tore into my legs and shins and I kicked them away, visions of Mrs. Coosey clawed to death in my mind. “Ow! Get the hell off!” What was their problem? What set them off? I’d never seen them act like this before. One of them pounced from the windowsill to my shoulder, frantically shredding my back. I spun Tasmanian Devil-like until it flew off me and landed in the corner. I rushed over to kick it away—
At first I thought, thank God, he stopped. But the moments ticked away, me eagerly waiting for Stanley to return to the kitchen with more wounds on his arms. As I sat there, mortified by my friend’s decline from sanity, I became aware of a faint scratching above me from upstairs, like a raccoon or opossum sniffing around the heating vent, the click click click of its claws scraping on the hard wood floor.
Then it was quiet again.
“Stanley?” I shouted. I got no reply. A vision of Stanley scraping at the floor with a knife accidentally stuck in his neck launched me out of the chair and up the stairs two at a time, phone in hand, finger pressing the nine once again, figuring I’d need to get an ambulance out here. The bedroom door was closed. I threw myself against it and fell into the room.
Into the empty room.
Where was Stanley? The knife lay on the floor, blood pooling around it. I absentmindedly kicked it under the bed as I ran around to look out the window. But the window was locked. There was no way he could have gone out it and then locked it from the inside. The bed was disheveled, the sheets hanging off the foot. I ruffled through them, as if, somehow, he were buried under them hiding. But of course he wasn’t.
The bathroom, I thought. I rushed across the hall to the bathroom, the only other room on the small second floor. It was empty, everything as it should be. Where was he? I threw back the shower curtain and found an empty tub, my half-used bar of Dove lying near the drain. There was a small window near the toilet, but it was far too tiny for a man to fit through, and even if he had managed to squeeze through it the fall would have broken his legs; there was no overhanging roof beneath it.
I ran back to the bedroom and the phone started beeping, letting me know it needed to be hung up. I turned it off and sat on the bed bewildered.
“Stanley?” I asked again. No answer. “Stanley, where are you? You’re making me neurotic.”
I prayed this was just some elaborate joke. Across the street I heard a faint “Praise Jesus,” from inside Mrs. Coosey’s house.
I picked up the phone from where I’d dropped it and told Stanley, “I think we’d better go inside before the police come get you. Cat Lady is on recon today.”
“Sure. Let’s go see your boiler.”
As I walked Stanley back inside, I looked at the phone in my hand, felt that last digit calling out to me like Romeo to Juliet. But I just couldn’t press it just yet. I knew Stanley wasn’t like this. He was a go-getter, a closer. He was top of his game at the real estate office.
He opened my fridge and pulled out a beer, popped the tab, and sat down at the table. Blood from the knife and his wounded hand dripped on my kitchen floor but he didn’t seem to mind. He took off his blood-soaked shirt, wadded it up and threw it into the wastebasket by the stove. I saw he had a couple fresh cuts on his chest too. He must have really been slicing at something. He laid the knife on the table and took a breath. A silence passed between us.
“Are you gonna call the police on me?”
I looked at the phone, at his wounds, the frown on his face just beneath his wide, nervous eyes.
“Stanley, what’s really going on, you’re freaking me out.”
“Go downstairs, you’ll see.”
“I am not going downstairs.”
“Why not? Because you believe me, don’t you?”
“I had one of ’em in my hands, Kevin. Had it held tight. Scaly little thing, struggled like a Chihuahua that don’t want to be picked up. If you listen hard enough . . . there!”
My heart leapt as he shot upright and grabbed the knife again. I threw my arms up over my face. He raced into the living room and I heard him run up the stairs to my bedroom. “I’ve got you now!” he yelled. Sweet Jesus on a hot dog bun, I said to myself, what’s he doing now? I downed the beer and tossed it in the trash on top of his shirt. Above my head, the loud THUMP THUMP THUMP of Stanley’s racing about shook the ceiling.
Then it stopped.
It was quiet.
A phosphorescent yellow goo collected where the blade met the hilt. I put my nose to it and took a whiff, throwing my head back and nearly retching. It was horrible, not unlike bile. Of course bile didn’t shimmer like this. And that’s when I saw, in my periphery, a little animal run under my table.
I spun around, heart in my throat.
Nothing. The room was empty.
I leaned back against the sink, knife at the ready, catching my breath. There was nothing under the table, no animal anywhere in the room. Yet, I had clearly seen it, dashing toward the basement stairs, where the door stood open from Stanley’s earlier action. I had barely moved my head to look and it just vanished, as if it had never been there. I let out a breath and chuckled. Okay, Kevin, relax, you’re freaking out. No doubt one of Cat Lady’s dumb pets snuck in looking for food. First things first, find Stanley and get him home and in bed. Next, finish off the six-pack in the fridge and do the same. The cat will come out eventually.
I heard something on the basement stairs, a low wheezing followed by scraping thumps that slowly moved down them one at a time. Outside, Mrs. Coosey was back in her yard, holding two cats in her marshmallowly arms while attempting to pick up a third. I contemplated asking her to kindly get her cat out of my house, but I wasn’t sure it was a cat I was hearing now. It sounded . . . different. Whatever it was, it let out a snuffle, like a pig, and ran across the basement floor, little pitter pat feet echoing off the walls.
At this point, I’d had enough fun and games. I hefted the knife in my hand and decided to play it like a cowboy, headfirst, guns blazing. I opened the door and ran down the steps yelling, “I’m gonna skin you when I catch you,” hoping that whatever rodent or cat—or whatever—was in my basement would hear me coming and scurry out the way it had come in. Only, when I got to the bottom of the stairs, I didn’t see any animals. I didn’t see anything. And that included my boiler. It was gone.
The two cats I had brought with me grew into ten, into twenty, and more kept coming over to join us, their fur covered in yellow, glowing victory, until the entire neighborhood of cats circled around my feet. Many of them were munching on the blurry corpses the dog had killed, some were pacing in front of me. Ralph sat attentively by my side, awaiting instructions. Remembering what Stanley had told me, I searched through the overgrown grass near Ralph’s house until I found what I was looking for.
A small, silver, ovoid object, buzzing with little lights, lay behind some crab grass. A diamond in the rough. I picked it up and hefted it, figured it at about three pounds. I searched for an opening and found none; there were no windows, it was solid all about. Yet I knew that inside, Stanley was getting probed from every angle, Mrs. Coosey was being poked and prodded. My house, my fucking house, was inside. What did Stanley say? Bigger than the whole earth inside. How did he know? What didn’t he get to tell me before he vanished?
Under the clear sapphire sky, the world changed before my eyes. Mrs. Coosey’s house vanished, the trees vanished, the cars vanished, the bikes vanished, the garbage cans, the swing sets, the fences, street signs, telephone poles, more houses, bushes, mailboxes, basketball nets, sometimes just front doors, other times entire sides of a house. I saw a police cruiser down near the main road just blink away. There was no rhyme or reason to it, really. And everywhere I looked, tiny little blurs sped about, taking whatever they wanted. Why? For what purpose? God only knew. Some people—some things—just feel entitled to everything, I guess. Everyone wants what’s not theirs. It’s intrinsic in nature, the desire to take, to not have to work for anything. Humans, most of us anyway, can control our urge to take what others have. The rest of the universe, it appears, is not so polite.
The noises that followed were perplexing. A series of loud scuffles, some banging, the bulkhead door slamming, Stanley cursing. Now Stanley, in the street, yelling.
I leapt up and pasted my face to the window over the kitchen sink in time to see my temporarily insane neighbor tearing down the street, knife slashing at the wind, swinging at nothing in particular, running like a lunatic who thought he saw a spaceship land in his backyard. Mrs. Coosey came out of her front door across the street, phone to her ear, and with all the trepidation of the cats she sheltered, waddled down her walkway to see what the commotion was. By the time she reached the street, Stanley was out of sight.
I composed myself, grabbed the phone from the carriage, and made my way to the front yard where Cat Lady and I exchanged looks, hers nosey, mine confused. On the next street over a murder of crows erupted into the air and lighted on the power lines. I vaguely heard Stanley yelling profanities from their direction.
“That man was never right,” Mrs. Coosey said to me, one of her mangy felines curling around her shin. “Knew he was on drugs. Helen Mulchahey says she saw him at the super market one night sniffing all the floor cleaners.”
“Uh huh,” I said. Sure thing, Cat Lady, Stanley’s the one who’s nuts, not the woman with thirty-two cats on her roof. “He’s under some stress, lot of work. New client he tells me.”
“Well, I should think his friends would teach him right from wrong.”
Obviously, that was meant for me, and it pissed me right off. Made me want to smack her upside the head with one of those big tomcats she was in love with. But, I knew she had a point somehow. Stanley was losing his mind and I couldn’t just let him go terrorizing the neighborhood with my butcher knife. So it was with great pathos that I dialed a nine and then a one and then . . . and then before I could finish, Mrs. Coosey let out a “Lord almighty!” and dropped her phone, nearly tripping over her cat as she raced back into her house.
With a trembling hand I slid the knife under the door and titled it to reflect the room. It whipped from my grip with lightning speed and disappeared. I cried out and ran down the stairs, hearing the basement door fly open behind me and the quick pitter-patter of insanity giving chase.
The bulkhead was still unlocked from when Stanley had run out of it and I tore through it like a hurricane and slammed it closed behind me, sitting on top of it to keep it shut. Something slammed into it on the other side and tried to push it open.
“What the flying fuck!” I yelled.
My only reply came from across the street, a muffled scream from the Cat Lady. Another one after that. Truth be told, I didn’t really care what was happening to Mrs. Coosey at that point. Whatever was in her house, well, at least it wasn’t after me. The bulkhead kept banging, trying to open, but I was too strong for it.
Aliens. It can’t be. Jesus, Stanley, how did you find aliens?
Of course, as I thought it, I couldn’t help but feel this was all still some sort of joke. I mean, the human brain isn’t built to rationalize the unfathomable. You see a dinosaur running down your street and you think, well, I must be dreaming. And you are. Because dinosaurs don’t exist. Neither do little green men . . . with claws and fangs and a penchant for five-fingered discounts. So my mindset, as I stood dripping fear-induced sweat onto the bulkhead, was total mental breakdown. I felt like crying. I felt like screaming. I felt like waking up.
But I wasn’t asleep.
STANLEY! WHERE ARE YOU!
I forced my ass down on the bulkhead and let it bump me up and down. On the other side of the metal doors the snuffling and scratching grew more annoyed, became a grunting and panting. Whatever you are please just go away. Just leave me alone and let me wake up in bed.
My neighbor rapped on my door this morning, red-eyed and breathing the stink of the sleep-deprived, babbling nonsense about a spacecraft landing in his backyard last night. He wouldn’t look me in the eyes, not because he was embarrassed, but because he kept scanning the shadows of my untidy home as if little green men were going to pop out of the light sockets with anal probes at the ready.
“Jesus, Stanley, sit down already.” I ushered him inside where he paced uncontrollably before racing to the front window and pulling the blinds wide open, letting in sun like an interrogator’s spotlight. Done with that, he ran over to my hallway coat closet and flung wide the door, kicked his legs inside.
“Hey! Those suits are clean, Stanley! Now sit down or I’m gonna knock you down.”
At last he slumped into the recliner, a toy robot swiveling his head, his fingers drumming on the arms. “You don’t believe me.”
“Oh, no, I believe you,” I said with blatant sarcasm, scratching sleep-crusted jewels from my eyes. I yawned and looked past him to the kitchen, wishing there was something in the coffee pot. “A spaceship landed in your backyard. I already know.”
“Huh? But how—”
“Yeah. After it landed, the Martians and I played some gin rummy and polished off a bottle of vodka. They cheat at cards, by the way.”
Stanley rolled his eyes, annoyed. “Listen, Kevin, something landed in my backyard last night. Landed near the doghouse. Little tiny ship about yay big.” He spread his hands apart like a man measuring an imaginary fish two feet in length.
“Well I can see your concern,” I said, “alien that size could do considerable damage to your garden. Maybe you should get some mouse traps?”
“See, at first I thought some punk kid shot a firework into my yard. But that didn’t make sense. There was no noise. Just this pink light falling straight down from the sky and landing behind Ralph’s house.”
“What did Ralph do?”
“What dogs always do, started licking his balls.”
“The envy of us all.”
More importantly, the phone was gone. I had another one upstairs in the bedroom, but I didn’t need to look to know it was gone. Again, Mrs. Coosey caterwauled. It made me feel good in a grotesque way, like when you see a choking person coughing, knowing they’re still alive despite the agony they’re in. At least I wasn’t alone.
Unless I planned to clean the creatures to death, the dishrag was useless. I looked out the window at Mrs. Coosey’s house, surrounded by an army of cats spitting and climbing up the screen door. Even if I mustered the nerve to rush over and help her, the cats, crazy as they were acting now, would shred me.
From around the back of her house, a blur sped through them and parted them like the red sea. The cats erupted into a riot and zoomed about. Ralph barked. Cat lady screamed. My brain said, see ya, Kevin, I’m outta here. Transfixed, I stared out the window waiting for the blur to steal something into thin air. Nothing changed, nothing moved. The cats kept on hissing and pissing on the porch.
So what were my options? I had no weapon, no phone, no rational thought. I’d say my cupboards were bare if I still had cupboards to look in. A sudden fear took hold of me and, with a maternal cooing, whispered, It’s ok, just lie down and go to sleep. And I almost did just that, except what I saw next shook me from head to toe.
The roof on Cat Lady’s house vanished.
Poof. Gone. Just like that.
I staggered back from the window, hit the wall on the far side of the kitchen and felt like I’d turned to stone. How? How were they doing it? I stood plastered against the wall for a while, waiting for the rest of my house to disappear, waiting for dinosaurs to walk down the street. Oh man, this wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be happening. Through the window, the sky was a bright blue, the sun shining down with all the hope of a new weekend afternoon, glinting off the fire hydrant on the corner. There used to be a stop sign next to it, but it was gone now.
Mrs. Coosey’s house remained untouched, sans the roof.
Walt Cheney from the top of the street came running down the sidewalk, arms flailing, blurs on his shoulders, blurs zig-zagging between his feet. He saw me, called for my help, but I didn’t move. He got pretty close to us, gave a good fight, about one hundred yards away before he too flickered out of existence. Poof. Gone. Into the ship in my hand.
I held the world in my hand.
I don’t know how long I stood there, holding the ship, watching the earth disappear. Ralph still sat patiently, knowing what was coming. The cats, even the cats, had settled down, reserving their strength. And pretty soon nothing was left, no trace of humanity. Just barren fields and dirt, the sky, the sun, the birds with nowhere to land.
It wasn’t hard to see them after that. I’d learned how to spot the blurs pretty easily now, how to hear the little scuffling noises they made. They were everywhere, thousands of them, millions even. Everything I saw shifted in and out of focus. Eventually, Stanley’s house, the last thing standing, vanished as well, which meant they were all around me, closing in. Trapping us. Ralph got up on all fours, gave me a look of canine resolve, the bravest look I’d ever seen a dog make. The cats started revving up their guttural war songs. Their low moans became alarms. Coosey’s Warriors let loose their battle cry, spitting and hissing and howling, their fur covered in glowing yellow war paint. A wall of blurry spikes rolled closer and closer. I held up their ship.
“You want this? Huh? You want this! Too bad! You took what’s mine, now I’m taking what’s yours.” I was crazy, I was a madman, I was gone. “You want your ship,” I screamed, “come and get it!”
The blurry spikes rushed us, and we charged. All of us.
Could be the perps had moved on to our neighborhood. “Someone must have broken into your place while you were out. Did you call the cops?”
“No one can rob a house that fast. And no, I can’t call the cops and tell them aliens did it. I’m not an idiot. What do you think I am, some inbred lowlife trying to get on one of those stupid daytime talk shows? Kevin, look at me. I’m serious. Something not from this Earth stole all my possessions.”
“And where’s this ship now?”
“Still there. I wasn’t about to touch it! Told you, I’m not stupid.”
The look in his eye was so intense I had to turn my head. He was right, he wasn’t stupid. As long as I’d known him, which was a while now, he’d never been this spooked and outlandish. That look in his eye was downright determined. You know that look people get when they truly believe the government is monitoring their phone? It made me step aside and re-evaluate the situation. Either Stanley had seen something that genuinely scared him or he was subconsciously issuing a cry for help. More to the point, if his house had been robbed, that was nothing to laugh at. Probably the best thing to do was call the cops myself and see what they knew.
“Wanna see? Come on over, I’ll show you. My house is empty. Aliens did it, I saw ’em.”
And then we were back to aliens. “Look, Stanley, I think you need to sit down. How about I make some coffee and we—”
Maniacally, he broke off his stare and grabbed a butcher knife out of the sink. I didn’t even think, I just threw myself under the table like a linebacker trying to tackle the floorboards, half expecting the blade to come crashing through the tabletop above me. Stanley was grunting, swearing, mad. I must have pissed him off something good and now he was going to kill me! I started screaming, “I believe you! I believe you!” But instead of attacking me, Stanley opened the door to my basement and charged down—a marine on the front line of his own schizophrenic war.
The cats, however, saw it all too well and went into a maniacal frenzy, hissing and clawing and biting and scratching and howling. Mrs. Coosey went down like a sack of potatoes, cats all over her, blood oozing from deep scratches on her arms and legs. The cats kept at her, ripping her apart. Mrs. Coosey fumbled upright and started kicking at her babies, sending cats running, speeding into every corner of the neighborhood. “Lord Almighty,” she shrieked, fresh welts on her cheeks, and waddled inside as fast as she could.
Inside with that thing.
Call the police, I told myself. Call them and tell them an invisible creature is terrorizing the neighborhood, and that it stole my boiler and washing machine. And Stanley.
Even as I thought it I realized how stupid it sounded, and I realized why Stanley hadn’t called anyone. Then lie, I thought. Don’t be some jack-assed horror film teenager, call them and report a fire or something.
I sprinted upstairs and rebounded off the locked basement door. Locked? The latch, which was on the other side, was a good four feet up near above the knob, how was it locked? I was about to just kick it open when I heard the now familiar shuffling from the other side.
Something was walking around in the kitchen. But I had seen the blur race into Mrs. Coosey’s house, hadn’t I? Did I imagine it?
No, I didn’t imagine it. I was sane. Which meant—Stanley, I hope you’re wrong—there was more than one.
Slowly, like a man backing away from a stray dog, I moved down a couple of steps until my eyes were in line with the bottom of the door, and peered through the half-inch crack at the base into my kitchen. The shuffling continued right in front of the door but I couldn’t see anything. My ears followed it from the door to the table to the pantry and then back to the door. It moved slowly, but I could tell it wasn’t a cautious walk. More like it was browsing. Shopping. When it got to the door it stopped. Thinking. Waiting. Then . . .
“When the light hit the ground, it lit up the trees all the way down to the woods in back, first pink, then yellow, then blue, then nothing. So I go out this morning to see what the hell it was, and sitting there was the ship. Looked like a metal football. Hey, you listening to me? I’m serious here. Like a metal football.”
“Did you go out for a pass?”
“Kevin, I’m telling you. It was a ship. Little lights danced all over it just like in that movie. You know, the one with that guy who was in that other film with . . . what’s her name? She got snubbed for the Oscar that year? Forget it. Point is, it made this soft buzzing and it was smoking and— What was that?”
He sprang up and ran to the kitchen. I heard pots and pans clanging and falling and silverware hitting the floor. It was like the Swedish Chef was in there preparing a banquet. I rushed in after him and found him going through the cupboards like a heroin addict looking for a hidden fix.
It was almost amusing, still sleepy as I was, the way he tossed aside my frying pan and wok and slammed the cupboard shut, coming up empty handed. On the other hand, I knew I was going to be the one picking up the mess and that annoyed me. “If you don’t stop this,” I told him, “I’m going over to your place and throwing your shit all over.”
“Go ahead. They already took everything I own.”
“What do you mean they took everything?”
“When I went back inside everything was gone. They stole it, put it in their ship. All of it. Every last bit. Put it in their ship.”
“Their two-foot-long ship?”
He spun around and looked me hard in the eye for the first time. “Inside it’s bigger. Bigger than the whole earth. Can you imagine?”
No, I couldn’t imagine. The only thing I could imagine was Stanley in a padded room, and I told him so. He just glared at me. I could see he was serious about what he said, and my amusement waned as I thought about a story I’d seen on the news a few days ago concerning a robbery assault a few neighborhoods over.
Looking up I saw Stanley, awash in bright, wet blood, careening back toward where I was standing. He came on like a Mack truck without brakes. I echoed Cat Lady’s sentiment as I tried to dodge his charging body. He collided into me, knocked the phone out of my hand and grabbed my collar.
“You saw! You saw, right!”
“Sure, Stanley. I saw. I saw you running down the road with my knife! Can I ask you something?” I gently pried his fingers from my now bloodstained neckline. “Whose blood is that?”
“I missed. I had one of ’em in my arms and I stabbed it but it just disappeared. I stabbed myself instead. The little fucker.”
I couldn’t believe what was happening. That cut on his hand was wide and opened right to the bone.
“I had the little thing in my hands, Kevin,” he continued, “About yay big.” His hands made a one-foot fish. “Ugly as Ralph’s excited pecker, I swear.”
“Um . . . Stanley . . . I didn’t see anything.”
“Course not. ’Cause they’re invisible. That’s how they can steal so easily, ‘cause you don’t see ’em. But I saw ’em taking your boiler downstairs, out of the corner of my eye. I learned how to see ’em. Like I learned how to hear ’em. So faint, but you gotta listen really hard and you can hear ’em. Snuffling little fuckers.”
Okay, I thought, okay. I am standing in the middle of the street officially talking to a madman.
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “What do you mean they took my boiler?”
“See for yourself. You’ll believe me now.”
I didn’t know what to believe. My Saturday was shot to hell. He just kept looking at me like he’d won the lottery, like some big revelation had come to him. The more I saw how much he believed his delusion the sadder I became. Sad and somewhat confused. I was having a hell of a time trying figure out why I woke up this morning. What’s hardest about seeing your friend lose his marbles is that you feel the need to reassure him, to tell him, that in fact, he’s not crazy. But how do you tell someone they’re okay when they’re obviously bonkers?
But the empty room gave no reply. It did not add up, he’d definitely been in the room when I was downstairs, I’d heard the clomping, the shouting. Then it had stopped abruptly. Why?
I cautiously moved back downstairs, half expecting Stanley to jump out of a closet and grab my head and yell, “Wow! I got you good! You thought I was chasing aliens. Look over here, see that hole in the wall, that’s a camera, you’re on America’s Lamest Jokes.”
Nothing of the sort happened, and I found myself in the kitchen again, staring into the wastebasket at his bloody shirt. Through the window I watched Mrs. Coosey walk down her steps and pick up a mangy cat, all the while eyeing my house like it was a stick of dynamite with a sparking fuse.
I sat down and waited for Stanley to barge back in the door, which of course he didn’t. The drops of blood on the floor got me thinking about the time in fifth grade I’d punched Harold Bowdin in a schoolyard fight and broken his nose. It was the first time I’d seen how much blood could come out of a person. It had gushed out like faucet. When I got home after the fight, I was angry that Harold had made me defend myself, so I curled up in bed and cried. I kind of felt like doing that now.
I don’t know how many minutes passed before I finally went back upstairs to retrace my steps. It yielded no results; Stanley had disappeared into thin air. He was just gone. Bending under the bed, I yanked out the bloody butcher knife and brought it back downstairs and washed it off. The crimson water whirlpooled down the sink’s drain, and had I not decided to check my eyes in the knife’s reflection for signs of insanity, I might have missed what I saw next.
Then suddenly I was falling backwards down the stairs, the sky pinwheeling above me, my shoulders cracking against the concrete steps. Bump Bump Bump. I sprawled on the floor looking up the stairs at the sky.
The bulkhead doors were gone.
I braced myself for tiny aliens to attack me, rip my flesh off, tear my brain out. But nothing happened, only the beating of my heart kept any sense of time. It was silent for a length as I lay still, listening to the wind blow lightly outside. My shoulders blazed from the fall, my shins pumped blood into my socks. Faintly, I could hear Ralph barking next door. I felt sorry for him, his master nowhere to be found and strange things running around the neighborhood. He kept yipping louder and louder, incessantly. Should I go free him? I’d always wanted a dog, but my job kept me from it. Too much traveling. A dog needs companionship, exercise, love, and I wasn’t around enough to offer it. But still, Ralph was a good dog, and I played with him whenever I watched the game at Stanley’s. Poor Ralph.
My train of thought crashed into a wall as Cat Lady let out a new bloodcurdling wail that sprang me to my feet. I’m no altar boy, but I suddenly felt compelled to help her. Why? Who knows? An unspoken kinship, human helping human, Us against Them, even if I didn’t like the members of Us most of the time.
It suddenly dawned on me that whatever had stolen the bulkhead doors had been down here when it did it. Where was it now? Why hadn’t it attacked me? I went Bruce Lee on the room, bringing up my guard, eyes surveying the shadows. Deftly, I moved upstairs, shaking, shouldered open the door into the kitchen and almost didn’t mind when I saw it void of anything resembling a kitchen appliance. Yes, folks, they even took the kitchen sink. They left my dishtowel in the middle of the floor, though. How nice of them.
The clang of the knife on the ground barely registered in my mind.
What the hell was going on? Where was my boiler? Where was Stanley? What just ran down my steps?
The light from outside fell through small windows near my head, making dust speckled spotlights on the back wall. The back wall where my washing machine once stood. It was gone too. I walked over to where it used to be, tracing the dusty outline on the floor with my foot. Who the hell would take my boiler and my laundry machines? And then I saw it again.
The animal shot across the floor and sped up the stairs, slamming the door behind it. Only, it wasn’t an animal. It was a blur, barely visible, with spikes and teeth and claws and who knew what else. It certainly wasn’t any animal I had ever seen.
I picked up the knife and listened as it moved slowly across the kitchen floor above me, over to the backyard door. I heard the door open, followed by the animal’s snuffling, and then the door slowly closing. My beating heart was the only thing audible in the ensuing moments of utter silence.
It was cut off by a voice from outside. “I can’t pick you all up at once.”
Oh my God. Mrs. Coosey!
I flew back to the nearest basement window and wiped the dirt and cobwebs from it, clearing off a little circle I could see through. Mrs. Coosey stood in her yard surrounded by fifteen to twenty cats meowing and hissing and trying to get in her arms. They jumped at her chest and clung to her thighs, hissing and swiping at her. More of them came out of the bushes from neighboring houses. How many cats did she have?
And why were they all going crazy? Their backs were arched, their teeth bared, tails whipping about. I started to open the dirty window, to tell her to go back inside, but stopped myself at what I saw next.
Or what I kind of saw, as if it were in my peripheral vision, even though this time I knew it wasn’t.
A blur of spikes and claws raced through her legs and into her house. In her confusion with the cats she didn’t see it.
Story by Ryan C. Thomas
Art by Realmonstieur (Andrew Howell)
Part 1 of 19
In the distance I heard Ralph barking again. My grin grew larger. Ralph, Stanley’s German Shepherd. A big mother of a dog. A tank among soldiers. He growled, barked, whimpered in pain. I thought, don’t give up boy, and after a moment I heard him bark again. Atta boy, Ralph, give ’em hell. Not only did I have weapons, I had an army. The animals could see these things!
Scooping up two mangy, yellow-blood-covered felines, I ran across the street, ignoring the madness around me, and untied Ralph from his doghouse. Several motionless blurs lined the ground nearby, fresh kills. He was cut badly in areas, leaving trails of blood where he walked. Phosphorescent yellow goo stained his paws. He jumped up and licked my face and I rubbed his fur and cooed softly to him. I was rubbing his ears when I saw my house completely disappear, and though it hurt on an emotional level, I didn’t mind as much as I should have. I’d read somewhere that when faced with life or death situations, you experience a calm feeling. I wouldn’t say I was calm, in fact I was petrified, but I was beginning to accept it all. You either go with it or you crack, I guess.
Hanging in its mouth, a trophy kill to outdo all trophy kills, hung a limp, scaly, spike-covered blur, shimmering in and out of focus. Ladies and Gentlemen, you can pick up your brains in the baggage area.
I bent down to get a closer look, but it was as if I was wearing Coke-bottle glasses; my vision couldn’t seem to get a grasp on the object. Between flickers of visibility and invisibility, I made out a reptilian like creature, with a sharp spine and large black eyes, wearing what appeared to be little electronic accessories that blinked different colors. The cat, now calm, gave me a triumphant look.
The fucking cat had killed one of the creatures. It dropped it on the floor and held it under its foot, looking up at me for approval. I pet it on the head, my jaw hanging open in disbelief.
The other cats raced around me, swarmed on the dead little alien and devoured it. Yellowish, phosphorescent, pungent goo—the only thing that didn’t shimmer out of focus—splattered the walls. I watched, stupefied, feeling somewhat privy at the sight. When the cats were finished they dashed about the house, careening around each other, but never going too far from one another. Realization finally dawned on me. First, the aliens were indeed real. (Which I guess meant dinosaurs were too, and pigs now controlled the skies, and Dad really did walk uphill both ways to school when he was young.) Second, the cats weren’t attacking me, nor had they been attacking Mrs. Coosey, they were attacking the aliens. And third—and this sent a shiver down my spine—the fucking alien the cat had killed had been on my back. Jesus, I thought, Mrs. Coosey must have been covered.
I looked at the cat and a wide shit-eating grin wrapped around my head. I had found my weapon after all.