Roots of Change

roots

November 19th, 2016

The lights in the sky were a diversion. We should have looked down.

November 20th, 2016

In a matter of days, the following terms will have meaning to everyone in the world:

That which grows through our heels.

That which tastes our skin.

That which fills our pores.

That which empties.

November 21st, 2016

Laura is dead. Gus is dead. Mohammad is dead. Nes is dead.

November 22nd, 2016

Where can one go when everywhere is a trap waiting to be sprung? I feel as if I’m navigating an endless minefield, with every step having the potential to be my last. Everyone is staring at the sky with hope in their eyes. Everyone is going to die.

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Long Fingers

lights

Saturday morning, there were long smudges on the glass of my front door. Three, thick, semi-parallel smudges from what looked like fingers. They trailed from the middle of the door down to its base, then disappeared. If they were from an animal, it wasn’t any animal I knew about. If they were from a person, he was unfathomably deformed.

An hour later, I discovered nine dead deer behind my garage. Their eyes, sexual organs, and teeth were missing. I called animal control and was told there were mutilated animals being reported all over the county. They had no explanation, but I was assured the carcasses would be picked up before the weekend was over.

As I hung up, I heard something in the background on the phone line.

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Bits and Pieces

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Fingernails were the first to go.

No pain accompanied the loss; the victims went to sleep one night and simply woke up without fingernails. The events occurred in Donglu village, located in China’s Shandong Province. There are limited medical resources, so few sought treatment. The affected went about their lives.

Teeth came next.

In Pinellas County, Florida, between November 3rd and 16th, 19 people checked themselves into local hospitals and reported they had woken up with jaw pain, bleeding gums, and missing teeth. They were all wisdom teeth. No one could explain what had happened.

On November 20th, 82 people in Lahore, Pakistan woke up without arms and legs.

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Bubbles

aliens

I was getting my hand stitched up in the ER last night when a series of rapid beeps sounded on the intercom, followed by an announcement of “ABD, code A, bay 1.” Every doctor and nurse in the area stopped what they were doing and rushed to the main ER entrance. They got there just in time to meet the ambulances.

I couldn’t see anything, so I waited. I figured there had to have been a serious accident. My phone rang. It was Lucy, my wife. She asked how my hand was. I told her they were still stitching it up. I apologized for getting blood all over her bagel, and she laughed and said she told me not to cut it that way.

There was a pause while Lucy answered one of the kids’ questions in the background. Then she came back on the line and asked if I saw that really bright light about a half hour ago. I didn’t know what she was talking about, so she went on.

“It was crazy bright – the whole sky was this weird, pastel pink color. Then it turned white. It almost hurt to look at it was so bright.”

“Huh,” I replied. “Maybe it was a UFO.” I craned my neck to see over the mass of people still huddled by the ambulance bay. Still nothing.

Lucy laughed. “Yeah, must’ve been aliens.” She said something to one of the kids again, then came back on the line. “Ok, I’m gonna go. Joey said he’s about to throw up.”

I said goodbye and ended the call. The commotion on the other end of the ER was growing as more people from other parts of the hospital had gotten there. Something smelled terrible.

I covered my nose and mouth with my shirt and stood up. I walked over to the window so I could get a better look at what was happening. The crowd had thinned slightly. I saw a few nurses running off, probably to pick up supplies. At the end of the hall were two gurneys with medical personnel hovering over them.

The smell got worse and I gagged inside my shirt. One of the gurneys began to move as someone pushed it down the hall.

I stood in the doorway and watched. As the victim came into view, my eyes widened. It was a young woman, covered from head to toe in what I could only describe as bubbles. Some were as small as a pea, others were the size of a grapefruit. They all throbbed and pulsated from some pressure inside them, and every so often, one would tear open and weep yellow fluid onto the gurney. The smell was overwhelming.

They pushed her into the room next to mine. I could see everything from the window in the wall. They didn’t bother closing the curtains. I heard the other gurney being pushed by and glanced over at it. A girl, maybe 12 or 13. I shuddered.

I directed my gaze back at the person in the adjacent room. The doctors were popping bubbles to insert an IV. Fluid oozed onto the floor and I used every bit of self-control I could muster to avoid throwing up.

The woman’s eyes were wide and darting back and forth. It was an expression of terror. Terror and agony. As if sensing my stare, a thin stalk slid from the center of her left eye. The doctors shouted and backed up. The stalk elongated a little over a foot, and its tip grew a bubble of its own. The bubble expanded and the weight caused the stalk to droop. When it was the size of an orange, it stopped growing. It hung like an obscene fruit.

There was a yell from the room where they’d brought the other victim. I assumed it was for the same reason. On the other side of the window, more stalks emerged in a cluster from the woman’s other eye. All of them produced bubbles like a bunch of grapes.

My phone beeped. It was a text from Lucy. “Can you go look outside? It’s that light again!”

As if on cue, every light in the hospital went out. The emergency lights clicked on for half a second, then they went dead. There was nothing – nothing but the stream of pink light coming in from the open ambulance bay doors.

I stepped in the hall and asked, to no one in particular, what was happening. I doubt anyone heard me, because the light shifted from pink to white, accompanied by a blast of noise I can only describe as static. It caused me to clasp my hands to my ears and retreat backward into the room, where I cowered in the corner.

I saw shadows passing in front of the white light reflecting off the floor. Bizarrely-shaped shadows. They moved in a way that was both jerky and fluid, like jelly suspended on bone. The shadows darkened as whatever was making them got closer. Doctors and nurses in the next room shrieked, and there was a flash which silenced them. Then, two feet away in the hall, harshly illuminated from the back by the piercing, white light, I saw it.

My initial thought of jelly suspended on bone wasn’t very far off. Six ossified tubes carried heavy, segmented portions of sloshing, semi-transparent sacks. The first thing that came to mind was the body of a jellyfish. Bubbles and waving stalks decorated the entirety of its trunk and it walked by, either not noticing me or not caring about my presence. It reached the room of the other victim. Just like before, there was a scream, a flash of light, and then silence.

The light outside went dark. The sound stopped. The emergency lights in the hospital clicked on.

I scrambled to my feet and looked through the window at the room next to me. The doctors were writhing on the ground with burns on their exposed skin. The burns didn’t look life threatening. But the woman on the gurney was gone. Nothing was left but the sticky, yellow fluid on the floor.

“What the fuck was that?!,” I yelled, and banged on the window. The person who’d been stitching me up got off the floor, came back into the room, and asked me to sit down so he could finish. A nasty burn on the bridge of his nose wept tears of lymphatic fluid down his mouth and chin.

“ABD code,” he said. “Abduction. We’ve trained for them, but it was the first one I ever saw. They’re not supposed to come back for the abductees, though. I wonder why they did that.”

I sputtered and asked, “You..you people have dealt with this? How isn’t this going to be on the front page of every paper?”

“Well, you’ll forget about it in a couple hours. Everyone will. Better write down what you remember so you can tell your friends. You’ll recall something happening, but you won’t remember what it was.”

I looked at him, stupefied. “So how could you train for something like that? And how do you know it was your first one if you can’t remember?”

He shrugged. “It’s just what I was told. And good point about that other thing.” He paused and I saw a series of nearly invisible, faded scars around his hairline. He smiled and nodded. “Very good point.”

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Shadows on the Wall

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Growing up, I was convinced I’d be abducted by aliens. I lived in constant, sleep-deprived fear as every strange shadow and every reflection of light on the wall signified the beginning of what I knew would be my end. Logic told me the shadows were just piles of dirty clothes or my coat rack; that the reflections were just from passing cars on the street below. But logic fails in the face of terror. If it weren’t for my older brother, Jason, with whom I shared the bedroom, there was a very real chance I would’ve lost my mind.

I remember my 13th birthday with the same detached sense of helpless violation as a victim of sexual assault. The day itself had been fine. Pleasant, even. My parents, who were always caring and supportive, did their best to make sure my birthday was enjoyable. They knew I was stressed. They knew I was anxious. I’d never told them why, though. Only Jason knew, and he promised to keep it a secret.

After the festivities, I went up to my room to play video games. I had two hours to play before lights-out. Jason sat on his immaculately-made bed, which was in stark contrast to my messy one, and watched, offering pointers as I died over and over.

Two hours went by quickly, and Dad came in to say it was time to go to sleep. He sat next to Jason on the bed and let me know he was proud of me; how I’d been brave despite having a hard time and that things would get better. He wished me a happy birthday and kissed me goodnight, switching off the light on his way out of the room.

For a little while, I felt pretty good. Like I said, I never told my parents exactly what had been bothering me. They’d ask every so often, but they wouldn’t pry. They could tell I was struggling. I heard them cleaning up downstairs, comforted by the fact they were still awake and alert. With a sense of security I hadn’t felt in a long time, I drifted off to sleep.

After a couple hours, I woke up and glanced at the clock. 11:26. I closed my eyes again. Before I could drift off to sleep, though, I noticed something. The room smelled bad. It wasn’t a scent I could identify in the slightest – it was heavy and medicinal, but organic, too. Strange. Alien.

My eyelids lifted to the sight something shuffling toward my bed. I tried to shout and bolt away, but nothing worked. No movement, no sound. Only my eyes could receive my commands, and they stared, bulging out of my skull, as thing stood over my supine body.

I knew it’d finally come to me; this was the day I’d anticipated and dreaded for years. I tried to make out the features on its face. All I could pick up on was hideousness. Deformity. A head with its upper-left quadrant missing. A mouth with no lower mandible and a shriveled tongue lolling down to its skinny neck.

“Robbie,” it gurgled.

It knew my name. It had been studying me and it knew my name.

“No more me, Robbie. No more me. Time to grow up.”

Its head came down and touched my forehead with the remains of its upper lip. As it tilted, maggots tumbled out of the cratered skull and landed on my face. They squirmed and tumbled onto my pillow. I felt them writhing against my ears and the sides of my neck.

“I’ll miss you.”

It turned and walked toward Jason’s bed. I tried over and over to scream as panic suffused the entirety of my being; the dark world around me blurred and I knew I was going to pass out. I knew I was going to fail my brother and not be able to warn him before the creature reached him. Before I lost consciousness – before I passed into a dreamless morass of black – I hated myself for being so useless. For being so weak.

My mother’s shrill, panicked shriek catapulted me back into reality. The room was bright. It was morning. Mom stood over Jason’s bed wailing and sobbing and I heard Dad thundering across the hall from their bedroom. He burst into the room and immediately saw what Mom did. I watched his knees tremble, as if he were about to fall.

I didn’t move. Everything from the night was coming back and I knew – I was certain – Jason was dead. My big brother was gone. The certainty was overwhelming and searing tears of leaked down my cheeks onto the pillow. Something wriggled against my neck. I gasped and leapt to my feet.

Everything went slowly for the next few minutes.

I turned and saw the ring of maggots around my head print on the pillow. Dad was crossing the room to take me in his arms when he saw the bugs on my pillow and in my hair and whispered, “oh my God.” He picked me up. He hadn’t done that in years.

I rode out of the room in his strong arms. “Don’t look at your brother’s bed,” he ordered. I couldn’t help myself. I looked as we exited. One glance was all I needed.

Jason’s body was on the bed. He was wearing a stained and dirt-encrusted blue suit. “Oh no,” I thought to myself, as I took in his injuries: the torn lower mandible. The caved-in skull. The desiccated, green-gray skin that was mostly gone.

Mom’s wracking sobs had escalated to hysterical screaming. As Dad and I rounded the corner and headed downstairs, we heard her shouting, “how did you come back? Why are you here? Who did this?”

Dad whispered in my ear as we walked. “It’s okay sweetheart. It’s okay. We don’t know who did it, but it’s going to be all right. It’s not your brother anymore. It’s just the body he doesn’t need. He’s still in heaven, okay? He’s still in heaven.”

I started to shake and Dad’s voice cracked with emotion as he spoke those last words. “He’s in heaven.” It sounded horribly, horribly familiar. I closed my eyes and saw a coffin. I saw my parents standing next to it, sobbing. I saw a large, framed picture of Jason and a room full of friends and family.

But I also saw the toys I was playing with. And I saw Jason sitting next to me. We played while everyone else cried. He grinned and said, “Don’t be upset, Robbie. I’ll be here to help while you grow up. You don’t have to feel sad.”

My aunt, Lindsay, came up to me and stood in the exact same spot where Jason was sitting. I remember thinking it was strange she could do that, and then she knelt down and said, “he’s in heaven” before walking back to my cousins and uncle. Jason winked at my confused face, then we kept playing with our toys.

“Jason died,” I whispered to Dad.

He nodded and I watched as he eyed the muddy footprints from the back door which led up the down the hall and up the stairs to my room.

“You were probably too young to remember, but he loved you so, so much.”

I thought back to all the fun we’d had in our room over the years, all leading up to the video games on my 13th birthday the night before.

“You’re the same age he was now,” Dad said, and tears freely flowed down into his beard. “You’re all grown up.”

Something from the previous night buzzed in my ear. “No more me, Robbie. No more me. Time to grow up.”

And then it clicked. And my screams joined those of my mother in a terrible, dissonant chorus.

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