Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
It’s been so overdone it’s turned into a never ending cliché. There are hundreds of films. I’ve watched them all, loved them all. Now, they just make me sick.
The pickup I’m driving shakes as I brake, the ABS is stuck on due to an internal computer malfunction.
I pull to the side of the road, looking down a small cul-de-sac. The houses vacant, windows broken as the empty darkness inside stares back at me.
Most of the houses are missing their front doors, scratch marks littering the outsides.
I pull up to a house, its red door hanging from one rusty hinge. A basketball hoop lies in the front yard, decaying into the soft ground.
I used to live here.
I close my eyes as instants of my life dash behind my lids, floating somewhere in the tiny space of time before the world grew so dark, so cold, and so empty.
A faint music fills the air and it draws my attention.
It’s an ice-cream truck. The same one I once used to race to when I had heard its lilting song, money crumpled in tiny clenched fists.
The speakers are wheezing the old song as a tire spins lazily in the summer breeze.
I hum the tune softly to myself.
Singing has always calmed me when I’m nervous.
I check the mirrors before cautiously opening the doors, my eyes scanning for movement as I tug the shotgun from the space behind the driver’s seat, clicking it open to check that it’s loaded.
Papers from overturned trash bins flutter against my feet as I make my way to my house, making sure not to touch the door, lest it creak and alert anyone, or thing, to my presence within the silent universe of my childhood.
I move across the muddied, white tile silently, pausing as I place my foot on the first step.
I’ve snuck out enough times to know that only the fifth and eighth steps squeal when you press onto them.
I survey the first two bed rooms. Their occupants, my parents and grandmother, long since gone.
I move to the old dresser in my parents’ room, my mother’s perfume resting upon its smooth surface, the only thing untouched in the room filled with splintered furniture and torn clothes.
I lightly trace my finger along its glassy surface, the amber fluid gently swirling as I do.
My palm closes over it before I comprehend the action, bringing it to my pocket before letting it sink to the bottom.
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch the colored beads to my room swaying, rattling together.
I shoulder the gun, heart beating against the confines of my ribs.
I fight the urge to call out. It would do no good. My parents wouldn’t hide from me and if it was one of them… God, I was dead.
I slowly make my way past the bathroom, its door missing, shower curtain ripped and laying upon the floor.
Shakily, I part the beads with one, then two, then three fingers, making the space just large enough to fit through. They part with ease and I replace them soundlessly.
I’ll only get the decency of one shot before it will overtake me.
I see something move in the corner, behind my bed. My childhood sheets are ripped and my lamp is laying on the floor still on. The silhouette of the broken furniture makes it hard to focus on the movement emanating from behind the mattress leaning against the wall.
The hammer of the gun ticks into place, the shattered glass beneath my boots crackling with each step. I swallow the insurmountable lump that has congregated in my throat, tears stinging my eyes. Even after everything that has happen, all that I’ve witnessed, I am still terrified of death.
My hand touches the exposed foam of the mattress, pulling slightly as I steady my breathing.
In one fluid motion, I throw the mattress aside, mustering more strength than I could ever achieve without the adrenaline pulsing through my veins.
A hissing noise tears through the room, as I pull my gun up, tripping over the chair that used to sit at my desk and tumbling toward the ground, my head hitting the missing half of my bookcase.
I stumble to my feet, whirling around and fumbling with the trigger before I see what it is I am faced with.
A small cat stares at me, back arched and teeth glinting, its tail straight in the air. The slits of its eyes widen before jumping through the broken window of my bedroom and disappearing onto the roof.
Laughter immediately peels from me as I bend forward, the gun resting in the crooks of my elbows as I cover my face. It doesn’t stop for a good few minutes before I regain my composure, sitting on the mattress now in the corner of my room.
With tear stained cheeks, I turn my attention to the grey sky beyond the broken glass. My stomach turning in hatred.
We were always so focused on the sky, building large machines to shoot radio waves into the dark abyss just outside our reach, expecting an answer to the thousands of broadcasts that littered the darkness.
It was the fad of the times: a never ending search to appease our human need to not be alone in this expanse we call the universe.
How foolish we were, turning our attention to other worlds when we had failed to adequately explore our own.
I suppose we learned our lesson.
It began on a brisk September morning. The bodies littering the shores. Thousands of them covering every beach, lining the sand in neat rows.
They had all drowned. Men, women, and children called by some unnamed force deep into the water before rolling back in with the morning tide, lifeless and bloated. The pictures were plastered on every media platform available. Every dorm room at my tiny college echoed with warnings from authorities to stay clear of all oceans.
It took only a few hours before the first bodies rose, their faces covered in a thin layer of excess skin.
They controlled everything in a matter of days, posting on our websites, taking control of television networks.
Whatever they were, they spread quickly, all contact with them ending in infection.
They claimed to be our makers, our real gods. They had made us in their image and now, they were here to take that image back.
There was no why for the invasion, no justifications, but, as my father always said, not every question has an answer.
Now, they had taken over nearly everyone. Cities were left to ruin and suburbs fell apart at the seams.
Sitting on my mattress, I recall why I’ve come: my family.
I had managed to escape the first wave, being away at school and deeper toward the center of the country. My parents and grandmother did not have my fortune.
I stand slowly, wiping the sweat from my brow.
Everyone had said that I was crazy for going towards the shore. The cities there were wastelands, filled with memories of the great empire we had built, now rotting into the concrete on which it stood.
How could I have not gone?
This was my family. I couldn’t abandon them, even if it meant going to the very source of the invasion.
I make my way back down the stairs, searching the living room before moving into the kitchen, and then the basement.
Part of me is relieved that I don’t find them there, an extra layer of skin stretched over their faces as they sat, staring at nothing.
I had only seen a few and never up close.
If you were that close to one of them, you usually didn’t live to tell of the experience.
I move into the family room. The TV is smashed into the fire place, making it appear as if some sadistic version of Santa Claus had delivered the broken present, shards of glass resting on the dark wood.
A soft rustling noise draws my focus from the destroyed room to just outside the large glass windows, still intact.
In the yard, there are nearly a dozen figures, their bodies slightly shifting from side to side.
The voice is a raspy whisper, but certainly recognizable.
I hold my breath, water spilling from the corners of my eyes, rolling over flushed cheeks.
My voice wavers as I speak, losing confidence as I open the screen door and step onto the patio.
“You’ve come home.”
The figure of my grandmother moves forward, the light skin over her features stretching as she smiles beneath the layer of flesh.
I cover my mouth with my hand, sobbing.
“Shh… Don’t be afraid sweetie. It’s just us. We’ve come to welcome you.”
My father moves forward as well, arms opening to embrace me.
“Stay back!” I shout, raising the gun shakily and loosely aiming it in the direction of what was once my father.
He pauses mid-step, turning his head to the side like a confused dog before slowly lowering his arms to his sides.
“I was hoping you wouldn’t be so obstinate. You were always so like your mother.”
The mass of faceless figures part and something stumbles forward before falling to the ground. My mother is tearing at the white layer partially obscuring her face, covering her eyes. Her favorite sundress was stained with grass and blood, fingernails raw and bleeding.
I retreat backwards, falling against the side of the house for support.
“She’ll be alright, baby.”
My grandmother moves to stand next to my father.
“Soon she’ll see that we going to be a family again. She just needs to see her little girl agree too.”
My hands loosen on the gun. I… I can’t shoot them. I just can’t.
They’re wearing their clothes, speaking in their voices.
My mother wails from the grass, crawling towards me.
On instinct, I reach for her hand, our fingers almost touching before she stops, a gentle tremor in her fingertips.
“Katie?” she asks, her voice nothing like the harsh rasps of my father and grandmother.
I stifle a cry, my body shaking as I wipe my eyes with the back of my hand.
“Yeah. Yeah mom, it’s me. I’m here.”
She turns toward me, her voice low.
“It’s not them, but you won’t win. I-It’s not them. I-I love you. You’ll be okay.”
I clutch the gun with both hands, crying into the metal of the barrel, the smell of gunpowder filling my nose.
“I never wanted this…I-I can’t say it.” her voice breaks as she trails off, her hand falling to the soft grass as she grips it tightly, knuckles white.
“Do it. Do you understand? Do it. We-we won’t win,” she says, voice straining with tears she can no longer shed.
I remain still as she speaks, the film finally beginning its final descent, covering her mouth entirely. She starts suddenly before falling limp, convulsing at my feet as she tries to pry the skin from her mouth. I stagger away, too afraid to touch her. Too afraid to save my own mother.
“We finally found her in the shed an hour ago.”
My grandmother has inched closer, her hands up in supplication.
My gaze turns toward the tiny barricaded barn, a hole gouged in its side. The splintered wood around the opening giving it the appearance of a gaping mouth, teeth bared.
“Such a needless struggle. We’re simply making the world better, filling it with unanimity.”
I wipe my eyes again, tears blurring my vision.
“We just want you to be a part of this new world. You can come with us and it will be painless. We promise.”
My grandmother offers her hand to me, standing so close that I can see her eyes behind the thin sheen.
I look up at her, something in my chest pulling me closer, luring me in.
“Ok,” I whisper, pulling myself to my full height as I look to my mom lying in the grass, blood seeping from behind the white mask that now covers the face I’d seen a thousand times.
“I’m gonna do it mom,” I whisper, turning to face my grandmother.
“I’m gonna do it.”
I slide the gun through my hands, tapping the end with my finger. My eyes close as I take in the last view memories of my childhood home, enjoying the simplicity of the bygone days.
I hardly feel the gun slide between my teeth, the tangy metal permeating my mouth, nor do I hear the shot that rings through the air.