I’ve been spending the summer with my kid, catching up on housework I didn’t do for, oh, a year while working on the book, and doing research for my next book. What have you been up to? But to keep my brain working, I thought I’d write a short story…a little summer ghost story. Hope you enjoy!
In the years After, we always say it came without warning. That it happened so quick nobody knew what to do. But everybody knows that’s not true. There was plenty of warning, only we ignored it. We were always too busy, right up until the very end. Maybe we could have stopped it, maybe not, but we didn’t even put up a fight so we’ll never know. When you come down to it, we just weren’t paying attention.
It started in the late 40’s. People noticed a little then, but the planet had just finished tearing itself apart in a world war and everyone was still licking their wounds and burying their dead. Nobody wanted to believe that something that bad could happen again so soon, so they just refused to think about it. People say that what used to be the US Government looked into it then, but personally I don’t think they did. Maybe I’m naïve, but I think if they woulda looked, they woulda found something and stopped it. I don’t know. People are always calling me a sucker and maybe I am. Anyway, whether the feds knew something or not, whether the feds did something or not, it didn’t help. From then on, They were here.
They’re not like us. They’re smart. They’re slow. What I mean is, they think about things slow. They make plans. They study. They don’t just rush in. So They watched us carefully for almost fifty years. They learned our ways, what makes us happy and sad, what makes us kill each other and help each other. Not just in the old United States, but in countries all over. They were everywhere. And They saw everything.
They knew what They had to do to get what They wanted. Right before the new millennium, They implemented step 1 of Their plan. They introduced a virus that zipped right through the world, infecting kids like crazy. Nobody died but that didn’t mean it wasn’t serious. Parents shelled out millions looking for a cure—anything for the kiddies. After a few years, it went away on its own. People were too busy worrying about the Next Big Thing to pay it too much mind anymore. Most of us thought that we’d never hear about it again and we were glad. But it would come back, when They were ready. It was the first volley in Their attack, and its return would mean the end of everything as we know it. But of course, we didn’t know that. Not then.
Things started to go south in a major way after that. September 11th. The Great Recession. Columbine. Hurricane Sandy. Politician after politician, promising everything and giving us nothing. Gridlock as far as the eye could see. Planet getting hotter every year. It seemed like the whole world was going to Hell in a handbasket, if you’ll pardon the expression. We started to feel hopeless, like there was no end in sight to the badness people’d do to each other and to our planet. I haven’t figured out how much of the bad stuff was Their doing and how much we did on our own, but I guess it doesn’t matter. Whether They started it or not, we did a lot of awful things. Sometimes I think we deserved what we got, that we couldn’t be trusted with a world this good and so we lost it. But that’s just on the really bad days.
Once we got to where we would do almost anything to forget, They put the final part of Their plan in place. They brought the virus back—even bigger than before. More people got sick this time, not just kids but adults too. It spread like wildfire—sweeping the US in only a few days. Nobody was safe. You couldn’t escape. But instead of asking questions, instead of trying to figure out why it came back and what that could mean, we just let it happen. We needed a distraction and that’s what we got. A distraction that reminded us of better days, happier times. We were so happy to reminisce that we never asked why. And that was what doomed us.
While everyone was staring at their phone, They attacked. They took every capital of every country in the world, flying Their flag where flags of many nations used to fly. They captured every army, every navy. Nobody realized it was happening until it was done. We still don’t really know how They did it. Within hours, it was over.
Best I can figure, Their planet was dying like ours is, only They figured it out before we did. They invested in space travel and explored until they found a planet where They would be able to survive. Our planet was perfect—except we had already wrecked it so much that it would be uninhabitable before too long. So while They watched us, They also studied our planet to see if it could be saved. They figured out that if we gave up all factory farming and fossil fuels, plus gradually brought the temp down, Earth could be saved. But it was really tricky—it would only work if no nukes were fired. So They had to take the planet without a fight. That’s where the virus came in.
I used to be a truck driver before They took over. Now I work at Their food plant. They figured out how to turn garbage into food, which is shrinking landfills and solving the space crunch. When I used to say food tasted like garbage, I had no idea that someday I’d really be eating garbage. I’d give anything for that old food—even something I hated, like vegetables. I almost forget what vegetables tasted like. I forget a lot of things now. It’s usually easier that way, but sometimes it makes me so sad.
For some reason, They don’t seem interested in killing off us humans. Probably cause they need us to work for them, making food and stuff. We live in settlement camps, like the US government used to do with the Indians. They have the rest of the earth. I don’t know what they’re doing outside the walls. Nobody does. Probably farming. It’s getting colder, so whatever they’re doing is working. I’d hate ‘em, heck, sometimes I do hate ‘em, except they’re so efficient. Gotta admire that. They wanted to do something and They did it. And it coulda been worse. I saw the alien movies Before, I know that “we come in peace” is usually bull. But They actually meant it.
We’re from all the old countries here, living together. People don’t really care where they used to live or what language they used to speak—we all speak Onespeak now. They taught us that first thing. Kids growing up now don’t even know about countries and wars and stuff like that. All they know is human and Them. So I guess in a way, They brought us world peace, what we always said we wanted. It feels different than I thought it would now that we have it.
Life isn’t too bad compared to being dead, but we’re not free. We don’t have schools or sports or government or Hollywood or anything like that anymore—just work. We work, we amuse ourselves with songs and stories and games, and we sleep. People still make babies, but we don’t really get married anymore since there’s no point. No judges or priests here in the camps. No private homes to live with families either. Just the barracks, where we all live together. But there’s no taxes either, so that’s something. It’s nothing like it was Before, but when you think about it, life Before wasn’t always so good. We didn’t do a good job taking care of each other and our planet then. Now, nobody goes hungry. Nobody gets murdered. We work, we play, we sleep. That’s all.
People still say it happened without warning. They don’t want to think we could have stopped it if we had paid attention. But the truth is that we were too busy playing Pokemon GO to notice when aliens took over the world. They used a kid’s game to steal a planet, and it worked. At least They let us keep that, After. Our phones don’t call or have the internet anymore, but we can still play that. Hey, that reminds me, do you have a Charizard to trade?