Ode to Humanity

Ode to Humanity

Illustration by Denny E. Marshall

by Stephen L. Antczak

 

“You’re crazy,” said Jenna, my sister. “Don’t do it.”

“What else can I do? I don’t feel like I have a choice in the matter,” I replied.

“They give everyone a choice,” Jenna pointed out. “You just have to make the right one is all.”

They, meaning the aliens, didn’t make it quite as simple as that. As far as anyone could tell their idea of “right” versus “wrong” was completely arbitrary.

“I’m sorry,” I told Jenna. “I’ve made up my mind.”

She sighed. “Mom always said you were the stubbornest person ever born.”

“Let’s hope she was right.”

I thought of something that might ease her mind, if just a little.

“Remember the puppies?” I asked.

Jenna frowned, then smiled.

“You remember,” I said.

“Yes, I remember.” She sighed. “But this is different.”

“Not to me, it isn’t,” I said. “At the time, there was nothing more important to me than those puppies. Nothing. So…”

* * * * *

Everywhere I go I’m followed by a huge, impenetrable, invulnerable alien spaceship that hovers over me. I’m used to it now. It’s been so long now that it sometimes seems as if people have forgotten the terror the alien craft imbued in people wherever it appeared, all around the globe. Having your own personal pet alien spaceship makes life interesting. Everyone knows who I am now, but I’ve gotten used to that, too. For a while people avoided me, not that it would have necessarily protected them. But now, even though it is a curiosity, people just accept it and get on with their lives, and allow me to get on with mine.

* * * * *

Ten years ago, on a bright and clear, but cold, morning the aliens zapped the Mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee. One moment he was there, and the next… zap! He disappeared in a flash. Needless to say, this struck fear into the hearts of civic leaders everywhere, and here’s why:

No one could touch the aliens. Nothing worked against their ships, not bombs, not bullets, not lasers, not sonic beams, not kamikaze attacks, not prayer, not nuclear missiles, not eternal optimism, not brass balled guts-n-glory tough guy attitude, not chanting, not late night talk show humor… nothing. The aliens could go anywhere and do whatever they wanted, to whomever they wanted, whenever they wanted. Humanity as a whole was being treated like a dog by an abusive owner, one minute being rewarded and treated kindly, the next being kicked hard in the ribs for no reason whatsoever. It was exceedingly stressful. Prescriptions for anxiety and depression shot through the roof.

* * * * *

So that’s the setting for this recounting of one moment during the darkest of dark ages in our history. We all saw how some survived and others didn’t, apparently by pure, random chance.

* * * * *

The aliens gave each of us a choice, but not always the same choice. Senator Lackley (D-Montana) had to choose between himself and a puppy. He chose himself and nothing happened to either him or the puppy. Following that example, Chattanooga’s Mayor Jackson, asked to choose between himself and an old man, chose himself and we know what happened to him. Then it was that African warlord’s turn to decide between himself and one of his wives. Of course he chose the wife and the aliens obliterated her and him.

It happened all over the world and no one could stop it; no one could do anything about it. Everyone agreed we were being tested, but no one could figure out what the test meant. World leaders pleaded live on the air, on the radio and television from mountain tops and the marble steps of official buildings, asking them why. They got no response, and the testing didn’t stop.

A CEO of an oil company was told to choose between his wife and his twin sister. He agonized over it for days before replying with a bullet to his own brain. The alien zapped the twin sister, but allowed the wife to live. The message was clear: killing yourself was not a way out.

That one got me thinking, though.

* * * * *

Somehow, I knew they’d get to me. Don’t ask me why. I just knew. It was a feeling that built and built inside me until one day I stepped out of my office and saw the ship hovering overhead. My first thought was, why me? They’d done it to tribal chiefs with less than three hundred followers as well as religious leaders with millions. But me, I was just the CEO of a small start-up with five employees, zero sales, and a high burn rate.

* * * * *

“It’s not just you,” Jenna said. “It’s me, too.”

I nodded.

“I know that, but think about it… if I say, ‘zap me’ they’re just as likely to zap you or even someone else. There’s no rhyme or reason to it at all, you know that.”

Now she nodded. She remembered Colombia’s President, who chose himself to die (this was right after the South African President did the same, and the aliens zapped South Africa’s Prime Minister instead; some theorized it was because he happened to be standing next to the President at that moment). In Colombia, the aliens zapped all the children under the age of five. Colombia descended into chaos, the President was lynched, and very little news has come out of that country since.

“I know, I just… I’m just scared is all.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“You don’t seem scared,” she said.

“Well, I am. I’m terrified. I mean, I think I have it figured out, but I could be wrong. There are a lot of people out there who are a lot smarter than me who haven’t figured it out yet.”

“Yeah, but… do you think… can you really do it?”

I scratched my chin, narrowed my eyes and grinned, all a put-on to make her laugh, ease her mind.

“If anyone can do this, I can.” I knew my own mind well enough to believe that.

* * * * *

See, the aliens, apparently, could read minds. That was the scary part. Some people thought that explained why they did what they did, why they zapped who they zapped. Maybe the President of Colombia secretly hated small children and the aliens simply tapped into his true feelings.

But I had that covered.

* * * * *

“It’s time,” I told Jenna. She looked tired. Neither one of us had slept a wink, but she had been worrying herself sick all night.

“Just in case,” she said, “I wanted to tell you… I’ve always been proud to have you as my brother.”

“I know,” I said. “And I couldn’t have asked for a better big sis.”

“If this doesn’t work, I’m still proud of you for at least trying.”

We hugged, and went out to stand before the lights and cameras of the media, beneath the silent, hovering alien craft.

* * * * *

Two days later, nothing had changed. The media still huddled outside, the alien ship still hovered overhead, and my sister and I were still alive.

“I think it’s working,” Jenna said, smiling nervously as she pushed aside the curtains to peer up at the spaceship. She let the curtains fall and looked at me, concerned. “You think you can really do it?”

“You know me as well as anyone,” I said. “What do you think?”

Her nervous smile turned into a grin as she remembered an incident from our childhood.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked.

“The puppies,” she replied.

I had to smile. I had been given a choice between two puppies, a lab mix and a husky. I didn’t want to choose because I was afraid of what might happen to the one I didn’t pick. So I simply refused to choose. I didn’t beg for both, my father had expressly forbidden that.

Finally, someone else adopted them, and they both wound up in a happy home together just a few blocks from our house. I used to ride my bike over and play with them before we moved away.

“I wonder,” Jenna said, looking out the window, up at the alien ship again.

“What about?”

“I wonder if they’ll ever go away; and if they don’t… will we ever get used to them?”

 

Ode To Humankind

by Denny E. Marshall

Inspired by “Ode to Humanity

 

The invaders can read our mind.
It is the end of humankind.
We are pets, the entire race.
Aliens now control the place.

Told make a choice and do not lie.
Pick from family, one to die.
Weapons target from ships in space
Aliens now control the place.

The brother struggles to decide.
Fate of sister he cannot hide.
Wish they would pack and leave no trace.
Aliens now control the place.

 

Promise

Promise

Illustration by Michael D. Pederson

by Dave Hebden

 

Eli was walking well ahead of Betsy down the wide path through the forest when he looked back.

“Come on now, girl,” Eli said to his little sister as she struggled to keep up with him. “Gosh darn, you’re slow.”

“I only got little legs, Eli,” Betsy said.

“Well, you’re almost nine years old, now. You ain’t no little girl no more.”

“Yeah, well, we been out here for two days and my nine-year-old legs is real tired. And don’t tell me your ’leven-year-old legs ain’t, too.”

“Sure they are but I wanna get to the lookout. Don’t you?”

“Sure I do. We still got time, Eli.”

“Well, not much,” said Eli, stopping to look at his wristwatch and letting his sister catch up. “Only ’bout nine hours and a few minutes and we still got eleven or twelve miles to go.”

Eli adjusted the heavy pack on his back and started walking again, now side-by-side with his sister.

“Ain’t it beautiful out here, Betsy?”

“Sure is. Real nice day.”

“Well, it’s the very last one so that’s how it should be.”

“How is everybody so sure about that, Eli?”

“Pa said every real smart person in the world tried to think of somethin’ to stop it and nobody could. Now it’s a sure thing and no mistake.”

“But you said when it happens, it ain’t gonna hurt none, right?” said Betsy, reaching out and holding her brother’s hand.

“You won’t feel nothin’, Betsy. I promise. I told ya that a million times,” Eli said looking at her and squeezing her hand.

Betsy smiled and the two of them kept walking.

* * * * *

“What’s it gonna be like in heaven, Eli?” asked Betsy.

“Well, Pa says it’s likely different for everybody. He says ya can’t listen to them old stories about clouds and angels floatin’ around or nothin’. Might be heaven is just that we get to have Ma back again and we can all sit down for Sunday dinner. I sure wouldn’t mind if that’s what it was.”

“Me, neither. Fact, I wouldn’t even mind havin’ old weird Uncle Wyatt there again, a-scratchin’ himself in front of everybody.”

Eli snickered, and then laughed out loud. Betsy laughed along with him.

As they walked along the path, it began to climb steadily through the forest.

“How come I don’t feel sad, Eli?” asked Betsy, a little out of breath.

Eli stopped ahead of Betsy and turned. He took her by both hands.

“Remember when Ma died, Bets? ’Member how sad we all were? Heck, the whole town was bawlin’ for a week. Everybody loved Ma, ’specially us. That’s who’s sad when someone dies, right? The folks that’s left behind, like we were. Well, mighty soon there ain’t gonna be no one left to be sad. I won’t be sad for losin’ you and you won’t be sad for losin’ me. Even better, maybe we won’t lose each other at all. Maybe we’ll be havin’ that Sunday dinner tomorrow, even though it’s only Thursday.”

Eli smiled down at his sister. He let go of one of her hands and tapped her on the nose.

“Now, let’s git!” he said, turning and climbing up the path again.

* * * * *

Eli dug through his backpack as he and Betsy sat on the ground with their backs against the trunk of a large oak tree.

“Here it is,” he said as he pulled out a candy bar and handed it to his sister.

“Mmm, Butterfinger! My favorite in the whole world,” she said as she tore off the wrapper and took a big bite.

“I know. That’s why I grabbed it in that store this morning,” said Eli, continuing to rummage through his backpack.

Betsy stopped chewing and frowned.

“Did ya have to shoot that guy, Eli?”

“Look, Bets, ’fore we left the house I promised Pa that I wouldn’t let you get hurt by nothin’ or nobody. That guy had a bad mind. Soon as I saw him comin’ near you with that look, I knew what he was fixin’ to do.”

“He sure looked surprised when that bullet hit him,” said Betsy with a mouthful of chocolate, looking at the ground and still not chewing.

“Yeah, he wasn’t expectin’ a kid to have a gun, I guess,” said Eli, finally digging a snack of his own out of his backpack. “That’s why Pa gave it to me when we left. He knew there’d be folks runnin’ ’round with bad minds. Ya gotta remember, Betsy. There’s folks that don’t believe in the hereafter, so they figure they don’t got no one to answer to no more. Some’ll do what they please while they can.”

“I saw it on TV that there’s lots of trouble all over the place,” said Betsy as she started to eat her candy bar again. “There was lots of folks just sittin’ in church, too.”

“Yeah, like Pa. That’s where he is right now, I’ll wager.”

“How come he didn’t have us stay with him?” Betsy asked and put the last of the candy bar in her mouth.

“Pa said he wanted us to do whatever we wanted. He said we’re kids and kids don’t like sittin’ in church much. I reckon he’s right about that.”

“Yeah, he sure is.”

“Well, we’ve always wanted to see that lookout by the river that Ma painted, right, Betsy? Since Pa never wanted to go back there after Ma passed, this is our chance.”

“They drove out in a car when they went, right?” asked Betsy.

“Yup. And I’ll tell ya, if I was a little bigger, Pa probably would have let me drive his truck out there. But we both love campin’ and bein’ in the woods and all. I got a compass and a map so I’m pretty sure there’ll be no gettin’ lost. And it’s been fun so far, right, Bets?”

“I guess. Kinda tired, though. And sometimes I get scared at night.”

“Well, ya got me with ya, girl. And I got this here gun. Pa said he thought we’d be safe anyways ’cause most of the trouble’s gonna be where all the people are… in the big cities and the like.”

“We haven’t seen a soul since we left that store, sure enough,” said Betsy.

“Well, we better get moseyin’ along again,” Eli said as he stood up and brushed off the seat of his pants.

* * * * *

“It’s just on the other side of that rise over yonder, Betsy!” Eli said as he pointed across the small valley in front of them to a ridge covered with tall pines.

“What time ya got, Eli? It’s gonna be a darn shame comin’ all the way out here and not gettin’ to sit a while and enjoy the view.”

“It’s almost seven o’clock, Bets. We still got an hour and a half. Come on, let’s go!” Eli shouted back as he hurried down the slope into the valley.

Betsy did her best to keep up with Eli, even as her own little backpack was starting to weigh her down. Eli slowed down when the land started to rise again. Betsy caught up to him as he struggled up the hill towards the top of the ridge. Finally, they came into a clearing on the top of the hill. Both stood silent, their breath heaving in their chests.

“I declare,” said Eli as he slung the pack off of his back and let it thud to the ground. He stood up and took in the most beautiful sight he had ever seen.

“Wow,” said Betsy. “Looks just like Ma’s picture.”

Far below them, the waters of a wide river meandered through a sweeping vista of farmland and forest. The summer sun looked fat and swollen as it hung above the horizon off to their left, shining on the ribbon of the river with a red glow.

“I bet we can see for twenty miles,” said Eli, now standing with his left hand on his hip and his right around his sister’s shoulders.

“Gracious, Eli! I sure am glad we came here,” Betsy said, reaching up and taking his right hand in hers.

“And we still got a little over an hour,” Eli said looking at his watch.

They both sat down on the ground.

* * * * *

“So what’s it gonna be like, Eli?” asked Betsy.

Eli could hear the fear in her voice.

“I’m scared, too Betsy. At least a little. But Pa says that when it happens, it’s gonna be right quick. You ain’t even gonna know about it. I promise, okay?”

“Okay, Eli. I believe you.”

As they sat and watched the last sunset, they were mostly silent. They lived old moments in their minds and occasionally smiled, one at the other. They held hands as Betsy rocked gently back and forth.

“You hungry, Bets?” asked Eli as he got up and went to his backpack.

“Nah,” said Betsy as she watched him for a moment and then looked back out at the river and the sunset.

Eli came back and sat next to her on her left, his right hand on the ground behind her.

“Just about time,” said Eli as he looked at his watch again.

“I love you, Eli Hamilton,” Betsy said.

“I love you, Betsy Hamilton.”

Far off in the distance, there was a deep rumbling sound that started to build quickly as the ground trembled slightly. On the horizon off to their right, the sky began to quickly discolor. Eli looked at the back of Betsy’s neck, focusing on the mark that Pa had made just below the base of her skull. He lifted the pistol slowly and pointed it at its target as Betsy was still looking out anxiously at the sky, wondering what would happen next.

 

Me and My Clones

DNAby Ilona Hegedus

 

We are celebrating with champagne
as me one got a promotion,
and me two got another degree.
Me three is having a baby.
Will the child call me daddy one?

 

Dear Cthulhu: Issue #19

DearCthulhuLogo

 

Dear Cthulhu,

I am constantly being criticized by friends and even strangers for breastfeeding my son in public. They all try to tell me he’s too old. I think it is up to the mother when she stops breastfeeding her kids. Besides, he just won’t take the formula. I’ve tried and he doesn’t like it. If it helps, my little one turned thirty-six last month.

–Momma Manning the Milk Pumps

 

Dear Milk,

Traditionally when the child can open up the mother’s shirt and help himself to a snack, it is time to cut them off. And it is quite possible that your behavior is keeping him from meeting women his own age to play and procreate with. If you are interested in grandchildren, I suggest stopping the feeding immediately. But look at it this way. You have kept your mammaries going for almost four decades. Maintain that with a breast pump for a while longer and you may be able to feed your grandchildren as well. I would suggest not mentioning it to your future daughter-inlaw or your son’s baby’s momma because she would probably not understand and would likely ban you from babysitting.

 

 

Dear Cthulhu,

I’m an avid gardener and I had been having trouble with vermin. I set traps, sprayed and put up those little sonic things to drive them off, and it didn’t do a bit of good. Something kept stealing my carrots so I waited patiently in my garden with a shovel in my right hand and a bottle of bourbon in my left. Finally after three hours, a rabbit showed up and I caught him nibbling on my cucumbers, so I clocked him over the head. The memory of that horrible clang has stayed with me ever since. That and the sloshing sound my bourbon made as it poured out onto the ground. I’m not sure which haunts me more.

The poor critter’s head was caved in and blood turned his white coat red. The worst part was his tiny little eyes stayed open and seemed to be staring at me, accusing me of murder. That or the voices in my head were messing with me again.

I’ve never killed anything before, not even a spider. Unless you count with my car and I don’t. I mean it can’t really count since they took my license away, right? Besides I’d been having a stressful week, finding out my girlfriend was cheating on me with her Clydesdale. If I had to be honest, I probably took out my jealousy on the rabbit, not that that excuses the bunnicide. Or the Clydesdale back-kicking me when I tried to make it a eunuch. My fault on both counts. I should have brought something sharper and bigger than the file on my nail clippers for the operation, but my probation doesn’t allow me to get caught carrying sharp weapons.

I buried the dead fuzzy thing near the tomatoes. Can’t waste good fertilizer, right? Since it was technically a memorial service, I tried to say a few words, but I got too choked up. Plus I didn’t really know Fuzzy, so I switched themes and poured some booze on the rabbit and lit him up. Technically Fuzzy died in battle so I figured he deserved a Viking funeral. I even jammed a couple of twigs in the side of his head to made it look like he was wearing one of those helmets. I’m a little fuzzy on what happened to Fuzzy, but he may have gotten up and ran around while he was still on fire. I told him to stop, drop and roll, but he didn’t listen. I guess he couldn’t hear me over all the noise. I never knew a rabbit could scream. Of course that’s assuming it wasn’t alcohol-induced hallucinations, but I usually enjoy those.

Now Fuzzy is haunting me. First in nightmares, then I saw a rabbit running through my garden and I knew it had to be Fuzzy back from the dead. One time I saw three of him. Double I’m used to, but triple? And one of him was even different colors. All of them were still eating my veggies, but I figured I owed him so I only chased him around with the shovel for an hour or so before I passed out and decided to let him go.

I figured I’d best move his body somewhere else so both of us could rest in peace. The problem is I didn’t exactly mark off where I buried Fuzzy and I was rather drunk at the time. And it’s also possible his flaming ghost may have risen from the grave to burn down my neighbor’s house. Witnesses said they saw a flaming rabbit running around the building right before it went up in smoke. Truth be told, it could have been the same night as the Viking funeral. Time sort of runs together when I drink. And I’m not really sure if I hooked up with a hot Playmate Bunny around that time or if something else happened that I’d rather not talk about. Of course it would explain some rather embarrassing burn marks.

How do I exorcise the spirit of this crazed rabbit and get my life and garden back?

–Killed The Rabbit In Kalamazoo

 

Dear Kalamazoo,

Haunted by the dead and angry spirit of a murdered bunny rabbit. Certainly not something for the faint of heart. There is indeed a way to rid yourself of this horrible specter, but it will not be easy. In fact I suggest you make sure you are halfway to inebriation before even trying it. It does not sound like it will be a long trip.

First you must strip off all your clothes and tie a single carrot around the front of your waist, as well as one to each wrist and another pair to your head that are pointed upward over each ear. Next, you must start doing the bunny hop in your garden and make your way down the street to your neighbor’s burnt home, all the while chanting “Bunny, bunny go away, don’t come back to haunt me another day.” The more people who see you the better. Cthulhu will be sending a film crew as well. I need an entry for a home video show.

Have A Dark Day.

 

 

Dear Cthulhu welcomes letters and questions at DearCthulhu@dearcthulhu.com. All letters become the property of Dear Cthulhu and may be used in future columns. Dear Cthulhu is a work of fiction and satire and is © and ™ Patrick Thomas. All rights reserved. Anyone foolish enough to follow the advice does so at their own peril.