David J Mooney
It was already going dark when Jared saw the little girl wandering through the streets.
A cold December afternoon was turning into a colder December evening, and the sun was getting close to dipping below the horizon.
He knew he’d have to be home quickly or there’d be trouble, but equally, he couldn’t leave a child—clearly lost and confused—meandering along the road, especially at this time.
She was staggering slightly, as if one of her legs were injured, yet it wasn’t severe enough for her to stop.
She was barely dressed, wearing only a nightie and slippers, and she didn’t seem to be too fazed by the temperature outside.
Jared, meanwhile, was shivering, and he was wearing a thick jumper and a coat, and he’d just walked almost five miles with a full rucksack.
The girl was shuffling along at a snail’s pace, oblivious to the weather.
He checked around to see if there was anybody else in the street before making noise. Loud noises weren’t safe these days, especially when the entire area he was in was silent.
He didn’t want to pierce through that blanket of nothingness and put himself in danger. There could be anyone or anything lurking around.
The road was empty. He decided to get a little closer and then get her attention.
“Are you okay?” he ventured quietly when he was almost within whispering distance.
He held his breath for a short time while he waited for the response, but it wasn’t forthcoming, and she continued along the path she was taking.
He thought that maybe she hadn’t heard him, so he tried the same words again, only this time slightly louder.
She stopped dead in her tracks. Jared could feel his heart pounding ten to the dozen and could do nothing but stare at the back of her head.
Without moving a muscle and without the slightest hint of emotion, she replied with only one word: “Yes.”
The girl waited a second and then continued to walk, much in the same manner as she had before. Jared jogged to catch up with her, and feeling a little more relaxed, he continued.
“Only it’s just that I can’t see your mum or dad around here,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure you were safe.”
She stopped again and once more didn’t turn around as she spoke back to him. “I’m fine,” the kid added, much in the manner as she’d talked before.
It was blunt and unforgiving, and again she continued to stumble along the road as soon as she’d finished.
Jared caught up to her just as she put her weight onto her front foot and grabbed her by the shoulder, half spinning her around.
“Listen,” he began, “I just want to know that you’re going to get safely home before…”
He stopped in his tracks as soon as he caught her eye. Her face was ashen, and her eyes had sunk deep into her skull.
He let out a yelp and scrambled back from the child, allowing her free from his grasp. She just looked at him through those cold, sunken eyes, trying to work out what he was doing.
After a moment, she let out a wail and began to stagger toward him as he lay on his back in the street, only to find he was too quick for her.
With a sigh of inevitability, Jared pulled a knife he’d stolen from a nearby hardware store only a few weeks earlier out of his jacket pocket and took it out of the plastic sheath that was there to protect it.
As the girl got close to him, he calmly and forcibly slid the knife into her forehead and killed her almost instantaneously.
She fell silent and then dropped to the ground in a heap.
Jared gave it a moment before pulling the knife out of her head and wiping it clean on her nightdress. It went back into the plastic covering and then straight back into his pocket.
Without even a moment’s thought, he picked up his rucksack and continued back to his camp.
As soon as the news broke of extraterrestrial life having made contact with the earth, Jared was planning for the worst-case scenario.
He had always been something of a worrier, and having heard rumors about the impending landings on the radio, he began to plan what he’d need to get underground for a while.
He’d arrived home from work at lunchtime on Friday—he always finished early on Fridays—and had immediately set about securing his house.
He’d used his garden fence to crudely barricade all of his windows on both the inside and outside of the building, and he’d left some back to do the same to the doors.
His next move was to get into the car and drive almost two miles to his local supermarket. There he stocked up on as many of the basic essentials as he could get into the back of his small vehicle.
He’d been courteous and paid for all of the tinned foods, crackers, nuts, and bottled water that he’d thrown into his trolley.
They were the main items, but he also picked up a healthy supply of candles and a small camping stove, plus a few other luxuries like handwash gels, toilet tissue, chocolate, and a brand-new rucksack.
Once he’d got those back home and down into the basement, he made a second trip out, though this time he was going to his local takeaway.
If the earth was going to be destroyed, then his last meal was going to be one he was going to enjoy.
He’d never been the fittest of people and had always worried about the rubbish food he’d been eating, but he was a single man, and sometimes it was just nice not to have to cook.
But if the world was going to burn and there were only to be a few survivors, he’d probably lose all that weight he’d been gradually putting on anyway, so one more pizza wasn’t going to do any harm.
He ordered his favorite—ham and pineapple—and waited anxiously for it to arrive as he checked the window for any signs of the apocalypse.
As soon as it was put in a box and handed over to him, he threw his money at the server and told him rather generously that he could “keep the change.”
He was quickly back in his car, ignoring the parking ticket he’d been given, and on his way home.
Once there, he locked each door and nailed some more of his barricades across them, sealing himself inside the house.
After that, it was a matter of getting comfortable. He took the TV down into the basement and struggled with one of the armchairs too, forcing it through the small gap in the hallway floor.
He finished it off with a camp bed, some blankets, a change of clothes, and, rather crudely, a bucket.
If the world was going to be attacked and he was going to be sealed inside his own home, he was sure as hell going to have somewhere to take a dump.
He did his best to position the hall rug over the entrance to his basement, dragging it up over the hatch as he stood on the ladder.
As he closed the door, the small piece of carpet dropped into place behind him. From there, he nailed the final few pieces of wood to the inside and began to set up his new living quarters.
Once he was ready, he opened the pizza box and began to munch it down.
Almost six hours later, Jared was beginning to wonder if he’d been a little premature in his actions.
He’d always taken a “better safe than sorry” approach to life, but waiting for the impending apocalypse proved to be frightfully boring.
His television reception wasn’t brilliant in his basement, and he was left enjoying twenty-four-hour rolling news, endless talent competitions and their sister shows, and the delights of commercial channel documentaries.
The Boy Whose Body Was a Tree and ~I’ve Fallen in Love with My Furniture~ were two of his personal favorites.
It was just as he was pondering removing the barricade from the basement hatch door and grabbing some films and his Blu-Ray player that he thought he might have overreacted slightly.
He picked up the hammer and began for the stairs, but he’d only managed to take two or three strides when he was stopped in his tracks.
The newsreaders on the TV had a new detail of the story to break.
“Earlier today we brought you the news that extraterrestrial life had been in radio contact with scientists at NASA’s headquarters in Texas,” the lady on-screen announced as she returned to the story.
“Our US correspondent Robin Austin is outside the White House now with the latest updates.”
The picture cut to a man clearly in front of a still image of the US president’s residence, and he confirmed that the American leader would address the nation shortly.
“He’s expected to say that, as bizarre as it sounds, contact with intelligent life from outside the earth has been made,” the reporter announced.
“And our sources from within the White House suggest that those life forms are currently on their way to earth.
“As yet, we aren’t aware of any discussions that are taking place, nor can we say for sure what is going to happen in the coming days.
“We don’t know at this stage what they look like or even if communication with these visitors will be possible.
“What we do know, however,” he continued, “is that the scientists based at NASA are extremely excited for the future.
“One told me they believe advances in fields like medicine and technology could be forthcoming, and they understand the beings are from a society that is much further developed than our own.”
Jared continued to watch the news story unfold over the course of the next few hours.
It involved studio discussions between whatever hastily thrown-together panels of guests the producers could find at the earliest opportunity and live reporting from both outside the White House and NASA headquarters.
They were all speculating on what was to happen.
All the time, Jared remained fixated on the screen and abandoned all ideas of leaving what was effectively his security bunker.
He was glad of that decision the next morning. The American president had never addressed the world; instead, he’d been whisked away to safety. Live reporting from the scene was quickly dropped.
Only the bravest journalists continued to broadcast as the news broke that the alien spacecraft had landed in various locations around the globe and the creatures inside hadn’t arrived to swap intelligence.
They’d come to colonize the planet.
The White House had issued guidance that the US Army was initiating combat and that all citizens were to defend their homes and their lives “in the most extreme ways possible.”
The statement also urged residents to flee if that wasn’t an option.
And while that might have been solid advice in a country that allowed its citizens to keep weapons, Jared couldn’t see how it could possibly work in Britain.
The British army was also deployed to the front line, with as many residents drafted in as could be at such short notice.
Broadcast news updates stopped shortly after, with the channel reverting to the old test card—something that hadn’t been seen on television for years.
Jared spent the rest of the day flicking between that and endless reruns of programs like The Man with Three Heads and ~Help! I’m Addicted to Earwax!~ until the electricity finally went down around a day and a half later.
It was at that point that Jared knew there was no coming back from this.
While the chances were that humanity, as a whole, was still fighting the invasion, that the key services were beginning to fail suggested that it was a battle they were losing and would be doomed to lose.
He wasn’t wrong.
He lit some candles, put them out around the room, and set about making sure he could survive in his basement for as long as possible on the food and water he’d brought down with him.
He’d always known that he’d have to leave at some point, but he wanted to make sure that was something he’d not have to think about doing for a long while.