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Faces on the Milk Carton

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"Have you seen me?" The words often beckon from labels and even postcards. Somebody knows where our missing children have gone. Care to find out?

Horror / Scifi
Author TW Brown
4.7 9 reviews
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

I love children…they taste like chicken.

I tell you this because there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop me. My kind and I have been here for over three hundred years. It was a fluke, really. The world I am from sent us to search for a planet to harvest, and something about this little spinning rock caught our eyes. The problem is, when we came in for a better look, your atmosphere was unlike anything we’d experienced. It destroyed our ship when we came in too close. Since then, we have been stranded here and forced to live amongst you.

When we arrived, there were just over two hundred of us who survived the crash. All our attempts at repairing our vessel were in vain. The worst part of all came with the news that we had no way of sending a distress call. Our mission to search became one of colonization.

Have you ever been certain you saw something out of the corner of your eye? That’s us. Have you walked down a street and felt the sticky strand of a spider’s web when you know there couldn’t possibly be one? Us again.

There is something about your sun that renders us invisible to your eye. Add to that the fact that when we came to this spiral galaxy, we did so through what your science refers to as a “Black Hole” and things get tricky. The best way I can describe it to your feeble human minds is that, if you tried to look at us directly, it would be like trying to look at the fine edge of a razor blade without seeing the blade itself. Simply put, we only exist in two of your optical dimensions.

The first thing we discovered upon our arrival is that you, as a species, cannot see us even when we stand right in front of you. In fact, when we do stand in your path, you act strange, pausing like you forgot something. Perhaps we trigger that thought that you left the coffee pot on…or maybe the door unlocked. When we try to touch you, your skin gets all knobby. I believe the term is “goosebumps.”

We quickly discovered that once your kind goes through the biological transformation known as puberty, we can no longer use you as a food source. It is like you spoil or something. I tried to nibble on one of you a couple hundred years ago on a dare; it took three of your calendar days to get the foul taste out of my system.

Quite honestly, we almost perished when we first arrived. Starvation set in after several weeks had passed without our being able to feed. Then, one night, a few of us were floating on the heat of a large fire while a tribe of the natives danced around making all sorts of noise. It was a fluke really. I drifted over an infant that one of the natives was holding up to the stars while chanting some nonsense about spirits and guardians. I just happened to peek down at the fat little face and noticed an essence wafting off the babe that made me tingle. I drew from what I sensed coming off in waves and immediately felt it begin to nourish my entire being.

And the flavor…so exquisite. It was sweet and tangy and sated my appetite all the way through to my core. Only, in a matter of seconds, the mewling package of infant became a screaming bundle of noise that made me and my cohorts recoil. There was power in that shriek that physically repelled us.

I related everything to the others and we waited until nightfall of the next evening. The first thing we noticed was that there was disquiet amongst the natives. They were all painted up and making a big fuss around one of their living domes in particular. I drifted in and, for the first time, noticed that my presence could be felt. Heads started to whip around frantically as if they were searching for something, yet never finding what they thought they saw. That was the day that we discovered fear in your species makes you just a shade more aware of our existence. We would learn much over the coming centuries; much of it simply from listening to you when we attempted to interact.

Most of you have walked past—or even through—one of us at some time in your lives. We have multiplied into the millions since our arrival. Fortunately, we only need to feed a few times a year, and a dozen of us can share the essence of one of your kind. If we consume all that one of your kind possesses in its core, the body actually dissolves. The messiest part is when the skeletal system liquefies, but everything else turns to what you might consider powder.

That brings me to those little specks that float on the air. We’ve eaten so many of you that we have contributed to our own brand of pollution. Have you ever sat in a room and seen the air swirling with sparkly crystals of dust? That just means that some of my brethren have fed nearby. After seeing your bodily waste, I will take ours any day. You people are quite vile.

Several decades ago, we discovered that if we submerge ourselves in water and drift through your kind, you really get jumpy. I think it has something to do with a movie, but it also must be something to do with your natural design to fear that which you cannot see. That is what we do for entertainment…find new ways to unnerve you.

Now that you know a bit of our story—and let me reassure you once again that there really is nothing you can do to stop us—let me take you with me for a little while. You see, I’ve become hungry. I discovered a tasty morsel recently at a local playground. Her name is Nancy and she loves telling everybody that she is eight years old. What makes all of this especially fine is that there is a man in this area who has an unhealthy fascination with children Nancy’s age. He has been plucking them like grapes on a vine and doing things far worse than my brethren and I could fathom. Yes, we are privy to all of your secrets. When you think you are alone, oft times we are drifting along looking for something interesting to watch. Those things you do when you believe you’re alone…I would shudder if I were capable.

One of the things that has happened over the past decade or two is an attempted societal diligence when it comes to your offspring. Unfortunately, the concerns always come when it is far too late and the children are hurt…or gone. In Nancy’s case, I am only hastening an end to her sad story. She lives with her mother, a brother who is ten, and a sister who is six. None of them share the same father. Nancy’s mother does little to care for her offspring, something that we cannot understand about you.

My species lives in harmony with our children for the duration of our lives. I do not say “with” because we do not abide in any specific dwelling. However, we drift past each other several times a day and share our energy. My daughter—although we did not subscribe to gender types until being exposed to your kind, and somewhere along the line we adopted your idea of male and female for those who fertilize and those who produce offspring—has a limited ability to connect with receptive minds of your species. It was discovered that, when we share our energies with one another in close proximity to a human, you get an inexplicable high-pitched ringing in your ears.

In Nancy’s home, there is a parade of males who come to bed her mother. They never stay long; some longer than others, but they always leave after a short time. During the day, while Nancy and her siblings are in school, their mother puts things in her body through a smoking tube or a needle. Sometimes she stays awake for many days, and then sleeps for three or four. During her extended periods awake, she is very susceptible to our presence. I take a guilty pleasure in drifting through her. It makes her start clawing at her skin until it bleeds.

When my family found Nancy, she was sitting on the porch while her mother and her newest male companion sucked on a glass tube. The brother and sister were stuck in the basement, but at least they were warm. I drifted through Nancy to see if she held enough energy to share for a family meal and was surprised to find huge knots of it swirling inside her. I resisted the temptation to call the others together for our meal right then because I wanted to observe this child and see what might make her such an ample source of the essence that we consume.

After a few days, the best we can agree on is that it is her exuberance—call it spirit or whatever you like—even in the face of such a miserable existence, Nancy never wilts. She is always smiling.

Feeding on her shall sustain my family for weeks, perhaps months, and while you may think it cruel…I believe that we are simply ending one sad journey. When you see those motes of dust sparkling in that shaft of sunlight pouring through your window, perhaps you will consider that you are being visited by the remaining essence of one of your kind. Maybe you will take the time to appreciate the beauty of how those flecks sparkle.

That is something I have noticed in you …the inability to appreciate the common beauty of simple things. I miss that about those natives on the Plains so long ago. They took nothing for granted when it came to what you call nature. They felt us when we were near and tried to commune with my kind. Some of them even entered a state where they could “see” us. Of course, their minds could not truly wrap around our actual forms, and they saw creatures they could relate to like wolves and hawks.

So today I have been with Nancy since she rose from bed. I actually kept her mother away from her by passing through her a few times. As far as I know, she is still in the closet of her bedroom, scratching at the scabbed skin of her arms and legs. I want to ensure that nothing diminishes the mood of our precious Nancy.

My daughter has been tasked with hovering around the man we wish to have gathered up by the local law enforcement agency. My brother is busy with a member of that agency who has a tendency to inebriate himself on a regular basis. During his drunken state, he will be nudged to investigate the bad man.

That is another one of our talents; what you call hunch or premonition is something we can strengthen if we pass through you and focus on whatever it is we want you to feel. I imagine that is probably our greatest contribution to your kind. We have guided many of you who are receptive to us towards “discoveries.” Whether it is a human that calls itself a psychic, or simply one who follows what you have labeled intuition, we can often influence you.

When Nancy finished dressing for school, I made it a point to stay very close. Only once did I sip from her being. Of course, as soon as I did, she gave a little shiver and looked around like she expected to see her mother or some equally unpleasant being bearing down on her. I took that opportunity to nudge her to that filthy thing they call a couch where she discovered three coins—enough to buy a sweet treat at the corner store on her way home from school. (Of course I had to put that desire in her head, otherwise she would have done something like share it with her siblings.)

My daughter floated in around the middle of the school day to inform me that she had worked feverishly to ensure that our subject would be in his vehicle near the school just around the time classes were dismissed. Shortly after, my brother passed on that he had managed to influence the dream state of our law enforcement individual. Everything was now in order.

Nancy went to recess in particularly high spirits. As I floated around her, I noticed that the other children began to pull away. It was as if they could sense something—me—and wanted no part of it. As hungry as I was, it was difficult not to at least taste a few of the children. Imagine being at a buffet with all of your favorite dishes set out before you. Now add in the fact that you are the most famished you have ever felt, but cannot taste one single morsel on the table. However, I know from experience that, once alerted to our presence, your younglings secrete something that sours their taste. It is as if the introduction of fear taints them in some way.

You may be wondering why Nancy does not lose her appeal. Once we select our meal, we make ourselves known in such a way that we are perceived as benevolent. Many of you have been visited by us in your early lives. We were the “imaginary friend” that only you could see or hear. The reason we did not take you varies from the fact that some of you had darkness on your spirits before we found you. (That is often the case with children of molestation, incest, and rape. It strips away that delicate veneer of what you call childhood…very sad.) Others, it might simply be a matter of taste; just as not all of you love everything put on your plate, we too have tastes.

In between feedings, we roam the world seeking our next meal. There is much to the process that you would not understand. Just as I am sure many of you can’t fathom how we can feast on the vulnerable offspring that many of you profess to cherish so dearly. I guess that is as unthinkable to you as your wars, genocides, and murders are to my kind.

What you fail to understand is that we believe that we free those chosen from having to be raised in a society such as yours. Simply put, to us…YOU are the monsters!

Ahh…and here comes our girl, Nancy. School has let out and she is walking all by herself. A slight push from me and she sees something glittering down the alley that runs behind the local market where she was prepared to spend the coins she found earlier. Of course, what she sees is a sliver of my being that I focus on just enough to draw her attention. That sparkle she “saw” out of the corner of her eye was really no more than my deflecting the radiation from your sun just so.

As she draws near, I can feel the energy rolling off her. She probably believes that today is her lucky day and that she has discovered another few coins. When she reaches the shadows, I pass through her. That is the most difficult part. All that we have done to select and prepare her can be ruined if not done properly. If I cause her to feel a sudden fright by being hasty, she spoils and is of no use.

Perhaps that is why so many of my kind who are alone and without a “family” sup on the infants. Finding them in their beds…they are easy prey. The drawback of these feedings is that they leave the host body intact. Solo feeders are unable to consume the entire being, and thus, the wet parts are not dissolved. It is quite sad…having to dine alone. I could not imagine trying to feed without being able to share the experience with my kin. There is something powerful when we are together. Perhaps it is our combined energies that dissolve the physical shells of the human body… Your medical profession has mistakenly called it crib death. Such arrogance. Why can’t they simply state that there can be nothing found that they can attach to the cause of death and admit to being ignorant? Your science—both medical and otherwise—has taken such a high opinion of itself that it cannot admit when it has no answer.

I digress, and sweet Nancy has stopped in the alley. She is now unsure why she came here to begin with. Slowly drifting down, I pass through her and allow myself to attach to that savory essence. She only tenses for a second, and I am able to establish a rudimentary connection to her receptive mind. In that instant, I experience everything about her life. Things she could never put into words are absorbed in my mind. In that way, Nancy will never be forgotten.

Can I be your friend? I allow that feeling to pass on to her.

Over time I have discovered that this is the best technique to open the child for our consumption. Perhaps that is why we can only feed on the young. They are easily susceptible to such simple things. There is a common need in your offspring to be loved and accepted. Such vast numbers of them are so starved in those basic needs by a culture you have created that moves too fast for your own good. What you do not understand, you medicate or shun outright.

Over the years, the numbers of your kind who you have fit into categories of dysfunction have grown to epic proportions. We have tried experiments with those you deem “crazy,” but there is a nasty surge of something unpleasant that comes through when we try to open them to feeding. Not, I imagine, too different than the sensation you would receive from grabbing hold of the exposed wires of one of your electric devices.

“My name is Nancy.”

Isn’t that precious? Just that quick and she has dropped her guard to me. I send the signal to my family that the time to feed is now. I feel them as they swarm to me and find a place to draw from her energy. This is the most dangerous part of feeding. It is in the few seconds that it takes for us to feed that we could be discovered. That is why one member of the family must always hover high above to ensure that we will not be found out during those exquisite few seconds where we draw everything in; afterwards, that individual will be responsible for selecting the next meal.

However, in those brief seconds, a few things happen to the human. First, they begin to shudder violently and froth at the mouth. On the rare instances that our feeding has been interrupted, it does not go well for the human in question. The best I can suppose is that your mostly unused brain suffers the equivalent of a short-circuiting. Those poor souls end up in unexplainable comas, or what your inept medical and science community refer to as a “vegetative state.” That is perhaps the one thing that my kind regrets. Still, just as it is a base need for you and your kind, me and mine must eat.

I can feel Nancy’s energy flood into my being. It is like nothing your simple palate can fathom. What we do when we feed is so beyond mere taste, it is an absorption that allows what our meal was at its core to fill us. Her sweetness, curiosity, and kindness all have their own distinct flavors. Her eyes are wide in what might be surprise, and the tiniest of cries escapes her lips. I fasten on to what was once her wonder and joy and consume something so sweet, it would bring me to tears were I able to weep.

Her body starts to dissolve, and I feel my family sharing all the vital bits amongst themselves, but since Nancy was mine, they allow me the choicest morsels. You see, I was the one who had to forgo the last feeding; therefore, I have the greatest hunger. The last thing I take is what you would consider her love. Actually, it is too much for me, and I willingly share it with my family.

All of this happens—as it always does—in the blink of your eye. There are eleven of us, and we make short work of our meal. It is glorious, and for a fleeting instant, I am almost sad to see it come to its forgone conclusion.

In a flash, she is gone. My family is sated and already drifting away. All that remains is for the seeds we have planted in the man we have determined will pay your price for our “crime” and the law enforcement representative to germinate. There is no need for us to stay and see it through. We have done this countless times. Just watch your local information broadcasts…the television news. You will likely see this story, or one just like it. It is our service to you. You see, unlike your kind, we don’t simply take and take of our resources; we try to make things better. Also, by taking individuals like the one in question out of the population, we preserve our food source.

In a few days, Nancy’s story will be replaced by another. Not all of your children disappear due to the appetites of me and my species; you still have plenty to be ashamed of in that department. At least I have no need for shame…you are simply a food source. You may call me a monster if you like, but I do not commit any acts of abuse or violence against the young of my kind. None of our children live in fear of their bedroom doors opening in the middle of the night…none of our children are forced to tell a doctor that they fell down the stairs…again.

Perhaps you will be in your local market next week and see the smiling face of eight-year-old Nancy on a poster or milk carton. Of course, you have all grown so self-centered and callous that you will forget it as soon as it leaves your field of vision. Every day, thousands like Nancy fall to much more horrible endings than I provide and you all do nothing. We rely on it.

You may weep for Nancy, but I doubt that you will. Tomorrow will come and you will return to your lives with little to no care or concern for Nancy…or others like her. After all, she wasn’t your child, as is the case with the parade of faces on milk cartons, flyers, and evening news broadcasts. The end of her life is a drop in the bucket. You have become desensitized to pain…to loss…to death. If it does not befall you or you own, then it does not matter. That, dear humans, is what we count on. You may read my account here in the privacy of your room and dismiss it as fantasy; the musings of a warped mind with designs on entertaining you with dark tales. One or two of you may harken back to a passage when you think you see something out of the corner of your eye and turn to find…nothing. Some of you may even see truth in these words and be watchful for the signs of my brethren. You will call us vile and evil monsters and curse our existence. Yet, as I told you in the beginning, there is nothing you can do to stop us. So feel free to let your hatred flow. You are already a spoiled product in our eyes.

None of that is of any consequence to me. I remain as the motes of fine carbon dust that once made up the physical being of Nancy drift away on the afternoon breeze. The sun hits them and they sparkle…just as she did in life. And just as in her wretched life, there is nobody to admire her beauty.

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