Day 1: The Attack (Matt)
Matt made Abby look away when the black things ate their neighbors, but he forced himself to watch when they descended on Pete’s family. On his second Mom. On Deidre.
“Come away from the window, Matty. Don’t watch,” Heather called out from the beanbag chair where she sat with Abby, who tucked her head into her chest.
But Matt couldn’t stop looking. He couldn’t do anything for Deidre, and he’d never hear her laugh again, or have her burst in on him and Pete, demanding tickles, but he needed to do something. She was gone, without a body to bury, and he needed to protect her memory. She deserved better, but this was as much as he could offer: watching a terrifying drone consume her fragile, tiny corpse. It was the hardest thing he’d ever done, but he didn’t look away, and he didn’t blink when the tears dropped from his eyes.
When it was over, he closed the tattered drapes that hung over the irregular cuts in the walls that acted as windows and dropped beside Heather and Abby on the beanbag chair. Heather had pulled her phone out and was flipping through news channels and video uploads.
The same stories played out all over the world. Thousands of rips in the sky, followed by millions of black drones, killing anyone who stepped foot outside. Everywhere, across every city, the footage showed carnage and destruction. Breathless reporters, stuck inside, guessed at the estimated deaths. In the thousands. No, hundreds of thousands. No, millions. In densely populated areas of the world, it was genocide. There were shots of literal streams of blood running down First Avenue in New York City. Then Hong Kong, where the corpses were piled so high they looked like anthills. And everywhere, those black egg-shaped drones, firing chainsaw lasers before dropping low to eat the bodies.
“It’s an invasion,” Matt said. “This isn’t from Earth. These things are from somewhere else.”
“Why isn’t the Army doing anything?” Heather asked. “Why don’t we scramble the jets or tanks or something?”
“I don’t even know how you’d fight these. There’s so many.”
Matt watched Heather type ‘Army response aliens’ into a search and a link to a video with millions of hits showed. She clicked it, and footage from a military installation in the middle of a dessert appeared. Soldiers ran back and forth, screaming, shooting at the black drones that retaliated with laser blasts. As near as Matt could tell, the bullets from the soldiers did nothing. He heard the high-pitched whiz as they ricocheted off their exterior of the drones.
Two single tanks rolled out. One fired into the air with a booming, explosive noise and the round hit a drone flush on the side. When the smoke cleared, the drone still hovered, not a mark on its glossy finish. Through this, he heard sounds of men screaming and swearing, and the person holding the phone provided a running narrative.
“Nothing is working.” The voice sounded young, and Matt realized the soldier might only be a few years older than him. A kid. “We’re hitting them with everything we have, but we’re not even denting them. I swear we’ve put two thousand rounds in them and not a scratch. They’re too fast. That tank shell can bring down a concrete reinforced bunker. What’s that?”
The livestream panned to the right where two black drones raced toward the camera. The boy screamed, and then the screen filled with red lasers. Then nothing.
“Holy shit,” Matt whispered. Heather wiped her mouth with her hand as if she had swallowed something bitter.
“Are we going to die?” Abby pulled her face from Heather’s shoulder.
“No, sweetie.” Heather stroked Abby’s curly, dark hair, and Matt gave her a grateful smile. “We’ll be okay. If we stay here, they can’t get us. Once they leave, we’ll be able to go back to our houses and see our parents.”
Even though he knew the words were meant to comfort a ten-year-old child, Matt felt reassured.
“She’s right, Abs,” he said, picking up the idea. “These things can’t stay around forever, and if they were going to attack us in here, they would have done it already. If we stay inside, we’ll be safe, and then we can figure out what to do next.”
“How long will we need to stay here for?” Abby asked. “I don’t like it.”
Matt agreed. The treehouse had seen better days. Dirt and mold covered the splintery wooden floor, and the wind blew through all the cracks and crevices in the walls. The front door was little more than a cut in the wall with a piece of plywood over it, and at the back, a rope swing hung from a branch that dropped through a hole to the ground below. Aside from the stale beanbag chairs, a small table in the middle, and a dilapidated old dresser someone had shoved to the side decades ago, there was nothing inside. The whole of the interior reached ten feet across with the roof a hair under six feet, giving the whole thing a cramped feeling.
He exchanged a glance with Heather. Her face was grim, the corners of her mouth hanging low, but he saw fierceness in her eyes. There was an agreement in that look, to be strong for his sister.
“We’ll be here a little while, Abby,” she said.
“Maybe even overnight,” he added. “At least until these things leave.”
“I don’t want to stay overnight, Matty.” Abby’s lower lip stuck out so far it would be comical in any other circumstance. Now, it broke his heart. She was trying so hard not to cry.
“It might not be that bad,” he hugged her with one arm, wondering if that were even true.
Heather forced cheer into her voice. “My biggest worry is snoring. Abby, Matt tells me you snore, so we’ll need a paper clip to put on your nose.”
“I do not.” Abby lifted her red-rimmed eyes and looked at Heather with a half-smile.
“Oh, she sounds like a tugboat coming into the harbor. Wakes up the whole family. We make her sleep in the basement.” Matt’s fingers found the perfect tickle spot under Abby’s armpits and gave a little poke. Abby let out a cross between a hiccup and a giggle.
“I don’t snore, Matty, you snore. You sound like a big truck that got in an accident. And you fart. All the time.”
Matt’s face caught fire. He couldn’t believe Abby said that in front of Heather and he considered running outside and letting the aliens kill him. First the puke, now this. Heather must think he had zero control of his bodily functions.
“If both you don’t get your snoring and farting under control, I’ll make you sleep on the other side of the floor,” Heather said.
“It’s quiet,” he said, trying to change the topic from his apparently unbearable farting. Outside, the neighborhood was still, although the occasional chainsaw-rip of a laser fired off in the distance. “Maybe they left. I’ll check.”
“Be careful,” Heather said, and he nodded.
Crouching low, he went to the window where they had pulled the curtains shut. He pushed one to the side, to look out, and screamed.
Outside the window, a craft hovered, only half a foot away. It hung in the air, no visible markings on it of any kind. It was smooth, the size of a small refrigerator. The only thing separating them was decades-old plywood. He balled up his fist and shoved it in his mouth to quieten himself. Behind him, Abby also screamed, a loud, piercing wail that could be heard miles away.
Heather shushed her, trying to get her to quiet down. Matt turned his head with measured slowness, not wanting to make any sudden movements. Heather had gripped Abby close to her chest and was whispering something in her ear. Her face was bone-white, but she looked at Matt with a steady gaze. None of them moved.
He couldn’t breathe or think. He could only stare at the black object, hypnotized by its existence. This close, he could see all of it. Black. It was so black, it seemed to absorb the light. He couldn’t figure out how it stayed airborne, there was no visible mechanism of propulsion. No seams or screws marred the exterior. Where did the lasers come from? There was no way to tell.
“Why isn’t it doing anything?” Heather whispered.
He couldn’t make his voice work, so he shook his head. One agonizing step at a time, he walked back to the beanbag chair and sat down beside Heather. He reached out for her hand and found it. She squeezed.
“Maybe it can’t shoot us while we’re inside?” he whispered.
“I don’t know.”
There was no way to tell if the object was even facing them. Nothing showed a front or a back. Heather released Abby from her grip and let go of Matt’s hand. She army-crawled forward toward the window.
“Heather,” he whispered.
She ignored him and crawled closer. She reached out a trembling hand and pinched the curtain by the lower corner, keeping herself as flat to the ground as possible. Ever so carefully, she pulled it shut. The thing didn’t move or react. It was impossible to tell what it was doing or what it thought about Heather breaking the line of sight.
None of them moved or said anything until Abby began to cry.
“I want Mommy,” she said.
“I know, Abs.” He hugged her close. “So do I.”
Above Abby’s head, he exchanged a look with Heather. Neither of them needed to say anything. They were trapped.