A New Normal
by A. M. Johnson
It was dark in Eva’s office, even right next to the large window looking out over the lawn. Streetlights had been dark for weeks now all over the city; in fact, in every city around the world. People were following the mandates of darkened windows and dusk-to-dawn curfews. No one was out and about.
Unlike other emergency situations, when the government sent out the orders, this time people complied. No one was protesting or claiming their rights had been violated. At least there is that, she thought. At least we are completely united as a world for once. United in fear.
She fought back the tears that were threatening as she stared out the window at the blackened world that had once been bright and bustling. No tourists taking photos. No cars on the streets. No Secret Service even. It was too dangerous to be out after dark. Not that it was safe during the day. It was just harder for them to hide. In daylight, people could see them coming. Oh, they still took who they wanted. It was simply easier for them at night.
“Get yourself together, Evie,” she whispered, rubbing her eyes vigorously to wipe away the tears, daring them to keep coming. After everything she had accomplished, she would not be taken down by her own emotions.
“This is not a good look for the leader of the free world,” came a voice from a shadowy corner, causing Eva to jump and, much to her embarrassment, cry out a little. The voice laughed, a laugh that was so cold it sent a chill down Evie’s spine. She suppressed her need to shudder violently. Toughen up, she told herself sternly. You asked him to come. Don’t show him your fear.
“I am so glad you made it,” she said as warmly as she could muster, staring intently into the darkness where she knew her guest was lurking.
“Are you now?” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. The tall and looming figure took a step out of the corner but remained mostly in shadow.
Still, her heart skipped a beat as she knew he was moving closer. Even if her eyes had not acclimated to darkness over the past several months, she would have known he had taken a step closer to her. It was instinct. Something wicked this way comes.
“Yes,” she responded. “I truly am glad. It tells me that there might be hope, even though...” She trailed off. Even though she was making a deal with a devil, one whose existence she had previously discounted as myth and legend.
“Even though you are almost as frightened of me as you are of them?” She could hear the sneer in his voice.
Eva was silent for a moment, contemplating if, in fact, she feared him even more. She would not say that out loud. “It’s no secret that your... people... have lived on the fringe of society for millennia,” she began, trying to keep her gaze directed toward the looming area of blackness that didn’t seem to be affected by the moonlight that was filtering in her window. As if all light divided itself and went around him to avoid contact with all the darkness he represented.
“I am prepared to offer you the opportunity to live among the rest of us. Of course, there would be rules. But you could live wherever you choose, in a busy city or in a deep, dark woods. Your choice.”
She paused for a moment. “It seems to me that humanity will be grateful enough for your assistance that we can surely come to terms on living arrangements. Terms that will satisfy all of your... you know... all the various...types of—”
“All the various types of monsters?” he asked. His voice was neutral, betraying neither anger nor offense. He was simply stating a fact.
She nodded. She tried to keep her composure as the tall, dark figure stepped closer. Now she could see him almost clearly, from the neck down, his face still thankfully in shadow.
His tall, thin body was made to look even more grotesquely thin by the flowing robe he wore, done in black velvet. From the edges of his billowing sleeves poked two very slender and impossibly long hands, the skin white as moon rocks. His bony fingers seemed to go on forever, culminating in sharp, claw-like nails. The bluish-black veins protruding underneath the thin white skin, the razor gleam on the edges of his wickedly sharp nails, drove home to her that she was currently sharing the Oval Office with an inhuman being, the stuff of nightmares and tall tales. How had she even arrived at this point??
“We are not interested in your offer of living where we wish,” the voice said almost demurely. “You see,” he said with a short, cruel laugh, “we will always do that anyway. It isn’t as though you can stop us. Besides,” he finished, crossing his arms over his chest, “it will be payment enough to get our world back and not have to share our food source with them.”
Eva shuddered, choking back part of her dinner that had decided to put in a second appearance. She was fully aware that when he said “food source,” he was referring to her. And to humans in general.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” she whispered.
Hearing her quiet words, he smiled, stepping forward just enough for Eva to see the frightening spectacle of the grinning skull, sharp fangs catching the moonlight. Eva couldn’t look away. Thankfully, his eyes were still in shadow. She knew better than to look in his eyes.
Eva pulled her gaze away from the maniacal grin and sighed. “When will you begin your campaign against them?” she asked quietly.
He considered. “We will meet tonight to discuss a plan,” he said, his unholy voice taking on a businesslike tone. “We are not immune to their technology, but it does not have the same effect that it has on humans. And you must understand: many of our number do not see the benefit of becoming involved. They will require some convincing.”
Eva said nothing, just peered out the window at the empty White House lawn.
He was also silent, waiting for her to speak. He certainly wasn’t much for conversation.
Finally, Eva steeled her nerves and stepped toward the monster in the dark corner of the room, extending the right hand that had been grasped by most of the world’s leaders at some point.
Surprised, he enveloped her small, warm hand with his long, thin, cold one. They shook on it. It was official.
“You will know when we have begun,” he said confidently. “You must keep word of our activities as secret as you can. There are many vigilante humans who envision themselves as monster hunters. I don’t care to be pelted with holy water while I work.”
“Do you need anything else from me?” she asked, just as she did when one of her staffers started a project. As soon as she asked, she felt silly. But still, he answered.
“We do not,” he responded. “If you hear of humans trying to intervene, it would be best if you found a way to stop them. If they get in the way, rest assured they will die.”
In an instant he was gone. She felt a quick movement, followed by a gust of wind that came out of nowhere, then the darkness seemed to lighten a bit. Eva pulled out her phone and used the flashlight feature to scour the room with light, just to reassure herself that he wasn’t lying in wait behind a shelf or something, waiting to get her when she let her guard down.
Her nerves at last culminated in hot tears flowing down her face. She had contained them well, she thought. They broke free only when she considered the fact that she had invited a vampire into the Oval Office.
Once you invite them, she thought, they can come in any time they like.
She would not be running for a second term. Not now, at least.
* * *
Three men stood in a dark clearing, looking up at the stars. They appeared to be discussing the constellations, pointing excitedly at the night sky, their faces full of wonder at the beauty before them. The three appeared unremarkable, one of them a tall redhead with a gingery beard, the second a Native American with long, glossy black hair, and the third an elderly gentleman with a bit of a stoop, leaning heavily on a cane, his blue eyes twinkling almost as brightly as the stars.
They gestured as they spoke, reveling in the beauty of nature. The wildflowers growing in this tiny clearing in a dense forest. The extreme blackness of the sky The piercing white of the stars. The woodland sounds, the fresh air, the smell of the grass beneath their feet. It was a type of luxury in which they could seldom afford to indulge. The consequences were generally disastrous when they did. But this night was different.
Their conversation turned from the stars and the woods and the wildflowers, to discussions of what they had lost. Dark nights can bring on such introspection, especially among those who have lost much. “Obviously,” said the redhead, “I couldn’t stay with my family. It was much too dangerous.”
“Same here,” said the elderly gentleman. “I have a wife out there somewhere. Haven’t seen her in over thirty years.”
“The guilt is the worst part for me,” said the Native American man. He looked to be in his forties.
The redhead nodded. “That part is hard for me too,” he said.
The old man laughed. “I feel no guilt about tonight,” he said.
At that moment, a most extraordinary thing happened. A large, cylindrical object appeared over the hills to the north, glowing with lights all around it. The object began to move toward the clearing, making no sound.
The three men watched, transfixed, as the object grew closer and closer, finally coming to a halt above them. The lights were blinding, but behind the object, off in the distance, the redhead glimpsed the moon rising. It was round and full and blood red.
From the cylindrical object in the sky, a bright yellow beam fell upon the men, freezing them in place.
“Are we sure this will work?” asked the elderly man.
“No,” replied the Native American, “but I think we wouldn’t be able to talk at this point if we were... you know. Normal.”
The redhead agreed. “It will just slow everything down,” he said as their feet magically lifted off the ground and they began to ascend toward the vessel. “But we have to act like they’ve got us. Like we’re helpless.”
The Native American looked at his hands, feeling the familiar tingling, as black glossy hair began to sprout from his suddenly enlarged knuckles. It was going more slowly, but still going.
The three went silent as they ascended into the belly of the ship.
* * *
A mere thirty miles south of the clearing, a silent village was raucously awakened by an enormous crash, followed by several explosions.
The townspeople came out of their homes in robes and slippers, confused at their abrupt awakening. Bright flames sprouted from a crashed ship less than a mile away. As the people watched the burning wreckage, two fire trucks pulled into the field and began extinguishing the flames that had sprung up in the grass.
They did not attempt to put out the flames coming from the ship as it had been discovered that a fire from one of the invaders’ vessels burned differently than Earthly fires. Water and firefighting foam were completely ineffective. It would simply have to burn itself out.
As folks watched the blaze, three wolf-like shadows shot from the wreckage and took off at lightning speed toward the nearby woods. No one noticed.
Two days later, when the fire was completely extinguished and the wreckage had cooled, people in Hazmat suits began combing through the mess. While many of the invaders’ bodies were partially burned, the most notable finding was that none of the bodies was actually intact. Limbs were torn off and strewn about. Heads had been removed from necks. Spines had been ripped out. Intestines were lying around like streamers at a birthday party. Some unidentifiable pieces appeared to have large bites taken out of them.
It wasn’t hard to figure out why the ship had gone down. There was no one left with enough body parts to pilot the thing.
* * *
The first ships had appeared almost a century ago. In the beginning, governments tried to keep their presence a secret. For over seventy years, the thick veil of plausible deniability kept most of the world believing that aliens were a hoax.
By the time the governments acknowledged the presence of alien invaders, the people of the world already knew. Thousands of people were being taken daily, taken up into ships never to return.
Some believed this was a race bent on saving humanity. They were here to help.
This belief in the inherent goodness of beings that were so intelligent, they knew how to travel across galaxies, was dismissed the second that scientists got their hands on one. It was summarily shown that, in fact, aliens did not want to save us. They wanted to eat us. Their digestive tracts proved it beyond doubt.
They never made “contact,” not even in the early days. Just like the slaughterhouse worker doesn’t try to communicate with the cow or the pig, doesn’t try to make a peace treaty or establish relations with them, so these aliens felt no need to communicate their intentions to us. They simply swooped down at their leisure and picked up dinner.
And the Earth could do nothing about it. Rockets didn’t bring their ships down. Armies could not defeat them. Nukes had no effect.
And as soon as the bastards realized we were sitting ducks, they radioed home to their friends. They didn’t even try to be secretive. Suddenly, the skies were full of ships, harvesting humans for meat.
By the time the President of the United States had her covert meeting, five years of vigorous human harvesting had passed. The population of Earth was dwindling, and humanity was desperate. Every person on the planet had lost someone to a harvest. No one was unscathed. President Eva Martinez had lost her uncle and two cousins.
That was when her crazy aunt Lola had made an unusual proposal, one that only a Puerto Rican voodoo priestess would make. One that only a desperate politician would hear. “They will come out of the night and save us if you ask,” Lola had said. “I don’t know what you can offer them in return for our lives, but perhaps they will name a price. And whatever that price is, chica, you must be willing to pay it.”
To say Eva was reluctant was an understatement. “How would I even contact them?” she demanded.
“I will send an ambassador,” Lola had replied cryptically. “You must not offend him, and you must do whatever he tells you. Maybe he won’t ask for anything now. But whenever he asks, you must give him what he wants. And, chica” — here she grasped Eva firmly and looked into her eyes — “you must remember that he doesn’t need you. If he agrees to help, it’s because he sees some benefit to his own kind. You have to make it worth his while.”
So far, he had asked only that humans not intervene. But Eva knew that, at some point, there would be a request for something she was not willing to give. She hoped the request would come when she was in a position to negotiate, when she somehow had the upper hand.
* * *
Copyright © 2021 by A. M. Johnson