A New Normal
by A. M. Johnson
Part 1 appears in this issue.
It was an odd assembly to say the least. Dozens of people, all ages and ethnicities, all clad in simple white robes, milling about aimlessly in a graveyard. If one inspected them closely, it would become apparent that they were nearly catatonic, blank-stared and slack-jawed. Their legs and arms moved haltingly, directed by an unknown puppet master, causing them to jerk and sway as they ambulated through the headstones, completely unaware they were being watched.
The watchers maintained a safe distance as they calculated the risk. Several of their ships had been taken down recently by rather aggressive and powerful creatures. This was a first for them. Somehow, a select few of this planet’s inhabitants seemed unfazed by the advanced technological devices that were designed to render prey helpless. But this was a mother lode, and all the humans with their halting steps and blank stares were too tempting to pass up.
As the beam of light began to lift the barely conscious people toward the ship, a pale and slender figure pulled his white robe up to cover the lower half of his face. His dank black locks covered the tips of his ears, and if he kept his hands fisted the extreme length of his fingers went unnoticed. He closed his eyes and concentrated on controlling his more than 60 minions. They needed to appear harmless for a few more minutes. Then it would be too late.
* * *
In the skies over Biloxi, Mississippi, a strange phenomenon was witnessed. Two of the cigar-shaped vessels and one disc-shaped vessel seemed to be in a dance of sorts, making loops around one another and shooting rays, engaging in a type of dogfight that culminated in the two cigar-shaped ships locking tractor beams onto the disc and literally pulling it into the ocean, near enough to shore that a crowd of onlookers had gathered at the beach trying to see the outcome.
Even before the National Guard arrived, the bodies began to surface and make their way to shore. Tall, thin humanoids with gray-green flesh, large opaque eyes and elongated limbs, all dead as they floated to the waiting crowd on the beach.
“Hey,” cried one man, holding onto the limp arm of a dead alien, “this one has puncture wounds on its neck.”
In fact, they all did. Further testing led to the discovery that all the creatures had been exsanguinated.
Before the ships could be pulled from the waters, they suddenly all powered up and shot back into the sky, leaving the onlookers wondering who was left to fly them.
* * *
Over the next several months, activity in the sky continued to slow. Everywhere the ships appeared, some odd occurrence foiled their plans of harvesting human meat. In Manchester, New Hampshire a coven of witches summoned a windstorm that pushed the invading ships into cliffs, then launched fireballs that engulfed them in white-hot flames. This incident was made all the more extraordinary by the fact that the wind had never affected the ships before as far as anyone could tell.
In Cornwall, Druids used the magnetic forces of Europe’s many stone circles to pull ships from the sky, causing them to collide with one another and crash into the treacherous waves. The video clip circulating on the Internet was astounding. Creatures, sprites, naiads and dryads, ogres, merfolk, demons, angels, jinn and gorgons did their part in protecting a planet that technically belonged to them only in the dark of night and in the depths of human despair.
All around the globe, humanity began to see its nightmares coming to life, becoming its saviors. World leaders made no attempts to hide the presence of the frightening beings who were joining the fight. The Internet made that activity pointless.
Eva had begun to relax a tiny bit, seeing the reduced number of reported kidnappings and hearing the accounts of ships destroyed. It seemed her aunt was right. The plan could work. And no one had approached her about paying for the services. At least not yet.
When the bill came due, it was more like a dissolving of a contract.
“We are no longer interested in protecting humanity,” said the tall, dark figure standing in the most shadowed corner of the oval office.
Eva had not been told, exactly, that she would have a meeting that night. She had simply felt an urge, a desire to sit in the office in the dark. By herself. Doing nothing. She supposed this was how a person was summoned.
“You are saying,” she began cautiously, “you are going to suspend your activities?” They had achieved some progress, but from humanity’s point of view, they wouldn’t win the war until no more ships appeared in the sky.
There was a pause. “I am not sure that our activities will be suspended,” he began, “but they will definitely be altered. You see, we have learned to understand them. And they are discussing amongst themselves the possibility of never returning to this planet. Of completely giving up the hunt.”
Eva felt her pulse quicken. “But that’s exactly what we want to happen!” she exclaimed.
The tall figure stepped from the corner as if he were gliding over ice, stopping abruptly with the top portion of his face still in shadow. Eva’s heart jumped with his movement, but she made no attempt to back away.
“It is what you desire,” he said quietly. “But we have... shall I say... developed a taste for them. I know it might seem unfair to you. But we want the best of both worlds. If they stop coming here to harvest you, we shall never again have access to their delicious, bright green blood and their soft, sweet flesh.”
Eva stared at her visitor, her blood beginning to boil. “So,” she began, trying to keep her temper in check, “you are going to stop helping us because you want them to keep coming here so you can eat them. And you also want to eat us.”
The figure grinned. “Yes,” he whispered. “And there is nothing you can do about it.” His grin was impish, like a young child who has gotten the better of an older sibling.
Eva wracked her brain. How had this turned into such a disaster? She had never expected the scheme to work, true, but since it actually had made a difference, she had begun to hope. Now, it seemed all was lost.
“We have become emboldened by our success,” said the hellish creature standing in shadow, “not only have we shown the invaders that we are stronger, but we also reminded humans of our power as well. The fear is more palpable than it has ever been. Our actions against your enemy has brought back all the old stories. People believe in us again.”
As he spoke, his muscles tensed and jaw clenched, Eva could hear the madness that was just under the surface. She could see in his flaring nostrils that he was inhaling her scent. She could hear the poorly veiled desire in his voice to drink from her heart blood and have his fill of her life force. This negotiation was not going well. Not for her at least.
“Give me one week to come up with a plan,” she said matter-of-factly, steeling her voice to keep out the tremors.
“Why do we need a plan?” he asked flippantly. “I’ll eat you. And I’ll eat them, too!” The vile creature threw back his head and laughed at his own little joke.
“But what if,” she interjected, grasping at straws, “what if you can have everything you want without letting them destroy us? What if I can make it easier for you? What if you can have all of it, without a fight?”
The creature stopped, cocking his head to one side. A slight smile played at his thin, pale lips. “I will give you a week,” he said softly. “But if your plan does not capture my interest, I will make you my slave.”
Before she could respond, he was gone. This time, Eva did not weep. Instead, she picked up the phone.
“Remember what we were discussing earlier,” she asked. “I want to meet with them tomorrow. Yes, this means we are not shutting down their operation. No, I’ll go to them. Arrange it.”
* * *
Eva hadn’t been sure her aunt would be able to pass along the message of her meeting, but the specter appeared in the darkest corner of the warehouse as she had requested. Her two companions stood silently by, waiting for introductions.
“Alright,” he said a little impatiently. “Impress me.”
Eva nodded. She swallowed hard. This was it. “I’d like to introduce my colleagues. This is Dr. Stanislav.”
The slender man was frail and stooped, but his eyes danced with intelligence as he stepped forward and made a slight bow toward the creature. The creature nodded back.
“And this is Dr. Yau.”
She was taller than her counterpart, and much too young to be a scientist, at least if appearances were anything to go by. Her face had a healthy youthful glow, with rounded cheeks and plump lips. She stepped forward and bowed toward the creature, who bowed in return.
“I think you will be interested in their research,” Eva said. “I will let them show you.”
Dr. Yau looked at Dr. Stanislav, who nodded. She walked toward what appeared to be gurneys or surgical tables covered in sheets and began pulling the sheets off. Underneath the sheets were glass cases. Inside the glass cases were members of the invading alien race.
“You’ve managed to capture some, I see,” he said in a bored tone of voice.
“Oh no,” exclaimed Dr. Stanislav, turning to the occupant of the darkest corner. “We did not capture them!”
Dr. Yau smiled as she turned toward her colleague. “That is correct,” she said. “We did not capture them. We grew them.”
Eva watched her guest carefully, observing the changes in his facial expression as he began to understand.
“You see,” she explained, “these two researchers have mapped the alien genome and found a way to ‘grow’ them in a lab using genetically modified human embryos. It is illegal in every country in the world, but I’ve made a deal with them to allow their research to continue. That is... if you’re interested in what I’m proposing.”
He hesitated, but just for a moment. “I can see some advantage,” he conceded, “to not having to lure them to us. I don’t suppose we need a big supply. After all, it is only those that are — like me — that are necessarily interested in utilizing them as a food source.”
Eva nodded. “Yes, I can tell you that my aunt is not ready to toss one onto the grill just yet,” she said. “But you know what would probably interest her. Experimenting with incantations and potions on one of these guys.”
The tall figure nodded slowly, then placed his chin in his fist as if contemplating something. “What you are suggesting, it does seem to check many blocks,” the evil one mused. “We wouldn’t be risking the human population with their continued raids. My kind could still enjoy this delicacy. And others in my community might work their art on these subjects rather than on your kind. That’s not to say,” he added quickly, “that we are giving up our taste for human flesh.”
“Of course not,” Eva agreed. “I know better than to ask that.”
Eva noted Dr. Yau smiling at her, and scowled back as if to say, “I haven’t forgotten that you were conducting illegal gene studies on human embryos.”
Dr. Yau quickly turned her smile toward the shrouded guest in the dark corner, but even though he smiled at her in return, she could feel his malevolence. She averted her gaze.
“When all the ships have withdrawn and our world is safe from the invaders again, we will provide you with as many of these genetically altered specimens as you like,” Eva stated.
He was silent as he considered her offer. “I must first determine that your version of the creature is satisfactory,” he said at last.
Eva nodded at Dr. Stanislav, who assisted Dr. Yau in lifting the glass case from where it surrounded the dormant alien. Eva and the evil one watched with interest as Dr. Yau filled a syringe with a dark orange liquid, then injected it into the alien’s jawline just below the right ear. After a moment, the creature opened its eyes and began to stir.
Its movements were lethargic, confused. The evil one stepped from the shadows, and for the first time Eva could see his eyes, black and terrifying. Fortunately for her and the two researchers, those eternal bottomless pits of darkness were focused on the alien and not the three humans.
The alien could not tear its gaze from the two black holes that summoned it. It began to stand, then to shuffle slowly toward the deadly fate awaiting it.
“I will spare you the vision of my meal,” the evil one murmured, concentrating on drawing the stumbling alien toward him. As the two drew closer, now no more than an arm’s length from each other, there was sudden movement, a flash and a blur, and the evil one, along with his prey, was gone.
Eva and the two scientists were quiet, waiting.
When he returned, his pale skin held more of a greenish hue, and Eva thought the look on his face was near enough to satisfaction for her to feel a modicum of relief.
“We have a deal,” he said.
* * *
Eva looked out over the White House lawn, in all its glory. Some tourists were being guided to all the sweet spots. Traffic had resumed on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Secret Service stood at their posts. Sunshine streamed through the window, casting out all the shadows in the room. Life was almost back to normal.
Almost... because even with the decided absence of invaders in the sky, the world was fully aware of what had chased them away. The fear of things that go bump in the night was now fear of things that no longer felt the need to hide. Some kept to the shadows, but others had seen fit to come out of hiding entirely. They were the heroes of the story, after all. They were ready to claim their rewards.
Eva sighed. She had exchanged one evil for another, less voracious evil. Whereas the aliens had harvested humans daily by the thousands, the current controlling evil had a much smaller appetite, taking people by the handful. It was some sort of progress.
Eva turned off her desk lamp, wound a string of garlic about her neck and grabbed the silver crucifix from her coat pocket, twisting it round her fingers. She thought of something, and picked up the phone.
“Todd, just checking. Did you get the silver bullets like I asked? Perfect. Make sure everyone on my detail has a clipful.”
Taking a deep breath, she grabbed the door handle. She had a long evening ahead. Her son’s homework involved making holy water and testing it on an incubus. The teacher had been quite clear that using a priest for the task would lead to a failing grade. She would be checking her crystal ball to tell if students cheated.
“Welcome to the new normal,” Eva whispered as she walked out of the office, her Secret Service detail falling in line behind her, the aroma of garlic wafting down the hall.
Copyright © 2021 by A. M. Johnson