“Let’s not pretend everything is going to be OK” – Fiction by William Squirrell

Canary – Tsuguharu Foujita

Some ships come down in the middle of the night, and a whole mess of bad news follows in “Let’s not pretend everything is going to be OK,” William Squirrell‘s hauntingly apocalyptic short fiction from our Spring 2018 issue.

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THE SHIPS CAME DOWN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. They were huge. Gigantic. They stretched the sky, it bulged. They smeared the stars between their forefinger and their thumb. Have you ever seen water in a balloon? Have you ever felt the tender weight expressing? Pushing against the skin? Milk from a breast. Push! Push! Breathe! Have you felt it in the palm of your hand? That weight? Pressing, pressing, pressing down, impatient to be borne.

They stretched the sky so thin you could almost see through it, see the shapes on the other side, drifting in the bubbles and the scum. Is that God? Is that the singing angels? Fellow travelers through the void? Or just the bodies in the lye?

We never saw them coming. Too late we heard the creaking door, the creaking floor, too late.

What’s the use of radar? What’s the use of a radio telescope in a crater the size of New York City if it doesn’t give fair warning? What’s the use of Hubble? Of Elon Musk? What’s the use of a fictional marriage? Mutual funds? What’s the use of hope? Of love? What’s the use of a lockdown when they’re already in the building?

Oh, Emilia! Emilia! And Winston and John and Lauren, little Lauren, Oh Emilia! And Winston and John. They stole them all. Sucked them up through their rubber skins, through their prophylactic skins. Did they eat them up? Did they eat the children? Did they take them somewhere safe? All the human children? What are we now that they are gone?

There is no one left but us grownups; us old ones; us already dead ones.

When the ships came down in the middle of the night, so massive and catastrophic like heart attacks, we all groaned. Pain in our left arms. Shortness of breath. Nausea. Palpitations. We were squeezed. Massaged. We all felt it. We moaned simultaneous.

“What would you do if you could get your kid back?” said the man at the bus stop who used to always talk about the Government. “No other kids, just yours. Would you kill that old lady over there? The one in the green coat. Would you crush her skull with a hammer? If I gave you a knife would you cut her throat? Would you let me kill your wife? Would she let me? If I could guarantee it: your kid.”

Later in the bar they were talking about that family in that town in Wisconsin. The one whose child was left behind.  The only child. A little boy of seven. For a few days nobody had said anything. For a few months. They waited. Everyone waited.  No one knew what would happen. The parents didn’t let the kid out of the house. There were stalkers. Threats. Attempted kidnappings. They didn’t let him play in the yard but people came to watch. Hoping to see the curtain twitch. They came to listen. They would wait for his laughter. They were foxes at the chicken coop. In the end it was a terrible way to die: fire.  The folks in the bar all agreed.

The doors barricaded.

The silent mob watching.

The men holding back the firefighters and the local police.

At least in the old days they sang hymns, someone said. But I guess back then they thought such things made a difference.

And they were used to misery. People like us, we were not used to being crushed underneath imponderable fates, crawling on our hands and knees, out of work, no money, bills to pay, no light, no heat, no water. People like us always thought we could figure anything out in the end, we always did, we thought that, we’ll get it right in the end, we always do.

The ships came down in the middle of the night, so huge and dark it was like the stars were going out, rolling up like eyes into a skull.

And then in the morning the economists started killing themselves. Economists. At least that was good for a laugh.

Who would have thought they were the ones who were going to be our tree frogs? Who would have thought those guys would be the canaries in our coalmine? They were the ones who realized right away: that it was all zero-sum after all.

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WILLIAM  SQUIRRELL is a Canadian living in western Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in MonkeybicycleSundog LitdecomP magazinE, and other publications. He has an unconscionably self-indulgent novel about Nixon trying to escape from Hell called Let the Bastards Burn which he can’t even give away. He is also the editor of Big Echo: Critical SF at www.bigecho.org. More information can be found at www.blindsquirrell.com and on twitter @billsquirrell.

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