Manhattan, New York
The hundreds of people who waved to Gary on their way in and out of the parking garage at 6th and 29th always wondered how he passed each day from 7 to 5 just sitting at his desk, no computer, no cell service, just him and his sports radio. He always wondered how all those people who waved at him spent every day sitting at their desk, staring at a screen, sending and replying to emails.
Gary had never sent an email in his entire life. This would have been one of the first things he would have mentioned about himself at parties, had he been invited to parties.
Instead, Gary picked up as many weekend shifts as he could to pass the time and fund periodic trips down to Atlantic City to lose that extra money at blackjack tables and eat cheap prime rib buffets. Hey, his generosity at the table and the anecdote about his lack of email sending had been enough to win him the love of a dealer with a healthy chest one night, and that was enough for him.
Every day on the job was the same for Gary, and that was the way he liked it. This was another anecdote he probably would have shared at his hypothetical parties.
Gary was about 20 minutes into his daily listening of Boomer and Gio, the two were droning on about something about SaQuon Barkley, when his day became very much not the same.
The parking spots at the bottom of the lot where his booth was didn’t usually start to fill up until after 8 a.m., yet, there was a gray vehicle parked in the furthest spot at the back of the lot. It was a strange-enough occurence that he needed to investigate it.
The guys up on the main floor had told him about a recent trend of cubicle jockeys blowing their brains out in their cars on their breaks and nobody realizing it for days. That wasn’t going to happen on his watch. Maybe he would even get there earlier enough to prevent the corporate peon from doing the deed. He would be a hero – article in The Post, GoFundMe page for at least a hundred grand, a call back from that blackjack dealer after all those years. Hey, I saw a story about you online…
Gary was about to get the first item on his list of daydreams, but not in the way he anticipated. This became clear once he was about 10 feet away from the vehicle and realized it wasn’t a vehicle.
The object rested almost perfectly within the confines of a parking spot horizontally and was about six feet vertically, according to the report Gary made to the N.Y.P.D. The thing looked like a giant car made out of slick, gray clay. It held the same shape as a sedan, but was just a thick muddy blob.
He went back to his desk to call it in. He took one last look as his phone started to dial out to the guys upstairs.
The thing changed colors.
He got back up and walked back over to the corner of the lot where it rested.
The object was now darker, a dark brown, bordering on black. It’s texture also changed. It was no longer muddy and thick like clay, it was thin and soft, almost like a paper grocery store bag.
He wanted to touch the thing, but even he knew better. Especially considering the smell the thing was now giving off. It smelled like rotten eggs left in the trash can underneath the sink for weeks and it made him light headed. So much so he fainted on his way back to his booth.
But he made it just long enough to call the boys upstairs and see a vapor leak out of the object in the corner of his eye.
Then everything went to black.
There were men in suits who were very much not corporate peons standing above him when he came to.
Gary told the ex-military guys about what he saw. They asked him if he saw anything on the item that he thought might be “electrical,” he didn’t think so. All organic matter. Even in his foggy state, he was impressed with himself the term “organic matter” came to him.
The men took Gary back over to the object. He saw the “electrical” element they spoke of.
The side of the item which faced Gary’s booth was now transparent. A four-foot by two foot pane of thick glass shined back at him. He squinted and tried to see inside the object, but all he saw was darkness.
The smell was still there, maybe even more acidic this time, he felt like he was going to pass out again.
The ex-military types started firing questions at him:
“How long did you know the thing was here before you got up to investigate it?”
“Did you touch it?”
“What did it look like when you first saw it?”
“What about the smell?”
Gary answered all the questions the best that he could and they let him go.
Was there anything he needed to do after that? No.
He went back to his desk. Boomer and Gio were no longer talking about SaQuon Barkley.
Pastor Dan knew Ryan was just supposed to go to the supply barn, get a shovel, and come right back to the celebration garden. There was no way that should have taken him more than two minutes, let alone the 15 he had been gone.
Dan took pride in regularly being described as “young,” “hip,” “not your typical pastor,” and on occasion, even “cool.” The kids started calling him “Pastor Dan” and he ran with it. Took it as a sign they thought he was one of them.
But even Dan had his point when he wouldn’t let the kids do whatever they wanted. He was sure Ryan got distracted by something on his phone and was farting around in the backyard of the church.
Probably something on Instagram. That’s always what it was. Dan had recently started his own and did his best to get the attention of the youth group kids, but it didn’t seem to catch on. He only had 21 followers.
Maybe it was time for him to start being more Pastor than Dan?
Pastor Dan headed around the back of the church towards the old barn at the back of the yard where he dispatched Ryan. He saw the 17-year-old farm boy white as a ghost.
“What’s happenin’ Ry?” Dan asked.
Ryan tried to get some words out, but couldn’t. He quickly gave up and just led Dan back to the barn from where he had come. Words couldn’t have done what he saw back there justice.
Dan was out of words the second he saw what was keeping Ryan so long. The thing looked the size of a small car, rectangle, but with soft edges and the color of a mud puddle, it was like nothing he had ever seen, especially because it appeared to pulsate and move as he stood there in the doorway, jaw hanging open.
Dan and Ryan both tried to say something as they watched the object split itself in half and form two loose rectangles right before their eyes, but both choked on their tongues. Was what they just saw real?
Dan wasn’t sure if that object sitting in the barn was going to mean he was going to very much be out of a job very soon or very much in his job. He figured he would know soon enough.
Dan’s answer came in the form of the voice of Ryan’s dad barking out the barn door. Dan could hear something about bullshit or horseshit, or worse yet, chickenshit.
It was finally time for Dan to get words to start coming out of his mouth when he saw Ryan’s dad, Bill, stomp into the barn with a shotgun drawn.
“Where is it Ryan?” Bill barked out as soon as he got into the musty interior of the building.
Dan took a brave step to get between Bill and the objects. These things could have been holy or something, after all.
“No, no, no, no,” Dan insisted to Bill.
Bill was thrown off by Dan’s defiance. Dan was the kind of guy who would agree with just about anything to avoid confrontation as far as he could tell. He was pretty squishy for a man of the cloth, but here he was, standing between the poised shells in his shotgun and some sort of hideous alien lifeform.
Alien lifeform? That’s definitely what it was, right? Dan wasn’t sure. Everything he believed told him it wasn’t possible, but that’s the first thing his mind told him it was when he laid eyes upon it.
What was the Bible’s take on aliens? Dan needed to start beefing up on the Bible right quick. Wait.
First things first. Bill and the gun. Dan walked up to Bill and noticed something he didn’t expect.
Fear in his eyes.
Dan took the opening and lowered Bill’s shotgun with his hands, just low enough to where it would fire at the floor if it went off, but not far enough to completely emasculate the roughneck. He knew these people well.
“Now I think we need to take some time to calm down and figure this out,” Dan started in on Bill.
Dan could see Bill’s eyes still trained on the objects behind him. He may have put the gun down, but he was still a major threat.
Dan saw that fear in Bill’s eyes get even worse.
“Those things are movin,” Bill whispered into Dan’s ear.
Dan turned around and saw that Bill wasn’t lying. The objects appeared to be sliding across the floor like slugs, ever-so-slowly.
Dan’s movement was enough for Bill to get back control of the shotgun and level it up with the objects.
Ryan joined the tug-of-war and grabbed his dad by the shoulders. Ryan was bigger, younger, and stronger. Still, the old man easily fought off his tackle attempt and kept the gun aimed at the object.
Dan and Ryan called out “No!” but there was nothing the word could do. Bill’s shot fired and hit the object on the right side square in the middle of its mass.
The shot disappeared into the object and nothing happened for a moment. Relief washed over Dan and Ryan, even Bill, for a moment.
Then the object exploded, shooting gray liquid all across the room. The three men dropped to the floor and were showered with what felt like JELL-O until the rain was over and they scanned the scene.
The walls were completely caked with sticky, gray matter, but everything seemed fine. Dan thought he felt the gray matter that was splattered on his face burn for a moment, but the feeling subsided.
Dan looked to Bill. It was obvious the man regretted his last move. His son had called him rambling about alien shit and he couldn’t take it. He wanted to prove to his son there wasn’t really an “alien egg,” at the church, there wasn’t anything to be afraid of even if there was, and his dad would protect him, all with one shot.
Bill failed on all fronts. Ryan was even more convinced of the existence of aliens now due to the strange gel splashed across his body, he was even more worried something bad was going to happen because of the searing pain the gel was causing on his skin, and he didn’t think his dad could protect him well given how quickly he lost his cool and acted on impulse.
Dan got Bill and Ryan out of the barn. Whatever was in there was high above his pay grade with the two great overseers – the U.S. government and God.
He put in a call to the closest F.B.I. office he could find online and to his mentor Pastor David up in Reno. Neither seemed to believe him about what had just happened.
However, both said they’d be right down.
Bill and Ryan went home with instructions to pray from Dan and he kind of regretted it. He tried to pass the hour waiting for the F.B.I. by skimming through Instagram, checking in on the youth group kids, but it didn’t work. He was literally sweating at his desk in stiff air conditioning and giving endless silent prayers to himself.
The F.B.I. team gave the same kind of reaction he gave when he saw the objects when they stepped into the barn. Dan didn’t like that. He watched them struggle for words, look to each other for some kind of logical answer and then start to sweat through their dress shirts the same way he was.
The theme song to The Drew Carey Show was running through Caitlin’s head. That meant that she was running on a treadmill. The phrase “Cleveland rocks” had played on the little turntable in her skull about 300 times. That meant she was almost done. The song got stuck in her head when she ran cross country in middle school when the show was in it’s prime and just always kind of hung out there whenever she ran now. The brain is a strange organ. .
Caitlin’s soft brown eyes had been glued to the T.V. hanging above her for an hour now, but she had barely absorbed anything broadcast. C.N.N. always reminded her of being at a terminal at a bad airport waiting on a flight to somewhere she’d rather not go.
She eyed the 19-year-old guy wiping down the exercise equipment across the gym and spoke for the first time in the day.
“Hey, can you change that channel? I’ll go on Facebook if I want to see politics, know what I mean?” Caitlin asked the kid.
The kid didn’t even look at her when he replied.
“I don’t even know how to change the channel. I think someone lost the remote, and I don’t have Facebook.”
Caitlin regretted referencing Facebook. The phrase now perfectly aged her at 35. Someone who was not yet old, but no longer young.
She let the 19-year-old slink away. The pain of the world would cripple his cynicism eventually or he would just find opiates and either overdose. Either way was fine with her.
She only had 10 minutes left in her run. She was in the homestretch anyway. She might even be able to get that horrible 90s sitcom tune out of her head in that time.
The 19-year-old came back into her field of vision, pushing a ladder across the carpet and over to the T.V. He climbed his skinny bones up the ladder until he was at the T.V. and changing through the channels.
Maybe everyone isn’t horrible all the time, Caitlin thought to herself. Now she hoped the kid wouldn’t overdose on some kind of pill after all.
She saw ESPN flash across the screen.
“E.S.P.N. That’s fine. Sports are innocuous,” Caitlin said.
The 19-year-old didn’t know what innocuous meant, but he was glad to be able to climb back down from that ladder.
Caitlin furrowed her brow. What she assumed was some sort of sports-related press conference at first didn’t appear to be that upon second glance. She recognized the Secretary of State standing behind a podium, looking rather somber.
The 19-year-old tried to skulk away towards the men’s locker room.
“Hey, you really can’t turn the sound on the T.V?” Caitlin asked him before he got away.
“You can try,” the 19-year-old said before he disappeared into the men’s chambers.
“Oh fuck me,” Caitlin muttered under her breath as she jumped off the treadmill.
Caitlin climbed up the ladder until she was at the T.V. It took a good 10 seconds, but she eventually found the volume buttons. She didn’t think she had actually used the buttons ON THE T.V. in maybe 10 years, but she got the sound to crank up.
“Found in midtown Manhattan,” the secretary of state’s voice broadcast out the blown-out speakers.
A couple of employees who were older than 19, but not by much drifted into the room and congregated around one of their cell phones. Caitlin could see they were watching something at least mildly-pornographic from across the room.
“No, it’s like I’ve always been telling you about what I saw out at my grandpa’s farm when I was a kid. The lights, they were in a straight line,” the employee with the tribal tattoo said to the one with spiked-up hair even though he had crossed over the 30-year-old line.
“You mean Orion’s Belt?” Spikey hair said to Tribal Tat.
“No, not like that. I know what that is,” Tribal Tat fired back.
Caitlin more than caught the employees’ attention with her holler. She pointed up at the T.V., full of frustration.
“What is this?” Caitlin yelled.
Tribal Tat perked up, eager to answer. He drifted closer to her before he spoke.
“Aliens,” spiked hair answered with pride.
Her brain went blank. She could read sarcasm or smart ass on anyone and she wasn’t getting an ounce of that from this disphit.
She looked back at the T.V. She didn’t see a drip of smart ass on the Secretary of State’s face either.
Caitlin ran her badge on the reader to get into the lab. That never got old, no matter how many times she did it. It always made her feel like some sort of female James Bond.
The lab her card opened up for her was nothing like anything out of a Bond movie though, even the old ones. It was plain, stale, sterile and old fashioned, exactly what it needed to be for biologists.
Waiting in the lab for Caitlin was someone who was anything but those adjectives in the above paragraph – her partner Zoey. Zoey rarely washed her hair, chain chewed gum, had a mind that never stopped racing and had tattoos that crept out from the covers of her lab coat.
Zoey cornered Caitlin as soon as she walked in and stuck her phone in her face, a video on Twitter already broadcasting.
“You know you’re not supposed to have that on when we’re in here?” Caitlin gave Zoey a scolding to get things started.
The scolding didn’t faze Zoey in the slightest.
“Did you get a call yet?” Zoey asked.
“From who?” Caitlin shot back, just realizing she hadn’t even properly checked her phone yet for the day.
Well, she had turned it on, but she didn’t realize she still had it on silent.
She broke her own rules and pulled out her phone. She had 11 texts from 11 different people, five missed calls, two voicemails, endless Twitter and Facebook notifications.
The T.V. broadcast she finished watching in the gym was super vague. Just speculation. Some talk about aliens or terrorist attacks or a hoax in New York, but that was it. She wrote it off as something that would be figured out and forgotten by noon.
The amount of personal communication sent her way told her it was probably not getting written off by lunchtime.
Caitlin had done a stereotypical yet somehow not stereotypical millennial move in deciding to unplug herself from her phone as much as she possibly could each day, only checking her phone first thing in the morning and when she got home from work. She was only in her second day of waking up at 5 a.m. so she could work out before work and had forgotten to check.
“Oh my God,” Caitlin muttered to herself as she skimmed through all of her communications.
“Told you,” Zoey punctuated Caitlin’s murmur.
The first thing Caitlin did was listen to her voicemails. The first was from someone with the C.I.A. she had never spoken to named Donald Jones, and she was sure it was a made up name. Donald simply asked her to call him back at a random 202 area code number.
She called Donald before she did anything else. He sounded relieved when she identified herself.
“I left that message an hour ago,” Donald said right after they exchanged an official greeting.
Caitlin was thrown off by how cold Donald was. He clearly wanted a favor from her if he called her and left a voicemail in 2020, but he was coming off like she needed something from him.
“Sorry, sorry,” Donald corrected himself. “We have a strange reason why we want to get in touch with you.”
“That’s what I figured, but I would like to first make it clear the reason we are reaching out is because G.W.U. said you were the most-brilliant bio scientist in their lab,” Donald started in.
Caitlin regretted having stepped out of the lab to make the call. She wished Zoey would have heard that statement as she stood behind her, eavesdropping on her conversation, but alas, she was alone in her car, running out of oxygen alone.
“However, there’s another reason why we put in a call to you. How much do you know about what’s going on right now?” Donald asked.
“Almost nothing,” Caitlin answered.
“An unidentifiable object was found in a parking garage in midtown Manhattan this morning. When I say unidentifiable object I mean a square piece of matter, about the size of a sedan, gray in color, solid in nature made up of elements we have yet to identify,” Donald explained.
“That’s why I’ve been hearing the alien things? You don’t know what it is?” Caitlin asked both questions in the same breath. “But why me?” She asked as she could hear Donald sucking in a deep breath on the other end of the line.
“As I mentioned, George Washington had great things to say about you,” Donald stated.
Caitlin audibly laughed, that was a total shocker. There had to be something else.
“But there’s something else,” Donald went on, but paused at that point, tipping his hand he was about to spill some beans. “But we’ll have to discuss that in-person.”
Donald made Caitlin meet her at a dirty Chinese restaurant in Alexandria in an hour. He greeted her into a booth in the back and started to rave about the diner’s almond chicken. She figured he was more enthusiastic about the privacy of the place than the cuisine, especially after she saw the laminated menu.
Donald got right to the point. The government, the military specifically, was interested in her because those objects they found in the parking garage in Manhattan, New York were also found in only one other place, Manhattan, Nevada. Caitlin’s home town.
Caitlin responded by drinking all of the water at the table thinking it would tone down the burning sensation in her stomach. It didn’t.
The borderline elderly dignitary in front of her went on after a careful sip of his ice tea.
“We think you might have an advantage in this situation because you have a connection to both places. Having grown up in Manhattan, Nevada and having gone to college at N.Y.U.,” Donald explained.
Caitlin already started to feel the weight of the world on her shoulders and couldn’t help but get defensive. She could hardly make it through a week of work without calling in sick. How was she going to save the world from whatever blob was pulsating in the world’s biggest city and her dusty ass hometown.
Then she had a realization.
“I have nothing to do with this?” She said, short of breath.
Donald reached over a soft hand. She thought the man must have had children, grandchildren actually, he was genuinely comforting.
“Oh no, no,” Donald assured us. “We don’t think you’re trying to end the world, we think you might be able to save it.”
That statement from Donald rang in Caitlin’s ears as she sat on a private aircraft by herself, sipping underwhelming coffee and feeling her heart race accelerate with each sip.
Whatever these things were, they thought they were dangerous. Like, destroy the world dangerous, like something out of an Avengers movie.
They had a lot of faith in her for some reason. Had they looked at any of her doctorate work in college or her day-to-day reports at her job? They couldn’t have. They would have seen right through her. Yes, she got by, but that was about it.
Donald had supplied her with a tablet before she got on the plane from D.C. to New York he said had all of the information they had thus far about the objects. She opened the PDF on the thing and saw it was only one page. She didn’t like that and closed the thing before it loaded on the screen.
She needed coffee before she made any moves. Apparently she needed three cups as she got to the halfway point of her third dosage and felt all of her insides tingle.
She chugged the rest of the third cup, grabbed the tablet, and started reading what she had to work with.
Almost nothing. They basically just knew when the objects arrived, where they were, what they looked like, that they were likely silicone-based, and that was it.
Also, a farmer at the Manhattan, Nevada location shot one of the objects with a shotgun, destroying it. This bit made her laugh and sounded exactly like her hometown to her. Way to go Manhattan, Nevada.
Caitlin was just about to finish up her “research” when she received a call on her phone from an unsaved 775 area code. Family reporting the phenomenon to her? No. The ones that had her phone number were all dead. It had to be an old friend.
“Hi, this is Lucas,” the mumbling voice of Caitlin’s long ex-boyfriend responding to her “hello.”
Caitlin wondered if Lucas was the reason she was in the predicament she was in at the moment as she tried to think of what to say next.
“Are you there?” Lucas asked.
“Uh, yeah, I’m just on an airplane,” she answered.
“You can take calls on airplanes?” He asked back.
She had the same exact thought at that moment.
“It’s private I guess, or government, or something,” she started in. “I’m going to Manhattan. New York. They want me to look at those things they found in that parking garage,” she explained.
“Yeah, I was calling to see if you heard, they found them here. Bill Warren shot one of them. It exploded and sent green blood stuff everywhere, but everyone seems to be fine. Do you know anything?” Lucas finished with a question.
“No, and I’m on my way to supposedly figure out what they are and what to do right now,” she said shortly before the call dropped and she couldn’t dial out the rest of the flight.
A black S.U.V. picked up Caitlin and Donald from an airfield and started heading for the heart of Manhattan. She used the last bits of free time she thought she might ever have to think about the other reasons she had suppressed to why she was assigned the job she was about to start. Hearing Lucas’ voice had kicked the old fires of her adolescence.
Caitlin was a prodigy, a science prodigy to be exact, in the middle of nowhere in Nevada, to be exact.
The daughter of a mine worker and a cashier at a gas station, Caitlin Petersen was the least-likely child biology prodigy possible, yet, she was, and it started with an accident.
A retired professor from the University of Nevada’s copy of BioScience Journal was accidentally delivered to Caitlin’s parents’ house when she was eight years old. She grabbed the glossy periodical off of the counter when she saw it next to People and Entertainment Weekly.
Caitlin grabbed the magazine simply because it had a picture of a purple lizard on it sitting on a bright green leaf. It was pretty. That was how it all started.
She read the magazine the best she could, barely comprehending most of what was in there, but enough to annoy her mother that night with a lot of questions. There was a study about sex that prompted her to ask the question, “what is intercourse?”
Her mom deflected the question and was surprised the Q&A didn’t stop there. Caitlin kept asking about many of the other terms and, more-importantly, concepts in the issue.
Barely a graduate of Manhattan High School, her mom wasn’t able to answer any of her questions. Well, she could answer the one about intercourse, but that was the only one she didn’t want to answer.
Yet, her mom didn’t want Caitiln to grow up with the lack of opportunities she had growing in her home town and scanned the magazine until she found a small ad in the back, for a children’s biology club. The ad included a P.O. box somewhere in Maryland for those interested in joining to send a letter requesting information and a check for $30 for a yearly membership to join.
Caitlin’s mom sent a letter to the club and it wasn’t long before they started getting packets of biological information for Caitlin to digest once a month. It started slow, but Caitlin slowly started absorbing the information and seeking out as much of it as possible.
Her mom bought just about any book she could possibly find related to biology or science and Caitlin devoured it. During the summer and during school breaks, Caitlin’s mom would drive her to the libraries at the University of Nevada in Reno, and Las Vegas, anywhere she could get any information on biology.
All of the professors eventually started taking notice of her. They took her under their wing as much as they could, and by the time she was 12, Caitlin was part of any kind of club or organization you could be as a child biology fan and had been featured in about 10 different magazines and newspapers.
Now here’s the part Caitlin never really told anyone. While she was a massive biology enthusiast, she wasn’t really an expert or anything or skilled at anything.
Biology isn’t like math, or a sport, there wasn’t really a scoring system, or something to practice. Basically she would just read a lot about things she was interested in and carry conversations that seemed rather intelligent and knowledgeable for a grade school student, but that didn’t actually mean anything.
She hadn’t done any of her own research. She hadn’t conducted any experiments, or formed a thesis. She was just a kid who really loved biology and the media didn’t ask follow up questions or really care about what she could actually do.
Caitlin stepped up her game, earning a 4.0 in high school while participating in a number of national and regional biology competitions and clubs. Her reputation continued to grow and the articles continued to pile up, regularly calling her the girl who was going to save the world. She earned scholarships from just about any university you can think of.
Locally, she was a controversial figure. It shouldn’t be shocking modern science was a bit of a controversial topic in an isolated American town with a population in the double digits. Local preachers made sermons about the dangers of brainwashing children with magical science and she got a few snide comments from old women in the grocery store checkout line one time when she was 17.
Caitlin chose to go to N.Y.U. to get as far away from Manhattan, Nevada as she could, geographically, and culturally. It was just a funny coincidence both places shared the same name, something that was never not mentioned in any article ever written about her after she decided to go to N.Y.U.
She majored in biology, but didn’t love it. She instead dumped most of her resources into making sure she got at least Bs in all her classes and learning coding online. She graduated without much fanfare and was able to secure an entry-level coding job at a start-up in Reno and she thought she was going to move back there and reconnect with Lucas.
That’s where her life took that turn we mentioned earlier we will eventually get back to.
All of this was running through Caitlin’s head when they pulled into the parking lot where she was going to get to work. Donald prepped her and said almost everything would be set up for her to test, they just wanted her to coordinate it. She wouldn’t have to learn any new technology or concepts.
Caitlin came into a tent set up in the garage that reminded her of where they put E.T. when the government took him. Instead of a bunch of nameless government officials and a chalky ass alien, five people who reminded her a lot of herself were waiting in there – nervous and studious-looking 30 somethings biting their nails.
The group lit into Caitlin as soon as she walked into the clear plastic tent, bombarding her with questions rapid fire like a controversial figure in a movie walking out of a building getting grilled by reporters with microphones as they walked out of a courthouse or jail.
She had no answers for them. She actually needed them to help her show her exactly what they had for her to work with.
They directed her to a collection of tools on a shelf in the roof that reminded her of the equipment the Ghostbusters worked with. Resting next to them was a set of printed out instructions which directed her toward the instruments.
Caitlin was surprised how much the items in the parking garage looked like what her brain would design “alien eggs” to look like. They were seven-feet tall, spherical, beige, but speckled with small dark purple spots haphazardly spread around their exterior. They appeared to be solid, but soft, they almost looked spongy.
She took the first instrument and went to work, not even knowing what it was doing. It just appeared the wand-like device that she waved over the items was registering measurements and sending them to some central hub she didn’t know about.
Halfway through her examination, she encountered the first, and only really, revelation she would discover – she noticed pairs of dark spheres, triangles, and rectangles seemingly seared into the back of the objects when she craned her neck around to look behind them. However, they faded after she looked at them for more than a few seconds.
After they faded, she closed her eyes tight for five seconds and then looked again. The symbols were there, but they quickly evaporated again.
She readied herself to speak into the microphone in her suit, but felt a sneeze coming on and let it take over her. She held her breath, reared back and let fly, spraying hot, red blood all over the inside of the clear glass portion of the suit right in front of her.
A massive sense of dread washed over her. She suddenly realized she should absolutely not be doing what she was doing. She felt like a canary in the mind shaft. Were they just sending her in there to test it out in case something went wrong? They gave her some sort of space suit that allowed her to breathe the delicate, outside New York City air, but she certainly didn’t feel safe.
Especially because her minions stood on the outside of a clear plastic tarp set up around the objects and because the objects started to pulsate the longer she stood in there.
That meant it was time to get out of there. She rushed out and got engulfed by Donald and his cronies and her own cronies.
She only paid attention to Donald. He seemed pleased, not the least bit bothered by how out of breath, bloody, and sweaty she was.
“That was great, we’ve been trying to get this started for a while and they’re getting the readings they need back in D.C…
“Nothing about the blood all over my face?” Caitlin fired right back.
There was no blood actually on her face at this point. She had been examined by a doctor the moment she came out from the tent and they determined it was just a nosebleed shot as a projectile because of the pressure inside her suit. She got the nose bleed from the dehydration of the three cups of coffee she had for breakfast and her flight.
So, Donald answered her, fairly, when he said:
“The doctor said that was from the suit and dehydration.”
She had to pivot.
“Am I supposed to be this out of breath and hot?” Caitlin cut him off.
He looked down at his phone after it chimed a seemingly-impossible amount of times in about one second. She didn’t like this. She thought of how to scold him next.
Until she saw the look on his face once he opened up the multiple notifications he had just received.
She focused on a video he was watching on Twitter. She didn’t like what she saw – endless amounts of people pushing their way through the streets of New York in a panic, fleeing. Her entire body went cold.
“What is that?” Caitlin asked Donald.
Donald put his hand over his mouth. His posture wasn’t shocked or concerned, more annoyed. That gave her some relief.
“That idiot who found these things leaked photos to the press,” Donald seethed through his veneers.
He skimmed through a little bit more on Twitter, further angering himself.
“Someone said they’re ‘alien eggs’ and now everyone’s running with it. People are panicking, obviously,” Donald went on.
Caitlin’s mouth dribbled. She felt the next question was going to come off as stupid, even though it wasn’t at all.
“Well…are they?” She asked.
Donald stared her down for a few tense moments and then patted her softly on the shoulder.
“Isn’t that what you’re here to figure out?” He muttered before he walked away.
Caitlin found herself with her crew back in the E.T. tent. She could smell her own sweat for the first time in her life, permeating in her own little suit. She kept blowing steam into the glass in front of her face, fogging up her vision.
She waved a rod instrument she had been told almost nothing about in front of the items, waving it around the way the instructions she received on the tablet had informed her to. It didn’t seem to do anything. The items just sat there staring back at her. She felt like some kind of fraud “paranormal expert” in a reality TV show about “chasing ghosts” or some futile bullshit.
She was almost going to start laughing about the situation until she realized the fog which was clouding the inside of her suit wasn’t coming from her own breath and it was growing thicker.
She started to cough and sucked in an awful metallic taste that took out her vision for a moment. Breathing started to come rapid, and shallow, like she was at the end of a 400-yard dash. Her knees started to wobble.
Soon, about the only sense still at Caitlin’s command was hearing, and she could hear commotion all around her. She heard a muffled scream before she fell to the ground.
While passed out, Caitlin’s mind slipped into her most-constant daydreaming topic – her ex-boyfriend, Lucas, and their failed relationship. No matter what else happened in her life. This adolescent tale of failed love never left her mind.
She usually wouldn’t remember the actual dreams that were filled with Lucas, but this literal fever dream would give her not only memory of the world her mind created, but also conscience access. She knew she was in a dream as she interacted with Lucas in milestone moments that drifted in and out like waves on the beach.
The first wave that took her in was in seventh grade, the dregs of a cold Winter, when Caitlin still wasn’t adjusted to having to bus to a new town to a bigger school where she didn’t know anyone because her parents deemed the local middle school “too podunk” for their prodigy. Having better teachers and technology and stability were great, basically being a new kid at school was only slightly-less podunk than the one in Manhattan, for a true introvert was not so great.
Caitlin didn’t have a single friend as she ate her meager sandwich on a bench outside of the cafeteria hoping no one and everyone would notice her at the same time.
Someone did notice her, Lucas, a quiet kid with shaggy hair that never seemed to not be in his eyes who seemed to wear some sort of baseball jersey and hat each day though she was pretty sure he didn’t actually play on the baseball team. He sat down next to her with a piece of cafeteria pizza and offered up his waxy cafeteria apple.
She accepted the apple, even though she didn’t want it.. That sparked a superficial conversation about portable C.D. players that opened the door up for a superficial 7th grade relationship.
The next wave was just Caitlin kissing Lucas for the first time, on the bus home from the end of 7th grade waterslide trip in the very back seat, with no one else looking. She would hate to admit she embraced it in her dream vision and could still feel the hairs on her arms standing at attention.
Next wave – Caitlin and Lucas sit above Walker Lake, sipping wine coolers and holding hands. Prime high school. Her finding the rare time to not study, him always up to Macgyver up a romantic evening for them. She could still feel his warmth against her.
Next wave – “the talk,” when she sat him down and talked about their future. He was staying in town to train to be a police officer, she was going off to N.Y.U. to become a Nobel Prize-winning scientist. How was that going to work? He talked her into being long distance.
The next waves were rapid fire. Her dating other people without properly communicating it to Lucas. Late night phone calls with him. Trips to New York for him where he felt wholly out of place. Trips home for breaks for her where she felt more and more out of place. Christmas. Fourth of July. Thanksgiving. Cold and conflicted kisses as the New Year’s ball dropped.
It suddenly became painful, and that was before Caitlin found herself crying in the freezing house of her recently-deceased parents with Lucas holding her in the early morning.
The waves didn’t bring Caitlin to the night she officially broke up with Lucas at the end of Summer break, knowing she was going back to a budding romance in New York with a lab partner who would dump her three months into their relationship ironically for an ex-girlfriend he grew up with. The waves didn’t show Lucas breaking down in front of her the way she never thought a 6’5 220-pound alpha male could.
The waves kindly left out anything about the death of both of Caitlin’s parents. They left out any of the aftermath as well. None of the funerals.
It cut straight to her reconnecting with Lucas as she stayed in town for weeks after her mom’s funeral, trying to figure out what to do with her life from there. It started quickly, with her getting too drunk at the bar one night, crying on his shoulder, and eventually sleeping with him.
Her rekindled love with Lucas was one of the reasons she couldn’t leave town and get back to finishing her doctorate in New York. She loved lying there in his arms and crying with him making every right move while comforting her. So much so, she stayed there for almost a month and they basically became boyfriend-girlfriend again.
Then she packed her stuff up one morning and left town without saying anything to him. Then she ignored his calls, texts, Facebook messages, and emails for weeks before she explained she simply had to get back on with living her life and getting past the death of her parents.
She woke up from the fever dream. She was in a different tent, now with instruments monitoring her.
She locked eyes with Donald through the clear plastic of the tent and he immediately blushed. She looked down and saw she was nearly naked on the examination table.
She also saw she was completely alone in the tent. The instruments combing her body were being controlled like drones by doctors outside of the tent.
She screamed her lungs out while locking eyes with the embarrassed Donald. It didn’t seem to do anything. He just kept looking at her and the instruments kept molesting her.
She wanted to get words out to explain Donald needed to get her out of there right away. She didn’t have to vocalize words though. She just got up and started ripping apart the inside of the tent until faceless people in hazmat suits came in and dragged her out.
Caitlin had to admit the long, hot shower she got to take helped her get through what had just happened. It felt like the end of high school cross country practice to her, her body was worn out, but she was content, warm, clean, happy, and feeling like she could enjoy the rest of her day.
That feeling quickly faded when Donald informed her she was about to be whisked away to Manhattan, Nevada, to examine the other set of objects.
Whatever remnants of post-shower love had been dancing around in Caitlin’s body vanished when they stepped out of the front of the building and onto the New York City sidewalk in the middle of the day to be greeted by not a single person. She immediately felt like she was in that underwhelming Will Smith movie where he’s the last person alive in the world and living in Manhattan all by himself and pale zombies. Everyone must have already fled.
Well, not everyone.
Caitlin noticed one loser hovering just a few paces up from them as her and Donald watched the black SUV that would shuttle them to an airfield. Long graying hair, army jacket, hunched body language, filthy Reeboks, he reminded her of those unemployable, middle-aged white guys with horrible teeth who seemed to shift between endlessly riding the subway, sipping coffee in Starbucks and being Uber drivers off-and-on. Naturally, this would be the one kind of person who wouldn’t have left the city already.
The loser looked to them just before the SUV came to a stop. Wild-eyed and manic, Caitlin feared he was setting up for an attack of them as he bum rushed her and Donald and caught them on the sidewalk.
Caitlin watched as Donald reached for the guy but the crazy man waved him off and calmed his eyes.
“I might look crazy, but I’m not, and I have something for you,” the man announced as he stood just a few feet away from Caitlin and Donald. “Don’t reach for your gun sir.”
Something about the guy convinced Donald to stand down. Maybe he just thought he was too soft to be a real threat. He would give him at least 10 seconds to state his case.
The man sensed Donald’s patience and Caitlin’s exhaustion mixed with confusion. He saw his opening and went right for stating his case, knowing how little time he, and all of humanity in his opinion, had.
“Look, I know what these things are. I saw the symbols on the leaked pictures,” the man explained and then brandished his dated Android cell phone with a photo of the objects.
The man had the screen particularly focused on the back side of the objects and zoomed in where Caitlin saw the symbols during her examination, but which she had never reported.
Seeing those symbols on the objects took her breath away. This guy may not have been full of shit.
Caitlin could sense Donald was about to swat the man away, literally, with the back of his hand. She grabbed his arm and stopped him as the man went on.
“I’ve seen these videos on YouTube, strange endless black screen videos of symbols scrolling. They’re the same symbols, and they’ve popped up other places,” the man went on.
“That’s great, but we have to go,” Donald dismissed the man.
“Please look me up, my name is Rick Rappoport, I’m on YouTube,” the man who no longer seemed crazy to Caitlin yelled out as Donald dragged her away.
Caitlin reached into her purse, pulled out one of her university business cards and dropped it on the ground near Rick’s feet, all without Donald noticing.
The flight went by in a blink because Caitlin slept pretty much the whole way there. It was the only time she could ever remember sleeping on one of the flights she had taken between Nevada and New York. She landed right outside of Manhattan, Nevada when they touched down this time instead of the long drive from Reno.
She wished she could appreciate the convenience, but any good feelings melted away from her body the second she walked off the plane and laid eyes at Lucas, in-uniform, looking pale as a ghost and about 10 years older than the last time she had seen him.
It wasn’t just their complicated past that soured the arrival. Lucas had some unfortunate news to share – the town folk had overthrown law enforcement and seized the objects.
Lucas took them to his family’s country cafe, which he, and his mom had kept open even though it was the middle of the night, for government officials, hoping some watery coffee and stale donuts might bring salvation from the big city. Caitlin was busy scarfing down her third subpar glazed donut when he moved past his initial introductions and got into the heart of the matter at hand down the highway at the local United Methodist church.
“The locals believe these objects are a sign of the coming apocalypse,” Lucas explained.
Caitlin and some of the other government types audibly scoffed, drawing a glare from Lucas.
“It’s just as good of a sign as any. How are we to know what that would look like?” Lucas went on.
“I don’t disagree with that. I disagree with the idea of ‘the apocalypse,’ that’s not a thing. Even if these are some kind of alien eggs or something that’s going to kill us, it would be an act of another species, not of God,” Caitlin explained.
“I would lose that attitude really quick if you want to get back in the good graces of these people,” Lucas shot back at Caitlin.
The group around Caitlin squirmed. She blushed. What was he alluding to?
“Caitlin here was a girl wonder and a local treasure growing up. The smartest kid to ever come out of this town. Then she made the mistake of publishing an article in an academic journal in college trying to disprove the theory of God,” Lucas explained.
“That’s not what it was,” Caitlin tried to explain.
“It doesn’t matter, that’s what they thought. She’s never been that popular around these parts ever since,” Lucas finished.
“And it kills me inside,” Caitlin got snide, cranking up the sarcasm.
Caitlin caught the eye of Lucas’ mom, hunched over a massive pile of eggs she was cooking for Caitlin and her comrades. Caitlin knew Kathy was one of the many who were not fans of her thesis paper and assuredly was offended by her sarcasm.
It was time for Caitlin to start choosing her words wisely. The only other word that came out of her mouth before they left the cafe was “yes” when Kathy asked if she wanted some eggs.
Breakfast came to an end right at sunrise. Caitlin and her crew were escorted into the cafe parking lot by Lucas where he let them in on some more unfortunate news – they weren’t getting into that church anytime soon.
“This asshole youth pastor guy who’s been running this Young Life thing down everyone’s throats got on Facebook and started explaining to everyone why these things are the coming of the apocalypse. About ninety-five percent of the town is holed up in that barn at the church where they are waiting for their next sign and they have sworn to not let any assholes from the government get in there and mess it all up,” Lucas explained.
“That would have been nice to know before we got on that plane to come out here,” Donald said.
“Look, I know, but I couldn’t risk y’all deciding we weren’t worth it to come out to,” Lucas answered right back.
“Well what did you even drag us out here to do then?” Donald asked.
“I have a plan, but we’re going to have to follow it,” Lucas assured and scanned the group.
Lucas wasn’t confident anyone was going to take him seriously. The guy flunked out of a junior college. All of these people had doctorates in subjects he couldn’t even properly pronounce.
Yet, Lucas had an advantage. He was a leader. He was a quarterback growing up. A Boy Scouts leader, and now, a local sheriff.
Plus, he had a past intimate relationship with the one person everyone in that parking lot was hoping could figure it all out, because they sure as hell weren’t going to be able to.
Lucas explained he and Caitlin were going to drive to the church and start trying to infiltrate the intelligence of the natives.
Caitlin couldn’t believe she had found herself riding shotgun in Lucas’ truck. It was the same exact truck he had been driving when they had their post-funeral stuck in gravity fling. The musty smell of the thing made her want to cry.
They rode in silence for the first five minutes of the drive, until they drove by Caitlin’s childhood home, still empty and unsold.
“I think they might have destroyed the objects,” Lucas said so quietly it could barely be heard over the beefy engine of the truck.
It took Caitlin a moment to absorb what Lucas even said. Her mind instead drifted through the cold hallways of dead parents’ home.
“I mean, I can’t confirm it, but I’ve heard around town. Also, we’re just calling them ‘the objects, right? There’s not like a fancier name for them yet?” Lucas went on.
Caitlin didn’t care. All she wanted to do at this point was get in that church, do whatever it was she needed to do, and go back to Manhattan, NEW YORK, and hope the objects had exploded or something and turned out to be the prank of some abstract artist.
“How did you even know that I was working on this?” Caitlin asked, ignoring the last two statements he had made.
He swallowed a little bit of the Copenhagen he had covertly stashed underneath his tongue (she hated that he chewed when they were together, but he was full-on addicted now).
“I have a buddy, he drives a truck down at the Groom Lake Facility. He was able to get a look at some of the communication going on down there, overheard it, I guess, in the pisser. That was it. He just got a flight manifest,” Lucas explained.
“Okay, well, since I know we’re about forty-five seconds away from the methodist church, what’s your plan for us?” Caitlin pressed.
“It’s not much of a plan, you have to promise not to laugh,” Lucas said, a sly grin starting to break out on his stubbled jaw.
“What’s your plan?” She asked again.
He couldn’t help but full-on break out into a big toothy grin as he slid a framed photograph out of his jacket pocket.
Caitlin recognized the photo even though it had been decades since she had seen it. It was a family portrait of her at age eight, flanked by her parents out in front of the Manhattan United Methodist Church. It had been hanging up on the walls of her parents’ house even though the family stopped attending church regularly a few years after it was taken.
“You took that off the wall of my house?” Caitlin asked, disgusted, but also realizing the brilliance of his move.
He didn’t have time to answer. They arrived at the church.
Lucas took Caitlin to the barn out back where they were greeted by a gaggle of restless natives who all identified Caitlin immediately and rounded up their entire group of troops to create a human barrier to not let her in. Their leader, Pastor Dan, stood at the front of the group and communicated their hostile message while also trying to appear to be a carefree, Jesus-loving dude of good will.
Dan pushed his shoulder-length hair behind his ears as he explained to Caitlin he knew who she was and really respected her, and some other b.s., but she, and any government official was only getting into the barn if they were willing to spill the blood of about 100 good Christian Americans. Caitlin thought about making a snarky Waco/Branch Dividians/David Koresh comment to Andy about 10 times as he spoke, but held her tongue.
Caitlin, and Lucas, tried reasoning with Dan. Lucas showed Dan, and his followers the photo of Caitlin and her parents in front of the church. Caitlin was a Christian at heart. Her theory about the non-existence of God was a miscommunication edited by liberal professors at N.Y.U., against her wishes.
None of it worked. Dan, and his followers, were sorry, but they weren’t going to let her, or Lucas now, into the barn. They had it all under control.
Except they didn’t and whatever control the group had lost it when they saw a cluster of black vans skid to a stop to the side of the church behind Caitlin and Lucas. Caitlin and Lucas lost their small amount of control as well.
At least five members of the congregation brandished shotguns. At least 20 more started thinking about doing it when they saw Caitlin’s army of officials and experts rushing to them across the grass of the yard.
“What’s going on?” Lucas whispered to Caitlin. “Did you set me up?”
“I didn’t do shit,” Caitlin spit back loudly. “You set me up. I have no idea what’s going on.”
The officials made it to the group quickly. A few shotguns pumped, but none of the government types drew any weapons.
Donald stepped to the front of the group, only slightly comforted by the fact he knew they had two snipers secretly positioned in the surrounding hills trained on the congregation.
“Look, we are only interested in showing Caitlin here something, okay?” Donald said calmly as he addressed the locals.
The locals slacked their muscles and let Donald lead Caitlin away from the group. He held off Lucas when he tried to follow them over to the privacy of an apple tree by the back door of the church Caitlin remembered climbing as a child.
“What’s going on?” Caitlin asked, breathless.
Donald covered her mouth and pulled an iPad out of his jacket. He woke it up on a frozen video showing what Caitlin saw was a human bloodbath in the area where the objects were back in the parking garage in New York.
He hit play before she could ask another question. She covered her mouth in shock.
“Security footage from the object site in New York, just a few minutes ago,” Donald announced as the video started playing.
The video opened with the objects sitting there, still shrouded in clear tarp, about five officials Caitlin vaguely recognized milling about outside the tarp area. The objects began to rumble, slightly, and emit a soft vibrating noise. No one in the room even seemed to notice, but Caitlin could see it on the video.
Then the rumbling and vibrating noises increased and the people in the video noticed. They all looked to the objects as the noise rose until it appeared to be deafening, the people in the video covering their ears.
Just after they covered their ears, the tops of the objects exploded, shooting black matter up to the ceiling above them. The sound stopped. The people uncovered their ears. They crept up to the objects, slowly.
It appeared the worst was over, Caitlin’s pulse even started to slow.
Then all hell broke loose. What looked like spiders, about the size of a human hand rushed out of the tops of the objects and were on the people in-frame before their brains could even think about what was happening.
Caitlin started to cry as she watched the spiders strip the flesh off of the people in-frame. It was like footage of piranhas taking down a cow in the Amazon, the people were reduced to bones in 10 seconds.
Donald closed the video as soon as it was finished.
“That happened four minutes ago,” Donald explained as he cued up another video.
The next video showed downtown Manhattan, New York, just outside of the building where the objects were, where Caitlin recognized they got picked up by the car that took them to the airport. It was all empty other than for a few stragglers who were milling about the sidewalks.
She watched as those spiders which had ripped apart the people in the parking garage spilled out into the street. It was like an endless mass. There must have been thousands of them. Little black nightmares that took over the concrete jungle of the city in an instant.
The spiders went to work just how they did in the garage. They engulfed the few people on the street and took over the handful of cars going up and down the street. The cars were quickly covered and no longer visible.
The video cut out and started playing a live news broadcast from CNN. Caitlin hadn’t breathed in over a minute.
A very serious news anchor started in about how reports confirmed the objects that had been leaked on social media were in fact extraterrestrial eggs and the spider creatures reeking havoc on New York City had not come out of the eggs until a military personnel fired a gun at the objects.
“But that’s not true?” Caitlin said to Donald, distraught.
“Media,” Donald spoke through his clenched teeth.
Another news broadcast fired up on Donald’s device. This one showed a live helicopter video of the pack of spiders moving through the Meadowlands.
The newscaster droned one in the background of Caitlin and Donald’s horror…
“The spider-like creatures appear to be moving in a pack, swiftly, and in a southwest direction, their final destination unclear. What is clear though, is that they are leaving a path of destruction in their wake.”
Caitlin and Donald watch for a moment as the spider creatures start tearing through a residential neighborhood.
“Can you imagine how many people must be watching this?” Caitlin asked Donald.
Donald looked back at the barn where he (thankfully) didn’t see a single person clinging to a device of technology that could have informed them about what was going on in New York.
“That’s why we have to go to work, right now,” he declared as he put his device away.
Caitlin follows Donald’s eyes over to the side of the barn, where Lucas was having an intimate conversation with Pastor Dan.
They watched as Pastor Dan wrapped Lucas in a long hug and the two began to pray together.
Lucas pow wowed with Caitlin and Donald. Pastor Dan was going to let them into the barn so they could examine the objects and allow them to address his congregation with the information they had. Lucas didn’t know about the spider creature incident in New York and he said it seemed like Pastor Dan didn’t know anything either.
Caitlin and Donald were ready. The plan was for them to go into the barn, Pastor Dan would assemble his people, they would listen to an update from Caitlin and Donald and then the government types could bring in their research crew.
Lucas escorted Caitlin and Donald into the barn. Caitlin’s pulse started to quicken when she saw the objects out in the open with one of them nearly eviscerated, just some of it’s matter spilled out next to the others.
Donald looked just as thrown off as she was. Meanwhile, Lucas looked like a dog who had just gotten caught going through the trash.
“A local farmer blew the first one up with a shotgun,” Lucas whispered to Caitlin and Donald.
“Why didn’t you tell me this?” Caitlin hissed back.
The three suddenly realized they were surrounded by the members of Dan’s congregation on all sides of them.
Dan stood in front of them. It calmed them for about .5 seconds. Dan was in control.
Wait…Dan was in control? That wasn’t good.
That thought ran through Caitlin, Donald, and Lucas’ minds as they heard and saw the door being closed by a massive man in jean overalls.
This wasn’t good. They watched as Dan raised his hand and nearly every single member of his congregation drew guns on the three of them.
“Shit, shit, shit, shit,” Caitlin heard Donald mutter under his breath.
That wasn’t good. Caitlin’s only hope was Donald had some sort of magical government plan or technology that was going to get them out of this, hopefully alive.
A few of the larger members of Dan’s group slowly approached the trio.
“Don’t make any moves and we’ll all be okay,” the largest of Dan’s henchmen announced upon arrival.
No one protested. Lucas raised his arms up in surrender and Caitlin and Donald followed suit.
Caitlin watched as they stripped Lucas of any communication devices and weapons he had and then they went to work on Donald. She semi-appreciated they brought a woman out of the crowd to do a pat down of her and rid her of just her cell phone.
The next step was to take the three of them back to the objects and lash them to pipes with belts so they could barely move. They sat there given the objects close examination for a few minutes, wondering if the spider creatures were inside, ready to devour them at any moment, but they were unsure.
Caitlin particularly looked long at the pale green splatter from the destroyed object. There didn’t appear to be any debris there that looked anything like the spider objects in New York.
Lucas noticed her gaze and spoke up.
“He shot it with a shotgun. Dan told me it was just that green shit came out and that was it. Also, sorry.”
Caitlin didn’t give Lucas’ apology any kind of response.
“I’m just scared to death of these idiots destroying another one of these and causing a war,” Donald broke the silence, getting a lot of Caitlin and Lucas’ attention.
“It would be a good time to tell me everything you know at this point Donald, since we might not get out of here. I thought the whole we shot at the one in New York thing was bullshit?” Caitlin said.
Donald shook his head, no.
“I don’t know. I just know it’s not a good idea to destroy them and I’m sure these rednecks are going to hear about what happened in New York soon enough and do just that,” Donald said.
Lucas looked at one of the objects as it started to pulsate.
“Actually, destroying these things might not be such a bad idea in my opinion,” Lucas said, dripping with dread.
Lucas was relieved it appeared something had drawn the attention of Dan over to them, and the objects. He started to breathe a little again as Dan made his way over with some henchmen.
It turned out what Dan was actually concerned about was the trio talking, not the objects moving, despite Lucas’ pleads.
“Look those things are movin!” Lucas started in.
Lucas couldn’t get much out before tape was placed around his, and Donald, and Caitiln’s mouths and dark blankets were thrown over their heads, leaving them blind and mute, but at least not deaf.
Lucas tried to scream through the tape plastered to his lips.
Caitlin and Donald waited until they couldn’t hear Lucas’ screams anymore and then tried to pick up any other sound they could. Caitlin listened closely and thought she heard a pulsating sound nearby – over by the objects – yes, that was definitely it.
“Those things are making sound,” Donald’s voice cut through the darkness and shocked Caitlin, making her flinch.
Caitlin caught her breath before Donald kept going.
“They taped our mouth’s shut, but they didn’t tie up our arms. I just ripped off the tape. Imbeciles…”
Caitlin ripped off her tape and started speaking as soon as the sting wore off her soft, chapped lips.
“Honestly I think they just hate me,” Caitlin lamented. “This is their chance to get my ass back.”
There was a brief, awkward silence. Donald was praying inside his head even though he was not a religious man and didn’t even really hear what Caitlin said.
“You can’t blame them,” Lucas said.
“What?” Caitlin fired back.
“They gave you so much support, helped you, made your name, even had those bullshit spaghetti feed dinner things to pay for you to go to all those science fairs and stuff all around the country and then all you’ve ever done is shit on this place and tried to disprove their religion, when you’ve had plenty of other things you could have done,” Lucas said, rapid fire as if he had been waiting for the perfect moment to say all that for years.
“Fuck off Lucas,” Caitlin mumbled.
The three of them retreated into their shells, listening to the sound of the pulsating alien objects next to them, hearing the pitch and frequency of it rise ever-so-slowly.
The three of them remained silent, other than for brief sobbing fits from Caitlin and Donald, for nearly an hour before they heard a commotion start to build from Dan’s following across the barn.
“What’s going on now?” Lucas asked at the same time.
They were answered by the sound of the heavy barn doors screeching open across the room and Dan’s voice booming through an amp.
“Hello, everyone,” Dan’s voice boomed.
Dan was quickly drowned out by what sounded like protest from people around the room, though it was unclear exactly what that protest was to the tied-up trio.
“Now, now,” Dan went on, trying to get back his followers. “There is a man I’m about to let into the barn who can explain a little bit about what’s going on here. His name is Rick.”
The name “Rick” sent a shiver down Caitlin’s spine. Rick…Rick…Rick…why did she know that name.
“And Rick has this whole thing figured out,” Dan went on.
Caitlin figured it out as soon as she heard the word “hi” come out Rick’s mouth. He was the guy on the street in Manhattan who she gave her card to. The only thing that threw her off was a slight Southern drawl she heard that he didn’t have on the Manhattan sidewalk.
She listened intently as Rick started to explain himself.
“So I understand your concern with these objects. As a Christian I was the first person who thought that this was going to be the coming of the rapture. I’ve read Exodus” Rick said.
Caitlin thought Rick’s voice and cadence reminded him of a good ol boy politician campaigning down South, and it was working well. You could hear a pin drop in that barn now. Rick had the crowd under his spell.
“But that’s not what this is folks and I’m not going to say sorry, because the good news with this is that God’s going to be able to see us through it,” Rick spoke louder-and-louder as he went on.
Some “amens” rose up out of the crowd.
“This is an extraterrestrial incident,” Rick said with authority.
No one protested. Caitlin couldn’t believe it. This guy had her local crazies eating out of the palm of his hand.
“These extraterrestrials, they’ve been watching our television broadcasts for decades and they know about us,” Rick explained.
Caitlin was starting to get on team Rick. She wasn’t sure exactly why, but he seemed like he knew what he was talking about.
“Now, can y’all please go untie and unblindfold and un whatever you need to do with those poor folks over there in the corner by these ALIEN EGGS that only want to help every God-loving soul in this barn,” Rick stated.
The trio were unbound in about 30 seconds and looking around the barn trying to get their eyes to adjust to the bright light of day and catch their breath.
“These extraterrestrials have been watching us for a long time. They’ve been watching our television for a long time, and I can tell you how. I’ve been monitoring messages I believe they were sending on YouTube,” Rick went on.
Rick pulled out a tablet and was able to project his screen on the wall. She was shocked at the A.V. capabilities of the church’s barn. She didn’t realize Rick just brought a portable projector.
Rick cued up a YouTube video that appeared to be just a plain black screen. He hit play and everyone started to watch one of those weird videos where moody music plays and random words scribble across the screen.
Here’s how Caitlin would describe what Rick explained as the YouTube video played:
Rick was building b roll of Manhattan for an unrelated video when he noticed strange comments were on almost any video that had anything to do with Manhattan or anything related to Manhattan. It was a collection of symbols ←↑→↓, arrows going in each direction posted by an account simply called “A.”
Videos about Manhattan, New York, songs from the band The Manhattans, trailers for the 1979 film Manhattan, how-to videos about how to make a Manhattan cocktail, they all had that account posting that four-symbol comment. He watched and anytime a new video with anything to do with Manhattan showed up, that symbol showed up in a comment by “A.”
Once these objects showed up in midtown Manhattan, Rick had a feeling that it might have something to do with those comments. Then he saw them on the objects when he zoomed in and he packed up from his home in rural Pennsylvania and headed to New York hoping to contact anyone he could find at the scene from the government or military. But they wouldn’t do a “thing for him.”
Caitlin knew he told this story slightly out of order so he could further win the anti-government crowd, because the details he shared next, about what he learned well before he went to New York, was rather important.
Rick noticed there were other one-letter accounts posting random symbols all over these Manhattan videos at an obsessive pace, even on videos with almost no views. The symbols were wild and endless. Rick’s descriptions reminded Caitlin of the Wingdings font on Microsoft Word tied to 9/11 conspiracy theories. It felt perfect for her to Rick.
Rick spent hours compiling and going over the comments until he was able to decipher what he believed to be a coded language. Well, he didn’t think it was specifically coded, he thought it seemed like some kind of Google Translate messed up language where whoever was posting it was confused and struggling to communicate.
But Rick was able to figure out what they were saying. They wanted a “resource” and they were wondering if anyone in Manhattan could “provide it.” That was it. No idea what resource that was or why they needed it. He figured going deeper than that was beyond their capabilities.
Rick then presented a theory which didn’t have much backing, but sounded like it could be right.
Whoever was posting these comments, and Rick believed it was an extraterrestrial race, was able to receive television signals from Earth and had watched a lot of TV shows and news reports. He theorized they picked up on Manhattan being an important location for Earth so they started to try and reach out and find a way to communicate with people about the city and about whatever it was they needed.
He theorized the most-recent satellite launched from when the accounts were formed was a satellite for YouTube TV and the extraterrestrial beings were excited to finally be able to find a way to communicate via setting up a YouTube account and that’s what was going on.
Caitlin asked him how if they were such a smart race who could send something all the way to Earth, why did they communicate so poorly?
Rick zinged her with the explanation that the world’s smartest genius would sound like an idiot trying to communicate in any language they did not know.
Caitlin shut up and let Rick go on. Donald did not. Donald wanted to know what resource Rick thought they might be after. Even just a guess.
Rick didn’t have a guess. He had another theory. Wherever those spider beings were going, that’s where the resource they wanted was.
Caitlin had one more question. Why just Manhattan, New York and Manhattan, Nevada when there was a handful of other “Manhattans” around the U.S?
Rick believed they had gone to those other Manhattans all around the U.S., just no one had found them yet.
Now the crowd had a question: what were they going to do now?
Rick had to let them down. He didn’t know, but he happily pointed to his friends in the corner, Caitlin and Donald. This was the U.S. government and military’s problem to solve.
Caitlin and Donald were relieved to have the group relieve them and send them back to their headquarters set up at the only motel in town. Caitlin was relieved to see the scientists they had left behind had already set up a lot of equipment she didn’t recognize and were looking at a live feed of the spider horde and their movements.
Caitlin looked closer at the screen. It wasn’t actually any kind of fancy feed they had. It was just CNN and the announcer was giving a play-by-play. Saying the horde had recently cleared most of New Jersey and appeared to be headed to Pennsylvania.
Caitlin and Donald brought Rick into their HQ with them, bringing in the outsider and hoping he could give them some more insight.
Rick didn’t have much else other than theorizing he didn’t think the beings and their eggs were hostile. He thought the spiders were just looking for something and would destroy whatever got in their way and it was simple as that, not like they were killing people in a specific sinister nature.
Caitlin thought Rick was running out of gas. She looked back at the screen.
Then it clicked.
The spiders were going to Three Mile Island. The resource they were after was nuclear energy. It was possible the reason they were obsessed with “Manhattan” was because of something they may have seen or heard about in relation to The Manhattan Project.
Caitlin shared her theory with the group. They all agreed and grew more worried about the situation.
The conversation briefly distracted them away from CNN. When they looked back they saw a multi-screen view that showed the group of spiders rushing around in different locations in the nation, all close to various Manhattans – New York, Kansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, Pennsylvania.
But why hadn’t the eggs in Nevada hatched?
It was at this point that Pastor Dan had to share some information with Lucas after hearing Caitlin’s question. It was the priest that had a “confession” to make this time.
The other two objects had been punctured by some of the pellets of the shotgun blast that exploded the destroyed object. He and the farmer who shot it found massive leaking of the object and cleaned it up with farm equipment.
Pastor Dan believed whatever was inside the objects or alien eggs or whatever they wanted to call them or think of them as had been damaged enough in the secondary pellet blasts they had been rendered ineffective. He described it as a “Christmas miracle” even though they were not close to Christmas.
Pastor Dan also revealed he didn’t say anything about it because he thought the fear of thinking the objects weren’t subdued at all yet was uniting the group around him. Now, with so many revelations making Pastor Dan question his own faith, he really wanted to come clean.
Caitlin went on a verbal tirade against Pastor Dan as soon as Lucas relayed all of this information to her. She no longer had any fear about being disliked by her hometown community. She now just wanted to save the country. It was much more important than the out-of-touch hatred of hillbillies in Nevada.
She went back to looking at the live broadcast of the spider creatures ripping much of the country to shreds and she was sick to her stomach for even being from Manhattan, Nevada. Those fuckers could have told everyone to just attack the objects hours ago and none of this would have happened.
Was the fact that Pastor Dan was the only person who really knew this and didn’t share it lost on her? No. She blamed the town folk for buying his bullshit. They should have been investigative. They should have been discerning. This wasn’t the only way their lack of abilities to do that has hurt the country overall.
There was no more time for judgment. There was only time for solutions, and Caitlin was starting to think of one.
She grabbed Rick and pulled him off to the side of the officials with her tablet in her grasp. She had been periodically reviewing the YouTube videos with the extraterrestrial comments and had just realized she noticed something specific in them she couldn’t shake out of her head.
She noticed the term “losering” kept showing up in other comments on Manhattan videos that Rick didn’t seem to pay attention to. It was so frequent that almost every comment on the videos included it. Also, these comments seemed to always have almost nothing to do with what was actually in the video.
She was particularly interested in this because “losering” was a made up term only used by Charlie Nelson, a right wing shock jock YouTuber, and his following.
She had caught a little bit of Charlie’s content and thought of a couple of specific things. He always talked about how he was filming from his home studio in Midtown Manhattan with the skyline of New York City behind him and he even referred to himself sometimes as “Manhattan,” so much that some of his video descriptions referred to him as Charlie “Manhattan” Nelson.
Did the aliens latch onto Charlie’s thousands of videos which had billions of views?
Caitlin showed Rick the videos and all of the comments. He stopped her on one of the comments and traced it with his fingers on the screen. The comment was just some random symbols, but all ones that seemed like you would be able to find in Microsoft Word.
Rick pulled out his tablet and what looked like a document filled with symbols and letters.
“I translated some of their language, at least I think I did,” Rick said as he re-read the comment he specifically signalled out. “I saw this same comment on a lot of them once you showed me,” he went on, explaining himself.
He did a translation and lost his breath before he could explain to her.
“What? What? What?” Caitlin asked.
“The translation is ‘where can we find life force?’” Rick said.
Caitlin and Rick were interrupted by Donald giving her another piece of information that may have actually been bigger: the spider creatures which hatched from Manhattan, New York were approaching the Three Mile Island nuclear facility in Pennsylvania. The military was now set up and firing at the creatures, but it was going to be tough to shoot them all before they got there.
A brainstorm started in the room. Why were these things after nuclear energy?
The group watched helplessly as the spiders approached Three Mile and destroyed other parts of the country, looking to also be headed to nuclear facilities without coming up with a great idea.
They deduced it was obvious their race either needed or wanted nuclear energy, but why? And if whatever they would do when they reached it was dangerous to Earth, they had no clue. It was best to just hopefully destroy them before they got there.
It was Lucas who came up with the first game-changing idea, just as the spiders got to Three Mile.
“What if we got Charlie Nelson to send a message on YouTube, begging them to stop?”
The news showed the military actually succeeding in gunning down the last of the spiders at Three Mile before they penetrated the facility and everyone decided it was the best damn idea they had heard in a long time.
The team geared up to take a flight back to New York. They got a response from Charlie almost immediately when they reached out to him on Twitter, but he needed them at his home studio, where he was holed up in New York.
Everything was going according to plan until Caitlin noticed Lucas looking rather heated in a conversation with Donald over by the back of the plane.
She inserted herself into the conversation and discovered Donald and the officials didn’t want to take Lucas to New York. She caught them just as it seemed Lucas was giving in and deciding to stay in Nevada.
“I’m not going with you to New York, unless he’s coming with us,” Caitlin stated as matter-of-factly as she had probably stated anything in her entire adult life.
Caitlin and Lucas took some time to relax in the back of the plane, getting bits of sleep for the first time in days. However, their rest would not last long.
Donald hurried back to them with a YouTube video cued up on Charlie’s channel.
“Oh this can’t be good,” Caitlin lamented.
It wasn’t and she knew it as soon as Charlie opened his pudgy mouth and started ranting on his latest video, posted just a handful of minutes before.
“While the proletariat, elite here in Manhattan, New York and coming up from the swamp in Washington D.C. thought it was a good strategy to sit idly by and study these things when they showed up on our soil, the god-fearing, good people of the small town of Manhattan, Nevada took faith into their own hands. I’ve been informed that a group of Christians in tiny Manhattan, Nevada, who found the objects in a church shot the objects and destabilized them before anything could find their way out of them, saving their community. If only the rest of the country could have had as much common sense as these fine folks, we wouldn’t be in the disaster we are in right now,” Charlie said.
Caitlin got sick to her stomach about five seconds into Charlie’s rant, but she heard him out before vomiting into a barf bag. She would throw up over and over again until they arrived back in New York.
The group landed on the helicopter pad of the roof of Charlie’s upscale building. What a man of the people, three different members of the group thought to themselves as soon as they saw where they were landing.
Caitlin and Donald went first into the office of Charlie’s penthouse suite to try and sell him on the idea of sending a message of peace and begging for a stop to the carnage to send to the aliens on Charlie’s YouTube page. They failed.
They tried again. Caitlin sensed Charlie either had genuinely been waiting his entire life for a government big wig and a (female) scientist to beg for his hand in tears and then say no or he was more worried about his fanbase finding out he bowed to them than the safety of the nation.
It didn’t matter which one it was though because either way he said no.
Caitlin beat him in his own game of chess though, sending in Lucas and Rick, knowing their down-to-Earth red state bullshit would get through to him.
Lucas and Rick came out of the office within 10 minutes with a cooperative Charlie who was going to hold up messages of peace, love, and surrender on title cards Rick created using his alien language translation system. It was the best shot they had.
They recorded the video, posted it on Charlie’s YouTube channel, and then watched for the comments to start rolling in.
They did, but they were mostly just from confused Charlie fans who thought it was a “losering” move. They wanted us to just go out and blow the hell out of these aliens.
In fact, and news footage could confirm it, a lot of citizens were actually doing just that. They set up on vistas overlooking wherever those spiders were around the nation and opened fire and threw explosives as the spiders, helping the military in their battle. It was like a rural American version of Dunkirk.
The military and the militias were making progress in mowing down the spider aliens, but they weren’t going to be able to win as the spiders closed in on nuclear facilities all around the country, still going strong.
Rick watched as the comments kept rolling in, his interest finally peeking when the account “A” commented with a random collection of symbols and letters.
Rick did the translation as fast as he could.
“We are peaceful. We only came in to look for energy. We mean no harm.”
Rick looked to the spider destruction on the screen.
“Yeah, then what the fuck is that?” Charlie blurted out as Rick paused.
“We sent probes to your world to detect energy that we can share,” Rick started to go on again.
“Again,” Charlie opened his mouth.
“Shut the fuck up!” Caitlin screamed at Charlie before he could get more than one word out.
Charlie shut up. Rick went on.
“We will see you soon…well that’s ominous,” Rick finished.
Everyone in the room was horrified that Rick’s translation ended there. There had to be more, right.
“There had to be more, right?” Caitlin asked. “There were like fifty symbols in that comment.”
“No, that’s it,” Rick answered while shaking his head.
Rick grabbed one of the cards Charlie used to send the initial messages. He took out a black marker and started writing out a few symbols while everyone watched.
“What are you doing?” Donald tried to ask a question.
Rick shushed him and finished his writing, then walked his card over to Charlie.
“You’re going to make one more video,” Rick said as he handed the card over to Charlie.
Charlie obliged without any questions. He had his cameraman shoot another video for him and didn’t say anything until they got ready to post it, when he looked up at a sweaty Rick.
“What should the title be?” Charlie asked.
“Please stop. That’s all the card says,” Rick explained.
With that, and a little processing on YouTube, Charlie sent out another message to the extraterrestrials who had spider drones and watched a lot of YouTube and T.V. apparently.
The group turned their attention back to the T.V. with the news broadcasting live feeds of the different spider hordes and cutting to and from different locations when there was action like it was March Madness. Things still didn’t look good. One of the groups was breaking into the Wolf Creek nuclear facility in Kansas and was minutes away from causing a meltdown in the middle of the country.
The spiders slowed and stopped wherever there were. The military and the militias did not. They kept firing and shredded through them until there was nothing left.
It was over. The spiders were reduced to corpses and vapor.
The armies rejoiced together. The group in Charlie’s penthouse popped open a $10,000 bottle of champagne.
The world was saved, at least as far as they could tell, and for at least as long as it took for the aliens to launch some other kind of attack or probe or whatever it was.
No matter what, there was a huge amount of relief washing over all of the world.
No room was more relieved than Charlie’s living room where temporary command had been set up. There were hugs, there were tears, there were kisses in the bathroom, though only between Caitlin and Lucas.
The whole saving the world together thing had been enough to rekindle their spark. Plus the expensive champagne.
They snuck out onto the city street together. All of Manhattan was abandoned. They slipped out into the darkness of the city and went up and down the streets taking it all in, holding hands, feeling like it was their first date.
They went to all of her favorite places in the city. A couple of the bars were even unlocked since the owners probably left in a panic. They had some more drinks.
Then she told him she had a surprise.
She led him up to N.Y.U.’s campus and found her old freshman dorm. She was thrilled to find the back door had been left open in the panic of everyone’s exit from the city.
They slipped in and headed up to her old dorm on the 10th floor. She knew of a trick of how to get into the room when it was locked she and the other girls would use to sneak guys in.
She took him into the bathroom. There was a maintenance closet next to the showers you could open with a nail file and there was a door in the back of the closet connected to a closet in the dorm room areas.
Using this strategy, Caitlin and Lucas were able to get into her old dorm room.
The room was filled with someone else’s stuff now, but the bones were still the same as they were all those years ago when Caitlin lived her freshman year. She led Lucas over to the bed where she slept for nine months.
She jumped into the crack between the wall and the bed frame and invited him down there with her.
He coughed from the dust of the little corner of the room and ironically feared spiders for a moment before he found himself face to face with Caitlin’s soft hand, which directed him to the wood of the bed frame.
“I never turned my back on you,” Caitlin said softly, staring at something scrawled in the wood that he couldn’t yet make out in the near darkness of the little room.
He finally recognized his own name carved into the wood with the words I LOVE carved before it.
“And I never turned my back on my hometown,” She went on.
He read the rest of the carving and saw MANHATTAN, NEVADA scrawled after the message of love for him.
He looked into her eyes and could still see the golden brown in them even though the room was almost completely dark, them having never thought to turn the light on.
“Thank God they hadn’t changed the bed frames out,” Caitlin said. “Or this would have been a really awkward waste of time.”
He laughed and got a newfound wave of energy that overpowered the exhaustion flowing through his veins.
“But I have a surprise for you to,” he said letting the end of the sentence linger.
Lucas had the government get them on a flight back to Manhattan, Nevada. They slept all the way there in a bed in the back of the plane, cuddled tight, and exhausted.
They arrived just as sunset and a cool darkness fell over the town when they walked from the airstrip and to the center of town.
She was just waking up, about to ask Lucas what was going on, when she saw the entire town standing in front of the tavern at the end of main street. Tears began to fall from her eyes, fat and hard, they dropped right down her face and onto the sand of main street.
Donald was left with just a couple of the scientists at the original scene of the objects in the parking garage. They set up another mobile command and reported back to Washington what they found there.
It had been the hardest hours of this career, inventorying the carnage of his comrades who had fallen there. It had taken so much out of him he almost ignored the excellent question one of the scientists asked as they tried to catch their breath on the hood of a Tesla splattered with dried blood.
“Why haven’t we just checked the I.P. address on those comments,” the scientist said before he took a long chug off a water bottle.
Donald led a charge to check the I.P. addresses of all the comments on the Charlie YouTube videos. It only took about 30 minutes to get a serious answer from Washington.
The comments weren’t coming from off of one of Neptune’s moons or some distant galaxy. They were coming from somewhere in Pennsylvania.
A helicopter took Donald and the scientist out to a large farm well outside of a cluster of small towns.
They walked out to the edge of the farm and saw it stretch out for endless acres without a tree in sight, just fields centered by a large barn surrounded by tall grass, almost as if the grass was growing up the sides of it, trying to hide it from the world.
Donald and his partner drew guns as they approached the barn structure like they were F.B.I. agents instead of a 60-year-old pencil pusher and a guy with a doctorate from University of Virginia in biochemistry.
They reached the door of the barn structure and found it smeared with what looked like blood. Donald tried to dial out to Washington and let them know they were headed back for the chopper. They could go to Pittsburgh and reconvene, send in a SWAT team or something.
Then the door pushed open with the wind and they saw inside. They could see light flickering in the structure, illuminating the world around them that was still mostly dark, not yet reached by the rising sun off in the distance.
Donald was not a gut instinct kind of guy, but he felt the need to be this time. He slowly headed to the door and pushed it open.
The inside of the place looked like a greenhouse, the roof a thin coat of green plastic, what seemed like a hundred space heaters radiated, making him feel like he was going to break a sweat.
The heaters were warming objects lined up in endless rows throughout the room.
It took Donald’s eyes a few moments to adjust to the flourescent light of the room, but his heart fell to the bottom of his stomach the second they did.
The objects that filled the barn were tall, spherical, gray, pieces of organic matter which seemed to pulsate.
There were hundreds of them.