We watched the spaceships from our backyards. It was night, but the underlights of the ships made everything glow all fuzzy-like, like a garden party. The kids watched with us, I know we should’ve told ‘em to go back inside or something; to hide under their bed covers, or under their beds. But I’m not sure that really would’ve helped with anything.
Sooner or later, they’re going to know the truth, that the planet earth had been invaded by aliens (extra-terrestrials Shaun calls ‘em as if there’s any difference) and it weren’t no invasion we were equipped to fight back against.
By all accounts the invasion was over before it began.
First, we saw the lights. Like so many stars coming home. Except they weren’t the same colour as stars, which mainly look so cold sittin’ out there in the distant dark. Yellow and red and orange were mostly the hues and they filled up the night sky something fierce!
Experts on the TV news said that it was some sort of astrological event, involving the diffusion of particles from a disintegrated meteor being scattered by the earth’s atmosphere and refracting the light or some such nonsense. Shaun believed ‘em of course, he always believes the experts on the TV news.
But that explanation didn’t hold for long. Because those meteorite particles just kept on gettin’ closer and closer til we was sure that humankind was about to go extinct like those big ol’ lizards did way back before Mary ‘n’ Joseph.
Down they came, lower and lower and they brought their shadows with ‘em until finally shapes began to form around the lights, indistinct at first but now…
My god… now.
I ain’t never seen anything so grand or so terrifying. But let me tell you these spaceships aren’t like nothin’ I seen in one of them sci-fi picture shows. Those spaceships always look so sleek and perfect. Like tin cans jiggling on the end of fishing wire. Orbs and spheres and flying saucers, oh my.
No sir, these spaceships look like nothing more than factories in the sky, and my Pa worked at Atwell Manufacturing so this gal knows what a factory looks like, if you please. And these spaceships are all girders and chimney stacks and pipes and metal grates and corrugated walls and vents and flashing blinkin’ lights all yellow and orange and red all lighting up the neighbourhood like a gosh-darn garden party.
And here we all are just starin’ up at ‘em like slack-jawed fools as they slide across the sky, you can hear ‘em vibrating there in the sky. You can hear them rattling and shaking like an old car does when you’re driving it one last time to the wrecker’s yard.
We can’t see the sky no more. And we ain’t seen no aliens yet. And the TV news isn’t working anymore, it just shows static and Shaun keeps trying to adjust the aerial like that’s going to help. There’s a radio on the kitchen table that is still working, but the folks on there don’t know what to say any better’n the rest of us know what to think.
Crackle… fuzz… have you ever seen anything like it? Are these—aliens—or a more human menace?
Darlin’ I thinks to myself as Jeremy’s little hand reaches up at clasps mine, his tiny little hand. I don’t know if he’s afraid or not. I don’t know if I’m afraid or not. But I do know that those ships-in-the-sky sure as hell ain’t no Communists.
Next door’s son is a teenage lout and he’s up on the roof throwing trash up at the sky and callin’ out to ‘em like they can hear him. Somewhere else somebody is settin’ off firecrackers in a trash can. There’s a siren wailin’ somewhere in the distance. The closeness of the spaceships has squashed all the sounds of the neighbourhood together. Everything sounds like a muffled hub-bub. I can hear voices from three streets over, but I can’t tell what they’re sayin’.
Shaun has gone to the garage, I can hear him rifling around in there for who-knows-what, that man always has to be doin’ somethin’ he ain’t never been content to just wait and see what comes next, but this time I don’t think we have much say in the matter—if we ever did.
“Momma,” says Jeremy, squeezin’ my hand. “What’s gonna happen?”
“Momma doesn’t know,” I tell him.
The sun rises in the East and sets in the West.
Yet we all know–though we don’t think about it much–that each setting is another rising and each rising a setting and so on and so on and so on.
For a time we linger in the Twilight, a period of diffuse shadows that lengthen like yawning jaws.
Then it is night. Then it is day again.
What an absurd notion is this little spinning rock? What an absurd notion is this diurnal cycle?
Plants inhale the light and, at night, we may hear their breathy exhalations. Stars twinkle, briefly, but they are always there. But they are not there any more.
Stars are like old photographs, already fading. Grab a star down from the sky, wedge it in an album. Keep it safe. But in the end even the photographs in an album will fade.
Sunlight. Star bright. The moon stares down at us and yet it does not see–for the moon has only craters where it’s eyes are supposed to be.
Strife, the one they call the Black Knight or the Man-Who-Can-Kill-Anything, clings to the rocks. With one hand he scoops up his shadow and uses it to form a pick—for this is his power, to command the bilious shadows that surround him into any shape he wishes.
He uses his shadow to drag himself up the towering spire of rock, the eyrie of the Terrible Feathered Thing. Below him the Midlands spread out in all directions. The midlands are mostly desert, marked here and there by the vague twinkling of lights.
Blocked from his view by the eyrie itself, yet commanding fully one quarter of the horizon, is the steep row of faded purple mountains; beyond them the churning tumult of the Cataclysm, forever raging; eternal.
Nobody knows for sure when the Cataclysm happened, only that it did. The Dictator, in his hubris, broke the world—broke all worlds—but ultimately could not control that which he had wrought.
Reality conflated, compressed, folded in on itself for a period of time that might have been one second or a billion years. And then, the cosmic detritus of everything was vomited back up, thrusting back into existence as a lance of solid energy, recreating all around it in a misshapen reconstruction of what-had-been.
Such was the Everyworld birthed, a solar system carved out of space-time that contained all the multitudes of all the things that had ever existed. And out of those multitudes was born Strife, the Man-Who-Can-Kill-Anything, he of the living shadow; a living shadow now ascending to the top of an eyrie to kill a beast corrupted by the taint of man’s ultimate creation: the Swarm.
In truth, Strife himself bore the taint. The shadows that he carried with him grew thicker with each kill. And so his power grew in direct proportion to his guilt. Such was the burden of Strife.
With one forceful exhalation, he hoisted himself up and into the opening of the eyrie, a cave open to the sky except for a few jutting pillars of stone. It was obvious that the Terrible Feathered Thing had no natural enemies, or else it would have sought out a more secure place to roost.
Yet Strife was the natural enemy of everything.
The attacks had begun sometime in the past six months. Travellers on the long road that stretched from the Cross-Hatched Union of Dubloun to the standing city of Atreiska had gone missing. Cars, wagons and trucks were found piled up along the road. Any supplies the travellers had carried with them had been left, but there was no trace any bodies, human or horse or otherwise. Those few who had survived spoke of a looming shadow in the sky—the Terrible Feathered Thing—who was snatching travellers from the road and returning to its eyrie to consume them.
And here, atop the jumbled spire of boulders arranged upon the horizon like some phallic harbinger of doom, Strife witnessed the remains of those who had been taken. Hundreds of skeletons, bones picked clean and broken. So many bones that they crunched underfoot as he walked. Hands, arms, legs, skulls—so many skulls. Rib cages and hips and twisted spines.
A lesser man would have been cowed by the sight. But Strife was no mere man. Strife was the Great Adversary of Love, the darkness-in-the-darkness… and he had a job to do.
The shadow in his hand still resembled a climbing pick, but now its shape altered to form a hatchet, a battle-axe, a sword, a sawed-off shotgun. With his free hand he gathered the shadows around himself and settled against a dark corner of the cave where he blended with the rocks.
When the Terrible Feathered Thing returned, he would kill it. Of this, he had no doubt. Strife was not afraid of dying, for it had happened to him many times. In fact, death was his natural state and he would not have been here at all had it not been for the Dictator and his Cataclysm.
But he was here, possessed with a sentience of his own. And in defiance of the shadows that swathed him, Strife, the Great Adversary, would keep on fighting.
In the distance, drawing closer, a shadow loomed in the sky…
A man shouts and nobody hears him, so he raises his voice; a bird alights from a tree in a distant forest and the trees rustle and sway.
A tree rustles and sways and nobody hears it, for a tree cannot raise its voice; a fireman in a distant city attaches a hose to a hydrant and releases the valve.
A fireman sprays the crowd with water, heavy droplets splatter on the asphalt; adults and children jump and laugh through the spray.
Adults and children jump and laugh through the spray, for it is a reprieve from the heat; in a distant desert a scorpion burrows into the sand.
A scorpion burrows into the sand and it makes no sound that we can hear; in a distant ocean a whale sings and we don’t know what it means.
In a distant ocean a whale sings and they hear it in their submarines; in a distant office somebody reads a print-out about unrelated things.
As someone reads a print-out about unrelated things, a telephone rings; in a distant jungle monkeys chew on fruit and throw fruit at one another.
In a distant jungle, the seeds from thrown fruit fall to become trees; in distant space planets orbit around stars because of gravity.
In the past, a man watches on a telescope; his name is Galileo Galilei.
Full Title: A Red Diamond Connected to Computer Monitors Hovers Against a Background of Societal Collapse
pain and darkness
tremble in the middle of this