The Day They Came!

            John Cooke lay on the carpet staring wide-eyed at the ceiling and the bright balloons floating there. Yellow, green and blue; trailing streamers of silver ribbon, each swaying lightly in unseen currents of air as if dancing to music only they could hear. Each one shimmering iridescent with reflected light from the single square of sunshine that filled the room. Soft shag caressed him on one side as he basked in the natural heat on the other, watching the colored orbs through the motes of dust that appeared as if by magic as they passed through the beam of sunshine. It was magical. It was his birthday. His gifts shimmered with equal joy; their foil wrappings catching the brightness as they surrounded him on the floor, throwing rainbow colors throughout the room. Every carefully and strategically placed so as not to lose track of a single one. John was seven years old and waiting as patiently as he could for people to arrive while listening to his mother putter about the kitchen preparing her delicious wonders. Waiting. Anticipating. A memory!

            John’s eyes flutter open and he is suddenly cold, not realizing sleep had overcome him. His sunbeam is nowhere to be found. Outside his window the world is still sunny and bright. In fact the neighborhood is sun-drenched everywhere except around his house. It is as if a small cloud has parked itself over his roof alone conspiring to rob him of his joy. The balloons seem dull without the sun, the small wrapped boxes less thrilling, almost plain. Bleary eyed and shivering he begins to call to his mother, yet an opening door makes him pause; curious because no doorbell or knock nor greeting accompanied the sound. Another shiver having nothing to do with the cold races through him. Though he doesn’t know why, there is a niggling of déjà vu. Suddenly a breathless and trembling, “Oh My God!” issues from the kitchen. His mother’s scream is terrified, the sound sending shock waves like jolts of electricity through his body, stabbing his brain and flaring wide his eyes. Never in his young life had John felt true fear. Never until now.

            “Hide John, run an…” Her scream is cut off, the sudden silence deafening. But John has nowhere to run. Every avenue of escape leads to the kitchen and past whatever horrible thing is happening there. He whimpers softly and crawls behind the couch, laying down making himself as small and invisible as possible, wishing he could curl into a ball and squeeze his eyes shut to stave off the terror. But he can’t so he peers out from underneath between the heavy oak legs, hyperventilating within a body that now is far beyond his control. Great shivers and sobs wrack his thin chest, his breathing doing what the vacuum couldn’t, sucking up the old dust and effectively choking him. Worse still, from here he can see into the kitchen and his mother lying face down on the tile.

            Her eyes hold his, pleading with him though he knows not why. Shadows surround her, indistinct yet odd and frighteningly shaped. Each a fragment from a nightmare that begged to be remembered. A mind nearly shattered registers a single fact; this had happened before! 

            He can neither blink nor remove his vision as a bright stabbing beam of red flashes behind her head scribing a thin sharp line through the air. Wisps of smoke curl up from her skull for a single instant, then the light is gone, the gray mist dissipating to nothing. Another device flashes. Through his tears his mother’s familiar face distorts and ripples, but the cause is not the moisture in his eyes. Instead it is a grinding and tearing that drives him further towards madness. Yet even now there is a moment of utter clarity as an arm reaches down. He hears a soft puckering sound as if suction suddenly released and his mother’s brain rises bloodlessly from her head gripped in a steel grey hand. His vision is locks with hers as the light in her eyes dims then fades to glassy lifelessness. 

            John can’t even scream in his terror, frightened to the point of paralysis. He wants to move. Wants desperately to save her, knowing nothing he could possibly do could help. John realizes the greatest fear one can know; I am powerless! Instead, John squeezes his eyes tightly shut as if darkness alone can erase the memory. Yet his mind still sees the scene with perfect clarity and hideous unforgiving detail. Involuntarily his eyes pop back open as his body experiences a new rush of horror, one that stops his heart, freezing all bodily function. Wide are his eyes but he can’t see the hand that grips him by the back of the neck nor the thing now that holds him seven feet in the air. But he does feel. The iron grip of long boney fingers and the sudden burning in the back of his skull. All the more terrifying because he knows what comes next. What pain there is fades completely. He feels a tug and his senses darken. No sight. No sound. No taste or feeling. He simply floats in nothing as if he's lighter than air in a lightless room.  A memory!

            John is allowed only two memories. One pleasant and one not. His keepers know that this balance is necessary to stimulate his brain and keep it viable. Without them it would die. Yes, this is all John has, two memories that play over and over in a never-ending cycle of love, terror and pain. A hell unique to him and the hundreds of others that were harvested. John is also aware. Aware of the one-hundred and forty three other souls that make up his pod. Aware of the one-hundred and forty four pods that comprise the vast living gray-matter processor that runs the vessel. Each brain and each brain stem locked in individual chambers not unlike a giant honeycomb. Each connected to one-another and to the ship. John sees as the ship sees. A barely changing picture of endless and far away stars as the shop travels through one sprawling arm of the galaxy at very near the speed of light. Mind numbingly and mind killingly monotonous. If it weren’t for the memories. 

            It is said that humans use only a fraction of the brain’s potential. A vast pool of computing power wasted on little more than emotion. John knows the beings that captured him only as the harvesters. Beings incredibly advanced and totally alien. Yet the harvesters had solved the mystery. They hold the key. They alone have the knowledge and the technology to use the human brain entire, to the eternal woe of John and those like him. John will never know hunger. He will never know disease or old age. He will never know more that he does right now. Never have more than two memories and the emotions they evoke.

            Forty-seven years twenty eight hours three minutes fifteen seconds and forty five light years separate John from his seventh birthday. A day that is endlessly sunny and bright and full of promise. A day of ultimate horror. 

            The day he prayed he’d died because, it was The Day They Came! 

Gregory J. Saunders