The Seersucker Man

The world ended with a whimper. More precisely, the hunger-addled whine of a puppy from 1973.

It was on a Sunday, May 22, 2011, and God was pissing on us all. Raindrops the size of almonds splashed upon the grimy streets, decorating the hem of my pants with a muddy haze. The dense clouds overhead matched my demeanor as I sulked through the commute home. Another weekend graveyard shift off my plate, and all I wanted to do was curl up in my bed, turn the television on, and vegetate until I lapsed into the sweet, sweet oblivion of sleep – preferably before noon.

The weather clearly had other ideas.

The storm had everyone scrambling for the taxi queues. Lines for the electric train circled the block, with no signs of moving. Those who were smart enough to stay indoors found the mall floors and hotel lobbies littered with little puddles of people wise enough to join them. Everyone else was a soggy, drenched target.

To make matters worse, several main roads were flooded and rendered inaccessible. Even if you had the good fortune to secure a ride on that hellish day, you were likely stuck in some tight little alley packed with irate drivers and their obnoxious car horns.

I was in line for a cab – I think I’d estimated I was about 24th from the front, then – trying to ignore the screaming child behind me. He wanted an ice cream, and he couldn’t be bothered to listen to his father, who was telling him that walking over to the dessert parlor three blocks absolutely ludicrous in this sort of weather. Part of me wanted to rip off one of my sopping wet socks and stuff it into the brat’s mouth. That was the better part of me.

I turned around to give him a piece of my mind when a bright yellow light shot down from the skies. It hit the boy like a bad acid trip, in the sense that his left eye slipped through his nose, his mouth grew as large as his father’s gut, and he was surrounded in a wavy red halo. It took me a few seconds to realize that this was happening within a fraction of a moment, that his head was bursting open, and that the halo was his blood.

More light bolts came streaking down from above, dozens of them. Blood rushed up to meet the raindrops halfway as bodies burst all around me. Nobody had time to scream. The sky turned into a twisting torrent of water and fire, a swirling chaos that extinguished all life in its path.

I was one of the few that day who were lucky enough to survive that first salvo. There were four of us left, as far as I could see. I was suddenly first in queue. I ran for the taxi up front, but quickly found myself falling face-first into the gore beneath my feet. The boy’s father shoved me down and leapt into the taxi, which from the sound of its engine was just about to leave. I wiped the filth from my face and looked up, morbidly curious as to what might be causing all this.

The sky lit up with an enormous blue pulse that faded as quickly as it came. I felt a searing pain on my wrist. My watch was melting right before my eyes. Around me, the street lights and cars were turning into molten slag heaps. I heard the screams of the father breaking through the taxi, and I couldn’t help but feel some sick sense of justice in his agony.

I ran for cover wherever I could find it. I can no longer remember where I passed, but I do know I had two things on my mind: 1) avoid the sky; and 2) avoid metal rooms. The streets were a bloody mess, and the bedlam brought about all sorts of chilling things. I heard screams of pain and pleas for mercy and curses at deities. I heard them all drowned out by the sizzling air and earth-shaking explosions. I heard the unsettling silence that followed. The worst thing I had heard, however, was the static.

It was the same sort of static you heard over the TV and the radio, only it was deafening and it came from everywhere. Or, for that matter, nowhere. I was hiding underneath a bridge in the park at the time, with no speakers in sight. The din filled the air, and I realized soon enough that it was coming from above. It dawned on me then that this was an intelligent attack, and we would soon hear from our would-be conquerors.

After a few minutes, the static broke, and a disembodied voice started speaking. “Hello friends!,” it said, “We are lucky to have met!” The static returned for a second, and I heard the voice again.

“…This is NASA Probe 172.1, from the planet Earth in… system…”

The words warped as intermittent static filled the last part of that chilling first statement, but the gist was all too clear. The recording came from one of humanity’s own space probes.

My curiosity got the better of me. I fought against all instinct to hide in safety, and peeked out from under my cover. The sky was in faded pastels; a gigantic video was being projected onto the Earth’s atmosphere. Hovering above me was the image of a middle-aged man in a seersucker suit and horn-rimmed glasses. The fabric of his suit almost matched the curtains in the background.

The man was speaking, but the audio was too distorted to make anything out. Behind him was a diagram of the Solar System. Every so often, he would point out Earth, as though showing off our place in the universe.

The heavens crackled – the video was in poor condition. The image faded in and out of clarity, replaced by the Gaussian blur of lost frequencies. Every so often, a clear stretch of words would emerge from the noise and sync with the man’s mouth.

“…this vessel…”

“…technology we have achieved…”

“…recording is our message…”

“…other worlds…”

Images of famous landmarks began to fill the sky – the pyramids, the Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower, among other man-made wonders. There was a tiny gurgle surfacing from within the maddening static, and clips of classical music began to play. The static came back shortly afterwards, staying well after the recording featured Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock.

The projection died for a few uneasy minutes, and came back with a scene I knew all too well. It came from a television show I used to watch as a kid.

It was an episode of Lassie. One of her puppies was stolen by someone who hated animals. The scene that played out above the world was when the dog thief kicked the pup after it whined for its dinner. The villain cracked a smug, self-satisfied grin and taunted, “They’ll never find you.” At any moment, Lassie and her owners would come crashing through the door to beat the bad guy, rescue the puppy, and save the day.

Only, they didn’t. The image warbled and looped back to the kick. As the clip repeated several times more, the puppy’s whimper grew louder and louder. The high-pitched squeal boomed throughout the planet. I almost didn’t hear the ships descending.

They filled the sky like bats feasting on gnats at sunset, swerving around in a calculated frenzy. The ones that stayed higher overhead shot out searchlights, while the lower ones flew towards homes and buildings. I saw the horizon light up in explosions.

I don’t know how long I stayed cowered underneath the bridge. I covered myself in whatever mud I could collect, likely an attempt at camouflage. I don’t remember really thinking at the time.

I stepped out when the world quieted down again. Pools of metal and blood filled the streets. Buildings stood half-collapsed, either from bombardment or structural failure, or both. The dying people I found within the rubble that was once my city were too injured to be coherent.

The aliens were gone. Save for the destruction, there was no sign they were ever here. There was no clue left on who they were or where they came from. There were no occupation camps, no scientific probes, no homing beacons set up. This was no invasion.

This was punishment.

As I played the horrific scenes over and over in my head, it all came clear to me. The attackers – whoever they were – must have found one of the many probes NASA used to shoot out into space as part of their search for intelligent life. It might have been the age of the thing, or some other structural failure, but the capsule must have been damaged by the time the aliens found it. The video clip within was almost completely ruined, save for what was projected onto the skies on the day the world ended. All they saw was our cruelty.

We told them of our existence, demonstrated what we were capable of, and showed them exactly where they could find us. Then they saw us at our worst, with no sign of redemption, on an endless, merciless loop. They responded by eliminating almost all life on the planet.

The aliens killed nearly every living thing they could find. There are no birds, no horses or cats or mice. There are no fish; just a floating graveyard of sea creatures on the ocean’s surface. They even wiped out all the vegetation. All that’s left is me, and a handful of other survivors in God-knows-where.

And the dogs. I can hear hundreds of them running in a single, enormous pack, howling, hunting.

They’re hungry.

Photos from: here

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