“Oh, hello girls,
I’m sorry—did I wake you up? Yes, I know it’s late but I was just putting the kettle on. You couldn’t sleep, either? You keep hearing a rustling in the walls? Spectral fingers at your window?
Well, I’m sure it’s only squirrels in the walls and the wind prying at the sash. What else could it be?
It’s a terrible night, isn’t it? Awfully dark—no moon, no stars. So cold and windy— you can hear the fallen leaves rattling from here. And the streets are deserted. Look—it’s begun to rain.
What,? You heard a loud “POP” and a sizzle earlier, like something hit the electric fence?
I heard it, too. But we’re safe here in the castle. The dogs are guarding the perimeter and Sven and Igor have gone out to check.
And you at home? I hope you’re not alone. And I hope your doors are locked and the shades drawn. Just to be safe. Look at that lightning…it must have struck nearby. And now thunder is growling. How unusual--so late in the year.
I hear something at the door; it must be Sven and Igor returning. Let me just go unlock it.
Disclaimer: L.A. is full of aliens, if you see somebody you know, don’t blame me.
Well I saw the thing comin' out of the sky
It had the one long horn, one big eye
I commenced to shakin' and I said "ooh-eee"
It looks like a purple eater to me
It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater
(One-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater)
A one-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater
Sure looks strange to me
During a lull in the siege, Johnny paused, swiping a shirtsleeve over his face. It was stifling in the upstairs bedroom with all the doors and windows closed but they had no choice…not with the hacienda under attack. Seated on a hassock beside Murdoch in the rocking chair in her room, Teresa looked up at him, her face woebegone. Seeing it, the big rancher gave her hand a consoling squeeze. Slumped on the bed, his face pale, Scott put his head in his hands.
Johnny undid two more buttons on the pink shirt, wondering how the ranch hands were faring in the bunkhouse, already knowing the answer in his heart. “Stop it!” he told himself sternly. “No point dwellin’ on what can’t be helped.”
During his time in the Navy’s special forces, Johnny had learned to control his mind and to dominate his body’s needs. Others weren’t so fortunate. Across the room, Maria was sobbing softly into her apron, her rosary beads clutched in one hand. Cipriano patted her back clumsily, looking up at Johnny with apprehensive eyes. To the Mexicans, this siege was particularly unnerving, since it was straight out of colorful legend. In the armchair, Jelly looked haggard and worn, as if he’d aged ten years. Without asking, Johnny knew he was worrying about Dewdrop and the rest of his menagerie.
Johnny shook his head to clear it. This was an enemy none of them had faced before.
For the third time, he wedged his shoulder against the huge armoire they’d barred the door with, testing it.
His empty stomach growled. They’d had no time to grab provisions before they fled upstairs, only weapons and bullets, grabbed hastily on the way. He wished mightily Teresa’d had liquor hidden in her room; he could use a shot of tequila. Hell, he could use the whole bottle. He had a feeling it wouldn’t be long now.
In his lab, Sam Jenkins worked feverishly, rattling test tubes and peering into his microscope while a beaker boiled on the Sterno can. In a cage on the far side of the room, a sick puppy lay on its side, watching with soft, forlorn eyes. Behind him, the house was dim and dark with the doors barred and the shades pulled.
In the rest of the town, panic reigned. Behind bolted doors, townsfolk were determined to fight the encroaching plague and whispered among themselves, frantically plotting strategy. Desperately, they spun radio knobs or thumbed TV remotes, hoping for a sign from the outside world. But there was no comfort there; the radios played only static and their high def TVs only snow. Feeling even more isolated, the people turned them off, looking at each other with frightened eyes.
Other townsfolk, particularly susceptible, were already giving in, the siren song of the invaders slowly eroding their free will. Trapped in their dark homes, with the malevolent presence lurking outside, their minds wandered off and their expressions grew vacant.
Against his will, Johnny’s mind went back to his last night in Las Vegas, realizing he must have seen the first one then, without knowing it. It had been the wee hours before he finally left the private game of high-stakes poker, walking away $40,000 richer than when he’d arrived.
He passed her on the way back to the room, a huge woman in too-tight Capris bursting at the seams. Overprocessed blonde hair clung stringily to her jowls as, robot-like, she fed quarters into the one-armed bandit and pumped the handle down in a stupor. Her small eyes were piggy with greed. Suddenly anxious to get home, he took a drink from the tray of a passing waitress in short-shorts, seeing her look of stunned gratitude at the $100 tip. He smiled, the heart-stopping grin that had turned so many women weak in the knees, seeing her look turn to something else before he continued on.
Punching the elevator button, impatient to tell his brother of his good fortune, he whistled under his breath. The car wheezed to a stop and he got in. Half the car was taken up by another huge woman, roughly the size of a heifer expecting twins. Her hair, too, was blonde and stringy, reeking of cigarette smoke. Acres of cellulite were revealed by the too-short, too-tight denim miniskirt and Johnny hastily averted his eyes, wishing he could avert his nose as easily. The body odor emanating from her in the closed space made his eyes water.
Leaning against the opposite side of the car, mentally urging the thing to hurry, he was as sleek and powerful as a stalking cat, tanned biceps showing under the white T-shirt that had shrunk in the wash. It clung lovingly to his body, giving more than a suggestion of hard abs and muscled lats and making his blue eyes shine that much brighter.
Her gaze roved to his faded Levis outlining his lean hips and legs and the piggy eyes brightened. She opened her mouth to speak.
Unable to hold his breath any longer, he hit the “stop” button. It wasn’t his floor but he didn’t mind walking.
He glanced back as the elevator door closed, to find her small eyes still on him with burning intensity. His flesh prickled, as if it was trying to crawl out of sight and then, with a whoosh, the car lifted off again.
The brothers had left Henderson behind and were back on the 5, the glow of Las Vegas well behind them. The silver Lamborghini purred on through the night, the breeze ruffling Johnny’s hair back from his face. Beside him, Scott fiddled briefly with the radio before popping in a CD. The dashboard instrumentation lit both faces with a dim blue glow. The full moon was high over the desert floor and both fell silent, enjoying the beauty of the night.
Suddenly, Scott poked him hard in the shoulder. “Hey, did you see that?”
“Shooting star. Look, there’s another!”
From the corner of his eye, Johnny caught movement.
“Damn!” Scott said, “That one hit pretty close! Must be a meteor shower.” They looked up to see more streaks of light criss-crossing the sky and plummeting toward earth.
Without slowing the car, the men continued to steal upward looks but there were no more meteors.
Johnny glanced toward his brother. “You ever see so many shooting stars before?”
“No, never.” Scott leaned his head back, his voice trailing away. Johnny put his foot on the floor, the speedometer needle holding steady at 100 m.p.h. as the sleek car shot onward through the night.
The yellow line unfurled steadily ahead of them and dawn was not far off when they reached Morro Coyo. The town was still asleep, no lights showing in windows. It was unnaturally quiet, no dogs yapping at errant raccoons, no cats scurrying out of the Lamborghini’s path. Ahead on their right, Johnny spotted the turnoff to Lancer.
To their left, too far to be seen with the naked eye, yet another streak of light hit the ground. A puff of dirt rose from the crater. It was still an hour until dawn.
Johnny halted the car, the engine ticking, as Scott grabbed the bags. The door was flung open before they reached it and a sobbing Teresa fell on Johnny.
“Thank goodness you’re home, we’ve been so worried!”
“Come in, quickly,” demanded Murdoch. He looked furtively around before hastily closing the door and bolting it.
He glanced toward the kitchen. “Maria!!” he bellowed. “They’re home!”
“Por Dios!” the housekeeper rushed out, babbling in Spanish and dabbing at her eyes with the corner of her apron. “Para todos los santos, gracias, gracias…”
“Jesus, Murdoch,” Johnny snapped, startled. “What the hell’s goin’ on?”
“We were praying you wouldn’t arrive last night…in the dark,” Teresa shuddered.
Scott grabbed his father and shook him. “Tell us!”
The older man sprawled in a chair. “You better sit down, boys.”
They thought themselves safe for the moment but suddenly the unplugged computer booted up. The green glow of the screen illuminated their tense faces as the message filled the screen, a slight “boop” accompanying the words, “Resistance is futile. Resistance is futile. Resistance is futile.”
The television blared into life, causing them all to jump. A woman filled the screen. She had yellowing gray hair and a sour, know-it-all expression. Beady eyes peering from behind large glasses that magnified her eyes grotesquely, she hawked her creation in a peculiarly grating accent, holding up her wares in ink-stained fingers. “Buy this, buy this, buy this”…shoddy Santas, indifferent paintings, photocopied scripts, photographs that looked suspiciously like screen captures. One was of a black-haired, blue-eyed man, naked on a horse.
Jelly stared at the screen with horrified fascination.
“Ain’t none of it original, either,” he remarked. The others ignored the unhelpful commentary, looking at each other in consternation.
“What the…” Scott muttered, dumbfounded.
Teresa shuddered, frantically pressing remote buttons. The same commercial was on all the channels.
Jelly piped up. “It’s been that way since last night. Nobody knows who the hell she is or what planet she come from but there’s no getting’ away from her.”
Scott and Johnny looked at each other. Someone was missing and nobody wanted to be the first to ask. Johnny finally spoke up. “Where’s Lucky?”
Murdoch’s face clouded. “He’s gone, Johnny. They got him.”
“They? Who’s they?” his son demanded. “What in hell happened here?”
Suddenly, a dull roaring sound filled the air, causing them all to look at the windows. Hordes of women—hefty, blonde, stringy-haired—were marching on the hacienda from all directions. They all looked exactly alike. Zombie-fashion, they advanced on the house, each carrying a pitchfork. Their heavy tread shook the earth, sending up clouds of dust.
The aliens stomped stoically along, inexorably approaching the hacienda.
At the sight, Teresa and Maria clutched each other, screaming. The hearts of the watching men sank, full of dread.
Wave after wave, the aliens came, filling the horizon.
In the corral, the horses whinnied frantically. Quickly, they formed a circle, mares and foals on the inside. Stamping his feet, Barranca neighed a challenge, echoed a moment later by the big black stallion they called Diablo.
Johnny felt his brain buckle. The intruders looked like the woman from Vegas.
“Aliens!” his father snapped. “Come on, MOVE, we’ve got to get to the high ground.”
The brothers looked at each other, then at the others. Maria and Teresa clutched each other, terrified.
“We’ll never hold them all off,” Scott yelled, ripping open the gun cabinet. “There’s too many of them!”
Johnny smiled. There was no mirth in it. His voice was low and soft. “I ain’t goin’ without a fight.
The aliens had reached the bunkhouse. Strange tentacles extruded from their lips. They fell on the structure with the considerable force of their heavy bodies, reducing it to kindling. The vaqueros fought valiantly but their screams soon died away.
It was too much for the horses. Rearing and bucking, they surged through the corral fence, cutting a swath through the aliens as they galloped for the hills.
Johnny felt a surge of pride in the golden stallion. “Run fast and far, Barranca,” he thought, “take care of your own.”
The house shook as the aliens reached it.
“Come on, dammit!” Murdoch yelled. “We have to get upstairs before they break in!”
Loaded with bullets and guns, they fled up the stairs, hearts racing, just as the massive front door splintered to kindling. Drooling, vacuous faces appeared in the opening, hastening their racing footsteps.
They bolted into Teresa’s room, slamming the door behind them. The room smelled of sweat and molding food.”
Johnny flung himself against the door, sweat pouring down his face. “Scott,” he yelled. “Help me!”
Together, they shoved a huge armoire against the window and a second against the door, grunting with the effort. Outside, the sky turned pink. Dawn was not far off.
Temporarily safe, they looked at each other.
Murdoch rubbed his chest. “They’ve never come so close to daylight before—they prefer to operate in the dark.”
“How long has this been going on?” Scott demanded.
“Two days. You mean you didn’t know? It’s been all over the news. But then,” he corrected himself, “You’ve been in Vegas.”
They all nodded soberly at each other. Vegas was not reality, everyone knew that. Day and night were indistinguishable in the casinos, the air conditioners keeping them at 68 degrees and with hot and cold running food and drink, no one had any reason to care what time it was, only how their fortunes were faring.
“Why’d they go after Lucky?” Johnny asked suddenly.
Jelly’s face clouded. “They hate dogs, Johnny. Don’t like other animals much but they flat-out hate dogs. Don’t know why.”
Teresa patted him on the shoulder as the old handyman continued. “They killed every one they could get their hands on.”
“With pitchforks?” Scott guessed.
Jelly nodded, his face darkening. “Wish I could get my hands on those varmints that’d kill a helpless animal!”
Johnny looked down, saddened. After a minute, he spoke again. “How come there’s so many of ‘em? And all alike?”
Teresa spoke. “That’s what makes ‘em so dangerous. They replicate. They take on the look of people’s best friend, get close to them, make people trust them. Then they suck their brains out their ear.”
She shuddered, remembering. “But they can’t hold the façade any more.”
The girl waved a hand out the window. “Now they all look alike—that’s their true faces out there.”
Scott almost heaved, remembering the ride down in the elevator. They’d been right in their clutches and hadn’t even known.
Teresa resumed. “They usually go dormant at dawn…don’t seem to like the light for some reason.”
Jelly piped up. “Or they want to get off their feet, the size of landing craft but they jam ‘em into those little shoes…”
“Stilettos,” Teresa supplied.
“Yeah, those,” the old man replied. He liked stilettos on ladies as much as anyone but the sight of all those pudgy feet hanging out of the shoes made him ill. From their faces, he could see the other men agreed.
Heavy tread clomped across the roof. The aliens had found the back stairway.
The Lancers looked at each other as Maria burst into fresh sobs.
Murdoch gripped his sons by the shoulder, looking into their eyes. “They’ve taken over Morro Coyo and Green River, maybe the whole world. This could be it.”
Calm and steady, both boys looked back at him, conveying with their eyes the words they couldn’t say.
Blows rained on the back door. Wood splintered. The heavy footsteps were in the hall now.
“It ain’t over yet, old man,” Johnny murmured. He cocked his gun.
When Teresa’s door split open, they were ready. The brain-sucking aliens were met with a line of gunfire that mowed them down and cut them to shreds. But there were always more.
Johnny whirled, keeping Teresa behind him as he frantically reloaded. The other guns spat; alien bodies piled up but more jammed in the room, their grinning, drooling faces horrifying in their evil vacuity. Tentacles emerged from their mouths, waving like blind worms. Teresa screamed, the sound echoing off the walls.
The aliens reached for Johnny, beginning to strip off his shirt. The feel of their sausage-like fingers on his skin was revolting and cursing, he fought off the onslaught desperately.
Over the din of pounding, heavy feet, a faint buzzing was heard in the distance. Louder and louder it grew. A roar went up from the alien zombies outside as a crop duster roared over the courtyard, spraying them. Shrieks of anger and fear rent the air.
A second plane went over low and they recognized Sam Jenkin’s Beechcraft with the doctor at the controls. The door was open and Dave Bell was hanging out, a SuperSoaker spraying a mist over the evildoers. Screams of pain and dismay filled the air as the aliens fell over each other, trying to escape.
Like flies, they dropped, as far as the eye could see.
“Scott, help me!” Johnny yelled. Together, they shoved the armoire away from the window as Murdoch and Jelly smashed it open, letting the cool air flow in. Aliens screamed and gibbered, hiding their faces as they attempted to flee. But it was too late--the mysterious substance felled them one by one.
Finally, it was quiet. The aliens lay, unmoving, in vast piles across the lawns and fields as Sam’s Beechcraft made one last circle before landing in the courtyard. Jubilant, they rushed out to meet the old doctor and the sheriff, Maria smiling through her tears.
Laughing, the Lancers clapped them on the back. When the excitement died down, they kicked their way through the bodies in the dining room before pouring drinks all round. Several rounds of tequila and Scotch disappeared before Murdoch set his glass down, turning to the old doctor.
“Tell us, Sam,” Murdoch exclaimed, “Tell us how you did it!”
“Yeah,” Johnny chimed in. “What was in that spray?”
The old man looked at them sharply, then spread his hands. “Dave noticed right off that they didn’t like dogs. Scared to death of ‘em, by the look. So it got me to thinking.”
“Thinking what, Sam?” Scott wondered.
“What they were so all-fired skeert of. And then it come to me.”
“What?” they chorused.
“The reason they don’t like dogs. I had me a sick puppy that I took in right before the invasion—parvo. An airborne virus. It’s deadly, kills hundreds of dogs every year.”
Dave spoke up. “Tell ‘em the rest, you old coot.”
Giving them all a sharp look, Sam continued. “So I replicated the virus in the lab, using the latest techniques.” He waved an arm. “And it worked.”
Johnny poured the old man another shot of Murdoch’s best Scotch. Looking out the great room window, he saw yellow Army bulldozers and eighteen-wheelers lumbering up the road to clean the mess.
He raised his glass to the old man, thinking of his beloved Lucky. Man’s best friend was the hero of the hour.
“Every dog has its day.”