The Thing that Lives Among Us

Aliens. Who doesn’t love aliens? Little green guys. Elongated gray gals. Bulbous, tentacled masses. ET. Yoda.

But what if aliens aren’t like any of those things? What if we can’t even comprehend them in their true form?

To end a successful first week of writing, I want to share with you a longer piece, inspired by my published story “Hello from the Children of Earth”, available on Amazon by the wonderful folks at Rhetoric Askew. In this story, the alien isn’t what you’d normally expect.

 

 

“I come from a distant galaxy. I observe your ways. I learn your languages, your cultures, your sciences, and your dreams.

I see you, human. I become you. I am you…

I end you.”

 

“That was the message broadcast on every channel, every radio station, every video uploaded to the internet, and every phone call on June 22nd, 2025 at 9:15 a.m. That was the message that still plays in our heads as we drive to work, as we tuck our children into bed at night, and as we ourselves try to sleep in a world forever changed. Please, my friends, do not forget those words, and do not forget your loved ones… Not at a time like this. Not when life as we know it might be drawing swift conclusions.”

The camera pans around a city, zooming in on commuters waiting in traffic and on a young couple standing patiently at a street corning, waiting for the signal to turn. It zooms out, spins a slow one-eighty to the beachfront, where families can be seen from afar, walking the strip, feeling warm sand between their toes, or bicycling down the boardwalk. Finally, it comes full circle, stopping on the worry-wrinkled face of Bill Bradley, Channel 92 reporter. He’s adjusting his earpiece, tapping his microphone to ensure the highest quality transmission, and looking downcast as the clouds roll in from behind him.

“Well, that’s all for me for now, folks,” he says, a glint in his eyes as if he were on the brink of tears. “Farewell, and I hope to see you tomorrow. Oh God, please let us see tomorrow… So long.”

 

“I see you, human. I become you.”

 

The facts were released within twenty-four hours of the incident. They were horrific, unbelievable, and changed the projection of humankind forever.

A small team of scientists, graduate students, and one unlucky janitor unleashed an unprecedented disaster upon Earth to no fault of their own. An old, 1970’s space shuttle, sent to explore the outer rims of the Solar System and beyond into interstellar space, took on a hitchhiker of sorts right before total system shutdown.

Then, over a stretch of mere hours, the hitchhiker somehow took a grotesque physical form, based off the documents sealed in that space shuttle so many years ago, and traversed a gap of approximately nine billion miles. In a blink of an eye, it warped from the confines of the small vessel to the wild blue yonders of Earth.

Within another blink, there were no survivors. It took the scientists, the students, and the janitor with little to no resistance, thrashing them against the walls of their office and spilling their blood into the hallway.

The next day, the detective assigned to the case was found in the evidence room, strangled by his own tie, Chuck Berry playing through an old speaker.

Nothing else happened after that, at least not until six months later. When it finally happened, it happened fast.

 

“I end you.”

I play the last line on repeat, “I end you. I end you. I end you,” being interrupted only by the occasional YouVerse advertisement for the newest Android dating service or Tube Food product or whatever. They’re trying to sell me the latest V.R. equipment or the new Holophone, inviting me to join the Social Network, or offering me the fulfillment of my wildest pleasures, but life is already wild enough. Did they even listen to the clip? The guttural timbre of the voice. The way you could feel it through whatever platform you were on. How it took over every single digital outlet on the planet for those twelve whole seconds, defying every Firewall ever devised.

Why would I want to close my eyes to what happens next? Why would anyone want to miss the last chapter?

There’s a lot of chatter about this guy already. Homemade vids from all across the globe, gossip on the message boards, Vlogs about what to do if you suspect a sighting. Blah, blah, blah. I know the whole world is networked, even the tots are plugged in nowadays, but I refuse to believe he could be in Bangladesh in the morning, Croatia for second breakfast, the northern reaches of the New Soviet Union by noon, and then all the way back in the Midwest to catch the tail end of happy hour. Nope. I don’t believe it one bit, and I’m a pretty imaginative guy.

My favorite story so far was broadcast in 1260p from a 4TB solid state, i9 MacBook with a pathetic 32GB of RAM from the depths of some cave in northwestern Iran. Gross. Can you imagine? How would you stream even an hour’s worth of OpenWorld Xploration? You’d be trapped, cut off, pariah’d. They’d brought in a troop from across the border for some much needed peace negotiations. Immediately, their leader noticed something odd about the emissaries from across the way. It was, as he explained it, in the way they staggered when they walked, the way their eyes did not move when they spoke to the crowd, and how their words seemed crisp one moment and garbled the next.

He played shaky video for the world to see. We all watched as seventeen of his comrades were thrown around the cave, ripped to pieces, or otherwise mutilated to death by the most inhumane methods. The leader had only survived because he’d ran off into the desert, still talking into camera, before abandoning it in the white, hot sand.

Just thinking about the slaughter makes me want to throw up.

A ton of these stories popped up, keep popping up, and will continue to pop up until we figure out how to fight this thing. Don’t hold your breath, nobody has any idea what’s going on. Not the CIA or the FBI or the NRA or anybody. There are some quack conspiracists, claiming this is the Second Coming or whatever, but they’re the same guys claiming the internet is some sentient cyborg sent from Pluto. Like we’re going to believe them…

Anyhow, there was a teenage girl in Alaska, visiting her grandmother at the Home, horrified to find her in her room, skin as gray as pavement and eyes sallow and sunken. She filmed herself for her Story. I’ll never forget the conversation:

“Bubby? Say hello to the people. Are you okay? You look… unwell.”

Wolf-like and in broken words, Bubby said, “Oh, of course my dear. Please, come. Sit down with your grandmother. Everything is fine. Just old, is all. No need to worry yourself.”

She sat down, keeping her distance from Bubby and letting the feed roll.

“I saw Mariah earlier today. She sends her regards, wishes she could come in and see you more.”

“Isn’t that just wonderful? Such sweet girls, you two.”

She rolled her eyes sideways at the camera and mouthed, “Got her,” with a wink. Then, she turned back to the decrepit thing sitting on the bed, calling itself her Bubby. “Wow, you sure are feeling strong today, huh? When’s the last time you could sit up on your own? Must be the Meds.”

“I’m just happy to see you, dear. You’re such a pretty little thing.”

“But the glaucoma, Bubby.”

“Things and nonsense. Things and nonsense. Come closer. I want to look into those eyes.”

Suddenly, the girl’s eyebrows raised and you could see the faint quivering of her bottom lip. She moved to turn the feed off, but the moment her attention shifted from “Bubby” to her set-up, the grandmother, who looked like she had one foot already buried, lunged across the bed. The old woman’s face took up the entirety of the outside edges of the camera, the close up of her skin revealing that it’s layered wrong and looks as if it were patched together by an amateur taxidermist.

The camera continues to roll. I have it pinned on my third monitor with a dozen others. The comments keep coming, but I think people are losing interest. Everyone who is anyone has their theories. Seeing the still room and the makings of a glossy crimson puddle where the girl had once been, I have my own. Three things are for certain: Mariah doesn’t exist, the girl’s grandmother had been gone long before she arrived with her camera, and now the girl is gone, too. Just like we all will be if we’re not careful.

A klaxon sounds from within my primary auditory cortex. I swipe my dashboard to clear all other windows.

“Isis, show me Camera 2b. Brighter, please. Okay, stop. Just there is fine.”

Jeromy, my best “friend” from school, is standing on my front porch, nervously glancing all around him and repeatedly jabbing the buzzer. I giggle because it looks like he’s about to piss himself. Part of me wants to leave him out there, but he’s all I’ve got left.

“Isis, open the front door. Temporarily disengage alert protocol centuri.”

The picture on my main monitor brightens and dims to the rhythm of the motherboard’s voice. “Door open. Disengaging alert protocol centuri. Time elapsed: thirty two seconds, fifteen milliseconds.”

Before she finishes locking up again, Jeromy is pounding up the steps. My walls shake with each footfall. Then, with the same amount of force and urgency, he throws my bedroom door open.

Sweat beads at his temples. His breaths are harsh and labored, his hair disheveled and partially matted to the side of his neck. I’ve seen him in worse shape, but whatever has brought him here can’t be good.

After catching his breath, he says, “Have you seen?”

I swivel around to my workstation, key a quick command, and gesture to the windowed videos playing live scenes from around the world. This is my way to show him that I see it all, but I say, “Of course I have,” anyway, just to make sure the point is taken.

He shakes his head, violently, stuttering nonsense, then parkour leaps over my bed. There’s a window on the other side I haven’t opened in nearly a week, and Jeromy moves to manually open it. Immediately, without warning, I override his rash decision.

He doesn’t know I’m here. I won’t be another goner. I won’t be another empty video feed playing on some kid’s basement television in Tallahassee.

Jeromy whips around, urgency plastered all over his face. “You gotta’ check it out. The city is burning.”

“What? No, that’s impossible. I would have known already.”

I swivel back to the computer, type in a few key words, and bring up a miniature, panoramic, 3D version of the world outside my walls.

“Is that?…” he says, but doesn’t finish. He lets his jaw drop open instead.

“Yup. Version 2.3. OpenWorld has really stepped it up with this one. They’ve added real-time shadow rendering, a fully interactive environment that updates on the nanosecond, and vivid, first-person encounters. The programmers really outdid themselves with this one. Just yesterday, I took myself a tour Ms. Amanda Clarke’s private corridors. Talk about wow. That woman knows how to live, and they didn’t leave out a single detail.”

With the punch of one more key, the panorama rapidly expands and we’re standing together in the alley between two downtown skyscrapers. Neon signs sizzle and pop all around us. The smell of sewage flows to all four corners of my bedroom. Somewhere in the distance, a feral dog howls.

Jeromy, familiar with only Version 2.2, spins around and around, taking it all in while drool forms at the edges of his mouth. He walks past me, fixated on a side door to one of the buildings. Rubbing his palm across its surface, he looks to me for permission.

“Go ahead.”

He curls his fingers around the knob–they never bothered to renovate the side entrances to most of these high-tech wonderlands, the only people that typically use them being maid services and repairman–and opened the door. Inside, the labyrinthine bowels of the building open up to us. The world, as they say, is our oyster. The thing is, I hate oysters. But I’m a sucker for fully immersive, user-friendly experiences.

OpenWorld allows competent users to explore those off-limits, out of reach places without sounding the alarm. When it first came out, a simple 3D simulator, I squirmed at the bounds of its potential. Each new update brought with it another layer, another facet of the brilliance of this real-to-life, open world experience. The ultimate MMO, if you will. I always recognized flaws, shortcomings, and places where there were minor gaps begging room for improvement. I’d write to the developer, ThisGen, and the changes would usually be released in the next version. I like to think they got here only with my help. I like to think the world has me to thank for the glory of their legacy.

But I digress. It’s hard not too when I get to thinking about OpenWorld. It almost helps me forget about what’s happening in the “real world”.

Jeromy, finished with his quick peek into the building, beckons me to follow him out into the street. We don’t have to go far for me to understand the severity of his anxiety. Normally calm and collected, it takes more than just a few fires to stir my friend’s excitement.

Dozens of fires just about does it, though.

“Holy shit,” I say.

“Right?”

We stand there, side-by-side, staring down the busiest street in the city. There isn’t a single car in sight or person walking by. It usually teems with perpetually late business women, aurally gifted vagrants, families making their way to the art museum or to the park, and any number of other people on foot or riding by on electrical scooters or sending DMs from the comfort of enviro-controlled rickshaws. It seethes with life, with action, and with progress.

Now, it’s empty save for the hydra-headed fires burning all along its skyline.

A glitch in the network shifts us from the end of the street to several blocks down, closer to the chaos. As the buildings re-render, I get a heavy feeling in my gut. Something’s not right. We need to get out of the program ASAP.

I grab Jeromy’s arm. “We gotta’ go. We gotta’ get out of here.”

His pupils are dilated; he doesn’t seem to notice me. He certainly doesn’t understand the urgency behind my command.

I hear the rhythmic stomping of boots on blacktop like something straight out of the Third Reich. Up ahead, a wall of Jeromy moves with unnatural coordination towards us. Like the emissaries in the cave, like the grandmother in the nursing home, there’s something off about these copies. They’re close to the real thing, but wrong. It’s in the shading of their hair, the fluidity of their motion, and the unceasing perfection of their approach.

Beside me, Jeromy convulses. He foams at the mouth. His head twitches from side to side so spastically I’m afraid it might pop loose from his neck.

“This can’t be good,” I say, backing away from him.

Before too long, the wall of bodies swallows him up. He calms down, joins the rest, and keeps coming at me.

“Unplug! Unplug,” I yell.

And I’m back in my room, the exact replica of the city streets fading away. Without taking a breath, I scramble to unplug all my electronics. It pains me to do so, but I’ve finally figured out how he does it. I know how he traveled from beyond the Oort cloud. I know how he made his way from country to country, how he infected an entire globe in less than six months. I know, but I need to say it out loud. Someone else needs the opportunity to hear and to act on my knowledge, no matter how slim our chances might be at this point.

Once everything is unplugged and I’m mostly off the grid, I plop onto my bed and shuffle through my bedside table, looking for a relic I only bring out when I’m desperate or feeling nostalgic. Everyone has their vices. Mine happens to be for primitive technologies. In this case, a pencil-thin, red Razor flip phone. With how lazy and awkward the interface is, it takes me a second to remember the code and navigate to the video recorder. I center my face in the camera and press record.

“Hello from a child of Earth. My name is not important, and I don’t have a lot of time. If you’re watching this, it isn’t too late. We probably haven’t won, but at least we’ve found a way to survive, to keep going. It’s hard to say how much longer we can keep it up. Probably not long. I’ve seen what he… what it’s capable of, and that’s the problem. We spent too much time worrying about what and not enough time asking how.”

My computer kicks on. It’s coming. It’s faint, but the unmistakable whir of the cooling fan couldn’t mean anything else. I’ve heard it start up a thousand times, but there is an unfamiliar foreboding behind this cycle. I risk a glance in its direction and see the dim blue-black of the monitors starting up, confirming my suspicions.

“I’ve figured out how.” I say, redoubling my efforts to get my message recorded. “It didn’t take much. Just some cross-referencing, some simple deductions drawn from early assumptions. It’s important that someone else knows. I’m sure minds greater than mine will figure it out, but I can’t take that chance. If I don’t say anything, and no one else puts it together, life as we know it might be doomed. I’m going to transplant my last twenty-four hours onto a SIM card in this phone so that maybe you can follow my logic up until this realization. If I get the opportunity… er, hold on.”

An arm, Jeromy’s I realize as his opalescent tribal tattoo comes into sight, extends from the center of my middle monitor. It feels around clumsily, grabbing at whatever it can get a hold of. Then, it begins to pull his body into my room. Seeing his body contort like that, hearing the bones crack as he wiggles his way in, I gag. But I can’t dwell on it. I have revelations to bestow upon whoever is willing to listen.

“Anyhow, it feeds off waves. Any kind of wave, I think. Not only does it feed, but it can use them for transportation, bridging seemingly impossible gaps in a blink of an eye. But it’s not impossible, not when you can hop on a radio wave and ride it across the universe. Not when you can see, feel, and sense brain waves, when you can manipulate them, bend yourself to them. I think it utilizes these waves, all across the spectrum and beyond even–who’s to say we’ve found them all?–to have its way with time and space. I don’t know what you can do with that, but do something. Anything… Please.”

My computer tower crashes to the ground. The light in my rooms flickers. Even tipped over, my monitors buck and shake as more and more copies of Jeromy claw their way out. The ones in my room aren’t moving fast. They already have me; they have all the time in the world to do what they’ve come to do.

I catch them in the video for a split second. Any longer and I’m afraid they might be able to use the footage to get at my audience. No matter where they are. No matter when they are.

“Please, I beg you. Find this phone. Listen to this video. And, no matter what you do, don’t let it become you. Don’t let it take away the world we’ve spent so long building.”

I flip the phone closed, bury it in the sanctuary of the ruffles of my comforter, and stand to face this thing. Smacking myself on the head, I jump back onto the covers and fumble around to find the device. The second my hand grazes the phone, I rip a strip of skin of behind my ear.

“Isis,” I say, hoping the motherboard is still alive. “Convert data files to SIM. Last twenty-four hours. I need to be able to input it into this archaic device… work your magic.”

Before me, the chip I pulled from my skull shimmers like water. It’s cold to the touch, then warm. The sweet aroma of cinnamon rolls and mint tea wafts up at me from the chip. It shrinks to a microscopic level and re-materializes as an 8.8 by 12.3 millimeter card. Without grace or care, I shove it into the appropriate slot, hide the phone away, and turn back around.

The closest copy of Jeromy grabs me and flings me across the room. I bound off the wall, leaving a me-shaped dent in the drywall, crash into the remnants of my workstation, and roll over, my back throbbing in pain. Another copy is throttling me before I have a chance to come to my senses. A third strikes me hard and repeatedly in the head. I black out, thinking only about the phone and the data I’ve so hopefully stored inside of it…

 

“And that’s all we got.”

A woman in a black coat strides over, leaning in towards the small holovid paused at the center of the table. She’s wearing dark, mirrored sunglasses, layers and layers of metallic-lined clothing, and enough explosive materials to level a city block. They all are. It’s the only way to keep it from spreading to their sanctuary.

Their makeshift laboratory, built deep underground, is lined with all types dampening devices and insulation. They weren’t sure what they needed to keep out, so they took precautions to keep everything out.

“That’s all?” she asks, rewinding the feed and pausing it just before the thing grabs the kid. “Well, it’s something at least. You extrapolated all possible data sources from his motherboard?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“And you checked it with some of our other… informants?”

“Of course.”

The lab rumbles. Debris falls from the ceiling, and the power wanes temporarily. With the lights and the computers back on, she replays the whole thing.

How could a kid have seen it? It was so obvious, but everyone else had missed it. They were too busy running for their lives, she thinks. I was too busy trying to keep mine together…

“Are we ready to test it?”

Four scientists, dressed in the exact same outfit as her plus glass-bubble face masks, appear from another room, ushering with them a large crate on thick, platinum rods. They stop, awaiting her orders.

“We’re ready, ma’am. I think we have enough Dark Matter for one solid trial.”

“And the specimen?”

“On standby in the Faraday Vacuum.”

A relatively loose name, sure. But good enough for our purposes. We haven’t the time to worry about semantics.

As a group, they make their way to an observation point. On a platform surrounded by nearly a kilometer on all sides stands a large, amber-colored cage with any number of electromagnetic shielding mechanisms attached to it. A series of loudspeakers blares Chuck Berry, which seems to calm the thing that looks like the boy named Jeromy locked inside.

The four scientists step out onto a lift that takes them out and down to the platform. They gently set their cargo down, releasing the pressure-sealed lid, and pull out a long tube filled with a single molecule of Dark Matter. They tilt it, careful not to disrupt the matter’s resting state, and insert it into a slot on the outside of the “cage”. They take the lift back and rejoin their colleagues.

“Think it’s going to work?”

“Only one way to find out,” the woman says, flipping open a covered switch on a keyboard before them. “Gentlemen, are you ready to save the world?”

She pushes the button, releasing the Dark Matter into the cage. Inside, even from such a distance, the thing hisses and writhes. It pounds on the sides until Jeromy’s fists burst. It bangs its head over and over, adding gray matter to the Dark Matter filling every nook and cranny of its prison. Then, it melts into a heap of nothingness. Slowly, the matter in the vacuum is siphoned out.

“Well?”

“Scanning now, ma’am. It appears… I can’t believe it.”

“What? What is it?” She pushes the other scientist aside, squints at the readings before her. “Jesus Christ. Is that real?”

“Yes, ma’am. Not a molecule left. Totally devoid of everything. We got it.”

The room erupts in cheers. Someone produces a bottle of champagne they snagged on their way to the safety of the bunker. Someone else slumps in a chair, lights a cigar, and sighs a breath of relief.

She leans over, kisses her colleague on the cheek, and they both embrace each other, her show of affection devolving quickly into an animalistic, mouth-to-mouth display.

Regaining her faculties, she announces, “We’re not out of it yet, but at least we have hope. At least we know it can be killed.”

I end you. I’ll end every version of you single-handedly, if I have to, she thinks, returning to the celebration with her colleagues–the first celebration she could allow in months. Soon, they’ll have to get back to work, but now they need to revel. They might have just saved everyone still alive up there.