by Rick McQuiston
Luke watched the leaf skirt over the smooth, snow-covered landscape. It hardly left an impression in the snow, simply moving along in sporadic movements to the wind’s desires. In a few seconds it would be out of sight completely, leaving no trace that it had ever been there at all.
Not much different than me, Luke thought with a bitter aftertaste. That’s all I’ve become: a dried out leaf blowing across the snow.
Barren trees stood at attention in the distance. Their empty branches seemed to yearn for the leafy decorations that once were attached to them. However, now they were empty, like childless mothers who passed their days reaching out in vain attempts to find their lost memories.
Luke took a sip of his coffee. The caramel-colored liquid did little to lift his spirits though, and he knew it. He was fighting a losing battle, and the final solution waited for him at the finish line.
Overhead, he caught a glimpse of movement. Something soared through the clear, cold sky, darting this way and that, revealing itself only through the sparse branches of the trees.
“They’re still here,” a monotone voice said.
It startled Luke so much he almost fell over.
The owner of the voice, a short, graying man who seemed to appear out of nowhere, stood behind Luke. He was pointing a long, crooked finger to the sky, but was staring at the ground.
“Excuse me?” Luke said.
“They’re still here,” the man repeated. “The invaders, or aliens, or whatever you want to call them. They’re still here.”
Luke felt annoyed at the man for disturbing his solitude, but he couldn’t deny what he was saying. They were still here, on Earth, spreading their spores into the wind, waiting for them to germinate in whatever vehicle they used.
Vehicle. If only mankind knew what that vehicle was then maybe there’d be a chance. Luke felt confident that scientists somewhere could develop a weapon against the invaders if they only knew how they spread their seeds.
The man glanced at the cup of coffee in Luke’s hand and smiled. “Don’t suppose you got any more that?” he asked through half-rotted teeth.
“No, I don’t,” Luke replied. His attention swung back to the sky. “Has anyone ever seen them?”
The man followed Luke’s gaze. “I’ve heard people say they’re 20 feet tall and covered in black fur, and others swear they’re no bigger than a dog and as bald as can be.”
Luke sighed and tossed the cooling remains of his coffee into the snow. “So nobody has seen them.” A pang of doubt began to fester in his gut. “They might not even exist, or be part of some elaborate conspiracy.”
“No, they’re still here, you can be sure of it.”
“But if nobody has seen them then how…”
“You can’t see the air,” the man retorted, “but it’s still there.”
“But we can feel it, it’s what we breathe, we can feel the effects it has, not to mention the wind. We can feel wind.” Luke felt foolish for even getting involved in a debate with the man.
The man rubbed his stubbled chin. “I see your point, but I can feel them. I think you can as well. Don’t lie yourself, you know you can.”
Luke was at a loss. He couldn’t deny what the man was saying. It was true, he could feel the invader’s presence. They were everywhere. They were a part of life. “So,” he continued, “how do you think they spread their seeds?”
The man thought for moment, and then replied: “I think I know.”
The man smiled, revealing his rotted teeth. “A while back, when this mess started, I came across something in my backyard. At first I thought it was a cat, but when I approached it, I saw it was actually a squirrel.”
“Yes, and it was as dead as a doorknob. I think it’d been hit by a car. Most of its head was gone.”
Luke wanted to get away from the man, but needed to hear him out. If he did know how the invaders spread their seeds then maybe he could help defeat them.
Overhead, the sky began to darken. A cool breeze blew in from the north, further tightening winter’s grip on the land.
“I did the humane thing and buried the little critter, but when I turned away from the grave, I heard something.”
“What? What did you hear?”
“The sound of digging. I swung back around just in time to see the squirrel, what was left of it, crawl away into the brush. A trail of dirt and bloody fur were all that remained of it.”
Luke was not only doubtful, but annoyed. “So what does a dead squirrel have to do with…” He paused, a lump forming in his throat. “Do you mean they’re able to use dead animals to spread their seeds?” He really didn’t want an answer to his question.
The man reached out and grabbed Luke by the throat. His grip felt like iron.
It was then that Luke noticed something about the man he hadn’t before, a small, insignificant, but terribly disturbing thing: the man didn’t blink.
And when the man tilted his head forward, far enough for Luke to see the gaping hole in his skull, he began to laugh.
“I told you they’re still here,” he croaked. “And yes, they do use the dead to spread their seeds.”
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Rick McQuiston is a forty-nine year old father of two who loves anything horror-related. He’s had nearly 400 publications so far, and written five novels, ten anthologies, one book of novellas, and edited an anthology of Michigan authors. He is also a guest author each year at Memphis Junior High School. He is currently working on his sixth novel.