Eat or Be Eaten

Dedicated to Patrice Gutentag

They were already dead; they just didn’t know it yet.”

He shoved a few people out of his way, harder than he really needed, but the adrenaline of running all day was keeping him from moving the way he was used to. He picked up the pace, running faster and faster, weaving and ducking through bodies, both live and dead. New York streets were always full, but this was different. Everyone was just as panicked as he was.

Graduating Suma cum Laude at law school hardly mattered anymore. Captain of Debate hardly mattered. Being a middlingly well known member of the Hamptons club hadn’t helped him. His brief but successful run at politics had failed to make any kind of difference under these unique circumstances. Not when the rest of the his Ivy League friends were dead or worse. Even Blanchard, whom he knew full well was better than he was at everything. And even his looks wouldn’t help now. Being tall, dark, and handsome just made him a bigger target. And being the second-youngest partner ever at DC+H was less than useless after the company folded. Well, the whole building had folded. With him nearly in it. At least one part of his youth was still relevant, and he blessed it. Medalling in track. He ran, curled the corner faster than anyone else on the street, certainly faster than the woman with her infant that he knocked down. As he ran, he contemplated his choices. There were three behind him, all distracted for now on other members of the hoi polloi. And there was apparently nothing happening in that alley behind the busted fire escape, it seemed. He sprinted as fast as he could before they spotted him.

This isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. His father’s voice rang in his ears, mocking him as always. Possibly, he thought, but I’m guessing it won’t last that long. We don’t seem to be surviving this one, pops. The imaginary dad in his head snorted, and swirled his scotch. His real father was in Long Beach, and before the news cut out, he’d heard it was obliterated. His father would have stayed on the burgundy leather settee, asking his mom for a scotch neat, legs crossed, the points in his suit crisp and sharp and cordial while death rained down on them both.

J.J. Patridge II, Attorney at Law, made it to the alley just in time to probably not have been spotted. He saw two dumpsters, both full to brimming, like bookends on the hell that was the rest of the alley. A large pile of people must have all jumped from the building above, before its partial collapse. He dodged behind the dumpster on the right and rolled under it in one liquid motion.

He peeked from his hiding place into the street beyond. I’ll be damned if I didn’t make it all the way from the Upper West Side to the Flatiron building, he thought smugly to himself. That’s quite a distance for not having competed in over ten years now.

He looked across the alley to the other dumpster and saw a young child hiding the way he was. Except apparently, it felt safer than he did, because despite squeezing a hideously ugly doll hard enough to pop off the head, the child was asleep, breath slow and calm, seemingly untroubled despite all this goings on. He considered trying to rest. After all, he was going to die just as surely as she was.

Alien invasion, the ultimate equalizer, he mused, and then snorted. He knew he needed to stay quiet, but he couldn’t quite shut his thoughts down. He touched his forehead to the cool, pebble-strewn ground below him and shut his eyes. He needed to plan.

Six minutes later, no particular plan seemed to be forthcoming, and he was ready to call himself stumped. He wished Maryellen was there to advise him, but he’d watched her beautiful golden tresses scatter to the floor with the rest of the people in the hallway when the building collapsed. The loss of the firm’s best paralegal mind, in the form of his secretary, was harder to take than the rest of this day’s tragedies for him.

His wrist beeped, with the sound of a notification. The normally comforting sound of getting a text message was terrifying right now. He scooted his arm forward , and crunched himself up to look down at his gold-banded smartwatch. Dammit, covered in blood from when a random taxi driver had tried not to evaporate into mist. His whole suit was covered in blood, and now also in the sludge that oozed from the corner of the dumpster, the only remaining sign that everything had been normal only hours earlier. He pushed his hand and wrist in under his suit, almost as though he were trying to pull out his wallet, and wiped the screen up against a clean area of his white 100% Egyptian cotton linen suit shirt. What a terrific waste. He pulled his arm out and stared down at the screen at the notification.

Eleanor    4:12pm

Honey? What’s happening? Are you safe?

He’d remembered earlier to set his phone to silent, but not the smartwatch. Dammit. He was cursing under his breath, and trying to change the settings to silent, when he was unceremoniously yanked out from under the dumpster. The creature looked at him through his large reflective mask. He hadn’t been this close to one of them, of course, but even through the terror, he noticed that it was almost like there was nothing to see behind the semi-reflective mask. Where was its head? What was that writing along the bottom of the visor?

His sheer terror and the volley of questions he suddenly had kept him from realizing for a moment that he wasn’t instantly dead. And the creature looked inquisitive rather than violent.

“Can I help you?” the lawyer said. The mask of the creature scrolled two lines across his visor. One line was totally incomprehensible, not even readable. The second line read, “How can I stay alive right now?”

Unfamiliar words came out from behind the mask. “Are you competent with intercourse?” came out in an atonal electronic voice which he assumed was the translator.

“Possibly.” He looked confused. The creature looked away for a moment, but before it did, the second line of the visor scrolled to read, “Be careful. Does it want sex?”

The creature made a noise that sounded like a barking jet, and then spoke again in guttural noises. The electronic voice translated, “Not sex. Discourse, communication.”

The lawyer nodded. “Very.” The creature’s mask faced him, and the scrolling words read, “Top of my mother fucking class in debate and politics, you bet your ass. Oh fuck, I think that text is my thoughts. Yes, look there it is. Oh fuck. I hope I stay alive.”

“That skill is necessary to me. You will not die at this moment. Walk.” J.J. was remarkably buoyed at the news, and his thoughts scrolled across the screen while he congratulated himself and then told himself to shut up.

After the rest of an exhausting day spent assisting negotiations between the UN and the creatures, he was ready to drop. Head lolling, he was carted away and shoved into a dull grey box where he curled up and slept for an hour before he woke again and remembered the sleeping child and thanked his stars he hadn’t thought about her during the day, or she’d be dead. He thought about all the things he hadn’t thought about that day, and hoped he could keep from thinking about what he’d learned over years working with DC+H as legal counsel to the world’s largest private military concern, or all that negotiation would be for nothing. He fell back to sleep for only a few seconds.

His watch vibrated, just as the door opened unexpectedly.

Eleanor    2:37am 

Jimmy? I’m so worried. I’m holed up in Arlene’s bunker. Are you safe?

God, how could he have forgotten about his wife?

Come with us,” the automated voice was too loud in this room, assaulting his ear drums. He looked up, noting a small change. There was now a strange rainbow bubble perched center chest, facing him. It was somehow obvious that it was a weapon of pain.

“Fuck, I’m dead,” Jimmy thought as he watched his thoughts scroll across the visor. His captor sniffed, thoughts as inscrutable as ever.

—–

Reposted from Stories My Friends Started, where someone else provides a brilliant first line, and I muck it all up by making it a full story.

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