Evasion of the Bonnie Snappers

Evasion of the Bonnie Snappers

By Iolanthe Portmanteaux

 


“Go I Know Not Whither; Fetch I Know Not What.” — Russian Fairy Tale


 

A few of us saw a few of them that night. We caught glimpses, but we didn’t pay them any mind. We had no idea of the danger they brought with them, of the terrible topsy-turvy transmogrifications they prepared to unleash. Even if we knew, what exactly could we have done? What would we have done? Driven then away? How could we ever be sure that we’d rooted out every last one of those creatures? What would stop them from waiting for us to fall asleep before insinuating themselves once again into our homes?

They came sneaking into town on foot, padding softly on their quiet feet. They didn’t come in groups, not even in groups of two or three. No, they crept in one at a time, and each one searched out his own hiding place. Every one of those strange, scarecrow-like urchins clutched a small stone figure as he walked. None of us caught a very good a look at the rough gray stone, but we all agreed it was about the size of a bag of potatoes, and though they hugged it close to the chest it couldn’t have weighed more than five or ten pounds, because all of those weird, unearthly fellows were small, bony, weakly-looking things, about as skinny as my little finger, and as tall as a ten-year-old boy.

Old Charlie Dipp got the best up-close-and-personal look at one of the tatterdemalions. He was only one who actually spoke with one of them, although the conversation was all on his side. Purely by chance, Charlie came upon one of them bedding down in his back garden. “He was lying there, cool as you please, in the ivy under my dining-room window. He settled himself down as though it was a real bed, a bed for sleeping, instead of a bed of ivy. Well, sir, I was thunderstruck. At first I thought he was a boy, a runaway, a beggar, an orphan, or the like. Just as I spoke the words now, lookee here it struck me that the poor little thing was naked! Buck naked, I say. But I was wrong: the dern fool wasn’t naked at all. As it happened, the clothes he was wearing were all thin and gray, the same color his skin. And, yes, I said his skin was gray: He didn’t have a healthy look on him at all. I wouldn’t have given two cents for the state of his constitution, but let me tell you something: that pipsqeak had the biggest pair of eyes you’ve ever seen in your life. Now, you may believe that a horse has a large pair of eyes, but if you’d seen a peleng tarsier you’d know what you’re about. Now that’s a pair of peepers to write home about!”

peleng tarsier
The dreaded peleng tarsier

“I can’t say that those big, bulbous eyes did much for my nerves, gentlemen, but there we were: I looked at him, he looked at me, and I says to him, I says, Here, boy, we can’t have you lying in my garden, now, can we? It just isn’t done! I said as much, or words to that effect. Well, sir, he opened his lips as if he were about to respond, perhaps to comment on his situation or his intentions, so I harkened, but when that slip of a rascal got to his feet, I’ll be damned if he didn’t say a word. So I asked the fellow his name. I asked him who his parents were, and where he hailed from, but he didn’t say a blasted word. He turned away, and off he trotted, as easy as you like, and then he was gone.

“It goes without saying that — like the rest of his dastardly crew, that same wizened-up munchkin came back later, and by cripes if he didn’t worm his way into my basement, where he bedded down — this time in our laundry room.”

That’s how it began, for all of us, at least as far as we knew. Why they came, where they came from, what on earth they were up to — we had nary an inkling.

The likeliest thing is that the little fellows came from space. Outer space. It stands to reason. Surely there was no place on our lovely verdant planet, that could produce such an abomination. The worst hell-hole on earth would never spawn these horrors. Likewise, no laboratory, no scientist, could ever be mad and bad enough to cook up such a set of gollums. If by some horrid mistake they had done so, they never would have set them loose on humanity.

No, space was the only source that made any sense at all. If you’re looking for weirdness, for inscrutable motivations, for an unending factory for the unexplained, you can’t beat outer space.

What did those little space devils do? As I said, they snuck into town: quiet, skinny lads with big heads, big eyes, and toothpick legs. Every man-jack of ‘em with his long frail arms wrapped around his very own, individual, rough stone idol.

They crept into every house, every house that had an adult male in it.

And there they bedded down: in the backyard, in the basement, behind couches, in spare bedrooms or even closets, as close as they could come to their targets. They lay there, blinking their big eyes, listening, cradling the stone, not moving, scarcely breathing, until the man of the house, the human man, closed his eyes and fell into a slumber.

Only then did the little man, the weird little gray extraterrestrial, sit up and slip off his small flat backpack. He silently opened it up and carefully lifted out the contents. Those otherworldly rucksacks held nothing but a single set of clothes. Every little man laid out the clothes as carefully as a butler might, preparing them carefully for the morning of the day to come.

Once done, the diminutive horror laid himself back down with a sigh, taking the stone idol back into his arms, and he’d wait attentively, clasping his treasure, as if listening to assure himself that the man of the house was still in the arms of Morpheus.

In my house, for example, I’d gone to bed as I always did: alongside Peg, my wife of thirty years. I never had a bit of trouble falling asleep, and that night was no different: my sleep was deep and dreamless. Little did I know, but one of those scrawny villains had wormed his way into the storage room in my basement. As my eyes fluttered shut, so did his. As my breathing slowed and deepened, so did his.

We both slept, dreaming and breathing in an infernal sympathy. While we slept, the pair of us, his stony treasure worked its evil magic, sucking the soul and essence out of me, drawing my spirit down to my basement, and replacing it with the mind and heart of that hellion from the cosmic ether. By degrees I was ousted from the body I called my own: the body I was born with, the body in which I grew to adulthood. Evicted! Cast out! Dispossessed, driven utterly away, and replaced by an interplanetary fiend.

His deviltry didn’t stop there, however! Not with me, and not with any other man in town!

The soul, the mind, the consciousness of each adult male was drawn into a little stone idol. There was a scoundrel ready to replace every one of us, and a stone ready to receive each one of us. The exogeological lump became our destiny. Each of us was drawn into the nearest stone, where we were captured, fixed, constrained, and confined therein. Once we filled our crystalline prisons, once we were wholly ensconced in those mineral jails, the stones commenced their second act: they began to change, warm, and transform.

No, we were not condemned to be trapped in stone. Instead, the stones softened. They grew. They moved and shifted. They sprouted arms and legs and heads. Now, animated by our human spirits, they undertook a new form, a new life. Happily, that new form and life was a human form, but not one to which any of us were accustomed.

My invader woke that morning in my bed, next to my wife. The infernal impostor smiled and greeted her, and she greeted him, unaware that any change had taken place. Why would she? He looked like me! He sounded like me! He wore my clothes, he occupied my bed, my home, my life! How could my dear wife imagine that this loathsome horror from beyond space was anyone other than her loving husband?

On the contrary — I, me, myself — her actual loving husband and friend — woke that same morning at the same moment, but in my basement storage room! For a brief moment I found myself looking into those huge horrid eyes that came from the blackness of space. His arms held me, as they had once held the little stone idol. Now that his life, his animating spirit had left his own frame and taken occupancy of my body upstairs, his frail, gray carcass broke apart into tiny flakes of ash. His infernal spirit was gone, his grotesque cadaver was gone, and I found myself alone.

Not only was I alone, I was naked.

Not only was I naked, I had become someone else.

I had breasts! They were two lovely handfuls, but surely they weren’t mine!

Quite naturally I glanced between my legs and was astonished to discover as smooth a set of female equipment as I ever had the honor of beholding.

However — and to my own great surprise — the thing that astounded me the most of all was my skin: It had a freshness, a plumpness, a spring and vitality that made me recall my dear wife’s teenage years.

There was no mirror in the room, so I used my hands, my fingers to explore the unfamiliar features of my face: the tiny, beardless chin, the nose, reduced to half its accustomed size, and — surprise, surprise — a full head of soft, light brown hair, trimmed to a neat bob.

My feet and hands were small, my arms demure, my legs shapely. My buttocks seemed more than adequate.

All right, said I to myself, we’ve established that you’re a girl, and a cracking lovely one by all accounts. But what now? “Go I know not wither…”

I stood up, wishing for the first time in my life that a mirror were handy. Then I saw the clothes set out on the floor. Clearly those clothes were laid out for no one but me. Needs must, quoth I. One can’t run about this world naked, after all.

To no one’s marvel, the clothes fit me to a T. The bra, the panties, the pale yellow camisole, the socks and shoes. The outfit was completed by a light-brown pleated skirt and a soft, pastel blue sweatshirt.

Now dressed, I came out of the storage room and caught a glimpse — my first real glimpse — of the self I had become. A full-length mirror hung handily upon the wall. I used it to take stock of my situation: to all effects and appearances, I was a cute, petite, sixteen-year-old girl with clear skin and high cheekbones. As it turns out, I was exactly five foot three, sixty-three inches, 160 centimeters — exactly as tall as every other man in town.

The takeover was complete.

Little did I know then, but all across town, the same demented scene played out in house after house. In basements, gardens, and closets on every block on every street, a smallish devilkin opened his bright bug-eyes for the last time and disappeared as he crumbled to dust. At the same time, upstairs, in a proper bed, in a proper bedroom, the man of the house opened his normal human eyes as well, but behind his eyes was the essence of the bug-eyed creature from below. The full-grown human form now housed one of the ugly minikins who padded into town the previous night.

And in that same aberrant moment, that very moment, the rough stone idol that each spaceman clutched to his chest had grown into a lovely, smallish girl. No one could or would believe that this new miss, this utter stranger — as cute and apparently guileless as she appeared — was none other than the true paterfamilias, recently vacated from his own body and unceremoniously dumped into the soft form of a marvellous damsel, a mademoiselle, a heart-breaking schoolgirl.

What followed next betrayed a scheme of organization far beyond the limits of the town.

Bewildered as I was, I knew there was no way to avoid ascending the basement stairs to confront the world in the form I’d been given. Bewildered, yes, and in a state of shock, and yet quite sure of my own sanity. I made my way slowly up the rough wooden staircase and set my hand on the door to my kitchen. It struck me that I hadn’t yet considered how I would explain myself. How could I account for what I mistakenly believed to be my own unique condition. What would I say to my wife, to my daughter? Would they take me for a madman? A madwoman? A madgirl, if there were such a thing?

I was still searching for my bearings, seeking the most opportune words with which to open my apologia. Even before finding those words, after I explained — or at least gave shape to my bewildering change — what then? What next? Would I call my doctor? The police? The FBI? What branch of the government would best deal with an invasion from outer space? Or, if not a true invasion, at least the beginnings of one.

Imagine my surprise as I slowly pushed the door ajar, only to see my family, comfortably seated around the kitchen table, smiling, laughing, and eating flapjacks, as though all was right with the world.

Yes — my family. ALL of my family, Including me! There I was, large as life, smiling at my wife, as I held a forkful of griddle cakes dripping with maple syrup. As innocent as it seems and sounds, I can truly say that I have never beheld a scene that struck me with more distress and abhorrence.

I took a step toward the deranged spectacle. My jaw fell open in mute astonishment. I gestured with a shaking finger toward the impostor and whispered, You! I… you… me and then I shouted ”NO!!!”

“It’s another one!” my daughter cried, her voice filled with fear.

Another one? What could she possibly mean?

My impostor-self made a calming gesture with his open palm. “Don’t excite yourself, dear,” he told my child. “I’ll take care of this one right now!” He strode dynamically across the room and without so much as a by-your-leave, seized me by the upper arm and dragged me with him into the dining room, across the living room, and finally to the front door. I was as helpless as a ragdoll, as powerless as a kitten. And yet, before he pulled open the front door, I managed to catch his eye and bleat out a soft, puzzled, But I’m you!

That ultraplanetary fiend dropped character for a moment. He paused. He looked me full in the face and his lips curled into a sneering, vicious smirk. He brought his face — my face — close to mine and spoke these words that only I could hear:

“You were me, but you’re not any more, and you never will be again.”

Then he whipped open the front door and half dragged me down my front walk. “Here’s another one!” he shouted.

If I was confounded by my own experience thus far, I was in no way prepared for the bedlam roiling in the street outside. My neighbors were there to a man, Harry Tappe to my left, Vernon Potts to my right, Chip Carpenter across the street, Dosse and Bunn to his right and left. We were all friends, all neighbors, and in that moment each man stood in front of his house, clutching the arm of a young girl. All of the girls looked exactly like me, at least as far I could tell.

“Where did they come from?” Harry called out in a perplexed voice to no one in particular, but I caught him giving a surreptitious wink to my double, the man who held my arm like a vise.

“Harry?” I called. I was speaking to the girl.

“Yes!” the girl cried. The man holding her arm glanced at me, then gave his girl a shake and told her not to speak again.

I turned to my right and caught the attention of the girl there. “Vern?”

“Yes!” he shouted. “Is that you, Bones?”

“Yes it is!” I exclaimed.

“That’s enough of that!” the man holding my arm shouted, and gave me a slap on the back of my head. I scowled, but held my tongue.

If I lifted my head I could see my entire block and about half of the nearby blocks. In front of every house was a young girl, a duplicate of me, held captive by what appeared to be a grown man of my acquaintance.

“What’s next?” I asked the creature who’d stolen my identity.

“You’ll see,” he assured me, with a wicked grin. “It’s coming soon. You’ll know it when you see it.” At that moment, I heard a dismal metal THUMP and a series of jaw-grinding squeals — the unequivocal sound of an inexperienced driver changing gears in an old truck: undoubtedly the rig was antiquated, but real problem was that the driver was inexpert. Several of us girls exchanged looks, but only the girl-who-was-Vern said it out loud: “They don’t teach kids how to drive a stick any more.”

Across the street, the girl-who-was-Chip raised her head and said, “Amen to that, brother!” The sentiment earned her a backhand from her captor, one that left a two-inch cut on her left cheekbone.

We listened in silence as the unseen driver struggled to put the truck into gear. The mechanical grunts, scrapes, thumps, and searing grinds were difficult to bear, since any girl present could have saved the transmission several decades of life.

At last Vern could endure it no longer. “Dear Lord!” he expostulated. “Let ME do it, for cripes’ sake!”

Vern’s holder was about to give her another violent shake, when the truck’s long-suffering gears meshed, and the truck roared to life.

“Will you look at that!” My impostor-self cackled. “Here comes your ride, little miss, right on schedule!” He smiled down at me, a smile that filled me with horror and loathing. “Your chariot awaits,” he told me with a throaty chuckle.

Chevy truck

A short flatbed truck, a superannuated Chevy, rattled and shook as it made its way slowly up the street. It bucked and lurched like a mechanical bull. The bed was fitted with old wooden rails, and one of my neighbors, Callum Abercrombie, from the next street over, stood on the truck’s running board, hanging tightly to the side mirror as if for dear life.

“Och, lads!” he called, in his broad Scots accent, “Can ye see this? We’re breemin’ ower wi’ lassies!” In fact, the truck was loaded with girls, all of them twins to me and every other girl. They stood, penned in the back on the flatbed, packed like sardines with barely room to breathe. They squealed in mortal fear and pain at every heave and jerk of the rusty relic.

“This truck’s ready to skedaddle aff. It will return directly. You’ll have to keep a tight hold of your wee bonnie snappers until then.”

To my surprise, the spacemen were not at all on the same page regarding this development. There were some groans and protests, demands as to why a more adequate vehicle hadn’t been found, or a better driver, or why several trucks were not on hand. One man offered to grab several handfuls of cable ties “to make things easier.”

Callum, who always possessed a stentorian voice, explained over and over that the present truck was “lippit wi’ the wee rockets” and needed to “get tae.”

During the general disorder, A group of girls managed to lift one of the wooden rails out of the slots that held it to the flatbed. They let it fall to the roadway with a loud clatter, and soon there were girls everywhere, running in every direction.

There weren’t many rocks to be found on our streets or in our yards, but those that *were* found were quickly launched at our attackers, often to good effect. Pandemonium ensured. The air was thick with shouts and cries.

The disorder was raised to fever pitch by a disorder in the engine of the ancient truck. It let off the loudest boom! of a backfire, followed by a rapid salvo of three smaller: Pow! Pow! Pow! The truck pitched and yawed violently and trembled like a man holding a jackhammer. The engine took to roaring like wild beast, revving like a jet engine, and then hissed like a demonic steam furnace.

The truck threw up such a din, all our thoughts went to our own survival and safety. Whatever individual threads were being followed before the mechanical hullabaloo, they were lost, dropped, and trampled underfoot.

Between the shaking, the revving, and the hissing, most of us — human and alien alike — got the clear message that the truck’s clear intention was to blow us all to kingdom come. If the truck were to make good on its threat, and really explode, there was plenty of old heavy steel in that rust bucket, and the smallest piece could do more damage than a bullet from a gun.

Those who understood the danger took to their heels straight off.

To those who remained — who hadn’t yet understood the threat, the truck further escalated its dire warning: it began to buck like a bronco, rearing up on its back tires, lifting the front tires a full three feet off the ground, crashing down, and rearing up again. The driver had the devil’s own time of it. He clearly wanted to descend from this juggernaut’s car, but the vehicle would not let him go. The driver managed to open the door, but he was utterly incapable of passing through the opening. The truck shook and tossed him like an apple in an empty barrel.

The driver’s desperate struggle, the wheeze and roar of the machine, the lurch and crash of the chassis were terrifying.

I turned to the-girl-who-was-Vern. She was staring open-mouthed at the bedlam. Our keepers were nowhere to be seen.

“Vern!” I shouted. “In the words of the immortal bard: Stand not upon the order of your going, but go at once!

“What are you going on about?” she shouted back.

“Let’s get the hell on out of here! That thing’s gonna blow!”

We took off in a flash, running down my driveway, through my backyard, over the fence, across a field, and into the woods beyond.

One benefit of the rejuvenation we’d undergone was that the pair of us had plenty of wind. Vern and I ran and ran and didn’t stop running until we came upon a thick manzanita bush. I stooped and peered inside. “Follow me,” I told my companion, and pushed my way inside. One thing about manzanita — it’s a shrub that tends to grow more outward than upward, often leaving a hollow space inside, like a room. When I was a boy, I’d several times sheltered from the rain inside a manzanita bush. For now, it was a perfect hiding place.

Once we settled down, Vern pointed at my right hand. “What happened there?” she asked, and pointed to a wide scratch that ran diagonally across the back of my left hand.

“I don’t know,” I said. “In all the excitement I didn’t notice when it happened.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Not yet,” I said, “but it’s not a big deal. I’ll have to clean it as soon as I get the chance.”

“In the meantime, you could lick it,” she suggested.

“I think I’ll wait.”

She looked around. “It’s like a little room in here.” Then her eyes trailed down to the scratch on my hand. “You know, there is a good thing about that scratch: it will let us tell each other apart.”

“I’m pretty sure I can tell the two of us apart,” I assured her.

“No, not me and you! When we meet up with the others. We all look the same, except that you have that.” she pointed to my hand again. “For the rest of us, we’ll have to find some of those HELLO, My Name Is stickers, or we’re going to be in a real mess!”

“I think that’s the least of our problems,” I replied. “In any case, we can tell friend from foe. Anyone who looks like us is a good guy.”

“That’s true,” Vern admitted. After a few moments of silence, she asked me whether I had any sort of food on my person.

“No,” I said. “I haven’t had a bite myself. But first things first: we’ve got to get away, and find someplace safe.”

Vern didn’t seem to hear what I said. Instead, she began patting herself down around her midsection, as if she was looking for something. “I thought this skirt had pockets… ah! Yes! Here they are!” With that, she extracted a light-blue pack of cigarettes and a yellow plastic cigarette lighter. After putting a cigarette between her own lips, she held the pack out to me, offering. “No, thanks,” I told her. She shrugged and lit up. Once I smelled that smoke in the air, I told her, “Okay, give me one.”

I drew a puff and let it out slowly. Peering through the leaves, I saw two more girls arriving, so I climbed out of our hiding place. Vern followed. The first girl had a cut across her cheek. She gestured with her chin at our cigarettes and said, “You shouldn’t smoke. It’ll stunt your growth.”

“I’m sure that’s not the greatest of our problems,” I told her.

She scratched her eyebrow. “Those things’ll kill you.”

“If the spacemen don’t catch us first.”

“Spacemen?” she repeated. “Who says there are spacemen? And why would they want to kill us?”

“Who do you think those guys were, back there? The ones who stole our identities? Do you think they just wandered in from Wichita?”

Vern snickered and repeated, “Wandered in from Wichita.” She took another puff and said in a goofy, affected tone, “Hello, my name is WALL-dough. I am a walrus and I have wandered in from Witch-it-TAW.”

“Is she high?” the other girl asked. “Are those regular cigarettes, or what?”

“Unless I’m gravely mistaken,” said the girl with the cut on her cheek, “She’s not high. She’s Vernon Potts. Vern was just born goofy.”

“Yes, that’s Vern,” I confirmed. “And I’m Bones. And you—” I said, pointing to the girl with the cut cheek— “are Chip Carpenter."

“Guilty as charged,” she admitted. “My friend here is Dexter Bunn.”

I smiled. “Anyway, the cigarettes are normal tobacco, right, Vern?”

“Yeah, sure,” Vern replied. “Why wouldn’t they be? I lifted them — I confiscated them off my daughter yesterday evening. What — did you think they rolled down from Rockaway?”

I shook my head and sighed. Two more girls joined us, and everyone asked for smokes, even Chip. Soon we were puffing away like a half-dozen middle-schoolers. For a moment, it seemed like we’d all forgotten not only the bizarre events of that morning but also our current aspect.

Then, one of the girls asked, “It’s weird as hell, isn’t it? Why on earth did they turn us into teenyboppers?”

“And why do we all look the same?” asked another.

“They gave us what amounts to a school uniform, didn’t they.”

“Why would they send us to school?”

“I don’t think they were sending us to school,” I said. “They were rounding us up. I think our appearance and our clothes were meant to make us invisible, in a way. It turns us into a group, so it’s easier to explain: a school trip gone awry, maybe? Something like that.”

“Okay,” I said, stubbing out my cigarette against the sole of my shoe. “I hate to break up the conversation, but we need to get moving. We’ve got to figure out somewhere safe to go and then we’ve got to get there. There’s an invasion going on, and we are apparently the targets in this conflict.”

“I know a place we can go,” one of the girls suggested. “It’s outside town, not too far in that direction—” (she pointed) “It’s off the beaten path. It’s fairly well overgrown and hidden.”

“Is it the old orphanage?” Vern asked.

“It was never an orphanage,” the other girl explained. “It was a girls’ school, a boarding school.”

“Why couldn’t it be both?” Vern asked. The other girl opened her mouth to answer, but with a discreet shake of my head, I told her not to bother.

We didn’t see anyone chasing us, so we took our time, accumulating more girls as we walked.

On the way we discussed the truck and its driver. We speculated on the possible mechanical cause of its extravagant swan song and whether it could possibly be solely and completely attributable to operator error.

“The problem I have with that,” Vern put in, “Is that you’ve got this fellow who drove a flying saucer from one end of the universe to the other, and yet and still he is unable to work a clutch.”

One of the girls burst into laughter and couldn’t stop for half a minute. “I’m sorry,” she apologized, “but when she said about the — uh, uh — the clutch!” And she was overcome with peals of laughter.

“Whatever,” I said. “Anyway, your man may not have been the driver, and who says that driving an interstellar ship can prepare you for driving an old Chevy?”

Chip cleared her throat. “Now, Bones, I’m sure that no one could fail to agree that a spaceship must be exponentially more difficult to drive than a old Chevrolet pickup truck.”

“I think the evidence is against you,” Vern insisted. “Did you see that fool bouncing around in the cab? He looked like a kernel of popcorn, popping over and over.”

The laughing girl sniffed and panted, but managed to stop giggling.

“I disagree,” Chip remonstrated. “His handling of the truck shows that he was not a driver at all. I doubt that they allowed him anywhere near the controls of their flying saucer.”

“Well,” Vern retorted, “Have you considered that the controls of their highly-sophisticated spacecraft might amount to nothing more than a big blue button marked GO?”

“Why wouldn’t it be red?” Chip asked. “If it was only one button, I’d expect it to be red.”

“Red would mean it was an emergency,” Vern objected.

By the time we reached the school grounds, we were 18 strong. Two of the girls went off to bring their friends out of hiding, and came back with another dozen. All of us were as identical as could be.

Vern immediately brought up the issue of name badges. “Can we set that issue aside for now?” I asked. “I mean, what difference does it make what name we had or what name we take?”

“Well, you’re in charge,” one girl said. “And we know you’re you because you’ve got that scratch on your hand. So what do we call you?”

“My friends called me Bones,” I answered, “but at the moment I don’t see how that matters.”

“We could get one of those what-do-you-call-ums,” Chip suggested. “A Sharpie. We could write our names on our foreheads.”

“Uh, no,” one of the girls objected. “The hand, maybe. The back of the hand. But no foreheads. We’ll just end up with silly jokes being played.”

“The fact is,” Chip announced, “We don’t know anything at all about what we are or why. Will we age? Are we actual females? I mean, will we undergo menstruation, and potentially childbirth? We need more information on our present condition.”

At the mention of childbirth, several of our number turned pale.

“I know one thing about our condition, or whatever,” Vern informed us. “At least, I know what we’re called. So that might help.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Might I point out that we’ll have no trouble identifying Vern,” Chip chuckled. “The moment she opens her mouth, the identification will be incontrovertible.”

“What do you mean, Vern?” I asked. “What we are called? What are you talking about?”

“It’s what the spacemen call us,” Vern replied. “Callum Abercrombie said it: we’re Wee Bonnie Snappers. WSB for short.”

“Vern, that's just a Scottish phrase. He means cute little girls or something like that. He wasn’t using it as a technical term or as a name.”

“It’s as good a name as any,” another girl said. “It will make it easier to talk about the elephant in the room, when we get around to acknowledging it.”

“Of which particular elephant are you thinking?” I asked. “There are a number of elephants vying for our attention.”

The girl stood up and blew out a long breath. “The question is: How big is this invasion? Is this where it began? Are we the only Snappers, or has every man in the state, the country, or even the world been affected?”

“And who can we trust?” another girl piped in. “I don’t know if anybody here was on the police force, but I feel pretty sure that the real Chief Block and all his men are now running around with bare knees and pleated skirts.”

She paused for a moment to let it sink then. Then: “Widen the circle: what about the sheriff’s office? How about the state police? The FBI? Hell, how about the CDC?”

We sat in silence for a spell. We were hemmed in by our own ignorance.

“We need to get a radio,” I observed. “Or some newspapers.”

“What we really need is food,” Vern said. “I’m going to look through the kitchen and see if there’s a pantry or a store room.” With that, she left the room.

“How about this?” someone said. “Once Vern comes back, we can go — all of us together — and search this place from top to bottom. We’ll see where the bathrooms are, we’ll decide where we can sleep. We can try to find a radio or a TV.”

“Does the electricity work?” a girl asked. “I mean, is the power on?”

“Yes, it’s on,” I said, but we have to be careful not to use the lights. We don’t want to draw attention, make it easy for the spacemen to find us.”

“We could take out all the light bulbs,” came the suggestion.

“Good idea,” I agreed.

After that, we kind of devolved into a general chat. We went around the room, sharing names, recounting our experiences. It didn’t take long, because our experiences, like our current appearance, were virtually identical.

There was one girl who resisted giving her name. But only at first. After a bit of cajoling, her reserve gave way. “Okay,” she said. “I’m not one of you. I mean, I only got into town yesterday. I’ve never been here before, and I had no intention of staying. I was going to get an early breakfast somewhere and then catch a bus to Reno. To tell the truth, I’m on — I mean I was on the run. So in a way this is good for me, losing my past. Although it’s at quite a cost.”

“Even so,” I said, “What’s interesting is that there was a creepy little guy and his little stone idol, all ready for you, which is, um, interesting.”

After that, we fell into a general silence. After a minute or so, Vern returned from the kitchen, grinning like mad, covered with dust. Her palms were black.

“Good news!” she cackled. “There is plenty of food! I found a storeroom downstairs that is packed, jam-packed, with instant mashed potatoes and government cheese.”

“Instant potatoes?” came the question. “Is that a real thing?”

“Of course it’s real!” Vern enthused. “You just add water! And the government cheese is, will, uh, well — We have cheese!”

“Why do you call it ‘government cheese’?”

Vern, clearly bewildered by the question, replied “Because that’s what it is. It’s government cheese. It’s cheese, and it’s from the government. It comes in huge blocks and the wrapper Gift from the Department of Agriculture. It’s processed cheese, cheddar cheese.”

Vern observed that her news was not evoking any joy, so she pointed out, “It’s food. And there are other storage rooms downstairs. Who knows what we’ll find in them!” She clapped her hands together, making a small cloud of black dust.

“Probably spam,” one girl muttered.

“Instant spam,” another said. “Just add water.”

“Just add lard.”

Vern’s face fell.

“Okay, everybody,” I said. “Vern went to the trouble of finding something edible. It’s food. I think you’ll find that hunger is the best sauce. So, thank you, Vern.”

Everyone looked around from face to face, from eye to eye. Now that we’d talked a bit, now that we understood something about what had happened to us, now that we’d gotten an idea of the extent of our ignorance, but most of all, now that we knew what was for dinner, our collective spirits deflated.

After a brief and fearful silence, a girl who hadn’t spoken yet let out a forlorn whisper that was heard by all: What are we going to do? she cried. What are we going to do? It summed up our desperation and isolation. Where could we look for help? What are we going to do? The hopeless phrase echoed in all our hearts.

… or nearly all.

“What are we going to do?” Vern repeated. “What are you talking about? Isn’t it obvious? We’re going to find a great big pot and cook up some potatoes and cheese!”

Julie Newmar as the devil



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