:: Article

The Replacements

By Rhys Timson.

When the alien overlords came, they did not arrive in giant spaceships intent on destroying the earth, nor were they hulking metal invaders or slathering, poly-mouthed monstrosities. They were small, delicate creatures – helpless-looking really – but they made it clear they were here to rule. Mankind had had its day – they were our replacements.

I was in the woods, camping alone, when it started. I’d told Carol I needed some time to think about where our relationship was going, but I’d spent most of the time sitting under the canvas porch drinking whiskey macs with my cagoule hood tight around my head. I hadn’t looked in a mirror in over a week.

I was packing up when I got the call from Bodge.

“Don’t go home,” he said. “Meet me in the bunker.”

“Carol’s expecting me,” I said.

“They’re here man,” he whispered. “Did you not see the meteor shower?”

He told me they’d come down a few days ago, with shooting stars that seemed innocuous at first – but then people started acting weird. The prime minister was on the news telling everyone everything was fine, but people were acting like zombies – without the cannibalism.

“You can tell the ones who’ve been got to by the way they look,” Bodge said. “They’ll be totally exhausted, they’ll be unable to say almost anything interesting, they’ll be dressed badly like they don’t care anymore, If you speak to one, they’ll tell you they’re happy but they’ll look suicidal.”

“What do you mean? I said. “What’s wrong with them?”

“They’ve been got. They’re hosts now. I’ve seen them man – their little big heads and their vacant little eyes. They’re space parasites, like face-huggers but on the chest – chest-huggers. They like women more than men. They’re everywhere. The government’s been taken over. Carol’s been got too – I saw her yesterday and she was looking for you. Don’t go home, man. I’ve seen them take two people at a time.”

Of course, home is exactly where I did go, figuring Bodge had been smoking something again.

Everything seemed normal on my street – a little quiet, but not the apocalypse. I pulled the car into the driveway and got out. The lights were on in the living room, the electric aura seeping around the edges of the curtains. I closed the car door quietly, leaving my kit in the boot. I wasn’t sure how happy Carol would be to see me. I’d left pretty suddenly. Somehow, she heard me coming. I had my key poised for the lock when the door swung open.

“It’s you,” she said.

“It’s me,” I replied.

“You look awful…and you stink too.”

“I’ve been camping.”

“I know where you’ve been,” she said. “Are you finished with it?”

“With what?”

“Living like a hobo.”

“I’d like a shower.”

She stepped away from the door. “You’d best come in.”

“A shower, a shit and a shave, that’s what I need,” I said – but she didn’t laugh. I started to notice how tired she looked, how drawn and taut her skin was. She was dressed in this old, black flannel dressing gown with bits of dried porridge stuck to the side.

“Have you lost weight?” I said.

“Jim, we need to talk.”

And that was when I saw it. The right-hand side of her dressing gown slipped down a little and I caught a glimpse of its pink, bulbous head leering at me from the shadows, its tiny arms clinging tight to her side, its little lips wet from feeding on her. Its mouth dropped open and it began to scream – alerting its kind to the presence of the uninfected. I looked up at Carol and saw her beautiful brown eyes were now the colour of dusty earth. She was a goner – what Bodge would later call a ‘half wife’ – a slave to the creatures. I backed out, stumbling along the driveway to my car. I headed straight to Bodge’s basement.

“What kept you?” he said, when I came clattering down the stairs.

“I went to Carol’s,” I said. “I have to save her.”

Bodge cracked open a can of lager and handed it to me, frothy beer-juice running over my hands.

“There’s nothing you can do,” he said. “She’s lost to us now.”

“So what do we do?” I said.

“We resist,” he replied. Then he picked up a replica gun attached his games console and pulled a silent trigger.

We soon found out we weren’t alone. There were others holding out – the resistance – but there was no official opposition. The government, the army, everyone who counted, they were rolling over and pretending like nothing was happening. We came to understand they were all under the control of our extra-terrestrial replacements. Beneath their suits, their jackets, their blouses – was one of those little critters sucking them dry, controlling their every thought and move so that their lives were no longer their own. The world was run being run by the critters – to what end, we did not know.

It came down to basements full of desperate, unshaven men – creased shirts, holey jeans, beer-slicked moustaches and long hours target practice on games consoles (live ammo was in short supply). Generally, the women fell like we knew they would – the fairer sex was the weaker sex – and few lasted beyond the first months of the occupation. They were never strong enough to resist the replacements’ powers for long and they joined the ranks of the thralls. All it took was one look from the aliens, and the women were swooning. They couldn’t see them for what they were. The mind control was too powerful. And slowly, our merry band began to disappear.

At one time there were eight of us in the bunker: Bodge and me – of course – and then Ray, Jason, Matt, Elvis, Ginge, Big John and Alan. We kept each other in good spirits while the world went to hell outside, falling under the replacements’ spell – society ordering itself only around their needs. But they began to peel off. Jason told us he needed to go back to his old place to get some things, but he just never came back. A few weeks later, we saw him walking in endless circles around the park with his old girlfriend – and we knew she’d been got. He gave Bodge and I a look as if he didn’t recognise us, and we saw the shifting bulge of the replacement beneath his girl’s jacket. He’d been mind-washed. Most replacements took more than one host – and once they’d latched onto a woman they usually sought a man next, their oily suckers poking out from their corpulent little organ sacs in search of a Y chromosome. They got Matt after that, then Ray. They left for supplies and we never saw them again. Sometimes I think they wanted to be got, that they couldn’t handle the resistance life anymore. They gave themselves up.

Things were looking grim. There were just five of us left and Big John and Ginge were getting serious cabin fever. Then, one day, Bodge made a discovery.

We’d known for a while that alcohol repelled the creatures – but only to an extent. Get too close and they’d still make you theirs, maybe just out of spite – especially if they already had a woman. They were dangerous, these possessed women – the half-wives. They moved quickly and they didn’t let up. So you had to be careful, drink just enough to keep you safe, not too much to make bad judgements. The tipsy survived but the drop-down drunk got beholden. Bodge had been working on a formula for a while – a kind of repellent spray – something to keep us safe in the outside world. He came racing down the basement stairs one morning to say he’d done it – he’d had his eureka moment. He’d spent the whole night in the company of thralls, half-wives, the beholden – and nothing. He’d watched as the pulsating little creatures – latched onto all that surrounded him – turned and shrieked at his presence, driving their host humans away and leaving a kind of cordon sanitaire surrounding him. Bodge called it a ‘circle of life’. With his repellent on, not even crazed half-wives would come within ten feet of him.

“Six parts lager, two parts gin, one part whiskey, half a curry, and thirty cigarettes,” he said.

“Is it a cure?” I asked.

He narrowed his eyes at me. ”Don’t you see?” he said. If we manufacture this on a global scale all men in the world will be safe.”

“Will it work on women?”

“The women are all gone, man.”

He put his hand on my shoulder and signalled to Alan. Alan nodded at Big John and Big John reached into the fridge and pulled out a beer. Bodge caught it with his other hand and lifted the ring pull up with just one finger.

“Only the strong survive,” he said.

But I was gone that very same evening, as soon as the ‘resistance’ had passed out in front of Modern Warfare 3. I took Bodge’s formula, spraying some on myself and keeping more in an atomiser, and headed to Carol’s. I’d been thinking about her for months, wanting so badly to see her again, though I hadn’t told anyone. That was quitter talk. That was the kind of talk that got Jason, Matt and Ray suckered. The lights were on when I pulled up, just like before. It was amazing to see how similar the world looked despite the change in ownership – how everything seemed to run as normal. I knew that was one of their tricks, but still.

I rang the bell, atomiser at the ready, hoping that Bodge’s formula really worked, praying it was strong enough to drive the monstrous little creature out of Carol.

She opened the door. She was in the same dressing gown, just with different stains. I’d heard Ginge say the half-wives had a peculiar odour, and he was right. There was a stench like runny faeces, like someone with a bowel problem. I began to worry Bodge’s repellent would not be strong enough, but I’d already said hello, already looked in Carol’s eyes. The replacement was not in view, but Carol had frozen me to the spot.

“Come to rescue me?” She said.

I nodded, and she backed into the house. I stepped inside. Beyond the smell, it was nice in there, like I remembered it – warm, bright and comforting. The aliens obviously liked to live well.

“Carol,” I said, and I had the atomiser at the ready. I saw the folds of her dressing gown begin to fall back as the hiding thing prepared to reveal itself.

“What is it you’re so afraid of?” she said, seeing my wide eyes.

“You’re not you,” I said. “You’re not who you are.”

She seemed to glide closer to me, like she was hovering – there was no sound. I was shaking, one hand on the atomiser and one hand held out to ward her off. I could sense my moment, but I could also feel it slipping away. My vision blurred, pulsed, narrowed to just a tiny pinhole focus on Carol and her auburn hair and her large, freckled nose and the gap between the sides of her dressing gown, the creamy white skin of her neck guiding my eyes down and then, before I could stop her, she was inches from me. My hands were slick with sweat. I lost my grip on the atomiser.

“Carol,” I said. “I won’t give you my life. I won’t give up, not even for you.”

“Shhhh,” she whispered, and she took hold of my free hand and guided it slowly, purposefully, between the folds of her dressing gown and onto her chest.

“Now there,” she said. “How frightening is that?”

And that’s when I felt its strange, alien heart beating. And I was lost to the world of men.

Rhys Timson lives in North London and has previously been published by Aesthetica, Opium and Literary Brushstrokes. Last year, he won a fellowship to attend the Summer Literary Seminars in Vilnius.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, March 28th, 2013.