The Banshee Raiders | By: Dallas Releford | | Category: Short Story - Horror Bookmark and Share

The Banshee Raiders

The Banshee Raiders Dallas Releford On a hot July summer day, in a small Kentucky town, Old Man Matthew Riley used his cane to poke his way down the sidewalk toward Hadley’s Hardware Store managing to avoid a few pedestrians and several kids who seemed to always be in a hurry. “Damn kids,” he muttered. “They would run you down if you didn’t watch out for yourself.” “What can I do for you, Mr. Riley?” Edward Hadley stood behind the counter with a cheerful grin on his face. He had known the old man since he was a kid. “Kind of hot for you to be out, isn’t it?” “My kind of weather,” Riley responded smiling. “I need a couple of boxes of twelve gauge shotgun shells.” “Expecting trouble?” “Foxes,” he said as his smile faded. “Got several of my chickens.” “Are you sure it wasn’t the cicadas? Sure are enough of them this year to carry off all your chickens.” Edward Hadley looked at the old man as he walked over to the shelf where he kept ammunition. Taking two boxes down, he put them on the counter. “There is a lot,” Riley agreed opening his old worn wallet. “Never saw so many of the things in my life. However, cicadas don’t bother nothin’ much. Birds and chickens eat them. They destroy a few trees, I guess. Nope, it’s foxes. I saw a couple of them the other night.” “I guess you’re right,” Mr. Hadley agreed. “We do have a lot of those critters around here, too.” Riley looked at Hadley and handed him a ten-dollar bill. “Uh-huh. Can you imagine what it would be like if those cicadas were a lot bigger?” “What makes you say that? They’re plenty big enough for me. I don’t think I’d want to be around if they were bigger. I guess it would scary though.” “Maybe so,” Riley said as he took his change and counted four dollars and twelve cents. “I reckon it would at that. Seems that I once read that millions of years ago even cockroaches were bigger along with everything else. Since I’m a scientist, I think about such things sometimes. It keeps the brain cells working. These days, that’s quite an accomplishment.” Hadley nodded. “Well, let’s hope they don’t get any bigger. Is there anything else?” “Nah,” Riley said. “This will do. I’ll see you, Ed.” He took the bag with the shells in it and walked out of the store. With the bag in one hand and the cane in the other, he hobbled down the street, passed the Hustonville Bank and Savings Company then turned left on Main Street. At the bottom of the hill, just before he reached the old covered bridge, he turned right into his driveway. “Sure is a scorcher,” he said to nobody in particular. Glancing up at the hot summer sky, he noticed tall white thunderheads in the west. “Just the right kind of day for a party,” he said. “Cold beer, a few sandwiches and Martha and me could have a real good time.” Remembering times past, he could never get it out of his mind that Martha, his wife died twelve years ago. He lived alone in the same big white wooden frame house they had built when they got married. “Who knows? Maybe we will have a party.” Noisy cicadas sang their delirious songs from lofty boughs in maple, oak and popular trees that surrounded his home. Looking up into the trees, stopping for a few minutes to catch his breath, he said, “I knew you would come back. They won’t be far behind. I know that and you probably know that too. They just can’t resist the temptation, can they?” The cicadas ignored him and continued singing. Hot wind caressed his weathered face and nearly blew his old gray felt hat from his head. Beneath the floppy brim, his tired blue eyes studied the trees and bushes. Walking around the house, he gazed off across the field toward the coolness of distant woods. “They’re out there,” he said to himself as if trying to convince himself that he was right. “I know they’re coming back and I have to be ready for them. More than likely, they’re already here.” Opening the kitchen door, he walked into the sweltering furnace that was his home. Without fans, the place was barely livable in the summertime. Curtains on open windows swayed in a swift breeze that pushed them out like ghosts reaching for him. Putting the bag on the table, he took a soft drink from the refrigerator and sat down at the table. He had hardly removed the tab from the can and taken a drink when he heard the shrill cry in the distance. Sounding a little like a coyote howling it sent cold chills down his spine and he knew it was not a coyote he was hearing. What he heard was something so horrible he didn’t even want to think about them. The cicadas had appeared in May and he knew THEY wouldn’t be far behind. He had seen signs in the woods they had left behind. He had known it was only a matter of time before they appeared and now it had happened. He had a plan, however he would have to learn everything about them he could before he could implement his plan. Taking the shotgun shells out of the bag, he put them on the table. Walking to a closet in the hallway, he took out his old rusty automatic shotgun and walked back to the table supporting himself with his cane. After cleaning the gun, he loaded it and walked out the backdoor into the sweltering heat. His age, arthritis and diabetes made every step painful. Nonetheless, he knew he had to find out what they were up to, no matter how much it hurt or how dangerous it was. He knew their language. Now, he must learn their habits and their purpose for being here. Walking across the meadow, he entered the woods and walked toward the river. Even now he could hear its gently flowing waters as it trickled over stones and cascaded over miniature waterfalls. Cicadas sang their songs and on any other hot afternoon, he might have been content to lay in his swing on the front porch and let them entice him into dreamland, except now he had something else on his mind. Small holes were drilled into the ground everywhere he looked. Appearing as if crawdads or some other creature had emerged from the ground, he knew that cicadas had been the guilty culprits. Then his heart pounded in his chest and his mind numbed as he saw what he was looking for. His throat felt as if it might close restricting his airflow. Under a tall oak, in the shade of its branches, was a large mound of dirt almost eight feet tall, taller than he was. He knew that in the center of the hill was a hole that went deep into the earth. They had emerged from the ground already and if he were right—and he knew he was right—there would be many more of the mounds scattered all around him, maybe for several miles. The colony had arrived. Their arrival was nothing for him or anyone else to celebrate, except it meant that he could finally begin learning about them. Their arrival could only mean a horrible death for him and the rest of the human race. He knew what they looked like. The thought of their horrible appearance made him shiver. His mind drifted back to that day a long time ago in the Sahara when he had led an archeological expedition that was looking for evidence of an ancient civilization. They found the evidence they were seeking and something else. They found documented evidence that a strange race of insect-like creatures had emerged from the then fertile desert and devastated the ancient civilization. Among the records were drawings of the creatures and a revelation that they appeared every seventeen thousand years. Riley had presented the evidence to the US government. They formed a project to deal with the appearance of the creatures. Determining that the creatures would appear in the Midwest section of the United States before they appeared anywhere else, they appointed Professor Matthew Riley to head the project in the field. Riley set up his operations in his own home where he patiently waited and prepared for their appearance. Now, that time had come. He had to learn everything he could about them before implementing the plan. Stepping across a rotten log, he nearly fell before he grabbed a nearby bush and steadied himself. The thought of encountering the creatures made him dizzy, nauseated and it wasn’t until he thought about it for a couple of minutes that he realized he was terrified of the prospect. He never thought it would be this hard—except it was—and even harder than he could have imagined. What chance did a seventy-four year old man with diabetes, high cholesterol and a cyst inside his head have against hordes of the devils angels, Banshees from Hell? Except, he was the only person in the world that did have a chance. Professor Matthew Riley, as he freely admitted to himself, was the only one who had the knowledge and the expertise to defeat them. That’s why fate had brought him here, in this forest, at this particular time, to learn more about them. Other scientists had argued that crustaceans could not grow very big because their skeletons were on the outside of their bodies and would not support their body weight. It took Riley some time to demonstrate that these creature, nearly five feet tall were not insects, but something entirely different. They had skeletal structures similar to humans and a scaly skin on the outside that resembled the shell of creatures like crayfish. They were also intelligent. And, they were extremely dangerous. It was quiet here as he moved carefully through the forest, pushing bushes aside and watching vigilantly for any sign that they might be near. Images of them paraded through his mind as they had marched through his troubling nightmares. Large heads that looked like that of a grasshopper, except their heads were more rounded than those of grasshoppers, peered at him through foggy memories. Their eyes were larger and darker, looking like two black, glassy bubbles. Their mouths were slits with dark lips and long sharp teeth. With a light brown skin tone, they stood more than five feet tall. Standing upright, they walked on two muscular legs that ended in human-like feet. However, those feet had one difference, their toes had claws that were reptilian. Drawings on copper sheets found in the diggings in the Sahara showed some of the creatures wearing headgear similar to Roman soldiers, breastplates and body armor all indicative of some intelligence. Most of the creatures were naked and Riley had concluded that they were slaves or servants to a higher hierarchy. Riley had also concluded that they resembled the empty shell of a cicada nymph. He knew that the cicadas provided them with sustenance when nothing else was available. That was the reason they timed their appearance with that of the helpless cicadas. The cicadas were a main food source when other life was scarce. Knowing that every minute counted, that all life on earth was at risk, he made his way closer to the river. Before he knew what happened, he walked into an open area and was immediately surrounded by several of the creatures the ancients called Kodai. They carried tubular objects that they pointed at him. Uttering strange grunting sounds, they pointed at the objects and then at him. Understanding their strange mutterings and their body language, he knew they intended to kill him with the tubes if he tried to escape. Gathering all the courage he could muster, he studied the weapons. A simple gray tube made from metal ended in a round formation on one end. They pointed the tube at him so he guessed the weapon was some kind of laser or radiation device. The round part glowed with a deadly brilliance. “Well, I found you,” Riley said. “I want to speak with your leader.” He had practiced their language for months hoping that he could communicate with them. “I may have something to say that he will be interested in.” Surprised by the strange being that spoke their language, although somewhat haphazardly, the Kodai warriors gathered around him so they could get a better look. Curious, they poked their tubes into his stomach and ribs. Although the tubes didn’t penetrate his frail skin, the pain was almost unbearable. Riley knew it was their way of testing him to see what he would do. He dared not flinch or move. To do so might mean instant death. One of them grabbed his shotgun from his hands and slung it into the bushes. A voice of authority interrupted their painful game. “Who have you found?” the voice asked. Riley glanced toward the sound of the voice. It was deep and course sounding a little like a bullfrog might sound if it could speak. Before him stood a tall creature with large black eyes, brown skin and a horrifying face. In his hand he held a tube similar to the ones the other creatures were carrying. He wore golden armor with a breastplate made of a metal that looked like silver. On his head was a golden helmet inlaid with jewels. Knowing another opportunity to speak might not be possible he spoke before the soldiers could respond. Apparently, they were just as surprised to see the visitor as they had been to discover him. “They have found Professor Matthew Riley who has come to greet and welcome you,” Riley said. “I have many things to discuss with you. I know you have many questions for me.” Knowing that he had made a mistake, Riley could do little as the creature raised the tube and pointed it at him. Bright blue light emanated from the tube and when it struck Riley, all he saw was darkness. His body became numb, weak and he fell into the darkness. * * * When he awakened darkness was all around him except for the flicker of light from the flames of a nearby fire. His head ached, something dreadful squirmed in his stomach and he could hear ringing in his ears. Riley thought that he might have been struck by lightning or something worse. His bones ached until he wanted to scream. Suppressing his scream of agony, he glanced around him not knowing where he was. The firelight cast its dancing glow on nearby walls that appeared to be gray stone, probably limestone, he thought although he wasn’t sure. Overhead, the flickering light submitted to darkness and he realized he was in a cave and a big one at that. Knowing that the area was honeycombed with caverns, underground rivers and caves, he wasn’t surprised to learn where he was. He was somewhere underground. Numbness commanded his limbs and when he attempted to sit up, he realized why. Strong ropes or something similar bound his hands and legs. Desperate, he glanced toward the source of a noise, a stone tumbling down an incline hitting another stone, or a foot knocking a rock against another stone, he didn’t know except whatever had caused the noise was close. In the distance, he could hear the weird chatter of the creatures he had come to know as the Kodai, the Devils from the Ground. Watching a dark area of the cave where he had heard the noise, he finally saw several shadows moving toward him. In the distance, he heard an eerie scream echo through the many passageways of the cave. That scream sounded human and he cringed as his heart felt like it was a butterfly trying to fly right out of his chest. As tall shadows approached, the glistening light from the fire illuminated them. Riley felt every muscle in his body tense, his chest felt heavy and he knew he was going to die a horrible death. He could hardly breathe as he realized that he was alone and helpless. Trying to calm himself, to breathe regular and to cope as best as he could, he watched as three figures marched up and stood above him. These were the terrifying creatures he had seen on numerous copper scrolls, had encountered in his nightmares and the beings that had wiped out an entire civilization. They weren’t figments of his imagination, or something he had eaten for lunch, they were real. He could smell their pungent body odor as easily as he could smell the wood burning in the fire. Skunks with a raised tail smelled better than they did. They stood above him looking down on him as if he were an inferior species that was lower than they were. Riley felt as if he was under the lens of a microscope as he attempted to understand their chatter. His bones ached, his head hurt and he was terrified of their grotesque features. They moved like ants, sometimes slow and mechanical while at other times they were quick and methodical. One of them moved closer and kicked him. Riley wanted to touch his ribs where the blow had landed and force the burning pain away. With his hands bound behind him, he was helpless. He could do nothing except try to suppress the scream that was deep in his throat. Showing fear now would mean certain death. They enjoyed the horror, the pain and the suffering of their enemies. Blood, especially animal blood drove them to a furor of uncontested dynamism and violence. When Riley said nothing, the creature with the golden headdress—that Riley thought resembled something the Incas or Mayas might wear—walked over to him and kicked his hip. The creature spoke and Riley was able to stifle a scream that almost escaped from his dry lips. The pain in his hip only aggravated his already painful arthritis. “What do you want?” he asked. “I can’t understand you.” He spoke in their language as best as his memory would allow him. “Ar Ve sutor qi ventor,” the creature said. “You understand the pain, don’t you surface dweller?” The other two beings laughed and their voices echoed off the walls of the cave. “Senta Vi Maga Ex Lo Amanna,” he added. “You may as well get used to it.” At least the bastards have a sense of humor, Riley thought. “I’m Matthew Riley and I’ve come to welcome you. I hope that my visit will be met with the same respect that I have shown you. I wish to meet with your leaders and arrange a party for you on the surface. My people would be very happy to discuss common interests between our two species.” “Bah,” the being said. “I am Emperor Larthe Vadan and I do not negotiate with peasants. Ki Liva De Vo. You are in no position to receive respect. Our people have come to the surface, as we have for many years, to feed and learn new things like new technology. Before you die, you will tell me all that I want to know.” Riley felt his blood flow cold as ice and his mind was almost as numb as his limbs. Paralyzed by fear, mostly by his own inability to comprehend that such creatures as these really did exist, he knew that they had families, habits and traditions just as his race did. Even though they looked like the result of a mix of cicada and grasshopper genes, a collection that evolution had hastily thrown together at random, he knew from knowledge he had gained in Africa that they were intelligent and deadly. Without any conscience or remorse, they were born killers well suited for their murderous craft learned from centuries of practice. Brutal in the treatment of their enemies who seemed to be everyone and everything, they possessed one trait that Riley found unusual, they had a sense of pride in themselves and their accomplishments, whatever those were. “It doesn’t have to be this way,” Riley said. “We can live in peace and share the worlds resources.” “The way you have shared it with others of your kind,” Vadan said. “We have watched your development. You kill just as we do in order to survive. We know the outcome of becoming your friends. No, thank you. You have your ways and we have ours.” Pointing to one of the other creatures, he said, “This is Lord Coile Marz. Lord Marz is the commander of the forces that will conquer every living thing and make slaves of those we do not immediately kill for food. The flesh of many creatures will be transported below to feed our booming cities. Those of you that we do not kill will become our servants and provide us with education, knowledge and entertainment.” Riley knew that time was running out. Being the militaristic demons that they were, they would not tarry long with an old man who served no other purpose than to provide them with a little meat for their pots. He must act and he must convince them that he had something to offer them. “Well, I suppose that is a workable plan, except that you could save a lot of time and effort if you had someone to advise you on the defenses of those on the surface. In exchange for sparing the lives of my family, friends and me, I would be willing to help you.” Studying Larthe Vadan carefully, he wondered if his offer had tweaked his interest. “We do not need your help,” he said harshly. “Lord Merz is quite capable of gathering intelligence, discovering their weaknesses and providing our forces with the information they need.” “That may be true,” Riley said. “I’m quite sure that he is a capable commander. However, the earth people have weapons and technology they did not have when you were here before. They have bombs that can blow up the entire planet, secret aircraft that are invisible and soldiers that can’t be seen. They know you are here and they have gases they can drop into your tunnels and kill all of your people below. Those are just a few of the terrible things they have that will kill you. You are no match for them.” “Our scientists are working on weapons more terrible than yours,” the Emperor bragged pointing at Riley and laughing. “We outnumber you a thousand to one. You don’t really understand what you are up against.” “You don’t understand what you are up against,” Riley said hoping to break the stalemate. The arrogant bastard was convinced that their primitive weapons were far superior to all the power of every nation on earth. Then he wondered how the nations of the earth would react to such a threat. Could they all agree on a common defense? He doubted it, nonetheless he had to keep trying to convince the Kodai that they needed him. Otherwise, he was a dead man. “We have weapons that even most of our own people don’t know about. They are so terrible that all war on earth will end when they become known.” “War will never end,” Vadan said. “You must know that. Regardless, this conversation is growing stale. You will witness our ways and what is going to happen to your race before you die. Cut him loose and bring him to the outside. Before the night is over, he will beg for a quick death.” Riley felt his heart jerk and he thought he was going to have a heart attack as they cut his bonds and dragged him over rough stones and out the cave entrance. Blood oozed from many scratches and wounds and he wanted to cry out in pain except he knew that what he was suffering now was nothing in comparison to what awaited him. Riley stood looking at the horrible scene that was all around him and he wished he were dead. They were on top of a plateau that was about halfway up a mountain. He recognized the place immediately. He had played here when he was a child. This was Barber Mountain, a knob that was about ten miles from his home in the woods near the river. Darkness surrounded him and the only light was from a pale moon and a huge fire in the center of the encampment. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness and the roaring fire, he felt his heart beat faster as he realized that he was standing in the midst of over a hundred Kodai warriors. Even in the darkness, lightened only by the light from the fire, he could see their evil faces and feel their evil intent. Then he realized the purpose of their activities. This was a sacrificial gathering. They had invited him to dinner and he was part of the meal. In the center of the encampment, near the blazing fire were three stakes that had been driven into the ground. Three young naked women were tied to the posts facing the fire. Their eyes were wide in horror and their faces were as white as snow. Riley could see little life in those faces. Horror had taken them to the realm of insanity. Two tall warriors with barreled chests, broad hips and well-muscled arms were holding a young naked man who didn’t seem as if he were aware of what was happening. A long pole was on the ground in front of them. Riley knew what was happening. The thought of it turned his stomach. His heart ached with piety as they tied the man to the pole on the ground so he could not move. “We like our meat cooked slowly over a flame,” Lord Marz said as they tied Riley to a nearby post so he could watch. With his hands tied behind him, he was as helpless as he had been before. “We will save you for last,” he boasted. “Maybe by then, our stomachs will be filled and we’ll give your carcass to the animals down below in the woods.” “We can still talk,” Riley said. “It isn’t too late.” “It is too late for you,” Lord Marz said walking away. Pointing toward the young man, he commanded, “Prepare the meal. I lust for meat.” Lifting the young man who didn’t struggle until they had placed him over the hot flames on two supports, they laughed as he shrieked when the flames found his sensitive skin. Riley felt his heart almost stop beating. With tears flowing freely from his eyes, he tried to force the young mans’ tortured screams out of his mind and couldn’t. He was sure it was only a few minutes until he died, except it seemed much longer. As they turned him around over the fire like a pig roasting over the flames, they poured a dark, thick liquid over his body. The three women remained quiet too horrified to know what awaited them. Riley wondered if such a death could be avoided if he could just stop his own heart from beating. Instead of stopping, his heart beat faster. When the ordeal was over, Lord Marz stepped forward and tore flesh from the man’s body with his razor sharp claws. Without hesitation, he ate the meat as he watched the three girls with an interest that Riley had not noticed before. Was he sexually interested in them? Riley thought that might not be true because his method of reproduction was much different from humans. His question was answered when Lord Marz raised his hand and spoke loudly so that all could hear. “We have captured our first prisoners. There will be many more. Unlike your royal leaders who like their meat cooked, I know that you warriors prefer your meat bloody and the bloodier the better. So, we have provided you with three females of the species. You may have at them now.” Lord Marz stepped back and stood beside Emperor Larthe Vadan who also consumed meat from the man’s body. Servants brought more of the meat for them and for others when they were finished. As they ate, they watched with great interest as dozens of naked warriors descended on the three women and tore their bodies to shreds eating the bloody flesh as they fought each other for the favored parts. Their interest seemed to drift toward the flesh of the women’s buttocks and they fought for the opportunity of eating the delicious delicacy. “It is a marvel to watch,” Lord Marz told the Emperor. “We will see this repeated many times. Our people will never suffer hunger again.” “It is true,” Emperor Vadan replied with a proud look on his face. “Even now they battle each other for a piece of these creatures. The flavor is unlike anything I’ve tasted for a long time. Our ancestors must have enjoyed their feast as much as we do.” “Yes, they must have,” Lord Marz agreed. “We are indeed the greatest warriors on this world. What is it the humans call this place? Earth? Is that it?” “Yes, of course,” Vadan said. “Earth. What a beautiful name. It is fitting for such a place to have a name like that. We will keep the name and every creature on it will bow to us.” “And die for us,” Marz said holding a piece of flesh up toward the moon as if toasting their bloody future. “Our future looks good.” While the warriors enjoyed their meal, eating the meat and tossing bones in every direction, the two creatures discussed what they should do with Riley. “Perhaps we should keep him alive for a little while,” Lord Marz said wondering if he might know something that would make his job easier. “Perhaps he can tell us things like he said he could.” “Yes,” Vadan agreed. “He does have one talent that can be most useful to us.” “What is that?” Lord Marz asked cramming the last piece of his meal into his alien mouth. His voracious appetite was still unsatisfied and his thirst for human blood was insatiable. “He speaks our language,” Vadan said. “He might be useful in teaching us their language. If we could understand them, we might be able to control them and learn their secrets.” Despondent, terrified beyond being able to think, to reason, Riley attempted to control his emotions and found the task as excruciating as the pain he felt. Everything he had spent years planning was in jeopardy. All the details he had worked out with the special agency set up by the government to handle the emergency would be useless unless he could somehow turn the tide. Reluctantly, he admitted to himself that he was up against a tidal wave that would sweep across the planet in a matter of months if he could not do something to stop or delay them. When the warriors finished their barbaric feeding frenzy, they stood staring at him as if waiting for a signal from their leader to tear him into little bits of flesh like they had done to the women. Riley braced himself and prayed as the warriors, with blood dripping from their ferocious mouths, edged closer to him. Unable to escape from his bonds, all he could do was to pray and hope that it would be quick. Emperor Larthe Vadan, leader of millions of conquering warriors, walked toward Riley and Riley knew his time had come. All during his captivity, he had used ever facet of his thinking and reasoning abilities to come up with something—except when he was so terrified he could hardly think—and so far, he could think of nothing. Riley studied the proud, arrogant sway of his insect-like body as he approached hoping Vadan’s demeanor might give him an idea, a clue about what he could do to defeat the barbarous horde. Vadan stood before him with Lord Marz by his side. Their aides and servants kept close to them ready to render services to the mighty ones at their slightest request. “We are the Kodai, the greatest race that has ever lived. Before us, your race is as the maggots that live on carrion flesh. We will wipe you from the earth and it will belong to us.” “You said that before,” Riley retorted. “What is your point? I know you are powerful and the greatest and I want to be on the winning side. There are so many things you do not know. To go into battle against an enemy that you do not know or understand is—” Riley felt the sting of Lord Marz’s hand when he slapped his face. The right side of his head became numb and his eyes blurry. “You do not speak to his Majesty the Emperor of the Kodai that way. You are slime and he is the greatest.” As Riley felt pain shooting down his back and his neck became stiff, he wondered if Marz had injured his spine. Emperor Larthe Vadan stepped forward and put his arm between Riley and Marz preventing the Kodai leader from further mischief. “Maybe there is a little truth in what you have told us,” Vadan replied hoping to entice Riley to tell him what he wanted to know. “What is it that you can tell us that is useful? Speak up and it had better be good.” Riley listened to his words with ringing in his ears that made it hard to understand their language. He wasn’t an expert in their strange gibberish in the first place, and the distraction of pain in his limbs, his chest pounding and his frayed nerves didn’t help matters much. “Any army must have the proper food in order to survive,” he said as an idea popped into his head. “Your armies are so many that they would run out of food before they even conquered this area. The earth is large, expansive and there are many areas where food of any kind is scarce. You will need something that can be carried with you to sustain you. You said that you did not want to kill all the humans because you wanted them for slaves and to replenish your food supply. That means that you will have to contain millions of humans and other animals. You’ll have to let them breed to produce offspring, and all that will take valuable time. Humans take thirty years to reach enough maturity to provide you with proper food. As you can see, if you kill too many humans, it will take you a long time to grow more for food. Meantime, your soldiers and your people will die from starvation. Small animals aren’t plentiful enough or large enough to make a difference. I can provide you with all the food you need.” Emperor Larthe Vadan paced back and forth as he thought about what Riley had said. The others stood as silent as trees. The night was as silent as a graveyard at midnight. Finally, Lord Coile Marz broke the silence. “Let’s kill him and get it over with,” he demanded. “I see no reason for such nonsense. What he says doesn’t matter. We can live off the land, eat humans and the larger animals that they breed. There is sufficient food to support our operations. That is the least of our worries. It is just a trick.” “Silence,” Larthe Vadan said. “What he says does make sense, at least to me. If we consume the humans and animals, it will not be enough to sustain our massive invasion force much less our starving cities below the surface. We must begin enslaving humans and animals right away, just as soon as our forces are victorious. We must replenish our food supply constantly concentrating on the larger animals because they mature quicker than the humans. We will let them breed like flies. I will condone Riley’s activities to produce food for us in the way he has said.” “Does that mean you’re going to trust him?” “Of course,” Emperor Vadan replied. Exerting his authority and demonstrating to Lord Marz that power was still in his hands and his hands only, he turned and knocked the tall, muscular Marz to the ground with little effort. “That is to remind you that I make the final decisions. Of course, I’ll trust him because as you should have known, if he fails me, I will slaughter his family and him before the invasion really begins.” Dizzy, grunting to clear his throat, shaking his head to clear his foggy mind and blurry vision, Lord Marz stumbled several times before regaining his balance. “I only meant that we should use extreme care in our decisions. Of course the mighty Emperor Larthe Vadan is in charge and nobody questions his authority, especially me.” “So be it,” Vadan replied. “I thought you would see it my way.” Turning his attention to Riley, he spoke. “What will you need to make this food that you say can supply our troops and our citizens?” Riley hesitated a moment and knew that he could not reveal the actual recipe that he had planned to feed the soldiers. They were voracious, foraging creatures that left the earth bare of all life where they passed. Only the royal sector of their society seemed to have much intelligence and he thought that maybe they were not as smart as they appeared. “It is a secret recipe that is used by our own armies,” he said, “but I can modify it to suit your needs. I know your soldiers like fresh meat so I will mix meat from different species and some vegetables to give them strength. Add some vitamins and you’re all set. I’ll make the meals compact enough so the soldiers can carry a few of them at all times. Instead of using human meat, we’ll use animals such as cows, horses, pigs and insects. I know your soldiers prefer rotting meat because I saw them eating carrion. We’ll let it, let’s say, cure for a little while in extreme heat until it is favorable. In order to do this, I need my freedom. I’ll have to conceal my efforts from my neighbors because they may become suspicious and wonder about what I’m doing. When I’m ready, I’ll leave the food in the field near here in containers for you to use. If you’re satisfied with the food, I’ll show you how to make all you need. Your troops will have enough to supply them for a few weeks. I’ll start work on a new batch as soon as you can conquer this area and give me a place to work.” “Sounds like a serious and faithful proposition,” Vadan said. “You will be released to carry on your work. Do not make the mistake of failing me or trying to trick me. My spies will be watching you work day and night. Have little doubt about that. If you do anything that makes me suspicious, I’ll kill you and your family in a horrible way. Of course, everyone else will be enslaved.” As two soldiers untied him, he wondered if he would really get out of the camp alive. Was Larthe Vadan as devious as he appeared or was it just a trick, a game to entertain them? His body almost numb, his limbs aching, his heart heavy with fear and his mind weary, he let them lead him to the edge of the camp where the plateau ended and the slight incline led down the mountain. “Go and be hasty about it before I change my mind,” Vadan ordered. “Two soldiers will escort you out of the forest. Betray me, and you will die a horrible death and beg for my mercy every second of it. I expect to hear from you very shortly. I like results. Those who fail do not satisfy me.” “I will not fail,” Riley mumbled as he hastened over the side of the incline and almost fell as he walked down the hill. “You’ll see. I’ll make you the best chow in the country.” Riley did not wait for his reply except he heard his unintelligible grumbles as he entered the forest below. As he walked fighting fatigue and pain, he wondered if the soldiers had been ordered to kill him when they reached the edge of the woods. The two soldiers stood watching Riley as he emerged from the forest alone. Daring not to hasten his pace, an act that might indicate to them that he was escaping or running away, he casually walked toward his home. Success was his, he thought, even though he had come close to dying a horrible death. He had met the enemy face-to-face and had learned just about everything he needed to know. The hard work would come now and he would have to be extremely careful that he didn’t make any mistakes. Opening the backdoor to the screened in porch, he stepped inside glad to be home again. In the darkness, he felt as if he were being watched. Once in the kitchen, he stood staring into the darkness for a long time before he finally had the courage to turn on the lights. Glancing around him, he saw nothing. He was alone. Going to the refrigerator, he took out a bottle of orange juice and drank most of it. His blood sugar level was low and the orange juice gave him new energy. Without hesitation, he walked into the living room, opened up his desk drawer and took out a cell phone that was larger than most of the phones currently on the market. This was a special phone. It sent and received special scrambled signals by satellite. Pushing a button that speed dialed a special number in Washington he waited until he heard the other person and then started talking. “I met them and found out a few things,” he said confident that nobody else could hear him. “The first phase—contact and evaluation—is almost over. I’ll send you the information on the special fax machine I have in the house later tonight. The next phase, as you well know, consists of creating the special food for them and delivering it to them. The bacteria in the food that we got from the dig in the Sahara should kill most of them, provided enough of them eat it.” “How can we be assured they will eat it?” The voice on the other end was that of a woman, a young woman whom Riley called Joyce. “They’ll love it,” Riley said. “And, they aren’t technologically advanced enough to be able to detect viruses or anything like that in their food. They’ll consume it, but it may be hours or days before the virus kills them. That is what is unique about this virus, Joyce it doesn’t kill the host until it has time to spread to other hosts. We’ll contaminate the whole damn lot of them, I tell you.” “Let’s hope it works,” Joyce replied. “We have a lot at stake here.” “I know,” Riley said. Only he knew just how much was at stake. The entire world was about to get drenched in human blood. “Well, I better get to work. There is a lot to do. Please inform the other agents in this area that they’re coming and they are mean. As soon as I’m ready, I’ll let you know.” Joyce praised him for his work and told him to be careful. Riley closed the connection and headed for the kitchen for another drink of orange juice. He wasn’t feeling well. His stomach quivered and his chest felt as if a hundred elephants were sitting on it. “Just nerves, stress and anxiety,” he told himself. “I guess old age has something to do with it, too.” Sitting at the table, he thought of his wife and how he wished she were here with him. Knowing that she would always be with him, if only in spirit, or as a spirit, he succumbed to exhaustion. His head fell onto his waiting arms and he was asleep before he could prevent it. In his dreams, he saw the hideous, insect-like creatures marching across wheat fields, cornfields and through Midwest towns by the thousands. Their brown skin, long sharp clawed hands and their long tails with a deadly stinger terrified him. When he awakened, the clock above the refrigerator told him it was after midday. Jumping up, ignoring his painful joints, he walked toward his office near the living room. Sitting in front of his computer, he pulled up one of many documents and looked at it. Sighing, he began the first of many long, arduous hours that would hopefully save the human race from extinction. Information had to be entered, analyzed and sent to the agency. Hours later, when he finished the task, he sat back and stared at the computer screen. At the end of the document, he typed a few more sentences. STATUS: They have arrived and they’re extremely hungry, dangerous and barbaric. OUTCOME: Chance of human survival. Negligible. The End
Click Here for more stories by Dallas Releford