The evening of the next day, both Michelle and her mom gasped as they heard the TV announcement that the American vice president made at a press conference. Her mother turned up the volume.
“Yes,” Vice President Mary Price said. “President Daniel Trenton, CEO of Amazon, suddenly collapsed from a heart attack late this afternoon, dying within minutes. Sudden cardiac death, the doctor said. He was 77, and had been having heart problems for years, so as shockingly sudden as this was, it wasn’t all that surprising, when you think about it. I’ll be sworn in as your new president as soon as this press conference ends. I felt I needed to inform the American people, and the world, as soon as possible.”
As she continued speaking and taking reporters’ questions, Michelle’s cellphone rang. It was Peter again.
“Gotta talk to Peter, Mom,” she said, then ran out of the living room and up the stairs with her phone.
Her mother was so rapt watching the TV that she barely noticed Michelle leaving.
In her bedroom now, Michelle closed the door. “Hi, Peter. What’s up?”
“You know what’s up if you’ve been watching the news,” Peter said.
“Of course,” she said. “President Trenton died of a heart attack. The vice p–“
“Bullshit,” he said. “I just emailed you an audio recording of what really happened. Listen to it with earplugs, in case your ET mom is nearby.”
“Peter! Don’t call her that. She may be a carrier of those things, but she’s still my mother.”
“Michelle, I’m just reminding you not to let yourself be too attached to her. She hasn’t been the same since the aliens entered her body. You know that.”
“OK,” Michelle said with a sigh. “I’ll check out the recording now. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye,” he said. They hung up.
She found the recording in her email inbox, plugged in her earplugs, and hit PLAY.
She heard a sea of indistinct voices of men and women in a meeting.
“OK,” a male voice said. “Everyone’s here? Good. Let’s begin.” It sounded like the distinctively gravelly voice of President Trenton.
“Now, Mr. President,” a female voice said. Michelle couldn’t tell if it was the vice president’s, or the secretary of state’s, for both women’s voices sounded almost identical to her. “Wait: everyone has a can of bug spray, right?”
Michelle raised her eyebrows at that question. She saw her own can of bug spray poking out of her purse, and she was glad her mom hadn’t found it…yet.
A mumbling of yeses was heard, then the clinking of metal, suggesting the sound of cans of bug spray tapping on tables after having been raised to reassure the female speaker.
“Good,” she continued. “As we all have been briefed, this is the stuff that will kill them, something we’ve learned thanks to the lucky discovery of Miss Arlington, our cleaning lady, whose salary just shot right up through the roof.”
Some chuckling was heard.
“That was quite a misstep on their part,” a male voice said (the secretary of defence?).
“Whose misstep?” another male voice asked.
“Didn’t you hear about that Toronto talk show, the other day, the host–presumably one of…them–revealing what will kill them, and thinking by laughing it off, that the world would dismiss it?”
“Oh,” a number of voices could be heard to say.
“Still,” another voice said, presumably Trenton’s, “we don’t want this whole thing to spiral into a global panic. It was bad enough putting up with that ‘Splits’ epidemic last year, and I’m sure glad that scare is over–“
“Sir,” a male voice said, “this is the same problem as–“
“I know that!” the president snapped. “I’m not that senile, for Chrissakes! I mean that I’m glad the scare is over, and I don’t want the scare returning until we know how to handle those al–oops!…gotta watch my words here–voices carry. You know, those things.”
“Of course, we have no way of knowing who among us has been compromised by ‘those things’,” a female voice said. “We all have cans of bug spray, but do all of us here need them?”
“That’s a good question,” another female voice said. “Many of us have good reason to suspect that the staff of both the WHO and CDC are headed by people who are possessed by those things, if not the entire staff, without exception, of both. I’ll bet the ‘vaccine’ they created just helps to hide them, so our testing can’t detect their presence in their carriers’ bodies.”
“Clever little glowing bastards,” a man (Trenton?) said.
“Clever, but not all that clever,” another man said. “Remember the host of that Toronto talk show, the one who blabbed about the bug spray, hoping to make people disbelieve it kills those things, but probably making many people believe it, instead. The host could be one of the carriers.”
“Or she could just be one of us, one who disbelieves the conspiracy theorists,” a woman said. “I watched a replay of that show on YouTube, and she looked OK to me.”
“I don’t think she was one of us,” the (presumably same) man said. “I watched the program when it was live. The scorn and disbelief of the host and those in the TV studio, in their response to what the conspiracy theorist guest was saying, seemed overdone, almost forced. I’ll bet they had those little things in their bodies. They abruptly cut to a commercial when the guest was raving about the bug spray. I think they realized they’d made a mistake, panicked, then pulled the plug on the show.”
“So, what’s your point?” a woman asked.
“Those things make mistakes, just like we do,” he said. “They aren’t omniscient or omnipotent. We can defeat them. We shouldn’t lose hope.”
“OK, so what do you think we should do, Mr. President?” a woman asked.
“Guard your bug spray with your life,” Trenton said. “Trust nobody else with it. Sleep with it under your pillow. And if those things fly out at you, and you succeed at spraying them all and killing them, arrest the carrier and take him or her to one of our labs, where the carrier can be experimented on, tortured if necessary, to get information.”
“Remember that you don’t have to spray every single one of those things,” a woman said. “Spray a cluster of them, and the neighbouring ones will all fall and die with the sprayed ones. They seem to have a symbiotic, mutual dependency on each other to survive.”
“Does anyone have any questions?” another woman asked.
A moment of silence.
“Good,” said the president. “One more thing I want to say…where’s my head? I almost forgot, and it’s one of the most important things I wanted to say at this meeting. Recall I said I don’t want what we know about the ali–uh, those things!…to be leaked to the general public. I don’t want to stir up a global panic–“
“You already mentioned that, sir,” a man said (the same corrector as before?).
“I know that, Goddammit!” Trenton snapped. “Don’t interrupt me. I was just repeating that. I meant to add that…because The Splits epidemic at least was useful as a distraction from all the stuff the dumb masses are complaining about–you know, the usual shit: poverty, homelessness, the wars, the environment, yada, yada, yada–this controversy, the conspiracy theorists vs. common sense that there’s no aliens, will be a good media distraction that should buy us time ’til we’re ready to do battle against those things. Tell our media people to frame the narrative around the controversy, always making fun of the conspiracists, of course.”
“Yes, sir,” a man said. “Our people are already on it.” The sound of shuffling feet suggested people walking out of the room.
“Good,” said the president. “We’re running out of distractions to preoccupy the millions of dummies out there. Me and my donors–to say nothing of the Amazon government here in DC–are getting really worried about the rioters here, there, and everywhere. Many cities are poised to have general strikes, as you all know. The tension out there can be cut with a knife. I don’t know how much longer we can hold off those poor dummies, and now with the menace these ali–“
“Sir, look out!” a man shouted.
Michelle heard a hoarse, gravelly scream–it had to be the president’s. A muddle of shouts, screams, shuffling of feet, and bumping into furniture and walls came next. Spraying sounds dominated the audio after that, with the sound of what had to be the little balls of light hitting and bouncing on the hard (wooden?) floor like marbles, but it was too late.
Michelle gasped when she started hearing those all too familiar sounds: the tearing of clothes and flesh, the president’s screams of pain, and, worst of all, the cracking sound of broken bones, all of which took her back to that day in the hospital room where her mother, carrier of ‘The Splits,’ had sent the alien dots of light into her father’s body.
Michelle was so distraught with what she heard that she forgot about her mother. Michelle was weeping and screaming; she was reliving her father’s death in her mind.
She heard a quick series of loud knocks on her bedroom door.
The audio ended abruptly, and she pulled her earplugs out. “Yes, Mom?” Michelle was already shaking.
Her mother opened the door. She saw tears in her daughter’s eyes. “What’s wrong, honey?”
A nervous jolt of terror shot through Michelle’s body as her mother walked in the room. “N-nothing, Mom.”
“You’re crying and upset about nothing?” Siobhan asked with a sneer. “C’mon, honey. What is it? Did Peter say something to hurt you?”
“No, uh…,” she said as she, shaking, wiped tears off her cheeks. “It’s just…something reminded me of Dad’s death.”
“What reminded you?”
“Oh, it just popped into my head again,” Michelle sobbed.
“Oh, sweetie,” her mom said while taking her in her arms. “He’s gone and he isn’t coming back. We must move on.”
And you killed him, Mom, Michelle thought as she put her arms around Siobhan. The aliens made you do it. Can they read my thoughts?
Siobhan looked over her daughter’s shoulder and saw something that made her shudder.
“I love you, Mom,” Michelle told her, then looked up into her eyes. “Really, I do. I care about you.” Her fear made her words no less sincere.
Siobhan looked down at her and gave her another one of those questionable grins. “I love you, too, sweetie.”
“You’d never wanna hurt me, would you, Mom?”
There were an uncomfortable four seconds of silence.
“Of course not. Why’d you think I would?”
“I don’t know. I’m just scared. I can’t think straight.”
“Michelle, your father died of The Splits, which I deeply regret having given him. I never meant to hurt him. You know that.” With raised eyebrows, she looked over her daughter’s shoulder again. “You wouldn’t want to hurt me, would you?”
Shaking even more, Michelle said. “Of course not. Why would I?”
Then she remembered, with an even greater shudder, that can of bug spray visibly sticking out of her purse behind her.