A Poem by Jason Ryan Morton, from His Book, ‘Diverging Paths’

I’d like to look at a short poem by my friend Jason Morton, whose poetry I’ve looked at before.

This one is from his book of poetry and prose, called Diverging Paths, the first poem from Part One, ‘Deliverance’ (on page ten of the document provided). Here it is, given in italics to distinguish his writing from mine:

Was it ever real,
This tragic appeal,
Staging mass reveal,
In the name of God,

Was it ever there,
Basing one’s truth on scares,
Where we appear,
To be nothing but ants,

And then the world fell,
Apart in this shell,
Domed humanity,
Psychopathic hell…

And now for my analysis.

This seems, on the surface, to be another critique of the Christian faith, the “tragic appeal” of trusting in Christ to heal one’s pain and make one whole, when so many have tried and failed to gain that healing, that wholeness…hence, it’s tragic.

I know, however, from personal communication with Jason, that the core of the trauma he’s suffered in his life has been abuse in psychiatric hospitals. So Church abuses can be seen in this poem as symbolic of abuses from the mental health profession.

So, in this context, faith in the Church can be seen as blind faith in the efficacy of the psychiatric profession. The tragic appeal is in the idea that therapists offer some kind of panacea to all our mental health problems, when no such miracle cure exists…not so much because there really is no cure, but more so because so many psychiatrists seem less interested in helping their patients than in controlling them, like Nurse Ratched.

So, the authority of the abusive psychiatrist is symbolized by the omnipotence and omniscience of God, in whose name the cure is applied. “Was [the cure] ever there”? The truth that is based on scares is the fear that, being given no treatment, the patient will err to the point of self-destruction. Many emotional abusers would like to treat their victims, the identified patients, as if they were “nothing but ants,” helpless without the guidance of those claiming to know all the answers.

Such social dysfunction can be extended far beyond the abuses of the mental health profession and the Church, and into the general problem of alienation. Hence, “the world fell,/Apart in this shell”. Note the repeated use of commas at the end of almost every line, even in places where commas don’t seem to be necessary, as in the line just quoted. The enjambment between not only “fell” and “apart” but also between “we appear” and “to be nothing but ants” suggests a halting speech, interruptions that break the flow of communication. When we talk, we seem to be stammering, unable to speak coherently.

This “shell,” this “domed humanity” is the prison of our existence. Note how “domed” can be seen as a pun on doomed, for that’s how we’ll be if we don’t do something about our inability to communicate and connect with each other, be it in the realms of the Church, the psychiatric world, or in society in general. “Psychopathic hell,” the hell of, ironically, the God of psychiatry, can thus be seen as a pun on psychiatric hell, the hell of being exposed, when already being mentally ill, to doctors who don’t care for you.

After all, there are psychiatrists who are psychopaths…at least a few.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book II, Chapter Nine

In Michelle’s home that night, she and Peter sat on the side of her parents’ bed. He had his arm around her. Her face flooded with tears, she barely moved, except for a self-soothing, slow and gentle rocking back and forth.

Her eyes would sometimes drift over to the photos on the dresser and bedside table. Photos of her mom and dad at various ages, sometimes with Michelle as a little girl, as a teen, or when she’d graduated from university, this last one with Peter, too, these were all bittersweet memories now.

He looked at the photos, too, having seen her look at them. “Sometimes I go into my parents’ room,” he said. “I’ll stare at their photos and remember when they were alive, thinking about the minority of my memories with them that were good. Then I’ll feel guilty for not thinking of the good memories as a majority.”

Michelle remained silent.

“Michelle! Peter!” a man’s voice shouted from the first floor. “Come down here! You’ll wanna see what’s on the TV now!”

Peter got up, but Michelle was practically frozen sitting on the bed. “Michelle?” he said.

She still wouldn’t say or do anything.

“Well, I wanna know what your late mom’s two bodyguards are watching on TV,” he said, bending down by her. “They may have failed to save her, but they’re here to protect us from any attempt on our lives by anyone who thinks, however mistakenly, that the alien dots of light are inside our bodies. The way you are now, though, I don’t want you left all alone; so you’re coming with me.”

He gently slid his right arm under her legs, put his left arm on her back, and picked her up. He carried her out of her parents’ bedroom, down the stairs, and into the living room. The two security men were watching the new US president making a speech.

“I knew it,” one of the men said. “There’s going to be a war.”

“I want to apologize to you, the American people, and to the world, for not being honest with you about what’s been happening until now,” President Price said at her desk in the Oval Office, looking directly into the camera in a way that reminded Peter of old video from 2003 of Bush looking into the camera and justifying the Iraq invasion. “We didn’t want to cause a worldwide panic; we needed time to plan our response to the alien attack while debates about ‘conspiracy theories’ of aliens softened the shock for all of you. Such planning necessitated keeping our knowledge of the aliens classified information.”

“Oh, of course, Madame President,” Peter said as he laid still-unmoving Michelle in a chair. “You’ve had nothing but the noblest of intentions, haven’t you?” He sat on the floor by Michelle’s feet.

“But now, of course, we can no longer conceal the truth from you,” Price went on. “I assure you, though, our plans are thoroughly worked out, fortunately in time when all of this was so suddenly revealed.”

“Oh, how fortunate,” Peter said with a sneer.

“Please, Peter,” one of the men said. “We need to pay attention to every detail, to know how to respond ourselves.”

“Sorry,” Peter said.

“All those formerly diagnosed with what was called ‘The Splits’ were and are actually people possessed of those aliens…the surviving carriers, that is. I know it will be hard to hear this, especially for those of you who have family and friends who are carriers, but these people are thoroughly compromised. They may still look human, they may sound like the same people you’ve always known and loved, but the alien in them has completely taken them over. The human soul in them was gone long ago, in spite of how well they may imitate human speech and behaviour. This is hard to hear, but you must steel yourselves to hear this and understand. These carriers are not human.”

“You bitch,” Peter hissed at the TV.

“This is an enemy that hides,” the president went on. “It hides in plain sight, in human form. It can imitate human thought, but it has no real human thoughts. Each and every carrier who is possessed of the aliens is completely given over to their agenda. All that the carriers do is in service of the aliens, not in the service of humanity.”

“Oh, and you serve humanity, Madame President?” Peter said with another sneer.

“Please, Peter,” one of the security men said.

“When the carriers, those in high-ranking government/business positions, claim they are making democratic changes to society, improving the lives of ordinary, working-class people, whatever you do, don’t believe them!” Price warned. “All that talk is just a front, a con game to trick you into thinking they are our friends.”

“Right,” Peter said. “Your hegemony is so much better for us all, isn’t it Madame Pres–“

“Peter, we must hear her!” the other bodyguard said.

“Why?” Peter asked, with a sneer now for him. “Is what she’s saying true? Is it all a con game?”

The bodyguard frowned at him and gave no answer.

“I know that it’s hard,” Price went on, “if one of the carriers happens to be your mother, your father, brother, sister, cousin, or a close friend. What you must try to understand is that that carrier, as soon as he or she became a carrier, was as of that time no longer your mother or–“

“Bullshit!” Michelle shouted, jumping up from her chair and startling the three young men, whose eyes darted away from the TV screen and back up at her. With new tears running down her cheeks, she bawled, “She never stopped being my mother, aliens or no aliens! She was my mother right up until she died, when your people murdered her!”

“Please, Michelle, calm down,” the first of the security men said. “We need to hear all of the president’s speech to know how best to react to their plans.”

Peter got up, put his arms around her, and held her as she sobbed on his shoulder. “They murdered her, Peter! They murdered her!”

“I know, sweetie, I know,” he said, rubbing one hand on her back and stroking her hair with the other. Well, at least she’s finally responsive, he thought.

“Behind the mass deception that they’re improving the lives of humanity is a plan for world domination,” the president continued.

The two security men chuckled at this assertion. Peter looked at them and hoped it was sincere.

“Everyone must be the same as the aliens,” Price said with a hint of sarcasm. “No one is allowed to be different, or think for themselves. Everyone must think the same thoughts, have the same opinions. If you don’t agree with the aliens’ plans, they’ll kill you, tear your body up in that horrible, violent way we all originally thought was a disease called ‘The Splits’.”

“Where did she get that idea?” the second bodyguard whispered.

“It’s a lie,” the first said. “Don’t believe her, Peter. Neither of you agreed with us at first, but we didn’t kill you. Remember that.”

“We have been studying, scrutinizing the carriers we’ve had to detain in order to learn as much about them as we can,” Price said. “Over the months, we’ve even experimented on them to extract whatever knowledge we could. We have learned that the aliens hate individuality, free thought, and ambition to rise high in a freely competitive environment. When the carriers talk to you about the ‘collective good,’ what they’re really talking about is mass conformity. I, as leader of the free world, can’t and won’t allow that to happen.”

“Free world,” Peter scoffed. “What free world?”

“One of the carriers we’d caught and detained, Lenny Van der Meer, escaped a month ago and is hiding, we believe, somewhere in Africa with other carriers,” Price said, with a photo of Van der Meer showing beside her. “Here we’ll show you a brief video of him so you can see the kind of ‘people’ these carriers are. I have to warn you, though, that it will be disturbing to watch.”

“The agitprop thickens,” Peter whispered.

The TV cut to a shaky video showing a dimly-lit room with Van der Meer, a blonde woman in a business suit crouched in a corner, and a few black men and women standing around her. She was in about her mid-thirties, shaking, and in tears.

“You work for the IMF, do you not?” Van der Meer asked her. “Your loans keep poor countries like this one we live in forever in debt, don’t they?”

“Look, if they can’t pay back their loans,” she said in a shaky, sobbing voice, “It’s out of my ha–“

Suddenly, the dots of light flew out of his hands and out of those of the other people in the room. The little lights went inside her body, and red cracks appeared all over her face and hands. She shook and screamed in pain for a few seconds before the video was cut off.

The TV showed President Price again.

“As you can see,” she said, “this is not the kind of man we should be sympathizing with.”

“I beg to differ,” Peter said. “I hate the IMF.”

“Remember that every carrier…every carrier in the whole world, has the exact same agenda as Lenny Van der Meer,” she continued. “Make no mistake. The carriers all think with the same mind. They’ll kill anyone who stands in the way of their alien masters. This is why we must stop them–for the very survival of the human race. So report all known carriers in your area to the local authorities. They’ll do the rest. As we learn more about the latest moves of the aliens and their once-human carriers, we’ll inform you of these latest developments. A full military confrontation is being planned, which will eliminate this menace while ensuring minimal human casualties. For security reasons, I cannot at the moment discuss any of the details of these plans, as it’s classified information.”

“Of course not,” Peter said. “War crimes are best kept as secret as possible.”

“So please have faith in the judgement of this government, as well as the governments of the world cooperating with us, to do the right thing,” she concluded. “God bless America, and God bless our Mother Earth.”

One of the bodyguards turned off the TV.

“So, what do we do now?” the other bodyguard asked.

“Go to Africa,” Michelle said in a monotone, almost trancelike voice. “Find this Lenny Van der Meer.”

“Sounds intriguing,” Peter said. “But how are we going to get there with all this global surveillance and security asking questions about our destination and the purpose of our travels?”

“We still have the private planes of our dead parents,” she said, still in a monotone voice, staring straight ahead in a trance.

“Yes, but people working for the global governments/corporations will still be getting in our way,” Peter said. “After all, they’ll know your mom was a carrier, and they’ll suspect we are carriers, too, as you two men definitely are.”

“Many of those people in the governments/corporations are secretly carriers,” the first bodyguard said. “The two of us can network things so that when you go through customs and checkpoints, you’ll encounter only our people.”

“Well, I guess that settles it,” Peter said with a smile.

“I guess it does,” she said, still looking straight ahead at nothing in particular.

Glowing dots of light floated out of the pores of the bodyguards and lit up the living room. Neither Peter nor Michelle even flinched.

A man in a suit, watching from outside and with a pistol hidden in a holster in his blazer, flinched, though.

‘The Last Breath,’ a Poem by Rusty Rebar

‘The Last Breath’ is a poem by Rusty Rebar, a Facebook friend of mine. I gave it a quick read the day before and found it full of meaning, which I’d like to examine below. First, here’s his poem (I’m setting it in italics to distinguish his writing from mine, as always):

the last breath

1.
the way a door slammed
rattles the whole house
or how the wrong word
scorches an open heart
shoes without soles
a torn pair of pants


a moment that breaks
every second after
& you seemingly unable
to put it back together
the terror hidden in
a corner of your fears

like a shy thief lurking
afraid to risk capture
but happy to hurt you
wounds inflicted on
you powerless to stop
what keeps happening

2.
pain an offering then
a solace for all that is
no surprise whatsoever
you sit with your demons
in front of the television
mesmerized by action

quick millionaires running
around in their underwear
tights or pajamas depending
joyful endorphins popping
fulfilling safe anticipations
same play — played night

& day — over & over
spinning endless tomorrows
out of imaginary yesterdays
& what is wrong with that
a world of wonderful rules
& magically infinite chances

bread & circus the holy
flesh of brainwash — firm
faith in the glory of private
property & money as the
measure of all things held
tighter when you have neither

3.
with drugs — the effect
wears off — larger doses
needed to deaden nerves
& block the bad feelings
get back to work before
the rent check comes due

escape from a prison
inside the mind impossible
the illusion of freedom ends
& you find yourself back
in your dark lonely cell
more trapped than ever

luckily — your story also
ends — there is no such thing
as forever & no problem
death cannot solve — best
treasure what you do remember
the last breath of a lost friend

And now, for my analysis.

We have three sets of verses, the first set of which centres around pain, broken or torn things, things with holes in them. The second set centres around forms of escape from the pain: television, the American Dream, bread and circuses, distractions. The third set centres around how the forms of escape, including drugs, don’t work–one cannot escape from one’s prison, since one has to go back to work before the rent is due. Still, there is one last escape…death.

So the three verse sets can be seen as the thesis (pain), negation (escape from the pain), and sublation (return to, and ultimate escape from, the pain). It’s the dialectic, but a very physical one, a materialistic one. Marx is turning Hegel right-side up.

The first set of verses is full of the imagery of violence: slammed doors, verbal abuse, the torn pants and the soleless shoes of a soulless world that doesn’t care for the poor. Moments that break, and you can’t put them back together. Thieves are afraid to get caught, but happy to hurt you: this is a world of alienation. We feel powerless to stop the pain.

The second set of verses deals with what Klein and Winnicott called the manic defence, or any attempt to avoid dealing with the painful, depressive sides of life, and to plunge instead into the manic, or exciting, sides of life (drugs, porn, etc.). One sits a mesmerized zombie in front of the idiot box, following the latest media nonsense, or one tries to identify with the rich, fantasizing that one day, the American Dream will come true for oneself…when of course there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of that ever happening.

One sees millionaires in the media dancing around in their underwear, because only they have the financial freedom to act as inanely as they like. Perhaps they’re wandering about in their pyjamas, like Hef. This empty worship of wealth goes on day after day, a hiding away from one’s secret sorrows. Those sorrows, however unacknowledged, go on “spinning endless tomorrows…”–reminding us of Macbeth‘s “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech (Act V, Scene v)–“…out of imaginary yesterdays,” reminding us in turn of Macbeth’s words “And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/The way to dusty death.”

Life is as meaningless for us today, with our “faith in the glory of private/property” (note the enjambment between the two words, indicating how split a concept that one is, as is so much of our psychological fragmentation, symbolized by all the other examples of enjambment in this poem), as it was for the Scottish tyrant of Shakespeare’s play. One believes in such empty capitalistic concepts especially when one doesn’t benefit from the wealth of the 1%.

The third set of verses deals with the coming down, as it were, from the high one felt in the escape of the second set. One now feels even worse than before, unable to escape the reality one keeps coming back to. Still, there’s one last escape…death. “To die, to sleep,/No more…” (Act III, Scene i) Unlike the Dane, though, we in today’s secular world don’t generally worry about “the dread of something after death, —/The undiscovered country,” so “the last breath of a lost friend,” death, is a soft breeze on our faces, and gives us hope in our despair…the hope of despair.

Cars

Driving
makes you

move
forward,

but
driving

drives
you crazy.

Held
inside

a
racing

box,
people

go
together,

but
they’re

all
alone

in
their

drive
to be the

best.
Ambition,

speed,
and power

are
all-important,

not
mutual

aid.
Muffler

filth
blackens

the
white

of
clouds.

We
want

to
outrace

the
others.

We
crash

&
burn

in-
stead

of
finding

glory,
recognition.

Fire
engines,

die
aflame.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book II, Chapter Eight

About thirty minutes later, Peter and Michelle were pushing open the front doors of the Mississauga Exposé building. The first floor lobby area was a huge space, with a sea of employees walking here and there.

Michelle’s agitated eyes were darting around, spotting all the female heads and hoping to find her mother’s among them. She noticed some of the newly-hired security men walking about, too, but they gave her little reassurance of Siobhan’s safety.

“Oh, where is she?” Michelle asked in a shaky, breathy voice.

“Chances are…she’s upstairs…in her office,” Peter said in pants.

“Yeah, but sometimes…Mom comes down here…to chat…with her employees…about something,” Michelle panted, her head always shifting from left to right and back again, tirelessly trying to find Siobhan. “And sometimes…she leaves the building…on an errand. If she’s about to do that, I don’t want…to miss her…as she walks out the door.”

“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “You keep looking…among these people, if that’s what you want to do; I’ll go ask…the receptionist…if she knows where your mom is.”

“OK, thanks, Peter.” He left Michelle as she looked around, especially by the front doors. “Where are you, Mom?”

Peter reached the receptionist after fighting his way through the crowd; her desk was way off at the back of the lobby. You’d think her desk would be closer to the front doors, he thought.

“Hello,” she said. “How can I help you?”

“Yes,” he said. “I need to talk to…Siobhan Buchanan.”

“Do you have an appointment?” the receptionist asked.

“N-no, but this is urgent,” he said. “Her daughter, Michelle, needs to talk to her. I’m Michelle’s boyfriend.”

“Where’s Michelle? She’s free to see her mom whenever she wants, but unless I see her confirming you’re with her, I can’t let you see Siobhan. There are fears of security breaches. This may surprise you, but there are actually possible death threats against her.”

“Oh, I know all about that,” he said, finally catching his breath. “That’s why we want to talk to her.”

“And that’s why we have to be careful with anyone who can’t be vouched for,” the receptionist said. “Sorry.”

“W-wait–Michelle is with me. I’ll go get her.”

“OK.”

Peter looked around behind him, but Michelle was nowhere to be seen among all those people walking about in the lobby.

He left the receptionist’s desk and slipped back into the crowd to find Michelle. The jostling people were making it difficult for him to return to the front door area.

Finally, when he got to a clearing of the people, he heard Michelle shouting, “Mom! Wait, it’s me, Michelle! I wanna talk to you! Peter, I found her!”

Siobhan was approaching Michelle with two security men walking on either side of her, their eyes always on everyone else in the lobby. Peter raced over to stand beside Michelle.

When Siobhan was three or four feet away from Michelle and Peter, she and the two men stopped walking.

“What is it, sweetie?” she asked. “Why do you and Peter look so agitated? What’s wrong?”

“We–I mean, I just saw an assassin shoot two women–carriers of The Splits in the ladies room in the Northeast Mall just now,” Michelle said. “What Peter told me is true. You’re in danger.”

“Well, that’s what I have these security men here for,” her mother said. “As you can see, they’re watching the whole area like hawks, and I have others in the lobby looking out for me and on the other floors of the building. Remember that I’m not the only one in danger from those hired assassins. Many, if not most, of the employees here had The Splits, and the assassins will be after them, too.”

“Yes, well…I just wanna be with you, Mom,” Michelle said in a trembling voice. “I’m afraid for you. If something happens to you, I wanna be there.” A tear ran down her cheek.

“That’s very sweet of you, Michelle, but I should be OK with these two men here,” Siobhan said. “Now, we have to get going. I have an important meeting to chair in ten minutes in North York. I’m going to be late as it is. I can’t stay and chat. I’ll see you tonight at home. Bye.”

“No, Mom, please!” Michelle sobbed as she saw her mom walk past with the men. “Let me go with you.”

“Sweetie, I’ll be OK,” Siobhan said. “Don’t slow me down. I’m in a hurry.”

“I won’t slow you down, Mom.” Michelle ran over with Peter in front of Siobhan. “Just let me go with you.”

They were all by the front doors now.

“Do you have your own transportation?” Siobhan asked, gently moving Michelle to the side. “If Peter didn’t bring his car, we won’t have enough room in mine for him, you, and my two men here.”

Just outside the front doors was a familiar man with his right hand inside his blazer and his left inside his left pants pocket. Siobhan’s daughter is with her again, he thought. But she isn’t in the way of my line of fire this time. I may have to upset her daughter after all.

“Oh, your car is big enough,” Peter said. “We should all be able to squeeze in.”

Siobhan opened one of the doors. “Oh, this is getting ridiculous,” she said. “With us all squished in like that, it will be awkward and uncomfortable. You worry too much, Michelle.”

The man was standing right in front of Siobhan.

“Mom, please,” Michelle sobbed. “For my peace of mind,–“

The man began slowly pulling his pistol out of its holster in his blazer. The other hand was fumbling with a small can of bug spray in his pants pocket.

The security men’s eyes widened at the sight of the emerging pistol. They reached for theirs.

“I’ll tell you what,” Peter said. “I won’t go. That’ll leave some room in your car, Ms. Bucha–“

The man fired a bullet in Siobhan’s chest.

“Mom!” Michelle screamed.

Peter was so shocked, he almost lost his balance, barely keeping himself from falling.

The can of bug spray fell out of the assassin’s fumbling fingers and dropped to the ground.

The dots of light flew out of Siobhan’s body as she fell to the ground. They also flew out of the hands of the two security men, who no longer needed their pistols.

Those lights entered every inch of the assassin’s body, as others flew in from other nearby carriers both inside and outside the building. He dropped his gun.

Gunshots from other assassins in the area killed a few other carriers, but the other assassins were no more adept at getting out their cans of bug spray than Siobhan’s killer was.

Swarms of light dots were flying into the bodies of the other killers. With Schadenfreude, Peter watched the tearing-up of their bodies as his eyes moved around the area to see the whole spectacle; but Michelle, her eyes flooding with tears as she held her mother’s bloodied body in her arms, focused on the ripping-up of her mother’s assassin’s body.

Yeah, aliens, she thought as she wept, tear that bastard to pieces. Go, aliens, go. You have my sympathy now.

The remaining aliens inside Siobhan’s body were giving her temporary extra life, just enough to let her communicate with Michelle one last time.

“Michelle,” she gasped after coughing out some blood. “Now, you know…who your enemies…are. Fight…them…with us.”

“Yes, Mom,” Michelle sobbed. “I’ll do it for you.”

“No,” Siobhan panted. “Not…for me. For…the world.”

“Mom, don’t die. Can’t the aliens heal you?”

“No….It’s OK, sweetie. Let me go. It’s for…the cause.”

Her body flopped down and stopped moving.

Michelle screamed a mix of grief and rage. She reached for the gun of the assassin, whose body was tearing out of its suit and exposing his brain, heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, and thigh muscles. The widening and narrowing of those huge tear-holes in his body persisted long enough for her to point his gun at his heart; but before she had time to pull the trigger, his body blew to pieces, spraying his blood everywhere, soaking her and Peter in red.

“Eww, God,” he grunted, then looked over at her. “I’m so sorry, Michelle.” He put his arms around her. She hugged him back, bawling hoarsely.

The security men felt the lights fly back into their bodies. They looked around at all the screaming people, obviously non-carriers.

“We won’t be able to hide this,” one of the two said. “We’ll have to accelerate our plans.”

“The news media and governments can no longer pretend this is all just a conspiracy theory, either,” the other man said. “They’ll be accelerating their plans, too. Get ready for a war. A global one.”

Rights

The right,
left, and the centre are defined
in terms of their relations to each other.

The right,
were left and shifty centre moved
(along the spectrum, from their proper places)

rightwards,
wouldn’t seem extreme, like its sworn foe,
the oft-forgotten left. The centre, thus

more right,
would seem a milder kind of right,
while what to us seems left is centre. Our rights

fade right
into oblivion. Fascism
is normalized. The left and centre die.

The right
is all there is, and human rights
are all left in the centre of a dungheap.

We’re right
back where we started, when Hitler
was snuffing leftists, making centrists right.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book II, Chapter Seven

The afternoon of the next day, Peter and Michelle were walking in a Toronto shopping mall.

“I can’t believe those things in your mom went ahead and revealed themselves to you like that,” he said.

“Her identity has been fused with that of the…aliens,…it seems,” Michelle said, whispering aliens. “She trusts me as her daughter, but they needed to gain my trust.”

“OK, but she’s aware…and they are aware…of the danger of these government assassins, right?” he asked.

“If there even are government assassins. But yeah, she says she has armed security patrolling the newspaper, just in case you’re right. I saw them there. She should be OK, for now, at least. I’ll wanna be with her when she goes home tonight, though.”

“And what if an assassin tries to shoot her, but you get caught in the crossfire and he hits you instead? I don’t wanna lose you any more than you want to lose her.”

“If she gets shot, I don’t wanna learn about it on the news. I wanna be there with her.” Michelle began to sob.

“Hey, c’mon. Don’t start crying.” Peter put his arm around her. “Look, I know it isn’t easy talking about this, but…how much of her do you think is her, and how much do you think is…alien?” He whispered the last word.

All of her is my mom!” Michelle shouted, then covered her mouth in embarrassment at all the faces in the mall looking at her. “The…alien part” [whispered] “…is so fully spread around in her, there’s no distinguishing the one from the other. It’s like…syrup on pancakes, you know? You can’t separate them once the one is poured on the other. What’s more to the point, though, is that, maybe, just maybe, I really am beginning to sympathize with…those things, despite what they did to my dad.”

“That’s your attachment to your mom speaking, I’m afraid.”

“It’s more than that!” Again, Michelle caught herself after shouting. “She’s made genuine changes to the paper, and to the governance of Mississauga District, changes she’d never have made before those things got inside her. Pay raises to all her employees, new health benefits for them, cleaning up the air, new regulations about garbage disposal that won’t hurt the environment, better welfare, lots of things like that, obviously the influence of the…aliens.” That last word was whispered again.

“Wayne Grey’s been doing all that in MedicinaTech, too,” Peter said. “When he talks about not caring about profits, he seems to mean it, as do all those on the Board of Directors, who by now have all been compromised by the…aliens.” [whispered] “…Since they won’t come inside me, I can go back there and talk with the staff in all civility. The things fly out of everyone, but they don’t enter me. They just hover in front of me, you know, the way they always do to us. But I’ll bet there’s another reason these people with those things in them are being assassinated: the capitalist governments of the world want to stop these good reforms. I really think those things only kill the bad guys…”

Michelle scowled at him for that last remark, remembering her dad.

“…O-or change the bad into the good, as they did your mom,” Peter said in an awkward attempt at self-correction. “Hey, I include my own mom and dad among the bad guys.”

Michelle continued scowling at him. “My mom may have been misguided in her running of the newspaper and the city, as were your late parents in MedicinaTech, but my mom was never a bad person, Peter. And you shouldn’t talk that way about your parents, as flawed as they were.”

“OK, bad choice of words. I’m sorry, but you know what I was trying to say.”

“Yeah, but still, I’m not so sure if these changes for the good really are well-intentioned,” Michelle said. “I mean, what if those things are really just trying to win our sympathy and support, to gain our help, then when they’ve totally taken over, they start to do really evil things, and it’s too late for us to stop them?”

“I’ve thought of that, too,” Peter said. “Believe me.”

They were approaching a public washroom. “Wait a sec,” she said. “I gotta pee.”

“So do I,” he said.

She went in the ladies’ room followed by three other women. She and one of them immediately went into stalls while the other two were checking themselves in the mirror.

A few seconds after the first tinkling of piss could be heard, the woman at the mirror to the left released the dots of light from her right hand. As soon as the lights entered the woman to the right, she dropped her tube of lipstick and fell to the floor.

Michelle and the other woman in a stall could hear grunts of pain over the sound of their pissing, but felt powerless to help until emptying their bladders, so full were they. They pressed and tried to go as fast as they could to be ready to help, but by the time Michelle had pulled her pants up and opened her stall door, the grunting woman was up on her feet again and grinning one of those creepy grins at the carrier woman, then at Michelle.

“Are you OK?” Michelle asked her. “I heard grunts of pain.”

“Oh, I’m fine,” the still-smiling woman said, then gave a fake-sounding laugh. “I just had a sudden pang of pain in my stomach. It happens to me once in a while. I took a pill, and it kicked in immediately.”

Michelle stared in her eyes for a few seconds. “Really?”

“Oh, yes,” the woman said with another fake laugh and that grin never leaving her face. “Don’t worry, I’m OK.” Her grin wavered a bit as she saw that Michelle clearly wasn’t buying her story.

“Really, Miss,” the first carrier said, also with a fake smile. “It happened just as she said it did.”

“I don’t believe either of you,” Michelle said, now looking at the first carrier hard in the eyes. “I know what really happened, and I know what you are. And you know exactly what I mean by that.”

The woman in the other stall stayed quiet, but was watching everything through the crack in the door.

“Really?” the old and new carriers said together, then released the lights on Michelle. They, of course, just hovered in front of her as usual. “Oh, you’re an ally,” the carriers also said together, seeming to possess only one mind between them.

“An ally?” Michelle said with a sneer. “I don’t see myself as an ally of yours. Believe me.”

“You will one day,” the first carrier said. “So will your boyfriend, when all is revealed. But not now. You still aren’t ready to understand what has to be done.”

“Ready?” Michelle asked. “How do you know about my boyfriend? What do you want from us?” She came out of her stall. The dots of light retreated, returned to, and reentered their carriers.

“You’re not ready to be told everything,” the new carrier said. “Nor is your boyfriend ready for the burden.”

“You’ll know soon enough, though,” the first carrier said.

“How do you know about my boyfriend?” Michelle asked. “Did you see us together out there?”

“We didn’t need to see you together,” the first carrier said. “We know a lot of things you don’t need eyes, ears, or the sense of touch to learn of. But you will like what we will–“

Suddenly, a gun with a silencer went off, the bullets hitting both carriers in the heart and killing them. Michelle screamed and jumped, then looked back.

“They needed their eyes and ears to know I was coming,” the woman in the stall said. She came out with the pistol in her right hand and a small can of bug spray in her left. “They’re nowhere near omniscient.”

The lights flew out of the dead women’s bodies and at their assassin. She sprayed the first half-dozen or so. They all lost their glow, then fell to the floor, hitting it with a sound like dropped marbles.

“And now, it’s your turn…,” she said, but Michelle had already run out of the washroom. “Oh, shit. Can’t go after her. Gotta dispose of these two.” She walked over to the bodies.

As soon as Michelle had thrown open the washroom door, she saw Peter walking past it. She grabbed his hand and pulled him along.

“Hey, Michelle!” he said. “What is it? Where are we going?”

“To Mississauga!” she said, still with her hand tightly holding his and making him run with her.

“Mississauga?”

“Yes,” she said as they were approaching an exit. “To the newspaper. Those assassins you were telling me about are real!”

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book II, Chapter Six

Michelle returned home that night to see her mom watching TV. Instead of having that unnatural-looking smile on her face, her mother seemed worried about what she was watching on the news.

“Hi, Mom,” Michelle said in a shaky voice.

“Hi, sweetie,” her mom said, still frowning at the TV screen.

“What’s on the news that has you so worried?”

“Oh, it isn’t so much worrying me as it’s just…this nonsense so many people believe about an ‘alien invasion.’ Ridiculous.”

“Oh, you mean those wacko conspiracy theorists?”

“Yes, dear,” her mom said, turning off the TV and standing up. “People are saying that The Splits was really aliens entering people’s bodies instead of the virus it actually was. How can anybody believe such rubbish?”

“I know,” Michelle said, avoiding Siobhan’s eyes. “There are a lot of dumb, crazy people out there.”

“You wanna know what their ‘proof’ is, Michelle? People possessed of the aliens show little to no emotion.” Siobhan let out a loud laugh, which seemed forced to Michelle. “As if there’s no such thing as ordinary people not showing emotions, especially in today’s world, when all those vaccines were draining people of their energy and making people plod around like zombies. You and Peter have noticed that.”

“Yes, we have,” Michelle said, frowning and still avoiding her mother’s eyes.

“And those vaccines, given out years ago, are still showing those effects, to this day. So why make a big deal about lots of people showing no feelings?” Her mom had a huge, ear-to-ear grin, which was supposedly to show how absurd she thought the conspiracy theories were, but which really just looked fake, as if painted on her face. “They say the governments know about the aliens, and are doing a cover-up.”

“Yeah, but some people in those governments really believe this is happening, and they’re sending out assassins to kill anyone they think is possessed of the aliens.”

“Really? Did Peter tell you that?”

“Yes, Mom. Just today. He says he watched a video of Ottawa politicians discussing this plan to kill anyone known to have had The Splits.”

“Now, Michelle, surely you must realize by now that Peter, as much as you love him, isn’t always a reliable source?”

“No, of course he has his loopy moments, more than I care to admit, but if he’s right this time, we need to be careful with you.”

Her mom stared into her eyes with a frown of suspicion for several seconds.

“It’s not so much that I believe his every word. It’s just that I care about you and want you to be safe.”

Siobhan still suspected insincerity in her daughter’s eyes.

“What are your thoughts about this ‘alien’ business?” She continued staring hard at Michelle. A touch of anger was on Siobhan’s lips.

“I–I don’t know what to think.” Michelle began sobbing.

“What nonsense is Peter telling you about me?” Siobhan asked, looking down at Michelle’s purse, with what looked like a tall can of bug spray poking out in a bulge at the side of her purse. “Some of the conspiracy theorists claim that bug spray is what kills the aliens. Surely you don’t believe such nonsense, do you?”

“No, of course not,” Michelle sobbed. “It’s just that I…I…”

“If you don’t, then why have you been carrying bug spray in your purse?” her mom asked with more than a tinge of angry tension in her voice and face. “You aren’t planning, in your paranoia, on spraying your own mother in the face with that, are you?”

“If the theories are so ridiculously untrue, why are you so nervous around bug spray, Mom?”

“I just told you. I don’t want my obviously paranoid daughter spraying it on me.”

“It isn’t sprayed on the people, Mom. When those little lights fly out at us, we spray them, not the carriers.”

“How do I know you’re not going to get nervous around me, think I’m going to send those things out at you, make you fumble in your purse for the spray can, then spray those toxic chemicals in my eyes as a spastic reaction?”

“Because you’re my mom, and I love you!” Michelle sobbed.

Am I your mom?” Siobhan asked with a sneer. “Or am I one of the ‘pod people’? What is Peter making you think about me?”

“I only plan on using it on other people,” Michelle said. “I’ll tell you another reason I won’t use it on you.”

“Oh? And what’s that?” Her mom crossed her arms in front of her chest. “This should be interesting.”

“The aliens won’t come inside me or Peter. We’ve confronted the dots of light several times, and they never enter us or try to take control of us. They just hover in front of us, as if they’re studying us.”

Siobhan was calming down. “Why won’t they go inside you?”

“Peter and I believe they think we’re sympathetic to their ’cause’.”

“That’s right,” her mom said after a huge sigh, then uncrossed her arms and felt herself completely calm now. “We know you’re completely sympathetic, though you don’t know why, and it isn’t yet safe to tell you all the reasons for that sympathy.”

“Mom?” Michelle’s mouth and eyes were wide open.

“I just needed to be sure for myself that you weren’t going to do anything on me with that bug spray.” Siobhan spread her arms out to her sides, and dozens of tiny glowing balls flew out of her hands and hovered in front of Michelle. She froze in controlled fear; she was getting used to knowing she didn’t need to fear them. “That’s right, sweetie. They won’t hurt you.”

“But they will hurt other people. They hurt you. They killed Dad. I don’t want them to kill any more people.”

“They don’t actually kill people.”

“Oh, really? What would you call it?”

Anyone who rejects what we want to do dies of his or her rejecting of our plan. Those who die kill themselves, essentially, out of their own closed-mindedness.”

“That sounds like blaming the victim, Mom.”

“Those ‘victims’ are also victimizers, or at least potential victimizers.”

“That sounds like a rationalization. Are you saying that Dad was a victimizer?

“Yes, I’m sorry to say. I was, too, helping him run that…propaganda-spouting company and ruling over Mississauga, making people think MedicinaTech was the only problem in the world, and distracting people from how we were all part of a much bigger problem, the immiseration of the global poor. Fortunately, when the extraterrestrials entered me, and I went through that painful ordeal, I was open-minded enough to accept the changes they want to make to the world; and so when I got better, I began making democratic changes to the governance of Mississauga and to the management of the newspaper, things your father would never have allowed.”

Something Peter’s parents would never have allowed, either, Michelle thought. “But…you let Dad die,” she sobbed.

“Yes, sweetie.” Siobhan let out a big sigh. “That was hard. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But there are greater, global needs, more urgent than just those of our family. The needs of poor, starving families we’ve never met.”

I can’t help thinking Mom’s been brainwashed, Michelle thought. Killing Dad didn’t seem so hard to her when she did it in the hospital. And this ‘save the world’ stuff could be a trick, something they’re trying to get Peter and me to go along with while the aliens plan to do something far more evil.

Standing outside their house and looking through the large living room window at them, a man in his thirties was clutching his pistol, debating in his mind whether or not to pull it out of its holster. I can’t get a clear shot at Siobhan with her daughter standing in the way, he thought. I guess I’ll try tomorrow. I wouldn’t want her daughter to see her mother shot, anyway. It would be too upsetting for her.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book II, Chapter Five

Peter and Michelle were sitting at a table in Starbucks, sipping coffee.

“Funny thing,” he said after taking a sip. “This is the same Starbucks we were in almost a year ago, when I’d first heard about the death of Derek Gould, and his wife being a carrier of those things. Everyone, including you, had masks on, while I thought it was all bullshit–“

“You still think the coronaviruses were all bullshit,” Michelle said, with a distracted look on her face.

“Yeah, but I changed my mind about The Splits, remember?” he said, annoyed at her interruption. “Now that the fake pandemic scare is gone, and no one’s wearing a mask or a protective suit, no one thinks we’re in danger–“

“Except the ‘conspiracy theorist wackos’ who can’t get a cellphone-recorded video in edgewise on YouTube,” she said.

He scowled at this second interruption, then said, “And we’re in far more danger now than ever before.”

“Well, we are safe, apparently. Those things don’t feel they need to enter us.” She was frowning, giving her reassurances a bitter irony.

We’re OK, it seems, but there are other considerations. Your mom–“

“I got the bug spray out of our house, Peter. She didn’t take it away from me.”

“Stop interrupting! I’m not talking about that. I’m actually worried about her now.”

“Wow, you’re joining the club now, eh? Why are you worried about her? I thought she was just an ‘ET’ to you.” Now she was scowling.

He sighed.

“I watched another video today, just before we got together here. Now, listen–this is important, and it directly affects you and your mom. The video was of a meeting of the heads of the Ottawa District/Shopify Incorporated. They, too, secretly know of the alien invasion. They’d spoken with our brand-new American president Price about plans to deal with ‘those things,’ as the aliens are being officially referred to.”

“And what does all that have to do with my mother?”

“The plan is to go after anyone who is, or is suspected of being, a carrier. Targeted assassinations. They know the aliens tend to go for rich and politically powerful people. They revealed at this meeting that the carrier who let loose the aliens on the late President Trenton was his secretary of state.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Wait for when the news announces her fake death.”

“Her fake death? Of what?”

“They haven’t decided what it officially will be yet. After the audio recording got cut off, it seems they tried to arrest her, those things flew out again, and a man in security pulled out his gun on impulse and put three bullets in her chest. The Ottawa people said as much in the video.”

“Wow.” Michelle was already shaking at the implications this news had for her mother.

“Now, I don’t know if the people in that Ottawa meeting know your mom’s a carrier, but someone there surely knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows she is. In any case, they’ll have files of everyone known to be a carrier from last year, and they’ll have a file on your mom for sure. So just be careful with her, if you want her to live.”

Michelle shuddered. “How am I going to warn her if talking about aliens is itself a dangerous thing for me?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “But I assume that, underneath the alien possession of her, your real mom is still in there, buried deep inside.”

“Of course she’s still in there!” Michelle shouted, then covered her mouth and blushed from all the customers and Starbucks staff who heard her outburst. A tear ran down her cheek. “She may just be an ET to you, but she’s still my mother.”

“I’m sorry, Michelle,” he said. “I know I’m tactless sometimes. But believe me when I say I care about you and her. Please be careful with her. Watch if anyone suspicious seems to be following her.”

“Oh, what am I gonna do?” she sobbed. “And those things are supposed to have our sympathy?”

“I know.” He put his arm around her. “What do those little lights want from us?”

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book II, Chapter Four

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.