Analysis of ‘Inception’

I: Introduction

Inception is a 2010 science fiction action film written and directed by Christopher Nolan, who also produced it with his wife, Emma Thomas. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, with an ensemble cast including Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Elliot Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Dileep Rao, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine.

Nolan had been working on a story about “dream stealers” for nine to ten years, originally conceiving of it as a horror film before making it a kind of heist film. He was influenced by such movies as The Matrix, Dark City, The Thirteenth Floor, and even his own Memento, to an extent. He postponed making Inception until he’d got enough experience making large-scale films like the first two of his Dark Knight trilogy.

Inception was the fourth-highest-grossing film of 2010; it is considered one of the best films of the 2010s, and it won four Oscars (Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects). It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Original Score.

Here is a link to quotes from the film, and here is a link to the script.

II: Unconscious vs. Subconscious

What is, for me, especially intriguing about Inception is the intersection of several themes: the unconscious (here infelicitously called the “subconscious“–more on that soon), manipulation, capitalism, trauma, strained family relationships, the blurred distinction between fantasy and reality, and perhaps most importantly, what shared, lucid dreaming can be seen to represent–the viewing of a movie in a theatre with other people.

Let’s now look at each of these themes one by one.

“Subconscious” is a popular term in psychology to refer to what psychoanalysis calls the unconscious. While I’m sure Nolan never intended to adhere to Freudian thinking to any significant extent (beyond, perhaps, the estranged, bitter feelings that Robert Fischer [Murphy] has for his dying father, Maurice [played by Pete Postlethwaite]), a bitterness that could be at least partly Oedipal), I must favor the term unconscious over subconscious, and here’s why.

Subconscious, as Freud explained, is an unclear way of expressing what that part of the mind is, what is ‘outside’ of conscious thinking. Is it topographical, i.e., existing underneath consciousness, as is almost literally indicated in the movie? Is it qualitative, indicating another, subterranean consciousness, again, as Inception seems to imply?

The unconscious, on the other hand, is not concerned with some kind of mental ‘place.’ Rather, it’s properly concerned with what we do not know. Unconscious impulses, for example, don’t ‘hide underneath’: the repressed, on the contrary, returns to consciousness, though in a new, unrecognizable form. It isn’t ‘underground’; it hides in plain sight.

Significantly, Dominick ‘Dom’ Cobb (DiCaprio) and his team of thought-thieves are fully aware of what’s going on in the “subconscious” world of their shared, lucid dreams. There’s something unmistakably topographic and subterranean in these dreams-within-dreams. So however psychoanalysts may cringe at the use of the word “subconscious,” we must go along with Nolan’s word choices and imagery, going down an elevator with Ariadne (Page) to lower and lower levels of this subterranean land to see what this “subconscious” actually symbolizes.

III: Fantasy vs. Reality

Here we come to one of the intersections of theme. The dreams-within-dreams of the “subconscious” represent further and further removes from reality, deeper and deeper forays into fantasy. That the dreams generally look as if they could be events occurring in reality (Ariadne’s alterations of the Parisian cityscape, among other exceptions, notwithstanding) shows how blurred is the distinction between fantasy and reality in the film.

Small wonder the dream-thieves have to carry around totems (e.g., the spinning top, or Arthur’s die) to test if they’re dreaming or in the real world. Small wonder that Mal (Cotillard) kept killing herself to wake up, only to do so again for the last time in the real world, her still being obsessively deluded (thanks to Dom’s planting of an inception in her mind) that she was always in dreams-within-dreams. Incidentally, the inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality is indicative of psychosis, which is what I suspect Inception is really all about.

IV: Capitalism and Manipulation

The implanting of false beliefs into the minds of the marks of the dream-thieves–be this implanting inception (putting the beginning of an idea into one’s mind) or extraction (stealing a company’s secrets as the goal of corporate espionage) through conning the mark into trusting the dream-thieves into opening up completely and thus making oneself vulnerable to them–is manipulation in the service of one set of capitalists trying to defeat their competition. As Marx once said, “One capitalist always strikes down many others.” (Marx, page 929) Here we see the intersection of the themes of manipulation and capitalism, in the realm of the unconscious, in deeper and deeper layers of fantasy that get confused with reality.

Indeed, the company that Dom Cobb works for, Cobol Engineering (not only on which his surname is a pun [i.e., Cobb is a microcosm of the company], but also on which cobalt–extracted from the earth, like company secrets, by poor Congolese children for use in our cellphones–seems a pun), is a kind of mafia organization in the field of corporate espionage, in which failure can endanger an employee’s life. As I’ve argued many times in other blog posts, the mafia (criminal businesses) is a fitting metaphor for capitalists: note the expensive suits we see on Dom, the dominant, leading member of the dream-thieves.

Those of us on the political left are acutely aware of how capitalism results in alienation, which in turn leads to such problems as strained family relationships (i.e., Fischer and his dying father, as well as Cobb’s inability to return to the US and be with his kids) and emotional trauma (the hurt Fischer feels from the contempt Maurice has always had for him; Cobb’s guilt over how his inception for Mal drove her to suicide).

V: Dream Theatre?

A number of commentators on Inception have interpreted its use of shared, lucid dreaming as symbolic of people in a darkened movie theatre watching a film together. Getting caught up in the movie’s story is hypnotic, dreamlike. We can see more thematic intersection here in how not only the marketing of movies is a part of capitalism, but also how films are used to manipulate their viewers emotionally. The CIA is often consulted by moviemakers, who are required to portray the organization–known for ruthlessly helping in the overthrow of many governments opposed to US imperialist interests–as benign. Accordingly, films like Top Gun: Maverick and the Marvel superhero movies are blatant American military propaganda.

Now, this notion of shared, lucid dreaming as symbolic of people watching a movie together can be extended, I believe, to the idea of people watching TV together–TV shows and commercials–listening to the radio, being hooked on the internet, etc. In other words, the fantasy world of dreams can be a metaphor for the hypnotizing effect of the media.

Note the dream-like quality of many of our recent TV commercials. Instead of focusing on the products, as the commercials of the past did, these ads focus on images of a happy, carefree life. The commercials are fantasies, removals from reality, just like the shared dreams in Inception. An escape from the world…all in the service of capitalism, while pretending that the profit motive of capitalism isn’t at all present. The urge to buy what’s being sold sneaks into the unconscious by association with the fantasy presented, the inception of the desire for the product, our imaginary appetites…all while extracting our cash.

We might want to remember how Edward Bernays–whose double uncle was Freud, incidentally–used psychoanalytic concepts to help advertisers and political power structures to colonize the unconscious and manipulate people into buying this or that product, and to manufacture consent. (Bernays, by the way, was involved in the 1954 Guatemalan coup d’état for the sake of the United Fruit Company.)

VI: Putting All the Themes Together

So these are all the ways that the unconscious, manipulation, capitalism, trauma, strained family relationships, the hazy line between fantasy and reality, and dreams as a metaphor for film (and the media in general) intersect in Inception. Though inception means beginning, or the establishment of an institution or activity, I see in the word a pun on deception, or the planting of a deceptive idea into someone’s unconscious.

So the film can be seen to be about how the capitalist/imperialist-run media manipulates the mind, and how our attempts to escape the horrors of the capitalist world, in order to enter a haven of fantasy, can backfire and lead to psychosis.

VII: Inception of Inception

The film begins with Cobb washed up on a shore, then taken by Japanese guards to see an extremely aged Mr. Saito (Watanabe), the businessman who wants Cobb’s team of dream-thieves to plant the inception of an idea into young Fischer’s head, to break up his dying father’s corporation so that of Saito–Fischer’s competition–can reign supreme. We eventually learn that this washing-up on the Japanese shore isn’t the beginning, but the near-end, of the story.

After this, we go back to the beginning of the story, when Cobb’s team is attempting an extraction of company secrets from the unconscious of dreaming, younger Saito while on a train going in the direction of Kyoto. We see the same big house as in the previous, deep-fantasy scene of aged Saito.

We soon learn, after the dangerous meddling of Mal (actually, Cobb’s projection of her, or as I see her, his internal object of her), that this scene in Saito’s house is really a dream within a dream, this ‘outer’ dream, as it were, being that of Nash (played by Lukas Haas), Cobb’s dream architect before the team employs Ariadne.

A couple of interesting points should be made about Nash and his dream, which make me question his motives. His dream includes a huge mob of insurrectionary rioters out in the streets, all about to force their way into the building where Cobb, Saito, and Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) are having the dream within the dream, in Saito’s house. Note that, according to Freud, a dream is the fulfillment of a wish. Later, Nash betrays the rest of Cobb’s team. Is Nash a man with unconscious leftist sympathies (i.e., with revolutionaries in his wish-fulfillment-dream) making a failed attempt at undermining capitalist Cobol, and is his botching of the carpet a Freudian slip, reflecting his conflicted commitment to the team?

VIII: What Cobb Will Do to Get Back Home

Cobb wants so badly to be reunited with his son and daughter back in the US that he’s willing to take Saito’s offer to clear his name there of Mal’s death, in exchange for planting an inception in Robert Fischer’s mind, an undertaking Cobb knows is extremely dangerous and difficult to do. After all, he did it to Mal, and what happened? Still, he can’t bear to be separated from his kids.

To assemble his new team, he first goes to Paris, where his father-in-law, Professor Stephen Miles (Caine), who taught him about navigating the unconscious mind, recommends he hire Ariadne. Her name, an obvious reference to the woman in Greek myth who helped Theseus navigate the Labyrinth so he could get out after killing the Minotaur, is fitting. She proves her skills as a potential dream-architect by quickly improvising mazes complex enough to convince Cobb she’s up for the job. Just as the mythical Ariadne helped Theseus get out of the infernal Labyrinth, so does Inception‘s Ariadne help Cobb find the strength to confront his trauma over Mal’s suicide, to let go of his attachment to his internal object of her, and thus to be able to navigate his way back up to the top, to escape the hell of endless dreams-within-dreams.

Next, Cobb has to go to Mombassa, Kenya–a city crawling with Cobol agents looking to catch and kill him for his failed mission in Japan–to find Eames (Hardy), a forger able to impersonate people in dreams. The agents chasing Cobb through the streets of Mombassa is the one instance of an ‘action movie’ scene in Inception that happens in the real, non-dreaming world…or is this the real, non-dreaming world? (More on that later.)

Eames recommends Yusuf (Rao), a chemist who will provide a sedative to keep the team under as they navigate the different layers of the “subconscious,” dream-with-dream worlds, while also allowing the team to hear a recording of Edith Piaf singing “Non, je ne regrette rien” (“I regret nothing”), their synchronized cue, or “kick,” to wake them at the right time.

IX: Drugs

Though we’re not meant to think of Yusuf as some kind of drug dealer, that scene of him with all those people taking his sedative in the dark basement of his place of work…it sure makes one think of, say, an opium den. These users of the sedative dream for four hours each day because, as one of them tells Cobb, “The dream has become their reality.”

Even if Yusuf is not to be understood to be an actual drug dealer, what he’s doing in this basement is surely symbolic of what a drug dealer would do, at the very least. Such an understanding is crucial when we consider the theme of the unsure distinction between fantasy and reality as presented in Inception. After all, as I noted above, psychosis is characterized by an inability to tell the difference between fantasy and reality, and drugs (with their hallucinogenic effects) can induce psychosis, including sedatives.

Furthermore, in the alienating, cutthroat world of capitalism, emotional trauma often leads to substance abuse as an attempt to escape that pain. An escape into fantasy relieves, however temporarily, one of the pain of facing reality, and drugs obviously help with that feeling of escape. Drugs can cause mental illness, just as the stress of living under capitalism has been observed to cause mental illness. In these connections, it’s easy to see why Dom and Mal went so deep into the dream world, into so many layers under layers of dreams-within-dreams; in searching for the Garden of Eden, they ended up in the ninth circle of Hell.

X: Splitting

Mal’s suicide, as I’ve said, is a pain that Dom finds unbearable, especially since his planting of the inception in her mind–that her world was unreal–means he’s guilty of causing her death. He cannot let her go, so he keeps her internal object as a kind of ghost haunting his mind. She’s there, but the trauma of her suicide is also there; so he tries to protect himself from that pain, however unsuccessfully, through the defence mechanisms of projection and splitting.

Dom thus experiences what Melanie Klein called the paranoid-schizoid positionparanoid because of the persecutory anxiety he feels whenever her projection interferes, often violently, with his team’s attempts at extraction; and schizoid because of the splitting of Mal into absolute good and bad versions of herself.

Dom, in his unconscious attempts to preserve the good Mal, can’t help but be forced to confront the bad Mal–hence her apt name as a pun on the French word for bad. Only when he goes the farthest down all the layers of his “subconscious,” down all those dreams-within-dreams, to return to the paradise/hell that he constructed with her, back before she died, only then do we see the good Mal, when he tells her he has to let her go.

His trauma is one example of how capitalist alienation harms relationships, including family ones. Another example is that of Robert and Maurice Fischer. The dying father, founder and owner of a great, powerful corporation, is annoyed that he has to pass on the control of the family business to a son he regards as inadequate for such a great responsibility. Some of this father/son hostility could be Oedipal, as I mentioned above; on the father’s end, it could be a Laius complex, or a fear of the son supplanting the father.

XI: Sympathy for the Dominant

One thing that is, or at least should be, striking about this story is how we, the audience, are all lulled into sympathizing with these characters. We’re dealing here with dishonest, lying, manipulating, gaslighting people who are all out for themselves, all working within a capitalist context. Manipulating young Fischer into ending his father’s business is meant to allow their competition, Saito’s company, to thrive. It is the insidious nature of neoliberal capitalist ideology–“there is no alternative“–that tricks the audience into sympathizing with a bunch of con men.

Dom is seen on several occasions, just after waking up, to be spinning a top to make sure he isn’t still dreaming. As we understand, if it stops spinning, he’s relieved to know he’s in the real world…or is he? One’s totem–like Arthur’s die–is supposed to be known only by its owner: its look, feel, weight, etc. Dom, however, has come into the habit of using a top originally owned by Mal. So even if it stops spinning, is his reassurance of no longer dreaming valid?

XII: In Dreamland

Back to the story. The team is assembled and ready. On a flight to the US, Fischer is put to sleep to share a dream with Dom, Arthur, Eames, Ariadne, Saito, and Yusuf. This first shared dream, Yusuf’s, is set on the streets of a city in teeming rain.

Fischer, trying to take a cab, is kidnapped. Arthur, whose job was to research Fischer thoroughly, has failed to learn that the team’s mark has unconscious security to fight off extractors like them. Dom is furious with Arthur for his oversights.

This unconscious security, in the form of men shooting at Cobb et al and therefore putting them all in danger–if shot and killed in the dream–of being trapped in Limbo (an inescapable labyrinth of the unconscious, like being in a coma) because of Yusuf’s powerful sedative, is a personification of Fischer’s ego defence mechanisms, these ones being unconscious.

As the Ego Psychologists understood unconscious ego defence, here’s an explanation: “the ego also contains complex unconscious defensive arrangements that have evolved to satisfy the demands of neurotic compromise, ways of thinking that keep repressed impulses out of conscious awareness in an ongoing way. Unlike unconscious id impulses that respond with enthusiasm to the prospect of liberation in making their presence felt…, unconscious ego defenses gain nothing from being exposed. Their unobtrusive, seamless presence in the patient’s psychic life is perfectly acceptable (ego syntonic) to the patient; they often function as a central feature of the patient’s larger personality organization…The ego, charged with the daunting task of keeping the peace between warring internal parties and ensuring socially acceptable functioning, works more effectively if it works undercover.” (Mitchell and Black, page 26)

XIII: Wake Up Dead?

One fascinating idea in this film is the paradoxical notion that if you are killed in a dream, you wake up. It’s the reverse of what Hamlet said: “To die, to sleep–/No more” (III, i, 60). Now, with Yusuf’s sedative, dying in the dream makes matters much more complicated: “To die, to sleep;/To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub;/For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,/When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,/Must give us pause.” (III, I, 64-68)

Another complicating factor in Fischer’s troubled family life is his “Uncle Peter” Browning (Berenger), his godfather and fellow executive of his father’s company. Browning acts as a kind of surrogate father for Fischer, being there for him in ways that his father never wanted to be. Cobb’s team will manipulate this relationship through Eames’s impersonation of Browning, to introduce the idea of Maurice having an alternate will to dissolve the company.

Inception, as Eames has previously pointed out, is “a very subtle art.” Fischer’s first introduction to the idea of the alternate will is to be a negative one, a plausible further instance of his father’s contempt for him; further down in the dreams, the dissolving of the company is meant to be a positive exhortation of him to do his own thing, giving him a catharsis.

XIV: Dreams-within-dreams

Anyway, everyone on the team except Yusuf–who is driving around on the first dream level, since it’s his dream–is sedated into going down to the second dream level, Arthur’s dream, which is set in a hotel. Here, Dom convinces Robert that his ‘security’ is really working against him, as part of the ruse to go deeper into his “subconscious.” Here we have Dom gaslighting Robert into distrusting his own unconscious ego defence mechanisms.

To get to the layer of Fischer’s “subconscious” where he will receive the inception of the idea to end his father’s business to start something of his own, the team must be sedated further, into a dream set around an alpine fortress. Several problems occur: Mal interferes again and shoots Robert before he can receive the inception; also, Yusuf sets up the Edith Piaf kick too early.

Arthur and Eames therefore must improvise a new set of kicks to be synchronized with them hitting the water in Yusuf’s truck in the first dream, with Arthur rigging a hotel elevator with all the floating dreamers tied up, and with the alpine fortress being set up with explosives. Saito having been shot as well as Robert means both of them are in Limbo, forcing Dom and Ariadne to go further down another level to rescue them…in Dom’s constructed dream-world with Mal.

Here is where Dom must confront his trauma with Mal. He must let go of his attachment to his internal object of the good Mal, and he must do it quickly, for getting Robert and Saito back is of paramount importance. Indeed, Ariadne importunes Dom to hurry…but can one be cured of one’s trauma in such a short time? (Indeed, Ariadne shoots Mal to speed things up.)

It seems that he has managed to do so, for he leaves Mal, and they get Robert and Saito back–the rescue of the latter through, essentially, a repeat of that opening scene with Dom washing ashore on the beach and being taken to Saito’s big house by his Japanese guards. Neither Dom nor Saito wants to die a lonely old man, filled with regret, hence the choice of Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” as the kick to wake everyone up with.

XV: Maladaptive Dreaming

No rationally thinking person wants to waste away in a fantasy world, only years later to snap out of it and be full of regret for such a wasted life. Yet the alienating world of capitalism makes such a retreat into fantasy so tempting. Small wonder so many of us out there escape reality through drugs, online video games, porn, movies, TV, consumerism, internet addiction, etc.

Robert returns to the alpine fortress dream and receives the inception. Everyone, including Dom, manages to get back up using all the synchronized kicks in time. I’d say it’s all a little too good to be true.

Dom wakes up on the airplane with all the others, who smile at him, glad to see him back. Saito makes the necessary phone call to clear Dom of the charge of murdering Mal, so he can go through customs without a hitch. Recall above how I mentioned that, according to Freud, dreams are wish-fulfillments. Dom’s wishes are all being fulfilled, aren’t they?

The action and excitement of the dreams, fighting off Robert’s unconscious security, is an instance of how these shared, lucid dreams parallel the entertainment of watching a movie in a theatre. We’re back in the ‘real world’ now, in the airport; but Dom had an ‘action movie’ moment in Mombassa, too. Has his ‘waking’ world been real, or has it been dream, too?

XVI: Conclusion–Nothing But a Dreamer

Here’s an interesting thought: we’ve been assuming that Mal killed herself, mistakenly thinking she was trying to wake herself from a dream, but…what if she was right? Could Dom have lost count of all the dream layers, thinking his time with her on the building ledges was real, when it was actually another dream? She’d been assessed by three different psychiatrists to be sane, so is he the one with a psychotic inability to distinguish fantasy from reality?

When he claims that she didn’t want to go back to the real world, is he projecting onto her his wish to stay in the world of dreams? Is this what calling Mal his “projection” really means?

At the end, when he spins the top and walks away to see his kids, he doesn’t care if it stops spinning or not. Or maybe he’s afraid to see it keep spinning. In any case, the top was Mal’s totem originally, so if its slight wobble at the very end indicates that it will stop spinning, this hardly assures us that he’s in the real world now.

Some think the real plan, masterminded by Miles (who, recall, recommended Ariadne to be the architect), was to pull Cobb out of the dream world. If so, I don’t think it worked. Cobb prefers fantasy to reality, like so many of us with our drugs, movies, TV, etc. I think Mal is still waiting for him in the waking world; but like those TV commercials that show people enjoying quality time with family, or like all those action movies we enjoy in the theatre, Cobb would rather escape from, than have to continue living in, the stresses of the capitalist world.

His Hell is his Eden…even without Mal.

Analysis of ‘They Live’

They Live is a 1988 science fiction action film written and directed by John Carpenter, based on the 1963 short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson, and the 1986 comic adaptation “Nada” by Nelson and artist Bill Wray. The film stars Roddy Piper, with Keith David, Meg Foster, George “Buck” Flower, and Peter Jason.

They Live was a minor success during its release, but received negative reviews from critics for its social commentary, writing, and acting; but like other Carpenter films, it gained a cult following and more positive critical reappraisal. The film has had a huge impact on popular culture, with such iconic scenes as that of the shocked protagonist (Piper) putting on and taking off special sunglasses that reveal subliminal messages enslaving the world to aliens, and of a six-minute alley brawl between him and his eventual sidekick (David).

Here is a link to quotes from the film. Here’s a link to Nelson’s short story, and here’s a link to the comic adaptation.

The short story and comic are a straightforward narrative about a covert alien takeover of the world, with little if any sense of the aliens being among the ranks of the upper classes. Indeed, one of the aliens in Nelson’s story is disguised as “a loveable old drunk,” implying a homeless wino. Other aliens (or “Fascinators,” as they’re called in the story) are the neighbours in the apartment of Lil, the girlfriend of George Nada, the protagonist. The only suggestion that the “Fascinators” could be rich is that Nada finds “no aliens on the subway…Maybe they were too good for such things.” (PDF, page 5)

It was Carpenter (under the pseudonym of “Frank Armitage,” the name of David’s character in the film and also an allusion to Henry Armitage, a Lovecraft character) who turned Nelson’s story into an anti-capitalist allegory critical of the 1980s Reagan revolution and its war on the poor. A key element, however, retained in Nelson’s story, the comic, and the film is how the aliens use the mass media to lull the world into passive compliance with the nefarious, world-destroying agenda of the aliens.

Indeed, They Live is amazingly prescient in how it portrays the insidious effects of Reagan/Thatcher neoliberalism not only widening the gap between the rich and the poor, but also using the media to make us all passively accept our descent into ever-worsening alienation, submission to fascistic police, and mindless consumerism. The film grows more and more relevant with each passing year.

Though the anti-capitalist message should be so obvious that it doesn’t need comment, certain egregiously erroneous right-wing interpretations of who the aliens represent should be dismissed at the outset. No, they don’t represent a conspiracy of world domination by “the Jews” (capitalism, apparently, is only bad when they practice it, but when ‘good, decent Christians’ exploit the global proletariat, that’s perfectly OK [sarcasm]), or the Freemasons, or Big Government per se. Carpenter is very clear in his criticism of free enterprise, the “free market” that these right-wing morons all too often defend in their criticism of what’s wrong with today’s world. No, “small government” won’t fix our ailing society: a government that serves the people, rather than the rich, will fix it.

The film begins with Nada (Piper), a homeless drifter, walking into LA looking for work. His name is an interesting choice, being Spanish for “nothing,” and indeed, in the comic adaptation, when he dies at eight o’clock in the morning as predicted, we see the final panels showing his body decaying, being reduced to nothing, and him saying in the narration that he has become “…once…and…for…all…nada.”

As a personification of nothing, Nada represents the lumpenproletariat, thought by Marx and Engels to have no revolutionary potential, though some leftists today feel that people like Nada do have such potential…provided they are given proper guidance. When led astray, as the other Drifter (Flower) is, they can end up supporting the forces of reaction and even fascism.

Still, being “nothing” can paradoxically be everything from a dialectical perspective. We proletarian “nothings” can be everything if we come together in solidarity. Hegel’s dialectic, as expressed in his Science of Logic, finds the unity between being and nothing in becoming. In the course of this film, we certainly see Nada go on a journey from nothing to becoming something of the greatest importance.

After finding neither work nor food stamps in an employment agency, Nada walks by a park where he hears a blind street preacher (played by Raymond St. Jacques) warning his listeners of the aliens who are secretly controlling the world. He doesn’t mention aliens, so we assume at this point that he is simply talking about Satan and his demons.

The preacher is blind, yet he says the people’s enemies “have blinded us to the truth.” He is like the blind prophet Tiresias, who nonetheless could ‘see’ secret truths most people of his day could not see. This paradox of blindness vs. sight will be further developed when Nada sees through those black sunglasses.

The preacher speaks of our greed and, significantly, of “our owners,” which seems to anticipate what George Carlin would say in a rant, seventeen years after this film was made, about the real owners of the US, “the big, wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions.” Police arrive at the park to shut the preacher up.

We hear the preacher’s words in a voiceover as the camera gets a shot of TV screens in a store window that night, showing Mount Rushmore, a bald eagle in flight, a cowboy on a horse, and men who seem to be celebrating winning a basketball game. All-American stuff: a colossal sculpture by a man “deeply involved in Klan politics,” and which was done on a mountain promised to the Lakota Tribe; a bird of prey aptly symbolic of the imperialist country; cowboy stereotypes; and pleasure in competition. It’s all on Cable 54, a station whose significance will be seen later. Nada walks by as a dazed black man is watching the TVs.

Nada finds a job at a construction area. After a day’s work, he meets Frank (David), who offers to show him a place, “Justiceville,” where the city’s homeless can get some food. It’s significant that homeless Nada is rarely welcome in any private property or shelter, which is why some of us wish to abolish private property.

The friendship between Nada and Frank is strained throughout the film, their alley brawl being where that tension comes to a head. This tension reflects how worker alienation is rife in capitalist society.

Frank has a good heart, and he has a sense, as most of us do, that something’s not right in a society that allows the rich to trample on the poor. Nada, who will ultimately lead in the duo’s revolution, is at first still willing to “believe in America,” to follow the rules, to do a good day’s work, and to hope for better luck in the future.

Frank, in contrast, though full of justified anger at the unfair system, is afraid of rocking the boat, since he has a wife and two kids in Detroit to support. Frank is, as The Last Poets once said, scared of revolution. This fear, combined with how the manipulative media hypnotizes us all, is one of the main reasons the masses won’t rise up against the ruling class.

Nada, though pro-American at the beginning, is observant to the point of putting everything together quite soon. He notes the bearded hacker interrupting the mesmerizing TV programs to warn people of the dangers the blind preacher was speaking of in the park. He notes that the church across from Justiceville, where the meals for the homeless are prepared, isn’t what it seems: recordings of church singing drown out the voices of a resistance movement.

This church reflects a paradoxical thing about religion: usually the church is used to prop up the class status quo, which is presumably why it’s a good hiding place for this resistance movement; but every now and then, Christians actually engage in anti-capitalism, like the preacher and the other resisters.

Still, in spite of the resistance’s attempts at being clandestine about their plotting, they’re discovered by the fascistic police, who raid Justiceville one night, trash the place, and beat the preacher and the bearded man who warned about the aliens when the TV programs were hacked. Attacking a homeless community, the kind the Black Panthers would have helped: what could be a more naked manifestation of class war? As we see in this scene, whenever the ruling class is threatened by plots of revolution, they use fascist violence to keep the people in line. Bourgeois ‘democracy’ is a sham.

Ever-observant Nada, however, is putting all the pieces together. After helping a boy get safe in a shelter from the police–a shelter in which one of the homeless says, “Somebody start World War Three?”–Nada goes back to the church to take a box of something he discovered before, something the resistance deems important. Inside the box are pairs of black sunglasses.

The reference to WWIII ought to be linked to something the other drifter (later, a collaborator–played by Flower) has said earlier. He spoke of an “epidemic of violence,” “end of the world kind of stuff,” terrorists “shooting people, robbing banks.” He’s talking about the resistance, of course, but he never develops the class consciousness needed to understand the need for revolution. These references to WWIII, epidemic, and the end of the world, as much as they’re made in passing in the film, are nonetheless another instance of how prophetic They Live really is, when we consider how dire the situation is in our world in the 2020s.

Anyway, Nada hides the box of sunglasses in an alleyway trashcan after taking out a pair for himself. Soon enough, he’ll realize their significance.

A paradox about wearing them is how they make you see the truth, yet in a way, they also ‘blind’ you. Wearing them, he sees only black and white, a seemingly simplified world; and while he sees the revelatory subliminal messages, these messages are as simplistic as their black-and-white presentation.

What’s more, though they’re black sunglasses, they can be associated with the dark glasses a blind man wears. Like the preacher, Nada is ‘blind,’ yet he sees what most seeing people don’t.

The propaganda used to keep the masses in their place is, of course, often far subtler in real life than merely “obey,” “marry and reproduce,” “conform,” “no independent thought,” and “consume,” but much of what is presented in the media, the breads and circuses as well as the divisive propaganda to keep partisan-minded people loyal to this or that political party, is also simplistic, so the simplicity of the film’s black-and-white subliminal messages is fitting.

In today’s intellectually impoverished political discourse, critics of Biden are assumed to be Trump supporters; disliking both the red and blue parties seems to require a capacity for abstract thought far too complex for too many of today’s liberals. The same applies to ultraconservative Trump supporters, who claim that their critics must be DNC “commies,” a ridiculous pairing of labels as any I’ve ever heard. The same black-and-white thinking applies to the conservative vs. liberal (actually bourgeois) parties in all countries around the world.

What is, of course, the most shocking thing that Nada has to deal with is his seeing the aliens, as they actually look, for the first time. He stares in a daze at a middle-aged businessman whose face looks like a skull with his eyeballs popping out.

In Nelson’s short story, the aliens look reptilian, snake-like, with green flesh and “multiple yellow eyes,” speaking with “bird-like croaks” (PDF, page 1). Such a description reminds us of David Icke‘s reptilian overlord conspiracy theory, but Nelson’s story is not so overtly political. The aliens in the comic adaptation are colourful, many-eyed, and grotesque, but not at all reptilian.

Carpenter’s representation of the aliens’ appearance is the most sensible one. Properly understood to be symbolic of the capitalist class, the aliens with their skull faces are agents of death. The lack of lips and eyelids gives their faces a zombie-like lack of human expressiveness that is chillingly fitting for the purposes of this anti-capitalist allegory.

The endless pursuit of profit is a dehumanizing process, causing alienation among people and within them, alienating them from their species-essence. Not only are the people of Earth enslaved by the aliens and their ideology, but the aliens themselves are also thus enslaved, hence their reading of newspapers and magazines with the same subliminal messages. Capitalists don’t pursue profit merely because they like to; they are compelled to maximize profit because of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

The wish for endless growth on a planet with finite resources is why capitalists are agents of death, and therefore why it is apt for the aliens to have skull-faces. Late stage capitalism is destroying the planet through climate change and endless wars; the US military, being the number one polluter in the world, is waging wars to ensure the sustained profits of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, etc.

The capitalists know they’re destroying the Earth, despite their denials and lies that ‘climate change is a myth’; they have underground bunkers to survive in when “the Event” happens, be it climate change, nuclear war, or American civilizational collapse in general. Small wonder the bearded man on the TV says, “Look around at the environment we live in. Carbon dioxide, fluorocarbons, and methane have increased since 1958. Earth is being acclimatized. They are turning our atmosphere into their atmosphere.” Then he says the aliens will “deplete the planet, move on to another.”

Again, so there isn’t any doubt about who the aliens represent, resistance leader Gilbert (Jason) says it most explicitly. He says, “They’re free enterprisers. The Earth is just another developing planet. Their Third World.”

So, the aliens represent not only the ‘free market’ capitalism that right-wing libertarians idealize, they also personify imperialism. As we on the left understand so clearly, and try so hard to get the rest of the world to understand, imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, exporting capital to other countries, expanding markets out there and hiring cheap labour from Third World countries to maximize First World profits, and fighting wars in a competition to keep the biggest slice of the pie. The aliens in They Live do this on an interplanetary level.

Nada is amused, but not surprised, to see (through his sunglasses) a politician on a wall-mounted TV who is an alien speaking of how we should “have faith in our leaders,” and be optimistic about the future, in a world as obviously bleak as it is in the film, and by extension as bleak as ours is now. One is reminded of, for example, Trump’s State of the Union address in 2020, when he spoke of America’s great economic recovery…then soon after, the whole economy came crashing down.

Nada’s shock at the sight of all these aliens, and the messages saying “obey,” etc., cause him to react inadvisably, making the aliens realize that he sees them as they really are. After fighting off and killing two alien cops, he takes their guns and tries to take all of them on alone.

He runs into a bank with a number of aliens among the humans, and he introduces himself by saying that iconic line (of Piper’s own invention) about bubble gum and kicking ass. As bad-ass as this scene is, we must understand the error he as a potential revolutionary is making: his spontaneous attack on the aliens is mere recklessness and adventurism. It’s thrilling to watch at first, but it ultimately ends in failure. Revolutions must be planned, organized, and timed well.

To escape his inevitable pursuers, Nada goes into a parking lot and kidnaps a woman, Holly Thompson (Foster), and has her drive him to her home. It’s interesting how when he gets out of her car at her home, two male neighbours (aliens?) of hers seeing them, he in those sunglasses looks rather like a blind man (recall what I said above about seeing and blindness). She is scared, but cooperative with him…and cunning in her private thoughts.

Inside her home, he finally takes off the sunglasses, which have been giving him a headache. Earlier, whenever the bearded man on the TV interrupted the Cable 54 broadcast to warn of the aliens, his viewers would get headaches after a short while of listening to him, too. Indeed, it’s painful and depressing for us to learn the truth about our oppression; TV shows and fashion ads are so much more comforting in the illusions of superficial pleasure they perpetuate for us.

Nada gets excited to learn that Holly works for Cable 54, knowing that that’s where the alien signal is coming from, and therefore he can get a chance to destroy the transmitter. He lets his guard down, and she smashes a wine bottle over his head, making him fall out of her window and down a steep hill. Calling the police with a cold look on her face, Holly reveals herself to be a class collaborator. Nada has lost his sunglasses in this incident: will she put them on, realize the aliens are controlling everything, and later redeem herself to Nada? Or does she already know about them, and is she collaborating to save her own neck?

To get a new pair of those sunglasses, Nada has to go back to that alleyway and find the box he hid there. He’s already seen Frank at the construction area, who is so shocked from having heard of Nada’s violence in the bank that he wants nothing to do with him. Still, Frank has a good heart, and he goes to the alley with a week’s wages to give Nada. Frank wants no part of Nada’s revolution, all the same.

Frank’s unwillingness even to try on a pair of the sunglasses shows just how adamant so many of us are even ‘to wake up’ and see the enormity of our ugly reality. In Nelson’s short story and in the comic adaptation, ‘waking up’ is a straightforward matter of coming out of the state of hypnosis that the ‘Fascinators’ have put the human race under. The story begins with George Nada coming a little too much out of the hypnotic state to be lulled back into it.

He must try to wake up the rest of the world, including his girlfriend, Lil, before eight o’clock in the morning, the time a ‘Fascinator,’ by force of suggestion, has determined for his death by heart attack. Since he does die this way at the end of Nelson’s story, it’s clear that even he isn’t completely ‘awake.’

So as with Frank, there’s plenty of resistance to ‘waking up.’ Lil, represented in the comic as a shapely, buxom babe, comes across as ‘asleep’ in the sense of having internalized a wish to attain all of society’s beauty ideals without question. Her female equivalent in the film, Holly, is similarly all given over to the aliens’ agenda, if at least more aware of their existence.

Being ‘awake’ versus ‘asleep’ in our world is far from being the simple dichotomy that it is in the film. Various factions in the left disagree as to what it means to be ‘awake’ to the reality of capitalism and on what to do about it. What’s the answer? Anarchism, Trotskyism, social democracy, or Marxism-Leninism? Leftist infighting has made it most difficult for us to rise up together and defeat the ruling class.

Though it isn’t really dealt with in the film, Frank as a black man is especially affected by the capitalism that the aliens personify. Still, he’s scared to ‘wake up,’ yet the need to ‘stay woke‘ has been given expression as a major issue for African-Americans ever since the 1930s. Further complicating matters has been the bastardizing of the term “woke” by the right, first in the capitalist exploitation of the term, and also by conservatives’ pejorative use of it, similar to their use of “politically correct.”

So as we can see, waking people up is a hard thing to do for blacks (Frank) and women (Lil), as well as for a number of other complicating reasons. Small wonder Nada has to fight with Frank for about six minutes in that alley, just to get him to put on the sunglasses.

The ruling class loves to have the people fight with each other, rather than join together in solidarity to fight the elite. The Western oligarchs would have us all hating Russia and China to distract us from the glaringly obvious problems in our own societies. So in the story, George Nada has to tie Lil up and take her car; and Nada and Frank beat the crap out of each other.

In the hotel, Frank, finally acknowledging the situation with the aliens, speaks of how they must have always been here, making us all hate each other. The alienation brought on by class conflict has led to the kind of parental abuse Nada suffered as a kid from his dad.

Gilbert finds Frank and Nada in the hotel, and he tells them of a secret meeting of those in the resistance. At the meeting, our two heroes replace their sunglasses with far more effective contact lenses. Here, Gilbert tells the others that they all have to be far more careful. The resistance movement is suffering because of such problems as adventurism. He advises the others to blend into society to avoid getting caught. Indeed, one must wait for a revolutionary situation before rising up. In the meantime, one must be patient and bide one’s time; they can strike when they find out where the hypnotizing alien signal is coming from.

Another big part of what makes revolution so difficult is how so many people sell out, as Gilbert explains to Nada and Frank. So many join the police, who have historically existed to protect the interests of the owners of private property. Many on the “left” sell out, like Bernie Sanders, AOC, and the Squad, politicians who act as mere sheepdogs to lull American voters to elect right-wingers like Joe Biden, politicians that the mainstream media disingenuously claim are on the left.

Opportunism is so easy to give in to. People get promoted this way, get more money, and buy nice houses and cars. The resistance gets labelled as ‘commies’ by the cops in the film (and this is who they truly represent; though Carpenter is a liberal who has admitted to supporting [regulated] capitalism, he represents the left-leaning variety of the pre-Clinton years when ‘left-leaning liberal’ actually meant something). Now communists, by contrast to the opportunists, are those who “stand out in the rain,” as Michael Parenti once described them: risking their careers and even their lives as they combat capitalism.

Nada is pleased to see Holly appear at the meeting. He imagines she is remorseful for hitting him with that wine bottle in her home. It would seem that she has led the police to the resistance’s meeting…though the film so far has left her private intentions ambiguous, so we’ll see her opportunism fully revealed at the end.

Nada and Frank, the only members of the resistance to survive the police attack on the meeting, manage to get to the Cable 54 building, where not only the source of the hypnotic alien signal is being transmitted, but also where the aliens are having a banquet with their human collaborators. Here we see symbolically how the ruling class colludes with the world’s politicians and the mainstream media.

At this banquet, Nada and Frank are reunited with the drifter from Justiceville who was the most resistant to the bearded man’s warnings about the aliens on the interruption of the TV program. This drifter, so totally given in to the mainstream media’s mesmerizing (as are so many of us), has predictably become a collaborator, having traded in his dirty old clothes for a tuxedo. Being as empty-headed as he is, he foolishly gives Nada and Frank a tour of the building, thinking our two heroes are collaborators, too.

They reveal that they aren’t collaborators in a sound-proofed room next to the TV studio where the mesmerizing messages are given by two alien news anchors. (For ‘Cable 54,’ read ‘CNN,’ to give but one example.) The drifter/collaborator rationalizes his treason to humanity by saying, “it’s business…there ain’t no countries anymore…we all sell out every day.” (This last line was inspired by something a Universal Pictures executive said to Carpenter.)

There being ‘no more countries’ shouldn’t be misinterpreted as the NWO ‘one-world-government’ nonsense, except in the sense that the new world order that George HW Bush spoke of referred to the post-Soviet, neoliberal, capitalist-imperialist one, in which it has been the ambition of Washington DC to rule the whole world. It’s business…it’s capitalism.

Nada and Frank manage to fight their way to the roof of the Cable 54 building, assuming they can trust Holly, who has a concealed pistol and puts a bullet in Frank’s head. He was so scared of revolution, and now his wife and kids have no man to put food on the table. This has made revolution all the more urgent, though.

Finally, Nada knows he’s going to be shot either by Holly or by the men hovering by him in a helicopter. Still, he says, “Fuck it” after shooting Holly, then he puts two bullets into the transmitter before being shot himself. Waking people up to the reality of our capitalist masters isn’t a sufficient condition of our liberation, but it’s certainly a necessary one. The mainstream media must be disabled.

Arousing class consciousness, as symbolized by the world finally waking up and seeing all the aliens as they really look, is of course a much more complicated process than what we see at the end of the movie. Yet it’s astonishing to see how many people in the world either deny that capitalism is the problem (preferring instead to focus on identity politics), or believe that only “unfettered capitalism” is the problem (as Carpenter himself believes!), or believe that billionaires can be allowed to exist in socialist states, or believe that, fantastically, “real capitalism” doesn’t exist and has never even been tried (as the market fundamentalists delude themselves)! They live, right-wing libertarians, while you sleep…and don’t even know you do.

Still, just as Nada doesn’t live to see the revolution happen, many of the rest of us who are ‘awake’ are not seeing a revolution happen, either. And as with George Nada of Nelson’s short story and the comic adaptation, there is little time left to wake the world up and start that revolution. George had only until eight o’clock in the morning to set the stage for revolution: how much time do we Nadas have before climate change, nuclear annihilation, or civilizational collapse become our eight o’clock in the morning?

Will we live, or will we forever sleep?

Analysis of ‘The Fly’

I: Introduction

The Fly is a 1958 horror/science fiction film produced and directed by Kurt Neumann. It stars Vincent Price, Patricia Owens, David Hedison, and Herbert Marshall. The screenplay was written by James Clavell, based on the 1957 George Langelaan short story of the same name.

The Fly had a mixed-to-positive critical reception on release, and it was a commercial success, boosting Price into a major star of horror films. Now, criticism of the movie is more uniformly positive. Two black-and-white sequels followed: Return of the Fly (1959), and Curse of the Fly (1965). A superb remake, starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, was directed by David Cronenberg in 1986, with its own sequel in 1989.

Here is a link to quotes from the 1958 film, here’s a link to the complete script, and here is a link to the short story.

II: My Radical Reinterpretation

What ought to be emphasized about the story isn’t the notion of scientist André Delambre (Hedison) bring transformed into a fly-human hybrid, the result of a freak accident in his attempt to teleport himself (and, without his knowing, a housefly that got into his “disintegration-reintegration” machine), but rather what such a notion could be seen to symbolize.

What is far more apparent in the short story, if its contents are not naïvely taken at face value, is that its narration–by André’s brother François (played by Price in the film) in the outer frame, then in the middle by André’s wife Hélène (played by Owens in the film) as she tells it in a handwritten manuscript–is given by traumatized people whose reliability is in question.

The film relates the story in a manner implying that everything happened just as told, though, by the end, no proof survives of the more fantastic elements of the story. Still, there are subtle indicators, in the behaviour of François and Hélène, that suggest that affairs aren’t as they look on the screen, implying that the narrative unreliability of the short story has been translated to the cinematic medium.

In the film, François admits to having romantic feelings for beautiful Hélène; though she denies ever having paramours (or André having had them) to Inspector Charas (Marshall), we can easily regard her words as dishonest. Could there have been an affair between her and François, a result of workaholic André’s neglect of his family? Claims of a husband and wife being perfectly happy together can easily be dismissed as a façade.

III: Unconscious Guilt

It is insisted throughout the story that Hélène could have killed André only out of madness. Where could such a madness have originated? Guilt feelings over an affair? Families in France (where the short story is set), or in Montréal (where the film is set), in the 1950s would have been Roman Catholic ones, in which adultery would have been regarded as a serious sin (a sin compounded by a man betraying his brother and, as her son’s uncle, committing incest of a Hamlet-like sort). The mind tries to repress guilt as best it can, but the repressed returns to consciousness in unrecognizable forms.

In the case of this story, the return of the repressed has come in the form of imagining André as having his head and arm traded with the head and leg of a housefly. Such a hybrid symbolizes the bestial side of human nature. His experiments are done in the basement, symbol of the unconscious. In contrast, the ground floor of the house, the upstairs, and outside can be seen to correspond to the conscious mind and the world of superficiality, appearance, what only seems to be true.

IV: Appearance vs Reality

There is much to note in the contrast between the illusory surface and hidden reality in The Fly. The marriage of the Delambres only seems perfectly happy. Similarly, André seems to be the kind, gentle husband who’d never hurt an animal. Yet his workaholic obsession with his basement experiments means neglecting his wife and son, Henri in the short story, or Philippe (played by Charles Herbert) in the film. Furthermore, this supposed animal lover overconfidently and recklessly puts the family cat, Dandelo, in the teleportation machine and disintegrates it.

Hélène, after killing her husband, confesses to the killing with perfect calmness, though François and Charas conclude that she must be mad; indeed, in the short story, she even kills herself in despair. And when François answers the phone at the beginning of the film to learn that she has just killed his brother, he’s quite calm; whereas at the beginning of the short story, he speaks of being “uneasy” from telephones, having to restrain his agitation when answering them.

In fact, in Cronenberg’s remake, this theme of appearance versus reality is revisited in how Seth Brundle (Goldblum), upon emerging from the teleportation machine as “Brundle-fly”–far from being the shocking monstrosity André is with his fly’s head and leg for an arm–looks exactly the same as before on the outside–in fact, he’s also physically superior. It’s only later that we realize that Seth is a monster hiding inside, that inside showing itself more and more to the end of the remake.

V: Implausible Science

Now, this difference between the 1958 and 1986 movies brings me to a point that I hope will help explain the particular angle at which I’m interpreting the original movie and the short story. I don’t believe André has actually had his head and arm swapped with the head and leg of a housefly–I believe this transformation really is a fabrication of his wife’s mad imagination, just as Charas does. The reason for my disbelief should be obvious: the science behind the transformation is preposterous. Hardly anyone apart from Hélène even believes it!

How do a fly’s head and leg grow to the comparable sizes of a man’s head and arm, while the latter two shrink to the sizes of a fly’s equivalent body parts? How is the man’s intelligence maintained in the giant fly’s head, even if only temporarily? And how is there a comparable intelligence, enough to squeak “Help me!” because of an approaching spider, in the miniature head of the fly caught in the web?

Small wonder that in the 1986 remake, the writers wisely spread the fly’s DNA equally throughout Brundle’s body. Surely even Langelaan and Clavell realized that the swapping of heads and limbs, as given in their respective versions of the story, is unbelievable scientifically. Hence my contention that Hélène is genuinely insane, an insanity brought on by the trauma of her husband’s violent death, a suicide with her assistance (as she describes it). François is similarly addled by this trauma. I believe his confession of love for her provides the vital clue to the reason for their narratives’ unreliability, something easily maintained in prose writing, but not so easily translated onto the big screen, since we, the watchers of the movie, tend to have credulous eyes.

VI: Unreliable Narration, in the Text, and Onscreen

Though his confession of love for Hélène isn’t found in the short story, I believe there are plenty of subtle hints of an affair between him and her in Langelaan’s words, however carefully the two guilty ones try to tiptoe around any mention of their guilt. Such tiptoeing is also evident in the film, in their innocent conversations throughout.

I see the visuals of the film as representing their unreliable narrations, and since the film is largely faithful to the short story (except for such–mostly minor–changes as the setting, Henri’s name becoming Philippe, which of André’s arms is switched with the fly’s leg, his head being revealed as all housefly or as a mix of fly and the cat, whether or not Hélène kills herself, and whether it’s François or Charas who kills the fly in the spider web), I feel it isn’t too far out of place to assume that François is (unreliably) telling the outer frame of the story through visuals, and her telling of the inner narration, instead of writing it in a manuscript, is unreliable.

VII: The Telephone

I’ll come to those subtle hints of an affair later, as they arrive in the sequence of the plot. For now, I’ll start with François’s answering of the phone. In the film, he’s calm enough, though in the short story, this calmness disguises a terrible agitation from hearing the phone ring, especially in the middle of the night, as happens at the beginning.

The reason for his unease comes from a feeling that the caller is coming into the room, intruding on his private space, breaking into his home to talk right into his ear. It seems odd that the short story should begin this way, yet if one compares this transmission of a voice–instantaneously from one place, far away, to another–to the teleportation of whatever (or whoever) is in André’s “disintegration-reintegration” machine, such a beginning of the story, along with François’s agitation, becomes explicable. The one instantaneous transmission is associated in his mind with the other.

Recall that I don’t take the human/fly hybrid story literally; also, François is beginning a narration–one after the events of Hélène’s story have been made known to him–with a discussion of the, if you will, ‘teleportation’ of the human voice. This aural teleportation feels like a frightening intruder to him, like the intrusive fly in André’s machine, and like the human/fly monster he becomes, which is an intrusion into the lives of François and Hélène.

VIII: Nothingness

The pertinent thing about teleportation, like the instant movement of the human voice from here to far away, or vice versa, is the sense of no intermediate area for teleportation to move through. The displaced entity–be it a voice on the phone, or a plate, a newspaper, a cat, a guinea pig, or a man (mixed with a fly)–disappears, vanishes in the place of origin and reappears in the destination. That lack of an in-between route to travel through, that gap, feels uncanny, a land of nothingness. This gap, I believe, is what frightens François so much.

Similarly, when André’s body is discovered in the Delambre brothers’ factory, his head and arm crushed under the steam hammer, it isn’t so much the blood that is horrifying, but how the head and arm are so thoroughly flattened as to have been reduced to nothing. The hammer’s impact has been set at zero, a setting the drop is never given. François notes in the film that zero “means level with the bed”; such a setting “would squeeze the metal to nothing,” as has been done to André’s head and arm.

The purpose of this extreme setting is ostensibly to annihilate even the slightest hint of a fly’s head and leg, instead of André’s head and arm; I’d say, though, that it’s that very nothingness, revealed when the hammer is raised, in “the ghastly mess bared by the hammer,” that causes François (in the short story) to be “violently sick.”

IX: Resistance

When Charas questions Hélène about the killing of André, she is fully cooperative about explaining what she did, and in detail (except for her odd forgetting about having dropped the steam hammer twice, to crush his fly-leg/arm). She adamantly refuses, however, to explain why she killed him.

In the short story, François describes Charas as being “more than just an intelligent police official. He was a keen psychologist and had an amazing way of smelling out a fib or an erroneous statement even before it was uttered.” So his questioning of her puts him in the role of psychoanalyst, and her in the role of analysand. Her insistence that she cannot explain why she killed André can be seen as a form of resistance.

Of course, she eventually does explain why, but in the form of a bizarre monster story that hardly anyone can believe; certainly the science behind the story is so ludicrous that even Langelaan and Clavell must have had their own doubts about it, as I’ve explained above. This fly-human hybrid story must be a case of the return of the repressed in an unrecognizable form…but what could the fly-hybrid monster symbolize for mad Hélène? I’ll come to this soon enough.

X: The Gap In-between

It is insisted that her marriage with André was a perfectly happy one…but we are suddenly ‘teleported,’ if you will, from perfect marital bliss to her killing of him, and with the refusal of a proper explanation, except for this bizarre fly-monster story. Just as there’s a gap between the caller’s voice at one end of a phone call, and his voice heard by the receiver on the other end; and just as there’s the gap of the disintegration of what’s teleported at one end, and its reintegration at the other end; so is there a gap between the couple’s marital bliss and the killing…that dreaded, uncanny nothingness in the middle.

Above, I wrote of André’s basement laboratory as symbolic of the unconscious, where the “disintegration/reintegration” machine causes that in-between gap of nothingness. In the short story, the laboratory isn’t in his basement, but in a separate building right by the factory with the steam hammer. Now, the laboratory doesn’t have to be underground to represent the unconscious…or the “subconscious,” where Charas imagines the fly to have meaning for Hélène. Psychoanalysts don’t speak of the repressed as being ‘beneath’ consciousness, but as being unknown to consciousness, for the repressed comes right back to the surface and hides in plain sight, as it were. A fly is buzzing around, in the air, much of the time in the movie.

XI: The Lacanian Unconscious, and the Gap as Lack

In The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan speaks of how “the Freudian unconscious is situated at that point, where, between cause and that which it affects, there is always something wrong…what the unconscious does is to show us the gap through which neurosis recreates a harmony with a real–a real that may well not be determined…and what does [Freud] find in the hole, the split, in the gap so characteristic of cause? Something of the order of the non-realized.” (Lacan, page 22)

This gap is between cause and effect, like the gap between disintegration and reintegration, the empty space replacing a path on which something, otherwise not disintegrated and reintegrated, would travel, rather than be teleported, from A to B. This gap is also the Lacanian lack that gives rise to desire, and discovering what the desire is in this story is key to understanding the symbolic meaning of the fly.

XII: Freudian Slips

We must fill in this gap to determine what is being repressed, what is not being said or shown in the short story or the film, but what is rather hinted at through the occasional Freudian slip, or symbolic interpretation of whatever in the story is described as something otherwise mundane or in a matter-of-fact physical way.

One such a slip, as I see it, occurs when Henri/Philippe is not regarded by Hélène as her son. In the short story, François in his narration calls the six-year-old boy, his nephew, “the very image of his father”; but as I’ve said above, this narration is unreliable. Because of André’s death and Hélène’s declared madness, François has been made the boy’s guardian, in effect, his new father; yet any suggestion that he really is the boy’s father will be guiltily denied.

In the film, François even says to Charas, “She acts as if the boy were mine and not hers.” Charas speculates that Hélène is trying to protect her son, or that perhaps she fears or hates him, something François dismisses as an insane idea, and it is at this point in the film that Charas asks if François is in love with her, to which he immediately replies, “Yes.”

Why would a scriptwriter of Clavell’s obvious ability add this element to the story without developing it, if it didn’t serve much of any purpose? Note that François’s declaration of love comes immediately after a claim that Philippe is supposedly his son and not hers. Could he be her love-child by François in a love affair, one she feels so guilty about that, in her mad guilt, she denies her own maternity? The way the film ends–with François, in effect, as the boy’s new father, and Hélène having not committed suicide but being, also in effect, his new wife–looks suspiciously like wish-fulfillment. Such wish-fulfillment reinforces the visual presentation of the film as really being François’s unreliable narration.

XIII: Forbidden Desires and the Fly

Naturally, François rules out even the possibility of an affair with her by saying, “I don’t think she ever noticed me,” though a close look at Charles Herbert, the child actor chosen to play Philippe, looks more like he could be a son of Vincent Price than of David Hedison. Finally, during the scene when Philippe has caught the fly with the white head, and he sees his mother with his uncle, he is annoyed to be told by her to let the fly go; but as he is going outside and closing the front door, he looks back at her and his uncle with a split-second look of suspicion in his eyes, as if he sees the two adults acting a little too familiar at that particular moment.

That this suspicious moment happens on the very day when the heads and limbs of André and the fly are switched is significant. Here we come to the very symbolism of the fly. Male houseflies, during their short lives, have a voracious sexual appetite and are constantly on the lookout for females to mate with. In this we can see a symbolic link with my suspicions of a guilty sexual tryst between François and Hélène.

This guilt results in feelings of shame, disgust, and worthlessness, which can all be associated with houseflies. André’s constant preoccupation with his work, even to the point of writing out a new formula for teleportation on the program pamphlet to a ballet he’s supposed to be watching with his wife, means he’s emotionally neglecting her, which not only can drive her into the arms of his brother (who we already know is amorously infatuated with her), but which also makes André as worthless to her as a fly. So the exchanging of his head and arm with the head and leg of a fly is symbolic of this depreciation of his worth to her.

XIV: The Buzzing

With the guilt and shame that an adulteress feels, especially as one who, according to the short story, “had ever been a true Catholic, who believed in God and another, better life hereafter,” Hélène would have been desperately afraid of anyone finding out about her extramarital affair. Hence, her agitation whenever hearing the buzzing of a nearby fly.

Let’s recall the multiple meanings of the word buzz. Apart from the insect noise, buzz has been used to refer to the sound of telephones (remember in this connection the irritation François feels at the sound of a phone ringing), and also to refer to rumours. These additional meanings had existed long before the writing of the short story and the making of the movie. So her agitation at the sound of buzzing symbolically suggests her fear of gossip, or rumours from people knowing about her affair.

XV: Obsessions with Flies

Also, her nervous breakdown at the asylum after seeing a nurse swatting flies can be attributed to a triggering of her guilt over an affair that, in betraying André, reduced him to the worth of a fly, and so killing flies feels like a killing of him again. She also speaks of wanting François to destroy the white-headed fly if she tells him why she killed André; this contradiction suggests an emotional conflict in her–killing it kills evidence of her guilty affair, yet it also represents killing André again.

Now, she is not the only one to raise her eyebrows at the idea of houseflies. François, after hearing about her obsession with them, is curious to hear Henri/Philippe bring up the fly with the white head during lunch with the boy. Previously, Charas brought up her fly obsession immediately before he and François discuss her denial that the boy is her son, and François’s admitting he loves her. So we see here a significant juxtaposition of houseflies with the boy’s parentage and François’s love for Hélène: I don’t think this juxtaposition is coincidental.

XVI: Love Triangles, and the Remake

My speculation of a hidden, repressed love triangle between André, Hélène, and François can be seen overtly in the equivalent three main characters in the 1986 remake–respectively, Seth Brundle, Veronica “Ronnie” Quaife (played by Davis), and Stathis Borans (played by John Getz). Brundle, knowing Ronnie has had a relationship with Stathis prior to her current relationship with him, gets jealous when he suspects that her reason for leaving him early to meet Stathis, when she’s supposed to be celebrating the recent success of his teleportation pods, is to get back together with Stathis. (Actually, she’s meeting Stathis to confront him over a veiled threat he’s made out of a jealousy of his own, over her new relationship with Brundle.)

And right when all of this jealousy is building, Brundle gets drunk, a fly is buzzing around, and both of them go into one of the pods to be teleported…and fused. Again, we have the juxtaposition of a buzzing fly with a love triangle; it’s as if the scriptwriting of the remake subliminally picked up on the veiled rivalry between the Delambre brothers and Hélène.

Another theme picked up from the 1958 movie and put into the remake is the relationship between external, illusory appearance and inner, hidden reality. When Brundle first comes out of the second pod, we of course don’t see a fly’s head and leg replacing his head and arm, but he looks as perfectly human as before. It’s only later, as his body parts start corrupting and falling off, leading climactically to the outer human shell all coming off and he’s revealed to be a giant bug, that we see he isn’t human anymore.

When Hélène begins telling François and Charas her story, in the film we see a scene of what appears to be the perfectly happy family. André is seen tickling Philippe, playing like a loving father, and all seems well. The shot is so ideal that it looks a bit too perfect. A hint already as to how things are actually not so good is in how André tells the boy he can’t play with him at the moment. It will become increasingly apparent that he is so obsessed with his work that he’s spending more time in that basement laboratory than with his family.

Yet another element shared between the 1958 and 1986 movies is the narcissistic grandiosity the inventor feels on seeing the amazing success of his teleporting machine. André boasts of having made the greatest invention since the wheel; he imagines that his “disintegration-reintegration” machine will allow food to be sent anywhere immediately, at minimal cost, thus ending world hunger.

Brundle’s narcissism is a bit different. On having unwittingly fused himself with the fly, he mistakenly imagines his pods have given him superhuman abilities: increased strength, agility, stamina, and sexual potency (recall what I said above about the sexual symbolism of the eager-to-mate housefly). Yet both André and Brundle are about to see their pride fall and crash.

With André, this fall is immediate upon his reintegration: we see no intermediate, transitional process–only the gap in between is understood to be there. With Brundle, however, the transitional process is slowly, agonizingly shown to us, inch by inch. We see his physical fragmentation, as well as his corresponding psychological fragmentation (against which he had only his initial narcissism as a defence), a fragmentation that’s a direct result of jealousy–a result I also see in André.

XVII: Fall of Pride

Now, André’s fall of pride upon reintegration as a fly/human hybrid should be seen as symbolic of his pride as an obsessive scientist and neglectful husband/father, which has led to Hélène’s affair with François (the shame of which, being too intense to bear, causes it to be erased from memory, repressed, and therefore never shown on screen or in the pages of the short story), and which has in turn led to André (as I imagine it) finding out about the affair, making him feel humiliated, cuckolded, and reduced to feeling the worthlessness of a fly. He kills himself.

Recall my association of Hélène’s incestuous affair with her brother-in-law with that of Hamlet’s mother and uncle. The notion of a fly’s worthlessness can also be associated with Hamlet in how the Danish prince derisively refers to foppish, buffoonish Osric as a “water-fly” (V, ii, 83).

The trading of André’s head and arm with the head and leg of a housefly reinforces this sense of worthlessness in how the head houses the brain, and either of the hands (the switched arms, remember, are different from short story to film) represents the skillful manipulation of scientific instruments and equipment with the hands, thus making his wife’s devaluation of him based on her dislike of his obsessive work, which has left her feeling so neglected.

XVIII: Nothingness and the Real

The nothingness of the gap between disintegration and reintegration represents more than just the repression of the unconscious. That void also represents Lacan’s Real Order, a traumatic realm where experience cannot be symbolized or expressed in language, because the differentials of the Symbolic Order (the realm of language, society, culture, etc.) no longer exist. Lacan called the Realimpossible,” just as Hélène calls André’s disintegration and reintegration “impossible.” Disintegration leads to a world of undifferentiated atoms, the Real (as experienced psychologically), Bion‘s O, Milton‘s “void and formless infinite,” or the Brahman of the Hindus. It’s nothing, yet everything; it’s heaven and hell, nirvana and samsara… ineffable.

XIX: Monstrosity

The hellish aspect of the gap manifests itself especially for André, in the short story, when he goes through the teleportation device again and reappears not only with the fly’s head, but with a mix of fly and the head of their cat, Dandelo! He’s now more bestial than ever, an aggravating of monstrosity that is paralleled in the 1986 remake when Brundle reappears as part man, part fly, and part teleportation pod.

This sense of the fly as representing self-hating monstrosity and worthlessness is intensified in Brundle’s “Insect Politics” speech, as well as in André’s sense of his brain deteriorating towards the end of the story. Ultimately, André’s self-hate, as symbolized in his monstrous transformation, drives him to commit suicide–as I reimagine it, by putting a pistol to his head and blowing his brains out, right in front of Hélène who, his laboratory being near the factory in the short story, has only to move the body a short distance to the steam hammer.

XX: Destroying Evidence of Suicide

As I see it, she needs to crush his head and arm (i.e., with the pistol in his hand, in order to destroy it, too) to destroy all evidence of a suicide that, if investigated, will lead to a revelation of her affair with François. Since her guilt has driven her mad, her faulty reasoning will lead her to believe that it’s better to be thought mad from delusions of a human/fly monster than to be known an adulteress with her husband’s brother (adultery and incest), driving André to suicide.

Her needing to use the steam hammer twice, because she forgot to put the arm (in my interpretation, holding the pistol) under with André’s head, represents her psychological conflict: part of her wants to be punished for her guilt in the affair by being found out, while the other part of her wants still to conceal that guilt. Later, she forgets the second use of the steam hammer out of a Freudian parapraxis, again, an expression of her conflict between wanting to be found out and wanting to conceal the guilt.

François’s own guilt over the same sin would have driven him over the edge, too, to the point of entertaining her fly delusion as true, to assuage his guilt. In this connection, it’s important to consider the ending of the story, especially in terms of how Clavell changed it from Langelaan’s short story. (Ironically, in the film François and Charas rationalize a conclusion to the case as, indeed, André’s suicide, freeing Hélène from guilt or commitment to an insane asylum. The reason for the suicide remains a mystery; she and François, thus, can privately entertain the fly-human hybrid story to help them forget the guilt of their affair.)

XXI: The Ending

The fly that is understood to be the one that got André’s head and arm is referred to as a fly with a white head. By “white head,” it’s assumed to be André’s head, though it’s never explicitly called such. In the film, we see a fly with a white spot on its head, and only in the scene with the spider’s web do we see a tiny human head and arm poking out of the web trapping the fly’s body, with the hybrid’s faint squeals for help.

Part of the reason for these differences, of course, is the limitations of the technology of the time; but I believe something else is going on. First, when François is sitting on the bench by the spider’s web, he doesn’t notice the squeals of the fly-human, begging anyone nearby to save it. They should be audible enough: after all, Charas later can hear them. François thus seems to be willingly deaf to its cries, part of his wish, symbolically speaking, to avoid responsibility for the consequences of his affair (in my speculation), and how it’s led to his brother’s suicide.

Later, when he and Charas see the fly about to be eaten by the spider, François can’t pretend it isn’t there. As a symbol of his guilt, the fly is something he cannot bear.

Now, an important distinction must be made: in the short story, it’s François who kills the fly, not Charas. As I’ve said above, I consider François’s narration to be as unreliable as Hélène’s, and that the film is their narration given in visuals. Having Charas kill the fly is thus, in my interpretation, François projecting his guilt onto Charas. Clavell’s changes to the presentation of the story are to give us an ambiguous way of thinking about it: is it an unreliable narration, or did the fly-human hybrid story really happen?

I believe François has hallucinated the fly with his brother’s head and arm, due to the stress of his guilt and what his beloved Hélène has gone through (and in his unreliable narration in movie visuals, Charas has shared his hallucination). Philippe/Henri, in this interpretation, has really only found a fly with a white head and leg, an ‘albino-like’ one, if you will, which his mother’s and uncle’s imaginations have turned into a fly/André hybrid.

Clavell’s changes to the short story included removing François’s opening narrative frame (and his dislike of ringing telephones); such an omission doesn’t prove he hasn’t been narrating, but only that we don’t see explicit proof of him telling the story. I believe that having Charas see the fly/André hybrid, thus opening up the possibility that outsiders have seen the proof of Hélène’s story–that what she has narrated is reliable after all–was Clavell’s way of making the story more intriguing: could this otherwise scientifically implausible story have happened, and should the audience just willingly suspend their disbelief?

I don’t think we should, or need to. The ending of the film, with François as Philippe’s new guardian, and with living Hélène present, comes off as wish-fulfillment for François. As with Claudius vis-à-vis King Hamlet and Gertrude, he got his brother’s wife, he can directly be a father to Philippe, and in his and her shared delusion, their folie-à-deux of the disastrous teleportation/fusion of André and the housefly, François can tell the boy that the lesson to be learned from his father’s death is how dangerous scientific experimentation, coupled with overweening pride, can be, rather than how dangerous incestuous adultery can be.

‘Chet,’ a Horror Short Story

Poppy, 23, in her apartment living room watching The Omen on Netflix, suddenly felt an urge to take a shit.

She paused the movie, just after the nanny, during Damien’s fifth birthday party, had finished calling his name from the window ledge. Poppy hurried over to the bathroom.

It felt urgent.

In fact, what was presumably a long, thick turd felt as if it were fidgeting in her rectum.

Please, God, she thought as she entered and approached the toilet. Get me there on time. I don’t wanna shit myself.

She pulled down her track pants and panties, sat on the seat, and let it out.

A huge plop splashed toilet water all over her ass. She felt too relieved to care. She let out a huge sigh.

Then something in the toilet water jumped up at touched her right labium.

“Ah!” she screamed, then jumped up, pulled up her pants, and looked back in the toilet bowl.

That was no brown log.

It was a slightly bluish-skinned, four-month-old fetus.

“What the fuck?” she said in a trembling voice.

It was growing, too.

Within seconds, it looked like a five-month-old fetus, having grown from six to ten inches long. It was male, with what looked like an upwardly-curved spike for a penis, and he was looking up at her with…hungry…eyes.

It kept growing.

How is this even possible? she wondered.

And those eyes with which he stared up at her just got hungrier and hungrier.

“I’ve gotta call Peter,” she whispered, then ran out of the bathroom to get her cellphone. She dialled her 24-year-old boyfriend’s number as she rushed back into the bathroom.

When she returned, she saw what now looked like a newborn baby trying to crawl out of the toilet.

“Oh, my fucking God!” she gasped.

As her phone rang for Peter, she’d put it down and picked up her baby. She put him in the bathtub, set the water to a comfortable warm, and cleaned the bits of her shit off of him.

Then she remembered to wipe her own ass.

Why won’t that bluish colour come off of his skin? she wondered as she, looking at the baby, washed her hands.

“Poppy? Poppy!” Peter’s voice shouted from her phone.

“Oh, shit,” she said, reaching for a towel to dry her hands. “Just a minute, Peter!”

As she was drying her hands, the baby let out a piercingly shrill scream. It was so loud, and unnatural for a baby to make (it sounded more like the shriek of an alien bird, or something), she was amazed the windows didn’t break. Her ears were in pain from it; she dropped the towel and plugged them with her fingers.

“Just a minute, Chet,” she said to the baby. Wow, she thought. How quickly I came up with a name for him.

“Poppy, come on,” Peter shouted from her phone, loud enough for her to hear. “What’s going on over there? What was that scream?”

“Just a minute, Peter!” she shouted back.

“What was that noise?” a woman shouted from next door, her fist pounding on the wall.

“Sorry, Mrs. James,” she shouted to her landlady. She picked up her phone. “Hello, Peter?”

“Finally!” he said. “What’s going on?”

“Get over here, now!” she said.

“OK, but what’s wrong?” he asked.

“I can’t talk about it on the phone. Just get over here. Now!”

“OK, OK,” he said, then hung up.

He arrived at her apartment in ten minutes.

As soon as she heard the doorbell ring, Poppy, still in the bathroom and holding Chet in a towel swaddled around him, called out, “The door’s open. Come to the bathroom. I’ve got a big surprise for you.”

No sooner did he open the door than Mrs. James shouted, “Keep it quiet in there!” across Poppy’s bathroom wall from her apartment.

“Who was that shouting?” he asked as he approached the bathroom.

“My landlady,” Poppy said. “But check this out.”

When he reached the wide-open bathroom door, his jaw dropped open.

“So, this is the big surprise?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Where’d the baby come from?”

“My ass.”

“C’mon, don’t joke around. And why is it…kinda blue?”

“I haven’t any less foggy an idea about that than I do that I gave birth to him by shitting him.”

He looked at her with a sneer. “Umm, Poppy…are losing your fucking mind?”

“Probably.” A tear ran down her cheek. “All of this is…just…too fucking much for me to handle.” She began sobbing.

“You aren’t on drugs, are you?”

“No, I’m not fucking on drugs!” she bawled.

“Hey, take it easy, Poppy. I’m just trying to understand…”

“Keep it down in there!” the landlady shouted.

“Seriously, where did this…bluish baby…come from?” Peter asked, looking down at his crotch as if he could anticipate the answer for some mysterious reason.

“I told you,” Poppy said in sobs. “Look, nobody’s more aware of how crazy this…anal birth…sounds than I am, but I swear, that’s what happened. I can’t explain it, but that’s what really happened. Speaking of anal, remember what we did three nights ago?”

“Yeah,” he said with a sigh and a smile. “What fun.”

“For you, not for me. I agreed to it ’cause I love you and I wanted to please you. Did anything out of the ordinary happen to you by chance, just before we did that?”

His smile turned into a frown. He looked down at his crotch again. She looked at her smiling baby and smiled back at him.

“Well?” she asked, looking back at him.

“I, uh,…” he began. “On the way here that night, I stopped to take a piss at a tree about half-way between your home and mine. I couldn’t wait. As I was pissing, some glowing…blue…gunk dropped on the tip of my dick. I looked up and saw more of the gunk hanging on a tree branch.”

Blue gunk?” Almost all the whites of her eyes were showing.

“Uh, yeah,” he went on, still looking down at his crotch with shame. “It didn’t hurt, but I couldn’t get it off while I was pissing, so I had to wait ’til I was finished. When I was, I shook my dick and the gunk all fell off, but where it had touched my dick, there the skin was…bluish…like ‘Chet’ over there.”

She looked at her baby. They exchanged more smiles.

“I heard you say ‘Chet’ on the phone,” Peter said.

“Yeah, that’s his name,” she said, still looking at her baby with a loving smile.

“Why’d you name him ‘Chet’?” Peter asked.

“Well, he came out of my ass–and I suspect I now know why–and ‘Chet’ is the closest-sounding name to ‘shit’ that I could think of, without, you know, being mean.”

“I guess that makes sense.”

“Do you think that blue gunk was some kind of alien? Something from outer space, or something like that?”

“I guess that makes sense.”

I guess that makes sense,” she mocked. “Then you decided you wanted to fuck my ass without a condom?”

“I didn’t want you to see the blue spot on my dick.”

“Of course not! Getting off is far more important than showing consideration for your woman, isn’t it?”

“Well, it’s just that…your asshole is so pretty-looking.”

“Aww, how sweet. Well, you’re a cute little asshole yourself, you know that? For fuck sakes, why do men have to be such perverts, wanting to stick it where I poop? Well, now you’re the proud anal father of a part human, part-alien baby!”

“How many times do I have to tell you to be quiet in there, Poppy?” Mrs. James shouted. “Maybe the threat of an eviction will do it! It’s past midnight!”

“Sorry, Mrs. James,” Poppy said. “What are we gonna do, Peter? We don’t make enough money, between the two of us, to raise a baby.”

“I don’t know. How can a baby gestate in a woman’s rectum?”

“Well, I guess glowing blue alien gunk can do that, Peter, especially after selfish guys fuck their girls in the ass when the blue gunk is on their unprotected dicks.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, still staring at his crotch. “I guess a screw tonight is out of the question, right?”

“Take a wild guess, Einstein!…Oops, gotta keep my voice down. What are we gonna do about Chet, though?”

“Well…I know this isn’t a very nice thing to do, but…couldn’t we just…expose him? I mean,…”

“What kind of a monster are you? I’m his mother…his anal mother, but still his mother. We’re Chet’s parents, whether you like it or not. His birth may have been…well…”

“Monstrous?”

She slapped him. “Peter, we should love him, in spite of how he came to be.” She looked down at smiling Chet, and smiled at him. “Look at his eyes. You love Mommy, don’t you?”

She saw his eager eyes looking up at her.

“Are they loving eyes…or hungry eyes?”

“Peter! He loves me.”

“I’m not sure of that, Poppy. Those eyes look creepy.”

“You’re just finding excuses not to take responsibility.”

“And you’re letting your maternal instinct blind you.”

Blind me? To what?”

“To a danger,” Peter said, shuddering. “Something in his eyes.”

Now Chet was looking at him…hungrily.

“You’re imagining things, Peter. Just ’cause he’s part alien…”

Chet opened his mouth to reveal not only teeth with serrated, sharp edges, but also a long, snake-like tongue that flew out and wrapped itself around Peter’s neck.

Poppy screamed.

Chet’s tongue tightened around Peter’s neck with amazing strength. He choked and gasped for air, his fingers trying to get Chet’s tongue off of him with desperate futility. In fact, the tongue was so strong, it was pulling Peter’s head closer and closer to those sharp teeth.

“No, Chet, no!” his mom screamed. She had no way to deter or punish her son; hitting her baby was unthinkable…but what could she do?

Besides, Chet might attack her next.

She put the baby down and reached for Peter’s neck. As she tried helping Peter loosen the tongue on his neck, she looked back at Chet.

“Chet, stop it!” she said, remembering to keep her voice down. “This is Daddy. You mustn’t hurt Daddy.”

She couldn’t believe how strong Chet’s tongue was. It remained crushingly tight around Peter’s neck.

A few seconds later, it crushed his neck and snapped it.

Peter’s body fell to the floor.

Poppy gasped, then stopped herself from screaming just in time. Her hand was on her mouth; her eyes agape.

Chet’s tongue slithered off Peter’s neck and recoiled back into his mouth. Chet looked down at Peter’s bare left arm. He opened his mouth to bare those saw-like teeth again.

Poppy was frozen in the same position, except for her ceaseless shaking.

Chet took a big bite out of that arm. Blood sprayed in all directions.

Poppy yelped and ran out of the bathroom. She shut and locked the door. Sobbing, she put her ear to it. She winced as she heard his gluttonous chewing.

This isn’t happening! she thought. How could this be happening? Am I dreaming? When am I going to wake up from this?

After several more minutes of chewing, which sounded like a ghoulish mukbang, it stopped. Poppy listened more intently. Her heart was pounding.

Silence.

Her face was soaked in tears. She kept listening.

Silence.

Then she heard the pitter-patter…of big feet?

More like pounding than a pitter-patter.

Had he grown quickly again?

The powerful first banging on the door suggested a yes answer to that question.

She backed off as she saw the door shake with each hit the boy gave it.

How could a baby get so strong so quickly?

When it’s part-alien, turd-baby. That’s how, apparently.

Poppy moved a big chair from the living room over to the bathroom door to keep Chet from ramming it open. He kept bashing at it, though. He was relentless.

She ran over to the kitchen and got a big cleaver from one of the drawers. The bashing on the bathroom door continued. She was convinced that Chet was getting stronger. As she walked out of the kitchen, she heard a ramming that sounded unmistakably like the breaking of wood.

Had he broken through the door?

Was Chet outside of the bathroom now?

Poppy ran for the bedroom, hearing his thumping footsteps from…somewhere. She got in and locked the door. She stood at the door and waited in the darkness.

There was no banging on the door.

Was he there, or…

…in here with her?

She looked around the room slowly, dreading what she’d see. The light was off, but enough light from an outside street lamp, combined with her eyes’ adjustment to the dark, allowed her to see what was in the room.

She looked down behind her.

She saw a naked boy with the appearance of a one year old. Standing, and with his face soaked in Peter’s blood, he looked up at her…lovingly?

She screamed and ran into the closet, closing the doors behind her. She heard the approach of his thudding feet.

His hand pounded, again and again, on the left of the closet doors.

Stupid! she thought as the pounding continued. He broke through that strong bathroom door. He can break through these doors so much more easily. I should have run outside and called for help. But I’m freaking out so much that I can’t think straight.

He punched a hole through the closet door.

She screamed.

He reached in, searched for her, and found her left leg. He grabbed it, just under the knee.

“No, Chet!” she screamed. “Don’t hurt Mommy!”

His strong grip on her leg was tightening. His other hand grabbed the door he’d punched the hole in, his little fingers slipping through the crack between this door and the other, and yanked it open with amazing strength. The yanking back, however, meant he’d hit himself with the door, making him let go of her leg and knocking himself to the floor on his back.

The pull of his hand on her leg before letting her go made her lose her balance and fall on the floor beside him. Before she could get up and run, he grabbed her by the arm and held her with a bruising tightness. Then his serpentine tongue flew out, latched to her T-shirt, and pulled at it.

“Chet, no!”

Again, with that superhuman strength, the tongue tore the shirt open, revealing her bra-less breasts.

The baby pulled his tongue back in, stared hungrily at that pair of large, shaking beauties, and licked his lips.

She just looked at those carnivorous, sharp teeth and thought, and to think I was planning on breastfeeding him before Peter got here.

Chet pulled on her arm to draw her chest nearer to his hungry mouth. She resisted with all her strength.

“No…Chet…please…Don’t bite…Mommy’s…tits off.”

The infant’s tongue flew out again, wrapping itself around her other arm and pulling her closer.

That other arm had the knife, though.

Those serrated teeth were inching closer to her right nipple.

She knew what she had to do.

But she just couldn’t kill her baby.

Chet’s mouth was just a few millimetres from that nipple now. Those sharp teeth of steel were almost touching it. He took a few hard bites in the air, just barely missing it.

She raised the cleaver, ready to stab…

…but she sliced off the tongue instead.

Blue blood sprayed everywhere. Chet let go of her other arm and rolled back, smacking into the far wall by the window. The severed tongue still clung to her arm like Krazy Glue.

Chet let out another shrill scream; her eardrums felt as if they were being slashed open.

“Goddammit, Poppy!” her landlady shouted. “This is your last warning! Be quiet, or I’m kicking you out of this building!”

Poppy ignored the warning. All her attention was on the look of malice in Chet’s eyes. It was unmistakable.

He hated her.

He wanted to kill her…and she knew why.

She’d rejected him.

She’d hurt him.

She didn’t love him (or so he thought).

His tongue was still dripping blue blood.

His eyes were locked on hers.

“Baby,” she pleaded between sobs as she held that knife firmly in her hand. “Please, don’t make Mommy kill you.”

Chet ran at her, his mouth wide open to bite.

She raised the cleaver.

Using it on him was still the most hateful thing in the world to her.

Should I just let him kill me? she thought. Better than me killing him.

He was halfway at her now.

But if I’m dead, who’ll take care of him? she thought.

Close enough to her, he let fly what was left of his still-long tongue and wrapped it tightly around her neck. Her hand, on his torso, kept him from getting any closer…except for that amazing strength he had, forcing her to bend her elbow and let him inch closer and closer.

That tongue’s pressure on her throat was painful and bordering on crushing. The hand that held the cleaver made it impossible to hold the tongue and loosen its grip.

She had no choice.

Those teeth were getting closer and closer to her face.

He was taking bites at it, the teeth making a sound like clapping pliers.

She plunged the knife into his neck, spraying blue blood all over her and making his body loosen and slump. The tongue let go, too, falling limp on her chest.

She coughed for several seconds, needing a while to reorient herself and stop from shaking all over. When she did, her heart having slowed down and stopped pounding, she finally looked down at Chet, splattered with blue blood, lying sprawled on the floor between her legs, his tongue hanging out like a dead snake from his wide-open mouth, and his open eyes looking away from her, seeing nothing.

She picked up his lifeless body, cradled it in her arms, let a few tears roll down her cheeks, then took in a deep breath. Her bawling came out in scream after scream.

“That’s it!” the landlady shouted. “I’m coming over there!”

As Poppy continued bawling, her teary eyes squeezed shut, she never noticed the tiny, blue, insect-like things crawling out of Chet’s neck wound. Her grief made her oblivious to the tickling sensation of hundreds of those little aliens crawling up her arms and onto her exposed breasts. Only when she felt the sting of thousands of little bites did psychological pain change to physical.

Her screams were so loud that she couldn’t hear Mrs. James’s fist pounding on her front door. Yet even if she could have heard the pounding, it would have made no difference, for those bites had already cut deep into her chest and arms, annihilating her breasts and exposing her arm bones and rib cage.

The mixture of his and her blood poured a lake of purple all over and around their dead bodies.

The landlady stopped banging on the door. “So, the noise has finally stopped, eh?” she shouted, fumbling through her keys. “For the moment, anyway.” She found the key to Poppy’s room. “Well, I’m gonna find out what the hell’s going on in there…” As she fit the key in the keyhole, she turned the doorknob, only to find it unlocked. “Oh, I didn’t need the key at all.”

She opened the door to find no one in the living room area. She walked in and looked around.

“Poppy? Where are you?” She noticed the paused movie on the TV. The nanny had hanged herself, her body crashing against the window. “Oh, how horrible.”

Mrs. James walked through the living room area over to where the bathroom and bedroom were. She saw the chair pushed away from the bathroom door, where she naturally took notice of the hole punched through the bathroom door. She scowled at the sight.

“Poppy, you’re gonna pay for my door!”

Then, she looked through the hole and saw some blood on the floor.

“What the…? Poppy, what are you doing in…?”

She put her hand through the hole and unlocked the door, then after opening it, she saw Peter’s bloody body, with bites all along his arm and a few bites from his stomach.

“Oh, my God!” she screamed.

She listened for several seconds in the ensuing silence.

Did Poppy bring a wild animal in here? she wondered.

Now she heard faint shuffling noises from the bedroom.

“Oh, my God,” she whispered as she crept from the bathroom to the bedroom with the most reluctant dread.

She tried opening the bedroom door, but found it locked, too.

Good thing I have all the keys to the apartment with me here, she thought, fumbling around for a skeleton key on the keychain. Or is it a bad thing?

She couldn’t have unlocked that door with any more reluctance.

She looked around, hearing the shuffling noises. The light was off. The darkness hid Poppy…and whatever else was in the room. She saw only Poppy’s hand lying on the floor; only it wasn’t shrouded in shadow.

Mrs. James reached for the light switch, knowing she wouldn’t like what she was about to see.

CLICK.

The only flesh remaining on Poppy’s skeleton was on that hand.

A colony of hundreds of creeping, blue, ant-like things was all over the floor around Poppy’s skeleton and Chet’s corpse.

Mrs. James let out a scream so loud, it made all the noise Poppy and Chet had been making seem like whispers.

A few neighbours called out to tell Poppy to be quiet.

They got their wish soon enough, though.

The first of the bites were on the landlady’s throat.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book IV, Chapter Twelve

A month had gone by. That look of stupid contentment on Peter’s face was still in stark opposition to how he felt inside. Yet if he even thought in opposition to the new way–critical thoughts, rebellious thoughts, conspiratorial thoughts–he would feel a sharp migraine that seemed to split his head open. He didn’t understand how Price and Hammond were able to endure such a painful death for the sake of ‘liberty.’

To feel comfortable, he had to repress his honest feelings and go about with that mindless grin…not something he was wont to do. His only consolation was that he had Michelle at his side…in body, if not in spirit.

“Years back, I complained about viruses, vaccines, and mask mandates,” he said. “Those were days of carefree happiness compared to now. Unh!” His splitting headache came back.

“Be content,” she said. “We have our homes back, and we’re sharing the extra rooms with the poor, as we should be. The Bolshivarians’ work will be all finished any day now, and they will leave. Then we’ll have our heads back.”

“I’m not…holding my breath…for that. Oh!

“Let’s turn on the news,” she said, walking over to his TV. “Maybe George will have a new speech.”

“Oh, yes,” Peter said, rubbing his head. “Our beloved dictator. Oww!

She turned the channel to CNN. “If you’d just stop thinking ill of them, the pain would go away.”

“I can’t help it. It’s in my nature…to rebel. Oh!

“George asked no less than four times to step down as leader,” she said. “They won’t let him resign because they love him so much. He’s a great leader.”

“You believe that bullshit, eh? Ooh!

“Here we go. He’s about to give us a speech.”

“Friends, comrades,” George began. “The time has finally come. Our work has finished. Your Earth is healed, democratic systems of government have been established around the world, and the gulf between the rich and the poor is no more.”

“Wonderful,” she said with a wider than usual grin.

“Hooray,” Peter grunted. “I can feel the…democracy…swimming in my head. Unh!

“You are free!” George shouted to cheers from his listeners.

Free? Peter wondered, with another stinging pain in his head. Could there have been some justification in Price’s opposition to the Bolshivarians?

“The time has come for us Bolshivarianss to say goodbye to you Earthlings,” George went on. “So this is the end.”

They’re going to kill us, Peter thought, his head throbbing in pain. I knew it. They’ve fixed up the Earth. They don’t need us anymore. They’ll split us all up into pieces, scatter our body parts everywhere, and they’ll enjoy our Earth without the need of human flesh for clothing. We’re all dead.

“We Bolshivarians wish to apologize to all the better Earthlings for having occupied your bodies for so long,” George said. “We know many of you have been bitterly opposed to our use of mind control, but with all the deaths we Bolshivarians have suffered, we were given no choice. The saving of the Earth was growing far too urgent for us to allow a protracted struggle with the likes of President Price. A shortened, but aggravated, struggle was necessary. But now, we will release you. We will let you go.”

Good, Peter thought. Kill us all and get it over with.

Oddly, though he didn’t feel a headache after those thoughts.

He and Michelle saw the little dots of light emerging from their bodies. They floated out and hovered before astonished Peter and Michelle.

“I knew it,” she said with a tear rolling down her cheek. “The mind control would only be temporary.” A grin lit up her face that to Peter could only be described as genuine.

“I don’t believe it,” he said. “I’ve got my brains back.” Now he was grinning.

On the TV, they saw the lights come out of all the people listening to George, and out of his body, too. The lights all floated up to the sky as everyone looked up.

“I’m free,” George said. “I can resign my position. I no longer have the burdens of leadership.” He let out a loud, triumphant laugh.

Peter and Michelle felt a gentle ‘farewell’ energy emanating from the Bolshivarian lights as they floated towards the living room windows. They were about to pass through the glass like ghosts and fly outside before Michelle stepped forward.

“Wait!” she said. “What about my mom and dad? I don’t wanna lose them!”

You will never lose us, Siobhan said in her mind. We will always be with you.

As will we, Peter, the energy of Peter’s parents vibrated throughout his body.

“But isn’t your energy linked with the Bolshivarians?” Michelle asked. “If they leave Earth, won’t you go with them?”

No, sweetie, Siobhan’s soothing energy buzzed in Michelle’s brain and heart. The Bolshivarians shared their energy and our energy with yours. So we’ll always be together, even after they leave the Earth. There is a common oneness that transcends all space and time, so we’ll always be together, no matter how far away the Bolshivarians are, even to the other side of the universe.

“Wait a minute,” Peter said. “That could mean that the Bolshivarians are still, secretly, controlling us.”

“Oh, will you stop with your paranoia?” Michelle said. “You have your mind back, don’t you?”

“It seems that way,” he said.

“Any headaches?” she asked, sneering at him.

“No.” In fact, he’d never felt better.

“Then stop worrying about it.”

“But what if, in some subtle way, the Bolshivarians are still–“

“Oh, please, Peter!”

The little lights were all outside now.

She rushed to the front door and went outside. Peter followed her. All of his neighbours were out on their lawns, watching the Bolshivarians floating up into the night sky. Soon, it became impossible to distinguish their alien visitors from the stars.

The people of Earth felt one last message sent into their minds: Remember, if you humans return to doing harm to each other and your world, we Bolshivarians will be forced to return and save you from yourselves again. Remember the lengths to which we are willing to go to ensure that salvation, so be good to each other and to your planet.

“How could they tell us that if they’re really so far away from us?” Peter asked.

“Through their advanced technology, of course,” Michelle said.

How does it feel to have a healed world, Michelle? her mother asked her in her mind.

“Like paradise,” she said with teary eyes and a wide grin.

“Yeah,” Peter said with a grin of his own. “It’s great to be free. I guess it was all worth it in the end.”

All of his neighbours were thinking the same way.

Every single person was grinning.

THE END

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book IV, Chapter Eleven

Peter and Michelle, having heard the breaking of the glass on the front door to the restaurant, shuffled over to the back door leading out to an alley. They heard the shuffling of feet entering the restaurant; the footsteps grew louder as they, presumably carriers, were approaching the back.

“They’re gonna find us in here soon enough,” Peter whispered, then listened at the door. “I hear nothing out there. Let’s sneak out before they turn on the light in here.” They went out the door.

In the alley, they hid between stacks of crates and garbage bags to the right of that door. They heard it open, a pause, then closing the door.

“What do we do now?” Michelle asked.

“We don’t wanna go in the direction of that door,” he whispered in her ear. “Any of them could be out there waiting for us. We should go in the opposite direction.”

One of us should go first,” she whispered in his ear. “Then, if the coast is clear, we’ll go out together.”

“OK, I’ll go.”

“Stop being so gallant. I’m smaller than you, so I should go. I can hide more easily than you.”

“OK, but don’t take long. I don’t like you going out there alone.”

“I’ll be super-fast. Don’t worry.” She kissed him on the lips, then went.

Shaking with worry, he peeked past the crates and garbage bags to see what was out there, but it was mostly darkness.

Thirty seconds of agonizing waiting passed.

I thought you were going to be super-fast, Michelle, he thought.

Finally, she came back.

He got up from his crouching position to see her better. “So?” he whispered. “Can we go? Is it OK?”

“Yes, it’s OK,” she said with a wide grin on her face. “Everything is just fine.”

“C’mon, Michelle. Don’t joke around. We don’t have to–“

“Join us, Peter.” She was still grinning. “It’s for the best.”

“Oh, no!” His heart sank with his lower jaw. “Please, God, no! Not you, too, Michelle.” He was choking up.

“Peter, just accept the new way. The Bolshivarians’ work is almost done. Just a few more months, and all the vestiges of our old, sick world will be annihilated.”

“With our souls,” He began weeping.

“No, Peter! As soon as the Bolshivarians are finished, they’ll free us and leave the Earth. I promise you.”

He just kept crying. “I love you.” He held the can of bug spray in his hands, but couldn’t bear to use it on her, for fear of even hurting her with it.

“I love you, too. And everything will be OK. Trust us. The souls of our parents are telling me, right now in my head, that all will be well.”

He looked at her and frowned. “Didn’t you tell me during our meal in there, that when I sprayed the lights coming from Sid’s hands, that our parents’ souls were destroyed, never to come back?”

“That was a white lie they told me, I must confess.”

“You Bolshivarians are all liars, like the ruling class here on Earth. You’re no better than they are.”

“The ruling class here is almost all obliterated. We had to lie about your parents. It was a desperate attempt to stop you from killing more Bolshivarians.” The lights were coming out of her fingers and were hovering before him.

“I remember when we lost our fear of these things.”

“I don’t fear them now, Peter.”

“They’ve taken your will, Michelle; but I know, deep down, you’re still in there, and I don’t wanna lose you.”

“You won’t lose me, Peter. They’ve reaffirmed my faith in them. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter, let them in, the voice of his father said in his head.

We’ll all be together again, his mother’s voice said.

As Don and I are with Michelle, Siobhan’s voice said.

“I can’t bear to lose you,” Peter said in sobs.

“You haven’t, and you won’t,” Michelle said, still with that grin that told him those words weren’t her own.

“Well, being a Bolshivarian slave with you is better than not having you at all.” He stretched out his arms to receive the lights in his body. “I guess this is my suicide.”

“Oh, nonsense,” she said with a laugh as the lights went inside him.

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

A week later, Peter and Michelle made arrangements to meet with Sid, this time in her house.

“He’s on his way, right from his home in Brantford,” she said. “So, we’re gonna go through with this farce again?”

“Yes, crazy as it sounds,” he said.

“Crazy as it is,” she said. “At the worst, he’ll be a carrier who we’re risking turning us into one of them, or one of us will kill him and we’ll risk–this time, my neighbours finding out, since we’re meeting him here this time. At best, Sid will be the way Wendy was acting: he’ll be one of us, but too scared to show his real self.”

“Or he will let his real self show. As tense as this is going to be, we have to try. I’ll go crazy if I have to live knowing only you and I are normal.”

“And what if he’s one of them, and he makes one of us into a carrier? What if I lose you, Peter?”

“I could lose you to them, too, Michelle. And that terrifies me. But that’s why we’ve gotta try to find allies. What’s going on around the world is like the zombie apocalypse, only it’s the Bolshivarian apocalypse. The more of them there are out there, the more desperate we’ll be to find any of us, ’cause we can’t do this alone.”

She let out a big sigh. “OK, let’s do this.”

They kissed.

**************

Five hours later, the doorbell rang.

They took a deep breath, clutched the bug spray hidden in their jacket pockets, and went to the door.

They opened it to see, predictably, a grinning Sid.

“Hi,” he said. “Long time, no see.”

“Yeah,” they grinned back, much better practiced now.

“Come on in,” Peter said.

They went into the living room and sat down.

“So, Sid,” Peter said through his bared teeth, “how are you coping with all of the changes going on?”

“Coping?” Sid said with a tinge of disbelief in his eyes. “What’s there to cope with? The improvements being made around the world are nothing short of miraculous. Schools and hospitals are being built all over Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. Decent-quality housing is replacing all the slums, including those in Regent Park, as you both must know. The unemployed are being given work. The climate crisis is practically over. What’s there to complain about?”

“Oh, of course we know about all the improvements being made around the world,” Michelle said. “We’re more than happy about all that. It’s just…well…”

“Well, what?” Sid asked, his smile beginning to fade.

“We don’t…feel as free…as we used to,” Peter said.

“Don’t feel free?” Sid said. “What could be more liberating than the changes we’ve recently seen? No more war. No more poverty. No more wildfires, flooding, or pollution. The people want these changes. Don’t you?”

“Of course we do,” Michelle said.

“But at what cost?” Peter asked.

What cost?” Sid asked. There was an uneasy pause. “Has your loyalty shifted?”

Peter and Michelle couldn’t answer.

“You in your nice palace of a home?” Sid added.

There was another uncomfortable pause.

Then the dots of light flew out of Sid’s fingers.

Peter and Michelle pulled out their bug spray, but they then heard some familiar voices in their minds.

Michelle? Siobhan’s voice called to her.

“Mom?” she said.

Peter, what are you doing? his mother’s voice said.

What George is doing is for the best, Peter could hear his father saying in his thoughts.

“You’re not real,” Peter said, aiming his little spray can right at the dots of light. “You’re a Bolshivarian hallucination.”

Sweetie, you don’t wanna spray me, do you? Siobhan’s voice almost sobbed in Michelle’s mind’s ear. If you do, I’ll die a second time, and I’ll never come back.

“Mama,” Michelle answered in a sobbing voice.

“The voices aren’t real, Michelle,” Peter said.

“Oh, yes they are,” Sid said.

“Mom?” she wept.

“Don’t listen, Michelle,” Peter said. “It’s a trick.”

“If you spray them, you’ll regret it, Peter,” Sid said.

We don’t want to take you by force, Don’s voice said to Michelle, but we will if we have to, honey.

“Daddy, you won’t hurt us, will you?” she sobbed.

“Of course they will,” Peter said. “They’re not our parents.”

“Shut up, Peter!” she bawled.

“Fine,” he said. “Speak, can, for me!” He sprayed at the lights.

Michelle! the voices of Siobhan and Don said, fading out into oblivion as the little dots lost their light and dropped on the carpet.

“Nooooooo!” Michelle screamed.

Peter grabbed her by the hand, sprayed Sid in the eyes, getting a grunt from him, and the two ran out of the house.

Peter and Michelle ran down the sidewalk, almost reaching a corner when he saw a few people farther off, with their backs to them. He stopped running and tried to calm down.

“Bastard!” she hissed, hitting him on the shoulder.

“Stop!” he whispered. “They’ll see us fighting.”

She wiped the tears off her cheeks, gave him a brief scowl, then calmed down and imitated his grin.

As they continued slowly walking down the street, she whispered, “The carriers are all around your home, Sid is controlling my home. We’re homeless now, you know.”

“Don’t remind me,” he said through his grin.

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

“This is getting to be too much!” Peter said to Michelle the following day as both of them flipped through the channels on the TV in her living room. “Every politician and public figure we see on the news making statements on current affairs has that ‘pod people’ Bolshivarian face.”

“They really have taken over, globally,” Michelle said. “The heads of every city-state we’ve seen–London, Paris, Berlin, Shanghai, Tokyo, Riyadh, Ottawa, San Francisco,…”

“You name the city-state, the politicians and CEOs representing them all have that mindless grin, that far-away look in their eyes,” he said. “This is really getting scary!”

“I’m amazed we were able to pacify that neighbour of yours yesterday,” she said. “We barely escaped Toronto without being spotted as non-carriers. And there’s no way we’re risking going back. And again, I have to ask: why’d you have to kill Valerie? We could have run outside without you using your switchblade on her. I’m also amazed they don’t have Bolshivarian cops tracking us. I guess they’re more interested in turning us into carriers than arresting us for murder, they’re more upset about the loss of their own than of human life, and they know we’ll spray them if they try to apprehend us. Instead, they’ll be more cunning about catching us.”

“Again, I’m sorry about stabbing her. I acted rashly. We’re all going a little crazy here. But as you said, at least we got out of there without being chased. I guess our acting skills have improved. But we can’t stay holed up in your house forever. Is anybody out there still normal?”

“I got that message from Wendy Callaghan, which was just like Valerie’s. She claims she isn’t a carrier, and that she’s all tense and afraid of being absorbed by the Bolshivarians. She said she’d like to come here, all the way from Los Angeles, because life there is so hopelessly taken over, she wants to get as far away from the Bolshivarian carriers there as she can. Do you think we should meet her, or will it be too risky?”

“Everything we do every day is a risk now,” he said. “But I’m desperate for us to find someone else who’s normal. If she is, it will be well worth the risk. The more normal people we can find, the happier I’ll be. I’m going crazy.”

“Same here.”

***************

Three days later, Peter and Michelle were in the hallway of a hotel in Toronto, approaching the room Wendy was staying in. They were wearing baseball caps and sunglasses.

“She must be even more paranoid than we are to prefer a small hotel room to accommodations in your house,” Peter said.

“Yeah,” Michelle said. “For all she knows, we could be carriers, and she’ll have her can of bug spray ready for us.”

“As we have ready for her, in case she’s been made a carrier since our last communication with her. So we’ll have to guard our feelings and only let our real selves out bit by bit.”

“She’ll probably be doing the same thing.” Michelle rang the doorbell to Wendy’s room. “Have your dumb smile ready.” They took off their hats and sunglasses.

Wendy opened the door.

She was grinning from ear to ear.

Peter and Michelle mirrored her grin back, hoping she was putting on as much of an act as they were.

“Come on in,” she said, stepping aside for them. “It’s good to see you both again.”

Peter and Michelle entered.

“What a small room,” she said as she and Peter approached Wendy’s bed. “In my home, I could have offered you a much bigger one, and for free.” She and Peter sat on the bed.

“Oh, that’s OK,” Wendy said, sitting on a chair across from the bed. “I don’t want to impose on you.”

“Oh, it’s no imposition at all,” Michelle said.

“Really, I’m fine here,” Wendy said.

“Well, as you wish,” Michelle said.

There followed a few seconds of uncomfortable silence.

“So,” Peter said, allowing his grin to relax a little. “You said in your message, Wendy, that you were really scared of…all the changes going on around us.”

“Yes,” she said, still fully grinning. “But everything’s OK now.”

“So…we can all relax, then?” Michelle asked, also letting go of her grin ever so slightly.

“Of course,” she said, all of her teeth still showing. “I’m relaxed now.”

“Good,” Peter said slowly, relaxing his grin some more.

There were a few more uncomfortable seconds of silence.

Has she been assimilated, Peter and Michelle wondered, or is she just so paranoid that she can’t let go of the act?

“So, what are your plans?” Michelle asked.

“Oh, I’m just doing what I can to help us all heal the Earth,” she said with that ever-present grin.

“Yes, it’s wonderful, all the progress that has been made,” Michelle said, her cheeks getting sore from all that grinning.

“Yes,” Wendy nodded in agreement. “Bolshivarian influence has stopped the wars, cleaned the pollution away, housed and fed the poor. It’s terrific.”

Peter ventured to lessen his grin a little more. “Is there anything you wish could be done…a little differently?”

“Oh, only that it could all be finished quicker,” Wendy said. “But things are being done fast enough, I guess.”

“And then the Bolshivarians can leave, and we can enjoy our new, healed Earth, right?” Peter asked.

“I suppose,” ever-grinning Wendy said. “Or they can stay with us, if they wish.”

“W-why would they need to stay, if all their work here is done?” he asked.

“Oh, if humans are let go, they might return to their destructive ways,” teeth-baring Wendy said. “And then our efforts will have been all for nothing.”

To Peter and Michelle, her choice of words (“humans,” “they,” “our” referring to the Bolshivarians) seemed to indicate she wasn’t acting.

Still, they didn’t dare take out their bug spray cans unless they saw the dots of light come out from her.

Hence, another moment of uncomfortable silence.

“Oh, Peter, I just remembered,” Michelle said. “There’s something I have to do at the Mississauga Exposé. Damn, I forgot all about it, and it has to be done today. Sorry, Wendy, we have to go now. This is so abrupt.”

“Oh, that’s OK,” she said, always grinning. She got up.

Do I detect a tinge of relief in her eyes? Michelle wondered. Or is that wishful thinking on my part, that she isn’t a carrier, and is acting, as we are?

“Yeah, we’d better go,” Peter said, getting up with Michelle. “Sorry to cut this off so quickly.”

“It was good seeing you again, Wendy,” Michelle said, hugging her and regretting the hug as soon as they touched. She felt Wendy’s heart beating as fast as her own. Wendy was also trembling as much as she was.

No lights came out, though, to their relief.

The women let go, and Peter and Michelle went back to the door. “Bye,” they said to Wendy as they went out into the hall.

“Bye,” Wendy said, keeping her grin on her face until the door closed.

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

The next day, Michelle contacted Valerie on Facebook, asking about what had happened to her since Pat’s assassination of Karol Sargent. This was Valerie’s reply in a personal message:

Don’t worry, I’m OK. I managed to get out of China immediately after the killings. I got back home by burying my feelings and pretending to be one of those automatons. It was really hard to hide my grief over the Bolshivarians’ murder of my husband, but once I got back to the privacy of my Milwaukee home, I lay on my bed cried for what seemed hours.
We should meet. I can fly over to Toronto or Mississauga. I hate having to pretend to be one of those soulless carriers all the time. If I’m with you, I can relax, be myself, and cry on your shoulders over what happened in China.

Michelle let Peter read Valerie’s message.

“Well, what do you think?” she asked him. “Judging by what she said, does she seem to be still all human? She doesn’t seem compromised to me. Do you think this message could be pretence?”

“Well, I guess she’s being sincere,” he said. “I certainly want to believe she’s sincere. We need some real human company around here, and the only way we can get it is by taking a risk or two. We can have some cans of bug spray handy, just in case.”

“OK, I’ll tell her we can meet, say, in your home,” she said. “As soon as she’s in Toronto District, we’ll have a driver at the airport take her home.”

“The driver could be a carrier. He could turn her into one of them.”

Anyone out there during her trip could be a carrier, turning her into one of them. She could be a carrier right now, for all we know. If we really want to meet with her, it’s the chance we’ll have to take.”

“Yeah, OK,” he said. “Let’s hope for the best. Let’s hope that if she isn’t a carrier, that she can fake being one all the way here, and not get changed.”

Michelle replied to Valerie’s message with the plan, to which she agreed.

***********

Three days later, in the afternoon, Peter and Michelle heard his front doorbell ring.

“That must be her,” Michelle said.

They both rushed to get the door.

Valerie stood there with that eerie, soulless grin.

Peter and Michelle grinned back uneasily.

They all stood there stupidly for several seconds.

“May I come in?” Valerie asked, her grin unchanged, with no awkwardness in her expression at her hosts’ odd hesitating.

“Oh, yeah…uh, of course,” Peter said as he and Michelle stepped aside to let Valerie in. “Sorry.”

“What a nice place you have,” Valerie said as she went in and looked around. “So, this is how the rich live.”

Concealing his annoyance at her remark, he said, “I may be bourgeois by birth, Valerie, as is Michelle, but I assure you, that’s not where our sympathies lie. My mom and dad used to call me the Friedrich Engels of our family.” He closed the front door.

“I’m sure they did,” Valerie said with that same grin as she approached a chair to sit on in the living room. “I’ve just never seen such a posh place before.” She sat down. “My home with Pat in Milwaukee is nice, but not this nice.”

“Thanks,” Peter said as he and Michelle returned to the living room and sat on the sofa. “After seeing what life is like for so many in Venezuela, Angola, and here, too, in Regent Park, I feel guilty about having this ‘nice’ home.”

“I feel the same way about mine in Mississauga,” Michelle said. “With all the changes the Bolshivarians are making, especially now with President Price and Secretary of State Hammond gone, and with the Washington District government under Bolshivarian control, we can more quickly provide for all the poor of the world.”

“Yes, those changes will be coming fast now,” Valerie said, still grinning without a trace of personality.

Peter remembered the switchblade he had in one of his jeans’ back pockets, and the small can of bug spray in the other.

“Valerie,” Michelle said. “Would you like to relax? I mean…we can get you something to drink if you like. Some tea?”

“No, thanks. I’m fine,” grinning Valerie said.

“You said in your message that you want to relax and be yourself,” Peter said. “Feel free to do so here.”

“I am,” grinning Valerie said.

“You–you’re with friends,” Michelle said. “N-no need to pretend. Let yourself go.”

“Pretend?” Valerie asked, all those teeth still showing.

Desperate to end the tension, and gripping those weapons in his back pockets, Peter stood up and said, “You don’t need to pretend to be one of those Bolshivarian automatons!”

“Peter, easy,” Michelle said with a frown.

“I’m not pretending,” Valerie said as she rose from her chair. “But you have been, haven’t you?” Out of her fingers flew a swarm of those little dots of light.

Peter was quick on the draw with his can of bug spray. It hit the first six or seven of those tiny balls of light, making all of them drop on the carpet. Since Valerie hadn’t been a carrier for long, the lights hadn’t yet integrated with her body, so the bug spray wouldn’t kill her. Peter ran at her with the switchblade ready to stab. Valerie screamed.

Michelle looked away and covered her eyes. She didn’t want to see her boyfriend shed blood a second time.

A few seconds after Valerie’s body hit the floor, her blood staining the carpet, Peter and Michelle heard the doorbell ring again. Michelle ran over to answer the door.

“Yes?” she said to a male neighbour after opening the door.

He, too, had that all-too-familiar grin.

“I heard a scream,” he said, looking into the living room, though Michelle’s left shoulder was hiding Valerie’s body and blood from his sight. “Is everything OK?”

“Oh, yeah,” she said, trying her best to imitate that stupid-looking grin without showing any nervousness.

“We’re watching a horror movie on TV,” Peter said as he approached the door, hoping his body would help obscure not only the bloody body, but also the living room TV that hadn’t been turned on all that day.

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

That evening, Peter was in Michelle’s home, in the living room. They were watching CNN.

President Price was giving another press conference. Her secretary of state, a tall black man named Hammond, could be seen standing in the background.

“Over the past year, I’ve been giving some thought to the policies of our governments and corporations, both domestic and international,” she began. “This reevaluation has been provoked by what…happened…last year. We made great strides in overcoming so many of the ill effects of climate change–ending the wildfires, lowering sea levels, removing pollution in the air and oceans…”

“You liar,” Peter said. “The Bolshivarians did all that with technology we’re not even close to having. You’re still taking credit for their…”

“C’mon, Peter,” Michelle said. “Let’s listen.”

“Still, we’ve done our share of destructive things, too,” Price said. “The bombs we dropped on those three cities, a necessary sacrifice to draw out the aliens from their hiding places so we could exterminate them, nonetheless caused terrible destruction and loss of life.”

“Wow,” he said. “A frank admission of guilt from her.”

“And eerily lacking emotion,” Michelle said.

“To atone for what our governments and corporations are responsible for, we’ve decided to make some radical. sweeping changes in our domestic and foreign policies,” Price said.

“‘Radical and sweeping’,” Peter whispered. “Her favourite words again.”

“The wealth…of the heads of corporate governments…will be taken and shared…with the poor of the world,” Price said. She coughed and seemed to be gagging.

“Whoa!” Michelle said.

“That’s a Bolshivarian policy,” Peter said. “Not hers.”

“This money will fund social programs and education, will provide and guarantee employment for all, as well as universal housing and healthcare for everyone, including the poorest,” the president said amid more coughs and gagging. “All military operations in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia will end…immediately.” She twitched a few times, as did Hammond. “All troops…are to come home…with no delay.”

Peter and Michelle watched and listened with their jaws practically touching the living room carpet.

“This is too good to be true,” she said.

“Exactly,” he said. “They aren’t making these decisions of their own accord. We know who’s really doing it.”

“The mechanical way Price is talking and looking at everyone proves it,” Michelle said. “Her expression is even more forced, more robot-like, than my mom’s was when she’d first become a carrier.”

“What we’re doing …is,” Price went on, wincing as if in extreme pain, “for…the greater…good…unh!

“Madame President, are you alright?” a reporter asked.

Hammond began squirming and fidgeting in pain, too. A confused noise of voices among the reporters was the only comment on his and Price’s behaviour.

After several more seconds of squirming and wincing, both of them let out screams of pain. The familiar red crack lines could be seen on their faces and hands.

“I knew it,” Peter said.

“So, when Bolshivarians take control of your mind, this is what happens when you try to regain control of yourself?” Michelle asked.

“Looks that way,” Peter said. “Masochistic agony.”

Hammond confirmed Michelle’s suspicions when he grunted, “Give me…liberty…or give me…DEATH!!!”

His and Price’s bodies both split into pieces, tearing their clothes and revealing their internal organs.

“I never thought I’d see the day when the president’s guts would be shown on TV,” Peter said.

“Or the brains…since JFK’s assassination, at least,” Michelle said.

The bodies exploded seconds later.

“The TV isn’t cutting to a commercial,” she said.

“There no longer seems to be any concern over censoring anything,” he said. “No secrets need to be kept from the public, it seems.”

Peter and Michelle looked at the faces of the reporters. No shock was seen on any of them.

“The reporters don’t seem to prefer liberty over life, do they?” he said.

“No,” she said. “We know whose side they’re on.”

“Look, I’m glad Price and Hammond are gone,” he said, “But I’m not so glad about what’s replacing them.”

“If the Bolshivarians can get at the president,” she said. “They can get at anyone.”

“We’re gonna have to be extra careful if we want to keep control of our brains,” he said.