THE ENEMY • by Gretchen Bassier

The Enemy have teeth like wolves.

They have eyes the color of dying coals, and skin that can be any color it wants — flawless, chameleon camouflage.

And so, as Morgan makes his way down the steep hillside, he knows he won’t be able to see Them.

His breaths are harsh under the mask as he pushes through tall stalks of green.  At the bottom of the hill, the valley stretches wide: a panorama of rippling foliage and vast, cloudless sky.  Morgan cuts a path straight to the center, and turns a slow three-sixty.  All he can see are wild grasses, all around, dipping and dancing in the wind.  But he knows They are close.  If he holds his breath, he can hear Them: panting, snuffling, restlessly shifting Their paws.

An entire pack of perfectly hidden predators.  Powerful predators.  Working together, the Enemy can easily take down a full-sized elephant.  And They’ll just as happily devour anything else that moves and breathes: horses, cows, cats, dogs.  Newborn babies and strong, sweaty construction workers.

Even eight-year-old boys.

Morgan’s face is hot under the mask.  He bites his lip, listening hard, and guesses there are at least twenty Creatures gathered nearby, each painted invisible against the swaying field.  Twenty.   All close enough to rip the throbbing artery right out of his neck…

Morgan swallows, suddenly spit-less.  His bare arms shake as he stretches them out wide, spreading his fingers, letting the wind carry his smell: Sweet scent of child, ripe with life.


The grass begins to part, moving unnaturally against the breeze, flattened down in a dozen new trails as more Beasts arrive, drawn by the delicious temptation of a little boy, all alone.  Defenseless.

Morgan makes himself wait until the very last moment, until he can feel Their hot-wet breath on his skin.  Then, he forces his voice to be steady and grown-up:

“Hey, idiot-brains!  Want a snack?”

The restless, shifting movements amplify.

“Come on, you stupid lame-oids — I’m right here… Come on!

A hundred pairs of glowing red eyes slit open all around him.

Morgan’s stomach does a roller-coaster drop.  The Beasts have him completely, hopelessly surrounded… but They don’t know Morgan’s secret:  He’s not alone.  And he sure as hell isn’t defenseless.

A scratchy voice comes from the small speaker inside the mask: “You ready, kid?”

Morgan’s eyes narrow into slits, just like the Beasts’.  “Do it.”

The air cracks with cannon-fire.  Silver canisters begin to rain down, trailing smoky streaks the color of mustard, hissing and oozing toxic yellow.  The Enemy start to make different noises:  Gasping.  Wheezing.  Panicked yelps.

Morgan sees Them scrambling, thrashing, trampling each other.  He can see Their bodies, now — skins morphing crazily from one hue to the next, brain signals gone haywire from the poison.

Morgan watches the Enemy start to fall.  He spots ten, then twenty-five, then fifty of Them on the ground, twitching spastically, Their hides still flashing rainbows.  Morgan can make out the grey of cement and the pink of old brickwork, the dusty brown of desert sand and the blue-green of the ocean, all living in Their skins.

The Enemy can survive almost anywhere.  They can survive almost anything.  And, even as most of Them are frothing and dying on the valley floor, a few Beasts struggle back up.

Genetics.  Immunity.  Survival of the fittest.

In all, ten Creatures totter to Their feet, somehow superior to the rest.  They stumble over limp corpses, moving out, away from Morgan.  The Enemy are dazed, but regrouping fast.  They tighten ranks, unify, and begin heading up the hillside, toward the City.

Toward New Hope.

Morgan’s friends live in New Hope.  His third grade teacher, Ms. McClary, lives there.  His parents

Morgan charges after the Beasts, yelling bathroom-wall swear words at Them.  He draws his special gun, and blue laser beams sizzle the air as he fires, picking off the remaining Creatures with radioactive blasts, watching Them shriek and burn and fall… All except One.

The last Enemy turns slowly.  Morgan can hear It growling.  He can see white foam dripping from snapping jaws as It starts to come for him.

Morgan fires, again and again.  The Beast’s hide is scorched black, smoking from the hits, and yet It keeps on coming.

The gun’s power fizzles, fades.  “No, come on… Please…”

The Creature is nearly on top of him.  Morgan drops the gun and stumbles backward, reaching frantically for his belt.  The Enemy rears up and slams Its massive front paws into his chest, sending him sprawling.  With one swipe, It tears the mask from his face.  Chemical fumes burn Morgan’s throat as he stares up into slitted, ruby-fire eyes.  Hot saliva drips on his cheek.  The Beast leans down, baring Its wolf-teeth for the kill, and Morgan finds his knife at long last.

He buries the silver blade, hilt-deep, in his Enemy’s chest.

The Creature chokes.  Morgan pulls the blade out, and drives it in again.  And again.  And again.  “You don’t come on my land,” he snarls, between thrusts.  “Not my land… Not my land…”

Warm life spills out over Morgan’s hands.  White foam turns pink.  The Beast wilts sideways, shudders, and goes still.  Morgan sits up.  His stomach is churning from the toxins.  He shoves at the ground with red-painted hands and rises on wobbly legs.

Down below, the valley is a mass grave.  Enemy bodies are scattered and strewn, frozen stiff in gruesome poses.  Dead.  Every Last One.

Morgan closes his eyes and smiles.

“Morgan?” comes the scratchy voice in his ear.  “Kid, you with me?”

He opens his eyes and is almost blinded by fluorescent white.  Nurse Peterson is standing over the bed.  She carefully slips the IV needle from Morgan’s arm and tapes on a gauze pad.

“Well?” she asks, planting her hands on her hips.

Morgan manages a cocky head-tilt, even though the nausea is hitting harder.  “Well, what?”

“Did you beat the Cancer again?”

Morgan’s smile melts into a full-fledged grin.  “Kicked Its ass.”

Gretchen Bassier has a BA in Psychology from the University of Michigan. She works in healthcare, and her socks are often mismatched.

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 average 4 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • very good.
    very well written. In keeping with psychoimmunologial visualisation techniques. Is a real good clinical example of this. Could find a market as a vignette in a textbook.
    But also as a story I liked it.

  • Rob

    Ha! A gem.

  • ajcap

    SO good. Wonderful twists and turns and the ending…somehow heartwarming, even though you find out the hero has cancer. Reader is left with the feeling that Morgan will kick cancer’s ass.

    Great suspense. And the mask was a gas mask! Who knew!

    I could go on and on but I’ll leave it with five stars.

  • Geez louise! Now that’s a five star story!

  • Dee Streiner

    Amazing! Wow. 😀

  • I just knew the set-up was fictional, that something else was really going on. Thought I had it figured out, that he was in a summer school class day-dreaming out of boredom. Thought he’d get shaken out of his malaise by the teacher cracking his knuckles or something, and then….

    A kid fighting cancer with chemo? Damn, I hate it, love it, when the story turns upside down, destroys my preconceptions. Well done Gretchen, well done indeed! Five big ones…..

  • Paul Friesen

    I do recall someone writing to me once that “it was all a dream stories” are un-publishable. I’m not sure if this is the same concept or not. To me it is, and proves that such stories are not un-publishable (sorry for the double negative. I guess I could have just said publishable).

  • JenM

    Wow, And here I thought poor Morgan was going to suffer from som mental illness. I’ve heard that kids are told to imagine cancer cells as monsters so it’s easier to vanquash them, but I’ve never seen this illustrated so well. Five stars.

  • kathy k

    Wonderful. I gave it five stars. Hope to see more by Gretchen.

  • Rose Gardener

    Excellent, so well-written and the ending was completely unexpected but a perfect fit.

  • Great story and twist. I had no idea where you were going. But toward the end I expected mental illness as well. Glad he’s a cancer warrior and not a psycho.

  • My only qualm would be with the name Morgan, which is so often a surname. It had me thinking Morgan was an adult (since kids would more likely be referred to by their first name), even after the line ‘Even eight-year-old boys.’ – I figured here the MC was referring to his son!

    Anyhow, confusion caused by names aside – a darned good story.

  • Paul Friesen

    I’ve only know Morgan as a first name. Maybe there aren’t alot of Morgan families in Canada, or at least in Winnipeg, but there are plenty of people named Morgan

  • ajcap

    Well, there was Henry Morgan, from MASH.

    Then there was Morgan Freechild, female blonde actress.

    Names are certainly tricky, but the line “Even eight year old boys”, made it very plain to me.

  • #13 & #14 – Then there’s Morgan Freeman; no relation, by the way

  • Gretchen

    Thank you all for making publication at EDF such a joyful occasion!

    @ stu1 (#1): Thanks so much! I had heard of this type of visualization technique for cancer patients many times over the years, so I hoped others would be familiar with the concept. It would be awesome if this ended up in a textbook someday! (I know my teacher parents would be thrilled).

    @ Rob (#2): Thank you! I’m so happy you liked it!

    @ ajcap (#3): I appreciate your comments so much! It was definitely intended as an uplifting ending. Morgan is in the right frame of mind for the battle he’s facing. Thanks so much for reading, and for the lovely review.

    @ Debi Blood (#4): Thank you very much. You are an incredibly talented writer, and praise from you is always an honor!

    @ Dee Streiner (#5): Thank you, Dee! Your smiley made me smile 🙂

    @ Seattle Jim (#6): I’m glad the ending surprised you. I hoped it would do that, at least for some people, and I hoped it would be a good surprise, not a bad one! I’m delighted you enjoyed the story, and I loved reading your detailed comments.

    @ Paul Friesen (#7): Thanks for reading! I don’t consider it exactly the same as a dream story, since the main character here is consciously engaging in a visualization process, trying to take an active role in his own healthcare. That said, I do think a more typical “it was all a dream” story might also be publishable, if the dream caused the character to change somehow, after waking up (e.g. he made a decision or came to a realization as a result of the dream). In this story, I feel the main character is more empowered and hopeful at the end than he is at the beginning, as a result of his mental exercise.

    @ JenM (#8): Thank you very much! I think they even recommend this for adults, too, although it may be more like meditation than fantasy for grown-ups. Thanks again for the lovely comments!

    @ kathy k (#9): I’m so glad you liked it – thanks for the praise and the great score!

    @ Rose Gardener (#10): To my favorite slush reader: I’m so happy you enjoyed the story. That gives me a big smile. I’m glad the ending worked for you (I was a little worried!).

    @ Luana (#11): I agree – having the character be mentally ill would have been a bummer of an ending. I hope the real ending gave readers the opposite feeling – an uplifting one. Thanks so much for reading, and for your kind comments!

    @ Paul A. Freeman (#12): I chose the name Morgan because I thought it had a sci-fi/fantasy flavor that went with the story. It never occurred to me that it could be read as a last name (even though it should have, since I actually know someone with that last name!). Sorry for the confusion, and I’m glad it didn’t totally kill your enjoyment of the story! Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  • Paul Friesen

    Wow Gretchen. Thanks for the detailed feedback on my Feedback (and everyone else’s). It made my day 🙂

  • Elle Marie Gray

    The visualization of vanquishing an internal enemy is indeed powerful. Those of us well past eight years old can attest to that, although our”advanced” age doesn’t make our experience as the main character as interesting to read as this one. Nice job.

  • I love everything Gretchen does, and this was no exception. Gorgeous story.

  • Simone

    Exceptional story and very well written. You’ve earned 5 stars again from me, Gretchen.

  • Gretchen

    @ Paul Friesen (#17): It was my pleasure! I’m glad you checked back and found it. 🙂

    @ Elle Marie Gray (#18): Thank you! I wish I still had that childhood ability to completely immerse myself in a fantasy. Too bad we have to grow up! Thanks again for reading and commenting.

    @ Samantha Memi (#19): What a lovely thing to say! Thank you so much!

    @ Simone (#20): Thanks, Simone! Glad to hear you liked it, even though it was not a comedy like the Lady Gaga one. 🙂 Thank you for the nice rating, as well!

  • I thought, as I read it, this story was the best monster story I ever read. I thought the ending was questionable as a surprise turn, a “and then he work up solution.”

  • Gretchen

    Hey Roberta (#22), thanks for reading! Sorry the ending didn’t work for you, but I am glad you enjoyed the monster part at least! 🙂