<<0735: FINISHED SWEEP OF CENTAURUS CONSTELLATION. ENTERING ORBIT OF PROXIMA B. FINAL SYSTEMS CHECK. SOLAR PANELS SAFELY STOWED. HEAT SHIELDS at 100%. INITIATE APPROACH. ANGLE OF DESCENT: 39.7 DEGREES. MAXIMUM DRAG MAINTAINED.>>
Halfway through their first cups of coffee, Mary looks up at the growing red scar in the sky and says, “Oh dear.”
Henry sees the fiery meteor of doom on a collision course for the backyard, so he lifts the newspaper to shield his eyes. His favorite sports team is on an 11-game winning streak. “It’s probably nothing.”
“That doesn’t look like nothing, Henry.” Mary has already diverted her attention to her knitting needles, which click together with increasing intensity. A ball of yarn escapes her lap and flees the room.
<<0805: LZ IDENTIFIED. RETROROCKETS FIRING AT FULL THRUST. DESCENT AT 15 MPH. LANDING GEAR DEPLOYED. GEOLOGICAL PROTUBERANCE ENCOUNTERED. ERROR 303: STARBOARD STABILIZER DAMAGED. RETROROCKET FUEL EXHAUSTED. TOUCHDOWN. SYSTEM CHECK: HULL INTEGRITY 100%, WHEELS AND SOLAR PANELS DEPLOYED. CAMERAS AND AUDIO TRANSMITTING.>>
A metallic contraption that looks part bovine and part crustacean slams into the backyard. Its snout exhales two concentrated pillars of steam, kicking up dust and rocks like a bull ready to charge. Silver bat wings unfurl. A cybernetic eye scans the backyard and house. Red laser beams race up and down the splintered toothpicks that were once a picket fence. From under the intruding vehicle, the twisted spine of a swing set lifts an arm to one side dangling a seat from the end of two chains.
“There goes the swing set.” Henry takes his time folding the newspaper, so that the box scores are easily accessible. He slides from the chair, and peers over the edge of the table at the trespasser. Murder brews in Henry’s eyes, but it is on slow drip. It will take a long time for rage to reach his chest. He chooses his words carefully, as if trying to coax indignation from them: “I mowed that damn yard yesterday.”
“Language, dear,” Mary reminds him. She has retrieved the errant ball of yarn. She counts her rows of stitches before resuming.
<<0825: EXPLORATION PHASE INITIATED. MICROSCOPIC IMAGER ENGAGED. ALPHA-PARTICLE X-RAY SPECTROMETER DEPLOYED. TUNGSTEN 200-DIAMOND-COATED BITS DEPLOYED. WATER SEARCH INITIATED. PENETRATION DEPTH: 24 INCHES, 30 INCHES, 36 INCHES, 42 INCHES. HIDDEN AQUIFER IDENTIFIED. SCANNING. ANALYSIS: H20, HIGH PERCENTAGE HYDROGEN SULFIDES, CARBON DIOXIDE, AND METHANE. CONCLUSION: WATER UNSUSTAINABLE FOR LIFE.>>
The metallic giant turns one red laser eye in the direction of the house, as if daring Henry to intervene. Then it lifts a steel claw and punches it into the earth. They can feel the tremors under their feet, spasms that reach up into the walls and dislodge fine china from the cabinets. Two minutes later a shit geyser erupts above the invader, and fecal matter rains down on the house.
“They got the septic.” Henry rolls up his sleeves.
Mary leaves the room and the interlocking fingers of yarn that form a large loop, which could be the neck of a sweater or possibly a noose. She returns a few minutes later with his rain coat. She nods toward the new leather loafers on his feet. “Shoes, dear.”
Henry shrugs into the jacket, kicks free of his footwear, and marches to the garage for his steel-toed work boots and a shovel.
<<0831: INITIATE MINERAL ANALYSIS. DEPLOY MINEROLOGY EXTRACTION/X-RAY DIFFRACTION UNIT. ALUMINUM DETECTED. TRACE ELEMENTS OF LEAD AND CARBON. 314 ERROR: SOLAR PANELS AT 80%. 673 ERROR: SPECTROMETER FAILURE. 314 ERROR: SOLAR PANELS AT 54%. 337 ERROR: INFRARED DETECTORS OFFLINE. RETRACT INSTRUMENTS. 314 ERROR: SOLAR PANELS AT 39%. LOSS OF POWER IMMINENT. BACKUP PLUTONIUM BATTERY ENGAGED.>>
Henry emerges from the garage, wrinkling his nose against an eye-watering stench that clogs the air. The invader’s mandibles grind and crunch the twisted aluminum bones of the swing set. Chains flail as the crossbeams disappear into the alien’s maw.
Twirling the shovel in his calloused hands a few times, Henry considers the best approach. He slowly crosses the rivulets of wastewater puddling in the red clay of his former Saturday afternoon sanctuary. He aims several blows at the creature’s glittering wings and sparks erupt with each strike.
The mechanical cyclops turns its glowing red eye in his direction, and Henry swipes at it. The shovel head connects with the tubular appendage, snapping it in half, sending the extinguished eye hurtling over the broken teeth of the back fence.
“Homerun! ” Henry whoops. His victory dance is cut short when the mire below him sucks a boot free, causing him to lose his balance and fall on his butt.
<<0839: 911 ERROR: CATASTROPHIC SYSTEM FAILURE IMMINENT. ABORT MISSION.>>
Several tendrils of lightning cocoon the polished copper flank of the bovine-crustacean apparatus. A few tongues of electricity lick the air above Henry, but he ducks his head and shields his eyes. The beast shrieks like a boiling kettle. Then it sounds like several of its organs are imploding and popping at the same time. A sharp smell of burnt circuitry fills the backyard.
Henry plants the shovel in the muck and pulls himself to his feet. He approaches the strange intruder cautiously and pokes it several times with the blade, but it does not stir. A sigh gestates in his chest as he surveys the last vestiges of domesticity around him.
Mary stands at the back door, connected to the kitchen by an umbilical cord of yarn. “Do you need any help moving it into the garage with the others?”
Henry lifts his filthy hands up in the air, as if imploring his wife, the neighbors, or the universe itself for answers. “Why do they keep coming here anyway?”
Jeff Gard is an Associate Professor of English at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, IA. He writes short stories and flash fiction because trapping the voices in his head on paper is more socially acceptable than arguing with them out loud in crowded restaurants when they materialize full grown in quirky characters and scenarios that defy credibility. His wife apologizes for letting him near the keyboard again.