As I hike through the canyon alone and exhausted from carrying my heavy backpack, I am simultaneously stressed and comforted. I hear my feet crunching the gravel of the dry creek I’m using as a trail, and I fear I am giving away my location. However; when I look about the vast and arid land I’m traveling through, I don’t see anything hunting me. I can imagine I’m safe.
I follow the dry creek bed uphill hoping I will find some fruit. Evolution has allowed pomegranates and figs to grow in this desert. I have found enough of them to keep me hungry. I have also found just enough water to keep me thirsty. Hunger and thirst give me purpose. They also remind me that I’m still alive, so I welcome them.
As the sun beats down on the back of my neck, the creek trail evaporates. I find myself on the side of a mountain. I see a trail I assume was made by animals during their seasonal migrations. I am too far from where civilization used to be for the trail to be manmade. It could have been made by deer. Deer are herbivores. I travel using it hoping to find food.
The trail leads me to a cave. I remember having found water in caves, but also unfriendly animals. What is certain is that I will have shade. I look around the opening for snakes. Seeing none, I step inside. I am momentarily blind because of the darkness. As my eyes adapt, I see a man sitting inside the cave against the wall. He is pointing a shotgun at me.
“Don’t shoot,” I say as calmly as I can after the unpleasant surprise. “I’m human.”
“I’m can see that,” he says.
“Please stop pointing the gun at me,” I say.
“I’ll point my gun where I want,” he says.
“I just came in to get out of the sun and maybe find some water,” I say. “I can leave.”
“There’s some water in the caverns below if you want to fill your canteen,” he says. “You’ll need a headlamp and some courage to climb down. Then you can be on your way. I’ll even point the way back to civilization.”
“I don’t want to go back to civilization,” I say. He shrugs his shoulders, and it occurs to me he does not know. “You don’t know about the aliens, do you?”
“How much sun did you say you got today?” he asks.
“I’m not crazy,” I say.
“Alright, then,” he says. “Tell me about the aliens.”
“You think I’m crazy, but it would be wrong for me not to tell you. About three years ago, a huge alien ship arrived and parked just outside high-earth orbit.” I realize I’m too animated as I’m telling the story.
“High-earth orbit?” he asks as he lowers his shotgun.
“It’s a term the media used. It’s in space beyond our satellites. The ship did nothing when it arrived. Some expected it to shoot lasers at us, others expected ambassadors. It just floated out there. At first, there was a lot of emotion. Some were excited, others were angry. There was happiness and fear – lots of talk and speculation; but the alien ship did nothing. People lost interest. Soon, everyone went back to their routine with this big ship just orbiting the planet.”
“So this ship was just another thing out in space?” he asks.
“Yeah, nobody cared about the ship after a while. What everyone did care about was the world economy. It boomed. It boomed at a rate no one had seen before. And in a way no one had experienced – I mean, it wasn’t just the rich getting richer. Everyone got a piece of the pie.”
“Sounds like a world party,” he says. “Sad I missed it.”
“Yeah, big party – until everyone started to die,” I say.
“What do you mean by that?” he asks.
“People began dying at an alarming rate,” I say. I feel the weight of my backpack. I take it off and set it down slowly as he watches me. “We didn’t even notice at first because the old and the sick died first. Then the weak and the frail died. When healthier and younger people began to die, the cases were spread out over a wide area. There wasn’t a cluster or common illness that made the deaths stand out to doctors or the government. When someone finally noticed, we didn’t know why people were dying – much less what we should do. All we could do was bury our dead.”
“It was the aliens,” he says.
“Some people said that, but there was no proof. We didn’t know it was them until we were unable to keep up with our dead. When we started falling behind at the morgues, that’s when the ship did something. That’s when the aliens came down.”
“What did they look like?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” I reply.
“What?” he scoffs. I begin to fear I might lose his interest.
“They were just too good at getting us. Anyone who saw them was gone. There were news reports, but those crews brave enough to go out only captured enough footage for us to know we should run. We should grab whatever we can and go hide. Many people went underground, but I knew I’d be better off in the backcountry.”
“It was the money,” he says.
“What do you mean it was the money?” I ask.
“Beings advanced enough to travel through space and find new worlds – we’re nothing but mice to them,” he says. “They put poison in the money. It was the bait. They put it in the thing people could not resist. People took the poisoned bait and just spread it around – handing it to each other. The poison entered through our skin and we started dropping off. Then they let us clean ourselves up until we couldn’t do it anymore. They didn’t want the mice dying in the walls of their new home, do you understand? They didn’t want us stinking up the place. So once we couldn’t clean up after ourselves, they came down to get rid of us. Like mice.”
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