Author: Jason Graff
I was a child, asleep in a patchwork oxygen tent when he first appeared. Since I’d slept through it, my first encounter with him was in my imagination fueled as it often was by the ramblings of the others who shared the apartment with my family. He came out of the sky, people said. He came from Earth, they thought. He’d been sent to take us all back, save us; they were certain.
The first time I saw him was several years later. Despite his failure to do anything to improve our lives, he retained a messianic aura. It was thought to be an auspicious sign to actually see him in the, well, I guess it could be called flesh. Wandering an alley searching for a signal burst, I heard a noise from above. There he teetered several stories above my head, feeding on a metal blast cap while walking a copper wire between buildings — a monstrously oversized acrobat. Following behind him, the small army of rats that he’d amassed since his arrival formed an unbroken chain.
I was on a patch job for the city when I came face to face with him. He wore a Hazsuit that looked newer and more advanced than the ones still seen hanging in people’s closets, reminders of the ruined world our kind had to leave. Not only rats but pigeons and stray cats were gathered around him. He was affixing what I took to be some sort of tracking device to each one.
The number of stray animals soon began to diminish. It reached the point that the black market became unaffordable. My stomach grumbled and growled as it did everyone’s but I didn’t say a word about what I’d seen. The simple act of survival had made us all rumor mongers. No one else was really talking about him by then.
The growing scarcity of strays grew more and more apparent. I figured the government was trying to thin out our numbers again by starving us. Yet, I still said nothing about my encounter, not that it would’ve made any difference. He’d come here to do a job and no one I knew would’ve been able to stop him.
By the time he finally caught up with me, I was weak from hunger. A stinging rain was falling that morning. My threadbare shirt had melted to my skin. He was above me, perched on a street lamp. He put a collar on me not unlike those I’d witnessed him putting on the stray animals. You’re not going home, he said, but to serve a higher purpose.
I next found myself in a holding tank with a number of others, many even thinner and more wasted away than me. Some cried out or moaned into the din but most of us kept silent. Gradually the collar tightened around my neck as shocks pulsed through me. I could smell my own flesh frying. I kicked out, my legs moving independent of me. The collar tightened against every motion I attempted to make. My body was no longer my own. Then, I fell into a paralyzed state.
When the animals were let through the gate into the tank, they began to feed indiscriminately. The rats fed in packs. While the pigeons pecked on people here and there, showing no sense of urgency. Only the cats showed any discrimination, plopping themselves down and sniffing at people. All I could do was close my eyes and wait my turn.