They are many and they are hungry. You never needed a cat so badly!



"I am in hunger come," it hissed from beyond the barricaded front door of the home where I had taken refuge. "Please."

I screamed, "Fuck you!" I stepped backward away from the door. I held a semi-automatic pistol in my right hand, but it would be useless here. It simply made me feel better.

"If I call more of us, I get less. I must have all. Please."

"Go somewhere else!"

It remained silent for a time. It moved around outside the door with that familiar rasping, hissing, sliding sound. I thought it must be a combination of ancient scales and rasping breath. "Please. I hunger. I hunger for you."

Just to respond with something more than a human voice, to demonstrate that once we had been a powerful people, I pointed the handgun and pulled the trigger. Once. Twice. Three times.

I heard it slithering across the porch, but the gunfire had not frightened or disturbed it, despite the splintered holes I put in the barricaded door. Chiding myself for the loss of discipline, I dashed over to fill the holes with adhesive.

It understood, at least, that I would not simply walk outside to surrender. It understood I would force it to come inside and take me.

"Yeah," I breathed, speaking only to myself, "you just try, you slimy piece of shit! Just you come on and TRY!"

I had escaped them several times in the last two days. I thought I could probably do it again. Once. Twice. Maybe three times. Only, I knew I could not do it forever. I could not do it for another solid week.

I might live three days this way. Maybe. If I planned and worked carefully.

Accordingly, I wiped the sweat of terror and rage from my eyes, and I turned the room. What had I forgotten? What else could I do to make this place safe?

As things developed, human dwellings turned out to be awful places to make a last, desperate stand. All the windows and doors and the flimsy internal walls rendered most homes the equivalent of defensive sieves. In great numbers, the… things… came through the walls, ceilings and floors from a hundred gaping holes at once, and then they fed ravenously upon anybody found inside. Singly, they could creep close from any direction, silent as a softly stirring breeze drifting through the briars and brambles of the countryside, and it only took one instant of contact to render a person incapacitated.

Having seen the scenario played out a thousand times before my eyes, I knew a man's first reaction would be to cover the windows and doors with anything solid enough to turn the things aside. They could break glass and they could somehow press their tenebrous bodies through the smallest cracks, but solid materials repulsed them easily. The trouble with hammering random tabletops and interior doors over the external windows lay in the inevitable gaps that remained between the barricade and the window frame.

Sealed as they were against drafts, a man could stand safely behind standard exterior doors like the one that had saved my life just now, but inevitably a window would betray him. So I chose this place, after abandoning a dozen others, precisely because the windows were all shielded by strong, tightly-fitted aluminum shutters. I had installed them myself the previous summer for the seasonal owners, after vandals had broken into the place and done extensive damage during the preceding winter. It was the only house in Pecan Groves, Texas that might be safe for a while.

Except, I had to find and seal every possible crook and cranny leading into the house, before that thing outside could get inside. I licked my lips, and drew upon my substantial knowledge of the home building and repair business.

I had already sealed the exterior doors, so I knew those were safe. Next, I had double-sealed all the metal shutters with a dozen tubes of industrial adhesive, which I brought with me from the hardware store where I had worked when the invasion began. Before my guest arrived, I had time to empty the garage and bedrooms of anything that might prove useful, including this pistol in my right hand. I collected everything at the center of the large home's spacious parlor, where I could see in all directions at once.

Then I had a sudden, bowel-loosening thought. "The attic!" I squealed like a frightened child, and I felt my eyes bulge. "Where the hell is the attic stair?"

After a frantic search, I found it in the ceiling of a huge coat closet opposite the front door. Too close to the front door, in fact.

I heard it slithering through the landscaping that ringed the home's exterior. As always, it searched for an easy way inside first, before it expended the energy to climb. It heard me, perhaps, tugging at the attic stair to lower it to the tiled floor.

I heard it hiss, "You should come to me now."

I gritted my teeth, and straightened the folding stair so it would solidly support my weight. I climbed, stopping halfway to listen when it added more.

"I hunger. I have not fed, unlike so many others. I must feed. My need is great. My need is older than a thousand of your lifetimes, for the galaxy is wide. The galaxy is vast. Long is the journey, short is the sojourn. So many. We are so many. Our hunger is endless." I heard it slither closer to the jammed front door again, and now it seemed to feel along the perimeter of the opening with some wispy, willow-wand aspect of itself. "Are you there? Can you hear?"

I had climbed the stair almost to the top now, when I brought myself short. Should I finish this climb, I wondered? What if they had already worked their way inside up there? I should have thought of the fucking attic first!

Sucking my lower lip between my teeth and biting, I raised the pistol for comfort, and I ascended the last few steps slowly, cautiously, carefully, my bulging eyes straining to see in all directions at once, despite the inky blackness of the interior. With a sudden lunge, I punched the light switch, filling the space with light.

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Long Is The Journey Short Is The Sojourn