This story originally appeared in the February, 2016 issue of Far Horizons Magazine. A big thanks to Pete Sutton, Kimberly, Ana, Valery, Scribe Scarlet and the whole team for doing what they do!
Sasha strode at full speed through the backstage of the studio, her assistant, producer and make-up artist tried to keep up while performing their various tasks.
“Is he here?” she asked.
“He’s in the green room. I tried to get some info, but he won’t speak to anyone but you,” Carrie, her personal assistant, chimed in.
“Doesn’t matter,” Sasha shot back while maneuvering around set designers, support staff and techs frenetically preparing the stage and studio. Power tools, hammering and shouting comprised a din that threatened to drown out her voice. Dodging cameras and deftly navigating the maze of cables littering the floor, she continued, “I don’t need any information about this clown. He’s just another snake-oil salesman whose bullshit is better camouflaged than most, and that’s all.”
“We’ve been picked up nationally and it’s streaming around the world,” Doug, the show’s producer, said. “This is really blowing up. So, what’s the plan?”
Sasha stopped, and the trio following her careened around one another to avoid a collision. Shoulder-length curls brushed the brown skin of her neck, dark eyes reflected muted light through narrowed lids. She was close to sinking her teeth into something. “I’m going right in for the kill. He’s nothing more than a mental and psychological predator feeding on the most prevalent weakness of the human species; belief.”
As the stylist tamed unruly strands of hair, Doug offered his last minute advice, “Listen, Sasha, I think you should tread lightly here, at least at first. We don’t know anything about this guy, no one does. What if he’s prone to violent outbursts?”
The stylist, satisfied with her assessment of Sasha’s appearance, departed backstage. Sasha stared intently at her portly and balding producer, “I didn’t get to where I am today by shying away from things, I can handle myself.”
A frown creased the producer’s brow, he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. Doug drew in a breath and sighed, opened his eyes and looked at the floor, then back at her, “I know, I’ve seen you in action enough times.”
Carrie couldn’t help herself, “He gives me the creeps. What’s with the white hair on a guy who can’t be more than thirty. I mean, is that weird, or what?”
Sasha dismissed them both, “It’s a facade. Once peeled back, we’ll see what’s really under there. I bet it’s more of the same, a scam artist and deviant.”
“Places!” Doug called out, and the frenzy of activity accelerated, then quickly ebbed, as the staff took up their positions. Sasha deposited herself into one of the two armchairs arranged on the stage atop a plush, white alpaca fur rug.
Doug held up three fingers and counted down in mime, the light above camera two glowed into life, and Sasha was on the air. “Good evening, everyone. I’m Sasha Mendez, and you’re watching The Truth. The show that asks the questions you want answered and doesn’t rest until they are.”
The light above camera one lit up, and Sasha turned in time to meet it. Uncharacteristically, she remained silent for several seconds, thrown off by the lack of research and topic papers she normally shuffled at that point in the show.
“Tonight, we’ll be discussing one of the topics that gets my blood boiling – cults. We have in our studio tonight, a very rare opportunity to confront one of the most reclusive and enigmatic cult leaders in history.
We tried to research this guy, but as many of our viewers already know, this man is a true mystery. No one knows where he came from, what his real name is or even his ethnic background,” she paused for effect.
“However, the unnamed cult he oversees and leads is now reckoned to have the largest following of any before it. That’s disturbing in its own right, but I’m sure whatever is going on around and inside of this brainwashing machine is even more unsettling. So, let’s bring him out here. It’s time for the truth!”
Sasha stood and again found herself in an atypical expanse of dead air where she would normally call out the guest’s name. Sasha, however, refused to address him as The Messenger. To her, it bordered on lending him credibility, something she would not do. The man emerged from the left side of the stage, and Sasha performed the rehearsed motion with her arm toward the opposing chair, inviting her guest to sit. But as she did, her jaw dropped.
Doug whispered vehemently to the camera operator, “Stay on him until she closes her mouth.”
Most in the studio were just as spellbound by his appearance as Sasha. A flowing white mane matched his ample beard, both looked artificial against his youthful, flawlessly unwrinkled skin. Sasha felt a chill dance up her spine when his pale, blue eyes fixed upon her own.
Most of all, she was mesmerized by his physical size. No rippling muscles or shredded physique, the man was all bulk, though not fat by any measure; just massive. At close to seven feet in height and what she guessed as approaching three hundred pounds, his physical presence demanded attention.
Sasha extended a hand, but the man ignored it and carefully arranged himself in the chair. He straightened his sport jacket, pulled at the legs of his jeans and fine-tuned the collar of his shirt. Sasha had expected robes and sandals, a shower cap, perhaps, but not this. The lack of flamboyance and his collected demeanor were somehow more disturbing than if he had fallen to the floor convulsing and speaking in tongues.
Sasha closed her mouth, swallowed against the dryness and sat. She smoothed her own garments and looked back into the camera, “Welcome, let’s dive right in. You’re the leader of one of the largest and fastest growing cults in recorded history. You’re main claims to fame are your anonymity and the ability to lure millions of followers.”
“It’s not a cult, and I’m not a leader. I am The Messenger,” the reserved man replied in an eerily calm tone.
A smirk crept across Sasha’s face, “So, what is your message, and why should anyone listen or even care? Why did you choose to reveal yourself now? Is God coming, or is it aliens?” The smirk transformed into a full-fledged smile as she leaned back in her chair and prepared to absorb his explanation.
“They are close.”
Sasha sat up and looked into the active camera, her guest kept his piercing eyes fixed on her. Her smile faltered, and she turned back to face him, “Okay, not really sure what that means. What, exactly, is your message?”
“They are close.”
Sasha frowned, and her lips tightened, “Let’s try something else. Who are they?
“So it is aliens?” Sasha declared, “Okay, now we’re getting somewhere! Let me guess, they’re following a comet or an asteroid, and only you can get people on the ship? Better yet, the asteroid or comet is their spaceship. Am I close? Are we in the ballpark here?”
“You are not.”
“I’m going to cut to the chase. What about the disappearances? People both inside and out of your cult have gone missing. Why, and where are they?”
“That, I cannot answer. People often disappear. It is common.”
“Yes, but the people I’m referring to, over eight hundred at last count, were either associated with your group or openly opposed it at the time they went missing. Family members trying to reach loved ones locked away in your cult just simply vanish. Lawmakers and investigators, your own members. How do you explain that?”
“People often disappear. It is common.”
“What’s the name of your cult?”
“It has no name, for it is not a cult. It is a choice.”
“Alrighty then, here’s something that maybe you can answer like a normal person. Why in the world did you bring this to me. Why come onto to my show? I’ve made a career out of exposing shams like yours, and you must know that I’m going to expose you as well. Whether it’s during this interview or not, I’m going to show the world what you truly are.
“That’s precisely why I choose you.”
Sasha quickly dismissed the comment with, “Interesting, we’ll circle back to that. Can we just get into what it is you’re here to tell us?”
“Yes, we can. A species of super-intelligent, nomadic creatures are coming to this planet. Not to indulge your arrogant fantasies of traveling to the stars or enlighten you with the reasons for your brief existence, but because they need things. The first of which is chlorophyl.”
“So, the aliens are, what, vegetarians?” Sasha teased.
The blank expression on his face never changed, “No, they are not. Chlorophyl powers their ships and their teleportation technology.”
Sasha rolled her eyes in time with her comment, “Oh, boy. Here we go… teleportation, you say?”
Sasha pounced on it, “So why don’t they just teleport here, why do they need space ships?”
“The technology allows for the coverage of great distances but not interplanetary distances.”
Sasha leaned back in her chair, “Ah, of course. I see you’ve rehearsed your script. I know I’m going to regret this, but what else do your visitors want?”
“Food, and because this planet has both chlorophyl and sustenance, it is very special to them. The two are rarely found together.”
“So, when they get here, what? Do they graze like cattle? Are they going to cover the forests and grasslands with salad dressing and chow down while stuffing weeds into the gas tanks of their space ships?”
Giggles meandered throughout the studio, and even Sasha couldn’t keep from grinning. The Messenger, however, stared at Sasha and remained stoic. She quickly recovered her focus and dove back in with as much seriousness as she could muster, “What do they eat?”
The studio erupted with laughter, and Sasha suppressed her own outburst while gesturing for quiet. “Alien zombies? Is that what you’re telling me? So, is it any brains, or just people brains?”
“No, not zombies. As I told you, they possess a level of intellect that the tiny, human brain cannot fathom. The biology of the visitors allows them to process sentient brain and spinal matter into a type of fuel for their own minds.”
“Alright, let me recap here,” Sasha interjected, “The aliens are coming because they need grass for their spaceships and brains for food? That means that Earth is the quick-stop convenience store of the solar system. Kind of like a gas-n-go, but in this case, it’s a grass-n-go.”
Sasha flashed a wide smile to the cameras as snickers drifted through the shadows of the studio floor. The Messenger broke his statuesque demeanor for the first time. A frown creased his brow, and his eyes bored into Sasha. She suddenly felt cold and constricted, as if she were being squeezed by an icy, metallic hand. “Sentient brains, is what I said,” and just as quickly, the man returned to his expressionless state.
Sasha silently recovered from her episode as he continued his oration, “Man’s technology holds no resemblance to their own, nor can it pose any threat to them or their machines. I am their messenger. The message is that they are close, and humans have the choice to work with them.”
The annoyance Sasha had been suppressing was starting to leak out, “And let me guess, if we decide not to work with them, and we don’t follow you, they’re going to eat our brains?”
The man said nothing, and after several awkward seconds of tapping her fingers on the arm of her chair, Sasha blew a gasket, “Alright! This is ridiculous. I’ve heard enough, and I’m sure the people at home have as well.” But she was immediately distracted by the frantic arm waving and gesturing from Doug and the rest of the staff. Doug spun his hands in the familiar ‘keep it rolling’ pantomime while earnestly nodding his shiny head.
“Well, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but apparently the people at home haven’t heard enough.” Sasha adjusted her jacket and drew in a deep breath. “Okay, I’ll play along. What kind of work do your visitors need us to do?”
“Gather food, of course.”
It took several seconds to make the connection. During the interim, the producers jumped and waved, urging her to say something, anything. Her eyes opened wide, “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she mumbled.
“There will be gatherers, and there will be food. It is your choice to make. Do not delay, as we have nearly all the gatherers we will need.”
Her impatience growing and showing through, the last sentence slid right by her, “And how do you know all this?” she snapped, oozing cynicism.
The Messenger rose from his chair, turned to face Sasha and extended both of his beefy arms out in front of his body. A fine, red mist sprayed from each hand as the skin between the middle and ring fingers split open and peeled away. Thick, black tentacles erupted from the open wounds and smashed into the temples of Sasha’s head. Her upper torso and arms stiffened as her legs kicked sporadically. One of her black, high-heeled shoes flew to the left, then her body fell limp.
“Because I’m one of them…”
A nervous, female voice asked “Is this real? That’s just special effects, right?”
The Messenger sloppily kneaded, mashed and slurped the contents of Sasha’s cranial cavity, its appendages undulating as the skin covering them continued to split and drape. It drained the contents of the skull in a matter of seconds. The thing turned back to face the cameras, the ends of its tentacles noisily puckering and dripping blood. Sasha’s body fell to the floor, and the studio filled with screams.
As panic took over, the staff and crew stampeded in any direction that led away from the stage. The creature glanced around until it had located the active camera hastily abandoned by its operator. It stared into the device with its human face and spoke as the surreal appendages explored the floor around Sasha’s body, occasionally snatching up an overlooked piece of gray matter.
“Maybe you should revel in the fact that you haven’t found life outside of your world, and for your own good, maybe you should stop trying. Better yet, you should be grateful that more of it hasn’t found you.”
The pale eyes clouded over with thick, white cataracts as the arms split further upward, revealing more of the nightmare beneath. The thing leaned back, its body and limbs expanding as if filling with fluid in time to the sounds of ripping fabric.
A smooth, featureless body revealed itself; no hair, no nipples, no belly-button, no genitals. It resembled an inflated mannequin, save for the flailing tentacles. The torso, neck and head distended and began to split along a common seam, something dark and slick was moving just below the skin.
A deep voice rumbled through the studio, vibrating the entire building. “We are close…” echoed like sonic tremors, cracking the camera lens and shattering windows. As the world watched, the molting form before the camera abruptly disappeared.
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