|LITTLE BASTARDS by Harris Coverley|
We had woken up colder than ever, although thankfully there was no ice in our hair this time, unlike that winter on the Eastern coast. My dad released me from his tight grip, and almost everyone in the group stood up simultaneously. There was no time to pick at what meagre rations we had saved from the night before—we had to get up and continue north to where there city was, or rather, where the remains of the city were. The sky as always was a deep grey—too many nuclear reactors exploding my dad says. He was going to explain to me one of those was as soon as he found a textbook on it.
About half a mile up the cracked overgrown road we happened upon what my dad told was once a factory. The Kews had long since reduced much of it to rubble, had ripped out any machine that was in there, and reduced the lot of it to nuts, bolts, and scraps, completely unsalvageable it seemed. My and my dad elected to go in anyway just be sure, and climbing in through the window holes—the Kews had ripped out the fixtures and dissembled them, crumbling the glass into piles either side—we managed amongst the mess to find a few crowbars under a piece of sheet metal. When we lifted it up two Kews we had not seen fled out from underneath into a hole in the brick wall. Kew-kew-kew-kew-kew…
My dad picked up one of the bars and nearly managed to hit one.
“Little bastards!” he shouted. He stood for a moment looking at the hole, thought better of chasing after them, picked the crowbar back up, and we went back outside the ruins to meet with the group leader with our goods.
Davey, our group leader, was grateful for the new crowbars we had found, along with a few screwdrivers.
“Thank Christ the Kews didn’t get ‘em!” he exclaimed, patting my father on the back.
I was glad Davey liked my father. Some previous men in the group had not been so lucky to have such a privilege.
The twenty three of us divided the new tools amongst ourselves—heaviest to the strongest, lightest to the weakest—and the group set off again. We would not rest until the husk of the M18 were in view.
As we walked along, passing across old roads, pathways, building shells, my dad read to me from a book of poems, written decades ago by a guy called Cummings. American, my dad says. I would never see America I realised. No vehicle in existence could float across a body of water that wide and deep without succumbing to a Kew infestation.
My dad always said I needed an education, and the long drawn out walks our group took were as good a time as any. Luckily, the Kews were not interested in taking books apart, and my dad picked them up whenever he could. That’s why I knew so many words compared to other kids we met my age.
We were discussing a poem about living in a small town—I think me and dad lived in a small town once—when the old man Schwab suddenly shouted at us from behind.
“Cummings is crap!” he yelled, and giggled a little. “We need some Bukowski in this group! Some Kerouac ‘ould go nicely too!”
“Shut up, Schwab,” my dad grunted, not looking back. “I’m giving my boy an education in this hellscape, and I’m damned if your bullshit is going to screw that up!”
Schwab giggled again, and said something about only making a suggestion.
My dad always said Schwab was crazy, unbalanced, had never adjusted to the world as it had become. He was a professor once my dad said—a teacher, from a country called Germany, a big name across all fields of science—but now he was a nut, what my dad called a “charity case”, which meant we only had him in the group because he was so pathetic, or something like that.
It took longer to reach the M18 than Davey had anticipated. We could barely make it out in the darkness when we settled on a hillside for the night. We would follow it west to the old city, where we could hope to spend the whole summer, if not meet up with other groups and maybe settle down permanently. My dad once told me in a hushed whisper that Davey had long fancied himself more a mayor than a nomad chief—it was that day I learned that we were nomads.
Before we had reached the M18, we had seen a Kew ship taking off—almost the same size and colour as the group’s cooking pot, making its wheeeeeewww! noise—and we had spent a good minute lobbing whatever we could at it until it disappeared. Davey said he could have got it if he still had his rifle; my Dad had looked at me as if to say he could get anyone of us if he still had his rifle. Dad didn’t trust Davey, but the situation was what it was.
We settled down, the single tent of course for Davey and the two women he had taken as his mates, while the rest of sat around the fire, shivering, eating from a pan mixing two tins of broth with a tin of beans. There was supposed to be another tin of beans but it had been pierced on the journey and case of dysentery amongst any of us couldn’t risked.
Slurping my stew out of my own wooden bowl, I noticed that Schwab was staring at me, then breaking to slurp from his own bowl, before staring back at me.
I loved my dad, I still do, so I must have been in a rebellious mood to talk to Schwab when my dad had told me repeatedly not to.
“Mr Schwab,” I asked him, putting my bowl down, “how did this all happen? The end of everything you so often talk about?”
My dad nearly choked on his own stew. He looked at me in anger, but knew he could do nothing to stop Schwab now. I had heard Schwab’s version of how the Kews came to Earth many times before, often involuntarily, but for some reason I felt like hearing it again, against my dad’s wishes.
“The Kews, my boy!” Schwab yelled, almost in joy. He stood up and waved his arms about: “The bloody Kews!”
Around the fire there was a collective groan. They were being subject to a rant yet again, as was the case at least once a week.
Schwab stopped stomping around and kneeled before me.
“Boy,” he said, itching his arms in fury, “I was a great scientist once, still am…”
“You were a crackpot then and now!” someone shouted from across the fire, and there was a general laugh of agreement.
“You laugh now!” Schwab shouted, pointing a finger at where he suspected the taunt came from, already you couldn’t really see in the dark. “But I could’ve saved you all from this total scheißewelt…if only you’d listened!”
He turned back to me and continued: “They came in little ships, just like the one we saw today, thousands of ‘em, millions maybe.”
He stopped to take a drink from his flask, but when he carried on, much of it ran down his face onto his pinned together rags.
“We were all confused, they landed all over…we tried talking to them, they wouldn’t listen…they just ran around the globe, with that little sound kew-kew-kew-kew-fucking-kew! Little bug-eyed blue men! Five inches tall! We couldn’t believe it! It had to be a hoax, but my boy, it was no hoax, oh no sir…!”
I glanced at my dad and saw he was as enthralled as me. In fact, even though they had all heard it before, and had treated the prospect of hearing it again like a curse, everyone had calmed down and was taking in Schwab’s words. If we still had religion he would probably have been our priest.
“I was there when they tried to decode their language, but it was useless, it was all nonsense! No grammar, no words…! The Kews brought us nothing but their curiosity. Bit by bit they went around. First they started with bicycles and the like, and people thought it was cute. Then they went onto phones and substations, moved onto cars and planes, bit by bit, bit by bit…”
I remembered then how my mother had died—it was Kews taking apart her ventilator that did it. A mechanical failure in her bus had sent her to hospital in the first place—also Kews.
“Entire infrastructures went down!” he went on. “The internet? Bye-bye! Military operations? How?! The radios went never mind the GPS! They tried talking to them—of course that didn’t work! They tried shooting them—too bloody small!”
Schwab broke for another swig.
“The Chinese did the best! They tried gassing them, but they turned out to be more resistant to chlorine then they thought…it didn’t matter how many you killed anyway, wave after wave kept coming, right from the darkness of space!”
He punctuated his sentence by pointing a shaking fist at the night sky and cursing the stars.
For a moment, I vaguely remembered being a very young boy, being in a stroller, playing on a mat with a light box—a TV my dad reminds me—on in the front room of our house, my mum making our evening dinner, going to a big green space full of other people—then the Kews came, and their chaos followed them.
Escaping my thoughts, I asked Schawb: “But what could you have done to save us?”
“I knew it!” he shouted, getting up again and stopping about. “I knew how to deal with them from the beginning!”
He got back down on his knees before me.
“What do you do with a creature that only destroys and doesn’t care? That comes in drove after drove? That marches on and on and on as though you don’t even exist? Hmmm?”
I thought of saying simply kill them, but I thought better of it and simply shook my head.
“You don’t negotiate with vermin!” he growled, a little spittle hitting me in the face. “You don’t treat vermin like a military foe! It’s not like they’re having a diplomatic misunderstanding! If they had followed my advice from the beginning, they would’ve been treated like rats, like termites, like the infestation they were, they are, they always will be!”
Apparently exhausted from his raging, he sat on his backside and dragged himself back to his spot, where he promptly finished his stew and fell asleep.
Before we went to sleep ourselves, my dad berated quietly but harshly for ever asking Schwab anything at all, and made me promise to never do so again.
I promised—although I was inwardly happy with the rant Schwab had given this time—we hugged, and we settled into our two man sleeping shape.
We had been walking along the M18 for about an hour when we came across a wrecked building that was labelled in big fading blue letters “CAFÉ”—a kind of eating place my dad told me.
Me and him were searching inside for any food rations and managed to find a few cans of soup just as three Kews ran out from under a table top against a wall. Kew-kew-kew-kew-kew…
“Little bastards!” I yelled after them as they ran out of the front entrance, and foolishly threw a soup can at the last one as they scampered under the husk of a truck. Like my father before me, I missed.
Harris Coverley has had short fiction published in Lovecraftiana, Disclaimer Magazine, and Speculative 66, as well as poetry in Gathering Storm, Oddball Magazine, and the Weird Poets Society anthology Speculations. He lives in Manchester, England.