"Here they come," said Cecy, lying there flat on the bed. Her voice was flat and dull, as though muted by that thick air of the room: air heavy with death, and fear, and horror. She lay flat, staring up into the dark ceiling with her arms drawn loosely over her head, unmoving except for the occasional tiny spasm in limbs or stomach. She was still wet from their dip in the lake; her white dress clung to her skin, almost translucent, and her dark hair curled in sodden clumps down around her neck and ears, two strands nestling in the hollow between neck and collarbone. Her fixed eyes were vacant and dark, and her face showed no emotion except a certain tightness in the set of her lips, her cheeks, her eyes.
Normally, looking at Cecy, Jerry would have felt concern, love, or desire. Now, though, there was an emptiness. They were trapped. Their safe house had turned into a prison, and there was no way out. To leave the house, now, with Them so close, would only bring elimination sooner. He glanced around their new prison. Helena was comforting her baby, patting its back and sobbing into its hair as it wailed and pounded her with its tiny fists. Morgan was sitting it the corner, limp and spent, his dark face ashen.
Outside, Jerry could hear a slight humming as They approached.
Silently, he sat down by Cecy's feet on the cot. The first few specks of white light appeared, far off, through the window. Automatically, Jerry began to massage one of Cecy's feet. They sat in silence for a while as the light grew slowly brighter.
"What do you suppose They're really like?" Cecy asked suddenly, still staring at the ceiling. "I mean, what do They look like, and why do They eliminate people?"
"Who knows?" Jerry asked hoarsely. "No one who gets close enough to see them survives. I guess…I guess we might know. Right before…" he stopped.
"Elimination," she finished softly. "Yes. What a queer thing that is. I wonder…does it hurt? Do you suppose you actually feel something when they take you? Do you…do you think you even really die? I mean, all we know is that nothing's left, no ashes, no bones, no body, not even little tiny atoms. I mean, you're completely gone—"
"Shut up, Cecy," Helena said fiercely. She glared at the other girl from across the room, auburn bangs swinging in her face. "Just shut up, or I swear I'll kill you before They even get here."
Cecy was silent for a moment, then asked softly, "Do you suppose there's anyone left?"
"We haven't gotten a thing on the radio for weeks, maybe even a month." Jerry had moved on, was now stroking her calves. He felt now; felt his desire for her, his love, his concern, his despair—despair that this was all that they would have. That this was all that they had before they were gone. They would never lie on a hill at night watching the stars again, or taste each other's lips out on the swing again, they'd never have any children together, never grow old, never…
"But they wouldn't be in the cities, where the radio stations are," she was saying. "I mean, if anyone else made it. They've figured out that the cities are where most of us are…were…so They're hanging around there."
"Hell," Morgan said quietly, "who knows? Yeah, I guess there could be someone…a little group out on an island or some such." He snorted, smiling faintly. "Yeah…kinda like ours…"
"It won't matter, though," Jerry said heavily. "They can get everywhere." He looked out the window again. The lights were bright now, making him glance away. "They fly. Even an island wouldn't be safe. In a few years…" suddenly he was sobbing. "In a few years…there'll be nothing left. Just…just a barren planet. Barren…empty…all those cities, empty, silent…forever…nothing left." He buried his face in his knees. "What's the point?" he asked quietly. "What was the goddamn point?"
"Jerry, no." Cecy was sitting up now, her arms reaching around him. "It won't be barren. I mean, They don't seem to be interested in animals, do They? And it's not as though the planet will fall apart without us. It's even got plenty of time. I mean, the sun's supposed to last another five billion years or so, right? And how old are we? Two hundred thousand, at max, in prehistory?" She glanced around the room for confirmation, saw none was forthcoming, plunged on. "So it's got ten times the amount of time it needs to create another species that can think for itself. Because that's thing, right? I mean…" she lifted his head. Her eyes, gazing into his, were dark, tired and worn, but earnest. "I mean, life always figures something out, right? That's so much more than the amount of time it took us to develop—I mean, it's more than a hundred times more—and the evolution part's already started. When you think of it…" she kissed him softly, then pulled back to finish her thought. "There will always be something. If not here, then somewhere else. Always. It'll happen somewhere, sometime." Her hand stroked his face, his neck, his chest. His eyes filled with tears.
"God, I love you," he whispered.
The lights were upon them now. They flashed through the room, illuminating every crack and crevice. They flashed over the bed, throwing one side of Cecy's face into sharp relief. They illuminated Morgan's little alcove, his face, pursed and defiant, gazing up through the window. They shone on Helena, cowering near the door, who clutched Jordan to her and sobbed into his hair. Jerry could hear the blood pounding in his ears, could feel Cecy's thin chest moving in and out to her tight breathing beneath the damp dress. Scratching sounds echoed up from the lower sides of the house. Helena shrieked.
"What's that?" she demanded. "What's doing that?"
"It's Them," said Morgan softly. Then the scratching stopped abruptly. The lights continued to flash across the room. Some huge shape flitted past the window. But up through the cracks in the floorboards shone thin tendrils of bright, unnaturally white light.
"That'll be the group downstairs," Morgan whispered. The light began to expand, moving from one end of the floor to another, till the whole floor was softly aglow.
As a child, Jerry had been terrified of the dark. Now, he would have given anything to be in some place where no light at all was shining.
"They're moving through the house," Morgan continued. "They're heading for the stairs." Suddenly he rose, almost unfolding himself.
"Morgan?" Cecy asked softly. The man's eyes were wide and staring, perspiration standing out on his skin. His hands, by his side, clenched and unclenched. He seemed to see nothing.
"To hell with this," Morgan said softly, swaying slightly in place. "To hell with all this. Cecy, Jerry, 'Lena…it's been a pleasure. But if I am to die, I sure as hell will not die here, cowering in a corner…I'm gonna look at my attackers, and know what they are…and I'm gonna die with a smile on my lips because, I hope, I'll understand. I will look my death in the face."
Moving as though in a dream, and ignoring Helena's sobs, he went to the door, opened it, went out, closed it. They heard his steps moving down the hallway, partway down the stairs…then they stopped.
"They're on the stairs," Cecy said softly.
White light began to steal in under the door. Helena continued to sob. Jerry swallowed.
"Jerry…" Cecy murmured, and gently pulled him down with her onto the cot.
They lay there, then, stroking each other, caressing, hands finding delight at the feel of another's body. They gazed into each other's eyes, and kissed again.
White light now completely surrounded the door. Jerry heard the handle shiver, turn, and heard the door glide open. He heard Helena cry out.
If he was to know, it would have to be now. His shoulder blades itched. He gazed into Cecy's eyes.
At that moment, that moment of peace, surrounded by white light, and silence, and gazing into her eyes…at that moment, Jerald Spritz chose not to know.
He nuzzled softly into the hollow where Cecy's throat met her collarbone, closing his eyes in the sheer pleasure of the moment, holding her body tight to him, inhaling her sent. He heard her sigh with quiet contentment, her head arching back slightly, hands stroking his head.
"Ahhh, Jerry…" she sighed softly. "Something wicked this way comes…" She bent her head forward and kissed his head.
Silently, and with perfect peace, the white light engulfed them.