Tommy wished he hadn’t woke up that morning.
Spending the night in his treehouse somehow saved him from the fate that struck the rest of them, but now he was the only one left. Now he was alone.
He wished he wasn’t spared.
His eyes were red from crying, but the tears have dried on his cheeks, while his nose kept leaking. His stomach was growling, remembering him that he hadn’t eaten since last night’s snack. He huddled in the corner of the treehouse, knees pulled up close to his chest and tried to snuff out the hunger.
He should have picked up some food as he went running into the house earlier, but food was the last thing he could think of at the time. His parents… his sister… even his dog… What was wrong with them?
Tommy listened to the distant police sirens. Or were they from an ambulance? Maybe a fire truck? He didn’t know and he didn’t care. What could they do to help? Though it did mean that there were other people out there that were still normal, like him. Unless a crazy person could also drive a fire truck…
A grunting sound came from the yard below the treehouse. Tommy’s heart jumped as he recognized the timbre of his father’s voice. Only, that thing down there wasn't his father anymore. It may look like him, but its eyes were wild and its mind brute.
The ladder rattled.
Tommy gasped. Please don’t come up, please don’t come up, please-
Another grunt came, this one a bit softer, but still harsh, like listening to two apes argue. Tommy recognized the undertone of his mother’s voice. The ladder stopped shaking as the two voices exchanged grunts and growls.
Tommy’s knees shook, terrified. But curiosity took over. He had to make sure that what he saw earlier before he ran back up in the treehouse, was real and not just his imagination. He crawled to the entrance where the ladder was nailed onto the wooden platform.
He peeked out carefully, not showing more of himself than a few curls of hair and a runny nose. And his heart skipped a beat. The nightmare was real, and it was happening in broad daylight. His parents stood by the foot of the tree, spitting foam by their mouths as they growled at each other. Their eyes darted wild, never resting still and their postures were slouched and awkward as if they forgot how to use their bodies properly.
Tommy found fresh tears to shed and he sobbed. No child should see their parents like that. One of his tears fell on Tommy’s dad and the creature snapped up with its head.
Tommy fell backward inside the treehouse, pushing away with his feet. The ladder began rattling again. He’s coming up, he’s coming up, he’s-
An explosion ripped through the air close by. Machine gun fire echoed between the neighborhood houses, and Tommy could feel the whole treehouse shaking like there was an earthquake. A metal noise rumbled from the street and the sound of something like a plastic cup being crushed followed, only much louder and more metallic.
The ladder stopped rattling and a heart-wrenching wail pierced Tommy’s ears, as his parents screamed. More similar screams came from the neighboring houses, accompanied by what sounded like dogs, cats, and birds, all roaring mad with anger.
Tommy tucked himself in the corner, trying to be as small as a bug so he could hide in the cracks of the wood. There were so many sounds coming from all around, but he couldn’t see much. The treehouse door looked over the roof of their house and he didn't dare stand up and look through the windows.
A bright orange flash illuminated the wooded walls through the window and the treehouse shook violently. An explosion erupted somewhere so close, that dirt and debris rained down on the treehouse roof, and Tommy could feel a wave of heat rush by, as well as his every hair standing up.
The rumbling on the street continued and another metal cup was crushed. More gunshots, more screams. Tommy couldn’t take it anymore and he popped his head up, looking through the window.
The street was filled with corpses. He knew most of them. There lay his parents, his neighbors, dogs, his friends dead alongside the next-door bully. An army tank rolled down the street, crushing cars along the way, and soldiers with guns followed behind, shooting the wild people.
With horror, Tommy saw a group of feral people, foaming at the mouth, jump the soldiers and throw them to the ground, taking their weapons, and beating them to death with them.
He looked away, leaning his back against the wall, his heart beating like a pneumatic drill. Screams, gunshots, and crunching metal and popping glass. What was going on?
The tank rolled past the treehouse, dangerously close. Tommy could hear the individual metal plates in its tread squeal and clank and he could hear a few shouts of command from the soldiers.
“...street secured! Proceed to 47th!”
“...they’re like feral animals…”
“...shooting civilians… our own people…”
“...unidentified craft inbound…”
Tommy clasped his ears with his hands and placed his head in between his knees. He was mumbling to himself in the hopes of drowning out the noises from the world while telling himself this was all just a bad dream. It wasn’t real and he’s going to wake up any moment now, running out of bed and into his mom’s safe embrace.
“...what in the-”
Through his closed eyes, Tommy could see a flash of pure white light that shone through his eyelids, showing Tommy his every vein. And all the noise, the screaming, the soldier’s talking, the guns firing, was drowned by a thunder so loud that all Tommy could hear was a ringing in his ears. He was thrown up in the air, the tree and the treehouse shaking and swaying under him. An uncomfortable feeling of tingling washed over his whole body, like the feeling that you get when you cut circulation in your foot or hand, sleeping awkwardly.
He hit the floor hard, tasting iron in his mouth. He wanted to cry and perhaps he did, he couldn’t tell as he couldn’t hear or see anything. All there was of the world was pure white and that silent roaring of the ears.
He was probably dead. Wasn’t white light what people saw when they died?
But eventually, the white subsided. Crude shapes began appearing in Tommy’s vision, first only as blurs, then as lines and then something resembling tree branches. His ears were ringing like an alarm bell, but some muffled sounds came through, like a jet plane roaring over his head.
Tommy sat up, feeling disoriented and dizzy. He blinked frantically, panicked to clear his vision. The roof of the treehouse was gone, as was the wooden platform and every nail and plank. There was no more treehouse, only the tree, and Tommy noticed himself wedged between two supporting branches. The street below him was ablaze with light. It wasn’t fire, there was no smoke. Pure white light shone, like a river flooding the street, the backyard, and seeping into houses. It seemed to be disintegrating things; cars, the tank, fences, whole houses, bodies. The neighborhood itself.
But not the hedges or grass or the tree. Only… man-made things. Nothing natural, except for the bodies of the dead and the soldiers.
Tommy struggled to pull himself in a sitting position on the branches. It was a similar flash of light that woke him up this morning, only it didn’t throw him up in the air and it didn’t cause houses and cars to melt into the light. But it did cause everyone to go berserk and lose their sanity. Except for him. Was he saved by the treehouse? Did the light only target houses?
What was going on?
The ringing in his ear subsided just enough so he could hear that jet plane noise up above him. He looked up and there it was. A silver-colored metallic orb, the size of a small house, hovering in mid-air. An impossible sight. An unidentified flying object.
And it was descending on him.
Tommy wanted to jump down, but there was a sea of white light below, sizzling everything, just like that game he used to play where the floor was made of lava. He had nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. The orb descended upon him, brushing its smooth metal surface onto the tree branches. It would crush him like a bug.
He raised his hands to shield himself as the orb broke the treetop…
Tommy felt something hard hit him on the forehead and he jumped straight up, screaming. He was breathing heavily, sweating like he was in an oven and his heart was racing. Images of horror flashed before his eyes and he blinked in confusion as he mistook them for reality.
A silver ball-shaped lamp hung above his head, its crooked arm collapsed on his forehead, waking him up. A sci-fi magazine rested on his chest, left open to the last page he read, before falling asleep. Next to him, there were little plastic soldier toys and a pimped up army tank, with a cannon that shoots foam projectiles. A hot breeze blew into the treehouse, the midday summer heat reaching its peak. An empty beer can rolled on the floorboards at Tommy’s feet.
He took a few deep breaths, recollecting his mind. I am Tommy, I am six years old, I shouldn’t have drunk a whole beer can, and someone is going to kill me for it, and they will be much worse than aliens.
That day, Tommy was grateful it really was just a dream, but he didn’t dare come to the house until late in the evening, spending the whole summer afternoon in his treehouse, repeating to himself that he’ll never try to imitate his dad again, no matter how cool and grown-up it may seem.