The year was 2037, ten years after the Borthons attacked. At least I thought it was about ten years ago. I stopped caring about time long ago. Sunshine reigned the sky, but I didn’t feel its warmth. Warmth meant nothing. I dug my hands deeper into my faded green coat pockets and stared at the gravel in front of me. A leaf crunched underneath my boot.
I shone my flashlight downward to see where the crunch came from. I had crushed the bones of a teenager’s hand, his vacant eyes reflecting the stars from above. Horrified, I stepped to the right of the body, only to hear a similar crunch. With my heart rate rapidly rising, I held the flashlight above my head. Illuminated in front of me was a sea of bodies, probably hundreds. This was a coordinated attack. Everyone was killed at the exact same time.
Shuttering, I kept walking. The trees were ablaze with reds and yellows, but I didn’t see. The crisp leaves gently fluttered around me, but the only one I noticed was a golden maple leaf that seemed to glow in the sun’s reflection.
I flicked my wrist, sending the knife hurling through the air. The sun reflected off the blade just before it hit the Borthon in the center of its body. It flew off the woman’s head, but I stood frozen for a moment, wondering if the Taking had completed. I sighed with relief and ran to her side as the woman took a large gasp of air, helping her sit up as she caught her breath.
The vibrant green grass was too cheerful. I angrily gave the long grass a good kick beside the gravel, scattering dirt and leaves. How many lives had I tried to save, and how many attempts failed?
I turned off the trail and began to wander through the neighborhood, not really noticing or caring where I was going. A fluttering noise soon caught my attention. A man and woman were fanning out a blanket to put over their clothes lines.
The bag fluttered as it was pulled back, revealing the pale, lifeless face of a young man.
“Derek Everton, aged 27,” the pathologist informed me. “Perfectly healthy basketball player who was found dead last month in his apartment.”
“Yeah, I heard about the death. So tragic.” I gazed at his pale face, wondering what the rest of his life could’ve been.
“Detective, I’ve completed the full autopsy, and there’s just . . . nothing. Cause of death is nothing.” I looked back into his eyes, expecting him to smile and laugh about how I was fooled. It didn’t come.
“I-I don’t understand,” I replied, still not buying it.
“There is no cause of death!” The agitation built up in his voice as he tried to explain. “Apparently, he just dropped dead. It’s almost like the life was just . . . sucked out of him.”
The man and woman stopped to look at me, and a nod from me didn’t ease the tension. Even from a distance I could see the darkness that veiled everyone’s eyes. I couldn’t trust them, and they couldn’t trust me.
Finally, I broke their gaze and stared down at the cracked road my boots quietly thumped on. I didn’t have to scan the area to know what I would find: moldy, empty houses slowly being swallowed by plants and vermin, and the very rare occupied house, with gardens and boards to cover up the broken windows from looters.
I crossed an intersection, its traffic lights dark and lifeless. There was no need to check for incoming traffic. I saw what looked like the remains of a security camera that someone had tried to tear off, though it was an obvious failure.
“Okay, you guys are going to find this very interesting,” the officer said as we gathered around her computer. She pulled up footage from a security camera taken on a city intersection. “This was taken last night at 11:27. Here we see our victim,” she pointed to the man walking by himself on the sidewalk. “And look closely in this corner,” she indicated to the top right corner, which was engulfed in darkness from an alleyway.
I leaned in closer for a better look. As the man passed the alleyway, something leapt out, almost gliding to the top of his head. As soon as the mysterious thing, no bigger than my own hand, made contact with the victim’s head, he crumpled to the ground. The victim had been walking away from the camera, making the tiny attacker out of sight, but about eleven seconds later, the weird thing scurried back into the darkness.
“What was that?” I asked, being the first to break the silence.
“No one knows, but zooming in,” the officer enlarged a frozen image of the thing, “You can clearly see what look like tentacles.” Sure enough, the strange thing reminded me of a frisbee with several arms coming off its body, even with the blurry image.
My feet carried me home before I could comprehend where I was going. I don’t know how much time passed before my feet found the familiar stony path, complete with weeds and grass growing between each flagstone. The stairs moaned beneath my worn boots as I reached the front door. I fished for the keys in my pocket to open the three locks.
Darkness was my welcome after I closed the front door behind me, except for a few rays that shone through the cracks where I had boarded up the windows more hastily. Even in the dim light, I stepped over the booby traps and and anti-Borthon equipment with ease, having done so hundreds of times. As my eyes adjusted, I found the matchbox and candles. The first match I lit illuminated an advertisement I pinned on the bulletin board for West City Aquarium.
Stepping into the aquarium, the owner of West City Aquarium practically flew over to me. “You’re Detective Brett Daniels, the Borthon investigator?”
“Yes,” I replied, taken aback at the anxiousness in his eyes. “What is it you want to show me?” We weaved through swarms of kids gaping at tanks and poking at anemones in the touch pool. He led me through a back door labeled ‘EMPLOYEES ONLY’ and to a fairly large fish tank. At first I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, until I realized that every fish was dead.
He noticed my awestruck expression. “About three months ago, a young octopus was moved to this tank. Of course we noticed its appearance was different from its parents, but we didn’t think much of it. Random mutations aren’t too unexpected occasionally.” His fingers fidgeted with his light blue polo shirt absentmindedly. “But when the workers next came to clean the tank, all the fish and other marine life were dead, except for the octopus.”
I noticed beads of sweat dripping off the ends of his shaggy, graying hair as he continued talking. “We moved the octopus, and the same thing happened over and over again. Before we could figure out what to do, he disappeared.”
I frowned, narrowing my eyes at the chubby man. “How does an octopus disappear out of a water tank? And how have these fishes not decayed?” I couldn’t hide the skepticism in my voice.
“We don’t know!” The owner wrung his hands together. “We searched everywhere, but the octopus was nowhere in the aquarium. It’s like he just got up and walked out.
Silence fell between us for a moment, amplifying the gentle humming of aquarium tanks. “How long ago was this?”
“The octopus disappeared about two months ago.” A ball dropped to the bottom of my stomach. The first mysterious body was found about two months ago. “We think he might’ve multiplied, creating who knows how many more of these . . .” His voice trailed off. “And when the first clear image of a Borthon showed up last week, my crew and I all realized it looked exactly like the octopus.”
As I lit more candles, the light danced on newspaper clippings and wrinkled pictures. Large headlines reading “SERIAL OCTOPUS KILLER?” and “IS THIS AN EIGHT LEGGED JOKE?” glowed in the candlelight. I picked up the candle and walked further down the hall. Newspaper headlines slowly changed to “HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS DEAD GLOBALLY IN ONE NIGHT” and “NO ONE’S SAFE: PANIC GRIPS THE WORLD”.
I sent a match into the fireplace, which was already filled with logs. My dinner consisted of vegetables harvested that morning and meat from an unfortunate pig I found wandering the area.
The shaky phone camera showed squealing pigs being chased through the streets at random. The next video was people burning, looting, and throwing bricks at buildings.
“Chaos reigns throughout the entire world as Borthons claim almost half the entire human population,” the reporter announced. “Despite scientists' best efforts to develop anti-Borthon technology, the Borthons now seem unstoppable as we now consider the possibility of extinction,” she spoke somberly.
I clicked off the television. I was already preparing for the disintegration of society. Unlike most of the world, I had unfortunately predicted this. But how did the Borthons know we were closer than ever to stopping them? Borthons never really made themselves known, until experts developed the first device to protect yourself against the Taking. After that, they performed the Taking on thousands of people each night, practically declaring war. And if the first Borthon was born less than a year ago, how is it possible that I found evidence of the Taking throughout human history?
Listening to the crackles and pops of the fire, I finished my modest dinner and threw the paper products into the fire. Not feeling tired yet, I stepped into my backyard. The orange sky complimented the fiery trees as the sun sent its last breath of light. I sat down on the back step and put my chin in my grimy hands. I felt the side of my knife pressed up against my leg uncomfortably. Removing it from my pocket, I noticed dried blood still on the blade from the pig. I wiped it off on my jacket and set it down next to me, looking up to the sky once again. The sun was gone, with only tiny sparkles of its cousins reminding me of what’s missing.
“Breaking news: The Borthons are gone.” I set down my cup of water, staring intently at the television. What did the reporter, one of the last to survive, possibly mean? He continued. “No new body has been found in the past week, and my crew hasn’t met anyone who has spotted a Borthon, despite their population of almost a million. The few remaining scientists are baffled, with no idea where they went. Despite this, I’m pleased to announce there are no more Borthons.”
My brain was whirling as I tried to process what I heard. They were gone. I should have felt something. Anything. But I felt nothing. It didn’t feel like a victory. The Borthons won, reducing the human population to around two million globally.
They’re smart enough to coordinate attacks and complex strategies, so they must have realized that winning the war also meant the complete destruction of their favorite food source.
Where did they go?
Goosebumps raced down my arms from the crisp autumn night, but I didn’t care. No one knows how many people are left, but I wasn’t sure if that’s important. Everything was empty. Everything I’d ever known or loved was gone.