Richard threw the damn mug, and the papers, and the pens and the bloody stapler and hurled the desktop phone. One by one each crashed against the partially frosted glass wall separating he from the idiots beyond.
“Hold you underwater and you’d still be fucking talking.”
He reached for his little bonsai, a wizened fig, and lifted it by its trunk into the air. He would not accept that months of thorough research and the honest-to-god best journalism of his life was suitable for nothing other than the fucking shelf.
He drew back his arm.
“You don’t know shit from a sandwich Fickle-Fuck!”
He hurled the little fig. His fingers twitched and the little fig, rather than crashing through the glass pane and taking out Fickle-Fuck over there, dropped to the floor and cracked open, spilling a sad mess of dirt and roots at his feet. Something stung behind Richard’s eyes. He blinked. Tears burned at his vision. Richard squinched and unsquinched his eyes. He wiped at them with his shoulders. The world returned to a fuzzy focus but something was wrong with the scene. Two heavyset hands hung in front of his face. They extended and contracted their fingers rhythmically. Luxuriating, they swam through the air, up, back and around his field of vision. They wore suit sleeves the navy of his own, a familiar wedding ring and one bore the scar across its first knuckle that he’d earned boxing a window in tenth grade. He withdrew his hands.
He grinned at the dark thoughts of what he’d like to do to the pot-smoking design hippies below, and at just how far he’d like to shove their joints up their organic shits-roses bowels. He turned to wrench open the window and holler down below, but his hands didn’t move, hadn’t moved, and though he twisted, his torso caught on where his hands had anchored themselves mid-air. They were still swimming, drifting in slow and opposing circular waves. His brain pulled but the connection was lost and his hands didn’t respond.
Richard stared as his hands broke away like a pair of synchronised swimmers diving left and right. They dragged his arms behind them and scooped themselves up to perch themselves once again square in the middle of his field of vision. He felt the muscular fibres in his arms unknit from his brain one strand at a time. He twisted his hips, gyrating his upper body wildly like a twisted, elastic man, but his hands anchored his body firmly in place.
“What’s going on?”
He glanced into the newsroom beyond his office but nobody was watching him. Benji Petersham passed the window, his face tilted away. Routinely, they all avoided his gaze. Richard’s fingers spread themselves wide, stretched and then dived to his keyboard, pulling his body with them. His hands typed:
ALIENS VISIT RICHARD WHITTLER’S BODY
What a joke. The words on the screen were a fool’s prank. Richard checked the taskbar for the icon of a joke program. He checked the window. It was definitely closed.
WANT TO EXPERIENCE HUMAN COUPLING
“Come off it. How dumb do you think I am?” He glanced back into the newsroom. “PAULA? JEREMY?” But as true as any other day, as any other moment, his bellows were ignored. Nobody was watching and he could make out no signs of any gaggle of fools huddling around a hidden speaker, computer or transmitting device. He looked at his coffee mug, cold dregs thickening at the base. Had it been spiked? His hands typed on.
FAILURE TO COMPLY
His hands had begun to dance a well timed, fingertip tango. They leapt into the air and signed an indecipherable message. Richard’s breathing slowed. His lips and tongue seemed to be made of heavy rubber.
He tried to move his hands as they returned to the keyboard but it was like pushing against a brick wall. They responded to neither will nor muscular force. They continued typing and, though he had no control, he felt every keystroke as they raced across the keyboard. The clacking strokes hummed and became a series of a thousand, two thousand, ten thousand, overlapping echoes vibrating from his fingertips up and into in his mind.
COMPLIANCE NOT DANGEROUS
He read the screen. The message rattled out. Bounced around his mind.
RETURNING CONTROL IN 10
His hands froze and seven seconds later Richard felt two tiny electric charges zap down the length of his arms and back, from his fingertips to his eyes where it balled and hung before dissipating. Something pressed against his optic nerve and his muscles felt tight.
Richard dived beneath his desk, lifting it a good three inches from the floor as he crammed his bulk into the tiny foot space. He heard what must be the rest of his office supplies skittle to the floor. His eyes flitted from corner to cornice, searching for a hidden lens. For a man behind the curtains. For a secret device plugged in behind palm or maybe, behind the floor lamp.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
Silence filled his office and the dull buzz of the newsroom beyond it teased at his sense of reason. He searched his hands and arms. No plugs, no chips. He touched the knob at the top of his spine, feeling clean, unbroken skin. His speed of breath increased.
Tingling trickled down his spine and pins pricked his fingertips. His eyes stung but his vision remained clear.
“Stop! Stop it or I’ll—”
Or I’ll what?
His hands forced their way out from beneath his desk. They pushed themselves through the air and dragged Richard behind them, laying him face down on the floor. Helpless, he watched his right hand ascend, a creeping, sockless, sock puppet, climbed over the desk’s lip, search and type. It mashed keys, stumbled and mashed them again. Richard’s left hand grabbed him by the collar and hauled him up.
WE AARE ALIENS. BELIEVE ANDF IT WILL BE EWASY
DON’T WAMNT TO HURT YOU B UT WILL IF WE MUST.
He shook his head. Clearly, he’d gone mad.
His hands pistoned up and down – two thumbs up.
“Visiting my body?”
A buzzing tingle rushed several circuits around his palms and up and down his fingers. His hands dove to type.
LEAVE NOW TO THE WESTFIELD.
ORDER PIZZA, ITALIAN NOT DOMINOES.
WIFE AT 6.
“Fuck this. Non-compliance or what?”
Richard punched himself in the face and the blow knocked him to the ground. The thing controlling him allowed Richard to push himself up from the floor and touch a finger to his bloodied nose, or maybe it was the thing controlling him that did that too. Richard didn’t know.
The screen now read, DANGEROUS
He ordered Papa Joe’s and after his hands had scribbled a few instructions on the back of a used envelope, he moved his body to assist. His hands set the oven to warm and sat the pizza within. Hell, he gave them some credit, if he ditched the box (and he did, in the neighbour’s garbage of course) it actually looked as though he’d done it himself.
“Wait up a sec.”
He pulled out a couple of large knives, a chopping board and a small bowl from the cupboard, rinsed them and set them to drain. His hands gave him a short round of applause and he allowed himself a smile. Things could be worse he figured, and if it turned out that he wasn’t dreaming, that he wasn’t insane, maybe he’d have an interesting story to tell. He did his best to note the feelings that rushed through his body. It was as though he’d developed the acute ability to feel the individual activation of his nerves, but that they were being plucked at and played by another. His body was humming with the constant, overlapping, reverberation of this alien score. He felt alive with energy and heightened skill and he began to entertain the possibility of growing preternatural senses and abilities. All heroes, after all, go through a messed up stage.
His hands set their small IKEA table for two in a manner far more elegant than he was capable of. They took two plain white napkins, (lightly embossed), and transformed them through a succession of deft folds, twists and turns into perfectly formed pope hats. They set the cutlery and wine glasses and took care turning the knife blades outwards. Getting the distance between knife and glass just so.
Richard heard the front door close and listened to Miriam hang her jacket in the hall.
“Richard? Are you home?” called Miriam.
“Richard? What on earth…?”
Richard swallowed his heart and turned around. His hands snapped backwards and continued working behind his back. He watched her face change as she fully took in the scent of Roma tomatoes, basil, crisping pizza crust and marinated beef and he imagined her mind, empty but for an ancient calculating machine, cogs turning, pegs falling into place as she struggled to make sense of the absurd scene. Richard Whittler, who expected her to butter his toast in the mornings, had undeniably prepared a romantic dinner for two.
“Miriam, honey… Surprise! I’d hoped to finish before you’d arrived, but…”
Miriam didn’t move.
“How was your day?” He took half a step towards her, felt his hands stretch gently behind him. “You know, you always look lovely in black.”
Miriam was staring at the flicks of hands and the flashes of roses behind his back. Quit it! Nobody talks to their wife and arranges flowers behind their back at the same time; you’re freaking her out! His hands stopped, relinquished the roses and, reluctantly it seemed, control was partially returned to him.
He took Miriam, who now seemed to have lost control of her own body, into his arms. She stiffened against his touch and he to the kiss he placed between her lips. Electricity whirred about his body and danced beneath his skin. He hadn’t felt this excited about the act since he was sixteen and his first crush had let her fingers stray down to rest… Down, down… He parted his lips, shifted his hands and drew her hips to his but the moment he rubbed against her, Miriam jerked back and pushed away.
“Stop it. What did you do?” Her voiced cracked as she spoke.
Her face grew pale and her lips quivered. Her words cut deep and her eyes left Richard feeling transparent, like a gift wrapped in cellophane. She was too soon. He would’ve had Tiffany if her legs weren’t so fucking tight but he’d never had the chance. He was so outraged he almost said it aloud.
“Baby dear, I…” His fingers spread wider and gently, he stroked and explored her curves. The bitch tensed in resistance. Miriam was years, an entire promotion and probably a change of companies premature, he’d—
“United News called.” He surprised himself with the balls-out lie.
“What?” Miriam froze.
“I’m going in for talks next Monday. Fickle rejected the story and so I fired off a teaser to United, just for the heck of it, and at about 3pm they made a call. The words unrecognised talent were used and I thought we should celebrate.”
“You’re joking. United think you’re a hack.”
“Miriam, I’m sorry about everything,” his hand stroked her hair and he felt his mind pushing out. His hand cupped itself around her buttocks and he pulled her near. She gave in. “This is the beginning of something new. Everything gets better from now.”
Quietly, Miriam sobbed.
Somewhere between stumbling towards the bedroom and shoving Miriam onto the bed, his hands stripping and ripping off their clothes, Richard became an observer in his own mind. Loss of control spread in a wave from his eyes to his fingertips, back down his arms and into his chest, and then, outwards to all the extremities of his body. Resistance wasn’t an option. It happened so fast that one moment he’d been running a hand up Miriam’s thigh and the next, he was experiencing the sensation of thousands of his fingers working themselves into his wife’s panties.
His tongue divided, his arms and legs multiplied out and burst from his body which expanded and stretched like pulled taffy, only to be cut and stretched again. Whether this happened physically or mentally he couldn’t tell, he could only feel it, as real as Miriam beneath him, around him, seen between stroboscopic lapses of black and bright, which burned like the sun. In a wave, the scent of her sex swamped him, pushed him down, deep, deep down, and he was drowning. Unable to breath, he sunk deeper and his vision darkened as he was pushed beneath the sensation of penetration and overlapping, animal thrusts. As he slid in her, he felt them slide in him.
Something broke and Richard fell backwards, deeper into his mind, where he sat naked in a cold seat made of flesh. Pitch dark wrapped around him and a kind of numbness dripped down his torso and limbs. A long tunnel stretched before him. Its black walls, floor and ceiling were untouchable and yet infinitely near and far. Their inky depths were everything. A thrumming hum began as a tight pressure deep in the bones of his ears. THRUM, THRUM, THRUM. The pressure was building. The intensity, increasing. It came from the core of his being. THRUM, THRUM, THRUM. At the distant end of the tunnel two figures danced the horizontal in a tiny spot of light. THRUM, THRUM, THRUM. Like a feedback loop, the pressure and intensity continued to increase with every hip thrust and fuck until Richard THRUM was screaming THRUM and screaming and begging and bleeding but his limbs were gone, his body was taken THRUM THRUM and all that was left of him was a ragged consciousness, a fraying mind unravelling THRUM THRUM THRUM and being squeezed from all sides by the pressure building increasing and squeezing and vibrating reverberating and fucking and fucking noise slashing and cutting and tearing and fucking—
THRUM THRUM THRUM
They woke three days later with no recollection of what had happened to the time between then and now.
Ravished, they ate breakfast at 3pm, in silence, and after consuming all of the bacon and eggs, and the cereal, and the juice, they returned to their relatively separate lives.
In the days that followed, which passed in a haze, it became apparent to Richard that Miriam had forgotten all about the United News lie. That was strange in itself, but not as strange as Fickle, the asshole that ruled Richard’s nine to five, openly praising the timeliness and appropriateness of the articles Richard was now, apparently, turning in. He knew sat at his desk each day, tapping at the keys for the required amount of time, but he didn’t remember writing a god-damned thing.
“Now that’s what the people want,” Fickle said, jabbing a finger at the headline JOAN PARK’S CRAZED SEX DWARF NOW TEACHING CHILDREN. Richard’s name was in the byline. What did it matter anymore?
Weeks passed and still, Richard’s hands hummed as they typed and the articles kept coming. Whatever the brief, the hands produced, but Richard, mind worn and numb, made sense of none of it. Each afternoon, they guided Richard home and, though he considered the leap every day from the railroad bridge, his hands always kept hold of the rail. Each evening, when the door clicked and Miriam returned home, the monsters expanded within him. Each night, they pushed Richard to the back of his mind and left him, drowning, at the bottom of a horizontal well. There, aliens fucked him fucking her.
THRUM THRUM THRUM
“Mr Whittler?” Tiffany broke him from his daze. “It was a large flat white, right?”
He mumbled something about a cappuccino, it was always a cappuccino, but either she didn’t hear, or he didn’t speak. His eyelids unfurled and he attempted to focus on the smear of shadow that was Tiffany standing at his desk, several takeaway coffees stacked in each hand.
He nodded and watched her outline juggle the coffees and somehow, set one down. He stared at the rising trail of steam. He stared at the jumble of words on his screen. At the cord of the blinds, dangling, that could separate them from the sight of the newsroom beyond. He watched Tiffany’s fine behind as she turned towards the door.
He heard himself speak.
She turned back and he felt a rush of pressure behind his eyes. His fingers tingled. His hand shot out. Grabbed her free arm. Pulled her near.
Tiffany screamed, her hand closed and coffee exploded from the cup she was holding. The other cups toppled to the floor.
“No!” Richard shouted and slammed his free fist onto the desk.
Scalding coffee covered his face, her breasts, her face, their feet, the desk and the floor.
Richard jumped to his feet and snatched his own hand away.
“Get out of here!” he shouted and hurled a stack of proofs at Tiffany’s face. She ran screaming and crying from the office, paper raining about her like fat confetti.
His door slammed.
Richard collapsed into his chair. His body was humming.
“Please,” he pleaded, “you don’t need her too. You have what wanted. You’ve had it a hundred times or more.”
His hands tapped out a word. He didn’t need the screen, he saw it in his mind.
SOON, IT MUST BE SOON OR
Richard wept, more from despair than from the burns on his chin, neck and hands.
His door clicked.
“I said get out!” Richard shouted at it, at them. “GET! OUT!”
“Richard?” said Miriam. “You didn’t answer your phone. I tried calling again, and again, and…”
Miriam stood in the doorway, her hair was dishevelled and her tears had badly smeared her makeup. She looked at Richard and began to cry again.
“Miriam,” he said, moving towards her, “what’s wrong? What are you doing here?”
She nodded and shook her head at the same time. Her hands kneaded and rubbed at each other.
“Richard, they’re coming.”
She made to close the door.
“No! Leave it open,” he said. He prayed they wouldn’t take her now but the lack of privacy might save them if they tried. He could feel them tingling, nattering below his skin. They wanted something. He swished his hand back and forth through the air, partly to cool the pain from the burns, partly in an attempt to keep them as his own. He—
“Richard!” Miriam’s voice cut through his dream and finally, his eyes found her belly. A belly that had been flat just the other day.
“We have to leave now,” said Miriam, she grabbed Richard’s hand and began dragging him to the door. “The doctor, I was feeling queasy and bloated, so I went to the clinic and the doctor, he sent me to the hospital for an emergency ultrasound. I think he called somebody. They tried to make me stay but I shoved them, pushed and ran and… We have to leave.”
A familiar pressure swelled behind Richard’s eyes. He knew Miriam was right, that they needed to run, but he couldn’t remove his gaze from her belly. Her top was stretched tight, it wasn’t made for maternity, and her pregnant belly protruded substantially. Her skin rippled and then became taut again.
Saliva had pooled at the back of Richard’s mouth. He swallowed it back. He had to know.
“Tell me, Miriam,” his voice was flat and not entirely his own, “what did the doctor see? What did the doctor say?”
“He saw heartbeats, Richard, more than he could count. I tried to ask for more information but all I saw was the shock on his face and the fear in his eyes. He only said one thing before backed from the room to find help.”
“And that was?”
Something prickled behind Richard’s eyes.
His hands twitched.
He felt electricity discharge and fall from his body like a dropped curtain, rushing out through the soles of his feet.
He felt empty inside and he knew that the aliens were gone. Though his senses were only human again, he could hear sirens in the distance. He hugged Miriam and grabbed his laptop.
“Come on, let’s go.”
He escorted Miriam to the rear dock where they climbed into a company car and drove, at the speed limit, towards the nearest exit from the city.