This is my entry for the TCWG short story competition for November on the subject of “harvest”. My story is around 1760 words long.
The inauguration ceremony and all the celebratory events were over and the new president and his wife retired to the president’s private apartment in the White House. He looked at his wife and said, “I’ve got some business that I must attend to before going to bed. You go and make yourself comfortable and I’ll join you shortly.”
The president entered the private study within the presidential apartment and shut the door. Nothing like as grand as the Oval Office, it was nonetheless well appointed and comfortable. He sat in a big leather armchair, leant forwards and carefully loosened his face. The prosthesis slowly came off to reveal his true self, an extraterrestrial arthropod. Out loud he said to himself in his native language, “That feels better!” And then he got to work.
He picked up a small device that was actually some type of small walkie talkie that could transmit over massive distances. Comfortable in the feeling that he was safe, he called his contact who was many light years away. A bit like Star Trek’s subspace radio, this device could communicate in real time over the distance. He got a response to his hail. What to human ears would sound like a series of clicks, to him was a beautiful language, the language of his home world that he’d left some twenty years earlier for this difficult mission.
He greeted his contact and then said, “I can’t believe those dumb Americans elected me! But they did and I am now the President of the United States of America. For the most part, I will govern them well because it’s the power that I need, not anything about them, at least nothing consequential.
“What is it exactly that you want me to deliver?”
The creature at the other end of the communication device replied, “Toenails! Millions of tons of human toenails. More precisely, we need a fungus that grows on human toenails and nowhere else. For decades we’ve tried to grow it on other media but it just wont take.”
“So you want me to talk down the strange goings on as we abduct millions of Americans to harvest their toenails?”
“In essence, that’s it. We’ve been abducting people at a very low rate for years but we can’t get round the fact that about one in twenty remembers something of the experience. We’ve tried all sorts of memory block methods but we’ve always ended up with some people remembering something of what we did to them. When we’re abducting over a million Americans per night, that will mean at least 50,000 will have some kind of memory. Your task is to keep the people calm, assure them that there’s nothing harmful happening but also try to note who the people are who remember. We will try to avoid abducting them too often.”
“Well, these Americans are so gullible. I’m sure that I can come up with something but I think it’s important that we do not abduct anybody in a position of power: legislators, judges, police officers and the like. We should also avoid abducting any celebrities. We need the majority of the population to think that the tales of abduction are fiction by attention seekers.”
“You have your instructions. Now, govern America well, so you win a second term and we should be able to harvest enough toenails to last us indefinitely. I congratulate you on your election and wish you goodnight!”
The president responded and signed off. He leant forwards and slowly reattached the prosthetic face. He went to bed and made love to his wife. Little did she know why they had had to adopt children. Meanwhile, the mass abductions began.
The first night went well. 3.2 million Americans were abducted while they slept and the vast majority remembered nothing, though a few were confused by the fact that their toenails appeared to have been trimmed neatly to the quick. However, around 155,000 remembered something and aliens impregnated far-fetched ideas into their minds to confuse and muddle their memories. As a result reports of aliens carrying out anal probes went right up, despite the fact that the aliens only wanted toenails.
After a month or so, when the aliens had a good-sized batch of toenails, they decided to reduce nightly abductions to about one million. However, with about one in twenty remembering something of the experience, the media, particularly daytime TV talkshows were pre-occupied with stories of alien abductions. Because of the intentional befuddlement of those who did remember something, there were some quite incredible stories, such as the man from Idaho who claimed to have been disassembled, dissected and reassembled while remaining conscious throughout!
The President was kept informed about the growing public unease and fear that aliens wanted their bodies. He decided to address the nation on the subject during one his regular Roosevelt-style fireside chats. “People are alarmed by the huge rise in the number of reports of alien abductions. I can assure you that the FBI, the CIA and the Air Force are all investigating the reports. So far there is no evidence to suggest that aliens are abducting Americans. The reports show no sign of the reports being true. There is no evidence that we have been contacted in any way by an advanced alien race and no one has been hurt during these so-called abductions. Psychologists talk of mass hysteria causing people to imagine the same trail of events. I do not know why there’s been a big increase in such reports but I can assure you that the government is doing everything to protect our nation.” He continued with the usual patriotic guff that American presidents spout when addressing the country. Altogether his little talk reassured the public and reports of abductions did die down for a bit.
The years went by and the rumours of nightly alien abductions resurged and continued. Conmen were making a mint out of fraudulent devices and potions guaranteed to prevent a person from being abducted. One ad went like this, “Scared of having an alien anal probe? Then buy Chastity Plus, the invincible nighttime underwear! Guaranteed impenetrable to alien anal probes. Sleep well tonight simply by calling 1-800-555-6565! This simple $39 dollar garment will keep you safe.” Anal probes were just a rumour and didn’t really exist but, if they did, an alien would easily get a Chastity Plus off a subject.
The President did well and was re-elected. He was quite used to living his lie. He even loved his (human) wife. He governed well because it was in the aliens’ interests for the people of the United States to be happy. But one day one of his alien contacts told him of something potentially dangerous to the mission. He phoned to say, “Jerry Springer is going to interview a couple because the husband’s left her because he says he’s been abducted many times by the same alien and he’s fallen in love with her. The wife is devastated because she loves her husband and wants him back. She thinks he’s having some type of mental breakdown.”
The President thought for a moment before replying, “Has he really fallen for an alien or is he having a breakdown? If it’s true, maybe we could use this to our advantage. Maybe it’s time to be honest with the American public and tell them the truth, though I don’t think we could ever admit to them that they elected an alien to the presidency.”
“Yes, the story is true. What do you have in mind?”
“Let’s find our female compatriot and let her appear on the Jerry Springer Show. We can then gauge public reaction. If they think it’s an elaborate hoax, we’re fine but if they think it’s real, lets simply tell them that all we want is their toenails on which to grow this immensely important fungus.”
The programme aired and Jerry Springer interviewed the couple, Joe and Jane. Joe said, “I know I’ll be abducted again. I’m certain and when it happens I will be abducted by Ick-Ick. We’re in love and I’ll ask her to take me back to her home planet, Xesxe. It’s name is hard to pronounce but I think I got it about right.”
At this point Jerry Springer interrupted and said, “Joe, I have someone backstage who’d like to meet you.” He signalled to the stage director that he was ready and Ick-Ick was ushered into the studio.
Joe didn’t need Jerry Springer to say anything more. He rushed forwards and hugged Ick-Ick. She moved her enormous nose to one side and they kissed passionately on the lips or his lips to whatever an arthropod has that’s the equivalent. Jane was heard to exclaim, “Gee, that’s gross! How could you?” The audience stared in utter disbelief. Joe’s passion was obvious but they couldn’t really tell with Ick-Ick. How does an arthropod show passion?
The programme ended and immediately pollsters got asking representative samples of viewers whether they thought is was real or staged. Overwhelmingly, the response was that people thought it was real. Then, as days went by, people who hadn’t seen the programme but had heard about the passionate alien kiss were also polled. They were more sceptical but a majority thought it was real.
The President called a meeting of the Cabinet to tell them what he would do, rather than to seek their counsel. At the meeting he said, “I have known for some time that some aspects of the alien abduction stories are true. However, the intelligence services and I thought that America and the world wasn’t yet ready to meet aliens. The aliens only want our toenails so they can grow a fungus that has important medicinal properties. They don’t do anal probes or any of the other less pleasant things that have been reported.
“The Jerry Springer Show brought a real alien into millions of TV viewers’ homes. Pollsters report that the response has been amazingly positive and people were touched by the story of love that emerged. I will tell America and the world the truth and maybe we can trade our toenails for something the aliens have that we need. There will be no need for any more abductions.”
And so it was. The President made his TV announcement and the aliens opened an embassy and consulate in Washington DC. Now when you go to the shops and you see a human-sized arthropod buying a watermelon, you won’t be too surprised!
© Charles Stuart 2016