An alien invasion without spaceships, ray guns or even aliens. The Arrivals are plants, viscous, man-eating and completely unstoppable. Mankind has been defeated and now struggles to find a niche on the New Earth.
Part 1: The Predator Trees of Nassau County
"Now don't get too close, Martha. We just want a picture of you and the trees." My hands were shaking as I took the picture of my wife next to these very special trees. We had read about them in the last online issue of Life Magazine. The article was called "The Predator Trees of Nassau County." We were sent to investigate these particular trees due to a curiosity reported by a previous team.
She was sure to stay at the line drawn around the creatures which was emitted by a special system of lasers, which also doubled as a defensive array for tourists who did not pay attention. Martha wasn't that kind of tourist. She paid close attention and never strayed inside the line.
A couple of the trees were very active that afternoon and had slashed out with one of their acid covered tentacles. The lasers fired clipping the ends and kept the trees from reaching her. The tentacles were scooped up and properly handled by a service robot.
There was a kiosk there and we listened to when they first fell to Earth twenty years ago, they swarmed over the planet eating everything in sight. Mankind had been on the edge of extinction until they stopped eating humanity and turned on each other.
Humans had tried any number of foolish things, but anything we did only caused them to grow faster. We lost parts of China, Africa and the West Coast of the United States when we tried to use nuclear weapons. The creatures created spores and proliferated at ten times their normal rates. When they began to eat each other, humanity breathed a sigh of relief. But their populations did not diminish. So anyplace that had been overrun stayed that way.
Both Martha and I had lost our previous mates during the early attacks and were lucky enough to find each other when we managed to escape the Arizona Wall built to keep them behind it. We couldn't get far away enough and eventually found ourselves in Long Island, New York in Nassau County. There weren't too many of the creatures left in parts of the world where nukes weren't used and now with the surplusses of food and resources, no one had to work unless they wanted to. Plenty did. I worked as a photographer, gathering information about the walled cities and with Martha and the kids riding shotgun, and gun turrets, we cruise the midwest bringing news and resources to isolated communities.
Martha and I are now in our sixties and don't think we have much time left, so we are teaching the kids our route so they can help keep the roads clear and sharing information between the cities on the oceans and the middle of the continent.
Martha always wants to stake out a tree when we find them because of the strangest thing. Predator trees have a habit of attracting cats. The cats come to the trees, sit down on the branches and fall asleep. The trees wrap them in a cocoon and absorb the flesh, leaving the skeletons wrapped in the trees. Once the cilia are removed the skeletons are often posed in strange positions. She takes different pictures of them and collects them. Sometimes she will wait until a cat shows up and will try to rescue them from their fate. They do not seem to be able to resist, likely a spore-based pheromone.
We came to this tree because there was supposed to be a cat living in harmony with these particular trees.
"There he is," she said. "A big Tom. He is carrying something." My eyes weren't what they used to be, so I pulled out my binoculars and could see it was a large rat. He dropped it near the base of the tree and then proceeded to climb to the limbs near the middle of the tree. He deftly dodges the poisonous tentacles, though a few seemed to move out of his way as he reaches his perch, a wide strong limb. He hunkers down and proceeds to go to sleep.
"I don't believe what I am seeing." Martha has her video camera and leaves it on overnight. It is designed to lock on and autofocus as necessary. The predation process is supposed to take only a single night. "He will be dead by morning."
We camp out and snuggle while the kids take turn from the truck. The trees, attracted to our body heat, move during the night but a few taps from the laser turret and they return to slavering quietly.
Martha woke before I did and saw the impossible. The black Tom climbed down the tree, ran off into the woods, quite alive. "Now I can die 'cause I have seen everything. A cat that is good for something."
"I don't understand." I was still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.
"The reason there aren't more trees here, is the cat gives them enough food to stay mobile, not enough food to breed. Since there were very few people living here, they never got enough to eat to reproduce." The people of Long Island fled the very night the creatures landed in New York proper.
"The world's remaining scientists have been doing everything in their power to eradicate them and everything we do just makes it worse. A damn fool cat figures out, all we have to do is feed them enough till they take root. Look at them. They have the coloration of first arrivals. They have been here for over ten years and have never spread."
"Don't that beat all. Until today, I would have said there was nothing I could have learned from a cat." Seeing cat skeletons in predator trees for nearly a decade, I always assumed it would always be that way.
The Tom comes back with another rat and gingerly drops it in the same spot. He climbs back into the tree and stares at us. The look seemed to say, "Okay, now go tell somebody and get the hell out of here."
Who was I to argue with someone smarter than me? We got in the truck, took a few more pictures and started heading out toward Jersey. The trees and cat cast long shadows in the early morning light. They followed us west.
The Predator Trees of Nassau County © Thaddeus Howze 2011. All Rights Reserved [@ebonstorm]