No More Words
by Steven Roisum
My studio door creaked open. The padding of light feet everywhere. Small hands wiping slimy sweaty stuff all over my face, my neck. Giggling. Chortling. I had no clue who or what they were. I began yelling “Where is Becca? She’s my wife!” Not true, of course, but that’s the way I saw her.
The lights came on. Everywhere in the room stood upright, short green lizard soldiers, or protestors. Hard to tell. No taller than four feet. How many: twenty, twenty-five? Some were smiling. Some were grim. They were all watching me.
A Gecko with a furrowed crocodile brow. Another with two tails, and another sporting spikes down its back, with the marble eyes of a snake. Thanks to a middle-grade science report, I knew lizards fairly well. Some versions I’d seen before, others were new to me. Certainly, I had never seen lizards walking around like people.
“Pardon my screaming, citizens.” Being the consummate entertainer, I kept the show rolling. “I’m the infamous Dirk Darklight.” I was surprised that the mic didn’t pick up on my hammering heartbeat. “We’ve had a momentary blackout, we’re back on. I am now sitting in a room of four-foot high lizards standing upright.” No response other than their now contemptuous gazes, one darted its tongue at me. “Citizens, this is real.”
The roomful of lizards made room for someone to sit in my guest chair. The stranger knew enough to scoot his chair forward and bend the mic down to his short frame. His yellow eyes probably weighing the worth of my soul, after the way I had abandoned Becca. Its roaming eyes now leveled at me.
“We’ve met,” I said. It had been much smaller just a few hours ago. I recognized its knowing look. The roving eyes, now locked onto me. “You’ve grown.”
It nodded. “Dirk,” it said in a voice as coarse as gravel. The audience could hear it. Our mics were still on.
“What did you do to my Becca?”
He shrugged. “No. More. Words.”
“Where is she?”
“Answer later. We talk first.”
* * *
“This is Talkback Tuesday, I’m Dirk Darklight. I would describe my guest as lean and wet,” I asked, “Is that a lizard jacket you’re wearing? You have been interviewed before, haven’t you? You’re talking into a microphone like a pro. Are you an affiliate of any party?” I knew there was no way the audience was going to believe in giant lizard invaders. I wasn’t so sure, myself. I didn’t see any snaps or zippers on anyone’s back.
My confident façade was getting more difficult to pull off. The pendulum of worry had hit me again. I blurted, “Where is Becca? Please.” I didn’t regret yelling that out. I was an unapologetic, desperate man realizing true love far too late. I had thought the voice was hers. Trying some crazy way to beckon me back. Please, God, I want her alive!
It said, “She’s out there.” As if that would comfort me. It continued, “The human race is done speaking words. You’ve hit your limit.”
I said my words slowly, so everyone could appreciate the irony in all of this. “So, you’re telling me, a big-time radio host, to stop talking?”
“Who better?” The lizard at the mic smirked at me. The rest in the room quietly chuckled.
“Words are my bread and butter.”
My bluster kicked in, I wasn’t going to concede the show to them, not yet. “Now just tell me, who in the exact hell am I talking to?” Nervous sweat pooled in my armpits. Perspiration welled up in my eyes. I knew already. Can you understand why it was so hard to accept what I was seeing?
“You are done talking. No more words. Time is up.”
“What do you mean, time is up? In the movies, ‘time is up’ means you’re done, maybe even as good as dead.” I pounded my fist. “Elaborate, you little bastard.”
He smiled. “Societies only get so many words.”
“You’ve been counting our words?”
The putrid little bastard nodded.
“So, what’s the final tally? Who was counting?”
“Ourselves.” A smirk across his face. “You do not have the words to articulate how high the number.”
Patty reentered the studio through the side door. She was professional cool and yet frazzled too. Upon her neck was a big, thick staple, the size of my fist. It blinked with a small pulsating light. I asked her if she could talk. She shook her head, and waved it off, like it was a conversation for a later time. She handed me a fresh news story right on the screen of her smart phone. She knew there were bigger problems at stake than her current predicament.
I couldn’t stop staring at her staple. She snapped her fingers in front of my eyes, and pointed to her phone. I read the article out loud to my audience. “Here is the news, citizens. Straight from just one of the newspapers covering this all over the country.” I didn’t know that for sure. At least, not yet.
“No More Words. Americans all over the country are being silenced by unknown assailants. No word from the President yet.” The report went on, but the lizard-thing in the chair croaked, “See? No. More. Words.”
Like a good talk-radio personality, I used my worries to ignite a flaming pile of bluster. “Do you have some sort of message?”
“Yes. No more words. For you, too.”
I had to admit, blabber-mouth me was a perfect choice. The two assailants descended on me. One tipped my head back, I felt two pricks on my neck. I gagged. “Urk.”
Strangely, the pain wasn’t bad. I lost balance and fell onto all fours onto the floor. I wasn’t going to just take that. I always kept a staple remover on my desk. Running out of the broadcast booth, I almost slipped in the hallway. I ran into the newsroom, then into my office. I sifted through my mess, knocking things onto the floor.
There, the staple remover. I brought it to my neck, knowing full well that a whole lot of blood would come bursting out if I did this wrong. It felt even more wrong to keep this pulsating neck-invader in place. When I touched it, the staple dug in deeper like a cat tightening its grip on a screen door.
Patty ran into the newsroom and shut the door. She found a pen and wrote on a printer sheet of paper. “They’re destroying everything in there. Mics, the chairs, control board.” She turned, as she was going to return to the fray. She tried pushing, the door wasn’t budging. A voice on the other side said, “No. This must happen.” I heard the smashing of windows. A series of smaller crashes. Perhaps the portraits?
Just as I turned to help her, the door opened again. And the head lizard stepped into the newsroom. “You are no longer threats to us.”
Patty and I looked at each other. She shrugged and mouthed, “What do we do?”
We stayed put. The destruction continued on the second floor.
I wondered what the outside world was seeing. Invasions like this? I clicked on the newsroom TV set and I changed the channels. The Pope’s address cut short in Italy, an interview with a researcher in the Arctic upended by lizard soldiers, stapled necks everywhere. Channels and channels of news, just like this. All the information coming on the news ticker at the bottom of the screen. One channel featured a sign-language expert.
The power went off again, ending our horrific, morbid trance-staring at the TV.
The police scanner was silent. It ran off backup power. I could hear driving, and breathing, and then faint choking sounds. Then bodies dropping. The dispatcher wasn’t there at all. Maybe not all of us survive this.
Then, from the police scanner. Tapping. S-O-S? I could only guess. I never had reason to learn it. The visitors left in twos through the station’s front doors, back into the night. Patty joined me. We simply watched them walk by. We were nothing to them.
We stepped upstairs, closer to a window, as we watched them leave. She wrote on a piece of paper, “Is your staple tightening in your neck too? Are they killing us?”
My staple was growing ever tighter. I nodded yes. Just a matter of time. I wrote, “So, who gets to talk now?”
* * *
After an hour, Patty and I gave up hoping the power would ever come back, and we left the station. It was... nine, ten o’clock? The studio was built along a woodsy State Park. Patty ran to her car and drove off. She had two kids at home to worry about.
I wrote Becca’s name on a piece of paper and circled it over and over and over again. My version, I suppose, of calling out her name.
All that remained were the voices of the wildlife growing unnaturally louder. Emboldened birds sputtered their wings and chirped and caw-cawed. Squirrels chipped and chattered. The fish down below jumped in the water so much, it sounded like applause.
I dialed Becca’s number one last time. I heard her ring tone, across the lakes, deep into the woods, under the cloudless, moon-bathed night.
Copyright © 2020 by Steven Roisum