Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Eerie Terror

#42



Do Not Adjust Your Set

(Part 2 of 2)

By Jeffrey Blair Latta


ALL THROUGH THE LONG, LONELY NIGHT, Robert Rhodes walked the city streets sunk in a dismal gloom. A light rain was falling and the sidewalks shone like black glass. From time to time, thunder cleared its throat and lightning strobed in the distance, as if heralding the approach of the invading fleet. And there was nothing he could do.

His wife was a Martian -- his beautiful wife, Janice, who he had sworn to love "till death do you part". Five years he had lived with her, five wonderful, fulfilling years -- never suspecting, never imagining...

And now they knew. They knew he knew about their plan. By now, Janice -- or the alien formerly called "Janice" -- would have contacted P.J. (or the alien formerly called "P.J."), and told him what Rhodes had said. And P.J. would tell the others.

Then Rhodes had a thought.

How many others were there like Janice? He realized he had been a fool to assume P.J. was working alone. Clearly there were many more, an advance invasion, in fact, hidden as humans, disguised, observing, preparing the way. Maybe even Dorothy Patterson, for all he knew.

And now they knew he was on to them. What would they do? Would they kill him? Janice had said nothing after removing her mask, not even as Rhodes staggered from the bedroom, down the stairs and out into a night of sprinkling rain and rumbling thunder. There had been no threats; there had been no need. Rhodes understood the situation well enough. They might kill him, but they might not. After all, what harm could he do to them? Who would believe his ludicrous story?

They had done their job well.

Suddenly he began to laugh. The irony of the thing hit him in a sudden lurching rush, stopping him in his tracks and throwing him into wide fits of hysterical laughter. Here he was, a newsman, an anchorman, the spokesman for truth, the voice the people trust...and he couldn't even make them believe him!

For a moment, he stood there, the rain plastering his hair to his forehead, while his laughter died away to a weary chuckle. A homeless man sitting on a grate gave him a suspicious look. Rhodes returned the stare dazedly, a half-smile still frozen on his face. With a shrug the homeless man turned away, hunching over the grate to keep warm. Rhodes continued to watch the man, for a full minute more -- while realization slowly took form in his tangled thoughts. He couldn't let the Martians win; this homeless man, and five billion other inhabitants of the planet Earth were counting on him to save them. They didn't know it, but they were. He was a newsman, damn it! They trusted him. They believed he would be there to tell them the truth.

And that was what he was going to do.

He knew how to make them believe. Now he knew. There was only one way, but it would carry a terrible price...

***
When Rhodes entered the newsroom for the broadcast, he saw instantly who was an alien and who wasn't. They hadn't expected him to show up, not after Janice had revealed her true nature, not knowing that they might kill him if he did.

As he made his way to the make-up room, startled eyes rose from behind cubicles, conversations faltered and pools of silence floated in his wake. The producer, Rachel Phillips, was one; the first AD was another. Dorothy Patterson, thank God, was not. Suddenly, P.J.'s officer door jerked open and the boss himself stepped out. He covered his surprise remarkably well, but Rhodes saw it just the same. P.J. gave him a thin smile, then commented in a chilly voice, "Glad to see you could make it, Rhodes."

"Wouldn't have missed it for the world," the anchor man replied, then escaped into the make-up room.

Twenty minutes later, he took his place before the camera. The set was far more crowded than usual. The aliens had gathered to see what he would do. Even P.J., who never attended, now lurked in the darkness, behind the lights, watching.

"On air in five, four, three, two..."

The red light lit up on the camera and, for a moment, Rhodes just stared into the lens in silence. Finally, he set aside the script he was supposed to read.

"What I am about to tell you will be difficult for you to believe," he began, and P.J.'s eyes narrowed venomously. "But you have to believe me."

He paused, swallowed, then forged ahead: "Tonight, aliens from the planet Mars will invade Earth. We at Canadawide were supposed to be presenting a mock broadcast about such an invasion precisely so that no one would believe you if you reported seeing the invaders. By the time the authorities realized the invasion was real it would be too late. Of course, I don't expect you to believe what I am saying. But I will make you believe. I have to."

For a moment, his eyes went to P.J.'s and he could see the mocking challenge reflected there. He looked back at the camera. "These Martians are not the first to have come to Earth. Others came before, paving the way, living among you in disguise. My boss, P.J. White, is one. My producer is another." A tremor shook his voice. "My wife Janice is also one."

Again he paused, feeling a terrible weight crushing down on him like an avalanche. This was it. "Martians have visited Earth and lived amongst you for a long time, without you knowing it. Now, they are only allowing me to continue with this broadcast because they don't believe I can convince you that they are real. They think their plan is perfect. They think nothing I can possibly do will keep you from thinking I am crazy." He paused and straightened defiantly in his chair. "Well, they are wrong."

And, saying that, Robert Rhodes calmly pulled off his mask...

The End.


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Do Not Adjust Your Set is copyright 1999, by Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)