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August 2022
 
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The Face Overhead

(A Gentle Satire)

by Mary Brunini McArdle


The lights went out along the Mississippi River at 4:30 Central Standard Time November the tenth. It was nearly dark, a cold twilight that had brought the children indoors from their play. Most sat around supper tables between five and six when the sound began.

It started as a rumble from overhead, getting progressively louder until the adults went out to their porches or walks or driveways to see what was going on.

Meanwhile electricity failed worldwide and the sound was heard on every continent.

Above a gigantic Head appeared, the size of several buildings. It had a bearded face and blazing eyes. Its cheeks and lips were ruddy, its chin and forehead pale. The hair and beard were nearly white. From whatever vantage point a person stood, the Head was high in the eastern sky. It nodded gravely and announced in a gravely voice: "People on earth below, hear us. From this day forward you belong to us and you will obey our every command. You will go on about your work and your daily chores and continue to live as families. There is to be no talking among you. Talking is forbidden."

Some fell to their knees, convinced it was the end of the world and God was speaking.

Others cursed and shook their fists -- they were immediately pulverized by a flame that shot from behind the Head. Most took their children, went into their houses, locked their doors, and lit candles.

A silence descended -- anyone who spoke paid with their lives.

We learn -- there is that, Margo Ford thought, as she mutely put her children to bed the next week. Evidently the crying of infants didn't count -- these and the sounds of nature were still heard. But even the youngest children learned. They lived in utter fear, and rarely smiled.

Margo Ford was in her late thirties and had three children, two girls and a boy. Her husband George had been a quiet man before; he adjusted better than Margo, who liked to express herself in enthusiastic chatter.

It only took a few weeks before the people discovered that the Head didn't care if they whispered quietly in their beds at night. No one knew exactly how the word spread, but soon most of the world caught on to this anomaly.

Margo and George, like others, wondered and discussed and even plotted. How a plot if feasible could come together was the question.

"Perhaps through the children," Margo murmured one night in January. She and George lived in Mississippi near the River. "When it's warmer, they can go from house to house to play. They can spend nights with their friends. What about passing notes?"

"I don't think 'they' watch for that," George replied, hugging her close. "We do it at work. But during the day we need to spend our time thinking. Nobody goes to school anymore -- that's useless. Church is too. Any congregating is useless. If we come up with something, how can it be done?"

"First we need answers," Margo said. "Who are "they"? What is their "purpose"? How do their weapons work?"

"Right. Jane is ten and Mark eight. They're both old enough to trust with notes, but I think Sarah is too little. She's only three -- we don't let her go anywhere alone."

####

A retired couple lived next door to the Fords. Betty Jacquith was a plump, cheerful woman of about sixty. Her husband Shep was tall and thin and stooped. He was a fiercely rebellious man of sixty-five and had a hard time controlling his anger about the "invasion."

"Hell, Betty, if they aren't doing anything, why are they here? Why don't they leave us alone?"

"I don't know, Shep, but I miss my sewing circle. Sometimes I think I'll go crazy from the quiet. I'd like to sleep the morning away and stay up all night, but I'm afraid to."

"At least we have each other. And our dog."

Their English Spaniel Gingerbread raised his head and wagged his tail. He didn't seem to mind the whispering, but Betty expected he was puzzled by the neighborhood children's silence. He continued to join them at play, however and never tired of fetching sticks.

It was strange how some things went on almost as before. People still shopped and went to the doctor, but communicated mostly by nods and frowns and smiles. Planes still flew and cars still ran.

George Ford had a co-worker who had flown recently and had seen the Head from the sky. He wrote a note reporting the alien thing looked huge and three-dimensional but he could not detect a weapon.

The shuttle was disabled somehow, so no space observations were made.

"I don't know why somebody doesn't blow it out of the sky with a few missiles," Shep Jacquith muttered one March night.

"Shep, you saw what happened to those people that got mad and to the ones that talked, even."

Shep growled something unintelligible and rolled over.

Eventually some fool army captain at the Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama couldn't stand it any longer and fired a bunch of stuff the next time the Head showed its face. And that was the end of Huntsville.

"You see, Shep?" Betty whispered. "You see? Those missiles went right through that thing."

She began to cry and hot tears rolled onto Shep's neck. "Oh, Betty, honey -- "

"It's the children, Shep. They don't even go to school and they can't talk to each other. Their development's going to be arrested."

"I heard the parents with real little ones, like under three, sleep in the same room or the same bed with them."

"I think I would too," Betty sniffled.

"And the older ones can write notes. They can ask questions of their parents."

"For what? What kind of questions?"

"Well, some things -- surely kids have normal things they want to know."

"You mean like -- sex?"

Shep grinned, and Betty giggled softly. Soon they were shaking the bed with silent laughter. Then they were shaking the bed with something else.

####

"That thing isn't real," Margo whispered one rainy April night.

"Huh?"

"That 'Head' thing, George. It isn't real."

"Margo, what in the hell are you talking about? It's real enough to kill people."

"Uh, uh. There is a weapon that kills people, but the Head isn't real. Those missiles went through it. Remember?"

Margo leaned up on her elbow. "That's how I know it isn't real. It's a -- a hologram. Or some such."

"Margo, you are either crazy or the most brilliant woman on earth. What about the weapon?"

"Oh, it's real, all right. But nobody's found it because they're looking in the wrong place."

"Huh?"

"Everybody thinks it's behind the Head. But it's not. It's in the west, and it's obscured by the sun, either setting or shining on it. It's not in the east where the Head is, it just seems that way. So we should look in the west."

"How in hell did you come up with that?"

"It's simply logical. Nobody in any plane has ever seen a weapon behind the Head. That's obviously not where it is."

"Then I need to write more notes. Surely others have thought of this."

But the strangest thing -- no one had. At least no one claimed the idea. The people pondered and continued to pass notes back and forth. Eventually the Pentagon decided to get organized.

If several countries joined in an attack and it came from several directions at once, maybe the weapon couldn't pinpoint a target. Maybe a surprise attack --

And there would probably be only one chance.

Word flew around the world.

"I hope we're right," George whispered. By now it was early June. "I hope it's in the west -- at sundown. If we're wrong -- "

"If we're wrong, we lose. But we're not wrong. It is in the west." Margo seemed perfectly at ease with the whole thing.

I know she loves our kids, George thought. I think she'd be really nervous if she wasn't sure. No telling what kind of retaliation we'll bring on ourselves if we're wrong.

The timing was important. What nations had missiles aimed them at each country's respective western sky at sunset. Naturally that meant many of the missiles would hit different areas, but it was hoped that enough would find a target.

When the missiles fired, successive flashes followed all around the clock.

Thereafter the few times the Head appeared, it grew progressively paler. The eyes dimmed, the beard disintegrated into feathery nothings, and everybody started talking at once.

And that is how, two years before her fortieth birthday, Margo Ford saved the world.

THE END


© 2007 Mary Brunini McArdle

Bio: Mary Brunini McArdle has published in small journals and won prizes in fiction, poetry, essays, and short plays. She has published online in such journals as BEWILDERING STORIES, COMBAT MAGAZINE, MYTHOLOG, THE TRUTH MAGAZINE, SACRED TWILIGHT, and GATE WAY, as well as Aphelion. Her most recent appearance here was The Morning Place, August, 2007. Her first novel, "Alice Reflected", will be published by Rain Publishing in April, 2008.

E-mail: Mary Brunini McArdle

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