Flash Fiction Story 020: "Our Helpful Neighbors"

The pods fell in the dead of night. The dogs found them fascinating, but the neighbors and I had enough sense to stay away. We weren’t frightened by them, per se. Most of us were reminded of chunks of Kryptonite when we looked at them from a distance.

Then, slowly, people began to change. When people change, the ones who do not tend to panic. They can’t help it. If change happens against one’s will, there’s a fear nothing will be left of the original.

The first to change were the Smiths: Bill, Mitzy, Bill Junior, and Mitzy Junior. The day after the glowing rocks first appeared, they explored the rock in their backyard. They then quickly returned to their house and did not re-emerge for three days. People began to wonder if they could survive for that long. Surely they had enough groceries, but no one was about to go up to their door and ask if anything was wrong.

On the third evening after the rocks fell, the Smiths re-emerged. As the June sun went down, all four of the Smith clan went to each and every door on the cul-de-sac and asked the neighbors—some of whom they were meeting for the first time—if they needed any help. Did they need their lawn mowed? The gutters cleaned? A run to the grocery store? Most were taken aback by the presumption and tried to politely end the conversation. Even old man Samson—who could have used a little help stocking his pantry—begged off. As for me, I hadn’t answered the door in over twenty years, and I wasn’t about to start then.

The Smiths could apparently still take a hint, and returned to their home. After their cloying attempts at assistance, the glowing rocks of a few days earlier quickly became the least interesting event over the last few days.

Any hopes that the Smiths would snap out of their behavior were quashed on the fourth day—a particularly sweltering parboil under the new summer sun—when they came out and offered bottles of water to everyone working in their yard. We were a good, upstanding neighborhood—as far as good, upstanding neighborhoods go—and you could guarantee that everyone was working diligently on their shrubs. It was another chance for them to interact with everyone in the cul-de-sac.

I wasn’t fond of what was happening. I liked it even less when others started feeling like the Smiths. Each family—and Mr. Samson—suddenly disappeared into their houses for three days apiece, and emerged with nothing but helpfulness on their mind. On the sixth day—a Saturday—my doorbell rang. While I refused to answer, I did peek through my blinds and saw every last man, woman, and child in the neighborhood milling about my yard. Each of them wore a smile that threatened to stretch their faces to the breaking point.

This was unacceptable. I opened the door and greeted them with my Smith and Wesson 29. They seemed unbothered by the greeting. “How can we help you?” they asked in unison.

Seeing that they had made an error, Mr. Smith—the first to be stricken by the same behavior—grinned a little wider as everyone else’s faces went slack. “How can we—I mean, I—help you?” he asked.

I shut the door, for all the good it would do me. Something had to be done about them. Something had to be done about the rocks that had created them. I was an American, by God, and maybe the only American left on my block. So it fell to me.

I pulled a smallish amount of C4 out of my closet and prepared it for the task at hand. Don’t ask me where I got it and why I might have needed it before the glowing rocks came; you don’t have a warrant.

When I exited to the backyard and my own glowing green rock, the neighbors were waiting for me. They did not try to stop me, only offering their obsequious, understanding grins in response. I figured they had to fear me, but had some sort of plan to respond to me. I had to work quickly.

I set the explosives, but before I could ignite the fuse, the green light found me and made me understand my error. The light turned red and then purple, and then I knew where I had gone wrong. The rock reached into my soul and let me know there was nothing to fear. Quite to the contrary, they represented the next stage of evolution. The rocks were not here to force us into this new state of being, but to ease us into it, like slipping into a warm bath.

Now I know what I needed to do. I will join my brothers and sisters, let go of my hatred, and join the new tomorrow with enthusiasm.

Only one question remains:

Can I help you with anything? Don’t answer right away; we’ll come find you either way.

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly