It was one of the warmest winters on record.
Flowers were fooled into peeking up from between the cracks in sidewalks, willows were budding and more than one anxious gardener jumped the gun and got elbow deep in her backyard to lay and aerate topsoil and bury bulbs in anticipation of the early spring.
Then the cold hit with a vengeance, killing flowers and buds and bulbs and not a few homeless mavericks who preferred to face the icy winds rather than give up their perceived independence. Many were found frozen to the edges of manhole covers while the centers were relatively warm. The cold was so intense that the homeless were found frozen in situ, holding poses that appeared entirely fake and theatrical.
But the homeless weren’t the only ones claimed by the savage cold, or rather they weren’t the only ones found dead after a cold night.
By the end of February, curious corpses had turned up throughout the city, scattered and seemingly discarded with brutal regularity. Figures of power, political, administrative and judicial, scrambled to assign a palatable cause. Solutions were assumed to follow in due process. And what made this a steamy tuber was the state of the corpses discovered in places both high and low; they were gutted. Rather like some vicious, lunatic hunter were field dressing his victims and strewing their entrails around the bodies. Rather like, some of the figures of power began to hint, old Jack the Ripper.
It was the sheer volume of the dead that so appalled—and the frequency of their appearance on city streets. As the newspapers were quick to note, the deaths occurred in gated communities, as frequently as in slums, so motive was a puzzle. (As if motive could be found for such inhuman butchery and if found, would factor into any equation that boasted of so much unfathomable slaughter.)
While the authorities rounded up all the usual suspects and did the other things they inevitably do in the face of a crime wave, one newspaper reporter took to investigating the similarities and patterns of each murder. He found that the gutted corpses were most evident following a killingly cold night and that they all appeared butchered in the same manner.
There were subtle differences one from the other, however not dissimilar by region of discovery, no two from Rosedale, say, were identical, as there also showed slight anomalies between the last two to appear in Cabbagetown. In fact, each corpse exhibited unique variations. The reporter was the only one who played this up in his stories and he was quickly and roundly ridiculed. In time his own editor backed away from him and left him to hang in the winds of political displeasure. So he resigned and went freelance.
Even still the authorities could not hide all the facts, nor could they adequately explain those already brought to light. Early medical examiner reports were public record and did, indeed, support the reporter’s contention that because of so widespread a difference in method there must be the possibility of more than one killer at work. So, in spite of assurances to the public at large, police redoubled their efforts to corral known criminals and solicit first-timers in hopes of appearing competent in the face of impossible odds.
In early March the temperature began to climb above the freezing point during the day, but dipped always at night to well below the killing point. The reporter had begun nightly staking out certain locations, predetermined by dart toss, in the event he could film an actual murder in progress. On March third at three in the morning he got lucky.
Having parked alongside the west entrance to Mount Pleasant Cemetery, he spotted a homeless man asleep, apparently, on the snow free grating of the Yonge Street subway line. It was just before the trains exit the tunnel to run above ground to Eglinton Station, so still provided some warmth from the underground labyrinth.
The reporter set up his Handycam on the passenger side of his new Jeep Liberty and aimed it at the sleeper, then set to waiting. At three a.m. the sleeper appeared to stir, his plastic and cardboard coverings billowing out and in as if he were agitated by dreams in his sleep. Sensing something on the edge of epiphany, the reporter checked his camera angle through the LCD display, zoomed into close frame and started recording. Then he surreptitiously exited his vehicle to sneak in for a closer look.
When he was only a few meters from the prone figure, silhouetted now against the freshly falling snow, he saw that there was another sleeper not ten feet away, off the sidewalk and into the bushes skirting the cemetery fence. That figure was also beginning to stir. Bonus, he thought, two possibles instead of one. He’d hide so as to keep both in sight while filming his primary. The murderers would have to take this bait; it was just too tempting to pass up. Two with one swoop!
He sat, cold and cramped, behind a fire hydrant in the dark of the cemetery gate and cursed his dedication to the trade. This story had already cost him a prestigious job on a decent paper, a weekly byline and now after only ten minutes, possible pneumonia. But wait. Something was happening over there with the hobo in the bushes. Was he getting up for a piss? No he wasn’t getting up he was bucking on the ground like he was convulsing. And then the primary target began to buck and twist, too. Both seemed to erupt from the stomach and expel some effluent or other onto the ground.
As he watched, horror struck, it dawned on the dedicated reporter that the plastic and cardboard coverings of both homeless denizens were not that at all, but were the stiff bowels, organs and tissue from their scooped out body cavities, placed back on top of whatever erupted from inside them. And whatever that eruption was they stood erect, not tall, but erect, and featured big, inverted pear-shaped heads, black, bug eyes, slitted, toothy mouths and frail, naked grey-prune bodies. Both stood momentarily steaming in the winter night until they seemed simultaneously to home in on the hiding reporter. Then they sprang in unison upon him.
His Handycam recorded that the alien attackers used a hooked blade to slice him from groin to sternum and another device, much reminiscent of a soldier’s field shovel, only with a rounded scoop, not pointed for digging, to quickly hollow him out. The two naked creatures then seemed to argue over something in a language not before heard on Earth. The disagreement continued in heated piping voices until one used his hooked blade to decapitate the other.
The surviving alien then climbed into the eviscerated body of the dedicated reporter, pulled the viscera in over itself and waited for the break of day, when the temperature was not so severe. There would never have been room for both, after all.
And throughout the world similar, if less fratricidal, events were taking place. And the first wave of alien invasion was crippled by a lack of forethought and investigation. The forces landing in the southern hemisphere were dressed for northern winter and the north invaders were fitted for winter in Brazil. Those that overdressed quickly died of dehydration or drowned trying to cool off, and those in Canada and Northern Europe did what they could to stay warm until the circling troopships returned to pick up the inevitable victors.
In Earthly cities, politicians and police officials took advantage of the sudden cessation of the week-long rampage and announced that a cult had been uncovered and broken up, and that its leaders were shot, Koresh-like, fleeing arrest. Nothing else was ever heard on the subject.
On certain alien vessels difficult reports were being transcribed as thousands of ill-fated troops were collected from locations all across the surface of the planet and bagged for next of kin disposal or display. Planning commissions were devised and usual suspects were alerted to inevitable consequences. And the Solar System was soon free of unidentified specks.
Had the dedicated reporter’s Handycam been discovered and its digital images examined, the world would have spun at a new angle for generations to follow. However early that morning the car was jacked by a gang of immigrant hoodlums and the camera sold for a decent rock of crack. The hoodlums later perished in a road rage incident on the 400, also killed was a rival gang in the other car—also stolen.
And the world will go round and round until it stops.