Steam wafted from Joe’s coffee cup as he carefully sipped its contents. “Thank you for coming. Taking this first step is the biggest hurdle for most.”
The woman sitting across the desk from him nodded. She clasped her hands, resting them on her crossed legs. “I need to do something. I cannot sleep. I’m on high alert every night, and even when I do sleep, I relive the -” She broke off, her eyes shifting nervously to the pale blue carpet.
“Take your time, Lindsey,” Joe said sympathetically. “Why don’t you take me though your experience?” Joe took another sip of coffee before pulling out a notepad.
“It started when their ship opened fire on our base. There was no warning. There were rumors they had technology that could cloak them, but we chalked it up to hearsay. We were wrong. Out of nowhere, walls and soldiers stationed outside were disintegrated by a high intensity light beam. It was horrible.” Lindsey wrung her hands and paused for a moment.
“The ship landed after decimating our initial response team, and from the invisible craft streamed hordes of diminutive creatures with long ears jutting from their heads. Their snow-white skin nearly glowed in our floodlights, and their haunting blue eyes shone in the dark.
She paused while Joe scribbled something on his paper, then continued, “The goblin-looking creatures swarmed us, able to absorb multiple rounds before dying, and most of my comrades couldn’t get enough shots off. The way they killed – we were sport for them. They may be small, but their strength far exceeds a human’s.
“In minutes, our defenses crumbled. Some of us, myself included, were rounded up as the goblins chirped orders in their fluttery language, forcing us into cages molded from the base rubble. Then the goblins returned to their ship and left. We waited for three days for help to arrive.” Lindsey swallowed a growing lump in her throat.
“No one knew why the aliens attacked. Their goals seemed nonsensical. The soldiers who rescued us were skeptical of our claims until the subsequent attacks in Seattle and on the edge of L.A. We thought they would conquer us. I felt like-” she cut herself off and shook her head, tucking her shoulder-length, auburn hair behind her ear.
“Within seventy-two hours, our military mobilized. The fierce little aliens rose to the challenge at first but were greatly outnumbered. After three days, the pale goblins retreated. I was a part of the force that drove them out, and I thought nothing could be sweeter than revenge for what they did to my fellow soldiers. Sure, it took a lot to kill them, but when the tanks rolled in, it was beautiful to see the goblins scatter! Sadly, we couldn’t damage their main ships, but they haven’t come back since that day.”
“And now?” Joe asked. His steely brown eyes momentarily met Lindsey’s, and she looked quickly away. “How do you feel when you think back on this?”
“I’m afraid. Sometimes I see them at night, and most of the time I cannot tell if I’m awake or asleep. Also, I wonder if our victory was really that. While hard-won for us, it seems too easy. The way the aliens initially laid waste to our base leaves me to wonder why they didn’t utilize that technology in the final battles. They certainly could have prevailed.”
“That’s why you’re here. It takes time to work through these things,” Joe said while jotting down notes.
“I know, but what if they return? What if it isn’t a dream? What if they are still here and this is the pale goblins terrorizing me?”
Joe’s pen stopped, and he looked up from his pad. “You’ve been through something few can understand. It’s likely this is just a way for your mind to cope.”
“But I’m not the only survivor from our base who still sees them.”
Joe’s eyes widened momentarily before he regained his composure. “I’m afraid we’ve come to the end of our session. I’ll see you next week, and we can explore this further.”
Lindsey looked at the clock. Though there were still five minutes left, she quietly got up and left.
Once home, Lindsey turned on the television and prepared a simple ham sandwich. She had difficulty focusing on the news anchor’s droning voice, and her eyes continually shifted to the windows as the sun gradually dipped toward the horizon.
“I’m paranoid.” She sighed, pouring a glass of wine. “There’s nothing out there.” A shadow moved outside, and Lindsey stepped closer to the window but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Shaking her head, she internally ran through a short list of friends she could call, but they were all working or otherwise preoccupied that night. “Maybe a hot bath would help.”
The warm water enveloped her body, slowly chipping away at the anxiety. She had fought against insurgents in the middle east before, but the aliens made her feel like she was little more than a toy.
Thud, something hit the roof, causing Lindsey to jump. Scratching sounds soon followed. “It’s probably just an opossum,” Lindsey whispered, but it happened a few more times, accompanied by a gentle tapping on the living room window.
Her serenity broken, Lindsey stepped out of the tub and threw on a T-shirt, jeans, and combat boots. As she strapped her .45 and a long knife around her waist, the tapping stilled. Lindsey tiptoed through the dark hallways, listening and waiting.
More scurrying noises, clicking, and screeching emanated from the roof. They are back. After a second or two of mild panic, she composed herself. “Taking them head-on is idiotic. I need a plan.” As soon as she breathed the words, a window broke. Without another thought, Lindsey sprinted to the living room, emptying her magazine into the snarling goblin.
Glass shattered next door, and screams followed. House lights across the neighborhood flicked on. Lindsey ran to her room, opened the gun safe, and pulled out all the ammunition she could carry.
Her cell phone rang. “Tom? I thought you-”
“They’re back! We need to-” the call dropped.
Fourteen months later, Lindsey walked through the rubble of the city to Joe’s house, where he now had his office.
“Welcome, Lindsey. Thank you for coming.” Joe ushered her into the dining room. As they sat down across the table from each other, Joe cleared his throat. “You know, I really wasn’t sure you would come. I didn’t believe you all those months ago, and that’s been bothering me ever since. Had I believed you, I feel I could have warned someone and diverted this whole disaster.”
Lindsey smiled thinly, the fresh scar on her right cheek protesting. “I was surprised to see you’re still practicing.”
“I’m just hoping to return to some level of normalcy.”
“We all are.” After tucking her hair behind her ear, she continued, “I don’t think it wouldn’t have made any difference if you believed me or not. The goblins were here long enough to learn how everything worked.” She paused, looking at the row of decorative coffee cups hanging on the wall. “At least your house still stands, though much of the country was decimated.”
“Did you want to talk about what happened now that the goblins are finally gone for good?”
Lindsey shook her head. “I don’t believe they are gone. Within fourteen months, they destroyed one-third of earth’s population and leveled most major cities across the globe. Then they retreated abruptly again. I think they are biding their time and looking for another chance to come back.”
“Why do you suppose they would do that?” Joe’s voice quivered.
“Isn’t that what they did before? We have no idea how many of them exist, where they are, or what their end goal is. Like I told you before the second war started, we are little more than toys to them. Like mischievous toddlers, they seem to enjoy destroying what someone else created. This war was more destructive than the last. If they attack again, I doubt a single person will be left standing.” After a deep sigh Lindsey added, “I don’t think I will ever sleep again.”
“Truthfully, I won’t either.” Joe chuckled. “Nor will most of the world. The best we can do is work through the fear and come together to rebuild.”
“That won’t be enough. We need better defenses in place. The best minds in the world promise they are working on that, but we all know technology of that magnitude takes time to develop and implement.”
Joe’s brows furrowed. “How are you doing with all this?”
“I don’t know. The screams of my comrades and the faces of the dead and dying haunt me day and night. Sometimes I feel like it is the survivors who suffer most. Veterans are propped up as symbols of hope and strength. Most days I don’t feel strong, but there is one fact I try to cling to: we beat them twice. Our species suffered great loss, but we’re still standing.” Lindsey breathed. “I often feel like I should have saved more, like I could have saved more. So many died horrifically.”
Instead of taking notes this time, Joe listened and nodded. “Perhaps we should look at it a different way. We cannot change what happened. Everyone who fought in a war feels the way you do, the way we all do after such catastrophic devastation, but we can honor the dead by staying strong and never allowing ourselves to give into despair.”