Circuits and wires were spread out on the garage workbench, the main box of the television still laid open off to the side. The wiring was still all connected, hanging out of the back of her as though the old RCA Victor had lost her bowels out of her ass. David Renn chuckled at the mental image and turned back to the front of the TV, checking the knobs to see if the could get anything.
He had looked up an old repair manual online and found the instructions for disassembling and fixing this particular brand and model. Found at a garage sale for a whopping fifteen dollars, he had been unable to resist it and knew he could get it fixed. Already it had gone from being labelled “for parts” to being able to turn on, though all he got was a grey blank. Still, it was better than absolute failure, and he would take what he could get on this project. The color might be tricky to restore but black and white would do just fine for the old SEGA Genesis he planned on plugging into it. All the blues and reds and greens would be great, but he could work around their absence.
With a “click” the knob turned and the television came on again. He stood to watch it warm up, the screen slowly fading from the dark and dead grey to a more light, living shade. He leaned in close, face nearly plastered to the thing. There was a slight motion on it.
The television screen came completely into focus and he saw the fuzz of white snow, the static signal that screamed “I have nothing else to display” but that indicated it was working. David clapped his hands, triumphant, and let out a loud whoop. He danced around a bit, his large shoes flopping around on his feet and slapping against the concrete floor in rhythm with his gyrations. The door leading from the garage into the house’s laundry room and beyond opened up and his father entered.
“What’s with the racket, you fix the thing?” he asked his son.
“Come look, you tell me,” David replied with a wide smile.
Daryl Renn circled the bench, looking with mild alarm at the open circuit surgery displayed before him. It looked like a medical theatre, the circular enclose looked down on by medical academics and talents as the young candidate made his display, opening veins or hearts or skulls, but instead crossed with a junkyard for old and discarded electronics; a graveyard for all the things we used to use before we upgraded to slimmer, slicker devices. The RCA box on the bench in front of him was gutted but still alive and as he reached the screen he could see the fuzz swirling in front of him, the whirling of it alive with a twitch that suggested it was not wholly there.
“It’s on life-support,” he said.
“For now,” David admitted. “It was originally a battery powered thing so it could be portable. I’m going to remove that section and try to install a new power unit so I can just plug it in, leave it stationary, and keep it upstairs for the older systems.” He tapped at the screen, hoping for a bit of a signal. “If it works I can watch some basic channels on it. Not much but might be nice for the weekends.”
A ringing and a crash from the kitchen indicated that Nola Renn had dropped the pans trying to get one out to cook with. “I’d better see what that is,” Daryl said, standing away from the gutted television. “Your mother sounds like she’s making all sorts of hell in there and I think it was my night to cook anyway, better get to it.” He took off at a brisk canter to the door and was gone.
David turned his attention back to the exploratory surgery before him. He lifted his tweezers, specially bought for the rubber handles, and his tiny screwdriver, meant for eyeglasses repair. He leaned in, trying to see if there was a problem with the capacitor. Those things tended to overcharge and keep the television from even turning on properly, it was a long shot but if this one was burned out it could be the reason for the televisions refusal to pick up a signal. Problems could have included the wiring, the chips, even the connections to the screen itself, but for some reason he was drawn back to this capacitor over and over again. It was a bit off-center but that was no problem. He leaned in for a closer look, touched his tweezers to it.
The shock was nowhere near anything monumental. David would survive it, not even a scar to show, but it was enough to elicit a long string of muttered harsh language as he shook his fingers and gripped them in his mouth, sucking on the spot that burned. The words ran together, eventually descending into gibberish, and he continued to mutter and whisper his obscenities in hopes that David and Nola would not hear him. When he finally got control of himself he stood in the center of the empty garage, his back to the workbench, and just held his finger. His breath was ragged and quick.
“Oy, that’s a right painful looking twinge there,” said a gravely, cockneyed voice behind. “You gotta tell me, ‘ow did you manage tha’ righ’ there?”
David turned slowly, looking at his workbench. Sitting on the side of the RCA television box was an odd creature, a spindly thing that slithered back and forth like a hypnotized cobra. It’s body was not just wiry, it seemed to be…made of wires. The greens and reds, whites and yellows, all of them twisted up together in a rope roughly twelve inches long, with little wires coming out for appendages. Two of the capacitors were stuck in the middle of the rope as eyes, and the mouth ran up-and-down rather than side-to-side, only a gap in the wires that worked as though it was sucking at something. The tips of it’s body splayed out like some sort of scraggly hair.
Opening and closing his mouth, David tried to articulate something. Anything. He closed his eyes and held them shut for a moment, as tightly as he could, and then opened them again. “Still ‘ere,” said the little creature, one capacitor momentarily disappearing back into its’ body only to pop back out again in what David assumed was meant to be a wink of some sort. It raised one arm and smacked it down on the box twice. “Cal,” it called, “get your arse out ‘ere and say ‘ello.”
Another creature emerged from the box, carefully picking its’ way through the guts of the television and scrambling to stand below the first little monster. “This ‘ere, this is Cal,” the wire bundle said proudly. “My brother in arms and, well, out of them as well.”
“Clicker Cal, see,” the new creature said. “Get it?” The creature was made of the top half of the TV remote that had come with the old tube, the power and input buttons missing. In their place sat two broken pieces of what looked to be CDs, the shards wedged in as eyes and glinting in the light. Like the first creature its’ mouth seemed to be made of wiring, the center “ok” button missing with wires sticking out to form makeshift lips. It was an ugly little thing, more brutish than the first, and the appendages were thicker and perhaps stronger, David could not quite tell.
“Me,” said the first creature, “my moniker is Skinless Sal. You know, on account o’ the lack of flesh an’ all.” Sal hopped down and walked to the edge of the bench, Cal standing behind him like some sort of enforcer. “Our cousin, miss Magna Mal, is around here somewhere but she don’ count fer much these days. Busted in the birthing, had to fix her with another piece and it left her a bit off in the motherboard.”
David had not moved, frozen in shock. The sudden appearance of these creatures had freaked him out, the vague stinging in his finger slipping away. “Christ,” he thought, “I’ve fried my brain. I got shocked and burned out my brain.”
“Afraid not, wanker,” Sal addressed him. Had he read David’s thoughts? “You aren’ goin’ nutso, you’re going rightso. We came a long way to find you, and we aren’ leavin’ without our say.” He began pacing back and forth, a military leader addressing a new recruit that had grown uncertain. “We’re ‘ere,” he said, “to fight the good fight. Were ‘ere to fight the Gludons.”
“What,” David said, finding his voice, “the fuck is a ‘Gludon’?” he asked.
“It is not what they say it is David,” came a third voice. He spun around, looking behind him at where the voice had come from. “Down here, David,” said the bland, monotone voice. He slowly turned down to find a third creature. This, he assumed, was ‘Magna Mal’, the cousin that Sal had mentioned before. “Sal and Cal hate the Gludons, but I feel they have a purpose to serve. They are important, David.”
She was hideous. Before him sat the remnants of two VHS tapes, held together by some sort of masking tape. Across her top read “videod” and after the tape read “-erhead”, the pieces of the tapes wedged together. Unlike the first two this one had no eyes or appendages, she merely spoke in a muffled monotone from the broken spot beneath the tape that held her together. Some part of him saw why Sal and Cal saw her as off, as not quite the same as they were. It shuffled forward in awkward leaps and flops, the tape shuddering across the floor towards him. He stepped back from it, afraid, and it stopped. “You do not need to fear me, David,” she said. “I am no enemy.”
“She go’ the fish but her order’s short the chips,” Sal said, sadly. “After mother here popped her out she fell on the floor and broke. Ol’ Cal and I, we done what we could fer her, but she’ll never be what she could have.”
“Mother,” David said, confused.
“Yeah, the gutted monstrosity on the table, lad.”
David turned to look at the dismantled television behind Cal and Sal. The guts of it still lay splayed on the table, the television’s intestines spread out behind it and around the feet of the two creatures. “That was your mother?” he asked.
“Yup, yup, it sure was,” said Cal stupidly. “She was mudder and fadder and she made us all, see?” He gestured to the tape slot in the front of the box and then to the wires coming out of the back. “She gave us the life, but we gots ta live it now without her.”
“She was a right weak little bird, old an’ frail,” Sal said derisively. “She was content to live with Gludons and humans, hiding us wiv ‘em. We always knew we were mean’ for somthin’ important but she liked it, the slavery. Gave ‘er an excuse not to fight, to live, to die for somethin’ real.”
David, tentatively accepting the existence of these odd little beings, walked over to the desk and leaned in close. “What, exactly, are the Gludons?” he asked.
Sal hung his head, the wires of his hair slumping down. “Beasts,” he said softly. “Creatures that come in and replace you humans, who use us as slaves and wear us down. They’re monsters. We aren’t sure where from, but they keep us captive an’ in chains. They keep you too, you humans. None of you really knows it until you wake up, but once you see then you can’ unsee, you see?”
“Not really,” David said.
“See. That’s all it takes. See. They still act like humans, they still speak like humans, but they have a right ugly personality.”
“On account o’ the tumors, dig?” interjected Cal.
“Righ’, on account o’ the tumors,” Sal continued, picking up Cal’s point. “The heads, they swell up somethin’ right awful. The skin looks lumpy an’ wrong, an’ we don’t quite know what to do other than kill ‘em but once they take a person’s like they stick around, livin’ in the skin. That’s why I’m skinless, to show the world what they are. I live other than them, and so does Cal. Only one that thinks they ain’t so bad is Magna Mal, but she’s a right retard and no one listens to her.
“See, they’re the ones that sold Mum to ya. She was old, trapped, and she didna know better. So we were outside, on the lawn of a human that had been taken by the Gludons, and they didna want us puttin’ the business to ‘em so they sold Mum to you and we had to come along. They wanted ‘er dead, us too. So they gave ‘er to someone who would gut ‘er for parts, try to make ‘er what she used to be. Cosmetic surgery, though, it don’t work on us much. We don’t really have much use left. See you humans, you can be fixed right up, but we got out of style instead. So they sold us.”
David felt a twinge of guilt deep down in his stomach, though it might just have been the chips he had been eating while he worked. “That’s awful,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
“Bible says we get judged according to what we know, that’s in the book,” said Cal. “Don’t beat yourself up over it.” He muscled around Sal and came forward. “You, uh, you got any food there, buddy?”
“Huh? Food?” David asked, confused. “You can eat?”
“Sorta,” Cal said. “Sal and Mal, they don’t get hungry. No stomachs, see? Me though, I get peckish now and then and I can’t fix it but I like to chew, makes me feel better.”
David looked around, trying to find food. He saw the bag of chips, ranch flavored, and went over to get them. He took one out and gave it to Cal, who broke off a little piece and put it into his wire lips, which sucked it into the core of the television-remote-body. Crunching sounds came from within. “Taste okay?” he asked the little creature.
“Can’t taste, buddy, but I like the crunching. Never had nothin’ crunchy before, only soft stuff. I likes it, makes me feel real.” His lips smiled, as much as they could, and he stuck out one thick wire hand. “Slide me some skin, brother.” David hesitated, then reached out and touched the hand with his finger in the 50’s version of a fist-bump. Cal’s smile widened and he broke off another tiny piece of chip, inserting it into his center and crunching away at it. Crumbs fell from the crack around his edges and began to form a small pile of dust beneath him. David took another chip from the back and bit down on it, joining the creature in a little feast.
“David, honey?” came the call from the door. “Honey, we have spaghetti.” Nola Renn’s voice rang out from the kitchen. “Don’t let it get cold.”
“Coming mom,” he called back absently, still mesmerized by the little creatures before him. “Look,” he said to them quietly, “I gotta go eat. I’ll leave the chips but I have to go in for a bit.”
“Tha’s alright,” Sal said. “When you come back out we’ll tell you more about the Gludons, about the invasion of our world, and how we can fight them.” David nodded, still confused, and then went inside.
He walked in with his head in a fog, unsure of what was happening in the garage. There were plenty of explanations for the creatures, the foremost in his mind was still that the capacitor had fried his brain when it had shocked him. David figured that, in reality, he was probably laying in a hospital somewhere – probably hooked up to a bunch of other machines, hallucinating in his brain.
Still lost in thought, he walked into the dining room and looked up. His mother and father were seated at the table. Only they were not at all his mother and father. Their heads had grown…strange, the foreheads abnormally large. Large, blistered-looking swells in their cheeks shuddered of their own volition as he looked at them. His father’s goatee was pulsating, one large pustule on his chin seemed to take a deep breath and then exhale as it swelled like a bullfrog’s throat. Nola Renn’s hair seemed to pulsate under its’ carefully groomed, Monica Vitti style build, the parts that came down to frame her face rising up and down and shuddering with it.
He gaped at them, shock showing on his face. “Gludons,” he thought. “What’s wrong, honey?” His mother asked. He shook his head, trying to clear it. “Boy looks like he just got his dick sucked by a herped-up-whore,” his dad said nonchalantly.
“Excuse me?” David asked, coming to himself at last. His father had never spoken like that in his life.
“You look like you finally got you marbles gargled,” Daryl replied. “Come sit and eat, we’re sick of waiting on you.” This was unlike his father, who was always funny and kind. He told cliche dad joke, talked about his job working car loans, and always flirted with Nola because he liked the way it made her blush. Daryl Renn had never spoken like this to his son before, or to anyone for that matter. “Hurry up,” the male Gludon spit at David. “Sit your ass down so we can eat.” David, unsure what to do, hurried to his normal seat at the dinner table. He sat and looked down at his plate, already piled with spaghetti and green beans and garlic bread, and tried not to look at his parents. He picked up his fork and absent-mindedly poked at his food. “Stop jacking it off and eat,” the female Gludon said, a smile on the distortion of his mother’s face.
He picked up his garlic bread and munched, still avoiding his parents’ faces. He did not dare go for the pasta or the vegetables, they might come back up if he looked at the monsters. At least the bread would settle his stomach.
“When are you gonna get some jeans and stop wearin’ skinny slacks like some sorta faggot?” the male asked. The female tittered, holding her hand up to her face and giggling incessantly. “I mean,” the male continued, “you don’t really have any friends and you don’t really have any smarts. All you got is that skinny shit and even that you hide in giant t-shirts with lame-ass band logos on ‘em, and you pop those on over fucking slacks?” David felt his face flush and a tear leak out of his eye. He was shaking, terrified and hurt by his father’s blatant attack on his person. He had never heard his father speak like this before, his mother either.
“Baby,” the female said, “he’s not a faggot. Don’t talk to him like that.” David looked up at her at last, at the swollen and ugly face that was once his mother’s, and looked to see if she was in there somewhere. “He’s just a pussy,” she said, smiling at him. She reached out and patted his head. The skin pulsed under the palm, the Gludon underneath twitching with the need to get out of it’s costume. David repressed a shudder.
“L-look,” he stuttered, “I was c-close to finishing the TV. Can I go get it done? I’ll microwave my dinner later, I just really want to finish it.”
“Ah, look, the queer has a hobby,” the male said, laughing hard. The female did as well, her little chuckles hidden behind one twitchin hand. “Sure,” the male told David, “get you sorry ass out there and do something productive. You’re just wastin’ good food in here.” David stood and walked quickly from the dining room, the laughter of the two monsters following him. He could hear them the whole way.
“Wha’s wrong there, boy?” Sal asked as he entered the garage. “You’ve gone from peach to pale there.”
“My parents,” David replied. “I saw them.”
“Saw what?” Cal asked, eyeing David cautiously.
“Their skin, their heads. They’re mean and calling me a faggot and a queer.”
“Ah, shit,” Sal swore, “you don’t mean….”
“They’re Gludons,” David said. “They got them.”
“Fuckin’ hell,” the wiry creature swore. “Just fuck.”
“David,” the voice from the floor came up, muffled. “David, these are not Gludons.”
“Whaddaya mean, they ain’t Gludons,” Cal shouted at Mal. “They have the skin, they have the tumors, they’re fuckin’ Gludons.”
“There is no such thing, David,” Mal continued. “This is a construct. This is a fantasy.”
“There ain’t no bleedin’ fantasy,” Sal said, addressing his cousin. “This kid lost his parents, can you be quiet and let him have a moment? Just for once, can you keep your mouth shut and see reason?”
Mal only seemed interested in speaking to David. “This is not real, David,” she said. “You were right the first time. The shock has hurt you. Do not listen to my family, David, they are false.”
David shook. “I saw them,” he said. “I saw them and they’re real, I know what I saw. Sal and Cal were right, these things are out there. They killed your families, and now they’ve gotten to mine.”
“No,” Mal’s monotone voice rose in frustration. “No, they have not. They are not real.”
Without warning David lifted his foot and brought it down on the taped-up VHS tapes. He stomped down, heard a crunch underneath. The tape wailed for a moment. Sal and Cal whooped, cheering him on.
“She’s a bleedin’ coward, kid,” Sal called.
“Whack her good, boyo,” Cal’s voice sang out, “then we kill the Gludons.”
“I’m afraid I cannot let you do that, David,” Mal said, her voice wavering. It sounded as though she was caught on a frequency that was fading out, distorted and collapsing as the dial turned to another station on a radio. “David, you must not-”
He raised his foot and brought it down again. And again. And again. Pieces of plastic flew out from beneath his foot, and rang out against the workbench and the walls and the garage door. Mal died beneath David’s foot, the two tapes shattering and breaking apart. He looked down and a black, blood-like substance was leaking out. Her life was seeping onto the concrete, staining the bottom of his floppy shoes. The word on her front, “Videoderhead”, was being washed away by the liquid.
David looked at Cal and Sal, who nodded their encouragement with smiles on their mechanical, wiry faces. He crossed to the wall where the standard household tools hung on pegs, selecting the framing hammer and the small crowbar. Crossing back to the door, he stood beside it and held the tools aloft, ready.
“Mom, dad,” he called, “I fixed the tv. Come and see.”