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The Fifth Column

by Joshua Bartolome
Alberta, Canada
genre: Horror
content warnings: Violence Against Children

When the aliens invaded, they used the worst weapon imaginable.

No, not thermonuclear devices, terraforming nanomachines, or atmosphere-warping weather manipulators. Of all the horrific tools of mass destruction they could have unleashed, they opted for the genocide of humanity in a slow, agonizing, and utterly cruel manner.  

They used our children.  

The invasion didn’t begin overnight. It was a gradual, deliberate indoctrination that started in infancy. While we busied ourselves with the mundane tasks of daily life, our children watched hours upon hours of YouTube videos that implanted subliminal messages in their still unformed minds. As they grew older, their conditioning took the shape of TikTok playlists, memes shared on message boards, and disturbing creepypasta stories posted on Reddit.

Too late, we had learned that the seemingly innocuous figures of childhood fantasies and adolescent angst were manifestations of nameless gods that existed in dimensions beyond our reach and understanding. We should have known that the colorful, babbling creatures that populated the land of the Teletubbies represented eldritch principles too complex for the human mind to perceive; that Slenderman was far from a silly urban legend told by gloomy 12-year-olds. 

Our children had spent their lives being raised by these nameless entities. At the same time, we slaved away at our workplaces, unaware that the innocent little boys and girls we had loved were being warped and twisted by malevolent, extra-dimensional influences. Too caught up in the gray, tedious miseries of parenthood, we overlooked the change overcoming our sons and daughters until it was too late. The signal to attack took the form of a meme that mocked our generation for our failure to secure a brighter future for humanity:  

“Okay, Boomer.”  

What we thought was merely an ageist insult became the rallying call for a fifth column to begin its assault. This phrase, so pithy and mocking, became the death knell for our species.  

At first, sporadic reports of random, senseless violence came from the suburbs—children as young as two years old maiming and mutilating their parents and grandparents. The lunacy escalated until the streets and sidewalks of our cities were drenched with blood.  

We were helpless against the offensive spearheaded by masses of toddlers, kindergarteners, grade-schoolers, high school jocks, geeks, cheerleaders, and dropouts. What could we do against such an army? Can you imagine being forced to shoot a three-year-old—even if that boy or girl wanted to kill you with a bloodstained butcher’s knife? I’ve seen barricades occupied by hardened members of the National Guard overrun by the children; soldiers who tossed aside their rifles and wept in despair because they couldn’t make themselves pull the trigger. 

Was it any wonder that the world collapsed in a mere five months?

Because even if we had fought back and won, our victory would have been pointless. We would have doomed our species by slaughtering the next generation of humans.

Survivors went underground. Like rats, we hid in the sewers, away from the merciless light of the sun. We couldn’t risk scavenging for food in the morning; during this time, the children roamed the streets in organized groups, searching for wayward adults. I’ve seen victims beg for mercy and forgiveness as dead-eyed packs of feral kids clubbed them to death with baseball bats and steel pipes. While doing so, the children would chant, again and again: 

“Okay, Boomer. Okay, Boomer. Okay, Boomer.”  

At night, the new overlords of Earth would gather in abandoned hotels, warehouses, and factories. There, they would congregate around makeshift idols sculpted from copper wires, scrap metal, and scavenged computer monitors. Often, the children would sacrifice captured adults to these sinister figures, most of which resembled grotesque, multi-limbed caricatures of the human form. Once blood was shed to honor those nameless deities, the children would sit and watch as their new gods spoke to them with clicks and hisses. What these sermons mean, we don’t know.

Nobody has ever lingered long enough to observe.   

As for myself, I have given up hope; so many times, the thought of suicide has crossed my mind. Yet, with each attempt, my own cowardice would hold me back. Occasionally, I would imagine what went through my daughter’s mind before she hung herself on her 16th birthday. Did she know what would happen? Did she fight against the programming that made her friends and classmates kill their parents? Perhaps she truly did love me, and that love was enough to spare her father from the cruel fate that awaited the others. I know only one thing for sure:

My daughter is better off dead.   

Because now, I’ve realized why the aliens chose to weaponize our youth.

Yesterday, I caught one of the children, a 10-year-old boy, and I did the unimaginable.

I tortured him.  

I wanted to know why they hated us so. 

A few hours later, the boy smiled with bloody teeth and spoke in a scornful tone:  

“Because you gave birth to us.”  

The aliens, he explained, were on a mission of mercy. They didn’t want to conquer our planet. They wanted to free every single sentient being who was born without consent. Existence is agony. To create life in this unforgiving universe was the greatest of crimes. We had dragged our children from blissful nothingness and brought them screaming into this world rife with hatred, warfare, and ecological destruction, where they would suffer and die. We promised them a better life, a brighter future, a society that was fair and just and good. But these were nothing more than hollow, hypocritical words, comforting lies that helped us sleep better at night. While we taught our children the value of compassion and empathy and generosity, we waged war on each other, stripped the planet of its resources, and ensured that nothing, absolutely nothing, would be left behind to inherit once our generation had passed away. 

We, mothers and fathers all, deserved to die for our sins.

And as a reward, the aliens would give our children the nothingness they craved.  

This was not genocide.  

This was judgment.  

I sit here now, writing these words for my daughter, although I know she will never read them. I will no longer run away. Whatever fate lies in store, I’ll gladly accept.   

Please, forgive us for giving birth to you. 

They’re coming for me now. I can hear chanting as they approach.  

“Okay, Boomer.”  

“Okay, Boomer.”  

“Okay, Boomer.”  

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