By: Devin J. Meaney
It was a glacial January morning and Jack Lagartija was sipping on his first espresso of the day. The buzzing of the heat lamps that were placed all through the studio was almost inaudible...but their warmth attempted to permeate Jack's bones.
God damn! Jack thought to himself as he clasped his icy hands together, rubbing one against the other vigorously. I have lived in this wretched city for seven years now, and this winter stuff never gets any easier!
Jack hated the cold. Every winter, he would always wish he was sitting on a hot rock under a blistering sun, or maybe in a sauna at one of the fitness centers downtown he was known to frequent. He basked in the hotness of the nearest heat lamp for about thirty seconds, but he knew it would soon be time to start his work day.
Jack had three minutes before the cameras would start rolling. He reported the news at the crack of dawn every day, but the last few minutes before he would be on screen always seemed a bit hectic to him. He downed his espresso, and with one last coat of 'beautifying' makeup, he was now ready to let the earth know what has or has not been happening in the last twenty four hours. The countdown to air time was just about to begin, and Jack quickly adorned his brimming sickly-sweet smile that was well known throughout Metropolis.
Lights. Camera. Action!
''Good morning, and thank you for choosing Metropolis News. Today, the city braces for a blizzard, and as far as snow goes, it seems as if there will be no end in sight until late Thursday. High winds and traffic congestion can be anticipated, as the looming storm is expected to pummel the city, breaking last year’s record snowfall by a considerable margin.''
Jack licked his lips, preparing to continue his spiel. This had been his routine for the better part of a decade, but it never did cease being a chore. Monotony seemed to be an ever present aspect of Jack's life, but he managed to push forward with an increasing loathing for his profession.
The show must go on. Within an hour I will be out of this place!
''Emergency crews will be on stand-by to assist anyone caught out in the weather. Both the police and the fire department are urging folks to stay indoors, as icy roads and downed power lines may limit available transport. Medical professionals will be working overtime at Metropolis General, as serious injury and ailment may become a factor within the next two days.''
The daily news continued for a few moments as Jack droned on with false ardor. He finished up his weather report, longing in silence for the work week to end. He really wished that he was stationed somewhere else. Maybe down south where he could put his feet up, relax, and indulge in a stiff martini when his day came to a close. A place where heatwaves were rampant and the intrusion of snow was a foreign concept.
Jack licked his lips once again, and the glimmer of his forked tongue evaded notice on screen. The slightest hints of scales were beginning to emerge on his face, and his makeup was slowly starting to run down his cheek. The majority of the citizens of Metropolis failed to notice, though. Most of them were too dull to fathom the reality surrounding Jack Lagartija. Only those firmly planted within the higher echelons of society were privy to the complete truth behind his gleaming smile. Only a select few had the capacity to stop him.
''In other news, recent UFO sightings have been dismissed by NASA as weather balloons, leaving some locals disheartened. Mayor Martin Reptil has addressed claims of visiting extraterrestrials as pulp-grade fiction, sparking chaos amongst true believers. Conspiracy theorist Zachary K. Candor insists there will soon be an alien invasion, but the majority of Metropolis has concluded that he should trade in his degree for a tinfoil hat. Still, there are some who wish to believe little green men have come upon the city, and are now disguised as high profile figures and politicians. They expect malevolence.''
Jack froze as he read the text on the prompter. He tried to maintain his composure as the veracity of this report sunk into his brain.
No! I assumed they were all too dumb to figure out the truth. There may only be a handful of them, but that is still too many!
Jack's eyes glared vacantly at the camera. He never expected even a single person to unveil his plot. He loosened his collar, his hands starting to tremble as he pondered his current situation. Jack's temples were pulsing and he now had a headache that could be likened to a train wreck within his cranium. He needed to urinate badly, as his cloaca was responding poorly to the recent news. The veritas of his mission needed to remain confidential. The public needed to be kept in the dark.
After many thousands of years of evolution, his species had now made it to earth in a hunt for clean water, air, and other resources. They had destroyed their previous planet from centuries of neglect, and now they planned to claim this terra as their own. Jack refused to be thwarted by the lowly scum that called themselves humans. After seven years of preparation, they had come too close to fail now. Nothing would stop Jack and the others from achieving their one goal. Their plan called for the eradication of the human sub-species. There were not enough resources for both to thrive. This was survival of the fittest.
Keep it together Jack. Damn it, keep it together!
Jack was nervous now, but the broadcast needed to continue.
''Nearing the border, migrant detention centers have been springing up rapidly in what is assumed to be an attempt to quell illegals from gaining access to the country. Government officials have been silent on the topic, but some surmise that a shadow corporation known only as MONITOR is responsible for their construction. Thousands of asylum seekers have been detained. Once again, Zachary K. Candor has been present with his theories, but as always, most refute his claims as nothing more than vibrant fantasy.''
Jesus, they are even trying to steal the food right out of my mouth!
''Up next, sports columnist Jade Iguane interviews hockey legend Don Matthews about his recent signing to the Metropolis Rhinos. Please hold for a brief commercial break.'' As a slew of commercials began to roll, Jack decided that now was the time to give Martin Reptil a call. Something needed to be done about Candor. He was getting too close for comfort, and without the intervention of MONITOR, Jack feared that he may just be the wrench in the gears that would halt production at the migrant facilities. Within minutes, Martin was on the phone, and Jack could tell by the tone of his voice that something was afoot.
''Martin, we need to put a muzzle on that conspiracy loon Candor. He is going to ruin everything!''
Jack waited for a response, and after a few brief seconds, Martin replied.
''I know Jack, but don't worry about it. It has been taken care of. He won’t be a threat much longer. MONITOR has already been notified. Very soon it will be as if he never existed. Our time is coming, Jack. But I need to go! I have business to take care of.''
Martin hung up the phone. After an ample sigh and a trip to the lavatory, Jack retreated back to the news room. Jade was now in the middle of interviewing Matthews, so he decided it was time to have something to eat. He pulled his lunch box out from under his desk, removing its contents delicately. Jack took a whopping bite out of his 'mystery meat' sandwich, quietly contemplating Candor and his prying ways. Jack was still worried, but the hurried chat with Martin calmed him down immensely.
Outside, the weather was reaching whiteout conditions, and Jack was unsure if he would be able to leave the studio when his broadcast was over. Braving the squalls was probably not an option. This was no big deal, though. He had spent many a night hunkered down at the studio. He would just confiscate one of the heat lamps to keep his office nice and sultry.
After a few more minutes, Jade finished up her interview, and it was now time for Jack to continue his reports.
''And that's all for now! Back to you, Jack!''
''Thanks, Jade. Great interview! This week, students of Rising Star High will be raising funds for their renowned hockey team, The Rising Stars! In their gymnasium on Friday, there will be games, treats, and the chance to win three V.I.P. seats at the Rhinos game Sunday night. Tickets for this contest are five dollars each or twenty dollars a book. The hype is on, and Rising Star high is hoping for a great turnout! Let’s all hope we can dig our cars out by then, because right now, it's a rager out there!''
Jack smiled at the camera, the majority of his viewers looking on in blissful ignorance.
''And speaking of contests, The Story Forge Writers Collective is now accepting short story submissions for their upcoming anthology. Writers everywhere are flocking to the Wilfred Oram Centennial Library to get their works read. Only stories ranked within the top tier will be printed, but thousands are hopeful that their tales will be chosen. The Story Forge Writers Collective produces the best fiction and non-fiction in all of the land, and this is expected to be the competition of the year!''
Jack chuckled internally.
Good. Good! This will keep their minds off Zachary and MONITOR for a bit!
He pushed on with his reports, the minutes passing at a sluggardly pace.
Jack was elated that the citizens of Metropolis had something to occupy their witless minds. Like dogs chasing their tails, the locals would continue to busy themselves with insipid endeavours, the bulk of the masses ignorant to the encroaching invasion and the soon-to-be reptilian uprising.
The conspiracy theorists were still out there, though. MONITOR would need to continue stifling their painfully inquisitive probes. Their numbers were minimal, but even a single person speaking against MONITOR was one too many. They needed to be removed from the limelight. Their silence was essential to the fate of the new world, and Jack would do his best to make sure they were quickly nullified. Jack continued to beam with pseudo enthusiasm, his brilles glistening in the mild glow of the camera.
''Moloch Avenue and Calotes Drive are now closed due to the weather. Only local traffic will be permitted to enter, as city workers are struggling to remove snow from the area. A few trees have also been uprooted, making travel increasingly laborious. Metropolis- wait. Hold on, we are now receiving a breaking report.''
Jack's thoughts began to swirl. What the hell could this be?
He braced for the worst, as anything was possible within the city of Metropolis.
''It is with our deepest sympathies that we announce this breaking coverage. Zachary K. Candor has just been found dead in his upscale loft on Stratagem Street. Police are now investigating, but foul play is not believed to be a factor. His newest journal The Reptile Agenda was just about to hit the press, but sadly, fans and admirers of his work will now have to look elsewhere for their conspiracy needs. Funeral arrangements will be announced at a later date.''
Yes. Yes! That beautiful creature Martin has done it again!
Jack's heart made a jump, almost bursting from his chest with spastic delight. Martin had come through with flying colors, Zachary now 'magically' erased from view of the public eye. With Candor gone, there was now nobody to front any rebellion against MONITOR. The contest for The Story Forge Writers Collective would also aid in the cover up, and with Rising Star High having a contest of their own, Jack knew that there was now nothing stopping him and his associates.
Jack thought with mild ecstasy. Nothing can stop us now. This terra will be ours within the month!
Although Jack now felt like it was time to party, he was still on screen and needed to remain calm. He pushed on for a few more moments, knowing soon it would be time to read his final report. Within ten minutes he would be sipping a martini in his office with his true face turned to the warming glow of one of the heat lamps. Within the grand scheme of things, very soon the streets of Metropolis would flow red with human blood...and Jack was now riddled with extreme anticipation.
We're in the home stretch now, Jack!
Jack's beaming sickly-sweet smile now radiated with genuine contentedness.
''To finish off for the morning, we now bring you a heart warming tale. Just under an hour ago, a kitten lovingly named 'Mittens' by her owners had managed to climb a tree, getting herself stuck on the highest branch. Her owners feared that she was lost to the storm, but the bravery of the Metropolis Fire Department knows no bounds. Fire chief Susan Lucertola and her colleagues rushed to Mittens' aid, and after a few attempts, she was brought safely back to the warmth of her home on Chuckwalla Street. This story is one of dozens we have received today, proving once and for all that the city of Metropolis is in good hands. My name is Jack Lagartija, and thank YOU for choosing Metropolis News.''
The credits began to roll, and Jack took no time rushing from his desk. He waved a goodbye to Jade and the other people working at the station, grabbed the nearest heat lamp, and quickly made off to his office on the third floor. He could not wait to take his makeup off and shoot a few martinis. The blizzard was still raging outside, but everything was set in motion. The mother ship was so close now...
Note: This story was the winner of the CBRL (Cape Breton Regional Libraries) summer short story contest for 2020.