My name is Steven Groves, and last week I killed a dozen innocent children.

I’m getting ahead of myself. That statement makes me sound like a madman, which I am not. I am a normal man, a humble small-town bookseller, not a murderer of innocents. The killings were not calculated: they were out of necessity.

To clarify, I live in a small suburban town in Virginia known as Eldritch Falls, and have lived here my whole life. It’s not a big town, but it has all the conveniences one needs to live comfortably in this day and age, I suppose. Our town of Eldritch Falls isn’t a sleepy hamlet, but it isn’t a bustling metropolis either. It is a nice, comfortable place to live; despite its name, nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened to Eldritch Falls since being founded in 1898. That is, until last week.

I run a small, cozy bookshop in the center of town, right across the street from a fast-food establishment. It was at this fast-food establishment I bore witness to the most shocking and unnatural catastrophe perhaps ever to occur in the history of mankind, something straight out of Lovecraft or Wells, as it were. It’s rather ironic that an event of this caliber took place in a town called Eldritch Falls, since what befell me in my town was straight out of the Mythos.

I say this because I am a bookseller, you see, and I can safely say that I have read every book stocked on the shelves in my shop. My shop specializes in horror and science fiction, classics and new works; as well, I am known in the tri-state area for my unparalleled collection of H.P. Lovecraft first-editions.

Anyway, the whole ghastly ordeal began quite suddenly at lunchtime on Wednesday, a usually quiet time for the shops on Main Street, including my own – save the McDonalds across the street, which is always busy at lunchtime and has, for as long as I can remember, always been. At first glance, this particular Wednesday at McDonalds was no different from any previous Wednesdays at the Eldritch Falls McDonalds. The small restaurant was at near capacity, crowded with harried mothers or fathers out for lunch with their precocious, demanding children, office and construction workers on break, and confused old ladies looking for a place to sit down and have a cup of coffee. I was on lunch-break myself, feeling a tad neurotic but otherwise at ease. In short, a normal day at the Eldritch Falls McDonalds.

That is, until I noticed the toys the children were playing with. Normally, Happy Meals contain some plastic action figure or keychain of a character from a popular children’s cartoon or movie. The toys the children received today were things I could only describe as looking like ornaments from a mad scientist’s Christmas tree. Approximately four inches in width and five inches in length, the things were flat and obsidian-black, shaped like a rectangle with four triangles and a circle stacked upon it. As I opened my “War of the Worlds” lunchbox, I watched two young boys who received the things in their meals playfully knocking their prizes together, not even questioning why they had not received Ninja Turtles in their Happy Meals.

“Pew pew! I’m a rocketship and I’m gonna blast you out of the sky!” “No you’re not! I’m a robot and I’m gonna blast you out of the sky!”

I laughed to myself as I watched them play, fully aware that a situation like that would never happen in one of my beloved science fiction novels, unless one was written by an amateur. I resumed opening my lunch, pulling out a ham and cheese sandwich with just a touch more honey mustard on it than I usually want. Regardless, I lifted the sandwich to my mouth.

At that moment, I heard a blood-curdling scream; I turned frantically to see that one of the things had latched onto a boy’s face, covering his mouth. The thing had sprouted tentacles out of some unseen aperture, implanting them quite suddenly and quite savagely into the top of his head, most likely into his brain. I saw his body writhe with agony as the tentacles burrowed through him, ends erupting from seemingly every pore of his exposed skin in a shower of skin and blood. The only place I could still see skin was the back of his neck. The mechanism, firmly latched onto the mouth, was glowing faintly.

In that moment, almost without thinking, I pulled an absurdly sharp knife from out of my lunchbox; I fell to the floor where the child lay convulsing and sprouting new tentacles by the second, grabbed him by a cluster of tentacles where only a minute ago his hair was, and cut into his neck, severing the spinal cord and detaching his brain from the rest of his body. The boy’s body shuddered and went limp in my arms, the tentacles erupting from his body suddenly ceasing motion. The mechanism fell off of the boy’s mouth, landing in my blood-smeared hands without a sound. I had done what I previously believed only one of the heroes in a science fiction novel could have done. An unexpected wave of relief fell over me: the child was saved, but at the cost of his own life. Then the realization hit me – I just killed a child – and in a matter of milliseconds the wave of relief turned into a wave of nausea and guilt. After a moment of stunned silence, the restaurant erupted in chaos: dozens of adults fainted or vomited at the sight, children cried and screamed as the concerned and horrified manager of the restaurant frantically called 911 on their cell phone – and I was sitting right next to the victim, too startled and shocked at my own actions. It seemed everyone was going mad from the sheer impossibility.

I tried in vain to recall if anything like this really had happened in one of my beloved novels. The distressing scene occurring before my very eyes was consuming my every thought, and the only way to regain my train of thought and my sanity was to return to my bookstore. There was no time to waste, and my mind was drawing an unfortunate blank. Leaving my lunchbox and barely-eaten sandwich on the Formica table, I rushed through the panicking crowd of distressed civilians, out the door, and ignoring all rules of pedestrian safety, across the street to the doors of my shop. I pulled the keys to my shop from out of my pocket, opened the doors, and slammed them shut. Safety at last. It seemed that in the quiet and peace of my store, I was finally able to regain my thought process. Enjoying the silence, I turned on the lights, bringing my dark store back from the dead and waking my calico cat, Herbert, from his midday slumber on the rug by the cash register. The rows upon familiar rows of bookshelves, arranged in alphabetical order by author, seemed happy to see me; my cat Herbert, however, did not. He meowed to me in a tone that felt as if he were saying something rather accusatory.

And then it hit me. The boy’s blood was still on my hands, and the thing that caused the boy’s demise was haphazardly stuffed into my pocket.

I hurried past the shelves and into the storeroom at the back of the store, where I kept my most valuable possessions in a securely locked cabinet. After placing the mechanism – which was now quite immobile – on a table covered in paperwork, I opened the locked cabinet surreptitiously, pushed aside my first edition of “At The Mountains of Madness,” and pulled out what I can only describe as my most prized possession of all: a centuries-old Japanese katana. I had purchased the sword at an antiques dealer some years ago for security reasons – I’ll be honest, if you were presented with an ancient Oriental weapon that could decapitate a burglar for the low, low price of one hundred and seventy-five dollars and sixty cents plus tax and the resulting guilt that comes with manslaughter, wouldn’t you say yes as well?

I picked up the sword, exited and locked the storeroom, and strode out of the store back into the real world.

When I exited my store, a red-haired woman was waiting for me outside my shop. I recognized her as Ms. Shannon Egans, a frequent customer of my shop and curator at an independent museum of cryptozoology and extraterrestrial studies in Washington DC. Beneath her lion’s mane of long, ginger hair, a look of deep concern was visible on her bespectacled face.

“What’s going on across the street, then?” she asked me, biting her lip worriedly. She scanned me up and down; a look of questioning came across her face at the sight of the sword in my bloodied hand.

“In all honesty I’m not even sure myself,” I replied truthfully, shrugging my shoulders. “All I know for certain is that something is going on and I’m the only one in this town with the power to stop it.”

“No, really, Mr. Groves, you’ve got to tell me something. I’m only in town for a week and I’ve never seen this much commotion in Eldritch Falls. What is going on over there?” Shannon was so up in my face I could feel her breath on my skin.

I sighed. “Well, after doing a bit of thinking – and I mean a bit, like, two seconds – I’ve come to the conclusion that there are things inside Happy Meals that are attacking children and implanting them with tentacles, and the only way to stop these things is to cut their weak spots.”

Shannon gave me a look that can only be described as a combination of “we’ll see about that” and “holy muffins, are you for serious?” Then she stepped away from me, her hair obscuring her face again.

“I see,” she said, almost quietly. “I’ll come by another time, then.” And she was off, running up the street towards the other end of town. Weird, I thought to myself, I wasn’t expecting her to be in town, especially at a time like this.

I felt the sword slipping out of my sweaty, blood-stained hands, and I remembered what I was supposed to be doing.

Clutching the sword firmly, I returned to the McDonalds. Upon my arrival, about ten or eleven creatures began shambling towards me at an alarming speed. While I was gone, the rest of the children had been attacked. They were now almost completely enveloped from head to foot in writhing tentacles, save for the mechanisms on their mouths and the weak spots on the backs of their necks. I noticed a small, bloody pile of dead parents and myriad adults behind the approaching horde, and another wave of nausea hit me.

My theory I came up with on the spot was actually right. These children were being attacked by an invasion of alien things. But they were not just being attacked by mysterious mechanisms hiding in plain sight for no good reason other than tentacular fun; they were being used as mobile killing machines by this unearthly, impossible invasion.

Yet I could not just stop and process the immense loss of life in the room. I had to do to these children what I did to the first victim. I knew at that moment that I was not about to commit murder. I was about to save the lives of these innocent children. I gripped the handle of my sword and concentrated on the monstrosities advancing toward me. Their eyes were soulless, sinister glowing embers peeking out from a mass of endless tentacular appendages.

I vividly remember the squelching, almost eardrum-shattering sound of the children-monsters as my sword cut bloodily through their necks like a hot knife through butter. As heads detached from bodies, mechanisms clattered uselessly onto the blood-spattered floor. A shivering moment of quiet, one final decapitation, and it was over. I sighed with relief and collapsed to the ground, surrounded by mutilated corpses and silent, detached mechanisms.

I woke up the next morning in the psychiatric care ward of the county hospital, my bed surrounded on all sides by the media. Some claimed to be experts on invasions. One man was from the FBI, a handful was from the CIA, and one even claimed to be from M16. (I admit, the accent was convincing.)

I tried to tell my story to them to the best of my ability. After hours of questioning and answering, the media retreated – save for one red-haired woman, who I recognized as Shannon Egans from before. Silent when the media was surrounding me, she alone revealed to me that her son had received one of the mechanisms in the mail – needless to say, her experience was eerily similar to mine. She believed my story word for word, and I believed hers.

After I was released from the hospital, Shannon and I returned to my bookstore, where I agreed to show her the mechanism I harvested from the scene of the invasion. She immediately recognized it as the same one that attacked her son a month before. We agreed to keep in touch in case more sightings were reported, and she left, a fellow witness to the most impossible occurrence either of us could have imagined. We still do not know where they came from, or how they got into the Happy Meals or the delivery.

All we can be sure of is that there is always something out there, something greater and more impossible than anything we have witnessed so far.

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