Dan Larson heard the tiny shout as the rolled up Car and Driver Magazine he was wielding slammed down and squashed the fly that had landed on his night table. His body filled with a cold, creepy chill. The word sounded so distinct, so clear. It was as if someone had been standing behind him.
He jerked is head around to survey his bedroom. He was alone.
Slowly, Dan lifted the magazine to reveal what was underneath. His jaw slid open with disbelief. His eyes widened. Around the squashed body were small pieces of metal, a miniature spring, and what looked like little rivets and screws.
Tiny feet scuttled across his arm. He bolted upright and reflexively slapped the magazine against his flesh with a painful smack, missing.
The word popped into his ears again, loud and distinct. He sat stunned. A grasshopper the size of his thumb stood on his pillow. But this was no ordinary grasshopper. Dan leaned down for a closer look. The grasshopper’s legs weren’t legs at all, but a series of tiny pistons and mechanical joints. Its belly was a smooth piece of metal and its antennae were two tiny wires.
“What have you done?” the grasshopper scolded, in a firm, female voice.
Dan jerked back, shocked at the grasshopper’s speaking.
“We must win this war!” the grasshopper continued. “If you destroy us our chances of victory will be slim!”
“You’re…” Dan’s voice caught. His heart hammered in his chest. “You’re a machine!”
“A defender,” the grasshopper corrected. The stare of the grasshopper’s multi-faceted, unblinking eyes greatly unnerved Dan. “Your home is ground zero for a Cyderion infestation. Come outside. We have much to accomplish and we haven’t much time.”
Dan shook his head. “This can’t be happening. You… you can’t be real?”
The grasshopper jumped onto the windowsill. “There is no time to convince you of the extreme danger to your world.” It opened a small slit in the screen, and wiggled through. “In one hour your backyard will be the staging ground for a major assault. If we fail to prevent the Cyderion from placing a homing beacon they will come by the billions. Your way of life will be forever altered.”
The grasshopper jumped into the night.
In a state of disbelief and with indecision buffeting his head, Dan sat for a few moments thinking if what had just occurred had really occurred.It was late, past midnight, and he was tired. Perhaps, he’d just had a waking dream?
He turned his head and looked at the squashed mechanical fly on the night table and realized with horror that this was no dream. Trembling with apprehension, he slid from the mattress, stepped to his closet, and dressed in t-shirt and jeans.
He opened his bedroom door and tiptoed down the hallway. He wasn’t trying to sneak out he just didn’t want to wake up his mom. Ever since his dad had died from pancreatic cancer, his mom had to work two waitress jobs to pay the bills and she usually came home from work exhausted. Tonight was no exception.
Dan descended the stairs, crept through the living room, and then carefully unlocked and slipped out the back door.
Evening air held a humid, watery quality. The full moon glowed as if ignited from within. It was quiet, eerily quiet. Ghostly radiance filtered through saplings sprawled along the edge of the forest. Strange, featureless shapes unraveled into trees and shrubs as Dan’s sight adjusted to the opaque light. He looked to the sky. Sequins of stars glittered faintly above the afterglow of the distant town.
The grasshopper landed on his shoulder. Dan jumped and nearly swatted it, but refrained. His nerves electrified.
“Regiments of Cyderion are heading in this direction,” the grasshopper said. “I will direct you to the Defender lair where we will formulate a battle plan based on your knowledge of these surroundings.”
“You want me to go where?” Dan questioned.
“Into the forest. I will direct you to the Defender lair.”
Dan stood stiffly. His mind craved answers before he went tramping off through the woods in the middle of the night.
“What are Cyderion?” he asked.
“Cyderion are slaves of the Dirus that serve as the Dirus military. It is imperative that we exterminate them before they establish a fortified bunker and send out a homing beacon. Your knowledge of these surroundings is crucial to the success of our counter-assault.”
Dan glanced up at his mom’s bedroom window. Concern flooded him.
“What if I don’t want to help?” he questioned.
“Defenders will do our best to stop the infestation.”
“And if you fail?”
“Then all the creatures of Earth will serve the Dirus for eternity.”