“Zero Hour” from The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
It’s just a normal day for the Morris family. Mrs. Morris is taking care of the home and little Mink is playing with her friends. Except today Mink is grabbing all kinds of things and running around with her friends more excited than usual playing Invasion.
While they are playing, Mrs. Morris notices that the kids won’t let a 12 year old play with them as he is too old.
She hears how serious the kids are with Mink demanding and ordering about, organizing like a general. She runs out and about everywhere, as it is a “matter of life and death.”
They have to hurry as Drill needs them to finish the Invasion. Drill is from outer space and needs help to come to their dimension. Drill and his compatriots have been trying to invade Earth for years and couldn’t make it. Then they decided to use kids under nine and their imagination. They promise the kids they can get and do whatever they want when they arrive.
“Drill says I won’t have to take baths,’ said Mink.
‘Oh, he does, does he?’
‘He told all the kids that. No more baths. And we can stay up till ten o’clock and go to two televisor shows on Saturday ‘stead of one!’
‘Well, Mr. Drill better mind his p’s and q’s. I’ll call up his mother and —‘
Mink went to the door. ‘We’re having trouble with guys like Pete Britz and Dale Jerrick. They’re growing up. They make fun. They’re worse than parents. They just won’t believe in Drill. They’re so snooty, ‘cause they’re growing up. You’d think they’d know better. They were little only a coupla years ago. I hate them worst. We’ll kill them first.’
‘Your father and I last?’
‘Drill says you’re dangerous. Know why? ‘Cause you don’t believe in Martians! They’re going to let us run the world. Well, not just us, but the kids over in the next block, too. I might be queen.’ She opened the door.
Mrs. Morris calls her friend in New York and finds out that the kids there are playing the same thing. It seems that this game and “Drill” have spread all over the nation.
The day continues and Mink tells her mom it will be soon, Drill is stuck halfway but they are working on it. Five o’clock is zero hour. Mr. Morris returns home from work and Mrs. Morris is struck with how quiet the street is. What are the children up to?
Then an explosion happens and all Mrs. Morris’ fears explode with it. Sh grabs her husband and runs up to the attic hoping to hide out there and escape that night. Her husband thinks she is crazy, but Mrs. Morris doesn’t care.
Footsteps come into the house:
Heavy feet. Twenty, thirty, forty, fifty of them. Fifty persons crowding into the house. 295 The humming. The giggling of the children. ‘This way!’ cried Mink, below.
‘Who’s downstairs?’ roared Henry. ‘Who’s there!’
‘Hush. Oh, nononononono!’ said his wife weakly, holding him. ‘Please, be quiet. They might go away.’
‘Mom?’ called Mink. ‘Dad?’ A pause. ‘Where are you?’ Heavy footsteps, heavy, heavy, very heavy footsteps, came up the stairs. Mink leading them.
‘Mom?’ A hesitation. ‘Dad?’ A waiting, a silence.
Humming. Footsteps toward the attic. Mink’s first.
They trembled together in silence in the attic, Mr. and Mrs. Morris. For some reason the electric humming, the queer cold light suddenly visible under the door crack, the strange odor and the alien sound of eagerness in Mink’s voice finally got through to Henry Morris too. He stood, shivering, in the dark silence, his wife beside him.
Footsteps. A little humming sound. The attic-lock melted. The door opened. Mink peered inside, tall blue shadows behind her.
‘Peekaboo,’ said Mink.”
For more Ray Bradbury, go to Marionettes, Inc.
For more from The Illustrated Man, go to The Veldt
For more aliens, go to The Andromeda Strain
For more short stories, go to Stowaway