From the author: A rather grim take on greeting cards, inspired by a former colleague's exasperated comment that "there's a greeting card for EVERYTHING these days!"
Jenny stared at the card from the plain gray envelope she’d just opened. It bore the image of a flying saucer in a desert setting, with a semi-cute, gray-skinned, bug-eyed alien waving in a friendly manner in the foreground. An elaborate purple font reading “With Deepest Regrets” was superimposed over part of the saucer.
She scowled, and opened the card. Soft strains of organ music piped from it. She struggled to make out the inscription.
SO SORRY ABOUT YOUR LOSS, the first sentence read in bright, flashing pink cursive, that was, if anything, more elaborate than the font on the front of the card. WE REGRET THE NECESSARY DEATH OF YOUR DEAR ONE STEVEN. The next line was in a slightly less elaborate magenta font. OUR REGARDS, <~!*&>, EARTH INVASION FORCE.
“Bastards!” Jenny flung the card against the wall. The organ continued to chord on despite the card closing, the notes warped. She stared across the room at it, her nostrils flaring as she gulped for breath, eyes filling with tears.
Steven’s not dead. I haven’t even been informed by our people yet! It had to be some sort of propaganda ploy.
TAP-TAP echoed on the apartment door. Jenny swallowed hard. The walk to the door seemed to take forever, especially with blurry eyes, and when she got there, two men garbed in the blue and green of the Earth Defense Force stood framed uncomfortably in the doorway, their faces solemn.
“We’ve got to do something about this invasion and soon,” General Marx said to his attaché Karen. Karen nodded, whipping out her tablet. “This–sending of cards after each battle–it’s ridiculous! They’re contacting the next-of-kin of our casualties before we can officially notify them ourselves, and they’re our enemies! Isn’t there something about that in the Geneva Convention?”
“I’ll check,” Karen said. Privately, she already knew the answer, but it was better to say she’d check. It might give her a couple of minutes to look at the latest Facebook scandal instead.
“Make it happen. Soon.” Marx walked away, Deep Thoughts clearly passing through his mind.
Karen headed for her cubicle.
U NO I WILL ALWAYS LUV U, she texted her fiancé Tim who was at the front, awaiting the next wave of saucer invaders.
LUV U 4EVR came back to her.
Karen refused to think that she might get one of those cards. General Marx always ranted about strange things. Tim would be back from the war soon, and then she could join the roster of former General Marx attachés.
Jenny choked back her tears, waiting for the baggage carousel to unload the box holding Steven’s cremains. They couldn’t even deliver those personally!
At last the box rose slowly out of the center of the carousel. It slid gently down the side and bumped against the bottom. Jenny picked it up and started to carry it away, wrapping her arms around the box.
Someone in uniform stopped her. “ID? That yours?”
Blinking back her tears, she flashed the ID. The security guard looked, nodded, and let her pass.
Bastards, she thought as she hurried to the light rail stop that would take her to the dingy apartment she’d shared with Steven. As if anyone would steal a box of ashes.
Jenny blinked back more tears.
How soon would it be until she had to vacate her apartment? It was slotted for double plus occupancy, not a single.
When she got home, there was another plain gray envelope in her mail.
This card had a picture of Jenny walking down the street, loaded down with suitcases.
SO SORRY YOU’RE ON THE STREET, this one read, in a bright green font.
The five-note intro to the SCANDAL! broadcast echoed throughout the spaceport lobby.
“Breaking news! Newest information about the alien invasion scandal!” a female voice intoned in the voiceover as SCANDAL!’s logo slowly filled the video screens. The logo faded, to be replaced by a flashy advertisement for the latest male fertility supplement.
“Multiplex! Guaranteed to not just boost those sper-ma-zoa but jack up the pace of the gender swimmers you want!”
The colorful animation showed a dancing blue tadpole-shaped figure outracing a pink tadpole.
“Boys or girls! Your pick or your money back! Millions of satisfied customers world-wide! That’s Multiplex!”
A chorus line of dancing and weaving pink and blue tadpoles faded out, to be briefly replaced by a crying baby with ANOTHER MULTIPLEX SUCCESS!!!!! superimposed over it in flashing pink and blue lettering.
The baby was replaced by a slow fade to a well-dressed man and woman chatting with each other behind a Retro 70s-era news desk. The woman looked up at the camera, and smiled, revealing two rows of even, shiny white teeth that brightly reflected the studio lights.
“Our news tonight!” she bubbled at the camera. “The Alien invasion forces appear to be using greeting cards to harass the families of the brave men and women of Our Earth Defense Forces!”
Jenny sat in her new studio apartment, boxes piled around her. She sighed and stared at the box of Steven’s cremains. So far, she’d not dared to open the container. She had the special container for him in the shape of a 50s-era Harley Davidson. But the thought of actually opening the box and moving the ashes was too much to bear.
Have to do it sometime, she thought. Slowly, she ripped open the taped lid of the cardboard box.
Solemn organ chords greeted her as she pulled back the flaps. The plain gray envelope she’d by now grown to hate rested on top of the box within the shipping box.
Jenny knew she shouldn’t do it. With trembling hands, she ripped open the envelope.
SO SORRY BUT WE WEREN’T ABLE TO RETRIEVE YOUR LOVED ONE’S REMAINS, the card blinked in friendly yellow letters that ended with a smiley face.
Jenny screamed and threw the card, then the boxes, across the room. Then she dug Steven’s revolver out of a box. She looked at it.
General Marx marched into Karen’s cubicle, not taking note of her swollen eyes as she stared at the cute card with a flying saucer that had landed in a desert setting, and a bug-eyed alien waving in a friendly manner in the foreground.
“So what have you found out about those greeting cards?” he asked.
Karen burst into tears and ran down the hallway screaming.
Marx looked after her, raising his eyebrows. Then he noticed the card. He picked it up, eying the front. He opened the card. There was a tiny “pop,” and a white puff from the card. General Marx coughed, choked, then collapsed.
He was quite purple, and it took some time, before anyone noticed his still body lying on the floor.
The flies hadn’t quite discovered Jenny’s still, bloody body in the studio apartment, with boxes scattered around her.
There was a soft crinkly noise on the floor by her door. A card, this time outside of the plain gray envelope, slid underneath the doorjamb.
SO SORRY ABOUT YOUR LOSS, it read.
This story originally appeared in White Cat Magazine, March 2012.