What can you really say other than we didn’t use to have them here and now we do. You can see it in old books how they didn’t use to be here, not just that people didn’t take measures – when a baby was born they did not have a weapon handy for one example – but they just held themselves differently. More trusting. They were in the moment, they were there with the people they were with, they were open, and they were not worried about hoflpats.
Some people think it doesn’t make sense to ask the question “where did hoflpats come from?” like it doesn’t make sense to ask “when was the first smile” or “when was the first mistake”. But they are wrong. There was an expedition off world and the spaceman came back with the cells on their shoes that became the first Hoflpat. It was from a civilization of sort of invertebrate things that built towers but the cells of the first hoflpat they were some some yet other world that had come to the tower-builder civilization and destroyed it by pretending to be the invertebrates. And naturally when they got here they did the same thing.
You can’t tell hoflpats from people by looking or by any sort of chemical tests, because what they have that makes them different from us is very very deep and very very hard and expensive to tell. And it always shifts a little. It is, as the scientists say, “tricky”, “a hell of a problem” “quantum-ish” and “a bitch.” And sometimes it is fine. I mean if the guy who brings you your fedex package is actually cells from another planet with an inhuman consciousness pushing him to deliver the package, so what? But sometimes. Well you know.
We don’t lose more people to the hoflpats than we do to driving accidents. But it is unnerving, because it doesn’t follow a pattern. Except they do go for babies. But even that. No babies for ten years and then boom, going through a whole city room by room getting all the babies. Why do you do that? Everybody asks their leader (and I do think they have leaders even if not in our sense) and they answer “Why does water run down hill? Why does the eye blink when you flick it? There’s just no other way for it to be.”
The only good thing that came out from the last big dissolution of the babies was that they have to tell the truth if you ask them a literal question. Not a philosophical question; not a poetic question. Not “are you a human” because who knows what is a human, but “will you eat our babies if you have a chance”. Not “Are you evil?”, cause you know, but “Will you hide on the floor for a year pretending to be dead and then leap up and bite the spine?” If you ask the question in the right way they can’t lie. “How could we lie? Can water run uphill? Can the eye not blink when flicked?” they said.
What if we could make it like the old days? asked my wife. What if we didn’t have to guard ourselves? What if we didn’t have to guard our children? What if we could be open? I said it was a beautiful idea. And she said why? Why does it have to be just an idea?
We got people who we picked and we took them in secret rooms and we asked them the questions “would you ever hurt a baby?” and then more precisely “Would you ever eat a baby?” if they think that eating in their strange religion or whatever is not hurting. “Would you do anything that we would think is hurting a baby? “Would you do anything that we would think is eating a baby?” in case in their strange religion or whatever that eating is not eating it is going to a super heaven in their stomach or something. And we took out everybody who gave even a hint of a bad answer. Took out meaning you know — dissolved.
And it was forty-five of us down in the old power plant which was completely impossible to get into. Sacrifices? Sure. But we were trying to have a life that had no Hoflpats.
We were careful. Every morning and every evening there would be the questions to determine if anybody had turned over the night or been replaced. Once in a great while we would lose someone. There were the tests on the babies as they were born to see if a spore had…you know. Almost entirely no surprises there. There was the necessary limitation of communications – electronic media books. We did not want the idea of the hoflpats to still be part of our consciousness or the minds of our children. We wanted to raise them in an atmosphere of trust.
What happened outside the community of trust? Are they still out there dodging the occasional attack, living in tension and ambiguity and fear? To be honest: don’t know, don’t care. Don’t want to know. Don’t want to care. They might be gone, they might be dead.
In the community of trust we are growing our food we are singing our songs. We aren’t even happy anymore because we don’t know what it is to be unhappy. It is deeper than happy. It isn’t even gratitude. It is normality.
Deep within the camp at the bottom of the mine there was an anniversary of the founding of our community of trust. My wife was watching the babies and I was up above administering the final test. And we walked down the stairs and saw what had happened. And my wife who I loved who I still love was finishing the last bit of the last bit of them. They were all gone and she had such a flushed face, such a smile, such bright eyes.
“How could you?” I asked “I asked you all the questions and you gave the right answers. You said you couldn’t do that.”
“Oh baby oh love oh sweetie” she said laughing and crying, crying and laughing: “We lied.”