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The Scooped Out Man

Tony Ballantyne is the author of the Penrose and Recursion series of novels as well as many acclaimed short stories that have appeared in magazines and anthologies around the world. He has been nominated for the BSFA and Philip K. Dick awards.

Dream Paris, a follow up to the critically acclaimed Dream London, was published in September, 2015.
"Why did I have to bring my wife in here with me? I'm not a child!"
The doctor was a young man, freshly shaven, with a warm smile.
"Take a seat."
I found myself warming to him, despite myself. Clearly he realized I didn't need to be here. Maybe he could talk some sense into Sylvia.
I certainly didn't expect his next words.
"Mrs. Johnston, I have some bad news for you. Your husband, Adam, is gone. An alien creature has eaten away most of his brain."
"What?" Sylvia was too shocked to be upset.
The doctor fanned three x-rays across the desk, a cross section of my skull.
"You can see it here," he said, pointing. "The creature has eaten all of the left hemisphere and has hollowed out the center of the right frontal hemisphere. There's not much of your husband left, I'm afraid."
She looked at the pictures, and then looked at me. She was cool about it, I'll give her that much.
"Don't be ridiculous," she said. "If the creature had really eaten so much of his brain he'd be dead."
"Like I said, he is."
Sylvia turned to me, a half smile on her face.
"What have you got say, Adam?"
"I told you this whole thing was ridiculous," I folded my arms and looked smug. "Clearly, there's nothing wrong with me."
I would have thought that would be it, but no. Sylvia wasn't convinced.
"But you've been acting so strange lately! So... different!"
"That will be because an alien creature has eaten his brain," said the doctor.
Sylvia's face was a picture. It was almost worth the months of nagging just to see her wrong footed like this. She rounded on the doctor.
"Don't tell me this, tell him!" She jabbed a finger in my direction.
"He wouldn't believe me. That's the first thing that the creatures do: they suspend the host's belief in their existence. It's a necessary survival trait."
"You're making this up!" She was almost shouting now. "How come I have never heard of these creatures? Where do they come from!"
"Ah!" said the doctor. "Thereby hangs a tale. They've been slowly infiltrating our planet for fifty years or so, now. They're clever: they took over the people in charge first to stop the news of them spreading."
"But, but...."
She was lost for words. I took her hand.
"Sylvia, we've heard enough. Shall we go home? We can have a laugh about this later."
Sylvia shook my hand free. To my surprise, she seemed to be taking all this seriously.
"It would explain things," she said. "He has changed so much. He became so unpleasant over the years until he reached a point where he found fault with everything, never took any pleasure in what he was doing. He'd become nothing but a grumpy old man. And then one morning he woke up and it was like the old Adam was back, the man that I married."
"That'll be the alien," said the doctor. "They sort of become us as they eat our brains, but a better version of us. No. That's not right," he waved a hand as he searched for the phrase. "The best version of ourselves that we can be."
"Oh!"
I could see by the look on Sylvia's face that it all made sense. She believed him.
"So, you're saying there's nothing wrong with him."
"What do you think?"
"It is like he's been cured of himself."
I'd had enough.
"Excuse me, I am still here, you know!"
"I'm sorry, Adam," said the doctor, looking at me at last. "I'm taking advantage of your good nature." He smiled at me. "People like you are the future, you know. You aliens are changing the world for the better. You've been working on the key people in society for some time now."
"What?" asked Sylvia. "You mean like the government, writers, free thinkers, that sort of thing?"
"No. I mean school teachers, home makers, scientists, people who give up their evenings to run youth groups. The people who really make a difference. To do all that work for so little reward.... You'd have to have an alien in your head, wouldn't you?"
Sylvia was thinking. She really was pretty, I noticed. Fifty years old, she had the lines of our life together written over her face. What a wonderful thing to see. And I had had to become an alien to see it.
"He seems to have accepted it very quickly," said Sylvia, looking at me.
"He's not Adam, though, is he? He's an alien. He's just accepting himself."
"That sort of makes sense," said Sylvia. "So what do I do with him?"
"Nothing. Just treat him like your husband. A couple of weeks and you'll wonder what all the fuss was about."
A thought occurred to me.
"Hold on doctor! What about Sylvia? How come she hasn't got an alien in her head?"
He laughed.
"It's called the ripe Stilton analogy. The aliens seem to have a preference for a certain sort of brain. One that's, well, a little bit broken down. Twisted in on itself, steeped in anger and self-pity. They probably find your wife's mind a little, well, plain."
"No need to look so smug," I said.
"I can't help it," she smiled.
"Keep that up and you'll end up with an alien in your brain, too."
"There are worse things," she said, and she smiled at me.
She really is beautiful, you know. How on Earth had I forgotten that?
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 14th, 2016


I wrote the story as that's pretty much how I feel!

- Tony Ballantyne

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