Strange Horizons, November 7, 2011

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Strange Horizons, November 7, 2011

“Counting Cracks” by George R. Galuschak

Reviewed by Sherry Decker

“Counting Cracks” by George R. Galuschak is a tale about James Bruschi, his sister Sylvia, and two neighbor kids, nine-year-old Michael and twelve-year-old June. It’s an entertaining tale from the beginning. The four characters are survivors, hiding out after two aliens set up camp in the Shop Rite in their small town.

The most dangerous alien is called the Hum. No one knows what it looks like, but it emits a mind-destroying, humming noise. The second creature is called a spyger. It resembles a giant bug. The spyger seems to be protecting the Hum, even though it too, is suffering from the constant humming noise.

The first to die were birds. Birds forgot how to fly. It made the evening news and the woman reporter seemed disabled. She talked louder than necessary, had difficulty pronouncing words and appeared inebriated.

The story flashes back and forth in time. The birds, dogs, cats, and people die in their homes. The streets are empty. James and Sylvia suspect the destruction is widespread because they haven’t seen a plane fly over or seen or heard any news on radio or television in several days.

The symptoms of the humming vary from person to person. James is partially paralyzed on one side, but he improves if he resorts to his childhood habit of counting the cracks between tiles. Sylvia has the obsessive-compulsive habit of licking her hand and touching things. Little Michael appears to be immune to the humming, and young June recites prime numbers when under stress. It’s the only time June isn’t speaking in gibberish.

On the morning after the birds dropped from the sky, James awoke with tingling on his left side. His wife awoke blind and hysterical. When he tried to call 911, he fell paralyzed to the floor. When he woke again, his sister, Sylvia is there and his wife is dead.

James is determined to find the Hum and destroy it but Sylvia and the kids are terrified. Nevertheless, they pile into Sylvia’s Ford Festiva and head for Rite Aid, Sylvia white-knuckled, June answering every question with nonsense and Michael crying.

Not a bad story. The flashbacks keep it more interesting than a tale told in linear fashion. Good, sympathetic characters. Satisfactory ending.