dark fiction author

Longoids Don't Hang Around Old Folks' Homes
Too Often

Longoids. . . . was first published in Lc-39.


In "Longoids Don't Hang Around Old Folks' Homes Too Often" I took
my experience from working in a nursing home and reading
Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. The story that follows
is the combination of the two, mixed with the question how will
the old be treated in the future?


Longoids Don't Hang Around Old Folks' Homes
Too Often
 by Bonnie Mercure

I'm sick of playing UNO; that's all Jimmy will play lately. I'm afraid his mind is going soft, and the game UNO seems to nurture Jimmy to omit reality,and wallow in his advancing senility.

Today is our eightieth wedding anniversary, and the staff at Shady Pines baked us a chocolate cake. Jimmy's on his third piece, but I only had one--I'm watching my weight.

"You forgot to say UNO," Jimmy says. "Pick up three more cards."

I roll my eyes and pick up the three cards. Now I have four cards left to get rid of; Jimmy has half the deck. He struggles with his pile to find a four or a red card to match what I put down. He isn't having any luck.

"Wipe your mouth," I say. "You look disgusting."

He uses his shirt sleeve to wipe the chocolate from his lips, then gives me a toothless grin. "Is that better, pumpkin?"

"Yes. And don't call me pumpkin, you imbecile. Especially not on our trip tomorrow. You know how I hate it when you call me that in front of people."

"Sorry, sweetheart." Jimmy gives me a blank stare, then his eyes cloud over in confusion and fear. "What trip?"

I sigh. We were just discussing this morning our upcoming journey. "The trip made possible by the help of the longoids?"

Jimmy studies the mountain of cards he's holding, ignoring me. I should have known better than to discuss serious matters when we are playing UNO. I swear the game is killing off his last few brain cells.

Jimmy's Pocket Medic beeps and he presses the blinking red button. Three tiny pink pills slide out; Jimmy catches them in his hand. One pill is to prevent dementia -- but at times I wonder if it is actually working. One is to keep his blood-pressure down, and the last one, most importantly, is to impede his impotency problem. I look down at my Pocket Medic; I have 27.5 minutes left before mine will beep.

There is a rapping on our door. Before we can answer, a nurse sticks her head in our room. "Time to come down for dinner," she says.

"I'd like a salad brought to my room, please," I say.

The nurse sighs impatiently, as if she were dealing with a disobedient child.

"You know the rules, Jenny. Everyone must come down to the dining room for supper." Her voice takes on an ominous tone. "If you refuse to cooperate, I can always call for an orderly."

My ancient heart feels as if it will leap out of my chest, but I cross my arms and try to look impassive. "That won't be necessary."

The young nurse frowns and sticks her chest out, making her Silo-plastic breasts look like torpedoes. Jimmy's eyes perk up. "What's for dinner?"

"Meat loaf," the nurse says, then hurries off before I can complain about the monotony of Shady Pines menu.

Jimmy stands and grabs his walking stick. "You seen my glasses, hon?"

"You're wearing them."

Jimmy's hands fly to his face, touching his glasses. "So I am." He turns to the mirror and runs a comb through his disheveled white hair. When he's done, his gaze wanders to the window. His cataract-ridden blue eyes widen in fear and he lets loose a gargled yelp. He stumbles back, clutching his chest.

I go to him and rub his back. "It's okay, Jimmy. It's only a longoid. You remember them, don't you?"

Jimmy, legs trembling, peers at the gray-skinned, beanpole-like creature sitting in the tree. The longoid's bulging, oval-shaped eyes watch Jimmy with acute alien intelligence, then waves, revealing seven slender fingers.

Sometimes, Jimmy forgets about the longoids. I don't know if it's due to dementia or the fact that he'd rather live in the past. Either way, one of these times their presence is going to cause Jimmy to go into cardiac arrest. Luckily, longoids don't hang around old folks' homes too often.

Jimmy's eyes flash with recognition. "I wish they'd leave."

"C'mon, Jimmy. Lets go eat."

Jimmy suddenly forgets his distress. "I'm glad you're dining with me."

Like I had much of a choice? Instead I say, "How would it look if you ate alone on our anniversary?"

Jimmy leans over and kisses me on the cheek. Before leaving, I steal one more look at the longoid. It sits perched on a branch devouring a handful of dirt. When it sees me looking, it nods its egg-shaped head at me. I nod back, feeling a shudder coarse through my old bones.

* * *

The dining room is packed; it looks like a geriatric convention. Mariah Carey's high-pitched voice booms over the digital intercom, which is programmed to play only the oldies station. I groan. I didn't like Mariah Carey when I was twenty, and I don't like her now. The only seats available are at Cal's table, where he is sitting with his two great-grandchildren, two blonde women in their mid-forties. Cal is the oldest resident here at Shady Pines: 129 years old. He sits slumped over in a wheel chair, drooling.

"How do, Cal?" Jimmy says, taking a seat.

A low, sickening sound comes from Cal's throat. His great-grandchildren smile at us. "Grandpa Cal is excited about going to Mars."

Jimmy looks confused for a moment, then a look of realization dawns on his wrinkled face. Like he does with the longoids, he forgets momentarily about our expedition tomorrow. Preferred remembrance or dementia? Sometimes I wonder.

"I wanna play UNO," he whines.

I sigh. "After dinner."

The two blonde women keep smiling at me. Their cheerfulness annoys me. They don't have to be hurtled into space in the morning because it'll be beneficial to their health. I stand up, reach up my skirt and remove my Attend, which is in need of changing, and toss it in the metal bin by the wall. It will disintegrate within seconds-- but not before urine is eradicated from it.

Within seconds the stench of pee is so strong that Cal's great-grandchildren's eyes begin to water. I give them a lopsided smile, hoping I appear mentally incapable of knowing right from wrong. They depart quickly, their hands covering their noses.

"Jenny!" A nurse rushes over and puts the lid on the metal bin, then stomps toward me, her eyes glaring with annoyance. "You know that is not the proper dispensing unit! That one is strictly for plastic plates and silverware!"

I bow my head. The nurse sighs and storms off, but not before I hear her mutter, "Tomorrow cannot come soon enough."

Our trays come. The meatloaf tastes like rubber, but Jimmy takes a big bite and grins. The poor guy's taste buds are shot. Cal, though, has it worse. His meatloaf is pureed, and it looks like vomit. Perhaps it is. I wouldn't put it past the staff here.

"Open up now." A short, plump aide jams a spoonful into Cal's mouth.
Cal makes a face, leans over his chair and proceeds to spit the brown lumpy mush on the floor. The plump aide shakes her head and goes onto the next table, where the next person needs to be fed.

I spend the next fifteen minutes feeding Cal my chocolate pudding, which he opens his mouth for wide, like a sparrow receiving a worm from its mother.

* * *

After dinner I again read to Jimmy the letter which President Fairview sent us. It is very short and to the point: on June the fifth, in the year of 2077, anyone born before the year 1979 will be sent on the first expedition to Mars.

Then, in big bold letters, it reads:


"Play UNO with me now," Jimmy says, his face pale.

I sigh in irritation. "Fine. One game."

* * *

The longoid watches us in the window as we play. One game has turned into three. I don't understand why the longoid is still here. Why isn't he with his colony? What is so interesting about two old folks playing an obsolete game?

Every so often Jimmy steals a glance at the alien, who is watching us so intently it's giving me the creeps. After I win the third game, I stand up, my artificial knees making a popping sound, and walk to the window. I mean to shut the curtains on that peeping alien, but something in its eyes make me stop. Those dark, oval eyes hold a profound wise weariness that seems to come with age. I hold my palm against the window; the longoid reaches its thin gray arm towards me and places its seven fingered hand on the window glass.

Jimmy joins me by the window. "What does it want?"

I shake my head. "It is old, Jimmy, like us."

"I don't like him. Let's go back and play UNO."

"He will be dead soon."

Jimmy places his hand on the window. Tears well up in his eyes. "I wish things were the way they used to be."

Suddenly two nurses storm in, caring two synthetic Hefty bags. Without any explanation, they begin packing our possessions. All my needlework, pictures, and trinkets. When they start packing the UNO cards, Jimmy's eyes become full of fear.

"No! What are you doing with those?"

The nurse smiles placidly at Jimmy. "You won't need these anymore. When you come back from your trip, you will be interested in more intelligent games." Her pretty face wrinkles in disgust as she holds a black wild card. "Modern games."

Jimmy walks to the nurse, who has now disposed of all the cards.

"Please, give those back. They're mine."

The nurse doesn't look at him. She packs up the rest of the cards, then turns to leave. Jimmy starts to sob.

"Pleeeease! I need my UNO!"

As fast as my legs will take me, I attempt to catch the nurse who packed the UNO cards. She walks so fast, it is hard. My legs ache. When she is almost to the door way, I succeed in grabbing the back of her white shirt. I hold on tight, but she shrugs me off as if I'm a pesky insect.

They hurry out of the room, not looking back. I stand in the doorway, watching them rush off. I call her a UNO stealing bitch, but I don't think she hears me. She doesn't understand what it's like to need something insignificant to cope.

Jimmy goes back to the window and rests his head against the glass. His shoulders slump and he begins to beat his head against the glass, soft at first, then his banging gets increasingly harder. The longoid watches from the tree, then looks at me and shakes his head. I place my hand on Jimmy's shoulder and try to console him.

"It'll be okay," I say. "We'll find an old deck of cards, and we'll play a sort of UNO that way. We'll use suits instead of colors, and..."

Jimmy hurls his head so hard he cracks the glass and blood dribbles down his forehead. The longoid straightens up in the tree and watches me, as if waiting for me to do something.

"It won't be the same!" Jimmy cries.

Two orderlies, with muscles rippling under their white uniforms, rush into our room. Their eyes are full of contempt, which they direct at Jimmy. Before I fully understand their presence, Jimmy is being led out of our room with his arms held behind his back. Jimmy makes a feeble attempt to look at me before he is taken out of the room, but it is no use. The orderlies push him forward, and Jimmy slips and almost falls on his face.

As he is led down the hallway, I hear his desperate cry: "Please, I don't care what you do to me, just give me back my UNO!"

After Jimmy is gone, I pace back and forth by the window. Every so often I lean against the window ledge to catch my breath and rub the circulation back in my legs, then, feeling somewhat restored, I resume my pacing. The longoid watches me intently, and soon I feel like a nervous animal pacing in its cage as it is on display at a zoo.

Twenty minutes later Jimmy limps through the door. His eyes are blood shot and his hands are shaking. I help him lie down on the bed. "What did they do to you?"

"They gave me some type of shot." Jimmy sighs, long and deep, then continues. "It was horrible. I couldn't think straight. And, for a moment, I had forgotten what UNO was!"

Tears slide down his face and rest in the crevices of his wrinkles. His gaze turns toward the window. A look of pure shock is on his face for a moment, but then his expression relaxes and he says, "Why is it still here?"

"I dunno, Jimmy."

We lie silently on the bed for awhile, and soon I hear Jimmy's light snoring. As he sleeps I watch the longoid in the tree as it watches Jimmy.

An hour later Jimmy wakes up.


"Don't call me that." My tone is pleasant. I am trying to make light of the situation.

"Sorry, hon." Jimmy suddenly sounds chipper. "Will you play UNO with me now, please?"

* * *

It is not fun explaining to Jimmy what had transpired before. Slowly, reality sinks in and he recalls the horrible fact that his precious game is gone forever. There are no places that carry such an old, worthless game anymore. Instead of screaming and carrying on, he simply goes into a state of depression and stares at our white walls in a daze.

At 10:00 p.m. the staff makes a routine check to make sure everyone is in bed. Jimmy is still staring at the wall, placid and lifeless, when they check on us. They don't seem to care about Jimmy's state much: they roll their eyes and smirk at one another. "He mourns over a silly game? Absurd! He is lucky that Mars will change his pea-size mentality."

I hear their footsteps descend down the hall and I am glad. The longoid that sits in our tree gestures with his seven fingers for me to come to the window. I'm used to the alien's presence by now, and I go to the window without hesitation. He points with a long, bony finger toward the woods that is beyond Shady Pines parking lot. Then he climbs down from the tree and gestures for me to follow him.

"Jimmy," I say. "Come here."

Jimmy doesn't respond. He just sits on the bed, his gaze transfixed at the wall. I call him over to the window several times; finally I go to him and grab his hand and lead him to the window. He shuffles along, not really caring what has piqued my interest, but not pulling away from me, either. "Look it," I say, and point to the longoid. "He wants us to follow him."

Jimmy focuses on the longoid, who is waving for us to come. Jimmy seems to be numb to the turn of events. He shrugs his shoulders listlessly, then bows his head, looking defeated.

I pry the window open and remove the screen. It is several feet to the ground. The night air blows against my face, and, even though my arms pierce with pain from opening the window, I feel refreshed. The alien looks up at me and crosses his longs arms, as if impatient. I shake my head. There is no way Jimmy and I can make it to the ground by ourselves. Forty years ago, yes. But not now.

The longoid seems to sense this. He climbs up the tree and, standing on a thick, protruding branch, reaches over and takes my hand. I step out on the branch, but I feel myself slipping. I am too old to balance myself; I close my eyes, knowing even a short fall as this will break my brittle bones.

I feel myself being lifted with strong arms. The longoid carries me to the ground as if I am a sack of feathers. He sets me on the ground gently, and we both look up at Jimmy. He is looking down at us in confusion. The longoid climbs up to him, and Jimmy lets the alien carry him down. Once we are on the ground I whisper, "We have to be quiet, so they don't hear us." If we are caught, we'd be given a shot of something much stronger than what Jimmy had before, I am sure.

I take Jimmy's hand and we follow the longoid. Jimmy is perking up again. He seems to accept the alien creature, as I am. This is the first time I've ever been so close to one, and it is not what I expected. What did I expect? Well, something more alien, I guess. His skin was not slimy when he touched me, as I thought it would be. And his gestures are so human. And he smiles at us as if we are not just a couple of old people who need so much.

I know he thinks of us as equals.

Once we are at the edge of the woods, Jimmy whispers, "Do you think he has my UNO cards?"

I squeeze Jimmy's hand as best I can, for my grip is weak. I don't have the heart to tell him his UNO cards have been reduced to nothing. They do not exist.

* * *

I am shocked at what the longoid wants to show us in the heart of the woods. A grave has been dug and other longoids stand around it in a circle. The longoid that was at our window all day walks up to the grave with its head held high, turns to us, then waves. His huge oval eyes are full of sadness.

Jimmy and I watch all this from several feet away. We lean up against a tree, still holding hands. The longoid hops into his grave and the rest of his colony cover him up with dirt.

"Why are they doing that?" Jimmy seems to have forgotten his UNO cards for the moment.

"That's what they do to their old, Jimmy."


I sigh. Ten years ago, when the longoids first arrived, people were made aware of their customs. I repeat what Jimmy has forgotten.

"Because otherwise they will never die. Living in the canals of Mars has made them that way."

Jimmy tries to take all of this in. He rubs his forehead, as if this information has given him a head ache. "I wanna play UNO," he says.

I don't tell Jimmy anything else. Not about the longoids giving the earth a cure for cancer, and the failed cure they gave us for the plague that has swept the earth for a hundred years: AIDS. Neither do I tell him the reason they bury their old in the dirt. They do it to make room for their growing population; they have already taken up so much earth's space, over-running our parks and all other open spaces. But they do it for a more important reason: once their bodies decompose it provides food for their loved ones. They did it on Mars, and they do it here.

We stay in the woods after they are done burying our friend. Now I think of him as our friend. Jimmy and I watch as they dance and chant around the grave. Gray smoke billows up from the dirt. He is slowly dying.

"Why are they here?" Jimmy asks.

"They love our dirt," I say.


I shake my head. I don't know why.

* * *



We walk slowly back to Shady Pines, leaning on each other. I wanted to stay longer, but Jimmy became too cold. After the gray smoke had cleared the longoids began their feast. They ate our friend's grave, taking huge handfuls of dirt and cramming it into their mouths. Surprisingly, the sight didn't disgust me. Instead I felt a certain completeness in the act. If I had a taste for dirt, I would have joined them.

All the way back he asks me to play UNO. I don't tell him his game is gone because he is so happy thinking that it is back in our room, waiting for him.

"You can go first," he says. "I'll deal."

Suddenly bright lights shine on us. The two orderlies who came for Jimmy before rush upon us. They take our arms and drag us back to Shady Pines. They're not rough, really. But their grips dig into my muscles, and I wince in pain.

"It wouldn't hurt if you'd just cooperate."

I try to keep up with the orderlies, so they know I am cooperating. But it's hard. Jimmy is having the same problem. He stumbles, but the orderly catches him.

"What were you two doing out here?"

"Just taking a walk," I say.

They shake their heads as if we are the stupidest people in the world. "What would have happened if you fell and broke a hip?"

"I woulda had Jimmy bury me."
This time the orderly's grip tightens with the intent to hurt. Intense pain shoots up my arm and towards my shoulder. I cry out.

"I wanna play UNO," Jimmy says.

We are both given a shot and taken back to our rooms. We lie on the bed, our arms entwined. My mind is fading fast, and I welcome the oblivion that is approaching.


I'm too out of it to correct him. "Hmm?"

"Will I ever get to play UNO again?"

My thoughts and feelings are erased. All I know is darkness. Perhaps it's better this way?

In the morning Jimmy and I are awakened by the two orderlies. They smile at us and a man, all dressed in yellow scrubs, peers at us with cold blue eyes.

"Is this really necessary?" one says.

The man in the yellow scrubs grins; he also has yellow teeth.

"Completely. We can't expect them to have total compliance, after their little stunt they pulled last night."

With that he plunges the needle into my arm. The last thing I see are nurses wheeling in two stretchers. I hear the man in yellow say something, but it doesn't quite register. Once again, I welcome the erasing darkness. It must be better this way.

* * *


I awake to the sound of computers beeping over my head. I am in some sort of glass case, like a coffin. Jimmy is by my side. I am not awake, but neither am I asleep. I am somewhere in between, floating there. I hear Jimmy mumbling, in thick words, "Please, Lord, all I need are my UNO cards, nothing else."

The darkness is my salvation. I sense it coming, like a huge tidal wave. Before it engulfs me, I picture the longoid. Somehow, his wide, intelligent eyes are a great comfort.

* * *

Mars is beautiful. It humbles me. People lead us through a red windstorm that billows around us in grand sweeps. I wish to take off my oxygen suit to fully enjoy it. Jimmy is beside me, holding my hand. We step over craters; I feel light and buoyant, as if I could jump to Heaven. My legs no longer ache. For the moment, Jimmy is no longer speaking about UNO. I see Cal a few feet away, walking.

We are led to a canal. There are so many of us I can't count. We are all pushed into the underground red caves. I look for the thick running water that would bring us our long, pain-free life.

The canals are empty.

The words the awful man in yellow spoke before I succumbed to darkness comes to me: "We need all the old we can get. The canals need to be flourished."

The longoid had given Jimmy and I a prophecy. We are the sacrifice to Mars. Of course, there are so many more diseases on earth that need curing. Why would they waste the precious canal water, if there was any, on the old?

Our entrance ways are closed off. We are bathed in darkness. Cries echo throughout the canal; I grab Jimmy's hand and we lean against the wall. How long before our oxygen runs out?

"I wanna play UNO," Jimmy says, his last plea to the darkness. Even the alien soil of Mars could not curb his desire for very long.

"Soon, Jimmy," I say.

I wonder if their plan will work. Will all our corpses feed the canals and produce the flow of water once again? Surely that is another reason the longoids buried their old here. Perhaps it is why their tradition first began. All their old do not equal even the quarter of us that are here, though. If the plan works, perhaps we will give earth the cure for AIDS. Surely that is noble?

No more time to ponder, for sweeps of the barren red soil drop upon my face plate. Jimmy and I hold tight to one another. The soil drops faster, more abundant, covering us in a crimson blanket. I struggle to breathe, but only get stale air inside the oxygen suit. Jimmy's body goes limp in my arms.

I hold tight to the image of the longoid. His wise oval eyes are etched into my soul. Even as the erasing darkness is upon me, I am not alone.

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