by David Kary
When the first boovahs appeared, they were lovelier than anything the people had known. Koalas, bush babies, red pandas, or any other of the world’s most adorable animals seemed almost plain in comparison. It was as if the boovah’s features had been chosen from a catalog of nature’s best and stitched together into one harmonious package, a perfect combination of beauty and helplessness.
They said it was impossible to turn away when a boovah looked up at you with its big green eyes. People with delicate constitutions were known to faint in their presence, overstimulated to the point that they forgot to breathe. But for all their beauty, and the power that came with it, boovahs were affectionate by nature, never haughty or mean. People would hold them in their arms for hours, gently stroking their chinchilla-soft fur. Boovahs soaked up their love like sponges, cooing rhythmically as if they were singing songs without knowing the words.
By pet standards, boovahs were low maintenance. They did not need to be walked, since they got all the exercise they needed by stretching and romping around the house, and they were never known to scratch the furniture or poop on the carpet. They did their business in a litter box, depositing odorless turds and the occasional spritz of pine-scented urine.
Prices were astronomical at first—a textbook case of strong demand meeting short supply—but they were easy to breed and before long every family could afford a boovah, or two, or eventually several. Boovahs were soon found around the world. They even became popular in countries with no previous custom of keeping house pets. It got to the point where traditional pets could not compete. Within ten years it was unheard of for anyone to keep a cat, dog, hamster or bunny rabbit in the house. The cats that survived lived as ferals. The only dogs that were kept were the working breeds, animals that performed traditional duties like guarding junkyards or guiding the blind.
Many mothers and fathers became so infatuated with their boovahs that they began to ignore the needs of their own offspring. This rarely reached the point that the state had to intervene, but it’s clear that children were knocked down a rung or two. It was a common occurrence, for example, for youngsters to be asked to give up their bedrooms so that the family could keep its gaggle of boovahs in greater comfort. The children, owing to their own affection for boovahs, usually did so willingly.
Demographers began to notice a steep drop in the human birth rate as more and more couples saw no point in producing a baby that would always be secondary in their affections. This led to countless government appeals to have more babies, with little success. In time the authorities learned to frame their appeals more strategically, by pointing out that human depopulation would mean that many helpless, beautiful boovahs would be left without caregivers. This helped slow the population decline slightly, but not enough. While everyone agreed that human depopulation was an impending catastrophe, they firmly believed that it was someone else’s job to do something about it.
Government agencies and private think tanks debated the matter, ultimately getting nowhere. Theirs was a difficult, thankless task. Not only were they facing a complex problem that was unprecedented in human history, they also resented how their work prevented them from spending enough time with the boovahs in their lives. It hardly seemed fair that they had to bear responsibility for solving this problem when it deprived them of the blissful communion that everyone else enjoyed.
The data eventually pointed the way to a solution, as it came to light that a small number of householders, distributed more or less evenly around the world, were continuing to procreate at the traditional rate. Their affection for boovahs, it seemed, was somewhat measured, leaving room in their lives for children and other pursuits. And most importantly, they were passing this trait on to their offspring. In the course of one generation, individuals of this sort were increasing in number while the rest of the population declined. With families like these in the mix, the demographers predicted that the human population would eventually stabilize.
Once these more “resistant” types were known to be doing their part, billions could stop regenerating in good conscience. A period of massive population decline ensued, as forecast, and many large cities emptied out over the years, but soon enough the census figures began to stabilize. By then, however, less than half of the population was human, and they were oblivious to that fact, having never realized that boovahs were not the only exotics in their midst. We, the dutiful procreators, had infiltrated their ranks generations earlier. And as our numbers continued to grow, we congregated in a few large centers in locations that best suited our habitation and supported these with a low-impact agricultural infrastructure in the surrounding countryside.
The last human died at the age of 117, surrounded by 11 of her favorite boovahs. We had sloughed off our fleshy disguises several years before, once the remaining few humans were tucked away in care homes. After many hard years hiding our true identities, we were at last able to live out in the open, in accordance with our own customs and lifestyle.
Just as no humans were killed in the course of this gentle conquest, no boovahs met a premature death in its aftermath. When they became redundant, they went to care homes of their own. Today, after many years of humane population control, there are only a few thousand left. They no longer have strategic value, but we are grateful.
David Kary spent his formative years in a farming community on the Canadian prairies and now lives in suburban Philadelphia, where he scratches out a living in the field of educational services. In the intervening years he worked as a tree planter, a philosophy instructor, a dog licensing inspector, and a technical writer. Previous short fiction has appeared in Aethlon and The Prairie Journal of Canadian Literature.
I think there are a few philosophical questions lurking in “Among Them,” but the one that interests me the most is whether there’s anything morally wrong with this gentle conquest. The ‘conquerors’ didn’t do anything wrong according to their moral lights. Did they do anything wrong according to our own moral understanding, assuming you can ignore the fact that we weren’t on the winning side?