The billboards appeared overnight. Reviews of the cctv footage could not find when they were put up, simply that between one day and the next, they were there.
Scenes of nature.
Cool forests, damp with chill, autumnal dew.
Bears scooping up salmon from the river.
White beaches and clear blue ocean.
The initial reaction was disbelief. It was news that resonated with everyone, especially when the administration had no answers to account for the arrival of the billboards.
The second reaction was a general increase in happiness throughout the city. People smiled a little easier, their work was more of a pleasure to them and they slept a little better.
It was pointed out that the joy taken in the images would prove to be counter-productive in their long term psychological health. The type of person who pointed these things out found that they were no longer invited to parties. They ended up indoors, alone, listlessly messaging anyone they thought might answer and dying by degrees.
They were right as it happened.
The third reaction was anger.
All those images were of things that were gone. The people who had taken those photographs had done so in ignorance of how wasteful they were being. It unnerved people, who had enough things going on in their lives to worry about as it was.
They tried to be civil about it. They would drive their cars and park together, facing away from it and sharing food they had brought. They were the masters of nature; they did not need to be reminded of its death. They had no use for it. The plastic food they ate had all the nutrients their bodies needed. They had needed those resources more than the other animals had.
More billboards went up in response. The administration commissioned a task force to investigate the billboards which was the same as not doing anything. They were still waiting to see what other people thought before giving their opinion on it.
People vandalised the billboards. They made their own statements over it, and when words failed them, they burned them or threw paint over them. Some people started to like burning things so much that they decided not to stop at billboards. They tried to restrict themselves to small fires, but their tolerance for it grew and even empty properties stopped being enough.
There were more billboards after each attack. Advertisers began to look to newspapers and television for their audience again and the media raised their rates to punish the advertisers. The advertisers had to put their prices up and people lost their jobs.
The billboards continued to proliferate.
It was on a Wednesday when the first full page advertisement appeared in the paper. A snowy mountain peak, with a snow leopard staring out at the reader, its eyes glittering with the elegant question.
How could you do this to me?
The newspapers had to field extra staff to handle the complaints. They had to call the police to handle the protests.
Subscriptions went up thirty percent.
All the newspapers soon had the advertisements. Some of them tried to make up their own and offered product placement opportunities but everyone knew the difference.
One day, all the newspapers were taken over by the images. Their proliferation had made them bold, and the images grew more intense. More visceral.
People huddled around their televisions, desperate to look at day-glo and plastic. They threw out anything that resembled natural materials or skins. The newspapers went unsold.
The administration had decided that they were against the billboards.
By then, it was too late. The billboards had infested everywhere, and finally the people broke with grief for something that had never been theirs in the first place.
The billboards watched as the broken remnants of civilisation wandered around them, scrabbling over the remains of everything that had once been bountiful. Their true forms, watching from another universe considered their work done and looked outwards at the radio signals that bore their kind, simple images.
There was always more work to be done.