They Mostly Come at Night

January 5, 2017 at 12:00 AM
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‘There are no such thing as monsters.” That’s what my mommy used to say. She would tuck me into bed, make sure that my favorite doll, Casey was in my arms and tell me, “There is nothing to be scared of; there are no monsters, no real monsters.”

She would whisper these words to me mostly at night because that’s when the monsters like to come out. At night when the walls would vibrate from machinery humming in the service tunnels and sub-basements below. I needed to hear those words when the wind would scream and howl from the unstable air currents and unpredictable weather patterns that came with an atmosphere being changed by a terraforming station. The turbines from dozens of filtration exchange towers ensured the sky was never still as it took in the cold, alien environment and infused hot oxygen-nitrogen gasses into the air. Just like the rhyme my daddy would sing with me, “Bad air goes in, good air comes out.”

I would need reminding one more time when the giant atmospheric processing station brought the rain by releasing electrical discharges into the clouds. That was when the monsters scared me the most. The lightning and thunder were the sound they made when they tried to get inside. The wind was the monster’s voice, and the rain was its nails, clicking and tapping at the windows of my living quarters. My mommy would come and make it all better and say, “There are no such thing as monsters.”

Monsters killed my mommy and daddy.

They were real. Monsters were real, and they were here. The grownups promised they would keep us safe. They told us everything would be all right, and help was on its way. They lied. Our little settlement was so far away; it would take up to two weeks for the nearest outpost to reach us. The monsters were smart and patient. When there was only a few of them, they quietly picked off the families living in the habitat modules on the outskirts of the colony. The ones whose disappearance wouldn’t be noticed right away. As their numbers increased, the monsters began to hunt in packs. It wasn’t long before there was enough of them and they didn’t need to hide anymore. The monsters were coming. They were coming for each and every last one of us.

The central air processing station was just outside the colony’s perimeter. It was the primary terraforming control center for the other automated terraforming substations spread across the small planet’s surface. The majority of the grown-ups spent most of their waking hours here, including my mommy. They were all doing their part to make this tiny world breathable. “Building Better Worlds,” like all the signs and videos say.

The monsters crashed through the ceiling and tore through the floor grating; catching everyone by surprise. Only a week ago, there was one hundred and fifty-eight of us. After the attack on the processing station, we had lost eighty-four people. Those of us left, gathered together for safety. We had to move quickly. We knew what the monsters did to you if they took you. We knew that for every one of us taken, their numbers would grow. We knew we didn’t have much time.

The monsters grew so fast. We learned that from my daddy. He was the first. They thought I couldn’t hear. They thought I wouldn’t know. But I saw it all. My daddy was still in the infirmary, and I would visit him often without him knowing. Hidden within the ventilation shaft, I would see him in the morning and whisper a “good night” before going to bed. He was just talking to the doctor when he cried out in pain, and they rushed him out of the room.

The grownups may have ruled the corridors and hallways, but the kids owned the vents and shafts. That was our playground! That was where we would play games like Monster Maze, and I was the best! The other kids were jealous because I could fit into places the others couldn’t. They couldn’t memorize the turns and corners like me. I could go anywhere in the complex and never be seen, not once. So finding my way to where they took my daddy was a breeze. I didn’t need to remember which shaft to take through the winding and turning tunnels—the screams echoed loud and clear.

I followed the sounds to the grilled screen that would allow me to peer into the medical compartment. I made myself look, but in the end, I closed my eyes to the horror. The screams hurt my ears. He was in so much pain. I covered my mouth to hold in a scream when a deep snap of bone startled everyone in the room. My daddy fell quiet and still. Suddenly, I could hear his body thrash and convulse violently, and the medical personnel began yelling in confusion and fear. They tried to hold him down, but the convulsions were too strong. People gasped and screamed at the sound of a loud crunch and snaps followed by what sounded like a bucket of water spilling to the ground and spraying the walls. My daddy’s screams were no more than wet gurgles by now and then I heard it. A loud and piercing screech came from something in the room, something that was angry, evil, and alien. It hissed loudly and scurried violently in the opposite direction, knocking over tools and equipment as it made its escape.

The last of us gathered in the safest place left, the Primary Operations Center. My daddy once told me it was the very first building in the colony. The original settlers had lived in here back when they couldn’t breathe the air and the Operations Center’s thick walls, and many pressurized doors protected them from the freezing temperatures and poisonous atmosphere.

The adults put the kids in the center of the complex on the top level. They said the Medical section was the safest place for us. We listened as the grown-ups did everything possible to block off entryways, weld shut each blast door and close off every service tunnel. All access points were barricaded, and all the main entry gates were sealed shut. When all was said and done, there was nothing left to do but wait in the silence and fear the approach of nighttime, because everyone knows that the monsters mostly come at night, mostly.

The planetoid rotates once every fifty-seven hours; that makes for a very long night. Here, when the darkness falls, it feels like it will never end. The monsters didn’t come the first night or the second night, but they were there. Their large bodies pressed and slid against the outer bulkheads. Powerful talons scraped against steel and drooling jaws extended and clenched. A piercing shriek would call out and echo in the distance now and then. The monster’s cries would startle us, causing screams of fright and tears from most of the children.

We continued to wait.

It started on the third day with a metallic “thunk,” “thunk,” “thunk,” from the North Gate. It echoed throughout the corridors. Anything not bolted down, rattled and shook. I could see relief wash over some of the adult’s faces. The waiting was finally over. The beating at the massive door, three levels down, grew louder in intensity. The children were gathered together and hurriedly rushed into medical isolation bays only used for storage. I didn’t like this room. Even though it housed many rows of containers and equipment and good places to hide, there was no vents or shaft in here; there was no way to escape.

We watched from the monitoring station that had been set up within the medical bay. The adults began readying themselves. Most had small handguns and charges used for geological excavation. There were even a few crude flame throwers. The strikes to the massive door became relentless.

The pounding grew louder from massive blows now coming from the West Gate.

The monsters were slamming into the steel door so hard and so fast, I could swear I felt the floor vibrate. They screamed with such anger from behind the barriers that blocked their way.

The sounds of pounds and bangs became deafening. Claws and talons were now beating at the East Gate.

The echoes of metal being hit with massive, inhuman force now came at us from all directions when impacts fell against the main, South Gate.

The bending and tearing of metal were heard throughout the complex and shrieks of victory roared out from alien lungs. We watched the blurry, dark shapes fill the monitor screens. Screams and hisses echoed from the lower levels as they tore down every barrier or obstacle. They filled the hallways, scurrying on the ceiling, walls, and floor. They were coming for us.

The monsters fell on the people defending our last and only defense like a wall of black water. The grown-ups opened fire, tossed their explosives and sprayed fire from flamethrowers. Smoke filled the room making it hard to see. Powerful arms shot out from the ceiling, and long fingers grabbed at anyone within their reach. The monsters poured into the cramped space, slamming into the people. Screams of terror and breaking of bone came over the speakers. Images of blood and flesh filled our eyes from the small video monitors. Despite the wounds and injuries inflicted on them, it was painfully obvious that none of the adults had been killed. Every last one of them was alive when they were dragged away screaming into the darkness.

It was over quickly. Soon, every last grown-up in Operations was gone. Dangling legs lifted into the air vents disappeared. The monsters gathered around those who struggled or were capable of fending them off. They were cornered and maimed by teeth and claws. Hands or feet were torn and severed from their body. Obviously, it was easier to manage and carry off their prey if it was crippled. Screams for help and pleas for death slowly faded into the distance.

The remaining grown-ups sealed the hatchway to the main access door for our section and stood between us and the approaching nightmares. They peeled away the hatch as if it was tin foil, and they were at the view ports and observation windows that lined the medical bay, hitting and scratching at the dura-glass. They shattered it in no time and began swarming into the medical bay. Gunshots rung loud and screams from adults and children came from all directions. Monsters were leaping through the air, pouncing on any victims within their sight. They crawled on the walls and ceiling, plucking running children off their feet by their hair or even by their entire head from large, six-fingered claws.

I cowered under an overturned medical bed when I locked eyes with a boy who couldn’t have been more than seven. His arms were locked in a death grip around a support beam. Two monsters pounced on him and began pulling and jerking him violently. Amazingly, he maintained his grip around the metal beam and would not let go. I screamed in horror when they broke his arms and pried him off of that beam. His face had no expression or emotion. His limp arms trailed loosely behind him when they carried him away. He never broke his stare on me. He did not scream—not once.

A woman flew across the room, smashing into a large fume hood to the right and rear of the large room. Her broken body lay over the destroyed workstation. The impact had toppled over the instrument and dislodged its upper panel, revealing a narrow ventilation duct within the wall. In a flash, I remembered the school day-trip last month to see the scientists. It was the same type of instrument. The one used for dangerous chemicals. It was a dura-glass enclosure with two access openings for the hands. They would stick their hands through the openings attached to thick gloves and pour their chemicals from the inside without breathing the fumes. The scientist said the fumes were then removed from the complex by the exhaust fans.

I got to my feet and dove for the tiny opening. Three monsters, hunched on all fours, charged from the destroyed viewport. I entered the duct only to discover it immediately went from ground level to a vent that went straight up the wall. I pressed my body as far as I could to avoid the claws that were reaching in for me. It pushed itself relentlessly into the small opening, wedging itself further into the duct. The slick coat of slime glistened on the claws that were inching closer. The tips of its nails were nicking my clothes. I could feel the pull of the fabric grow firmer each time before the threads would break.

I had one chance; I stood and placed one hand on each side of the vent, hopped off the ground and pressed my feet against the walls to hold me up. I shimmied up the shaft bit by bit. Carefully, but as quick as I could manage, I had made it more than halfway up the duct’s distance when the scraping and beating of claws filled my ears from below. When I lifted myself into the junction, I twisted myself into the opening and briefly my eyes fell on the monster beneath me.

I had never seen one this close. Its arm were extended and wedged under its massive head. The elongated head was cocked at an abnormal angle to face me. Transparent lips were quivering and curled over long and shiny fangs. Thick, clear drool poured out of its open mouth. It didn’t even struggle anymore; it just looked at me. It had no eyes, but it still looked at me. A low and deep hiss began to build from within its chest until it was a piercing shriek! It was speaking to me. It… it was trying to tell me something. It was screaming how much it hated me. I turned from the shrieks of rage and quickly made my way into the ventilation system. It wasn’t long before I knew exactly where I was. I disappeared into the network of ducts, shafts, and pipes—the maze I knew so well.

I have been all by myself for two weeks now. This tiny sub-compartment cradled in an entanglement of pipe and support strut beams of the environmental control system has become my home. The ventilation fan spins above me; the monsters keep their distance from its blades. The metal beams and large pipes keep me far out of the reach of any monster’s claws. I only leave my haven to scavenge for food. I avoid the main conduits in the ventilation system and stick to the smaller secondary shafts where the monster cannot fit.

The monsters rule the corridors and hallways, but I own the vents and shafts. That is my playground! That was where I used to play games like Monster Maze, and I was the best! The monsters are angry because I can fit into places they can’t. I have every turn and corner memorized. I can go anywhere in this complex and never be seen; not once.

The monsters can’t see me.

Monsters.

My mommy used to tell me there were no monsters, no real monsters; but there are.

Credit: Killahawke1

U.S.S. February

December 20, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Radio waves have traveled through and past the Earth’s atmosphere for decades. They carried snapshots of humanity out into infinity. Music, broadcasts, TV shows, news commentary; it was all out there, racing away at the speed of light.

The antenna from the U.S.S. February’s lifeboat angled itself automatically; detecting a signal from one of the sectors within its reach. The ship’s computer extrapolated the data and converted it to an audio signal. It concluded that it was merely old data from long ago. Per protocol, it routed the signal through the ship’s comm system for its occupant to assess. The signal emerged through the distortion, and a song began to play throughout the bulkheads and corridors of the small vessel.

(“Hangin’ on.”)

(“Here until I’m gone.”)

(“Right where I belong,”)

(“Just hangin’ on”)

The tiny lifeboat drifted through space at the half the speed of light. The last survivor of the U.S.S. February watched as the small blue dot grew larger in the forward viewport. Having spent weeks to travel the distance, if it were not for thoughts of a wife and beautiful daughter, madness would have prevailed.

We were heralded as heroes and all of mankind bid us farewell when we were shot into the emptiness of space, two hundred and fifty-four days ago. Twenty men and women, chosen from all nations were ambassadors of humanity with a message of peace and goodwill.

(“Even though,”) An answer,

(“Watched you come and go.”) to the voice that called out from the void.

(“How was I to know you’d steal the show?”) An intelligent mind, telling us we were not alone.

The whole world will remember the day we heard the transmission, originating past Mars, within the asteroid belt. It came from a small dwarf planet, now glowing in the dark—the lights of Ceres brightened in anticipation.

(“One day I’ll have enough to gamble.”) I left My wife and little girl to make them proud.

(“I’ll wait to hear your final call,”) Soon, Humanity would never be the same again.

(“Bet it all.”) We were wrong! We were so wrong!

We don’t belong out here!

(“Hangin’ on.”) We found the signal’s source.

(“Here until I’m gone.”) Under the planet’s crust.

(“Right where I belong,”) Humanoids.

(“Just hangin’ on.”) A settlement, a colony; long dead and gone.

(“Even though,”) It was tens of thousands of years old.

(“Pass this time alone,”) Frozen in ice.

(“Somewhere so unknown, it heals the soul”) The remnants of a society— dead for centuries. There was no one here alive who could have sent that message.

A small portion of the alien site was exposed and free from the ice. Recent seismic activity and hot gasses from the planetoid’s core melted away a section, allowing entry into the structure. We donned our pressure suits and anxiously made our way into the depths of the cavern. We would be the first to lay eyes on the remains of an alien culture.

They weren’t much different from us. They were an artistic people and adorned the walls and buildings with pictures and imagery of a strange and far away home world. The looked so much like us.

What we found frozen in the ground was not like us.

We found an ancient, mangled machine. Lined along its structure were artistic depictions of the device displayed side by side. We deduced it was their environmental system. It was the source of their heat, air, and water. We followed the trail of beautifully rendered portraits giving hints of the machine’s functions and abilities. Each work of art was more stunning than the next. We came to the last image and stood there stunned. This final picture seemed to show them detonating an explosive and destroying this vital machine themselves.

An indentation in the smooth, frozen ground caught our attention. Through the ice, we could see a shape. It was fleshy and looked as if three to four bodies were fused into one. Each of its limbs was contorted and deformed. Arms were long and bent at odd and abnormal angles. Teeth protruded from mouths that didn’t belong. Pupils from eyes that shouldn’t be there stared back at us. It was a mockery to the harmony of nature. It was an abomination towards the symmetry and beauty of life.

The cavern was unstable from the continuous seismic activity. The only relic of true value within reach was this thing frozen in the ice. With plasma torches in hand, we raced to cut it out of the ground and carry it back to the February. With our payload safely stowed aboard, we prepared for our journey home.

The cave had been there for centuries. Maybe it was our cutting, or the ship landing on the crater’s surface, or a combination of both, but the foundation below the crater began to collapse with the cavern. We barely managed to lift off. We were so busy congratulating ourselves on our narrow escape that never bothered to check in on our new cargo. It had begun to thaw.

What we unleashed was malicious and cruel and had only one goal— to consume us and make us part of it. It picked us off one by one, in secret. It absorbed its victim, mimicking them in every way. There was no way to tell who was still human and who had been replaced. Paranoia overcame us; no one could be trusted.

Every part of this thing, all the way down to the cellular level, was sentient and could infect a viable host. The larger organisms would attack with a primal rage and captured its prey. Still alive, the victim would struggle and scream in agony as the creature absorbed them. In less than an hour, a slab of flesh would break off from its body and begin to develop in form. Soon, it would look and act exactly like the person it had devoured.

The smaller particulates of the creature would hide within the body like a microbe. It secretly absorbed and devoured the flesh and tissue from the inside; the host unaware of its presence. It would only reveal itself if threatened or given an opportunity to propagate itself. It would emerge in an explosion of flesh, blood, tentacles and tendrils, teeth and claws.

In less than twenty-four hours, there were only six of us left. We cowered on the bridge in despair. We mourned for what needed to be done. We knew it was only a matter of time before it overcame us. We knew we could not risk bringing it back with us. We knew we could never return home.

Humans were not capable of piloting a starship at the speeds obtained by the February. Complex course adjustments and corrections needed to be performed instantaneously. Interstellar navigation was under computer controlled, and we were locked into a course for Earth. In two hours, the ship’s main computer would perform a course correction to avoid one of the many uncharted asteroids in the sector. If an overload occurred in three of the auxiliary power distribution nodes, the central computer would crash, taking down the ship’s navigational controls. In time it would take for a full system reboot, the window for a course adjustment would have passed, and thirty minutes later, we would impact into the asteroid’s surface, traveling at 24,000 mph.

The Captain stood over me, handing me tools before I climbed down the air shaft and squeezed into the claustrophobic maintenance duct, barely wider than the width of my shoulders. The tube would open into a secondary airlock junction. From there I could access a service port and emerge behind the computer’s secondary cooling unit and blow the power nodes. I started to descend into the dark below.

A crash from overhead sounded, and the bridge went dark. The backup lights flashed from emergency strobes that illuminated a massive and formless shape in brief glimpses between bursts of light and dark. The thing was covered with thin, worm-like tendrils that shook and rattled with a seizure-like intensity. The tendrils shot out from its body like arrows, piercing everyone within its range. A tendril punctured the back of the captain’s head with incredible force, and emerged from her forehead, spraying me with her blood. It branched out quickly over her head and face, re-entering her flesh through her skin, eyes, and mouth.

I sealed the service hatch, putting as much distance between me and the screams of pain and agony.

Having disabled the power nodes, I made the decision—I did not need to die here. It was just me, no one else to worry about. No one to fear that they might have a monster hidden within their blood. It was safe for me to take the escape shuttle and go home.

I departed the February and watched it impact the asteroid in a magnificent flash of light. I caught sight of my reflection in the viewport glass and saw the blood on my face begin pool together and disappear under my skin. Paralyzed by terror, the realization hit me hard— I had been deceived. I waited for it to start feasting on my flesh. I waited for it to tear and shred the parts of me that make me who I am. I waited for the end.

It never came.

It screamed in my head, wanting to know what I was and how could I resist its attempts to consume me. The truth was, I didn’t know. Something about me was different and capable of hindering its ability to assimilate me. Yes, I could resist it, but I could not overcome it. My body had reacted violently to its trespassing. I had severely weakened it, but slowly it began to overwhelm whatever unique gift I had that opposed it. The fingers on my right hand began to elongate, and slits appeared on my knuckles with crimson irises peeking out from underneath.

While I slept, it disabled the communication relay preventing me from warning Antarctic Control about the coming danger I was carrying. While it slept, I disabled the ship’s wireless receiver. It wanted to know why I had done this. I buried my secret deep in my mind and thought only of my wife Melissa and my daughter Kylie.

It had complete control of my right side, and I had to restrain my right arm with a belt strap to prevent it from attacking myself.

A distorted mouth was forming on my stomach. Wet lips were emerging from my skin and separating from each other.

Open sores with the weeping faces of my crewmates screamed and let out the most frightening moans of anguish and torment from my body.

Soon the orbital docking station came into view, orbiting high above Earth. This game of “King of the Mountain” between the two of us had come to an end. It was time for us to make our final move. The shuttle began to position itself to start its approach towards the docking module. The thing surged in growth and dominance over my body. It craved and desired the new flesh it was about to encounter.

To its surprise and rage, I taunted it with the secret it was unable to scrape out of my mind. While it knew everything about me, I was starting to get images about it. I began to understand it. I could see where it came from and what its purpose was. Most of all, and most importantly, I saw its arrogance and pride. It basked in its self-perceived superiority. It was so focused and enraged at being mocked; it took no notice of the message flashing on the display.

“COMMUNICATION ERROR. INTERLOCK ALIGNMENT FAILURE. DOCKING APPROACH TERMINATED. ALERT. ABORT. ABORT.”

By disabling the wireless receiver, remote docking was not possible. It would have to be done manually.

(“You ask for walls; I’ll build them higher.”) I created a mental barrier to keep it a bay.

(“We’ll lie in shadows of them all.) It clawed and beat at the mental wall, rapidly tearing it down.

(“I’d stand, but they’re much too tall,”) I kept it distracted until it was too late.

“MANUAL CONTROLS ENGAGED”

(“And I fall.”) I took back control of my body, ignited the thrusters and sent the ship into a nose dive into the Earth’s atmosphere!

(“February Stars,”) The ship streaked across the sky,

(“Floating in the dark,) Illuminating the night.

(“Temporary scars,”) In desperation, it ripped through my skin and shattered my bones.

(“February Stars,”) The ground approached with frightening speed.

(“Floating in the dark,”) The hull was engulfed in flames.

(“Temporary scars,”) The heat was searing and blistering.

(“February Stars,”)

(“Feb..zztt..ars,”)

Melissa, you were my best friend and my soulmate. We were always meant to be with each other.

(“Fl..zzztttt in…zzttt..he dark,)

Kylie, I am sorry I won’t be there to see you grow up.

(“Temp..zzztttttt..ars,”)

But if you look up in the night and see a star burning in the dark, that will be me.

I am always with you.

(“Fe..zzzztttttt.”)

Daddy loves you.

(“Zzzzttttt……………….”)

(February Stars written by the Foo Fighters)

Credit: Killahawke1

The Quiet Sky

December 7, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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It started when we called out to the stars; into the darkness. We felt so small, tumbling through vast emptiness while clinging to the skin of the world, and without a single reason why. We were curious, yes, but ultimately I think we were just terribly frightened. And we were young, so very young. We were children, and like a lonely, lost child we did the only thing we could think of to make it stop. We did what we thought we had to do to make the universe make sense.

We called for help.

For years we scanned the sky for a sign. We sent signals to the stars in the darkness beyond.

“Are we alone?”

But the skies were quiet. Always so quiet; leaving us to our own makings.

But crying children never cease, and neither did we. We sent calls into every corner of space for decade after decade. We refused to believe no one was out there. They had to be. Yet, for some unknown reason, they never answered us.

Everyone remembers when that changed.

They think it responded to the Arecibo message from 1974. The response to the Arecibo message was received almost three months ago, in two separate parts. The first part of the message was received at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory in California. The Allen Telescope Array picked up what sounded like static interference that continued on for over an hour. It consisted of unintelligible screeching and buzzing sounds that continued without pause for the whole hour. The meaning of this message was never discovered, if it had one. The only thing we knew was that the signal’s origin came somewhere in the Hercules constellation, near Messier 13. As soon as that signal stopped, the real message began.

We made contact that day, and we were asked a question.

“Who. Is. There?”

It came not through the radios, but as a voice. A voice, inside all of our heads, asked the question to all of us. I heard it. My wife heard it. The young heard it and the old heard it. Even the deaf heard it. Everyone, everywhere, heard this voice whisper that question in their heads, in every language on Earth.

I remember it almost too clearly. It asked in that familiar, yet indescribable voice that’s always there in my mind. It was like one of my own thoughts had gone rogue, and had decided to speak directly to me. The world seemed to stop as everyone listened for what came next.

“Where. Are. You?”

The heavy question seemed to linger in our minds for hours afterwards, and then for days, and then for weeks. That day changed everything.

There were the doubters from the very beginning, and the “holy ones” who claimed that God had spoken to all of us and that the time to repent was now. There were those who claimed they’d heard nothing, and those who’d claim that the aliens had given them their own secret messages. And, of course, there were those who truly believed that we had been contacted for the first time by an extraterrestrial race like us; one ready to communicate. Ready to lead us out of the dark.

We were wrong.

We never made contact with alien life, at least, nothing comprehensible or discernible to human understanding. The stars are vast, and in their vastness our voices had touched the ears of something truly incomprehensible. Something hungry and malevolent. The Voice.

We realized our mistake when the ground started to groan.

Beneath our feet, everywhere, the ground seemed to moan. The muffled sounds shook through the dust and dirt below us. No one knew what was causing it, at least, not until the calls started coming in.

The graveyards were screaming.

All at once, the dead had started screaming. Every deceased man, woman, and child was turning in their graves. All the animals did so, too. Every dog, every cat, everything that had ever walked this earth. The cries of ancient whales shook the seas, and the shrill screeching of birds echoed in the forests. The caskets shook, and the morgues howled.

The voices stopped together, in an instant leaving the world in an amplified silence. In their absence, a new sound filled the air. The Voice returned.

“I. Hear. You.”

It came as a whisper from behind. An ominous, yet oddly playful, presence that felt so close, but was truly still so far away. It let us breathe in the silence for a minute before it made us a promise. It was a promise we all knew to be true.

“I. Am. Coming.”

The Voice was gone, and the air was again filled with screams. This time they were from the living.

After the Voice had gone we were left to our own devices. Millions panicked and rightfully so as chaos took hold of the streets. Many would die in the violence and the gunfire of that night. They would be known as the raptured before long, and the rest of us were the condemned. We could only wait.

The screaming dead was only the first of the side-effects that we felt as the Voice approached. The closer it got, the more we felt it.

That first night after the screaming we noticed the stars bleed for the first time. A section of the western sky had turned black, blacker than the night. It was only truly visible because of the ring of stars around it. The light from those stars had turned red, and they seemed to bleed across the sky like food coloring dropped into water. Their light swirled and flowed all around the edge of some unseen mass.

I knew then that I was staring into the face of the Voice. Our scientists claimed that nothing was there, and that their radar and scans always came up empty. Their telescopes could see nothing but darkness in that section of space. However, the proof was right in front of us as every night that ring of darkness got wider, and more stars bled in the sky.

We watched it come.

As each night passed, the black spot would widen, and more stars would distort and bleed around it. During the day a new hell would greet us. The side-effects worsened. The day always brought something new. I’m sure most of what happened will go untold and unknown.

The animals started disappearing. All of them. No tracks, traces, or bodies were left behind. Pets would run away, some violently so. They all retreated, never to be seen again. The forests were left abandoned, the oceans empty, the air was left silent. The world left seemed empty and lonely. They left like water receding from the shore, just before the tsunami breaks.

One day, about two weeks ago, scientists tried to talk to the Voice again. They hoped, perhaps, to reason with it. They told it about what was happening on our world, and asked it questions. The scientists begged. It didn’t speak. When asked what the Voice sent a response. The next night the skies lit up with streaks of fire. It was alight for hours, blazoned with orange and red. We didn’t realize the effects until the next day when the televisions turned to static, and the telephones refused to work. We had sat, watching, as all the satellites were knocked out of the heavens.

After that reports became rumors and rumblings; sanity a thing of the past. The air chilled and weighed us down. The Voice was nearly here, and everyone felt it.

It rained for a week after the satellites fell. The rain was salty, and mired with an unknown filth that turned the grass black. Maybe the satellites tracked something back in with them when they hit the sky, no one knew for sure. All we know is that it fell from clouds black as charcoal that blotted out the sun, like liquid ash. Darkness fell upon us for days.

When the clouds went away, the skies were empty. There were no clouds, yet the sky hung low and gray. If the sun was anywhere in the sky it never made itself known. Even it had abandoned us. Each day grew slowly darker and darker until night and day became almost the same.

Some people would claim later that they’d seen things in the dark; creatures with gangly limbs and crooked faces, lurking in the corner of their vision. They were tall, white creatures that looked molted or rotten through their transparent skin. Appearances would last for just a second or two before vanishing without a trace. Some believed this was the first step in the alien’s invasion, but the rest of us didn’t know what to think. We just knew that it was nothing that simple, or benign. They must have been hallucinations, just more madness to endure, but ultimately as harmless as anything else. As harmless as the screams of the dead, the missing animals, and the dying sky.

Appearances slowly increased in duration and number. I think everyone saw them once at the least, but I don’t think a single person would ever guess why they were truly here. They never touched nor spoke to anyone, and they certainly never harmed anyone. Most who got good looks at them described them as mournful, or sorrowful looking. Some even claimed the creatures watched over them at night, and others even claimed that it seemed as if the creatures were sorry for them. One claimed to have even seen one prostrate upon the ground, hands clasped above its head. He said it was praying for us.

Prayer was no help. The churches and places of worship that had divided us for so long failed to bring hope to any in the end. The Voice let them pray and beg for a while, but just days ago the Voice ended it all. No one questioned how, for at this point nothing that happened surprised anyone anymore, but on the final day all books of worship burned. Every last Bible, every Quran, everything.

People rushed to their centers of faith, but found no solace. The churches and temples had suffered the same fates, if not worse. The people were left, abandoned by their greatest hopes. There were rumors of churches all over the world, with walls formed from the bodies of those who sought refuge. They were merged to the walls; stuck to them like flies in a trap. They died still pleading for hope, but they were beyond God’s help. The rest of us had learned to stop begging.

We waited.

The final message came. From beyond the sky it fell upon us. The Voice echoed, and it spoke the simple truth.

“I. Am. Here.”

There is a darkness beyond the horizon, the likes of which I doubt has ever been seen. It brings with it the screams of countless souls, and it moves fast. The stars are dying now, and I know they’ll never be seen again. The light is dying so fast.

I leave this not as a warning. No, it’s far too late for that. Instead, consider this the last realization; the last humanity will ever know. For we used to wonder whether or not we were alone, and lost, but never whether or not we were safe and hidden. The universe is infinite, and our understanding was significantly more finite. We should never have beckoned to the darkness. Instead we should have clung to the light, and closed our eyes every time we were turned to the void. As the final minutes’ approach, I hold one final truth to be certain.

I now know why the skies were always so quiet.

Credit: Ryan Brennaman

They Came from the Sea

October 18, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Alien invasions.

It’s been so overdone it’s turned into a never ending cliché. There are hundreds of films. I’ve watched them all, loved them all. Now, they just make me sick.

The pickup I’m driving shakes as I brake, the ABS is stuck on due to an internal computer malfunction.

I pull to the side of the road, looking down a small cul-de-sac. The houses vacant, windows broken as the empty darkness inside stares back at me.

Most of the houses are missing their front doors, scratch marks littering the outsides.

I pull up to a house, its red door hanging from one rusty hinge. A basketball hoop lies in the front yard, decaying into the soft ground.

I used to live here.

I close my eyes as instants of my life dash behind my lids, floating somewhere in the tiny space of time before the world grew so dark, so cold, and so empty.

A faint music fills the air and it draws my attention.

It’s an ice-cream truck. The same one I once used to race to when I had heard its lilting song, money crumpled in tiny clenched fists.

The speakers are wheezing the old song as a tire spins lazily in the summer breeze.

I hum the tune softly to myself.

Singing has always calmed me when I’m nervous.

I check the mirrors before cautiously opening the doors, my eyes scanning for movement as I tug the shotgun from the space behind the driver’s seat, clicking it open to check that it’s loaded.

Papers from overturned trash bins flutter against my feet as I make my way to my house, making sure not to touch the door, lest it creak and alert anyone, or thing, to my presence within the silent universe of my childhood.

I move across the muddied, white tile silently, pausing as I place my foot on the first step.

I’ve snuck out enough times to know that only the fifth and eighth steps squeal when you press onto them.

I survey the first two bed rooms. Their occupants, my parents and grandmother, long since gone.

I move to the old dresser in my parents’ room, my mother’s perfume resting upon its smooth surface, the only thing untouched in the room filled with splintered furniture and torn clothes.

I lightly trace my finger along its glassy surface, the amber fluid gently swirling as I do.

My palm closes over it before I comprehend the action, bringing it to my pocket before letting it sink to the bottom.

Out of the corner of my eye, I catch the colored beads to my room swaying, rattling together.

I shoulder the gun, heart beating against the confines of my ribs.

I fight the urge to call out. It would do no good. My parents wouldn’t hide from me and if it was one of them… God, I was dead.

I slowly make my way past the bathroom, its door missing, shower curtain ripped and laying upon the floor.

Shakily, I part the beads with one, then two, then three fingers, making the space just large enough to fit through. They part with ease and I replace them soundlessly.

I’ll only get the decency of one shot before it will overtake me.

I see something move in the corner, behind my bed. My childhood sheets are ripped and my lamp is laying on the floor still on. The silhouette of the broken furniture makes it hard to focus on the movement emanating from behind the mattress leaning against the wall.

The hammer of the gun ticks into place, the shattered glass beneath my boots crackling with each step. I swallow the insurmountable lump that has congregated in my throat, tears stinging my eyes. Even after everything that has happen, all that I’ve witnessed, I am still terrified of death.

My hand touches the exposed foam of the mattress, pulling slightly as I steady my breathing.

In one fluid motion, I throw the mattress aside, mustering more strength than I could ever achieve without the adrenaline pulsing through my veins.

A hissing noise tears through the room, as I pull my gun up, tripping over the chair that used to sit at my desk and tumbling toward the ground, my head hitting the missing half of my bookcase.

I stumble to my feet, whirling around and fumbling with the trigger before I see what it is I am faced with.

A small cat stares at me, back arched and teeth glinting, its tail straight in the air. The slits of its eyes widen before jumping through the broken window of my bedroom and disappearing onto the roof.

Laughter immediately peels from me as I bend forward, the gun resting in the crooks of my elbows as I cover my face. It doesn’t stop for a good few minutes before I regain my composure, sitting on the mattress now in the corner of my room.

With tear stained cheeks, I turn my attention to the grey sky beyond the broken glass. My stomach turning in hatred.

We were always so focused on the sky, building large machines to shoot radio waves into the dark abyss just outside our reach, expecting an answer to the thousands of broadcasts that littered the darkness.

It was the fad of the times: a never ending search to appease our human need to not be alone in this expanse we call the universe.

How foolish we were, turning our attention to other worlds when we had failed to adequately explore our own.

I suppose we learned our lesson.

It began on a brisk September morning. The bodies littering the shores. Thousands of them covering every beach, lining the sand in neat rows.

They had all drowned. Men, women, and children called by some unnamed force deep into the water before rolling back in with the morning tide, lifeless and bloated. The pictures were plastered on every media platform available. Every dorm room at my tiny college echoed with warnings from authorities to stay clear of all oceans.

It took only a few hours before the first bodies rose, their faces covered in a thin layer of excess skin.

They controlled everything in a matter of days, posting on our websites, taking control of television networks.

Whatever they were, they spread quickly, all contact with them ending in infection.

They claimed to be our makers, our real gods. They had made us in their image and now, they were here to take that image back.

There was no why for the invasion, no justifications, but, as my father always said, not every question has an answer.

Now, they had taken over nearly everyone. Cities were left to ruin and suburbs fell apart at the seams.

Sitting on my mattress, I recall why I’ve come: my family.

I had managed to escape the first wave, being away at school and deeper toward the center of the country. My parents and grandmother did not have my fortune.

I stand slowly, wiping the sweat from my brow.

Everyone had said that I was crazy for going towards the shore. The cities there were wastelands, filled with memories of the great empire we had built, now rotting into the concrete on which it stood.

How could I have not gone?

This was my family. I couldn’t abandon them, even if it meant going to the very source of the invasion.

I make my way back down the stairs, searching the living room before moving into the kitchen, and then the basement.

Part of me is relieved that I don’t find them there, an extra layer of skin stretched over their faces as they sat, staring at nothing.

I had only seen a few and never up close.

If you were that close to one of them, you usually didn’t live to tell of the experience.

I move into the family room. The TV is smashed into the fire place, making it appear as if some sadistic version of Santa Claus had delivered the broken present, shards of glass resting on the dark wood.

A soft rustling noise draws my focus from the destroyed room to just outside the large glass windows, still intact.

In the yard, there are nearly a dozen figures, their bodies slightly shifting from side to side.

“Katie.”

The voice is a raspy whisper, but certainly recognizable.

I hold my breath, water spilling from the corners of my eyes, rolling over flushed cheeks.

“D-Dad?”

My voice wavers as I speak, losing confidence as I open the screen door and step onto the patio.

“You’ve come home.”

The figure of my grandmother moves forward, the light skin over her features stretching as she smiles beneath the layer of flesh.

I cover my mouth with my hand, sobbing.

“Shh… Don’t be afraid sweetie. It’s just us. We’ve come to welcome you.”

My father moves forward as well, arms opening to embrace me.

“Stay back!” I shout, raising the gun shakily and loosely aiming it in the direction of what was once my father.

He pauses mid-step, turning his head to the side like a confused dog before slowly lowering his arms to his sides.

“I was hoping you wouldn’t be so obstinate. You were always so like your mother.”

The mass of faceless figures part and something stumbles forward before falling to the ground. My mother is tearing at the white layer partially obscuring her face, covering her eyes. Her favorite sundress was stained with grass and blood, fingernails raw and bleeding.

I retreat backwards, falling against the side of the house for support.

“She’ll be alright, baby.”

My grandmother moves to stand next to my father.

“Soon she’ll see that we going to be a family again. She just needs to see her little girl agree too.”

My hands loosen on the gun. I… I can’t shoot them. I just can’t.

They’re wearing their clothes, speaking in their voices.

My mother wails from the grass, crawling towards me.

On instinct, I reach for her hand, our fingers almost touching before she stops, a gentle tremor in her fingertips.

“Katie?” she asks, her voice nothing like the harsh rasps of my father and grandmother.

I stifle a cry, my body shaking as I wipe my eyes with the back of my hand.

“Yeah. Yeah mom, it’s me. I’m here.”

She turns toward me, her voice low.

“It’s not them, but you won’t win. I-It’s not them. I-I love you. You’ll be okay.”

I clutch the gun with both hands, crying into the metal of the barrel, the smell of gunpowder filling my nose.

“I never wanted this…I-I can’t say it.” her voice breaks as she trails off, her hand falling to the soft grass as she grips it tightly, knuckles white.

“Do it. Do you understand? Do it. We-we won’t win,” she says, voice straining with tears she can no longer shed.

I remain still as she speaks, the film finally beginning its final descent, covering her mouth entirely. She starts suddenly before falling limp, convulsing at my feet as she tries to pry the skin from her mouth. I stagger away, too afraid to touch her. Too afraid to save my own mother.

“We finally found her in the shed an hour ago.”

My grandmother has inched closer, her hands up in supplication.

My gaze turns toward the tiny barricaded barn, a hole gouged in its side. The splintered wood around the opening giving it the appearance of a gaping mouth, teeth bared.

“Such a needless struggle. We’re simply making the world better, filling it with unanimity.”

I wipe my eyes again, tears blurring my vision.

“We just want you to be a part of this new world. You can come with us and it will be painless. We promise.”

My grandmother offers her hand to me, standing so close that I can see her eyes behind the thin sheen.

I look up at her, something in my chest pulling me closer, luring me in.

“Ok,” I whisper, pulling myself to my full height as I look to my mom lying in the grass, blood seeping from behind the white mask that now covers the face I’d seen a thousand times.

“I’m gonna do it mom,” I whisper, turning to face my grandmother.

“I’m gonna do it.”

I slide the gun through my hands, tapping the end with my finger. My eyes close as I take in the last view memories of my childhood home, enjoying the simplicity of the bygone days.

I hardly feel the gun slide between my teeth, the tangy metal permeating my mouth, nor do I hear the shot that rings through the air.

Credit: Anonymity

Drag

September 30, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Cynthia smacked, howled and screamed against Todd Barrett’s motel room window that night. Times like these, he was glad he hadn’t fully committed to “tramping,” and bought himself a fifth-wheel. Sleeping in a camper on a night like this would have been impossible. Instead, he had a soft bed below him, a strong roof above, and a simply superb on-demand adult video channel buzzing before him.

Three months prior, Todd had completed his apprenticeship. Now, he was a full-blown honest-to-no-one lineman. FP&L was shuffling him everywhere in the great state of Florida to keep the electricity flowing. Sometimes it was faulty wiring, but most times, the times Todd liked best, he was hiking up power poles and repairing the damage from Mother Nature’s worst.

Whenever bad weather was on the rise, Todd went out to location prior to the worst of it so he could get to restoring power early the next morning. If Cynthia truly evolved into the horrible raving bitch of a hurricane she was predicted to be, he would have his work cut out for him. He looked forward to the morning. Powerless cities were quieter, the smell of freshly snapped trees was often in the air, and despite the destruction, the birds usually went right on singing.

With a bright surge of light in his motel room, the electricity was gone from the entire building. Todd Barrett’s all-time favorite lesbian porn flick vanished from the screen. He should sleep anyway, he thought, but before he could close his eyes, they were flooded with a blue light that could have competed with the sun. The blue turned to orange, and through his second story window, Todd could see a deluge of sparks raining down in the motel parking lot.

As he stepped to the window, another burst of sparks ejected from the transformer above the lot. If not for the rain, the un-trimmed hedges below would have been set ablaze. In the brief light he saw—did he?—it could have been someone down there, in the in the center of the parking lot. Todd wasn’t sure, until a third spray of particulate fire illuminated the property. It was a man in a white T-shirt and basketball shorts. He was curled up in the fetal position. It was as if he had mistaken the muddy rain puddle for his bed, coiled up and fallen asleep right there. He wasn’t moving but—was he screaming? It was tough to tell over the storm and through the window.

Now came the most ancient of debates, to help or turn away. Todd groaned a mellow “oh, shit,” when he realized he had already made the decision. He was supposed to be a good man. He had told himself he would be making all the right changes ever since mouth had gotten him into trouble. Todd had a knack for talking, usually about others, and often about things they considered personal. Since his black eye from last week, he would drink less beer, help more, hurt less, shut his mouth, and hopefully find a good honest woman some time soon.

Todd Barrett threw on his raincoat and left the room in a hurry. In all likelihood, the sudden electrical flash had temporarily blinded this poor bastard that probably ran out to his car to retrieve his forgotten toothbrush or something. Todd had seen what an overload could do to someone up close, and they were still plenty dangerous from afar.

The motel clerk was gone from her desk, though he saw her flashlight moving in the back office. “Hey, someone’s hurt out there,” he hollered, but heard no reply. Todd pressed the emergency release on the automatic sliding doors, and stepped out into the rain.

Cynthia was indeed an ill-tempered, wild lunatic of a storm. Her winds tried to possess Todd’s very movement. He was soaked instantly; his jeans probably wouldn’t dry for three days. He slowly approached the motionless pile of a man, who was now face down in the flooding parking lot. As Todd drew nearer, some part of him questioned what form of temporary blindness would cause a man to scream into mud like this one seemed to be.

He suddenly realized the error in his assumption that this wet screaming mess had been a tenant of the motel. Maybe he was a roving crack addict or escapee from some kind of institution. Todd lost all interest in placing a comforting hand on the man’s shoulder, but planned to do so anyway—he was here, wasn’t he?

“You’re ok,” were the first, most natural and least accurate words to Todd’s lips, but they were lost to the wind. He repeated them, this time yelling, “You’re ok!” and finally his hand touched the man’s sopping, cold, cotton shirt. The screaming man rolled over and his yelling was quickly reduced to a gurgle through the witch’s brew of mud, rain, saliva, and blood in his mouth. Todd saw the dirty red fluid streaking from all corners of the man’s face, digging miniscule gullies into the mud and gravel stuck there.

Two bloodshot eyes, tucked within that filthy mask, searched wide and eventually locked with Todd’s. The gurgling stopped, and the man aggressively inhaled, no doubt taking in some rainwater, then painfully coughed and wheezed. That was when, from behind Todd, the transformer on the offending power pole breathed fire again, and Todd turned to look at it. What he saw there was no mere utility structure.

Something was clinging to the top of the pole. Mother nature’s light show had stirred up by now, and the thing—whatever it was—was occasionally silhouetted by jagged strikes of lightning in the sky. The first thought into Todd’s mind, of all things, was that this thing was something from The Muppet Show. Its four limbs were of such lanky length that they looked as though only a puppeteer’s wire could move them.

Another flash of lighting brought more unwanted detail. Tufts of hair covered the monster’s impossibly skinny form. It seemed to lack elbows and knees, instead utilizing a slow arcing bend of its slender limbs. There was more, it was doing something up there. Todd watched in disbelief as the nightmare’s almost perfectly spherical head parted into a gaping mouth with canine teeth, and sank them into the transformer. Another blast of sparks was set loose. It looked to be feeding on the power grid.

In perhaps a more delayed reaction than Todd had ever experienced, he began stuttering and repeating the only word his mind seemed to have on hand, “No, no, no, NO!”

The creature halted its feast. It had heard him. Now, the thing’s eyes opened, and their intense glow told Todd that they had previously been closed.

In two moments, Todd would make the absolute greatest mistake of his life. As those infernal, luminous eyes swept their surroundings like headlights, and the rain fell like ocean waves, Todd could have run away; but he didn’t. Crippled by his own fear, he could only stare. The evil eyes found Todd, and he looked back into them. That was when everything changed.

His arms were raised above his head. He heard a plastic, grating sound and felt sharp pain at the back of his head. Todd did not suddenly become aware of the situation, but rather felt it slowly envelope him. He was being dragged down the street. The plastic grating had been the rubbing of asphalt on his rain coat. The pain behind his head was that same rugged surface scratching into his scalp.

It was a bright, moonlit night. Cynthia was long gone from wherever he was now. He raised his head to see the horrible, lanky creature pulling him along by the ankle in slow, lumbering movements. It was much taller than it had initially appeared when beheld at a distance. The thing was maybe nine feet tall, those skinny, jointless legs made up most of the height. Its head hung low, and its free arm slowly swayed to and fro with each step.

Todd actually spent a moment debating whether or not he should play dead. Next he considered that he was likely as good as dead if he didn’t do something. He started with shouting, then kicking. He twisted and rolled and palmed his hands into the surface of the street. His nails dug into the asphalt and were sanded down, along with his now bloodied fingertips. He recoiled his captured leg, hoping to gain ground and attack the monster head on. It was out of reach. He summoned his will power and reached for the disgusting hand that was grasping his ankle. He felt a static shock as he touched its dark, matted fur, and pried with all his might, but could not break the grip. The thing, despite Todd’s violent rebellion, trudged on.

Todd tucked his shirt and raincoat into his pants and tightened his belt, trying to keep his outer layers from wrinkling upward and exposing his bare back to the passing ground. He slowly regained his wits and took in his surroundings. The neighborhood was quiet, it seemed there was no one here to help him. The cars looked older; in fact, he didn’t see a single one that looked newer than nineteen seventy. Over the course of a dreadful two minutes Todd recognized, double checked, and reconfirmed that he was in fact being dragged through the neighborhood in which he had grown up.

He was pulled around a bend, turning onto old Wilkie Avenue. At the end of this street would be a cul-de-sac, at the center of that would be his childhood home. Todd leaned and contorted, trying to see past his captor and catch a glimpse of their destination. He could see that the creature’s open, radiant eyes were lighting the way.

All along the street, his former neighbors stepped out onto their various yards and porches. Each person’s flesh had changed, head to toe, into that same muddy, bleeding mixture he had beheld in the parking lot. They went about their daily lives despite the grotesque transformation. Mr. Davis pressed his thumb over the end of a hose and sprayed grass clippings off of his sidewalk. Karly Mason, dressed in her now darkly soiled pink tutu, performed pirouettes and plies for the world to admire. Todd tried not to look.

His miserable guided tour continued, up the curb, across the driveway, onto the porch and through the door. As the creature lumbered up the flight of stairs towards the second floor, Todd grabbed hold of the banister and squeezed with everything he had. The creature pulled so hard, Tom thought his leg might rip from its socket, but before it could, the wooden post cracked and snapped in two.

Up the green-carpeted stairs, and down the second floor hallway he went. He knew whose bedroom was at the end, and as he was pulled into it, he observed muddied, bleeding versions of both his parents. They were pressed up against the wall, wildly trying to conceive his younger brother, all to the beat with The O’Jay’s “Love Train,” which seemed to be blaring from the very walls. It had once been a younger Todd’s favorite song. He screamed, flipped and kicked but couldn’t seem to close his eyes.

Todd’s horrible, gangling tour guide stepped out the second story window, dragging a now crying Todd with it. He was pulled out, to his surprise, not onto the roof, but the dirty surface of his old school yard. There he watched the imaginary battles of his youth turn real, as each of his mud-caked, bleeding, friends were slaughtered by one another.

By what could have been called the second day of being dragged—though time did not exist in this place—Todd had already seen most every location he once cherished. He was dragged through the ’64 Chevy Station Wagon in which he had received his first blowjob. He made a hot lap around his high school while listening to “Love Train” and watching a disgusting rendition of his old football team gnaw out each other’s muddy throats.

Todd’s raincoat had mostly withered to Swiss cheese at this point, and his cotton undershirt didn’t provide much protection from the ground’s coarse sandpaper effect. He resorted to sitting up, entrusting his rugged jeans to hold up at least twice as long as the jacket. He and his silent captor had just about completely caught up on his life by now, and Todd assumed an end of some kind was close at hand.

On the third day of the dragging, Tom was pulled out of the dark motel room that he wished he had never left. He was brought through the lobby, out into the rain, and past the screaming man he had hoped to help. Beyond that, everything turned bright. The rain stopped, and Todd finally felt the sun on his face. To either side of him, he saw vast, endless lines of wavy dunes. It was a desert that existed somewhere outside of his own memory.

On the fifth day, his entire upper layer of clothing had completely worn away. Grating, hot sand grinded into his wounds and formed a layer of bloody paste around him. If he had tried to scream, his dry throat would have yielded no sound. The sun had burned his face and chest to the point of blistering. The sand had rubbed his back down to mere muscle. It also seemed that hunger existed in this place, though it could not kill. Todd’s mind failed him, as he began thrashing wildly, no longer hoping to escape, but letting out his rage and trying to distract from the pain.

Day ten approached, and the dunes rolled on. Todd’s rag of a body was pulled past the rusting hulk of an old Lockheed airliner, the decaying hull of a cargo ship, and a few other scraps of metal that his weak eyes couldn’t identify. Above in the tauntingly blue sky, Todd observed a ringed planet, hosting a family of several moons. “Love Train,” rolled on, echoing unstoppably from deep within his mind. He turned over, opting to let the ceaseless sun destroy his back, which had been stripped of its nerve endings. He braced for the grating pain of sand on his wretchedly burned chest.

By the fifteenth day, Todd’s muscles had been stripped past the point of use. The lost layers left him more closely resembling his captor than any human. Thirty pounds of flesh had been shredded away from his miserable body. Knowing he should have been long dead by now, he wondered what he had done to deserve what he feared would be an eternity of senseless agony.

On day twenty, Todd suspected that by tomorrow, he would lose his mind entirely, and that might be good. He was well on his way to ending up just like—

His feeble mind stopped, reversed course, and retraced its steps. He would end up just like the man in the parking lot—Insane. In a merciful flash, Todd understood it all so clearly. This creature wasn’t something told of around a campfire. He had never heard a single word spoken about such a monster—Why? This had all started the moment he locked eyes with this terrible creature. He had seen it, and it knew he had. Todd had never heard of the monster because no one who saw it could ever speak of it—or anything—again. It was a secret. Now, for witnessing that secret, Todd was being driven insane.

He struggled to form the words with his brittle lips, but couldn’t. There was no way for his vocal cords to produce a sound. He tried anyway. If mouthing the four words was all he could do, he would do so for the rest of his tour.

I won’t tell anyone, he said, though it was really more a thought than spoken word, and a remarkable thing happened. The creature stopped. Todd felt his own foot drop into the sand. The creature, gangly, yet somehow graceful, crawled right over top of him. Through its disgusting dark tufts of fur, Todd could see what might have been eyes; they looked deeper into him than any human eyes ever could.

The creature grunted, stood, and from Todd’s perspective, its towering form was never so apparent. It turned, and lumbered away, off into the endless dunes. The creature could not whistle as it walked, so the wind did so for it.

Todd was alone now, lying there in that blasted desert, somewhere outside the realm of rationality where pain met time. A sudden breeze kicked sand into his eyes. His decaying fingers curled and gripped the sand to find that it was now wet, and not sand but mud. Water, sweet cooling water, fell onto his wounds and flowed in all around him.

He was no longer in the dune, but laying in the motel parking lot, next to a man who, little did he know, had been dragged for three thousand and eighty days, all in an instant; all for looking where he shouldn’t.

Above Todd, in a weightless perch on the power lines, was the creature. It blinked once at him, spread its limbs, and caught a gale of Cynthia’s wind. With one flash of lightning, Todd saw the silhouette of that hellish puppet disappear into the thunderclouds. He wondered if he was the only one to have laid eyes on the being and survived with half his mind, or if there were others that shared his secret. He would never know. For the rest of his dark, broken life, Todd would never speak of the monster that almost cost him his sanity with a single glance; and the world’s most ancient secret went on unheard of, riding the winds of violent storms until wind itself was no more.

Credit: Timothy Attewell

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