Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
Within The Carcass Of Lunar Rot
I have been sending this distress call repeatedly, and I have been trapped on this moon for what I hope to have only been the past two sidereal days. Can anyone hear this message? Can anyone send help? I do not know what to do anymore and I do not know how much longer the emergency power of this pod will last. I have to keep recording, I have to keep sending this message. In the case that anyone can hear me but cannot respond, I must relay the horrors of this foreign moon.
My memories of before arriving here are hazy, but I remember living back on Tenlithe. I remember the general uneasiness of a coming, petty war. I remember my family.
But here, there is a greater turmoil. I cannot describe the shock of awaking inside some sort of escape pod atop a pile of putrescent and semi-unidentifiable human corpses. I can barely explain further the terror of when I heard some of them groan and their mangled limbs slowly twisted in unnatural directions. I struggled to free myself of the slimy, corporeal entanglement, every one of my senses assailed by disgust and fright, but I eventually freed myself and approached the escape hatch. The pod’s hatch appeared to be set to open on a timer. The hatch did eventually open, but the noxious fumes and the faint movements of the bodies were driving me mad.
After an unknown time, but what seemed to be hours, the hatch opened after much of my wrenching upon it and to my surprise all of the air did not escape into the vacuum of space—I could still breath, at least. I shambled out of that den of horror and slammed the hatch closed behind me. The horrors I saw afterward were even worse.
Similar pods were scattered all over the pitted, ash-like surface in the little I could see over the proximate hills and craters. What the hell is happening here? I scurried to the highest peak I could find and from the dizzying height I spied a jagged out-crop of massive rocks jutting from the otherwise desolate surface, but little else as the beetling surface obscured most of the horizon. The out-crop appeared to be artificial or crafted by some massive, fumbling hands with a shaky composition and tall, pyramid-like shape. And when I later arrived closer every compositional chunk appeared to be of some pyroxene material and was roughly hewn, covered in claw marks similar to the size of my own hands. Over the heavily arced horizon I could only spot a few similar, yet warped, constellations, but no neighboring planet.
The trek from my location to the massive megalith was long, but with no other landmark to see I had very few options. It appeared—and later felt—to be about a three-kilometer hike as I was loosely guided by the distorted Cassiopeia constellation faintly above the horizon. Along the way there were a few of the other pods slumped across the surface, none of them appearing very old, but widely varying in design and condition. The most common appearing to be stout and neutral-colored cans similar to my own.
I was still perplexed by the invisible atmosphere here. How could such a small celestial body seemingly hold an atmosphere such as this? Why was there no light refraction on the horizon? Why was the gravity so similar to Tenlithe’s?
I only peeked into one of the pods, hoping to not repeat my findings from it in the others, for what I found was another corpse-impregnated hull filled with the murmurs of the seemingly dead. The hatch was locked like mine was, but opened easily enough from the outside. This time the bodies bore little resemblance to a human, instead seeming to be limbed and snake-like beings with dark, squamous skin. The hollow chatter of the rattling that emanated from within shook my nerves more than my time within my own pod, even after I walloped the hatch shut and darted away from it into the distance.
The unsettling silence of the alien surface was beginning to perturb me gradually and an enveloping fatigue was setting in just as the shadow of the isoscelean pyramid was covering my rugged surroundings. I stopped to listen for anything, but the aether emitted nothing. The imposing structure was starting to strike more and more fear into me as I, too, was now hidden in its shadow. I noticed how cold the surface truly was without the slight warmth of the distant sun. Oh, how cold and indifferent a horizon of ever-present black and speckles of faint light can be.
I nearly circumambulated the base of the impressive edifice, looking for any sort of entrance inside, only discovering a triangular, oblique hallway a few centimeters taller than myself on the distant side of the square-ish base. Luckily, it was on the sun-lit side and the light seemed to funnel deep into the odd passage. The tunnel stretched almost indefinitely into the heart of the structure and sloped gently downward. My clambering footsteps echoed roughly inside the tight space, which worried me but I was too tired to tread any more gracefully.
The hallway seemed to shrink the deeper I plunged and I found myself having to slump slightly over as I walked. I decided to sit and rest for a while, lying down under the leaning walls. I tried to gather my thoughts, but I found my mind too exhausted to do so and I slowly fell into a frigid sleep. When I awoke, the sun was no longer illuminating the passage and I could not see the ends of either side. I struggled to remember my orientation: Had I slept with my head or feet to the entrance? I could no longer distinguish the gentle slope of the corridor either; it might have leveled out without my prior notice.
I decided to stumble towards the direction of my feet arbitrarily. The thought of waiting until the next sunrise did not please me and the crushing weight of the dark and my echoed movements instilled into me a deep worry. I groped along the wall as my balance was greatly diminished and it felt as if gravity itself was fluctuating in that lunar tomb.
A few minutes after my foot-ward walk I heard a rumbling blast of sound, but was unable to discern which end it came from, even when I turned my ears parallel to the passage. The echoing reverberation rendered it impossible to tell. I heard a series of thin popping sounds followed by a few moments of quiet. Then, the cacophony like that of hellspawn came, but it did not stop. No, this nightmare was forced to continue. I was reminded of the tired and lifeless groaning from within my casket-like pod, but of many magnitudes louder and more varied. This sound I could more easily discern to be coming from a singular direction—the direction behind me, and presumably outside the pyramid.
I froze for a few minutes in fear with my ears covered and eyes shut tightly, trying to finally compose my thoughts. I wondered if it would be better to run deeper into the abyss and hide or to seek possible survivors amongst the din of what could only be a hellish landscape. I could not be the only living one sent here, right? I decided I was too afraid to exit the specious safety of the darkness and turned to head further into the void, but when I lifted my hands from my ears I noticed the freakish groans, rattles, and yelps were louder than before. Panicked, I sprinted as best I could through the narrow hallway, my shoulders and sides rebounding off the walls and the clamor of my steps resounding madly.
I heard another horrific rumble, but this time structured in two specific blasts resembling speech. I could tell it came from somewhere within—or atop—or near—the pyramid, but I could not reverse my course. I continued this run for as long as I could until I could see a pale-green glow at the end of the passage. When I reached the end of the passage I paused to hear for sound inside. Thankfully for my sanity the sounds from outside had subsided enough to the point of only being heard by a careful listen, and there were no stirrings inside either.
Instead of another audible quandary, I walked into a visual one, where inside I was bathed in that green phosphorescence and greeted by the enigmatic architecture of some ancient design. The walls undulated upward in sharp peaks, valleys, and mostly-straight surfaces between, but seemed to do so forever. The room was massive as well and I could but faintly spy the four corners from my vantage from the middle of one of the sides. The emerald light seemed to be emitted from triangular channels carved into the walls in a random and puzzling pattern. Looking upward, I noticed that the aerial void had faintly glistening sparkles emulating stars to my eyes. Horizontally along the floors was a carven script of unknown language to me, it appeared to be somewhere between pictorial and phonetic with some of the characters reminding me of various inhuman creatures.
But most unsettling of all—as my eyes adjusted to the light—I saw that there were innumerable high-relief carvings of monstrous beings along all of the walls. Scarcely any of them were humanoid in shape and many of them eluded all standard description beyond the phrase ‘life-like’ or ‘realistic’. I jerked away from the nearby wall as I spotted the demons portrayed there. There was a multi-headed snake-thing with large, staring eyes topping each branch and a toothy maw at the base of its main trunk nearly twice my size arched over the doorway. There was a rotund and minotaur-like beast lumped to my left with dozens of primitive arms wielding flesh-laden spears. To my right there was a highly erect tripod-thing with a main body resembling a crown. All of these horrors had smaller, but just as grotesque, monstrosities darting between them and my dismay of the entire vista was only amplified by the dull glimmer of the green glow permeating the room.
This chamber of terror was almost too much to bear, but I thereafter kept my gaze down on the cryptic script on the floor and plodded towards the center of the room. There did not appear to be any escape from that subterranean vault other than the main entrance I had come from and I had trouble scanning the walls for another exit both due to the fright and the dark. I sat with my head firmly nuzzled within my collapsed limbs wondering what to do for most likely hours. I only tried to remember the few thoughts of home I had, losing track of whatever sense of time I had. When I lifted my head I noticed a faint glow of daylight from the entrance. It appeared that another sidereal day had come.
Yet another rumble came, but this time easily heard to be from above and of three distinct beats. A slight dusting of soot was loosed from above, leaving an acrid aroma and taste about. Then, a comatose roar came in seeming response from somewhere outside, heavily muffled by the stone walls. It would be moments later when I could muster up the courage to head outside and escape this esoteric megalith. There would be nowhere else to go and help would assuredly never find me in there. On my hours-long exit, I found the journey to be shorter than before, most likely because of the aid of sunlight during the entire walk.
I grew anxious of what I would see exiting the pyramid, and my pace slowed to mirror it, but as I approached the exit I heard absolute silence. Through the triangular aperture I could see the entrance was just as barren, save for those ghastly pods, as when I went in. Still, I felt apprehensive and I galloped somewhat hurriedly back towards my landing site. On my quiet journey back—except for the sounds of my crunching footsteps—I felt an air of peculiarity about, despite not noticing any apparent difference. About halfway back I had again grown exceedingly tired while jaunting away and could no longer stifle my reflex to look back at the towering pyramid. I breathed a sigh of relief when I did not detect neither any lunar abomination clinging to its peak nor any horrible procession scuttling about the surface. Had it all been a hallucination brought on by stress?
It was around this moment that I passed the serpent-filled pod from before, but noticed that its hatch was not in the closed position I left it. I froze. I could not hear the chatter like before and the dusty surface appeared mildly disturbed by a great many bodies other than my own distinct, but obfuscated, prints. I then glanced around to the other pods within the immediate landscape to notice that their hatches too were all open. Surely I could not have misremembered this detail on every pod? I slowly approached the serpent pod with dread.
I stole a glance over the side of its hatch to find it empty. Then, with more courage I stole another longer glance to confirm that the pod was indeed empty of the snake beings. I was not sure which state I preferred: the serpentine horrors nearby and inside the pod or outside, but possibly roaming about.
These mounting experiences began to pile up inside my mind with no clear action being apparent to me. I faintly remembered the science topic of the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response, all of which seemed equally terrible to my mind at the moment.
After some tense deliberation I decided to head back to my prior vantage point on the high-cresting hill where I first saw the pyramid. The climb back up it from the steeper slope was arduous, especially with my nervous grasps of the loose stone surface. This is where I spotted the final horror.
When I reached the peak and tiredly spun towards the triangular monument, I noticed that diagonal to the pyramid, and roughly 30 degrees to the right of my outlook, was a smaller child pyramid forming. It blended into the scenery with the same cinder-colored stone and was only a mere one-fifth its parent’s size at best, but it was definitely not there before. And worst of all, a mass of unidentifiable creatures were straggling around its base.
At this sight, I ran directly away from it. I ran and I ran and I ran. Past the open pods dotting the desolate, lunar crust. Past the vaguely familiar hills I first gazed upon. Past even the pod I emerged from earlier (after further thought I am sure that my perfunctory glimpse into the side-hatch showed it vacant as well). I continued to run for a duration of time I will never be able to calculate. I ran until I stumbled upon this very pod here, with its inner lighting system still in operation and a big, recognizable “Tenlithe #106” identification in crimson on its side. The communication panel is also appearing to be in working order.
I am just sitting here now, safely inside this pod, I like to believe. I do not know how much longer the battery reserves will last and I do not know if I want to. Upon entering it, I saw my reflection for the first time in its clean glass hatch. I am not sure if this person I saw truly is me, but they look deathly ill with an extremely pallid complexion and a blood-stained jumpsuit. I suppose a close death for them is best because they must have seen some absolute horrors recently. . . .
I do not feel cold anymore. I do not feel hunger anymore. I do not feel tired anymore. I do not feel much of anything, but I do feel compelled to return to the pyramid. They need me there. Perhaps when the dark soon returns. . . .