Estimated reading time — 4 minutes
It was your typical college setting. A lecture hall with fifty students, maybe more. One moment a guy in the front row was answering a question from the professor, and the next, a big black sphere was hanging in the air where his head used to be. Now that was anything but typical.
I was looking right at him when it happened, so I was among the first to see it. Others who hadn’t been looking turned their heads to see why the guy had stopped in the middle of his sentence. Nervous chatter quickly filled the room: “What is that?” “Do you think he’s okay?” “Someone go get the—”
It was like static on the radio, amplified by a thousand. A hundred hands clasped a hundred ears. The air around the sphere distorted for a second, returning to normal as the effect moved outward, passing through the rest of the room. My entire body shook and went cold as it hit me.
The five closest to the sphere had been affected differently, more strongly; as mostly everyone else crowded the exits, they stood frozen in place, seemingly unable to move. One of them, a brown-haired guy in a red shirt, began shaking wildly. His mouth opened like he was trying to scream, but what came out was a high-pitched whine, adjacent to a dentist’s drill.
He exploded. There was a wet squelch, like someone stepping in mud, and the guy was in a hundred pieces. Droplets of his blood stayed suspended around the sphere, a crimson-colored mist, before settling down to the floor. The rest of him was everywhere—on the floor, on tables, on people’s skin and clothing, all the way to the back of the room. One slimy chunk of skin hit me right in the face.
I’d joined the others at the doors, but something was wrong. Someone was shouting that they were stuck, that they couldn’t be opened. That’s impossible, I thought. There were six doors out of the room, three on this side and three on the other, and they couldn’t all be locked. I pushed my way through and gave all three a try for myself, but they were right, none of them would budge. I rammed the closest one with my shoulder, but even with the the terror-induced adrenaline, it wasn’t enough. A handful of other students joined me and we all threw our weight against the door at once, before repeating the action several more times. The door shuddered, but wouldn’t give way. A quick glance told me the same thing was being tried on the other side of the room, to no avail.
I looked back to the group of five, positioned around the sphere. Another had gone into convulsions like the man before, a woman this time. She spun so she was facing the door and opened her mouth, but no sound came out. A concentrated black beam of something did instead. Think of a cartoon robot firing a big fat laser out of its mouth and you’ve got the idea. The woman turned her head and the beam swung along the length of the far wall, passing through several people as it did so. Squelch, squelch, squelch. They exploded, one after another.
Louder now, loud enough to drown out all the screams. My body rattled violently, knocking me off balance. I stumbled, and the cold hit me. Like being buried in ice. It lasted several seconds longer this time.
A vision entered my mind of a black tower, piercing a blood-red sky. The tower climbed higher than I could see, incomprehensibly high. It spoke to me, its voice directly inside my head: “Freedom…at last…”
The vision faded. I was on the floor, as were dozens of others around me. I got up and looked at the sphere; it was larger now, almost twice the size it had been when it first appeared. It wasn’t just a sphere though, I don’t think; it was a gateway, and that tower, whatever it was, was trying to get through.
One of the doors opened. All at once students poured out of the room, myself among them. Police officers stood positioned at the sides, ready to move in when the way was clear. Thank God they made it, I thought. *They’ll take care of this, whatever—*no. No, they couldn’t go in there, they couldn’t. This wasn’t a shooter or anything like that, something they could fight. The only thing they or any of the rest of us could do was run.
I grabbed the arm of an officer standing to my left. “Don’t go in there! You can’t!” I shouted. He took my hand and gently removed it, saying something I couldn’t make out. Before I could do anything else, the crowd picked me up and swept me away.
The increased distance meant the impact was weaker. It felt more like the first time than the second, some minor shaking and a sense of cold that went away quickly. I maintained my balance and kept running.
Not the hole that time. Gunshots. I didn’t see how the officers could think shooting at that thing would do any good.
Someone screamed: “They’re shooting at us!”
But that couldn’t be. They were the police, they were there to—
In the corner of my eye I saw an officer. He stood outside but was facing in through the window, his shotgun aimed directly at the crowd. Boom. The window shattered. One person fell, another stumbled. Blood trickled down the side of her leg.
A guy, a hero whose name I may never know, leaped through the obliterated window and rushed the officer head-on. He took a blast directly to the chest and went down, flat on his back. His sacrifice provided just enough opportunity for a small group to seize the officer and get him on the ground. The rest of us poured through the opening after them, out of the building and into the university’s plaza.
Sunlight never felt so good.
Altogether, thirty people died that day. Most were students, but a handful of police officers were killed as well. Those that attacked us attacked their fellow officers as well and were killed in the ensuing shootout, meaning they can’t answer questions about what happened to them. Was it the thing on the other side of the hole that caused them to act that way? Or something else? The doors were all locked—someone wanted to keep us in that room.
The building is sealed off now. I’m told the pulses have stopped, and that the hole has stopped growing. Some people think that means it’s stable now, and I’m inclined to agree with them; I don’t agree that it’s a good thing. Out of all the people that survived the incident, ten of them have already committed suicide. The thing on the other side of the hole must be the cause of that, and if it still has that kind of influence, I can make only one conclusion: the hole hasn’t stabilized because it failed to get through. It’s because it already did.
CREDIT: Riley Odell
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