Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
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.
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
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