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About albertnothlit

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    Sci-fi, fantasy, LGBT-friendly fiction, videogames, traveling, learning new languages.

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  1. Thank you all! It's really heartwarming to read your messages, and it looks like this new year which is only just beginning is already looking like it will be full of good things, growth, and hope. Warm hugs to each and everyone of you!
  2. Months have gone by since I last wrote, and it has been an interesting time. Tough, challenging, at some points surprisingly rewarding – an ongoing struggle to regain my footing in the middle of a frozen lake, on ground that felt like treacherous and slippery ice at the beginning. It felt impossible to try and take a step forward without risking losing my balance and falling down, crashing through the brittle surface that could barely hold my weight and sinking into the black and icy waters of panic. That panic would close in and rob me of all volition, making it seem as though it were impossible to do something as simple as drawing the next breath. For me, there was no light in the deep, only fear… and I fell into the frigid waters many times. But somehow, each time, I climbed back out onto the ice. Sometimes I did it on my own, forcing my limbs to move by sheer force of will and swimming upwards until my head broke the surface of the water and I could gasp for air. Other times, I was helped by the kindness of others. A kind word would reach me and help me up. A friendly hand would steady me just as I was about to fall again. I do not forget each and every single time I received help from others. In the darkest of times, I experienced firsthand what compassion is like. Despite the fear and the pain which raged in my mind, one thing never wavered: I wanted to keep moving forward. I wanted to reach the shore. I took tiny little steps each and every day, inching my way to my destination. For me, these steps were incredibly challenging at the beginning. They were simple things, like remembering to try and breathe deeply when I woke up in the mornings, heart pounding in my chest, anxiety gripping me with clammy and invisible hands which felt as though they were pressing against my chest and constricting my throat. They were things like going to the gym each day even when I didn’t feel like it at all. Or finding the strength within me to get out of the shower when it felt like I couldn’t face the world out there and I would rather just stay right where I was, trembling despite the warm water. I did these things and hundreds of others. Each day brings new challenges, and time goes by, as it always has. Something is changing, though. I scarcely noticed at first, but even tiny little steps begin to add up over time. Some time ago, I tripped and fell, slipping on the ice again, triggered by some or other scary or challenging thing going on in my life at that moment. I hit the brittle ice and shut my eyes tight, bracing myself for the horrible plunge into the cold panic of the lake – but the darkness did not come. The rushing water, the sensation of drowning, not being able to draw breath… None of that was there. Blinking, disbelieving, I open my eyes and looked. The ice underneath me had cracked, sure, but beneath that there was not water but solid ground. I could not believe it. I still struggled to stand up, but I managed, like I have done so many times already. After I was back on my feet I looked back for the first time in a very long while and I realized that the lake lay… behind me. I was no longer standing over its treacherous waters but on actual ground. I had not even noticed, so focused had I been on simply moving forward, sliding one foot in front of the next, trying not to lose my balance. I took a long moment that day to feel wonder and thanks. Then I kept moving forward. All around me the ground is still frozen, and it is still hard to keep my footing at times, but I haven’t had a panic attack in many weeks, maybe months, and I know now that even if things get hard and I trip, there is a safety net below me, actual ground to support me while I get back up, and that this ground is something I have reached through months and months of struggle, of little steps in bigger steps, a solid foundation I have built for myself as I keep making my way through life. It’s a foundation built on hundreds of little things, on good habits I have slowly cultivated through time. And as this very time goes by inexorably, I see little pockets of icy ground ahead of me beginning to thaw. The warmth of the sun above is melting the ice little by little, and there have been a few stretches of ground where I haven’t only been able to move ahead without slipping, but to actually walk upright, steady, secure, like I used to do before all of this happened. I will keep going forward, one day at a time, one decision at a time. As time goes by, I keep hoping the ice will melt some more. Maybe one day the ground ahead of me will be dry. I keep hoping that maybe, one day, I will again be able to run. -- Hi everyone. Sorry about the long silence. I think I’m beginning to heal, little by little, and the road has been as fascinating as it has been challenging. Now that enough time has gone by I think I’m really beginning to get an understanding of what happened to me, how my mind reacted, and what I can do to move forward, like I described above. When something really traumatic happens, in my case at least, it really did feel as though there was a wound inflicted on my mind. The depression I’ve struggled with for most of my life gave way to all-consuming anxiety and I became stuck in a fight-or-flight state, where everything was terrifying and I felt, each moment of the day, as though I were under an omnipresent yet invisible threat that I could not deal with, I could not avoid, and was just about to crash over me and consume me. The psychic wound left my mind raw and painfully hypersensitive to every stimulus. Going about the day was like trying to walk barefoot when the soles of your feet are injured. You feel every single tiny rock underfoot and it hurts just to take a step. So it was for me, but in my mind. Little things like making a decision seemed unsurmountable. Do I go to the gym or do I stay home? Do I go walk my dog or not? Everything was a trigger and a possible negative association, irrational. For example, a shirt I had worn when last I had a panic attack. I would be scared to wear that shirt again. Or something I had eaten or heard or seen last morning, say, like a banana – I would do my best to avoid bananas in the evening for fear of recalling the frame of mind I usually am in during the mornings, when the anxiety hits me the strongest. I did many things to try and help me cope, some more successful than others, but in general I now realize I essentially cocooned myself in a very carefully structured pattern of routine and set goals to achieve each day, with stimuli carefully planned ahead of time, designed to prevent my mind from wandering too much or having too much time to simply be alone with my thoughts, because back then the silence of my own mind was unbearable. Anything that might have been too emotionally stimulating I simply avoided. Fiction in particular, reading – I have always loved it, but I could not bring myself to read. I know I get very emotionally invested when I am reading and it felt like my mind simply could not handle that. Movies I also avoided for the same reason. Music as well. For months and months, it was all I could do to remain steady and keep moving forward, through the ups and downs of normal life. Time heals all wounds, though. Even psychic wounds, in my case. It’s taken a very long time but I’m beginning to feel like myself again. Last year, around this time, I was a total mess. I was actually afraid of this 2019 holiday season because of what it would remind me of, and the negative associations that it might bring, but actually I have mostly felt wonder and thanks when I cast my thoughts back twelve months and compare myself then to now. Back then, one of my most desperate wishes was to have one normal day like I had before this entire crisis began: a day without panic, or fear. That wish has already been granted, and I almost did not notice. The anxiety is receding, little by little. It’s not entirely gone and I don’t think it ever will be, but I am learning to live with it. Many of the habits I developed during the past months have now become well-worn tools in the toolbox I carry with me everywhere I go, and which help me deal with situations as they come up. I have learned how important breathing is when you are trying to calm down. I’m not always successful, particularly some mornings, but I have gone through the experience of anxiety leading to panic so many times before that I can now remind myself that I have gone through it – and I’m still here. I have gone through a really bad situation, from my own point of view at least, and I survived. Not only that; now that the wound is healing I think I am actually stronger than before. I know how to deal with total hopelessness and overwhelming panic. I know how to get back on my feet after falling down and that fills me with confidence and self-assurance. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I am not terrified of it anymore. My focus has shifted. Before, all I wanted was to be perfectly safe, to reach an equilibrium where nothing would ever change so I never would have to feel afraid again or be trapped in the downward spiral of anxiety. Now, I am trying to learn that things change all the time. Desperately clinging to the way things are now and rejecting change is not the way to go, not for me. I need to learn acceptance. Mornings for me are particularly challenging, as I have said so often before. But now, every single morning as I am getting up from bed, I remind myself three things: I need to learn to let go of the past. I need to learn to accept the changes of the present. And, most important of all: I need to always find a place in my heart for hope for the future. Thank you, everyone, for reading, but also for all your support and your wonderful wishes throughout this challenging time. I do not forget. Every single message I received was a kind word which helped me out of a tough spot. Each one meant more to me than I can explain. Thank you. I want to write again, of course, and now that I am feeling better I think it may be time to start thinking about it again. In the meantime: happy new year! Thank you so very, very much. Today I logged in for the first time in a long while and the first thing I saw were a couple of messages in my profile from fellow authors and friends who were wondering whether I was okay. I am. Thank you for caring. My best wishes to you all for this new year. Gratefully, -Albert
  3. Thinking of you, Albert. We miss seeing you here. Hope you are well and have a nice Christmas.

    1. Show previous comments  2 more
    2. Valkyrie


      It's so good to hear from you :hug:  Welcome back and I wish you all the best for the future :hug: 

    3. albertnothlit


      Thank you so much! :hug:

    4. drpaladin


      You've made my day, Albert! Glad to hear you are better. Happy New Year!

  4. Good observation, Will, thank you! And yeah, chipmunks are right up there too, though I do find them cuter, not sure why.
  5. albertnothlit

    Keep Quiet

    Thank you so much, drsawzall!
  6. I love spinning mysteries, and I think part of that is because I have always enjoyed reading mysteries myself. When I do, there's always this struggle I go through where I want to read ahead so the author reveals what's going on, but I also want to figure things out in my own. (Most of the time I just read ahead - I'm not that good at guessing as a reader!)
  7. albertnothlit

    The Bolide

    Thank you! I also love space, but in my case, my fascination is also tempered by really big what ifs. There might be dangers out there that we don't even suspect exist. And yet the more we learn about the cosmos, the more my fascination grows.
  8. albertnothlit


    Thank you for the compliment, Will! I do love that era, and the language of the time holds a certain draw that I just couldn't resist using
  9. Thank you for your comment, Will! I wonder what Mr. Holmes would say if presented with such a mystery. I have a feeling it might involve a lot of telling poor Mr. Watson cryptic things with disturbingly accurate perceptiveness.
  10. albertnothlit

    Keep Quiet

    Thank you, drpaladin! It was awesome to hear your feedback after each and every chapter, and I am very grateful for the fact that you shared your wonderful insight with me as the story progressed. It was, for me at least, a relatively short but fun journey and I enjoyed the process immensely. As I was writing the story, I could not help but think that, if alien life one day comes to us instead of us finding it, it is extremely likely that we might misunderstand one another somehow since we will be so different from one another. The differences might be such that contact might harm one or both of us, humans and aliens alike. Or we might be completely unable to communicate. The good aliens in this story sent a messenger with good intentions, but in attempting to communicate, the messenger brought about horror, death, and its ultimate demise at the hands of the very beings it was trying to warn. I'm a sucker for happy endings, though, whenever I can get away with them, and so I leave the door open at the end of the story for, as you say, a possible future. Thank you so much! -Albert
  11. albertnothlit

    Keep Quiet

    It is nighttime now and the world panics. The floating cylinder opened for the first time and a smaller object shot out from it, evading the fighter planes that tried to intercept it, heading for a destination unknown. But that is not all. Observatories around the world report seeing large unidentified objects, spherical in shape, approaching the Earth from the blackness of space. They are moving very fast and it is all but certain that they will collide with our planet in the next few hours. Some think they may be ships. They are not ships, but bombs. They are a message in the sky, clear for those who know how to interpret it. The fiery trails which these unidentified objects leave in their wake look almost beautiful, like the tails of comets glowing in the night. And yet I know differently. They spell out not beauty doom for humanity, they foretell our extinction. I suppose it is time to leave my house for the last time. My bad knee will have to hold out for a few hours. I can no longer stay inside, not now. Even though those objects will still take hours or maybe days to reach us, something else is here already. Just outside my building, in fact. I can see a strange and horribly familiar alien glow, green and gold, shining through my windows. I think I can guess where the smaller object which came out of the floating cylinder was headed for. It came for me. I can hear people outside on the street. They are screaming. The alien glow is getting brighter. I have glanced out the window just now, and so I know. It is hovering in the sky just outside, motionless and silent, so very bright. Its brightness is not uniform. It pulsates at regular intervals, repeating its message again and again and again. It is Morse code, of course. Why? Why does this alien vessel know Morse code? And why does it repeat the same seven letters over and over and over again? D-A-N-N-Y-T-K Always the same message. It is the same message I saw days and days ago, projected horribly on the surface of the moon. Only now it is here, inescapable. D-A-N-N-Y-T-K. ‘Danny, They know. Danny, They know.’ I need to go out. I need to go out and see… *** I ran after Charles. He headed straight down to the basement and so I did the same, heedless of how much noise I made, the only thought in my mind being the fact that I wanted to know the true depth of the horror which had arrived to this accursed location on the night of the bolide explosion and which had ultimately led to this crisis. I diverted from my path only at the beginning, rushing into Charles’s room and reaching under the mattress to snatch away the revolver that he still kept underneath, inside a small leather case. I needed a weapon in case the creature attacked again. I needed to feel safe. I tucked the gun into my coat and rushed down the hall as fast as I possibly could. I reached the basement in time to see Charles all the way down the hall, rattling the gate to the well. “Charles!” I shouted. “Wait!” But he either did not hear me or ignored me. He took out a keychain and unlocked the gate. I sprinted after him once more, afraid he would lock the gate behind him, but he must have been in too much of a hurry and he simply pushed the gate wide open so it slammed against the wall on the far side. Without hesitation, I saw him rush to the well. Then he jumped in. I followed as fast as I could. I kept expecting to see the thing which had attacked me jump out from a corner, but I made it all the way to the well without seeing anything out of the ordinary. Once there, I stopped in front of the large circular structure. I could not see Charles. The water was dark, as the only illumination came from the hallway behind me. Where had he gone? How deep was the well? I climbed onto its rim so I was standing above the water, looking down. It was then that I saw faint yellowish glow, not too far down, and then the glow simply… Moved away. Disappeared. Was there a passageway down there? Some sort of underwater tunnel which led somewhere else? Under normal circumstances I would have stopped to think about what I was about to do. I would have found a rope, maybe, or asked for help. These were not normal circumstances, though. I took one deep breath and jumped into the water. I was expecting cold and the fact that the water was almost hot was a bigger shock than I was prepared to face. I gasped involuntarily, letting out most of my air, and so I was forced to kick up desperately until my head breached the surface of the water. I gulped in air several times, looking down, feeling a horrible mixture of fear, confusion, and desperation. But I could not allow myself to hesitate. I breathed in deeply once more and then dived. I had never been a good swimmer, but I did not have to go too far down. I plunged into the darkness, kicking with heavy feet as I belatedly realized that I should have taken off my shoes before I jumped in. It was too late now. I used arms and legs to go further down and kept my eyes open. There! A yellow glow a couple of feet further down. I followed it, holding my breath, and bumped my head against the edge of a tunnel which branched off from the main well shaft. I kicked more fiercely and squirmed my body into the tunnel, following the light, a part of my brain screaming that I did not know where I was going and when my breath ran out, if I did not find a way out, I would drown. The tunnel was too narrow to turn around and swing back. And so I did the only thing I could, following the light, swimming desperately, trying to reach the end before my lungs gave out. The yellow light disappeared within a couple of seconds and it was then that black panic seized me. My lungs were burning. I needed to get some air. I lost one of my shoes and my shirt kept restricting the movement of my arms. The tunnel was so narrow that I could touch both sides of it if I stretched out my arms and I kept bumping my head against the top of it. The water was now uncomfortably hot. I was going to drown. Where had the light gone? A primal burst of desperation propelled my limbs forward and I used the last bit of my strength to swim. So panicked was I that I did not realize I had reached the end of the tunnel until my face collided against its slippery stone wall. I was forced to stop and I had nowhere to go. The pain in my lungs had become agony. I was beginning to see strange lights at the periphery of my vision. I could not go back, I could not go forward. Air, I needed air. I could not go to the sides. I was going to die. I could only go – Up. I glanced up and saw the golden light. I rearranged my body and kicked against the bottom of the tunnel. I surged upwards through the water and less than a second later broke through into blessed, blessed air. I choked, gasping. I coughed up water. It took me more than a minute for my head to stop spinning and for my heartbeat to attain a semblance of normalcy. I reached out with grasping hands until I found the lip of the circular shaft I was in. I dragged myself out with shaking arms and rolled onto strangely soft ground until I was lying on my back, chest heaving, struggling to fight off the panic which refused to recede entirely. I had almost drowned. I had almost drowned. It was only after my breathing slowed down that the rational part of my brain appeared to engage itself once again. Only then did I register the fact that I was looking up at the curved ceiling of what must have been a natural cave. I could see fragments of irregular rock poking through a nearly uniform cover of… Mold. Just mold, everywhere. It was all glowing with that same color. It was all around me. The glow was bright enough that it looked as though the space was flooded with the brilliance of electric lighting. I realized I knew where I was: underneath the accursed crater. I had been here once before, years ago, only then most of this place had been underwater. It was not so anymore. The air around me was hot, almost stifling, and very dry. The stench I had by now grown horribly accustomed to was pervasive, disgusting, inescapable. Rotting vegetable matter. The mold overhead swayed, rippling like algae under a gentle underwater current. I could feel a muted hum vibrating through the ground. It felt like a very large generator working, or an enormous insect buzzing away, unseen. Panic rose up in me again but I could not simply lie on the ground forever. With effort and a painful grunt, I pushed myself up to a seated position. Then I stood up, holding my head between my hands since a headache had begun to throb between my temples. Now on my feet, I looked around. I stared in naked horror. The cave had been transformed. The walls, the ceiling, the irregular rocks and the floor itself – all of it was coated by luminescing mold, but now that I was standing I saw that the mold had a structure to it. The thin strands of gently-swaying vegetable matter threaded themselves together in knots and patterns, clusters, and links between those clusters, reminding me of an impossibly macroscopic representation of living tissue. Thick columns of mold created pillars between ceiling and floor. Thinner ones spread out through the space like links in a gigantic spiderweb, and within them I could see what I could not help but think of as nuclei, circular or ellipsoidal structures floating within the tendrils and the columns, glowing. Pulsating. The entire chamber beat at the rhythm of an unseen heart. The vibration spread through the mold, like a wave, every couple of seconds. I had once seen the beating heart tissue of a frog and this reminded me of it very strongly. It felt as though I had been shrunk down and transported into the heart of a living creature. The beating was not something I could hear, but I could feel it through the soles of my feet, deeper and more rhythmical than the muted vibrations I had felt as I was lying down. Each throb commanded my attention like the echo of the suggestion of an idea. At first I could barely perceive this strange mental undercurrent, but the longer I listened, the louder the suggestion got. It was not only my body that could feel the beating of the alien heart, either. My mind could sense it in a way I had no words for, like a new sense I had no idea my brain was capable of perceiving until now. The sensation was very simple because the only thing it demanded was focus. It demanded that I look at the very center of the chamber, where a gigantic spire of living, glowing tissue rose up from the ground like a corrupted stalagmite, but bigger by far than any natural formation I had ever seen. The edges of the spire were irregular, waving, shifting. It looked like the decaying stalk of a plant that has only just sprouted, but this plant was orders of magnitude removed from any biological structure I had ever seen on my own planet. Through the throbbing echoes in my mind, I felt as though I had a distant impression of vast networks of underground roots that had tunneled through the earth over years in search of water and nutrients and energy. They had found it and the living web beneath my feet reached further than I could comprehend. It had threaded itself through the entire valley and was, even now, tunneling through the mountains, reaching, questing, hungry. Its hunger terrified me. The terror I felt upon perceiving it shattered the focus which the rhythmical beating of the tissue around me had induced in my mind, and my eyes fell for the first time on the center of the spire, at ground level. I saw an extremely complicated structure around which the spire had grown, and I knew, upon laying eyes on it, that it was the core, the nexus, of everything in this chamber and beyond. I took a hesitant step towards it. The structure resembled an upright cocoon, such as a caterpillar might make, and it was linked to the spire and to the entire chamber by thread upon thread of exquisitely delicate strands of glowing mold. It was the center of the spiderweb, the eye of the living storm all around me. It was the locus of energy and effort and hunger and… And consciousness. Another step forward. I was not sure it had been entirely taken of my own volition. I could see that the cocoon throbbed, directing the beating of the heart. Another step forward. Then another. I was closer now when I saw that the cocoon was about as tall as myself. There was someone lying prostrate on the glowing, gently-swaying ground before it. I tried to focus on the figure but my gaze was wrenched forward. All I could see was the cocoon. I needed to go to it. I needed – The figure on the ground moaned. Charles. Charles. Like one who steps awake from a dream or a trance, I suddenly came to my senses. “Charles!” I shouted, heedless of the rather violent beating of the cocoon which followed the sound of my voice. I rushed towards him and knelt beside him. I feared he had been hurt or worse, but he opened his eyes as soon as I was with him. Danny, he mouthed. I helped him stand up. He was trembling, unsteady on his feet. His clothing, like mine, was thoroughly soaked. His eyes were wide, bloodshot. He tried to speak but grimaced and grabbed his temples as though suffering under a great migraine. What is going on? I signed. Charles, talk to me. We are too late, he replied, his hands barely able to sign properly. She’s inside it now. I was hoping to learn… before it awakened… It’s too late now, Danny. It’s too late! What are you talking – But I never finished my question. The entire cave shivered and the ground beneath my feet trembled ominously. The beating of the heart slowed down yet became inexpressibly stronger. It was as though it were being concentrated. Focused. Once again my attention was wrenched towards the cocoon. Were my eyes deceiving me, or was it splitting from the top, opening like a flower? The heartbeat stopped. The silence that followed rattled my mind with horror because I knew that something had changed forever. A process which had taken years upon years had reached its apex and I knew I must avert my eyes but I could not… I was forced to look as the cocoon opened and then withered, falling away from that which it had contained, the shape only slightly shorter than I, a shape with a head and arms and legs. The mold fell away from the shape and yet it remained connected to the entire chamber by the long hair sprouting from its head, hair which was not hair but rather living tendrils that swayed gently under a nonexistent wind. It was a human shape which was revealed before me. A shape with softly glowing eyes, the very same eyes I had seen down in the basement and which now are gazing at me with a horrible sort of intelligence which I knew, I just knew, was not human. Even though the face of the creature standing there was known to me, I realized that this was not the maid, Ms. Avery, such as I had known her. She had been changed, just like the animals in those abominable cages had been changed. She was something new, something come from beyond the stars, something whose attention could not be denied and under which I felt pathetically small, insignificant, powerless. She demanded my attention and I could do nothing but give it. Her upper body looked mostly human still, even to the extent of wearing the tattered remains of what must have been a robe of some kind. The skin of her arms, her hands, and her neck was still pale, but underneath it I could see something moving, something swaying. Her face was emaciated. She looked like a victim of famine, or like someone who has been sick for many years, slowly wasting away. Her horrible, glowing eyes and the filigree network of living hair that was not hair were the only things about her that looked powerful and truly alive. They were mesmerizing in a horrible way, tugging at my mind with that insistent hunger, that call that demanded that I look, that I see, that I pay attention. It was almost enough for me to overlook her lower body, but not entirely. Her legs… Her legs were no longer human legs. They looked like a clumsy attempt at making lower limbs which could belong to a human being and yet they resembled the disgusting jointed appendages of an arthropod. They were made entirely of glowing mold and they appeared to mesh with the ground seamlessly, almost as if they had grown from it to join her upper body. As I watched in stupefied silence, the creature jerked its right leg forward. It was torn off from the ground itself, or so it seemed, as the foot that was not a foot was lifted and placed forward in a clumsy facsimile of a step. I backed away from it out of instinct. The creature’s eyes widened and it opened its mouth. I do not know whether it tried to speak, but the sound that escaped that throat has threaded itself through my nightmares ever since. It was a gurgling hiss that had never been heard on Earth before, a horrible moan, the groan of a dying creature which was made all the more disturbing because it looked, almost, as if the thing were trying to form words with lips that would not work correctly. I gasped in horror. The creature paused. Back away from it, Danny, Charles gestured urgently. He was struggling to do the same thing he suggested. I can’t! I replied. My body felt as if made from lead. I could not escape the insistent drilling gaze of those glowing eyes. I don’t know what’s happening! The creature, the alien, opened its mouth once more, a mouth which had once belonged to a human being, and another horrible gurgle issued forth from its corrupted throat. I felt a hand on the back of my shirt and then a sharp tug which sent me stumbling backwards. I fell to the ground, as did Charles, who had tried to pull me away. I grunted in pain and then looked up at the alien standing before us. What do you want? Charles gestured in evident panic. Why are you here? What do you want? The horrible sound the thing was making stopped. It finally looked away from me and focused on Charles. On… On his hands. It looked at its own hands, then. And I felt something in my mind. Something that was not coming from me. It was like a flash of understanding, like a shuddering epiphany. But then the ceiling above us started vibrating. And the creature went berserk. “Look out!” I shouted, and threw myself over Charles in a ridiculous attempt to protect him from what I was certain would be an attack. The attack never came, but the creature did tear itself out of the ground, moving in a horribly uncertain yet incredibly powerful way, jerking its body in uneven synchronicity and looking like a sped-up film of an animal learning to walk. It turned its back on us and launched itself at the spire, clawing its way upwards like a nightmarish spider. In my mind, I felt the focus of its overpowering attention shift away from the two of us and I gasped, aware for the first time of the crushing pressure under which my awareness had been while the alien had looked at us. I felt clarity and relief and an altogether different kind of fear all come crowding in when I saw Charles jump onto his feet and take off running after the alien. “Stop!” Charles screamed. “Come back!” The alien reached the end of the spire and jumped straight up with superhuman agility. The mold which covered the ceiling parted as the alien reached it and revealed the upper landing of a staircase I had not seen before. Right above it there was a circular hatch such as one might find in a submarine. The alien reached for it… and pulled. There was a sound of metal groaning as the hatch was bent out of shape. The metal held, but the alien pulled on it a second time and I saw it visibly deform. Where was it going? Where did that hatch lead to? And why did I get this horrible mental echo of ravenous desperation coming from the creature? I got up as fast as I could and ran after Charles. He moved faster than I would have expected him to be able to run and headed for the far end of the chamber. I followed desperately and it was only when I had nearly reached the opposite wall of the cave that I saw Charles was headed for the staircase. It appeared to have been bolted to the wall, and I now saw that, although it had been partially hidden by the mold, it led straight up to the hatch in the ceiling that the alien was trying to tear off its foundations. I was just a few steps behind Charles as we both ascended the metallic stairs, chasing after the creature. The mold was thick underfoot and twice I slipped, which was terrifying given the fact that I was now almost at ceiling level and a drop down to the ground would have been crippling if not deadly. Charles himself very nearly fell once, but he was racing towards the creature and I was right on his heels despite the fact that I did not know what we were doing or what was happening or why the creature so desperately wanted to go above ground. An earsplittingly sharp scrape of metal on metal forced me to stop and cover my ears. Then there was a loud clang, and when I looked again, I saw that the alien had managed to tear the hatch off its hinges. It did not even turn back to look at us. It just jumped straight up into the circular hole that it had created and disappeared from sight. Charles and I followed it. We could do nothing else. I saw Charles climb a flimsy ladder which led up into the unknown and I threw myself at it just is just his feet disappeared above me, out of sight. I did not hesitate. I simply pulled myself up, slipping only once this time, until I cleared the hatch and came out into… Into open space. I scrambled onto my feet, looking around with darting eyes. It was dark out but there was no shortage of illumination, as both Charles and I were standing underneath several floodlights which surrounded us from far away. Just a few feet to my right an array of antennas rose up from the ground. The floor around me was solid concrete, polished. It sloped outward gently, rising ever so slightly until it was lost in the darkness of the night. I realized I was standing at the very center of the parabolic dish which Charles had built over what had previously been the indentation, the scar left on the ground by the meteorite which had crashed on our planet so many years ago. Straight overhead, as I saw when I craned my neck up, a complicated array of transmitting equipment hung above us all at the focus of the paraboloid, a jumble of cables and blinking lights and antennas. The low hum of whichever generator constantly fed power to the Array could not only be heard, but also felt through the soles of my feet. I was standing at the very center of what had been the focus of Charles’s obsession ever since I had left for the war. He had been constantly beaming messages up to the stars, and trying to puzzle out the meaning in the jumbled chaos that he received as an answer. He had been so busy trying to discover the smallest inkling of intelligent life out in the void… and the bitter irony was that alien life had been gestating below our feet the entire time. Now, the gigantic array of impressive technology appeared almost pitiful when compared to the horror I had just witnessed. The nightmare wasn’t over yet, though. I could see that the creature, the hybrid, was climbing the arm of the crane which suspended the array of antennas over our heads. Fearless, the creature used its human forelimbs and its disgusting lower body with breathtaking dexterity. What was it doing? Why was it so eagerly climbing? I watched, transfixed, as it reached the top of the crane arm and then began to worm its way horizontally until it managed to reach the cluster of equipment which was beeping and blinking, busily transmitting and receiving information, oblivious to the chaos which had unfolded all around it. The alien reached its destination and went berserk. It grabbed metal and twisted it out of shape. It lunged forward and bit cables in half. It thrashed overhead in a frenzy of destruction, lashing out at everything within reach as if it were the most important thing in the universe to destroy every possible last a bit of the transceiver array. The crane which supported everything wobbled under the onslaught and it was only when I heard a dismayed cry that my attention was wrenched away from what the creature overhead was doing. I glanced at the crane arm further away. Charles was climbing it, just like the creature had done. “Charles! No!” I rushed forward but when I reached the crane I realized I could not help Charles at all. He was already a dozen feet above me, climbing the structure as best as he was able to, but he had never been an athletic individual and I could see that the tiniest distraction would send him tumbling down to the ground, to certain death. I could not follow him or I would risk causing him to fall. I was reduced to watch, horrified, as Charles made his way to the very top of the wobbling crane. He was fearless in those final moments. Once at the very top he scrambled on hands and feet all along the horizontal arm of the crane until he reached the focal point of his giant parabolic dish. The alien either did not see him approach or did not react to his presence at the beginning. It was much too busy destroying everything in sight. It was monstrously strong and by the time Charles stood up just a couple of feet away from it, looking as though he was desperately trying to keep his balance, the alien had thoroughly obliterated every last fragment of technology which the array had housed at its central and most critical point. “STOP!” Charles screamed, loud enough that I heard him, even though he was so high up. The alien whipped its head back. I saw the manic glow in its eyes. It appeared to hesitate, but then ignored Charles and crouched down, attempting to dislodge a cluster of very thick cables which looked as though they fed power to the structure. “Stop!” Charles repeated, and attacked the creature. Yes, it was he who attacked first. The alien appeared surprised. It did not react in time and Charles delivered a vicious kick to its midsection which sent it sprawling back. Only its superhuman agility prevented the creature from falling over the side. It grabbed on to whatever metal support it could find and then hoisted itself up once again. It lifted its arms and snarled. I saw it gather momentum as it prepared to lunge for Charles and kill him. I… I acted, and to this day I wonder whether this last, reflexive action on my part has not doomed us all. I learned how to fire a gun in the military. I became a good shot, in fact. And so, I whipped out the revolver out of its sealed leather bag, took aim, and emptied out all six rounds before the creature had a chance to reach my friend. The noise was deafening. They were both so far away that I feared I may have hit Charles by mistake… But my aim was true. The alien staggered visibly, arms still raised up, and then collapsed. It fell over the edge, its limp body slamming against the ground below with a sickening crunch. Ears still ringing from the shots, I rushed forward, gun in hand, to verify it was really dead. I reached it in just a couple of seconds. The alien was dying, it was clear to see. There were two gunshot wounds in his chest and its deformed legs were crumpled underneath it, broken. It was bleeding from the head. And yet the eyes still glowed, they glowed even brighter if at all possible, and as they fixed on me standing over it with the weapon which had killed it still in my hand, I had a sudden, horrible realization. It came in a wave, a sort of mental echo that I could not place, like a message desperately delivered in an incomprehensible language. It haunts me. It haunts me in dreams and in vigil and it tortures me with the crushing regret which I forever carry now. At that moment, I finally understood. The eyes, the glowing eyes, they were not evil. The burning intensity in them had been… Worry. The alien lifted its arms one last time, lying on the ground. And with trembling hands, silently, imitating the language it had seen Charles and me use, it spoke. Keep quiet, it said. Its eyes were glowing desperately. It gestured feebly at the Array all around us, at the antennas which had been so busily transmitting information out into the stars, advertising the fact that the Earth had intelligent life, that we wanted to make contact. With what appeared like a last desperate effort, the alien gestured again. Keep quiet… Keep quiet… Or They will hear. Like a light going out, its eyes dimmed suddenly. Death snatched it away from me before I could ask what it had meant and its arms fell to the ground, lifeless. Above me, every light suddenly went out except for one. It came down from the sky, a blinding floodlight which all but blinded me. It was a ship, cylindrical. I saw it then for the first time. It came down until it was hovering just a few feet above Charles. The light surrounded my friend. He screamed. I screamed as well. Then there was a sizzling, as of electricity. Every hair on my body stood up on end and I saw the dead body of the alien beside me being lifted up into the sky by means I could not fathom. It rose and rose until it reached the blinding light overhead and then disappeared. Along with Charles. I barely glimpsed him as he was being taken by the alien ship. I shouted his name but the ship paid me no mind. Its light turned off suddenly and then it was gone. Gone, forever. Or so I thought. Then, silence. Heavy. It echoed in my mind and I could not move. Dumbstruck, I stood there. The horrible stillness of the night surrounded me. I was left alone on that accursed parabolic Array. Hours passed. I could not understand what had happened. When Henry came and found me, the first light of dawn was burning in the East. I did not know why he was there, and I did not care. He no longer looked sick. But he looked very, very sad. “They are gone, aren’t they?” he asked me, standing beside me on the cold concrete. “Yes.” “I felt them go,” Henry said, reaching up to touch his temples. “In my mind. I felt its mind let go when you killed it.” I would have asked how he knew that I had killed the alien but I could not muster the strength to do so. “We misunderstood them, Daniel,” Henry said to me. His voice sounded hollow. As though it shared the horror and regret which was beginning to consume me. “You, me, even Charles, we all misunderstood. We thought the alien had come to kill us. We thought it was infecting creatures to take them over… And, in a way, it was. But not for evil. It desperately tried to talk to us without killing us but our biology was too different. It spent years perfecting a link from mind to mind… It was trying to warn us. I saw it in my mind while I was delirious. Visions. They have been watching us for thousands of years, did you know that? Caring for us. Protecting us from… From Them. Whatever They are. Those others, they kill intelligent life. All they can find. And they have found us.” “Was it because of Charles?” I asked at last. I remembered how frantically the alien had tried to destroy the antennas all around us. To silence us so They wouldn’t hear. “Was it because of this Array of his?” “Partly, yes. But we have had radio for years now. We broadcast our existence into the void without meaning to. The alien tried to prevent it. To keep us hidden. It failed.” “What happens now?” Henry shrugged. He looked like one who has accepted death. “Now we wait for Them to come. The others, the evil ones. We are defenseless. I have seen the weapons they use. Entire asteroids, sent like bombs towards helpless planets. We cannot fight against that, we do not have the technology yet. We are doomed. Humanity itself is doomed.” I heard his words, but strangely, what mattered to me most right then was the fate of a single individual. “And where is Charles? Where are they taking him?” Henry looked at me and started to cry. “I don’t know.” *** And so now I hobble out of my home, into the cold night, under the blinding glow of the alien vessel which hovers over the neighborhood. People are screaming, running away. I hear a siren but it is moving away from this place. Everyone is terrified, and why would they not be? Only I know differently. Only I approach, slowly because of my knee, until I am standing underneath the thing that, I know, has come for me. The night all around us is chilly and yet I do not feel cold. The golden-green glow in the sky, that familiar radiance which I first saw underneath a crater decades and decades ago, fills me now, not with horror, but with warmth, and with memories. A figure comes down from the light above, hovering, coming down gently as though floating. It is as though gravity does not exist for this figure. I would wonder how this is possible, how such a flagrant violation of the laws of physics can be, but I am past disbelief. My mind is completely open, ready to accept whatever happens next. And so I look up, focusing on the floating figure, squinting under the intense glare, trying to make out details in the physical form of the alien that has come down to talk to me. The figure appears bipedal. When it descends more I realize it also has two arms. A head. When it is just a few feet above the ground I realize the figure is a man, a young human man. I cannot see his face clearly. He lands on his feet just a few paces in front of me, barely making a noise. The light overhead dims to the point where it is no longer blinding… And then I see him. I gasp. Tears choke me. My hands spell out his name. Charles. He smiles. He lifts his hands and answers my gestures with his own. Hi, Danny. It has been a long time. He opens his arms wide, still smiling. I cry out in joy, surprise, confusion, and all but throw myself into his arms. His embrace is strong and firm. He smells just like I remember. It’s him. It is impossible, but it’s him. “Charles,” I whisper into his hair, crying. “Charles, it’s you.” “Yes, Danny,” he whispers back, although he would not have been able to hear my whispers, not before. “It’s me.” Our embrace ends and I step back, but I do not let go of his hands. I drink in the sight of him and marvel. He is just like I remember. Exactly. Young, tall, handsome. “How?” I whisper. Charles looks up at the hovering ship. “They did it. The say they needed me to help. To explain. And so they changed me, so I could work with them, all through these years.” He looks into my eyes. I see it, then, the tiniest hint of that golden-green glow, burning deep in the irises of the man who stands before me. But this time, rather than scaring me, the glow beckons. It speaks of kindness and wisdom and strength. “They?” Is all I could manage to say. I have so many questions. So many thoughts come to my mind at the same time. Charles nods solemnly. “Yes. The same beings who sent us a messenger who so desperately tried to warn us. The one you killed.” I let go of Charles’s hands and back away a couple of steps. I look down at the ground, ashamed. My knee hurts. I want to sit down. “I am so sorry…” I begin. “Don’t be,” Charles interrupts. “They understand. Really, they do. And if they are here now, Danny, if they have brought me back, it’s because there is still time. We can still fight.” I look up at him. “But… The asteroids. The bombs. They are headed for the planet and we can’t stop them.” “No, but our friends can.” I blink. “So they are here now to… To help us?” “Yes. Even now, three of their stealth ships are on intercept course for the asteroid bombs. It is a suicide mission but the pilots are all volunteers. That attack will never reach the Earth.” “Then we are safe?” I ask, scarcely daring to believe. “Humanity will not go extinct tonight?” It is Charles’s turn to look down, but when he looks back up at me there is a fierce determination burning in his eyes. “Not completely safe, no. You see, the asteroid bombs are only the first attack. Those Others, the ones who destroy sentient life, they will come for us, Danny. When their bombs are destroyed they will send ships. An invasion force. Our friends will help, but the attack will come from everywhere at once. Every city, every town on the planet will come under attack when They arrive. We do not have much time to prepare. But we do have some. “And that’s why I’m here,” Charles continues. “We need people to help coordinate the resistance. Smart people, determined, resourceful. I told them about you, and they agreed you’re a good choice. The first choice, in fact. Will you come with me, Danny? Will you help me fight to save our planet?” I give Charles a rueful grin. I gesture down at myself. “You come forty years too late. I would gladly help, but…” And, incredibly, Charles laughs. “Oh, Danny. Look at me! If you agree, if you want to fight, they can help you. They can rejuvenate your body, fix your hearing… They can even improve you, just a little, like this.” Charles’s eyes glow more brightly for an instant and he rushes forward in a blur of motion. In less than a blink of an eye, he is gone. “Boo,” a voice says from behind me. I jump, startled. Charles steadies my shoulders and gently turns me around so I’m facing him. “How did you do that?” I ask, dumbfounded. “You’ll be able to do that, too, if you want. What do you say, Danny? Will you help us? I… ” and for the first time, he looks almost unsure of himself. Awkward, like the Charles of old. “I’ve missed you so much through these years. I’d love for you and me to –” I interrupt him with a gentle fingertip on his lips. I hold his gaze, smile, and nod. “You have been in my thoughts every single day since I lost you,” I tell him. “I have found you again, and I won’t let you go.” His eyes brim with tears and he smiles broadly. He leans in and kisses me on the lips, deeply, with electric passion. I stiffen for an instant but then I give in, and soon I am crying too, out of pure and unbridled happiness. When our kiss ends, I cannot stop smiling. I hold both his hands and look into his eyes, at the alien glow in them, yes, but also at the fierce humanity, the kindness, the valor. “What happens now?” I ask quietly. “Now?” Charles echoes. “Now I take you up with me. And after a little touch-up… You and me will lead the fight for our home.” He looks up at the dark sky and frowns in open defiance, as though staring down an unseen enemy. He looks arrestingly handsome, and my heart skips a beat. “They won’t take us down without a fight,” he says. I look up with him, and for the first time in years, I am filled with determination and something even stronger than that. Hope. “No, they won’t,” I agree. “We’ll give them hell.”
  12. albertnothlit

    The alien

    I think the thirst for knowledge has a dangerous side which we too often overlook, to our own peril. However, if I were the first person to find alien life, I wonder whether I would act differently from Charles... I think I would, but the temptation to know would definitely be there.
  13. albertnothlit

    The alien

    This morning, a cylindrical monolith hovers over London. It is the only image on television, a live transmission coming from every channel. Every radio station on the planet, every news outlet, every newspaper, they all talk about one thing and one thing only: the object that came down from the sky, enormous, easily three times the size of any man-made skyscraper. It did not crash to the ground, however. It hovers. It waits. The object, the ship, the UFO… Whatever people call it, its true nature remains a mystery to most. It is entirely featureless, a cylinder of polished black metal that appears to drink in the light and neither emits any sort of electromagnetic radiation nor appears to receive or reflect any of the ceaseless transmissions it has been bombarded with as the entire world tries, desperately, to make first contact. It has no discernible means of flight and the fact that it hovers less than a mile above Central London and yet gives off no energy signature of any kind has every single scientist puzzling over how such a thing is possible at all. It is silent, undetectable by radar, and invisible to every single detection mechanism we have except for our own eyes, photographs, and cameras. We would not know it is there but for the fact that we can see it in the sky. It seems almost like magic – but, then again, advanced technology will always seem like sorcery to the ignorant barbarians who see it for the first time. Scientists are asking the wrong questions right now. I wonder if I should call a news station somewhere and tell them: you should not be asking why the object won’t communicate. Its very presence is already a message. You should not be asking why none of our telescopes picked it up before. It has obviously been designed to be invisible in the blackness of space, its apparent inertness the cloak which kept it hidden from our detection until it decided to show itself. Why has it now revealed itself? This is the question we should be asking. What has changed, or what is about to happen? Is that thing a mere probe, like our own Voyager 1 or Voyager 2? Is it a ship, are there occupants inside? Or is it a weapon? At first, people thought it was the Soviets. A declaration of war was issued by the United Kingdom and all its allies early this morning. Thirty minutes later it was withdrawn when it became obvious that the object did not come from this planet. People fear the usage of atomic weaponry against it as a preemptive measure and many are fleeing London if they can. Military forces from a dozen countries have been deployed and they have converged on Great Britain, patrolling the sky above and around the object, circling the seas, watching, waiting. No one knows what is happening and no one knows how to act. The tension cannot hold for much longer without breaking, I am sure. Even if the object does nothing else at all but hover silently, it is only a matter of time before someone, somewhere, launches a missile or detonates a bomb out of nervousness or negligence or fear. The next few hours will dictate the future of the entire human race. The irony of the fact that we may yet end up destroying ourselves because of our own stupidity is not lost on me. I wonder if They know. Is the waiting deliberate? Is this mysterious silence a display of patience or a display of cruelty, or both? I wonder what will happen next. Here in America many news outlets are questioning the events, suggesting a hoax perhaps, urging people not to panic. They speak of the Roswell incident in the fifties and remind everyone that despite the craze, things turned out to be nothing out of the ordinary in the end. They suggest this is one of those scenarios. They keep telling everyone to just go to work and stay tuned in for any new developments. I suppose they have been instructed to do so by the government. It is working, at least for now – as far as I can tell if I look out the window, the city of Albany hums along much as it has always done, with commuters coming and going on their vehicles, the mailman delivering mail, and people walking their dogs past my house as if nothing were the matter. I treasure these sights of normalcy because I know they will never return. This is no hoax. This is the beginning of the end. *** I waited in the darkness, shivering, for what felt like an eternity until I was certain that I was alone again in the pitch-black hallway. Only then did I open the gate which had kept me safe from my unidentified attacker. My legs trembled as I took my first step out into the hallway. I could not forget the evil shining eyes of the thing that had chased me, and I did not want to even hazard a guess as to what its true nature might have been. There were too many unknowns, too many mysteries piled upon mysteries. I knew, now, that by returning to this accursed Observatory I had stumbled onto something sinister and secret, something that surpassed all other strange occurrences which had taken place over the years on this site. Step after hesitant step, I made my way down the hall in total darkness, trying to be as silent as possible so as to avoid detection in case that thing were still out there, somewhere. My mind was a jumble of fear and confusion. I knew one thing for certain, however. I needed answers. I climbed the stairs which led out of the basement and it was only when I had shut the door of that awful place firmly behind me that I could relax, if only slightly. I was out of that darkness at last and I made my way quickly through the building until I reached the corridor which led to the bedrooms. My heart was pounding in my chest and I was sweating, but stronger than the fear or the urge to simply run away and never come back there was an angry sort of curiosity which needed to be satisfied. I needed to find Charles and demand an explanation. I did not care about the late hour. I would find him, even if I needed to wake up every last person in the household in order to do so. I first made my way to Charles’s bedroom but it was empty. I walked back down the corridor and looked up when I reached the staircase which led to the attic. The heavy reinforced door at the top was ajar. I did not hesitate. I walked up the steps two at a time, breathing heavily, afraid of finding the thing which had chased me but also determined to put an end to the questions. I pushed the door aside when I reached it and stepped into a place which I remembered as a wide open space in which Charles had sometimes taken refuge and sought solitude in order to think. It was nothing of the sort now. The place was… transformed. It had been transformed into a laboratory, I could see. The heavy, unpleasant smells of chlorine, formaldehyde, and animal waste all assaulted my nostrils at the same time and threatened to make me retch. Under the illumination of several cold electric lights set on the ceiling, I was able to take in the entire scene in an instant. I saw several long, flat tables set at regular intervals all along the center of the rectangular space. Many of them were stacked high with equipment from the biology lab. Others held piles upon piles of books. Paper sheets of every size littered both the tables and the floor beneath, all of them covered with lines of notes in the tight scrawl which I recognized as Charles’s handwriting. A shelf to my right held dozens of jars and pots with liquids of various colors, many of them unlabeled. Another shelf, further down and standing between two of the large windows which offered a view of the grounds beyond held… Things. Things in jars, suspended in either alcohol, formaldehyde, or some other preserving agent. Some of them looked like fragments of living things, paws, eyes, inner organs. Others look like embryonic reptiles or mammals or birds. And still others I could not identify, but I must confess I averted my eyes before I could ascertain just what the horribly misshapen unborn things floating inside implied as to their origin. My attention was drawn to the opposite wall without too much effort, for here I saw the cages. Many of them were empty, but some were not, and by God, I wish they had been. I took another hesitant step forward but then stopped. It was all I could do to remain standing there, staring at the animals inside the cages, instead of running downstairs screaming in visceral fear. Three cages had living things in them. In the first one, which was about three feet by three feet, I saw a creature which had often been in my nightmares over the past three years. It was a squirrel, larger than usual, standing perfectly still and staring at me with horribly intelligent eyes. Time had changed it, however. It was now completely green, having lost all semblance of fur. Instead, moldy growths undulated over its skin like a horrible caricature of what fur should be. Its eyes were now a golden shade of green, and they glowed. They glowed just like the eyes of the thing in the basement. When I made as if to move forward again, the squirrel tilted its head in a gesture I could only interpret as idle curiosity. It looked at me, unblinkingly, and I could not shake off the impression that I was being analyzed, but not by a brainless animal. Movement in the second cage drew my eyes. It was a larger cage, and inside it there was a cat, except it was not a cat. It could not be. Cats do not have six legs. The creature there stared at me as well, motionless, in complete silence. Its eyes did not glow, nor was its fur green, but I had the exact same impression as I watched its abominably deformed body as I did when I had watched the squirrel. I was being observed. I was being analyzed. The third cage contained a featherless bird, large enough to be an eagle and yet with the shape and proportions of an ordinary pigeon. It was disgusting to look at, not only because of its lack of feathers which made it look like a plucked chicken, but because of the fact that there appeared to be something underneath its skin which undulated ceaselessly, pushing against it as if trying to break free. The misshapen creature must have been in agonizing pain and yet it also stood as if petrified, in absolute silence. Its eyes never blinked as it, too, stared in my direction. I lifted my hand up to my face. All three animals followed the motion in unison. I heard a groan then, muffled, coming from beneath the cages. I broke free of the horrified spell under which the discovery of the animals had seemed to put me and walked further into the lab. It was then that I saw Henry lying facedown on the floor, next to the largest cage of all, a cage big enough to hold a grown man, the door to which looked as if it had been torn open. Despite my disgust, the fear, and the awful smell, I made my way forward and knelt beside Henry. I turned him over carefully, trying my best to ignore the stares of the three caged animals. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I also caught the faintest hint of motion from some of the things floating in jars on the shelf by the opposite wall, but I refused to look in that direction. Instead, I focused on trying to revive the unconscious youth before me. “Henry. Henry, wake up!” I said, flinching at the very obvious effect which the sound of my words had on the creatures nearby. They moved at last, approaching the mesh of their cages, trying to get closer to me. Then they stopped and resumed their horrible staring. Henry moaned again. He appeared to have hit the side of his head against the floor, judging from the bruise I could see and the blood running down his temple. I should have perhaps been more gentle and patient, waiting for him to come to his senses in due time, but the circumstances were anything but normal and I needed answers. I shook him several times until I finally got him to blink. “Henry!” I called loudly. “Do you know where you are? This is Daniel. What happened here?” He opened his eyes at last and focused on my face. He blinked twice as if confused, like a person who has been woken up suddenly in the middle of the night. Then he sat bolt upright. “Where is it?” he cried, but then he grimaced and brought his right hand up to his temple. He swayed weakly and I steadied him with my hands. “Where is it?” I demanded. “Henry, answer me!” He looked at me and, for the first time, appeared to realize that I was there. His eyes widened in alarm. “Mr. Fenton. What are you doing here?” “Something attacked me in the basement. I need you to start talking. What is going on here?” But Henry ignored my question, instead looking to the right, at the large empty cage next to us. He started shaking. “It got away. Dear God, it got away.” I grabbed hold of his shirt, tugging on the sling in which he carried his wounded left arm by accident. He grimaced in pain. “What got away?” I demanded. He tried to jerk away from me but all he managed was to tear off the sling and expose his wounded arm. I could not help but look. There was a bite mark there, and it looked infected. The edges of it were covered with blackened scar tissue, but some of it was… fuzzy… I let go of him, recoiling, and jumped back onto my feet. Slowly, still in evident pain, Henry stood up as well. He leaned back against the cage with the squirrel and the animal inside did not reach for him or attack him in any way. I realized all of the animals were still looking at me. My mind reached its breaking point quite suddenly and I turned around, intending to run away and never come back to this awful, godforsaken place. As I did so, though, I saw Charles rushing up the stairs. He came to a shocked standstill at the threshold of the attic door. His clothing and his hair were soaked through. “Where is she?” Charles demanded. He looked all around wildly, spraying water droplets everywhere. “Where is she?” It was the last thing I expected him to say and so I stood still, dumbstruck. “I’m sorry, Charles,” Henry whimpered behind me. “I was dizzy… She waited until I opened her cage to feed her and then…” “No,” Charles whispered. He stepped forward a couple of steps, blinking quickly, as if his mind were racing. He started signing and appeared not to notice. Then that thing at the well… I thought… “We need to catch her,” Henry said. I glanced back at him and saw he was swaying on his feet. His brow was beaded with sweat and there were dark circles under his eyes. He looked really unwell. “We need to catch her before –” “It’s too late,” Charles interrupted. He walked up to a table and leaned his hands on it as if he were under a great burden. “She’s gone. And just when we were finally getting her to talk!” He slammed his fist on the table with his last word. I started, surprised at the outburst. Then I saw how Charles reached up to his neck and clutched the fragment of meteorite that hung from its metallic chain around it. It was my turn for an outburst. “That’s it,” I said loudly. “That’s it! Charles, tell me what is going on here right now.” He focused on me as if for the first time noticing, truly noticing, that I was there as well. Danny, he signed. It’s nothing – Don’t you DARE tell me it’s nothing, I said, my gestures violent, stepping forward until only the width of an examination table separated us. I was just downstairs in the basement. Something came for me, Charles. Something with eyes that were glowing just like that damned pendant you wear. I will ask just one more time. What is going on? Charles looked at Henry fleetingly. I followed his glance, and I noticed how Henry’s knees buckled under him. Instinct took over. I rushed back and caught him before he could hit the floor, grunting under the youth’s weight. He was unconscious, I saw. His body felt clammy. Silently, I glared at Charles. “Help me carry him downstairs,” I told him slowly. “Then, you talk.” Charles nodded sheepishly, all traces of his previous anger apparently forgotten, and he swung Henry’s left arm over his shoulders while I did the same with the right. Together, awkwardly, we left the ghastly attic behind and stumbled down the stairs until we reached my room, which was the closest one. We dragged Henry to the bed and set him down with effort. I’m going to call Mr. White, I told Charles. Henry needs a doctor. But Charles shook his head. It’s no use, Danny. Doctors can’t help him. Sit down. I’ll tell you everything. I hesitated. But no matter the antipathy I might have felt towards the youth, it was clear to me that he needed to go to a hospital as soon as possible. I don’t know what’s going on, Charles, but I will not be an accomplice to negligence. I will be right back. I walked down the hall and turned right at the corridor which led towards the servants’ quarters. I knocked on Mr. White’s door, pounding really, and he opened it a few seconds later, bleary-eyed. “I am sorry to bother you at this late hour, Mr. White,” I said. “It appears Henry has fallen ill. Kindly see to it that a doctor is called right away, and if none is available, make all arrangements necessary to take Henry to the nearest hospital. You may use my car.” I handed him the keys. It took him a moment to nod. “Yes… Certainly, Mr. Fenton.” “I would also greatly appreciate your being discreet about this whole matter,” I added. “I do not know what has happened to Henry, but it will not do to begin spreading rumors around. Do you understand?” “I do,” he answered, standing up straight. Even in his pajamas, he managed to portray an air of calm efficiency for which I had never been more grateful. “Thank you. I will be in my room with Henry and Mr. Wentworth while you sort things out.” I turned around and hurried back. I found Charles sitting right where I had left him. He appeared not to mind his wet clothes at all. Henry was still lying on the bed, eyes closed, his breathing apparently shallow. Now we talk, I said to Charles, sitting on the armchair opposite his. What is happening? What were those… things I saw upstairs? And what, just what attacked me in the cellar? Charles took a shaky breath. He looked at the door once, as if contemplating either leaving or arguing. But then his shoulders slumped and he nodded. It’s the meteorite, Danny, he said, his fingers quick as they danced through the air. It’s always been the meteorite. Do you remember the mold? Yes, I answered, recalling the many times over the years that I had seen it, either around the crater or inside the property, like the day I had visited the maid, Ms. Avery, who had complained about its presence in her room. Wait here, Charles told me. I frowned but allowed him to leave since I couldn’t leave Henry alone. Charles hurried out the room and was back within a couple of minutes carrying a medium-sized fish tank in his arms. The tank must have been transparent and one point, but now it was a uniform shade of slate-green. Charles set it on a small coffee table beside my armchair. His expression, strangely enough, was… eager. What’s this? I asked him. For an answer, he opened the lid that had been covering the top of the fish tank. An overpowering stench of rotting vegetable matter wafted out from the open container. Inside, I saw mold. A lot of it. Watch this, he signed. Then he reached his hand into the container. “Don’t!” I cried out, but Charles ignored me. He plunged his hand into the velvety mass. His fingers never touched it. The moment I thought his skin would come in contact with that thing, the mold shrank away from him, contracting to half its original size. Charles moved his hand around and the mold did its best to avoid being touched. Openmouthed, I watched the display for several horribly fascinating seconds. I cannot help but be reminded of certain species of anemones which will retract their tentacles when they sense danger nearby. This was the same thing. Somehow, simple vegetable mold was able to sense that Charles’s hand was nearby and it appeared not to like it. Why is it doing that? I asked him. That’s not all, he replied. Now watch this. Charles slipped off his pendant and hung the fragment of meteorite over the fish tank. Slowly, so faintly at first that I thought my eyes were deceiving me, the tips of the mold stalks in the tank began to luminesce. It was that same light, that very same gold-green light that by now I had grown to hate. As if in reply, the core of the meteorite fragment gave off a soft glow of its own. Charles put on his pendant after a few seconds, closed the lid of the tank, and set it down on the floor so it would be out of sight. Aghast, I again saw that, far from being horrified, he looked fascinated. Pleased. He was very nearly smiling. Charles. Explain. I think the mold is a new kind of life form, Danny, he said, and he could not stop himself from grasping his pendant for an instant. It must have come inside the meteorite. Do you remember how cold it was when we found it first? I have long thought about that, and many other things. Any sort of biological agent a meteorite could house would surely be destroyed by the enormous heat of atmospheric reentry and eventual impact, would it not? But what if it had, somehow, been designed to keep its contents cold so they could survive and take purchase after reaching a new world? What are you saying? I gestured, although I knew very well what he was implying. This mold is an alien organism. It has to be. It’s too different. I have studied it for years now, and it’s… Danny, it’s fascinating! I shook my head slowly, horrified. My logical mind came forward, I suspect, as a kind of defense against the unbelievable things I was hearing. Charles, consider Occam’s razor. A far simpler explanation is bound to be the correct one. This mold looks like any other mold, even if it behaves differently. You cannot say – Oh, but I can, he interrupted me. I exhausted every other possibility. I was patient. I experimented. I observed. Danny, this mold does things to other living creatures, things that nothing on Earth would be able to do. You saw the creatures in the lab upstairs. Those monsters? Monsters? he echoed, frowning, as if the thought had never occurred to him. Rather, advances. Hybrids. Most of them failures, yes. But it’s part of evolution, is it not? Trial and error. Mutation and eventual success. I shuddered, thinking of the misshapen animals I had seen in those cages. What purpose could such horrible mutations serve? Here, incredibly, Charles grinned. His expression reminded me very sharply of the way he would smile whenever I arrived, on my own, at a conclusion he had carefully guided me to. Exactly, Danny. Well asked. Why has this alien thing come? How was it sent here, and for what purpose? We do not know it is alien, I countered. It is. I understand your reticence. It took me years to reach these conclusions and you have had less than a few hours to process this entire experience. Nevertheless, I am certain you will arrive at the same conclusion I have. This mold comes from a different planet and the vehicle it used to travel between the stars was designed. It was a meteorite, I reminded him. A horrible fluke of nature which killed your entire family. Charles grimaced slightly and, although it had been a low blow, I was glad to see that he could still feel bad about that ancient tragedy. “Do you remember that night?” Charles asked me, turning his back to me so he would be able to look out the window, arms crossed behind his back. “Yes,” I said softly. I doubted he heard me. He continued, nevertheless. “Perhaps you have forgotten one detail, Danny. Or perhaps you did not see. Do you remember how closely we were following the thing I thought was a comet? Do you remember how my calculations showed clearly that it would come close but not impact with the Earth?” “Of course,” I replied, stepping forward and raising the volume of my voice a little bit. I looked out the window and saw nothing but darkness through the glass, but in my mind’s eye I could see that night once again. “I wasn’t wrong, you know,” Charles said quietly. “My calculations were correct. But there was a flash of light, do you remember? An unexpected flash of light. And the trajectory of the comet changed.” I blinked. I did remember that. I hadn’t thought about it for years, but he was right. “What happened?” Charles went on. “What changed, why the light? It was calculated, Danny. It must have been an explosion of some kind. Fuel burning in the void. Bright chemical exhaust. Something. And its ultimate consequence was to alter the trajectory of the comet so it would impact. It was planned.” “Nonsense.” He turned to look at me. “Really? I have gone over that night hundreds of times, thousands. At first I had doubts but no longer. This thing, this object, was sent to our planet. Some form of intelligence, whether directly present or long ago programmed in some way, directed the comet so that it would enter our atmosphere and deliver its payload. The vessel itself was carefully engineered. Remember the odd coolness of the meteorite when you found it. No material on Earth is able to sustain such a temperature differential in the absence of active energy production. And why bother keeping the inside cool, if not to protect the delicate biological cells it housed? The entire system is a masterpiece. It is an incredibly efficient way to send living biological matter across the vast empty expanses of space in such a way as to ensure that the contents will have a survival chance after impact. Can you imagine the inherent complexities of creating such a machine? We are in the presence of either great genius, or nearly incomprehensible technological advancement. Maybe both.” I shook my head. Cold sweat beaded on my temples. “Maybe. But even so, it does not change the fact that this thing is evil. It corrupts everything it touches. Like the things in your lab… Or this odd luminescing mold… Or the thing that attacked me downstairs.” A shadow of worry appeared to pass over Charles’s features but then he frowned as if pushing it aside. “You would have been in no real danger. She was much too weak. And just when I was about to get her to communicate…” “She?” “Ms. Avery, of course. We kept her upstairs for the better part of three years. It’s ironic that only now, when the corruption had truly spread –” “What? Charles, was I attacked by the maid, Ms. Avery? The one who disappeared three years ago? The one who somehow returned to her village in the middle of winter when we all thought she had died?” “Yes. Her family sent her back to me eventually. They said she kept escaping and wandering off in the direction of the Observatory. It was about six months after you left. They said they could no longer care for her and so they entrusted her to me. I kept her upstairs while her condition worsened. It was fascinating to witness. She had been infected by the mold but, somehow, it was nowhere near as aggressive with her as it had been with the reporter, Eoin Caine. You remember him, yes? We read his journal.” Flashes of memory swept past my mind. I remembered the increasingly desperate notes I had read in those pages. “Caine must have died within a week of infection,” Charles continued, seemingly oblivious as to the growing horror plainly visible in my face. “Ms. Avery did not. I’m not sure, Danny, but I think the mold was somehow… learning. When it killed those missing hikers all those years ago, it was almost instantaneous. A single night and they all went insane. With Caine it took a week. Ms. Avery is still alive, in a way. The life form is making progress. It is adapting itself better to inhabiting terrestrial organisms without killing them. You should take a walk through the woods around the crater if you can. You’ll see a lot of squirrels… They always watch me when I get close. Silently. Like the one that sneaked into our bedroom that night. They are all green now, no traces of silver fur anywhere. Their eyes are… different...” “This is madness,” I whispered. I took a step back from him. I did not know what horrified me more: the possibility that he had gone insane and all he was saying was a figment of his overactive imagination, or that he was speaking the truth word for word. “Quite the opposite, Danny. We are in the presence of intelligent life even if you find it hard to accept it. There is a purpose behind this invasion, if indeed an invasion it is.” “And just what purpose is that?” I don’t know, he signed, reverting back to silent language without appearing to notice. I have tried to find out. I was making progress, but now she’s gone. Is it hostile? Is it slowly taking over the planet? There is so much to learn… So much… Charles, this needs to stop. Look right there! I gestured, sweeping my hand in the direction of Henry’s prostrate figure. The authorities need to be notified. Whatever this is, it’s dangerous. We must let other people know – “NO!” Charles screamed. “No. Not when I’m so close. We must know, Danny. I must know. Why is the alien here? Why did it come? Is it one or many? Is the mold conscious? Or can it only attain consciousness if linked to a living creature? Even if it’s going to destroy us, we can learn so much before then! All this time I have been hopelessly beaming out information to the stars, hoping to get a reply, and the reply has been here all along! Don’t you see? I… I… I need to go to the crater. I need to find Ms. Avery before she –” At that moment, someone knocked at the door and a moment later Mr. White entered the room. He had changed into clean clothes. “The doctor at Tupper Lake cannot travel here, Mr. Fenton,” Mr. White notified me. “He nevertheless agreed to be awake and ready by the time Henry is transported over to him. I have prepared your car, as you asked.” “Good,” I replied before Charles could get a word in. “Get two of the cooks to help you carry Henry over to the car and take him there posthaste. You will drive, Mr. White. you know the road to the village far better than I.” He nodded. “And you, sirs?” I looked at Charles. He appeared conflicted. He looked at me, at Henry, at me again. Then that abominable pendant of his began to glow. I’m sorry, Danny, he said. I must know. I must. Then he took off running, faster than I had ever seen him move before in my life, roughly pushing Mr. White aside. It took me a moment to recover from the surprise and then I sprinted after him. “Get Henry to a doctor!” I yelled at Mr. White as I rushed out of the room. Then I ran, trying to catch up to Charles even if I could not see him anymore. From far off, I heard a heavy door being slammed. My own footsteps pounded down the hallway as I made my way to the place where I knew Charles must have gone. It was the only place he could go. The crater.
  14. They often say that curiosity can be dangerous sometimes, and I suppose that for those with a very strong natural inclination for inquisitiveness, it may be hard to resist. In the case of Daniel, he is beginning to learn that sometimes it is best not to know... Although, by now, he is in too deep and it would appear it is too late to retreat into blissful ignorance.
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