Last night, my friends and I went skating at an outdoor rink in the park. We knew it was one of our last chances before the thaw, so we stayed long past sundown and after everyone else had gone home.
Basking in the yellow glow of two floodlights – one on either end of the rink –, we alternated between playing hockey and warming up by sipping hot cocoa from the thermos. The wind picked up around 9:00 pm, so we decided we’d play one last game before calling it quits. The first team to score three goals would win.
It was Peter, Christine, and Adam versus Elizabeth, Seamus, and me. We were about to get creamed when suddenly, the sky lit up as bright as day. A rumbling like that of a jet engine could be heard overhead, and a large gleaming object came falling from the sky and into the woods, leaving a trail of smoke in its wake. As it crashed into the ground, it produced a loud booming noise that sent the birds in the forest flying in all directions.
“What the hell was that?” asked Seamus.
“A plane?” Elizabeth replied meekly.
Peter cupped his hands to the sides of his eyes, and peered towards the tree line, “Can’t be a plane,” he said, squinting, “Too small for that…”
On the horizon, the brightness began to fade, turning the sky a mix of sunset purple and pink.
“It was obviously a meteorite, duh,” said Christine.
“No, it looked smooth,” whispered Peter.
Adam rolled his eyes, “Whatever, guys,” he said, in a nasally voice, “It’s late and cold, can we just finish the game and go home? Law & Order’s about to come on, and I don’t want to miss it.”
Seamus skated towards the other end of the rink, the end closest to the woods, his eyes locked in the distance, “I’m going.”
The guy was almost 7 feet tall and was built like a refrigerator. He had nothing to fear, and feared nothing. If there was ever a person to be adventurous with, it was him. I didn’t know what we were going to discover, but I wanted to see for myself what had fallen from the sky. With that hulk of a man leading the charge, I didn’t feel like there was anything to worry about.
“Me too,” I said.
Without a word, Elizabeth scurried to Seamus’ side and hooked an arm around his, squeezing it tightly.
Christine checked her watch, and shrugged, “Meeeeh, I don’t have anywhere to be. Why not? I’m going to be really disappointed if we don’t all get super powers out of this, though!”
Peter grinned devilishly, “I call dibs on hyper-elasticity. Can’t go wrong with elongated limbs.”
Adam puffed his cheeks in a boyish manner, “Seriously guys? We’re just going to wander into the freaking woods in the middle of the night, chasing a piece of potentially radioactive space debris?”
We looked at one another, responding with a mix of shrugs and nods. Adam threw his hands up in defeat.
“Fine. Okay. Whatever. If we all die a slow and painful death, I’m suing all of you.”
In the time it took to change from our skates into our boots, the sky had mostly regained its navy hue, except for a strip of orange light visible through the trees. Something in my gut told me not to go, but it was too late to chicken out. I wondered if everyone else was feeling the same, but didn’t dare be the one to show weakness. Instead, I followed the others, my feet sinking in the untouched snow as we marched into the forest. After hours of wearing skates, my feet felt like they were walking on clouds.
We’d been hiking for almost twenty minutes before someone finally decided to object to our little adventure. To my surprise, it wasn’t Adam who broke the silence, but Christine.
“Let’s go back. There are probably bears and wolves around here. It’s dangerous,” she said, in a trembling voice.
“No one’s forcing you to come,” replied Seamus dismissively.
Christine stopped and stared at us as we walked by her one by one, as though waiting for someone else to voice their opinion, or maybe offer to escort her back. In hindsight, I regret not volunteering. Maybe it would have had a domino effect on the others, and we would all have gotten home safely. Finding herself without support, Christine let out an irritated grunt, and continued at the back of the pack.
I’m not sure how long it took me to realize something was off. One minute, I was second-to-last in our little procession, the next, I noticed the absence of Christine’s footsteps. When I turned around, she was gone. Not off in the distance or taking a break, just … gone.
“Guys, Christine-,” I started.
“Look!” shouted Seamus, pointing ahead.
I stretched my head out, trying to see what had caught his attention. I could just barely make out the source of the light we’d been following. A fire had spread through the dry bushes a few yards ahead, and I could hear it crackling in the otherwise silent forest. Having forgotten all about Christine, I ran to the front of the pack to get a better look. Leading up to the fire were broken branches and clipped trees revealing the exact path that the falling object had taken before it reached the ground. There it was, in a relatively small crater, surrounded by debris. A human-sized cylindrical casket, its surface completely smooth and unmarked, but for a row of flashing lights under a view-port near the top. I got as close as I could get without walking into the fire, and watched as the lights blinked in succession.
“Guys, you have to check this out,” I called, turning around.
My friends were gone. I turned back towards the device, and, to my surprise, found that the flames had all burned out, giving me the opportunity to get even closer. I was torn between chasing after my friends, and investigating the scifi-esque object. A knot wove its way through my stomach as I tip-toed carefully to the casket. I expected the ground to be warm and for heat to emanate from the metallic object, but the entire area seemed to have cooled down in an instant. In fact, I only then realized how cold I was.
With a deep breath and a shiver, I placed my palm cautiously on the smooth metallic surface. The alloy was unlike any I’d touched in my life: solid, yet malleable. It buckled to the touch, but bounced back as soon as I pulled away. The closest thing I could compare it to was memory foam, if memory foam was made of steel. I played around with the cylinder, until my focus shifted to the view-port.
There was something inside.
A lot of things crossed my mind at that moment. I imagined some sort of alien creature hibernating in its pod, a science experiment gone wrong, or an astronaut fallen from the international space station. The truth, however, was much more bizarre. Much worse.
Nested inside the odd device, was Peter. His eyes were missing, his teeth had been pulled, and a copper tube seemed to run straight through one ear and out the other, but it was unmistakably him. I let out a horrified gasp as I fell on my behind.
“W-w-what the hell?” I said, in disbelief.
What had happened to Peter? How had he gotten in the machine so quickly? Why were his eyes gone? Could I break him out?
Reeling, I forced myself to my feet and tried to find a seam in the casket. I punched the buttons and knocked on the view-port, desperately looking for a way to open it, but failing miserably. I realized I would need help, and decided to track down the others. Surely Seamus could tear the casket open and save Peter. Or, what was left of Peter, at least.
Frantic, unable to focus, dizzy, and scared out of my wits, I ran back to where I’d last seen my friends. Their footprints scattered off in every direction. I followed the largest and smallest pair: Seamus and Elizabeth. They led me farther into the woods in a relatively straight line, until they turned into a mess circling the same area over and over again. The snow at my feet was soaked in blood and mud, and I could see drag marks from the centre of a small clearing to a large oak tree. I heard a crack above, and lifted my gaze, only to find Seamus’ remains hanging over multiple branches. Eyes missing. Teeth missing. Hands missing. I lost my lunch.
From somewhere behind me, I heard a whimper.
I turned on my heels, and heard a shrub crying, “Elizabeth?”
From between the branches, she looked at me, her eyes puffy and the lower part of her face coated in snow. She was covered in scratches and grime.
“O-oh my god, y-you’re alive,” she said.
“What happened?” I asked in shock, unable to think of something more comforting to say.
“T-that thing attacked,” she blew her nose on her sleeve, “I-it got Adam, s-so we ran.”
I reached a hand to her, but she recoiled in fear.
“What ‘thing’?” I asked, “I didn’t see anything. What are you talking about?”
“You didn’t see it because you were,” she paused, trying to find the right word, “frozen. We called out to you, but you didn’t answer! Didn’t move! We tried to get you to come back for over an hour, but you were totally out of it! Adam tried to drag you back himself, but that’s when that thing started chasing us.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’d only been by the casket for a few minutes at most.
“I don’t understand,” I murmured, furrowing my eyebrows.
All I could think of was that we needed to get out of the woods and get home where it was safe. I didn’t want what happened to Seamus or Peter to happen to me. Again, I reached for Elizabeth, and again, she recoiled, looking at me as though I was some sort of monster.
“How are you still alive?” she asked shakily.
“I don’t know, but Lizzy, we can talk it over later. We have to go,” I urged.
She sniffed, and shook her head, “N-not without Seamus!”
My stomach dropped. Did she not know what happened to him just a few feet away?
“Lizzy, he’s gone,” I said, “We’ve got to go. Now.”
She let out an animal-like whine, wiped her eyes, nodded, and finally accepted my hand. As I pulled her to her feet, she saw Seamus’ body in the oak tree. She shrieked so loud that it hurt my ears. I wrapped my arms around her, and started walking quickly while she continued to sob.
I can’t remember anything after that, until I left the woods. I was in shock, my mind went blank. I don’t know if I comforted Elizabeth, or if we just walked together in silence. Either way, I made it out … without her.
The sun was rising, I was frozen to the core, and I realized I’d lost about eight hours of time. I have no idea what happened to Elizabeth. I don’t know if something got her or if we just got separated somewhere along the way. All I know is that she’s missing, and so is everyone else—including Christine. I wish I knew what happened, but I’m too afraid of going back into the woods to find out.
So take my advice, if you’re out one night and see a second dusk, don’t go towards it. Just turn around, and go home. It’s not safe.