01 Feb There’s An Astronaut Walking Around My Backyard
I popped the top off my beer and swung my boots up over the porch railing. The night air swept across my rugged face and I sighed in its company. I leaned back in my chair and raised the bottle to my lips, bracing myself for the first wonderful sip of the night. It didn’t disappoint. I wiped foam from my upper lip and sighed again. Twice in one night. That had to be some kind of record. After a moment, I decided to allow myself some satisfaction. Things weren’t all that bad. Especially not out here in the beautiful country, away from the noise of the city.
I skipped my eyes over the landscape splayed out before me. It was like a theater of wonder constructed exclusively for me. The trimmed grass of my backyard crawled an acre before rising waist high. From there, the field extended another two acres before the crowded woods overtook the terrain. Even from here, I could hear the leaves chuckling pleasantly in the late night breeze. Fireflies blinked lazily in the air, cheered on by a chorus of crickets. The air smelled of earth and recent rain. The sky was dark and filled with timid stars. The beer was cold beneath my grip.
Yes. This was the life. This was the way a man should end a long day, surrounded by nature and silence, left alone to enjoy its secrets.
As I took another pull from the bottle, I scanned the land over the glass lip. I paused, mid-swig. I squinted, beer frozen to my lips. I swallowed slowly and sat up, eyes trained toward the high grass.
“What in the hell?” I muttered.
There was a figure out there. A shape. It was white and contrasted the dark world surrounding it. It was moving. Walking. Left to right across my vision.
Is that a person? I thought. The size was right. The way it moved telegraphed human movement. But the color was wrong. It was so damn…white.
I placed the beer down on the porch floor and leaned over the railing, thinking the extra couple inches would somehow clarify this odd vision. As I did so, the figure stopped and seemed to be contemplating something. After a moment, it suddenly turned on its heel and began walking towards me.
I remained motionless as it approached. My heart began to beat a little faster the more my eyes tried to focus on just what the hell I was looking at. It just didn’t add up. What I was staring at just didn’t make sense.
The figure had reached the end of the tall grass and now traversed across my backyard. It was then that I knew I was looking at something absolutely absurd.
It was a person dressed as an astronaut. The white suit they wore could not be mistaken as anything else. Neither could the helmet they had attached across the shoulders, the golden visor reflecting the dull night light.
I stood my ground, completely baffled as to what to make of this strange visitor. I could hear the grass crunching quietly beneath their boots as they approached, their features hidden behind the large helmet.
Finally, they stopped directly in front of me, a couple feet from where I stood at the porch railing. I said nothing, throat tight, and figured I’d let the trespasser speak first.
When they did, their voice was male and muffled behind their visor.
“What are you doing here?”
I blinked in the starlight, fireflies swirling behind the stranger.
The man in the space suit spoke again, a little more urgently, “I asked what you’re doing here.”
I shook my head, unable to believe I had to defend myself on my own porch, “What am I doing here?” I sputtered incredulously, “I should be asking you the same thing! You’re standing on my property!”
The astronaut stared at me blankly from behind the shielded visor, “I think you’re confused.”
I barked a laugh, mind reeling, “Well, on that we can agree on! What the hell are you doing all the way out here and why are you wearing that ridiculous thing?”
The man seemed confused, “What thing?”
I snorted, shaking my head, and pointed at his suit, “That crazy space suit! You go to a party or something?”
The man looked down at himself, at his gloved hands and covered legs, “Space suit? Is that what you see?”
I reached down for my bottle of beer, needing a drink to make sense of this lunatic, “Yeah, the space suit. What else would I be talking about?”
“I’m wearing a space suit…?” The man said again, his voice distant.
I slugged half the bottle before answering, “Look man, if you need to call someone or something, I got a phone you can use. Something tells me you’ve been hitting the bottle hard tonight. Or maybe something a little more deadly.”
But the man ignored my offer and instead trained his attention back to me, “Where do you think you are right now?”
I spread my arms, “I’m sitting on my porch trying to enjoy a beer!” I leaned on the railing and lowered my voice, “Where do you think you are?”
If the man gave any kind of reaction, it was hidden behind his golden visor, “You need to leave.”
I was starting to get irritated, the night calm slowly breaking apart before my very eyes, “Look pal, you’re trespassing on my land. I’m not the cop calling type, but don’t push me. If you need help, I’d be more than happy to offer assistance. If not, then I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
The astronaut suddenly pointed behind him, his voice eerily soft, “Can’t you see it?”
Confused, I looked past him at where he was pointing. Silent woods swayed against the breeze.
“Yeah, beautiful isn’t it?” I offered, annoyed.
The astronaut shook his head, “Open your eyes and LOOK.”
“Now you listen t-” I growled, gripping the beer bottle tight in my hand
The astronaut cut me off, “I know this is hard for you, but I need you to really look hard into those trees.”
“Why?” I demanded.
Grumbling, I did as I was told, not really sure why I was doing it. I still didn’t see anything but the canvas of country light.
The astronaut stepped toward me, “What do you see?”
I waved a hand, snorting, “Nothing! There’s nothing o-”
I stopped. My voice died in my throat.
“What…the hell?” I muttered, feeling something stir in my guts.
“What is it?”
I blinked, scrubbing my eyes, feeling impossibility sink through to the core of my being. I licked my lips, my voice a croak, “Is that…a lighthouse?”
I rubbed my eyes again, convinced I was hallucinating. But no matter what I did, the lighthouse remained. It towered high above the treetops, its white walls topped with a dark roof. A faint light glowed from its summit, swirling across the landscape..
The astronaut gripped the railing, “You see a lighthouse?”
I nodded eyes wide, feeling like I was going mad.
“The light though,” the man pressed, “do you see the light?”
Again, I nodded.
“What color is it?” He urged.
I swallowed, “Green. It’s green.”
The astronaut nodded, tension leaving his voice, “Then there’s still time.”
Dumbfounded, I pointed toward the towering structure, “W-where did that thing come from? What’s going on here? How have I not seen that before?”
The astronaut stepped away from the railing, craning his head back and up into the night sky, “I need to get you out of here.”
“Look buddy, I don’t know what-”
The man held up a gloved finger, cutting me off, his voice commanding and frantic, “Quiet! Listen…do you hear it?”
I paused, mind splintering apart in confusion. I did as I was told. Crickets continued to chirp quietly across the grasslands, a soft melody all too familiar. But as the seconds stretched on, they began to change. They began to elongate and deepen. They became familiar in a horrific new way.
They were speaking.
I closed my eyes, mouth dry, and focused on the voices I heard. On the words. After a full thirty seconds, I looked at the astronaut standing in my front lawn.
“I hear numbers,” I whispered.
“So do I,” the man confirmed. “Which means you don’t have as long as I thought.”
“Long for what?” I croaked, the soft voices in the background continuing to mutter low numbers at random.
“Before you’re stuck here for good.”
I shook my head, eyes blinking rapidly, “You’ll have to forgive me, but I have no idea what you’re talking about. Where did that lighthouse come from? What are the numbers? What the fuck is going on?”
The astronaut suddenly climbed the handful of steps to my side and stood face to face with me. His golden visor reflected porch light.
“Where do you think you are right now?” He asked.
My voice came out as a slither, “I’m at home! Where the hell do you think we are?!”
“Home…” the man muttered, “where’s home?”
“Look,” I stated, desperate to free myself from the growing insanity, “I think I’ve had just about enough of this for one night. I need you to leave.”
“You don’t want me to do that,” the astronaut said flatly. “I’m your only way out of this.”
My eyes flickered toward the lighthouse against the dark horizon, its green light on a continuous slow rotation across the world. The astronaut raised his arm and pressed a black button that stood out along his wrist.
“What did you just do?” I demanded, voice not quite steady.
“Saved your life,” he answered matter-of-factly.
I was about to ask another question when something caught my attention. It was the lighthouse. The color of its sweeping beam had changed. It was orange now. The astronaut noticed the worry that overtook my face and gripped my shoulder with a heavily gloved hand.
“What is it?! What do you see?!”
I cleared my throat, slowly, “The lighthouse. It’s different now. Orange.”
I felt his grip on my arm tighten, “This isn’t good.”
“I don’t understand,” I pleaded, “what is happening?”
“Do you hear to voices still? The numbers?”
I paused and then realized I couldn’t, “No…”
The astronaut looked up into the sky, “Then it might be too late.” He directed his attention back to my pale face, “Do you remember any of them?”
“Any of what?”
Feeling all the weight of insanity press down on me, I clawed my mind for memory, “Uhh…shit…I don’t know. Maybe a six and a four?”
“Remember those,” the man urged, “you’ll need them to get out of here.”
Before I could offer any more panicked questions, something changed above us. I leaned out past the porch railing and turned my eyes to the sky. Immediately, my heart surged into my throat and fear erupted across my confused state.
A crack had appeared, an orange fracture that split the stars and snaked from horizon to horizon. As I watched, heart hammering, the crack grew and widened, splintering open to reveal something else entirely.
It was the face of a child. A massive, moon sized thing distorted with features that shouldn’t be there. Its eyes were wide and curious, two holes of burning orange that bore down over us. It looked male, but I couldn’t be sure, its soft white skin lined with a maze of black lines that criss-crossed across its face. It opened its mouth and exposed a mouthful of massive teeth, all radiating orange so bright it was like staring into the sun. Shielding my eyes, I watched as the child’s teeth began to extend downward, growing past its chin. As they dipped down from the heavens, they began to melt and liquify, dangling from the night like pieces of drooping taffy. When they made landfall, they formed a puddle on the horizon. Vibrating intensely, still attached to the heavenly mouth, the long pieces of stringy teeth began to grow arms and pull themselves across the world toward me. In its wake, the ground ignited with flame, long lines of burning earth that began to spread.
The astronaut took a step away from me, his voice lined with the same fear I felt surging through me, “There’s no hiding now.”
A million screaming questions roared up my throat, but I couldn’t find the strength to speak. My eyes were glued to the orange shapes in the distance. They were getting closer, the face in the sky staring down at me with those enormous blazing eyes.
“What is happening…?” I whispered, dazed, feeling dizzy. The lighthouse in the trees began to glow brighter, the rotation of its beam spinning faster. I felt like I would fall over, my senses overloaded, my heart drumming in my chest.
I gripped the railing hard, and as I did so, the landscape shimmered. It was like watching a mirage take shape across the world, a heatwave that rippled and stirred through the grass and into the woods. In that instant, everything changed, but it was only for a moment. What I saw in that brief second wasn’t my backyard, but something else entirely. It was empty space, eerily lit by four glowing orbs. They hovered in the air like distant suns, their light emitting a sickly green color. Between the sphere’s were tufts of cloud that pulsed with the same shade of light. Strung between the clouds were dripping cords composed of some visceral substance. They spiderwebbed across the sky in a pattern too complex to follow or make sense of. Hanging from the meaty tangle were what appeared to be some kind of animal life. There were thousands of them, like monkeys, but covered in scales instead of fur. They did nothing, made no sound, no movement; they simply hung in place, watching me, their long arms gripping for purchase above their heads, their long bodies coated in thick black organic armor.
As quickly as it had come, the vision vanished. It was replaced by the familiar grassland, trees, and ominous lighthouse.
But the child in the sky remained, its blazing teeth snaking closer and closer by the second. The night began to fill with ash, the fire creeping across the empty land.
“I’m having a nightmare,” I said distantly, surprised at the sound of my own voice.
The astronaut snapped my attention back to himself, “There’s a ship coming for you. Look, up there past the lighthouse. Do you see it?”
Feeling sick, I turned and saw a streak of white light soaring across the sky towards us, leaving a tail of stardust in its wake.
“What…what is all this…?” I croaked, the long strands of crawling teeth burning in my peripheral.
“You’re not where you think you are,” the astronaut said quicking, his golden visor reflecting the approaching flame.
“Is this the end of the world?” I whispered.
The astronaut quickly shook his head, turning his shielded gaze to the streaking white light that arched closer toward us.
“No, this isn’t the end. In order to get out of here, you need to believe that this isn’t what you think. Open your eyes.”
I shook my head helplessly, “I don’t understand…”
The astronaut stepped to my side, his voice tactful and precise, “What did you do earlier today? How did you get here?”
I opened my mouth to answer, but when I reached back into the day, I found I couldn’t offer a single memory. I fumbled with my recollection, convinced it would return to me, but no matter how badly I tried, a wall of darkness met me.
“You can’t remember can you?”
Slowly, I shook my head.
The man leaned into me, “Good. That means you’re beginning to understand what this place is. You’ve been trapped here for a very long time, I fear. Can you remember anything about the world around you save for this porch?”
Once again, I dug deep for something, anything, but found there was nothing there but darkness. I shook my head again, dumbfounded at this horrible discovery.
The white light in the sky that had been approaching roared into view and descended quickly before us, landing neatly in the yard. Mind muddled, I looked at it.
It appeared to be some kind of spaceship. It was small, barely big enough to hold a single passenger. The design of its exterior was puzzling in its construction. It looked like something a child would make, a first attempt at molding clay into something the resembled a rocket ship.
The astronaut at my side grabbed my arm and dragged me down the steps toward it, his voice urgent, “Get on this and get out of here, it’s your only chance.”
I allowed myself to be led, my eyes alternating rapidly between the crude ship, the lighthouse, and the crawling monstrosity hanging from the sky. The flames were only a couple hundred yards away now, the long clawing arms gripping and pulling at the earth aggressively, the orange forms oozing from the smiling mouth in the heavens.
“What’s going to happen to me?” I begged, stopping before the rumbling rocket. Smoke wafted from underneath, as if preparing for a sudden liftoff.
The astronaut reached up and pulled the hatch open, “You’re going back home.”
I felt like crying, “But…but this is home!”
The man shook his head, “No, it’s not. This is an illusion, a place you were never meant to find. Tell me, what is it you felt when you sat on that porch, before I arrived?”
I searched myself and was relieved to have an answer, “Peace…I was at peace.”
The man nodded, as if expecting this, “Of course you did. Honestly, I’m surprised you were here for as long as you have been. I’m surprised it didn’t find you sooner,” he nodded toward the face in the sky, “and most of all, I’m surprised I stumbled across you. You’re a lucky man. Now get in there and get out of here!”
He pushed me toward the ship and I clattered up the small ladder and into the cockpit. I felt like screaming. I felt like tearing my hair out in frustration. All the questions in the world pressed in on me and I felt as if my skull would break beneath them.
I slid into the solitary seat and looked down at the astronaut. At his back, the massive claws of the cosmic entity wriggled ever closer.
“What has happened to me?” I whispered, letting everything else go.
The man placed a gloved hand on the hatch, his voice grave, “You traveled someplace you weren’t supposed to find.” And with that, he heaved the door shut, one last sentence hanging in the air between us.
Darkness filled the tiny cab. My eyes began to adjust as light filtered in through a small square window above me. The light was tinted orange. The flames were growing closer. I didn’t have much time.
I looked down at the control panel before me and was shocked to find a plain faced display with only three buttons. Written above each was a different number: 9, 6, and 4. The rocket shuddered with anticipation, a rumbling growl begging to be released. I raised my fingers to the buttons and thought of the crickets. The voices.
I pushed the buttons labeled 6 and 4.
Immediately, the rocket exploded upwards into the night sky, the cockpit shaking aggressively as the small craft climbed the length of the night and spewed into outer space. Stars blurred past the window above my head and I gripped the seat, terrified, the G-forces ripping through my stomach with miserable intensity.
The lighthouse vanished below me. The field. The astronaut. I was allowed a brief glimpse of the child-like face in the sky, now angrily staring at me through the crack in the heavens, but then that too was robbed from sight as my small craft zoomed ever away, cracking the roof of the atmosphere and sending me headlong into whatever came next.
I felt my consciousness slipping away as the G-forces pressed tighter against me. I clawed my eyes over to the window one last time and as the darkness clogged the corners of sight, I saw something new enter my field of vision.
It was Earth.
I’m not entirely sure when I came too. I remember a lot of noise. Doctors. Nurses. A whole army of government officials and scientists all staring down at me, asking me questions in voices much too loud. I tread the line between consciousness and slumber for what felt like days. I remember recounting what had happened to me to a group of very concerned looking men in lab coats, but I couldn’t repeat it if you put a gun to my head. Everything was so foggy. Everything felt wrong.
As the days bled into weeks, my memory began to piece itself back together. A lot of that was helped by the visitors I had. They slotted in the key components I so desperately sought. As the mystery of what happened was revealed to me, the more the horror of that place came forth.
Because you see…I had been part of mission orchestrated by NASA. They had found something terribly close to our planet. An abnormality. A tear in space. A hole that wasn’t supposed to be there. Every probe they sent into the ripple disappeared without a trace as soon as it passed through. The mystery and potential danger of this new discovery sent shockwaves throughout the world. People were calling it the end times. Religion surged with new life and the masses flocked to churches, convinced that this was the start of God’s judgement. But as time passed and nothing happened, opinions changed about the strange portal. Soon, people began to believe that this was a gateway.
A door straight into heaven.
And it wasn’t just the spiritual who believed this. It was the scientists and astronomers as well. Of course, they didn’t believe that this tear led to heaven, but they did believe it led to somewhere outside the realms of our reality.
And so NASA began to form a team, a group of people that would take a single ship straight into the mouth of the beast.
I had been on that team.
I wish I could explain the details of what happened once we entered, but there is nothing in my memory but a void as dark as space itself. They tell me four others were with me on our mission. None of them have returned.
I don’t know where we went. I don’t know who that man in the space suit was. I don’t know why he chose to help me. That spaceship he pushed me into…NASA recovered it, along with myself. They still haven’t figured out what exactly it is. But it got me home. I landed a couple miles off the Pacific Coast in California. I don’t really remember any of that, though.
There’s one more detail that haunts me. One more fact that makes my skin crawl. That porch…that field and the woods…that is the only memory I have of that place. Over and over again, that memory persists. Opening the beer. The chirp of crickets. The breeze. One night, a slice of time the length of an hour.
What terrifies me about that is someone told me that it’s the year 2018.
My team left Earth in 1987.
If this terrifying fact is true…then how is it that I can only remember an hour of my time when I was stuck in that place for thirty-one fucking years?