Short Story: Space Rock

An orange dart streaked across the sky, brighter than even the moon. It made fireflies of the stars, lit up the treetops as it curved toward Earth. Somewhere in the Northern area of Indiana, it struck the ground with all the force of its cosmic ejection. In a shower of dirt and demolished foliage, it came to a rest in a nondescript forest with the world largely unaware of its presence.

Two figures emerged from the trees to the glow of red-hot rock in a small crater. The first figure was taller than the second, but neither beyond the height of childhood. Eric Williams and his younger sister Linney crept nearer, felt the meteorite’s heat even from the distance. They were still clad in airy, thin pajamas, both intermittently glancing back to ensure their distant, tiny tent remained where they’d marked it in their minds.

They ambled, step-by-step, toward the meteorite, until its heat was too intense to go any nearer. Linney made to step forward again, but Eric’s hand was firm on her wrist. Instead, she stood transfixed, staring.

There wasn’t anything inherently interesting about the meteorite, save its pulsing glow. The longer Eric stared, the more shapes swirled in the glow; tiny little ovals or cylinders squirming and writhing, as equally agitated by the heat as fueled by it.

It was just his imagination, he knew, but it disturbed him. He tugged at Linney’s arm, “C’mon. We’ll come back in the morning.”

Linney was enthralled. She didn’t hear him. He tugged harder, began walking backward, pulling. Her eyes finally swiveled with her body to follow him. Every few steps he’d have to tug her again as she lagged, neck craned over a shoulder to watch the glow fade. They returned to their tent, nestled themselves into their sleeping bags.

Eric laid awake, thinking on the strange shapes he’d seen. He feared sleep; Linney might fake it, sneak out and back to the crater. It wouldn’t have been the first time. These camp-outs were common, and given the family’s massive property, Eric though it a shame to waste the opportunity. Linney though, liked to think that eight years old meant smarter and stronger than anything in the world. She was smarter than Eric, he knew for sure, but she couldn’t be allowed to think that. He forced himself to stay awake until his eyes fluttered, and he succumbed to sleep beside her.

In dreams he found himself standing in a fluid that glowed red-hot like the meteorite. All around him thrummed and thronged creatures he couldn’t distinguish. He felt their presence beside him. They writhed and squirmed, hummed and rippled, as the glow nearly blinded him.

He opened his eyes to sunlight peeking in through an overhead, mesh-window. It splayed over his face, as blinding as the glow in his dream. He scooted backward to lean upright, rubbed sleep from his eyes. He yawned a deep “good morning” to Linney.

There was no reply.

His head snapped toward her empty sleeping bag. He was suddenly up, sprinting. He screamed Linney’s name between heavy, terrified pants. It was futile. If Linney didn’t want to be found she wouldn’t be. Even if she did, she might still remain quiet in fear of incurring his wrath, or worse, Mom and Dad’s.

Eric bee-lined for the crater, calling to her. The nearer it came, the further his voice carried its fitful projections. He was hyperventilating when he stumbled up beside the crater, came to a skidding halt on his hands and knees. Across the now cooled, jagged form, Linney lay unconscious.

Eric scrambled over, knelt to shake her. She merely bucked and jostled, limp against his grip.

He screamed at the meteorite, “This all your fault!”

Tears streamed down his face, body wracked by terrified sobs. He knew there was something he was supposed to do, some type of thing doctors did, but he wasn’t sure what.

He reacted in the only way he could. With a massive heave of a twelve-year old strength, he lifted his little sister and sprinted for the house. Linney was dead-weight. Foliage crunched and swished under his agonizing, break-neck speed.

He burst through the kitchen’s back-door to find Mom and Dad eating breakfast, reading their respective newspapers. He shook and stammered, his parents dumbfounded. They were suddenly up, rushing Linney to the living room couch. Mom took out a few medical instruments. Explanations and pleas fell from Eric in a terrified, jumbled din that his parents barely heard. Mom and Dad seemed to agree Linney would be alright just as Eric exhausted his other emotions and collapsed in a blubbering heap.

It was around noon that Linney finally awoke. The family had been in various states of dismay around the living room. Dad paced and muttered a lot. Mom cried in silence, stroked Linney’s hair. Eric just stared, his mind paradoxically both empty and overflowing.

She awoke with a sore “umph,” and shook away sleep like a puppy. Questions raged atop silent mutterings of relief. Someone finally addressed her directly with, “What did you think you were doing, young lady?”

For a moment, she stared off, and then, with an almost whimsy replied, “I was dreaming.” It was obvious even to her young mind this wasn’t sufficient. “I… went to see the space-rock. It wasn’t hot, so I touched it. And then I… started dreaming.”

The family mocked disbelief, but were too relieved to interrupt.

She paused for a long time, then finally explained, “I was dreaming. But it wasn’t a normal dream. It wasn’t one of my dreams. It was someone else’s. Like a boring documentary about people and Earth, but not one I’ve ever seen on TV. It was… different. The people didn’t look like people, and the cars flew in the skies, instead of riding on roads.”

Her face made confused shapes. Mom and Dad gave one another a deranged look. Eric merely stared, breathless, hanging on her every word. She couldn’t be lying. He knew that much. Linney didn’t have a very good imagination. She’d always been more “grounded in reality” as Mom put it. That’s why she always wandered off, because curiosity “got the best of her senses.”

Tears began to well in Linney’s eyes with a sorrow beyond her meager years, “And then… a-and then there were space-ships. Screaming. Fires. It was terrible. So terrible.” She choked on her next thoughts, piercing the family’s hearts with it. “And there was someone saying something over a lot of beeps and screams and fires and the smell of dead things. Millions of voices and different languages. I couldn’t understand them. But then I heard ours.”

She choked into silence, weeping and sniffling. Eric had to know. “What did they say, Linney?”

She screwed up her face to reply to her brother, inflecting something he’d only seen a few times– a sort of sibling code that said to take her deathly serious, “I-it s-said… they’re coming.”

Short Story: Wrath of a Universe

A low smoke lay over the sprawling field in the pre-dawn hours. With it were blazing bonfires from bodies piled three-men high, alight to give illumination for those that still lived. The crackle of their flesh and cloth-padding beneath their chain-mail was hidden by the sounds of clanging metal. Thousands of swords from men in both red and blue cloth flashed and shined in the light of the smoking plain.

Behind the Blues a way, the closed draw-bridge of a newly erected castle from the English King gave protection to the royal, inner-guard just inside. The archers atop its walls nocked their arrows together, fired volleys into the Reds’ rear-flanks that had yet reach the swordsmen. A few, Blue knights, their armor blood-stained and their horses fatigued, cut swaths through Red and Blue swords alike to gallop in a charge for the Red Knights that rallied within the chaos.

The charge was met with war-cries from the Red Knights, their immense broadswords heaved overhead ready to smite the would-be invaders. One Knight shouted something about no quarter, but it was lost in the blood-bath beneath him. Not long after, his horse was taken by a Red’s arrow. He tumbled forward, end-over-end atop the horse. He landed either dead or unconscious, beneath the horse, his face pressed into the muck stirred up by the days-long siege on the castle.

The plain was a swamp of bodies, blood, and mud, the pervasive stench of rotting and burning flesh as much meant to burn the dead as to stagger the enemy. The Reds had grown used to the smell by now, but the Blues had been too comfortable in their fresh, clean castle to experience the stench first hand. At that, many of the Blue’s front ranks met the Reds only to wretch and heave out their decadent, pre-battle meals. Most died by the sword, taken advantage of in their moment of humanly weakness.

A second volley of arrows was aimed further inward, fired just as the Knights met one another in the center of the field. Their blades clashed, clamored for anywhere they might draw blood. Instead, they bounced helplessly off thick plate-armor. Most were equally winded by the blows, but fought onward with a breathless, valiant effort. The hail-storm of arrows descended with the prompt of nearby screams and thuds from the dying and dead. A few Knights were caught unawares, saved only by their plating.

Third and fourth volleys were nocked, arced upward through the smoke that strained the archers’ vision for their targets. Each man made a kill, but whether it was an enemy or ally, none could truly be certain. Such was the chaos from atop the ramparts and behind the turrets’ loopholes, that a man could only be certain of his kill by measuring the breadth of the wave that fell as the arrows rained down. If there were a break in the wave at that man’s position, he knew he’d failed.

The morning came with ease, the Reds’ tactic for attacking in the night near impossible to miss by now. Though the cliff’s-edge the English King’s castle sat upon was unscalable, impenetrable from beneath, it was a Western outlook. When the sun began to peer over the hills and mountains of the East, the archers were blinded, as were most of the swordsmen. Their orientation gave them the full glare of sunlight in their eyes, forced them to fight half-blind. They could only listen to the clank of their swords against armored parts to know they were on-target. Otherwise, they were helpless to know whom their opponent might be.

The tide turned in the Reds’ favor. The Blues were pushed back toward the closed draw-bridge and the deep moat carved into the Earth in a half-moon around the castle’s entrance. The blinded archers were forced to fire with lessened accuracy, their waves broken, no longer uniform.

It was then that a streak of fire, as if cast downward from a merlin-esque figure in the heavens, hurtled toward the Earth. Most of the men didn’t notice, but the Blues’ archers were forced to. It was all they could see even through the smog and sunlight. The cowardly and brave alike fled at once, terrified that the Reds had developed some great catapult to rain destruction upon them. But soon even the Reds began to take notice.

The object was ablaze with a firey tail, its trajectory on course to strike the battle-field. Whether friend or foe, the men fled together. The battle waned with only a few that took advantage of the precious distraction to soak their blades or arrows with blood. Soon, even they were drawn toward the figure above. A distant sound like the crackling fires of the dead began to engulf the area. Men of both sides stood to watch in fright, their necks and faces caned upward to see the frantic destruction ready to strike.

At once, the battle ended. It was still chaos, but now arms were cast aside. Bodies formed a sea that surged with erratic movements. Some men shouted about the wrath of God, others cried for their enemy to be slain by him. The rest simply ran, as if compelled to by little more than instinct. Those that chose the latter shed armor, weapons, padding until near-on full-nude to flee more quickly for the trees and distant hills in the East.

As the fireball drew nearer, the low-rumble and crackle of its blazing tail shook the ground and scorched the air. The air atop the trees in the hills caught fire. It spread through the pines and evergreens as if dry kindling. The men there choked, coughed, writhed in pain on the ground from their innards being flash-cooked. The men’s terrified fleeing had stolen away their breath even in those with the best stamina, but the lesser men were already dead. When the others fell to the ground, they writhed long enough to see the last moments of the battlefield itself.

The fireball landed with a bright flash and a tremendous quaking of Earth. There was no-one left to watch from the inside, but from the outer edges of an eagle’s view the destruction was unmistakably total. The great fireball had leveled the castle, the men, and the field, left only a smoking, orange-edged crater. The impact scattered dirt and debris for countless distances, halved the cliff’s-edge so that not a mark of either side’s presence remained.

It was later said the English King had incurred God’s wrath and spite, brought destruction upon both sides equally. As the ages of monarchs gave way to that of reasoned men and their fields of science, mathematics, and astronomy, the theory was changed. However guilty the men had been of immorality– the King among them– their deaths were coincidence. While some outright argued it was not evidence against God’s wrath, others mirrored the sentiment more poetically. It was, they reasoned, a firebolt of anger from the Universe itself mean to dispel man’s wrath, overcome him with humility at his smallness. Whether poetic, true, or not, none at the battle would disagree. Were they not centuries dead, it was certain each of them knew would remark upon their smallness having been witnessed first hand to the wrath of a great, vast universe. Not even the most foolish fools among them would disagree they were much smaller after the battle than at its start.