She seemed to be sleeping soundly despite the light from the lamp.
It was one in the morning and I was finishing a paper for my writing class.
The light from my laptop was harsh on my eyes and I was sure that I was going to have bags under them in the morning, but I was nearly finished and decided to power through.
I had the TV on so I could have a bit of background noise.
Without it, the room would be quiet aside from the ticking of the clock,
begging me to slip into bed soon.
I had the news on, but I wasn’t paying any attention to it.
There was really nothing to watch at this time of night,
but sometimes I would find a golden treasure of movies running on various channels.
There was nothing on tonight though, so it was going to have to be the news.
I never worked without background noise. It blocked my concentration with thoughts of the silence.
My phone was sitting on the coffee table face-up.
I wasn’t too tempted to check it since I had quite a bit of self-control, but it lit up and I couldn’t help it.
At first, I tried to ignore it and continued typing the last few sentences of my paper, but then it lit up again and I had to stop.
I peeked over my laptop to see what the notification was, but it turned off before I could read it, so I set my laptop next to me and leaned forward to grab it and turn it back on.
I pressed the button and the screen lit up once more.
The majority of my notifications were junk mail or notifications from my apps telling me that there was an event happening or someone liked my post or blah-blah-blah. I never paid attention to those.
I made an effort to squint through the brightness to read what the top notification said.
The red exclamation mark looked familiar.
I live in the north, so I tend to get a few texts warning of a winter storm or icy roads or closings, etc….but I never saw anything like this.
I read it over and over and over but still couldn’t wrap my brain around the words.
It felt like they were being spat at me from a tennis ball machine.
Reading them was like trying to shove a needle down my throat
and the more I read it, the more I realized that I wasn’t wrong.
There wasn’t a spelling error and I hadn’t misread it.
My heart felt like it was climbing up my throat.
An unidentified aircraft has been located over the state of Vermont and New Hampshire. The aircraft is presumed to be foreign and may pose a threat to those in the area. Residents are advised to tune to local media outlets for further developments. More updates will follow as information becomes available.
I opened my mouth, but the only thing that came out was a choked what?
It had to be a joke.
I wasn’t about to believe it.
It had to be some sort of prank.
An “unidentified aircraft?”
If it was a UFO, then it would say so,
but this was an “unidentified AIRCRAFT,”
meaning it was a controlled flying device.
There was no way this was real.
Pluto lifted his head from his paws in dazed confusion.
He must’ve sensed that I was panicked.
I stood up from the couch and reached for the remote.
After turning up the volume for the TV, I watched the news to see if there was anything about it.
After a minute or so, there it was in text and audio.
The voice continued to list nearly every county in Vermont and New Hampshire.
The following message has been transmitted at the request of the Federal Aviation Administration. An unidentified aircraft has been located over the New England states. The following counties must seek shelter immediately: Caledonia County, Essex County, Orleans County, Franklin County, Orange County, Washington County, Windsor County…
It even listed a few counties in Maine, New York, Massachusetts, and a few parts of southern Quebec.
I quaked in horror when I heard the name of where I live in that eerie monotone voice.
It was the voice of the end times.
All cable networks continued to run, but some of them had to be shut down until the warning was lifted.
The aircraft is presumed to be foreign and may pose a threat to those in the area. Local residents are advised to tune to local media outlets as it is not known if this aircraft is a hostile enemy. It is advised to remain indoors until the warning has been lifted. More updates will follow as information becomes available.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep…
The only channels available were news channels and a few kids networks.
I supposed they wanted to keep the kids entertained in these terrifying times.
I looked at Pluto and he looked back and the both of us knew that this couldn’t be fake any more than it could be real.
I ran to the window to look up into the sky and see if I could catch a glimpse of the aircraft,
but it was just a black sky.
There were no lights or stars.
It was just black.
There was a siren in the distance and people were turning their lights off and drawing their curtains.
I nearly tripped on a wire trying to turn the lamp off.
The moment I turned the switch, the room plunged into darkness.
There wasn’t even the slightest ray of moonlight.
There was the light emitting from my laptop and the TV and a small light from the humidifier in the kitchen.
I could hear it hiss out a stream of steam ever so quietly like it was whispering.
I closed the curtains but kept them just slightly open so I could watch the sky.
It was just black. Nothing was in it at all. I’d never seen a sky so dark.
It was like I was staring into a sky of still molasses.
That’s how black it was.
I didn’t even bother to continue my paper.
I slapped my laptop shut and plugged in my phone charger.
It was at thirty percent battery.
I had to keep it charged so I could keep in touch with my family back at home and my friends who were either terrified or sleeping.
I texted my best friend, Liz, who lived a few blocks away from me.
We’d known each other since middle school.
We both went to the same university, but she was an art major and I was an English major.
We sometimes walked to class together in the morning.
I waited anxiously for an answer, but she didn’t even see the text. She must have been sleeping.
Lizbug, what’s going on? Are you hearing this?
After a few minutes of crouching by the outlet and listening to the news, I decided to try calling her.
The phone rang a few times and I cursed under my breath after a few moments thinking that she probably had her phone on vibrate or something, but then there was a muffled groan.
I nearly jumped in both joy and panic.
Thank God she was a light sleeper!
“What?” Liz moaned through the phone.
My throat was tight and my hands were shaking.
I looked up into the sky again and saw the molasses.
It felt like it was trying to suck me up into it.
“Liz, something bad’s going on! You have to check your notifications and turn on the news! This is insane!”
There was another muffled groan.
“Riles, it’s past one in the morning. I have to be up in five hours-”
“I’m not joking, Liz! Something really bad is happening! There are sirens and the newsman isn’t shutting up! Here, listen.”
I held the phone up to the TV in hopes that what she would hear would wake her up.
The newsman held his microphone steadily, but there was an uneasiness in his eyes.
The newsman was interrupted by a patrol car speeding by him, nearly hitting him. The man was startled and pulled toward the cameraman out of the car’s path.
“-a possible unidentified aircraft. It has just been confirmed that this is not a prank. This is not a drill. We’re not sure how long this warning is going to last. It could last a few minutes or hours, but it’s possible that some schools may be closed. If you look behind me, you can see that many stores that are usually open during this time of night have decided to close until the warning has been lifted and we can only assume that stores won’t be open this morning if the warning isn’t lifted by then. We’ve just been told that it is not safe to be outdoors, so we’re gonna head back inside in just a moment, but what I want the viewers to see is that the streets are empty besides a few cars. People on the roads have been advised to seek shelter immediately. There’s really no telling-”
“Holy crap. Are you serious?”
The car passed safely, but the man seemed a bit shaken by the close encounter.
The man was interrupted once more by a woman running up to him with a phone in her hand. She seemed to have just gotten on the phone with someone and needed to share some information with the newsman. She whispered inaudibly in his ear with one hand to cover her mouth.
“As you can see, the police are responding to as many calls as they can. Although we’re not sure what the situation is, it’s suspected that several neighborhoods are-”
The woman continued to whisper. My hands started to sweat.
I was sure I would need a glass of water in a moment.
The woman hurried off-screen and the newsman continued.
“That’s so crazy. Are you at home?”
“We-We just received news that hundreds of neighborhoods have lost power and it’s uncertain as to what might be causing the blackouts. Uh, we will update you on that when more information is available. There should be clear skies tonight, so keep an eye out. Uh, it’s encouraged that if anyone witnesses any suspicious activity or if residents begin seeing any lights or movements in the sky to call the local police departments. Those numbers are available uh online, but we will provide a few in just a moment. If you’re unsure what number to call, uh 9-1-1 should work just fine.”
I turned to Pluto who was now sniffing around me and pet his head.
He seemed to be looking for any danger.
“Yeah. I’m here with Pluto. He seems pretty chill right now, so I think we’re okay. I don’t see any lights or anything, just the sirens. Liz, there’s something bad going on.”
I whispered the last sentence as though it were a dangerous secret that I was afraid to tell.
In truth, I really was afraid to say it.
I was scared blind but scratching Pluto’s ears somehow calmed me a little.
Just a little.
“I can hear the sirens too. They sound pretty far away though. I think we should lock our doors and turn off our lights just in case though. My lights are already off, so I think I’m good. I’m just gonna check my doors.”
She went silent for a moment. I could hear her footsteps on the stairs in the background.
There was a newswoman now who also wouldn’t shut up.
She had pretty blonde hair and blue eyes bolded with thick black eyeliner and lashes heavy with mascara.
Her lipgloss shined in the light.
She was the face of the end times.
I pressed my ear up to the window to see if I could hear the sound, but there were only the sirens.
“Several residents have reported hearing sounds that they claim are coming from the sky. We’re not certain what these sounds might be, but authorities have warned residents to restrain from investigating the sounds. Uh, the sound has been described as a low buzzing. If you hear this sound, do not leave your home. Do not attempt to investigate. Police have ordered a complete shut-in until the aircraft can be identified and taken care of.”
They were getting closer.
“Liz?” I whispered into the phone. I wasn’t sure why, but it felt like someone could hear me and it made my heart race.
“Yeah?” she replied almost nonchalantly.
I managed to gulp despite my tight throat.
“Will you stay with me until it’s over? I don’t wanna be alone.”
“Do you want me to come over?”
I looked over at Pluto who seemed unfazed by it all as he circled back to the couch to lay down.
“No. Just stay on the phone with me until it’s over.”
There wasn’t much silence before her answer.
“Okay. Let’s talk about something else while we’re waiting.”
We exchanged some conversation about our classes and her new boyfriend.
Apparently, she was supposed to see him this morning, but now she wasn’t so sure if that was going to happen.
She wasn’t so sure about anything at all.
She sounded uneasy and dry as though she was swallowing down grains of sand.
I’d never heard her sound like that even when she was tired.
Something really bad was happening.
Really, really bad.
Just as I was about to stand up and run upstairs to check and see if my windows were locked and covered, the TV suddenly powered off and there was a soft whirring as all of the power in the house was drained.
“Though we’re not certain what the situation may be, it is suspected that the aircraft is foreign and dangerous. Residents should remain inside or seek shelter as of now. Again, the aircraft is dangerous. Please report any suspicious activity and stay away from the wi-”
As I was glancing towards the kitchen where most of the whirring came from, the neighbors’ lights went out from behind their barely closed curtains.
The neighborhood was plunged into complete darkness and silence.
The sound of a backup generator rumbled in the distance but otherwise, it was silent.
I could hear my own heartbeat in my ears.
Liz could probably hear it too.
“The lights just went out! What if cells go down too? What are we supposed to do now? I can’t use the internet without power!” Liz began breathing a little heavier.
I was too, but my breaths were shorter than hers.
The silence began to settle in as we both listened.
It was just then that I realized that I couldn’t hear my clock ticking.
It ran on its own battery, so it puzzled me that it had stopped.
I stood up, legs shaking beneath me, and shuffled towards the wall where the clock hung.
I turned on my phone flashlight to try and see what was in my path.
The light reflected hard against the plastic, but as I approached the clock,
it was more apparent that it had, in fact, come to a halt.
None of the hands were moving.
Not even the little one that counted the seconds.
I took it off of the wall and checked the back to see if the battery was in and it was.
The gears weren’t broken either.
I put the clock back on the wall and listened some more.
The humidifier had stopped as well even though it too had a battery.
I searched through my cabinets to find some spare batteries and tried placing them in the battery pack, but the humidifier still wouldn’t turn on.
I tried every battery in the pack and none of them worked.
They were new batteries I’d just bought last week.
My hands quivered as I hit the speakerphone button.
“Liz?” I whispered into the phone.
There was no hesitation in her voice.
“What?” she whispered back. She sounded hoarse.
She sounded terrified.
“Is your clock working?”
“I said, is your clock working?”
There was a pause. She was checking to see what I meant.
It took longer than I thought it would, so I whispered her name again.
Pause. What was she doing?
“This is crazy. No power, no clocks, no way to know what the heck is going on! What do we do?”
She whispered but it was almost a scream.
My phone buzzed in my hand.
It was my friend, Josh.
He and I were in the same major and used to live near each other until I got my new apartment.
I had a crush on him and thought about trying for a date, but I was crazy busy with papers, projects, classes, and work.
All his text said was,
“We are under attack. Lock your doors and bar your windows.”
“Hey, Liz. I just got a text from Josh. He says we’re under attack. Do you think that’s true?”
There was a short pause.
“I don’t know. Maybe. I hope not.”
My phone buzzed again.
I put my phone on mute just for a moment to silence the sound of my keyboard.
“Are you home?”
Less than a second later, he was already typing.
“Yeah. What about you?”
I put my phone back on vibrate.
“I’m hiding. I woke up because of the sirens. They’re right outside my house. I looked outside and my neighbor’s house is on fire. This is really serious.”
“Riley? You still there?” Liz whispered anxiously.
“I’m here. Everything okay?”
Liz began to cry and it was strange because I’d never seen her cry before.
“I just got a text from my mom.”
My heart stopped beating.
I couldn’t understand what I was hearing at all.
There was no way her mother was texting her.
She’d been dead for over four years.
That was impossible.
It was insane.
There was no way that was her mother.
“What? What do you mean-”
“I’M TELLING YOU, MY MOM TEXTED ME DAMN IT!”
Her sobs became widely out of control.
She sounded desperate for some sort of reasoning,
but I could provide none.
“Okay, w-what does it say?” I asked, a little panicked and insulted by her yelling.
There was a moment where she had to regain herself in order to speak.
She choked through her words but they came out almost clear.
“She said, ‘I’m home. Let me in.’”
There was another pause but it was longer than all of the rest.
“Are you sure it’s her?”
Pluto stood up and jumped down from his spot on the couch.
I began to follow him.
“I don’t know! I-I checked the number and it’s definitely hers! It’s the same one she used to call me with when she’d pick me up from school. Riley, it’s the same number. My dad still has her phone plan. It was with her in the crash. It was lost! Damn it, Riley! How is this possible?”
There was a soft banging noise coming from the background.
“What is it? Liz, what’s going on?”
I followed Pluto into the kitchen towards the door where he stood barking at the window.
The curtains were drawn.
What does he see?
There was nothing but breath and static over the phone.
“Are you okay? Liz?”
More breathing and static.
“I don’t know who, but there’s someone at the door. Oh, God. What if it’s her? What if she’s dead and she’s coming back to kill me?”
She was crying and whispering, but it was difficult to tell what she was saying.
All I knew was that it went somewhere along the lines of, “Oh, God. Please. Don’t let it be that.”
There was another bang but it was louder this time.
“Oh my God! There’s someone there. I’m so scared, Riley. What do I do?”
I shushed her, but I was scared too so it came out a little more harsh than I anticipated.
“Hide and don’t make a sound! I’m calling the police!” I whispered.
“NO! No, don’t...don’t go. I need you to stay with me. I’m too scared to be alone.”
I thought for a moment and looked down at Pluto.
She’d stopped barking and resorted to a low growl.
“It’s gonna be okay, Liz. Just imagine I’m sitting right there beside you. I’m just gonna have to hang up for a few minutes and I’ll call right back, okay?”
Pluto barked again, louder this time.
I tried to look through the curtain to see what he was seeing, but it was pitch black.
It was difficult to tell if there was anything there.
“Please don’t, Riles! I’m so scared!”
There was more banging in the background.
Liz let out a static cry.
“Liz? Are you okay?”
I could hear her panicked breaths as she tried to speak as quietly as she could.
It’s hard to whisper when you’re scared.
“They’re here! They’re in here with me!”
A shiver shot up my spine when she whispered those words.
It was like hearing someone scream when you thought you were alone.
I was paralyzed and then my mouth moved and somehow the words came back to me.
“Okay! I’m just gonna be two seconds. I’m gonna get you help if it’s the last thing I do. Just hang in there. I’ll be right back!”
Before she could utter another word, I hung up.
I knew that if she said anything else, I would be too compelled to stay on the line.
I had to get her help. I just had to.
You can’t blame me for hanging up on her.
I just had to make the call, okay?
What happened was not my fault.
There was nothing I could do.
You had to be there to understand how difficult of a decision it was to make.
Pluto’s ears perked up and she screamed out a bark before reverting back to a growl.
I dialed 9-1-1 and listened to the dialing tone.
It rang a few times and then a few times more.
As I listened, I began to hear a low rumble coming from the backyard.
That was where the kitchen door led into.
It must’ve been what Pluto was barking at.
There was something out there.
The phone kept ringing but no one was picking up.
After a bit, the line went completely silent.
The phone didn’t even ring. It was just quiet static.
“Hello? Is anyone there?”
“Hello? Police? Anyone?”
More static. The rumbling became a little louder.
It started turning into a tickling buzzing in my ear.
Something was out there.
That was when my phone began to buzz.
I turned it over and saw a text from a number I didn’t recognize.
The text sent a chill up my spine.
“Let me in.”
Just as I had finished reading it, another notification popped up.
I tapped it to find yet another text from a number I didn’t recognize that said the same thing.
“Let me in.”
Oh my God.
“Let me in.”
They weren’t just texts from random numbers.
I was getting texts from my friends at uni,
my aunts and uncles,
and even Liz and Josh,
all saying the same thing.
My phone wouldn’t stop buzzing and before I could mute it,
there was an even stronger buzzing in my ears that seemed to be getting louder.
“Let me in.”
“Let me in.”
One of the texts was from my friend who went missing a few years ago.
It said the same thing.
The ground began to shake. I wasn’t sure if it was just my apartment or if it was the whole town, but it felt like a steady earthquake.
“Let me in.”
You could feel the vibration jolt throughout your whole body, but it was more like an electric shock rather than being tossed around on a rollercoaster.
It was nearly pitch dark in my kitchen besides my phone light and it was flickering.
It was like all of the light in the world was being sucked into a vacuum and the vacuum was shaking it around its airbag.
Then there came the loud static over the phone.
It was a voice that sounded like my mother’s.
“Rrriillleeeyyyyy….Let us in….”
I dropped the phone and watched it crack against the tile.
The voice continued as the buzzing grew closer and louder.
“Come on Riles….We misssss youuu… We jussst wanna hang outtt….Let’sss have fuunn!”
I stomped my foot down on my phone to get the voice to stop and though it worked, the buzzing didn’t cease and neither did the vibrating.
The world was shoved into a blender without a cap and it was dark and void of all things usual.
By now I knew that this was the end of my life.
There came the banging and a flash of light shining directly on the windows.
There were shadows of figures standing all around the apartment.
Some of them were children while some were crouched over canes.
None of them moved, but I could hear them.
“Let me in. Let me in. Let me in. Let me in…”
The TV began to go berserk and the radio upstairs began playing an eerie swing song.
There were footsteps coming from the ceiling above me.
I’m gonna die.
This is the end of it.
And then they found the steps and began cascading down.
One of my old toys was in a small crate in the stairway and it began to talk in an electronic voice.
“Let’s dance! When I get to zero, jump up high! Are you ready?”
There was a faint scream of static from the TV and Pluto was hovering upside-down above the couch.
He was barking and struggling like something was hurting her.
I could hear his cries even if I covered my ears.
His ears were hanging down behind her.
Something was holding him up.
Something had him.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
Don’t let them in. Whatever you do, just don’t let them in.
The TV switched off, the buzzing turned into a high-pitched ringing for a moment before being sucked away into complete and dead silence.
Pluto was kept suspended in the air, but she had stopped struggling and snapped her head towards the bottom of the staircase.
The voices stopped.
The banging ceased.
The lights were gone.
There was just blackness and silence.
And then the little toy in the crate exclaimed,
“Hurray! Let’s dance!”
As the cheesy kids music began to play,
Pluto cried as though in pain and something charged at me from the staircase.
It was black and speedy as though it were but a shadow,
But I knew it was something more.
It was strong enough to push me into the wall and send it crumbling down on me.
I lost all senses and felt the back of my head throb before blacking out.
At this point, you would think that I was dead or that I had woken up to find that it was all just a dream,
but both possible endings are wrong.
I did awaken, that’s true, but it wasn’t all just a dream.
When I opened my eyes for the first time since the disappearance of my town,
the first thing that I saw was the sun.
It blinded me as I tried to sit up and my mouth tasted dry.
There was a ringing in my ears at first, but it faded after a moment.
I thought my head had been spliced open and I checked to see if it was bleeding.
It was, but only a bit.
The red came off on my fingers like chalk.
The wound was less fresh than I had thought.
How long had I been laying there?
A few hours?
A few days?
If I could look up at the sky and know for sure,
But all there was was the call of sparrows and the rustling of the branches.
I felt around me as I closed my eyes for any sign of my phone or Pluto,
But neither was there.
There was just dust and dirt and bits of ash.
What is this? Where am I?
I opened my eyes again, inviting the sun, and through the blurry brightness,
I saw what looked like wasteland.
The earth was bare and warm, but the air was chilly.
I felt my hands over the ground and it was hot to the touch.
What happened? How am I still alive? Or maybe...could this be the afterlife?
I turned my head to look behind me and opened my eyes just a little wider.
The light was dimming and my vision was slowly coming into focus.
The world seemed to spin and tilt, but I was determined to find out where I was.
There was a treeline in the far distance and the sky was clear of clouds.
It was big and blue and endless like the wasteland.
There were no houses or cars or streets.
There was no aircraft or buzzing.
There was no shadow figure to be seen.
For miles, it was just dust and heat and rocks.
I stood up carefully, holding myself up with my hand so I didn’t fall over.
The ground burned my skin and I removed my hand abruptly.
The ground didn’t shake.
It was still and quiet besides the chirps of birds.
Like I said, the ground arose with heat,
But the air was chilly.
Something was keeping the ground hot.
Something happened here.
I glanced about, my hair a mess of ripped strands and sweat.
I was wearing my pajamas, but they were no longer white and red.
They were black as tar and as I grazed my fingers over the fabric,
the ash came off on my skin.
It was on my face, in my hair, on my arms and neck-
I coughed once to get some of it out of my lungs.
My mouth tasted of it.
My eyes blinked it off of their lashes.
My fingernails were stained with it.
The ash was all over my body and I wasn’t sure where it came from.
As I squinted towards the distance, the trees themselves looked black.
Something burned the trees, but there was still green in the faraway distance where the mountains towered and curved.
Am I alive?
I walked towards the treeline even though it was miles away.
I looked behind me, but still couldn’t figure out where I was.
I knew I was somewhere that was surrounded by woods and mountains,
so I was probably still in Vermont,
But what was this dusty clearing?
The ground was never that hot.
I wasn’t sure heat could come off of anything like that in Vermont.
It was hotter than the roof of a car and nearly burned through the soles of my shoes.
I was sure I was going to have to endure barefoot by the time I reached the treeline.
My arms were starting to burn.
There were marks on them that looked like red birthmarks.
I walked for what felt like hours before I reached the treeline.
My feet felt like they were being touched by a hot iron.
The sun was lower, but it was still bright in the blue sky.
Hair was stuck to my cheeks and forehead and my clothes were drenched.
Some of the ash had rubbed off so now I could make out some of the lettering on my shirt.
I turned around to look at the miles I walked.
I was sitting against a tree where the ground was a little cooler so I was able to touch it without feeling it burn a hole in my clothes.
That was when I really saw it for the first time and realization began to sink in.
I was sitting next to what looked like a giant opening of dust and ash and then,
after climbing the tree a bit to get a higher angle,
I saw the entirety of the scene.
Just beyond the miles of ash,
was a fissure in the earth with bits of smoke emitting out of it.
It hadn’t yet cooled down which would explain why the ground was so hot.
The fissure was at least eight miles wide and deep enough for it to seem impossible to see the bottom.
Everything was gone.
There was nothing in the place where my town used to be.
I was the only survivor and I don’t know why.
I don’t know what kept me alive or why,
but it somehow happened.
Police found me a day later near the fissure.
My feet were burned and scarred and I was covered head-to-toe in ash,
but I was bathed and hospitalized for two weeks before I was let out and questioned by the police.
That was when I was told that I was the only one and it completely hit me like a boulder falling from the sky.
My family was luckily alright despite living in the next town over, but all of my friends were gone.
None of the bodies were ever discovered.
The investigators suspect that they may have been vaporized or turned to ash,
so they went back and collected as much ash as they could before preparing a mass burial.
They planned on putting a monument in the town’s place, but it was almost immediately disregarded when police wanted to preserve all possible evidence of what might’ve happened.
I never returned to what remains of my town.
I instead returned home to live with my mother and began attending university in Maine after a year of recovery.
I still have to ask the questions that haunt me every second of every day.
They’re the questions that never seem to breach the confines of my mind.
What did they want and who, or what, were they?
Whatever or whoever they were,
they came for us
and I know that they’ll be back.
I glanced out a window one evening at a woman pushing a stroller with her baby inside
and for the first time I thought, Maybe they never left,
and that was when it became inevitable.
My town wasn’t going to be the only one.