By the time the fourth helicopter landed on the tiny airfield outside the military outpost in Sugarplum Boulevard, the night was transmuting into a crisp and snowy undertone. There was a line of whistling winds dashing through the sky.
Residents had already begun to question the weather in Violetwall, although many would pass it off as global warming, and others as an aftereffect of the sky. But it was true, to those who thought about it at least, that the climate was inconsistent. For some time it was believed that the rising temperatures were to blame; and this would be deemed, as the CTN news website suggested: 𝚃𝚑𝚎 𝙴𝚗𝚍 𝚘𝚏 𝚃𝚒𝚖𝚎𝚜.
So, beginning around half eleven at night and continuing on through the rest of the following morning, Fraser spent his time in the surgical procedure room, monitoring another alien dissection through a glass wall. He groaned. He had to wait hours in a poorly air-conditioned room with nerds who had nothing better to do other than to cut organs open. The creature was lying down on a cot, dismembered. Different body parts were organised into jars on the right side of the room.
The first was an arm, then a leg, then a hand. Its head was still on the cot, along with the torso.
The creature had been codenamed Lizard due to its striking similarities; it had a tail, scaly green skin, and bulging eyes.
They were at the very bottom of The Spire, about fifty metres beneath the surface. The walls had indeed shared an unquestionable similarity to the ones in the video online.
What a time to be doing this shit, thought Fraser.
When they reached down to cut its heart open Fraser recoiled and said, “Christ. Why do I have to sit through this shit the whole time?”
“It’d be . . . well, sir, there’s a rather consistent link between this creature and the anomaly in the ozone layer,” said Lieutenant Heart. “It’s as if they’re part of the same body . . . just in different areas.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Fraser looked Heart in the eyes, arms folded. “This creature here, you believe, is the reason for all of this?”
“Well,” said Heart, “not necessarily, sir. But it could be.”
Fraser turned away from him and glared through the pane again. The surgeon was draped in white clothing, black Wellington boots that crawled up to his shins, and a protective gas mask.
"Patient has four lungs . . ." the surgeon’s voice called, muffled.
"Pfff,” Fraser said. “Go on then, Lieutenant. I’m all ears.” He closed his eyes for a few moments, and then he heard a squishy bludgeoning take place. The sound came through a built-in microphone on the wall. Most of the time it sounded like TV static; a moment of harsh coughs; a scalpel scraping along the steel cot.
This was certainly not his forte. He did, perhaps, enjoy the research. In fact, it was his idea to begin Project X in the first place; he wanted to discover the differences between two beings of similar intelligence, what made them so different, and how they could learn to co-exist.
“Just watch, sir.” Heart crossed his arms behind his back as the two looked onward.
Fraser was confused. What could possibly happen in the next several hours that would explain the –
Then he saw it. Like a flash, the surgeon received something from the creature’s heart. It was glowing brightly with a purplish-blue blur. Perhaps it was then that he could recognise the sound . . that hum. The hum he had heard on December 7. But this time it was much quieter . . . like a baby version of the hole in the sky.
“What the fuck is that?” Fraser’s mouth gaped, sweat lacing his skin.
“That, sir . . . is . . .”
There was a moment in which Fraser was struck with awe. Never in his life had he experienced something so beautiful; it was like his memories and childhood swore an inner connection to the glow – to this gem.
". . . the Lizard’s Heart.”
“But,” said Fraser, “if that’s the creature’s real heart . . . then that thing in the sky . . . it’s . . .”
“Yes, sir,” said Heart, turning around and walking towards the exit. “A living being. Perhaps, even, the mother.”
Katherine spoke into her phone at three o’clock in the morning, keeping quiet so as to not wake Alex and Phoenix upstairs. She was sitting by the kitchen table, enveloped in darkness. All was shadow but the dim light of her screen kept at the lowest possible brightness. The phone signal came back around then. She had spent most of the morning waiting for it to return.
Katherine had tried calling the police but their number was out of order. That was what made her worry even more.
"Leave a message after the ding!" Carlos’ voice called from the other side of the phone. That voice . . . that voice which Katherine felt she hadn’t heard in years.
“Hey baby,” Katherine whispered tearfully. “I know you’ll probably never get this . . . but know I’m sorry. I’m sorry that we can’t find where you are . . . where you could be. You just . . . vanished. And know that you’re not alone, wherever you are. And weird things have been going on since you left us . . . and I’m sure somewhere out there you’re safe . . . I hope you’re safe. I hope you get back soon. By God, I MISS YOU! Please . . . if you ever, ever get a chance to call me . . . please let me know you’re okay. I’ll see ya soon, baby. Good . . . goodbye, for now.”
The voicemail ended.
She wept for what felt like hours in her seat, hands shoved up against her face. What could she do? After a despairing night curled up on her chair, she had absolutely no ability to come up with ideas. Could she race the streets of Violetwall and gather as many policemen and detectives as she possibly could? Could she wait and wait and wait with the unending expectation that a voice would call over the phone: “I miss you, too.” No. She didn’t possess the willpower.
As time went on she could remember the moments she had spent with Carlos over the years. The first was their marriage on September 20 of 2017. The year Alex was born. She could remember his white smile . . . those teeth that resembled her daughter’s. But never had it been so bright than on the day of Alex’s birth. She could remember the way he cried when he saw her; a glimpse of his love, and true delight.
She could remember the time they went to Disneyland for Alex’s birthday.
"Happy birthday, Spring Pea,” he had told her.
The more she thought of him, the less anxious she felt. So she thought on and on for as long as she possibly could . . . until, eventually . . .
“KATHERINE!” a voice echoed throughout the blindness. “Katherine!”
“What . . . ? Where am I . . . ?” she said, tired.
She was somewhere unfamiliar; a place she couldn’t quite describe. All she knew was that it was dark . . . even darker than it had been last night.
“Who said that?” said Katherine.
“QUICK! THIS WAY!” the voice said, though, she had no idea where from. It sounded ghostly, like it was a part of the environment.
So she tottered about. First she could see Alex in her blue slicker coming into view. She was almost transparent . . . like a ghost. Then she could see the cyan vortex form at the very end of the darkness. It had the appearance that could be likened to a far-off sunset in nothingness; it rose above the horizon, casting long narrowing pencil beams of blue light in her direction. Then she glanced down at her feet. The ground was wet, but there was no water.
Her heartbeat went on and on like a drummer’s solo, increasing as she sauntered further into the blue horizon.
For a naked moment she could see herself in the distance. But then . . . a familiar voice floated through the darkness and met her ears.
“Katherine!” the voice yelled. It sounded so close . . . yet so far. “It’s me! It’s me, baby!”
Was the voice behind her? Or was it ahead? She honestly couldn’t tell.
“Who is it?” said Katherine.
“It’s Carlos, baby! It’s me! Oh, thank God you got here! Jesus, you have to help me! You have to save me!”
“What?” Katherine murmured, tired and out of it. This made less sense than the spiral. She’d never been this confused before. Where was she? How in the name of God did she get there? She simply didn’t know.
The spiral ahead hummed, though, this time much quieter than before . . . as if it were . . . losing power.
Then she paused. Dazed. She could see a figure emerge from the darkness; slowly it began to develop features: a bald head, glasses, tan skin, broad shoulders . . .
It was Carlos.
He said, “KATHERINE!”
She looked down at her hands. They were fading.
In a hurry, she sprinted towards the figure in what felt like slow motion.
“Carlos!” Her voice was in shock, echoing throughout the realm, softly at first, then beginning to whirl.
“Is it really you?” she cried. “I’ve missed you so much! I’ve been so worrie –"
The spiral at the end of the horizon brightened like it had when it first arrived in the ozone layer, humming loudly like a celestial machine. Deep pockets of cyan mist streamed through the air – through the inexplicable darkness – birthing it in an unseen aura of stars.
Directly above, there was a nebula that split the sky in two. What followed was a stroke of purple lightning, then red, then green. It went on like this for a minute, then, as things began to calm, the spiral twirled in on itself.
“You have to protect Alex,” said Carlos, his face still saturated in a blinding gloom.
Katherine tried as hard as she could to reach him, but as she got closer, her movements slowed down.
The realm began shaking, and Katherine did, too.
“Go,” said Carlos. ”They’re after us. They’re real.”
And with that the spiral collapsed in on itself, and so went she.
Katherine Ramiro was dragged into the hole by an unexplainable force. It was cold, like a hand, but without fingers. Whirling and whirling, she dashed through the darkness and entered the vortex, hair blowing backwards. She couldn’t recall a time where she’d ever been this frightened . . . this . . . unaware.
So she went onward, coiling through the wind, forced back into the world of –
She sprang up from her chair and fell onto the floor, banging her head against the fridge. A pile of magnets fell off with her. Said, “Fuck!”
In the early seconds of her wake, she hallucinated Carlos one final time in the corner of the kitchen.
She gasped. He was gone. It was like a blur.
She slouched against her fridge and looked down at the magnets along beside her.
A dream, she thought. A fucking dream.
She took a glance around the place. It was in the middle of dawnlight, flitting in through the windows and drapes. The living kitchen looked the exact same as it had the night before, except for she didn’t remember a stack of cans on the carpet next to the couch. There were also packets of pot noodles, too. What were they up to?
But in her silence she agreed with herself: she was home, she was alive.
Katherine told herself that for another thirty seconds (though, it felt much longer to her), until finally pulling herself up off the floor.
I’m home, she thought. I’m alive.