What Phoenix Newman would later recall was confusion. The only thing that made sense to him was that The Spire had something to do with all of this. He’d been thinking for a while, and it brought him back to the earlier night of the week, when he asked, “But how could this happen?”
Alex, however – perhaps because she’d been more concerned about her father’s disappearance – secretly believed it was an alien invasion (though she would not dare mention this to anybody that she knew in fear of looking insane). And her clearest memory of the event unfolding overshadowed the face of her father. The truth was that she had already started forgetting what he looked like – well, in some areas: the nose, the mouth, the ears – but she didn’t forget his eyes. They were like her own.
What everybody else remembered – what brought the city’s fear back to them on those late nights before dreaming – were the cries of their beloved. For some, those would be the last sounds they’d hear them make.
Phoenix fell asleep around two o’clock in the morning, although to him, through repetitive tosses and turns, it felt like he’d dozed off much later.
Alex stayed up for longer – so much longer that her brain would eventually have to close for the day.
(We’re gonna be all right)
Hours went on, and as the sun began crawling up beneath the thin surface of the horizon, Alex would wake up to the sound of a loud buzzing noise. It was her phone; she had forgotten to turn on the blue-light filter and tap the Do Not Disturb mode.
Who the fuck? thought Alex.
That question wasn’t difficult to answer. It was a Discord notification from the duck with glasses.
Phoenix, thought Alex, but as if to show him that she wasn’t in the mood for chatting, she told him to piss off, though, this wasn’t something too irregular. She had ended days more tired than this during the Christmas exams, but she’d never been more anxious and foreboding about the future.
The house was dark, but the sun was rising, and when it did, it offered moderate light to the second floor. At first the interior of the house was met with a pink glow, and then with a purplish-blue. She and Phoenix became so used to this new light that they’d actually forgotten what it looked like beforehand. And they did admit that the sky was more interesting than it used to be.
Phoenix: yo we needa talk
Alex didn’t open the app at first; she instead looked at the notification bar by swiping down from the top of her screen.
“Oh my Jesus,” Alex murmured. “Can’t this wait?” she told herself.
She yawned and stretched. Then she opened the app.
She typed: bro piss off I’m tryna sleep
Phoenix: I think I know what the spiral is
Alex, furrowing her brows, typed, though reluctantly: Go on then
Phoenix: aight so first I gotta show you something outside. But I think it has something to with people disappearing
Alex: So no aliens huh? I thought u were pretty confident about it being that
Phoenix: bruh it could be anything. Yo can I come in?
Alex, after a moment’s silence, typed: why?
Phoenix: I still have to show you. I ain’t tryna wake your mom up by heading downstairs.
Alex: fine? What u wanna show me?
Phoenix: aight wait a sec
She groaned, backing out of Discord and opening up Google on her phone.
She had already started getting notifications from CTN News. Most – in fact, ALL – were about the spiral. But they referred to it as a ‘Black Hole’. This sounded, to Alex, like nothing more than scaremongering.
She opened up the searchbar and typed: V-i-o-l-e-t-w-a-l-l. Multiple searches popped up before she could even finish her sentence. The first read: Violetwall black hole; the second: Violetwall pollution levels; and the third: Violetwall invasion. Out of curiosity she tapped on the last one, and although this was not what she had originally intended to look up (she wanted to find out about The Spire), she saw it as a better alternative nonetheless.
Alex tapped on the first link, her heart beating quickly. It was CTN News, with the article: The End of Times.
It read, quote:
VIOLETWALL, well-known for its marvelous ventures in technological science, has received one of the most mysterious occurrences the world has ever witnessed. On the cold evening of December 7th, 2032, a spiral about the size of Mount Everest formed in the ozone layer, facing down upon the city. It can still be seen from multiple states bordering Violetwall. However, undoubtedly, the 6,000,000 residents of the city have felt the full-on effect of the occurrence, with dangerous weather changes, to the most disappearances ever recorded in the history of mankind. Approximately twenty per cent of the residents have been reported missing by locals and authorities. The—
—gentle sound of soled shoes crept across the carpeted hallway. It was Phoenix, creaking the door open and closing it carefully.
“Alex!” he loudly whispered. “I’ll show you, c’mon.”
“Wh-what do you mean?!” she whispered. “I ain’t going anywhere!” she barked.
Phoenix shushed her. “Please. Just this once.”
Silence followed, enough to make the quiet sound quieter. “Fine,” she said.
“This way,” Phoenix whispered to Alex as he snuck out the bedroom window. “I’m actually gonna die if we spend any more time in this godforsaken hellhole.”
Alex said nothing as Phoenix led her out through the glass, towards the bottom of the downpipe, sliding until he reached the tarmac of the backyard walkway, but she noticed that the spiral in the distance was slowly beginning to brighten again.
“Say, Phoenix,” said Alex, tired.
“Yeah?” he said as she slid down the pipe to join him.
The sidewall of the house had the early signs of vines climbing along it. Nothing was too unexpected: there was a dark green garbage bin pushed against the wall, thick bushes that ran down the walkway from side to side, and freshly potted plants by the window sills of the lower floor.
It was a chilly, wintry morning. The sky was darkling in pink, and the clouds looked sweet and sugary.
“Do you think that spiral up there is an eye?” She brushed bits of dirt off of her black jacket and bluejeans. She had worn the same clothes on the night the fridge almost fell on them. That wasn’t too odd. It was indeed her favourite to wear. “I feel like it could be something like that.”
The spiral could have been many things. Though Phoenix wasn’t afraid of it any more. If it was going to do something it would have done so already. The more he thought about this, the less afraid he became. All until he eventually realised that it was probably nothing more than an illusion.
After that, his thoughts returned to normal. He was able to devote one hundred per cent of his concentration on finding his parents. An idea had already begun forming: what if the sky was the key?
“We talked about this,” said Phoenix. “I’d say it’s a portal, but not really. There’s also a chance it isn’t real. And if it is, I think I’ve found out where everyone went off to.”
“What are you talking about?” said Alex, staring in confusion.
“Follow me, c’mon!” Phoenix grabbed her hand and directed her towards the front yard. “Be careful, though. I don’t know if your mom has super-hearing or not.”
It was true, for a little part, that Katherine’s hearing was precise. But they hadn’t known that she was wide awake in the living kitchen, huddled up against a fridge, crying into her forearms for a short period of time; nor were they aware of the dream she had had. The dream that seemed like a passage to another world. Perhaps that was indeed what it was. A portal. A wormhole.
They rushed along the streets of Boulevard; that morning they had been particularly empty. As they did, Phoenix took the liberty of explaining everything he knew (or thought he knew) about the spiral in the ozone layer. From the dreams he had to the voices to the coincidental disappearances.
“I’m telling you, Alex,” Phoenix repeated, “it must be where our parents are – I mean, where else could they have gone?”
“Okay,” Alex said, “there’s no way they can possibly get up there.”
“Dude, we don’t know that. Well, I do. I know that.”
“I don’t exactly think it’s the easiest thing to sprout wings and fly up there all at once without anyone seeing,” Alex said.
They stopped in the middle of the housing district. There was a large sloping road that led into the commercial area with tall buildings and glowing business stores. The Spire shone brightly ahead; the spherical pane of glass had not yet dimmed as much as it used to. People must have been still working there, Alex thought.
After about three minutes of running, the rain started belting down on their skin. Then it became snow. The weather was perhaps stranger than people were used to. There was a lamppost next to them that looked as though it would fall over in seconds.
“What did you want to show me?” Alex said.
“Watch,” he said, pointing up at The Spire ahead of them.
They waited for a few minutes, and Alex was losing her patience. Phoenix kept telling her to just look.
Then, after a moment, a black helicopter levitated above the building. It was painfully slow, but also particularly loud. It whirled through the sky, carrying a large crate, but only this time it was glowing from the inside out. Purple and blue. Just like always.
“Wait,” said Phoenix.
They waited some more, and the helicopter redirected itself towards the spiral . . . and headed that way. It kept rising and rising, and the higher up it got, the more it faded into the pink light of the vortex.
“What the fuck?” said Alex. “The government are behind this shit? The Spire?”
“Well maybe this isn’t just the government,” said Phoenix. “Maybe this is something much more powerful. Something we can’t seem to see or identify.”
“Oh, no. Not another one of your alien theories,” said Alex.
“Well this is power beyond anything humanity has ever faced. I don’t care if you don’t believe me; you can go home now for all I care. I know they’re in there. And that ain’t something the government could come up with by themselves. I know that, too.”
“Yeah,” said Alex, gesturing her hands, “you just knooooow like always. Kinda like how you knew the UFO was a publicity stunt. Yeah, Andy told me about that.”
"Woooooow,” said Phoenix. “You really gonna bring that up, huh?”
“Well if we’re gonna start talking about crazy shit then we might as well, right?”
“Yeah, because I ain’t even gotta remind you that there’s a floating twirl in the sky and you out here questioning the scientific accuracy of a teenager’s theory. Nothing makes sense.”
“No, Phoenix,” said Alex. “The fact you’re taking our parents’ disappearances as a science-fiction joke doesn’t make sense.”
Phoenix furrowed his brow. “Damn, well, believe whatever you wanna believe. I’m findin a way in that joint whether I end up the next face on the red-brick wall or not.” He turned around and made his way down the slope pathway. “And you can tell your mom I won’t be back till I do.”
He waltzed down the road, not looking back.
Alex stood there, leaning against the lamppost, crying.
A few moments went by – what felt like aeons – before she started walking away, snow covering the upper half of her jacket. Her beanie was white and snowy, too.
She kept her head to the ground, thinking gracefully of where her father could have possibly been.
Is he right?
Things were starting to add up but she didn’t want to believe it.
In her long walk, things became . . . strange. She felt her skin buzz into gooseflesh, and when she turned around she had to cover her eyes. The spiral was now glowing like a second sun, and she could feel its warmth embrace her. She recoiled and backed away, breathing heavily through her mouth.
Then . . . she could hear him; it was Carlos.
“ALEX! YOU HAVE TO GO! YOU HAVE TO RUN!” his voice echoed.
“DAD?!” Alex yelled throughout the cityscape.
The ground beneath her began to shake.
“WHAT’S HAPPENING?! WHERE ARE YOU?!” Her voice was hard, breaking a couple of times.
The spiral continued to brighten, and the ground kept on vibrating.
She slowly crouched down into her knees and let out a death-defying scream that whirled along each alley and avenue of the city. She kept panting. She covered her eyes with her elbows and squatted.
“WHERE ARE YOU?!” she called again, this time louder.
Then she heard the sky hum. It perpetuated for quite some time until . . .
“I’m right here, Spring Pea.”
Her heart skipped a beat, maybe even two or three.
The humming stopped, and from her peripheral vision, she could see that it wasn’t as bright. The heat on her body had cooled and she felt . . . safer.
She slowly raised her head, gibbering with a frown.
Her heart sank; that wasn’t her father.