The bright meadow and green pasture vanished, replaced by a repulsive, violet-tinged darkness. Dry, lifeless grass crunched beneath my feet. Its color a sickly looking brown, shrouded in the same dark mauve as the rest of the landscape. Trees—or what used to be trees, lay scattered around this dark wasteland, bare and bleak.
I looked up and my breath faltered. In the sky above stood a sun, unlike any luminary I’d seen before. Its light—if you could call it that—glowed dim and unimpressive. A dark violet ring choked out what little sunlight that escaped. Surely this wasn’t my sun, and surely this wasn’t my world.
A garbled moan awoke me from my stupor. I turned, only to see a figure, cloaked in darkness which seemed to float about its body like smoke. No face—or at least no visible eyes or mouth that I could see. Only the vile darkness. It stumbled and staggered toward me, arms out, reaching, begging, threatening to drag me down with it to whatever hell it was headed for.
Neither fear nor fascination could keep me in place any longer. I ran, my feet hardly touching the accursed ground. I wove through the graveyard of trees that would have been a flourishing forest at one time—in my own world. Earth. Not this apocalyptic nightmare.
A strangled groan sounded up ahead. My blood ran cold. Another creature. I dodged it, heart pounding within me.
A structure stood ahead in the midst of the dead trees, shrouded in the violet haze.
Safety. Shelter. Hope.
I pushed myself to continue on. If my old high school gym teacher could see me now, he’d ask why I never joined the track team.
Reaching the cabin, I frantically searched for the door as the creatures of darkness moaned and groaned behind me. I found the front door, but to my horror, it wouldn’t open. I pulled harder. Nothing.
I knocked, trying to focus, ignoring my shaking hands and pushing my terror down into my gut. “Hello? Is anyone there?” I yelled.
I tried again, pounding hard against the wooden door. Nothing but pain answered my knocks.
Finally, I turned, freezing, pressing my back to the door. The two monsters from earlier had arrived and brought their hideous friends with them. I counted at least nine creatures staggering—lurching toward me, blocking off any chance of escape. Panic invaded my brain like an army, determined to conquer my rational thoughts.
Before I could make another move, something grabbed hold of my arm and wrenched me backward. Abandoning my dignity as a scientist and as a man, I screamed as I fell to the hard floor.
Between how hard I’d pushed myself while running, and the hardness of the ground, my lungs felt as though they’d collapse. While I lay there, staring up at a wooden ceiling, whatever had attacked me grabbed hold of my arm, dragging me farther into the cabin. Before I could scream, the figure let go and walked away. The front door shut soon after.
I panted, desperate for more air, my chest heaving. I winced as my head throbbed. Or perhaps it hurt from hitting my head—or from teleporting to this hideous place. My thoughts were so scrambled I could scarcely tell.
“Sorry for making you fall…are you all right?”
My view of the ceiling was suddenly blocked by the face of a young girl. I sat up, staring at her. The girl’s face looked pale and thin. There were shadowy half-circles beneath her dark eyes, and her stringy hair hung from her head, limp and lifeless as cooked spaghetti, like a child’s drawing colored with a black marker.
I put my hand to my head as it continued to throb. “I’m fine, I guess…who are you?”
Her thin lips turned up into a smile. “My name is Lorelai.”
“I’m Leroy,” I mumbled, glancing behind the girl. “Where are your parents?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t think I have any.”
I pursed my lips. “What were those things?”
“I call them shadows,” the girl said, “because they follow me wherever I go.”
I rubbed my aching head, shutting my eyes. “Shadows don’t usually go around trying to kill people.”
“Those ones do. They’re attracted to life because they’re mostly dead.”
I opened an eye. “Mostly? They’re monsters…right?”
Lorelai pursed her lips. “Mmmm…I suppose they are now.”
I frowned. “You don’t mean…those things used to be human?”
She nodded, clasping her small hands together. “They faded…turned into shadow as the life left them.”
I stared at Lorelai. “Faded…you mean, they turned into monsters…so, those creatures are like zombies?”
Lorelai tilted her head to the side, staring at me in confusion. “Zom..bees…?”
“People that are dead but can still move,” I explained.
Lorelai nodded. “Oh, then yes, like zom-bees.”
I stood to my feet, wobbling as I walked over to one of the windows. Despite the darkness, I could make out a couple of those creatures shambling along, moaning softly. But most of the monsters that had been chasing me earlier seemed to have wandered off.
To think that these creatures were once human. People with families and dreams, now reduced to a shadow of what they could have been. My invention had indeed worked. It teleported me, just as I’d hoped, but to where? My calculations were supposed to take me to the other side of my kitchen, not to—wherever I was now. This hellish place couldn’t be anywhere on earth—could it?
I choked. Eyes wide, I whirled around. “Lorelai, what is this place? Where are we?”
She blinked. “Oh, um…I believe it’s called Lumnar.”
Lorelai frowned, shaking her head. “I don’t think so…the signs in town said Lumnar.”
Relief washed over me. This world didn’t belong in our solar system. These monsters were not roaming around on Earth. Where I came from, the sun was bright and the trees were alive and green. My parents would be working on projects in their lab, and the rest of humanity would be going about their daily business.
“I guess I made a mistake in my calculations then. I hadn’t meant to travel this far.” I frowned, staring through the window’s glass at the dark purple fog. “This world looks like it’s been dark for months…”
Lorelai nodded. “It has.”
I blinked. “What?”
“It’s been dark for as long as I’ve lived here,” she said, glancing toward the door.
I crossed my arms, frowning. “It never changes? The sun stays dark and never lightens up? You don’t have daytime at all?”
The young girl shrugged, walking over to join me at the window. “No…darkness has always consumed everything around me.”
My frown deepened. “So, it’s always been like this? How would people grow crops? Or feed animals?”
“They don’t,” she whispered, “this planet is dying…there’s nothing left.”
I shivered. No wonder Lorelai was as thin as a willow branch.
“I need to get back to my own planet…” I muttered, raking a hand through my dusty-blond hair.
“You’re from a different planet?”
I nodded. “Yeah, it’s called Earth.”
She tilted her head to the side. “What is Earth like?”
I shrugged. “Oh, you know…it was probably like this planet was before it died. Sunny, green, full of life…”
Lorelai smiled. “I’d love to see it. I remember seeing green grass before…but it didn’t last long.” She sighed. “I just…need to find a new home…somewhere bigger…”
I glanced around the cabin, noting the faint smell of wood. From the outside, the cabin appeared large and fortified, a safe haven in the midst of a shadow-infested wood. On the inside, it was more of a homey, cozy place. Somewhere your average hunter might take shelter.
“It is rather small, I suppose…but would you really need so much space? You’re the only one living here, aren’t you?”
She pursed her lips. “That’s the problem…”
I nodded. “I see…you’re lonely. Well, you’re a little too young to be left by yourself—I think… actually, how old are you?”
Lorelai hummed. “I’m not sure…I never thought about it…”
“I guess it’s not that important.” I let out a deep breath. “In any case, I’ll find you a new home once we’re back on Earth. I’m sure my mother knows someone who would take you in.”
Her eyes widened. “Really?”
“Really.” I pressed my lips together, glancing out the window. No sign of shadow creatures. “But first we’ll need to find a way off this planet.” I sighed, shaking my head. “If only I had my lab…then we could—”
“There is a way off.”
I turned to look at Lorelai. “There is?”
She nodded. “In the center of town, there’s a place called the ‘town hall’. There’s a device there that transported people away when the darkness came.” Her brows furrowed. “Only…I couldn’t figure out how to use it…and a man tried to stop me…he tried to take it from me, saying that I could never leave, but dropped it…and it still wouldn’t work after that, so I gave up.”
I rolled my eyes and let out an exasperated sigh. “No doubt he was trying to save himself and ended up breaking the machine entirely,” I scoffed. “Coward. He should have helped you get to safety.” Clearing my throat, I searched her face. “But you said it fell…so it’s still in the town hall?”
Lorelai pointed vaguely in the direction of the door.
“How far is that exactly?”
She shrugged. “I think…maybe not too far…the town is just outside of the woods.”
I nodded. “All right…are there more shadows in town?”
“Yeah, a lot…but they’re pretty slow.”
I swallowed hard. “All right, then I’ll check the cabin for supplies, and then we can find the town hall.”
I turned and walked across the hardwood floor, which creaked beneath my feet. The lack of walls to divide the kitchen from the living room, and the living room from the bedroom, made the cabin feel small and cramped. There didn’t seem to be a bathroom, but I spotted a large metal chamber pot on the floor, laying on its side. I didn’t smell any foul odors, so perhaps Lorelai went outside to relieve herself.
Searching through the kitchen drawers, I found a couple of rubber bands, a pair of scissors, three screwdrivers of various sizes, and a can of sardines—which I opened. The pungent smell of fish filled the air. I’d never been a fan of fish, but eating was preferable to starving.
The young girl padded over to me, and for the first time since we’d met, I noticed her feet were bare. I offered her the canned fish.
“Here, you should eat.”
Lorelai shook her head, hardly sparing the fish a glance. “No, thank you…”
I raised an eyebrow. “I know it smells bad, but you obviously need it.”
“No…not this. It’s no good anymore,” she said, scowling.
“It’s okay, It was canned, so it’s still good.”
She stuck her tongue out, wrinkling her nose. “It’s been dead a long time…”
The corners of my lips turned up. “It certainly isn’t fresh, but you really should eat. You look like you haven’t eaten in a while.”
Lorelai frowned. “I haven’t…”
I offered the can to her again, but she shook her head, stepping back.
“We should leave.”
I set the can down on the counter with a sigh. Even on another planet, there were children who were so picky that they’d rather starve than eat something they didn’t like.
We left the cabin, running straight through the woods. The shadow creatures approached, but as Lorelai had said and I’d noticed, they were rather slow. The most they could do was unnerve me with their ghoulish moans and groans.
With Lorelai pointing out directions, it couldn’t have taken more than ten minutes for us to reach the end of the barren forest. The town sat perfectly preserved as if waiting for the sun to suddenly brighten and the townspeople to emerge from their homes. The only signs of panic and destruction were the cars abandoned on the roads, and broken glass scattered on the sidewalks. No sign of life or living creatures except the shadows. I didn’t bother counting them this time.
“The town hall…it’s over there.”
Lorelai pointed. I could just barely see the building in question. A sandstone tower in which a bell hung. Below the bell, a clock had been installed. The hands stuck on around 2:30. A flagpole stood at the top of the tower, from which a white and blue flag hung. The white areas of the flag looked lavender in the violet-tinged atmosphere.
“What happened here…?”
“It happened very fast,” Lorelai said. “People screamed and ran, but it didn’t do any good. They couldn’t escape.”
“Darkness. You can’t satisfy darkness…it feasts and feasts until there’s nothing left to eat, then it goes looking for more light. More life…”
As Lorelai spoke, a trickle of dread slowly flowed through my veins. She sounded wise beyond her years—as if she’d seen it all before. Pain, fear, desperation to get away. To run. What had brought this darkness upon the planet? An experiment? War? Or perhaps it was a virus spread by the shadows. In that case, would it spread to other places?
Almost as if they could hear my thoughts, a group of shadow creatures noticed Lorelai and me standing on the edge of the asphalt. They ambled toward us, so I scooped Lorelai up in my arms and ran down the main street, toward the town hall. I no longer wanted to know what happened to this planet. I only wanted to return to my own.
Reaching the town hall, I pushed the front door open. Setting Lorelai down, I closed the door and locked it—just to be safe.
“You ran fast…”
I turned to look at Lorelai, she stared at me with a curious expression on her face, head tilted to the left. Looking at the young girl, I noticed her eyes were a dark brown—almost black. They had a violet tint, similar to the ring around the sun. Perhaps a product of living in the darkness for so long.
I cleared my throat. “So, where’s the device?”
Lorelai trotted off, so I followed. As we walked, I heard the moans of the shadow creatures echo throughout the town hall.
“They’re inside…” I murmured.
Lorelai glanced at me, but didn’t appear at all concerned. She stepped through a doorway that led into a large office. The office looked like it’d been through a catastrophe nearly as bad as the darkness infesting the planet. Shelves were knocked over with books scattered everywhere, and papers were strewn across the room. A metal desk lay on its side, and nearby, a large device.
“Is this the machine you were talking about?”
Lorelai nodded, her eyes wide and hope-filled. “Can you fix it? Can you take us home?”
I walked over, setting the machine upright. Looking it over, there didn’t appear to be any major damage done to it. The screen and scanner looked intact, and the keypad and red activation button didn’t have any wiring issues.
My gaze fell to a small switch behind the machine. I laughed.
Lorelai frowned. “What is it?”
I pointed to the switch. “It’s not on. That’s why the machine didn’t work.”
Once I flipped the switch, the machine whirred to life.
“It’s working!” Lorelai squealed, clasping her hands together.
Smiling, I typed in the only coordinates I knew from memory into the keypad—a small meadow on my parents’ farm. From out in the hall, a creature moaned. My smile faded.
“Sounds like we’re out of time…so let’s hope this machine actually works.”
She nodded. “It will. I saw it work for the others..”
I took a deep breath, stepping in front of the scanner. “Good. Then let’s get out of here.”
Lorelai grabbed my arm as I pressed the start button. A bright light erupted from the machine, engulfing us both.
When I opened my eyes, colors invaded my view. Blue sky, green pasture, brown pine trees with muted green pine needles, and bright green bushes with blackberries dotting the tree line. A cardinal flew past, greeting me with its red brilliance.
No sickly violet hues, shadow creatures, or darkness.
I was home.
As I breathed in the fresh air on my own planet, a laugh bubbled up inside me. Trees, birds, bugs…so much life. Soon enough, the dead planet I’d left behind would become nothing more than a distant memory. A nightmare I awoke from.
I lifted my face to the sun, closing my eyes. The warmth from the sun’s rays beat down on me, filling me with comfort.
But as I stood there soaking in the sun, a chill swept through the air as the warmth dissipated. I frowned, opening my eyes. Above me, a dark violet ring had formed around the sun, dimming its light. I stared, gaping in horror. To my right, Lorelai let out a giggle. I looked down at her. Her violet eyes glowed with life, her hair had become glossy and her skin appeared unmarred and healthy. Even her frame had filled out. She looked like a normal girl. Gone were the signs of weariness and malnutrition.
She smiled up at me. “Thank you, Leroy…you’ve found me a new home.”