Halloween. A time when life and death dance together in a grim waltz. A time when pumpkins leer at passers-by, perhaps hoping to devour them the same way that their brethren were once eaten (people pie, anyone?).
And of course, a time for stories that make teeth chatter and souls shudder. So it is that we begin our Halloween journey with the first installment of 13 Tales of Terror. As it turns out, this is also the start of the WEP Halloween challenge (lasting till October 21st), so this story will also serve as my contribution to that.
Without any further ado, let’s get right into the story. Happy hauntings!
We are explorers. We can’t help it. Maybe it comes from our thirst for knowledge and understanding. Or maybe it’s just pure and simple greed, the desire to find more and have more. Whatever it is, it pushes us beyond the boundaries we’ve defined, trying to open locked doors to create new passages.
But some doors should remain locked. You don’t want to knock on them. And if you do, pray no one opens it.
At the Reinbacher Observatory, we looked to the stars in search of undiscovered worlds, but one showed up much closer than expected.
I was working quite late and had the observatory to myself. It was a boyhood dream, spending the night under the stars with a giant telescope. It was when I got up to stretch my legs that I saw the rift.
It was a bright gash cutting across the air, as if a lightning bolt had frozen mid-arc. It hovered near the main entrance, about ten feet off the ground. I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but it didn’t take long to realize what it was: a doorway.
As I approached the strange portal, I realized that the light only existed along its perimeter. Inside, it was pitch black. A strange energy emanated from within the portal, making it thrum with life. For an instant, curiosity overtook caution and I reached my arm out to touch it. The air around my finger tips crackled and sizzled as I got closer, and I could hear my heart beat as if someone were holding it up next to my ear. Shaking, I pulled my arm back. That was a bad idea. But there had to be another way to get through.
I rummaged around in my desk until I found a two-way radio set. My colleague Dr. Benson and I would sometimes alleviate long stretches of star gazing by radioing each other, pretending that we’d made first contact. Now I had the chance to try it out for real.
I hurled one of the radios at the portal, watching it sail through the air before the void swallowed it up. There was no crash or clatter. My radio buzzed with static. After a moment’s pause, I spoke into it.
“Hello. My name is Dr. Arjun Mehta. Is anybody out there?”
Of course, I had no idea if whoever was on the other side spoke English or could understand me at all, but I was hopeful that the sound would get their attention. And that they could figure out how to use a radio transmitter.
I sent several messages out into the darkness, but all I received was silence.
Until finally, after what seemed like hours, someone responded.
It just sounded like more static at first. Then I could make out a sound, but no words. It sounded like yowling, though it would have to be a hell of a large cat to yowl like that. My hands were shaking so much I could barely keep a grip on the radio. My voice was dry, but I managed to croak out another message.
“H-hello? Can…can you hear me?
The radio went silent. No yowling, no hissing of static. I could hear the blood rushing through my veins.
I was about to relay another message when there was an explosion of light from the portal. It blazed all around me, forcing my eyes shut against the intense brightness. I could hear the yowling sound again, but this time it was all around me. Panic pulled me away from the sound, but I didn’t know which way to go. I stood rooted in place, desperately hoping this wasn’t the end.
And then, everything stopped.
I opened my eyes, blinking a few times to adjust to normal lighting again. It was quiet once more, and there was no trace of anyone or anything having entered or exited the portal. The portal was still there, but the light around it had dimmed. It was fading. Within minutes, it had disappeared completely.
My knees buckled and I collapsed into a chair. Had I imagined it? The only proof of the portal’s existence was in my memory, and I was becoming less sure that it could be trusted. After a few more minutes, I took a deep breath, refocused my mind and went back to work recording the non-imaginary phenomena I’d observed that evening.
It was still too quiet for my liking, but I ignored that as I entered the data. The stillness of the night was playing tricks on my sleep-deprived mind.
I went back to the telescope for some more observations, and that’s when I felt the floor give out from under me. Something was very wrong. The display showed images of the night sky and somewhere off to the side, standing out amongst the stars, was a small blue dot.
It was Earth.
The air in the room was starting to get heavy. I ran out of the room, gasping for breath. I kept going until I was out of the observatory, and then my feet stopped moving on their own. Darkness stretched out in front of me. There were a handful of stars twinkling overhead and a gray shifting mass below that could have been land or water, but one thing was for certain: I was far from home.
Slowly, I went down on my knees, trying to catch my breath but with no idea what kind of air I was breathing. I was startled by the sound of the radio, still in my pocket, which began to hiss. It almost fell out of my hands as I pulled it out, and after I had managed to steady myself enough, I held it close and listened.
Through the static, I heard a voice. A high, whining voice that made every hair in my body stand on end:
“I can hear you, Dr. Mehta.
I can hear you.”