Ask anyone what they think of us Peytons, and most folk will tell you that we’re a law-abiding family who would do anything for anyone. I dare say that’s true. The other half of the Peytons, well, the less said about them, the better.
They were part of my Dad’s family. They were a small family like ours, comprised of Dad’s brother, Andy, and his wife, and daughter, Kirsten, and Charley. Now it wasn’t as if I didn’t know they existed as I grew up; we received cards for Christmas and for birthdays, and I always signed the family card to them, but we never visited them, nor them us.
My dad had one photo of them all together, but it was from before I was born. It’s still somewhere around my parent’s house, a yellowed Polaroid from their wedding day. Uncle Andy was the opposite of my dad, a tall and pale man with his wrists and ankles sticking out of a too-short suit. Aunty Kirsten stood beside him, a plump little woman with a crooked nose and beaming smile. Charley hadn’t been born then either, so I had no idea what she looked like.
I sometimes asked my parents why we never visited them, and the answer was always the same. ‘They live the other side of the country,’ my dad would say. ‘We’d have to stay for a week to make it worth it, and, believe me, we’d all be bored out of our skulls by the halfway point.’
From what little I was told, they lived on a remote farm, far from pretty much anything you’d actually want to see. They reared livestock, mainly cows, and were pretty much self-sufficient. My dad only ever spoke about them in this level of detail, as little as it was when he was drunk, and even then only after me putting some pressure on him. My Mum never spoke of them. It always seemed odd, considering how happy they all looked in the wedding photo, but I suppose that’s families for you.
That all changed when Kirsten died. My dad received a phone call late on night, waking me from my sleep. I strained to hear what was being said, but Dad only spoked in hushed tones. I can still remember him coming up the stairs and speaking to Mum, before coming through to my room and sitting on the edge of the bed. He looked me in the eyes and said, very matter of factly, ‘Kirsten’s dead.’ There was little emotion on his face, a little too blank in my opinion, but that’s how he always spoke of them. ‘You’ll have to get your bags packed. We’re going to go visit Andy and Charley in a few days.’
In my mind, as awful as it sounds, Kirsten’s death was pushed to the back of my thoughts. This was the one and only chance I had to go see family I had never seen before and to finally meet them seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Within a few days, my parents had booked the necessary time off of work and pulled me out of school. We arrived at the nearest airport and took a hire car the rest of the way. The drive to the farm ended up taking longer than the flight.
City roads soon gave way to less maintained roads, and eventually on to rough roads and tracks made only by vehicles themselves. Dad cursed and complained as we bounced along the rough ground, knuckles whitened with his grip on the steering wheel. I can’t say mine wasn’t the same as my hand gripped onto the car door. I doubted we would get the rental deposit back.
The sun was only managing to peek over the horizon when we saw the house, the clouds above painted with red and pink. My stomach dropped when I saw the place.
There was something off about it. It’s hard to explain, even looking back on it now, but there seemed to be an ominous atmosphere over the place. It was a large farmhouse, plenty big enough, but had certainly seen better days. The wood of the exterior was heavily rotted, flaking away around the dirty windows, the chips of the old paint job still clinging on in places.
As we bounced towards it, a figure stood on the porch, tall and pale. Uncle Andy. He leaned against one of the pillars, still dressed in his overalls from minding the herd. He waited patiently for us, eyeing us with a suspicious eye as we climbed out of the car and walked towards him.
Dad stopped a couple of steps from my Uncle. ‘Andrew.’
‘I’m sorry about Kirsten,’ Dad said. ‘How are you taking it?’
Uncle Andy shrugged. ‘As well as expected.’
‘How about Charley?’
‘Charley doesn’t know,’ Uncle Andy said. ‘She’s not well. I don’t want her feeling any worse on top of it.’ Uncle Andy stepped off the porch and shook Dad’s hand; polite as if business partners rather than family. He offered Mum the same then turned to me, sunken eyes bearing down on me. ‘You must be Christopher?’
I looked at his outstretched and dirt-encrusted hand for a moment, then took it with my own. His long fingers wrapped around my hand and crushed it. ‘Yes, that’s me.’
‘I’m sure Charley would like to meet you when she’s better.’ He looked at all three of us. ‘I’m assuming you must be starving after your trip? I’ve got some food in the slow cooker, nothing fancy. Kirsten used to cook, I ain’t used to it.’
I followed my parents as they followed Uncle Andy. As the door opened, a musty smell rushed out, damp and mildewy. I stifled a cough and stepped inside, and Uncle Andy closed the door behind us. The place was a mess. I don’t know if it had been like that when Kirsten was alive, but I very much doubted that three days of her absence could have created something like this.
The kitchen was piled with old plates, the table and worktops covered in old stains and crumbs. Dust seemed to be a part of the atmosphere in here, not just creating a thin coat on most objects, but seemingly leaving a haze in the air. In the corner sat the slow cooker. My hunger swiftly disappeared when I thought of how clean it was.
We ate in silence. Uncle Andy sat at the head of the table, my Mum and Dad sitting opposite me. I played with my food, chasing it around the plate with my fork before stomaching the idea of trying some. It was supposedly beef, but it chewed like rubber.
I had to break the uncomfortable silence. ‘When is the service for Aunty Kirsten?’
‘Tomorrow,’ Uncle Andy said, finishing off the last of his food. ‘Your father and I have some work to do first though.’
‘Work to do?’
‘Grave needs digging out back,’ Uncle Andy replied. ‘Not the job for one man to do.’ He glanced at my plate. ‘Something wrong with your food?’
I stuttered slightly. ‘No, not at all.’ I quickly turned my attention back to my food, wishing I had never opened my mouth. I couldn’t help but think about the grave being dug on the property, but I suppose things were done differently here.
‘You finished?’ Uncle Andy said to Dad, hearing his fork scraping the plate. ‘We’d best get to it.’
My Dad looked up at him. ‘We haven’t got much daylight left.’
‘I’ve got lights on the spot,’ Uncle Andy replied. ‘We’ve got time.’
My Dad didn’t respond, but instead stood and placed his plate to one side. ‘Emma, stay with Chris.’
‘Make yourselves at home,’ Uncle Andy added. ‘Your rooms are to the right at the top of the stairs. Don’t go in the basement, that’s where Kirstin is. And don’t disturb Charley either, she needs her rest. She’s in the last room next to yours.’
The thought of a dead woman just below us sent chills running up my legs and into my spine. In fact, everything about the place put me on edge. All I wanted to do was to go home.
The remaining daylight passed mercifully quickly. Mum and I ascended the stairs and found our way to our rooms. My parent’s room was first, followed by mine. The door next to that was Charley’s. I stood and listened for a moment, seeing if I could hear any sign of my cousin, but there was only the ticking of the clock on the wall at the end of the corridor.
Sleep was not easy to find that night. My mind dwelled on Kirstin in the basement, on Charley next to me. Even without that, sleep would have been impossible. The window in my room overlooked the plot of Aunty Kirstin’s grave, and as soon as the daylight had gone, Uncle Andy started the petrol generator just below the window.
Dad and Andy were digging until well after midnight. Unable to sleep, I decided to watch through the dirty glass of the window. A floodlight sat over the site, and my Dad and Uncle Andy were now deep into the grave itself. They were talking to each other, although it was impossible to tell what with the hum of the generator.
I don’t know what triggered it, but the conversation between them got heated. Uncle Andy threw his spade down and grasped Dad by the collar. The spoke to each other through gritted teeth for a few minutes before Dad threw Andy’s hands off of him. He climbed up out of the grave and shouted one last thing before storming inside. I watched Uncle Andy’s suddenly blank expression staring at where Dad had walked off.
His eyes snapped up at me. I froze for a second, then ducked out of view. My nerves jittered through my body, my hands shaking. I was sure he had seen me, there was no way he hadn’t. I sat beside my bed in the dark and heard Dad come up the stairs before closing the bedroom door behind himself.
The generator outside was switched off, the sudden silence almost alarming. Uncle Andy’s footsteps soon came creaking up the stairs. My mind raced, thinking of what I could tell him. Surely it’s no crime to look out of the window? His footsteps reached the top of the staircase before coming along our corridor. My heart felt like it was going to burst. Slow and methodical footsteps crossed the floorboards of the corridor, coming to a stop just outside of my door. I clasped a hand over my mouth in an attempt to quieten my panicked breathing. The footsteps moved on, towards Charley’s room.
I clambered back into bed as slowly and quietly as I could. Through the wall which separated our rooms, I could hear muffled talking in Charley’s room, too muffled to make out. As soon as it started it stopped, and Uncle Andy trudged back along the hallway. I did not sleep for the rest of the night.
The next morning was an early start. As soon as the sun attempted to break through the miserable clouds, Dad knocked on my door. He poked his head in, his expression sullen.
‘Come on, get up,’ he said. ‘We’re going to need your help.’
I had fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion at some point towards four in the morning, and my mind was still groggy. ‘What for?’
‘We need to bury Kirstin,’ Dad replied. ‘We’re going to need help to get her out of the basement.’
My mind recalled what I had seen last night. ‘Dad, I saw you arguing with Uncle Andy.’
Dad chewed his lip and glanced back down the corridor to Uncle Andy’s bedroom before slipping inside and closing the door. ‘You saw that, huh?’
‘What was it about?’
‘Oh, nothing,’ Dad replied. ‘We’ve never really gotten along, and it’s only got worse since he isolated himself out here.’
I frowned. ‘So why are we here? Why are we helping?’
Dad stepped towards me, boots causing the floorboards underneath to groan. ‘Because we’re family. They say you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. That means you’re stuck with them, no matter what.’
‘No matter what?’
‘That’s right,’ Dad said with a nod. ‘Now get up. We’ve got work to be doing.’
I swiftly got dressed, pulling a jumper over my head as I stumbled down the corridor. Dad led the way down the stairs, walking through the kitchen before opening the door to the basement and walking yet more steps.
A cold air rushed up to greet me as I looked down. From the shadows I could see moving at the bottom of the stairs, it seemed that Uncle Andy was already down there. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for what awaited me at end of those stairs.
It was the first time I had seen a dead body, but I was sure they weren’t meant to look like this. Aunty Kirstin lay on a table in the centre of the room, a roughly-made wooden coffin placed on the floor beside it. Uncle Andy beavered away around her, thick rubber gloves covering his hands and a mask covering his mouth and nose.
Aunty Kirstin looked odd, to say the least. Her eyes were still wide open, pupils dilated and almost bulging from their sockets. Her skin appeared semi-translucent, some of her veins appearing almost silver in colour against her skin.
I glanced up at Dad, who read my questioning stare and shook his head at me. I knew what it meant. Ask no questions, just help Uncle Andy out.
Uncle Andy handed us a face mask and pair of rubber gloves each, both of us putting them on. I had no idea what the mask was for, there was certainly no smell down here. He stood himself on the opposite side of the table, Dad and I stood opposite him.
‘We lift on three,’ Uncle Andy said, steadying himself in preparation for the weight.
I slid my gloved hand beneath Aunty Kirstin’s body, unsure of what to expect. We lifted her, finding her body to be completely rigid, frozen in a statue-like state. The dress she was wearing shifted slightly, and I saw that the strange silver threads ran all over her.
After what seemed like forever, we carried the coffin out of the basement and out into the overcast light of the late morning before taking the short walk to the grave. The ceremony was rather dismal, with just myself, Uncle Andy, Mum, and Dad.
Uncle Andy was reading out passages from the bible, rambling on as the coffin sat beside the hole. Mum and Dad stood in silence, heads bowed in respect. I found my eyes wandering, looking at the fields and house itself. A couple of the cows I did see seemed malnourished, all bone and hide.
My idle gaze wandered across the uncut fields and towards the house. I looked up at Charley’s window, hoping to get a glance of her. There was nothing there, just more dirty glass.
A flash of movement grabbed my eye. A flash of movement from my bedroom. It took all of my might not to scream and cry out when I saw it, but two pairs of beady eyes looked down at us from the window I had looked out of last night. It was only a split second, but I was sure I had seen them, gone again before my brain could understand what I was seeing.
Uncle Andy finished his verse and looked at me, following my gaze up towards the windows. He calmly looked back towards me. ‘You okay, boy?’
‘I saw someone at the window.’
‘Only person up there is Charley, and she’s not well enough to get out of bed. It’ll be your eyes playing games, boy. That’s what you get for staying up late.’
So Uncle Andy had seen me. My stomach sunk as if filled with lead weight. I cleared my throat. ‘Sorry.’
‘I should think so,’ Uncle Andy said, turning back to the grave in front of him. He opened closed his eyes and held the Bible in his hands. What followed was several minutes of further rambling, interrupted with awkward glances between myself, Mum and Dad.
Uncle Andy opened his eyes and took a deep breath, waiting the briefest of moments before grabbing his shovel and starting to fill the hole back in. Dad wordlessly grabbed his own shovel and started to help. Mum and I stood by for a minute, before realising how useless we were being there, and retreated inside. Mum sat at the kitchen table and placed her head in her hands. I placed a hand on her shoulder.
‘Are you okay, Mum?’
She nodded. ‘I’m fine. We’ll be gone in a few days.’
I didn’t want to question her further, so decided to go back to my room. I gingerly crept towards my bedroom door, expecting someone to be waiting on the other side. What I found was even more confusing.
A hastily scrawled note was crumpled on the centre of the bed. I glanced around the room, heart thundering in my chest. Even though the corners were dark and filled with cobwebs, they held no one in wait for me.
The handwriting was bad, appalling even. I stepped closer to the window, hoping the light would help. The steady dull thud of Dad and Uncle Andy’s shovels hitting the mound of earth with which they were filling Aunty Kirsten’s grave provided a metronome to my reading.
She touched the stone. We both touched the stone. The one from the sky. It chose me, not her. Now she is under there, but I am not. Go, touch the stone. You have my blessing.
Below the message was a hastily scrawled map, showing what looked to be the farmhouse itself, the track we came in on, and the surrounding fields. In one of the fields behind the farmhouse was a cross, assumedly marking the location of the mentioned stone.
I looked out of the window, beyond the freshly-filled grave. My father and Uncle Andy were wandering back towards the house, chatting with each other, but it wasn’t them I was looking at. The field behind them, and the one indicated on the small map, was a forest of festering wheat.
The crop had obviously failed, some kind of rot running through it and turning the stalks black and limp. My eyes were drawn towards a sunken spot towards the centre. I glanced at the map, then back at the field again; it seemed to be the same spot.
Someone started shouting downstairs, it sounded like my dad. I cracked open the door of my room and listened. Uncle Andy shouted back, slamming something into the table with a loud bang. I couldn’t hang around here any longer.
I walked down the stairs and towards the kitchen. Mum sat with her head in her hands as they argued.
‘It’s weird, Andy, it’s fucking weird!’ Dad shouted. ‘I saw Kirsten before we buried her, it’s not natural.’
Uncle Andy slammed his fist into the table again, the cups resting on top of it jolting. ‘Shut the fuck up. Just shut the fuck up, John. You don’t know what our family has been through, you don’t know any of it!’
‘Someone needs to know about this!’
‘And who’s that?’
‘I don’t know, a hospital, the CDC?’
‘There ain’t no way the government is getting involved here.’
Dad opened his mouth to reply, then spotted me in the doorway. ‘Chris, how long have you been there?’
Too long, was what I wanted to say. Instead, I shrugged. ‘I’m going to go for a walk.’
‘Sure,’ Dad said, his tone softer still. ‘Just don’t be too long, and don’t get lost.’
‘And don’t go too far,’ Uncle Andy said, his eyes fixing me in place.
I gave a nod of acknowledgement and wandered past them and out of the door. A slight breeze was blowing, a stack of storm clouds gathering on the horizon. I gave a relieved sigh, the tense atmosphere of the kitchen being blown away on the wind.
As I took the map out of my pocket, the shouting match continued. I glanced down at it, double-checked my direction, and set off towards the dying wheat. As I wandered past Kirsten’s grave, I looked back, and for a split-second, I swore I could have seen someone watching from Charley’s window.
I shrugged off the creeping feeling which rose through my spine and carried on towards the wheat field. A sickly sweet smell hit my nostrils as I came closer, the blackened wheat looking as if it was covered in a fine veil of slime.
I put a finger to it. It was sticky, and viscous too. I pulled my hand away and tried to look between the stalks to where the map pointed, but they were too dense to see more than a metre in. I swallowed the lump in my throat and pushed forward.
A heavy sense of dread washed over me as I pushed my way through the stalks. The residue got everywhere. It matted my hair, stuck to my skin and clothing. I took to holding my hands in front of my face for fear of it getting near my eyes. The smell was strong enough to produce a vomiting sensation in my stomach.
The stalks cleared and I found myself in the section with the map had indicated. The wheat was flattened, the ground smashed inwards like an impact crater. It was an impact crater. At the centre of the impact was a stone, the same strange hue that Kirsten’s body was; silver with golden veins running through it.
My head swam, almost as if I were intoxicated. The vomit made good on its promise and came spewing from my sticky lips. My limbs were weak, my legs quaking as if any muscle they contained had atrophied.
I stumbled into the crater, rolling down towards the stone. It wasn’t large, possibly the size of my fist, and yet I felt insignificant in comparison to it. My arm seemed to snake its way towards it, pushing through the dirt until my fingertips brushed its surface.
Warmth. That was the first thing I felt. Then the nausea stopped, quickly followed by the muscle weakness and muzzy head. I found myself stood on the edge of the crater, looking down at the stone once more.
There was something else. Someone else, to be more exact.
There was another consciousness mingled with mine; not completely entangled, but I was aware of them.
Before I could investigate this strangeness any more, gunshots rang out. I turned back towards the farmhouse, a scattering of birds fleeing skyward.
I ran back through the wheat, paying no mind to the sticky residue which coated me afresh. A voice flashed through my mind. Not mine, not one I recognised. Not human.
I pushed on harder, lungs burning at the effort.
He shot them, both of them.
The house was dark and silent as I passed Kirsten’s grave.
He’s by the kitchen, waiting for you to come back.
I burst in through the kitchen door, chest heaving. Mum was slumped face down on the table, the back of her head nothing but a red mess. Dad lay across the tiled floor, a pool of blood around him. A figure stepped into the door opposite me.
Uncle Andy levelled the shotgun at me. ‘You never should have come here, boy. No one is taking my Charley away. Not you, not the government.’ He stepped forward, boots slick against the freshly wet floor. His eyes widened. ‘You touched it, didn’t you?’
I glanced down and saw that my skin had taken the silver hue, the gold only just beginning to form its veins through me. Uncle Andy burst towards me and knocked me to the floor, the butt of the shotgun connecting solidly with my head.
I pressed a finger to my head, expecting to see blood, but instead seeing it painted gold.
Uncle Andy pushed the shotgun firmly into his shoulder, levelling the barrel at my head. ‘Charley’s ill! She’s going to get better! Nothing is going to stop that!’
He was scared, I understood that. He didn’t understand what was going on. Kirsten hadn’t understood either, she had wanted to detach herself from the shared consciousness; that is what was being fed into my mind as I looked up at him. I pitied him.
His body froze, his eyes widening with fear. His hands shook uncontrollably, the shotgun dropping to the floor. Behind him another figure stood in the doorway, an arm reached out towards him.
I pulled myself to my feet and watched Charley as she stepped forward. Her skin was a radiant silver, the gold threads which ran through her skin burning brightly. Her eyes were white, her long hair matching.
She spoke to me, her mouth not moving an inch.
At the moment those words hit me, the reasoning came too. Charley was the first of our kind, patient zero. Her father would never free her, not while he was still alive. She clenched her fist.
Uncle Andy tensed and jerked. The blood vessels in his eyes burst, along with every other vessel which coursed through him. He was dead before he knew what had happened.
Charley turned her gaze towards me, taking gentle barefooted steps across the blood-soaked tiles. She lifted the hand which had just killed her father and placed it against my cheek, a slight smile touching her silver lips.
As she connected with me directly, I saw it all. The stone was not a thing of Earth, but a gift from a higher power; a spark to super-power human evolution forward millions of years. They were beings far beyond even what was shown to me in my mind; just fleeting glimpses of their vast intellect – a swirling chaos of thoughts and visions which came close to being pure madness.
We waited until nightfall then set out into the world, a cloudless star-filled night smiling down on us and the stone we carried. Whether anyone found the bodies we left behind, I don’t know. I am beyond that now.
So, why am I telling you this story? If you’ve read this far then you are of the mindset that we look for. We seek to expand, to bring in this new era of human evolution and shared consciousness. A new family. If you meet the criteria we require, expect a map of your own soon. For those who don’t, your time is running short.
You are obsolete.