It was the thud of impact which worried me the most. The power going out was standard around here, but the deep rumble which shook the house and surrounding trees was unlike anything I had ever felt before. My car alarm sounded outside.
‘Holy shit,’ Eric said, his voice coming from somewhere beside me. ‘Was that a quake?’
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘It was big, that’s for sure.’
‘You got a torch nearby?’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘In the kitchen.’ I took a step and sent an unseen beer bottle clattering across the room. ‘Fuck.’
‘Wait a minute,’ Eric said. There was the sound of muffled jingling, followed by a meagre but welcome glow of light. Eric waved his keychain around, a small novelty lantern attached to it. He managed a grin. ‘Cara said it’s dumb, but I knew it would come in handy.’
‘Doesn’t mean she’s wrong.’
Eric laughed. ‘Fuck you.’ He held the light aloft as we stumbled through to the kitchen. The darkness was disorientating, and the beers we had weren’t helping.
‘Want me to get another beer?’ Eric asked. ‘The light from the fridge is going to help, right?’
I was too preoccupied with trying to find a more permanent source of light. ‘You get one if you want. I’m good.’ I rummaged through a few of the drawers before coming across the flash-light. I switched it on, squinting at the sudden burst of light.
Eric shielded his eyes from the beam. ‘Fuck! Keep that on the floor will you?’
I pointed the torch down at the scuffed vinyl floor. ‘I’m going to go check the outside, switch that god damn alarm off.’
‘And to make sure the house is still intact?’
‘Well, the roof hasn’t come down on us yet.’
I pulled my car keys from the key hook in the hallway and opened the front door to the dark night. The cloud cover was thick, the usually bright moon masked behind a grey curtain. The dirt track and woods beyond glowed intermittently with the car’s alarm.
I held the key aloft and pressed the remote lock. The car gave a noise of confirmation and darkness fell once more.
‘Yeah?’ I said, not taking my eyes from the car.
‘I thought you said you didn’t have neighbours out here?’
I turned to Eric, his face taking on ghoulish shadows under the torchlight. ‘I don’t.’
He pointed out towards the woods. ‘Then what’s that?’
I strained my eyes for a moment, before turning the torch off in an attempt to let my eyes adjust. From somewhere in the trees came a dim red glow. ‘Fuck knows.’
‘You think we should go check it out? What if someone’s stuck out there? It’s dark. Not a good night to be out in the woods.’
I’d been out in the woods in the daylight and they were perilous enough then. Sudden drops, fallen trees, and plenty of thorns and vines to get caught in were very real dangers. ‘Alright,’ I said. ‘But after that, we’re going back in the house.’
‘Alright,’ Eric said, gesturing forwards. ‘You first. You’ve got the torch.’
Using the torch to guide our way, we took careful steps towards the edge of the forest. Twigs snapped beneath my boots, the both of us stumbling in places even with the torchlight to guide us.
The glow grew as we came nearer. The air seemed to throb, sharp pain shooting through the depths of my ear as it would with a sudden pressure change.
‘Hello?’ I called out. There was no response.
‘Maybe they’re unconscious?’ Eric said in a hushed tone. ‘Or dead.’
‘Well let’s go help them.’
We broke the treeline and crunched through the leaves and dead branches. Whatever had happened was serious. The trees surrounding the glow were mangled, torn and split in their trunks by some massive force. Splintered wood scattered the surrounding area.
‘Fuck me,’ Eric muttered. ‘Car crash?’
I snorted a nervous laugh. ‘There’s no roads bar the one to the house.’
‘An aircraft then?’
I swallowed the lump in my throat and stepped towards the glow. The source slowly revealed itself to me.
Partially buried in the dirt was a strange metallic sphere, humming with an odd energy. The red glow washed over me, bathing me in an indescribable feeling of my guts being churned inside of me. I ducked back, a sudden fear coming over me.
Eric somehow stood his ground. He gazed at the orb momentarily, before crouching beside it.
As I opened my mouth to call him back, he reached out his hand to touch it.
Whatever happened next, I’m not entirely sure. As Eric touched the sphere a force hit me like a brick wall, knocking me clean from my feet. I gasped for breath, my lungs screaming for air.
The glow was gone. I pulled myself to my feet and scrambled through the dead leaves for the flashlight, hands shaking. Eric was led flat on his back, eyes shut.
I crouched beside him and checked him over. He was out but still breathing. I looked back to where the house was, but in the perfect darkness of the night, it was nowhere to be seen.
I clutched hold of Eric’s legs and dragged him through the dirt to the house. If I could get him back to the house, I could call an ambulance; there was no way I would leave him with whatever that thing in the woods was.
I hefted him up the few steps of the porch and into the hallway. I sat on the floor beside him, gasping for breaths. My ribs seemed bruised as if someone had been punching them from the inside, the bones feeling weak enough to break just from breathing.
Eric groaned, his head lolling on the wooden floor.
I crouched beside him and shook his shoulders. ‘Eric? Eric!’
Eric’s eyes snapped open, wild with fright. He looked at me, then to the door, before launching himself to his feet and slamming it shut. He stood there with his back to the door, illuminated in the beam of the torch, his chest heaving with panicked breaths.
‘Eric?’ I said. ‘What is it?’
He pressed a finger to his lips and shushed me. The voice that came from his throat was barely audible.
My throat suddenly seemed dry. ‘Who’s coming?’
He frantically shushed me again, spit spilling from his mouth and down the finger pressing so firmly into his lips. ‘Listen.’
I waited for a moment in the silence. ‘I can’t hear anything.’
‘That’s my point!’ Tim said. ‘There’s nothing out there!’
I paused again, and this time I heard it. There was none of the usual life of the woodland to be heard; no birdcalls, no crickets, no wind rustling through the trees.
I slowly stood up, wincing at the seemingly loud sound of the floorboards groaning underneath me, to which Eric shushed me again. I turned the torch off and crept towards the kitchen, creating an opening in the wooden blind with two cautious fingers.
The cloud cover had broken, and the bright moon cast a silvery glow over the woodland. My eyes wandered, attempting to adjust to the low light level. I could make out the shape of my car and from there the dirt road which led the twenty-kilometre drive to the nearest neighbour. It was so quiet that my own heart sounded to me like a rhythmic thunder.
Something drew my eye. Movement, on the edge of the woodland. It was slight at first, but slowly three tall shapes made their presence known. They were enormous, easily half the height of the redwoods which stood beside them, and yet they were silent.
Their long limbs held a horrific elegance as they purposefully but slowly moved towards the house, their faces obscured by the low light and shadows.
My heart caught in my throat, my brain scrambling to make sense of what I was seeing.
‘Get away from the fucking windows!’ Eric hissed, grabbing my arm and pulling me back into the kitchen.
I grabbed his shoulders and shook him. ‘What are those things?’
‘They’re not from here,’ Eric said, eyes glazed as if remembering something long ago. ‘The far side of the seventh planet.’
I shook him again, attempting to bring some sense to him. ‘Eric!’
The glazed expression dissipated, a look of despair and sorrow billowing to the surface. He raised a shaking hand and opened it. Burnt into the palm of his hand was what looked to be some kind of rune, complex and strange.
I tentatively reached out to touch it, but he quickly snatched it away. ‘Is that…is that from where you touched that thing?’
He nodded. ‘And now I think they’re coming for me.’
‘We’ve got to get out of here,’ I said. ‘If we make it to the truck-‘
A sound came from outside. We both froze in terror. After a moment of silence, I crept back towards the hallway and peered towards the door.
I had not even heard it open, but it swung lightly in the breeze. That was the least of my worries. One of those things was crouched, gazing into the house. It saw me, its eyes widening slightly.
With no sound, it stretched an arm through the doorway, its dark grey skin flecked with long hairs which brushed the edges of the hallway. I stumbled back, a fearful cry falling from my lips.
I watched as the three-fingered hand easily came around through the doorway of the kitchen, elongated fingers silently scraping around to grab hold of something.
Eric stood motionless, eyes wide at the fate which awaited him. It wasn’t until the fingers brushed his body that he screamed, but as the fingers closed completely around him, his scream was silenced.
As quickly as the hand had entered it left. I clambered up from where I fell and ran outside, shouting and screaming for them to put Eric down. The last I saw of him was his mouth calling for me in noiseless terror as they strode silently back into the trees.
I called the police, I called Eric’s girlfriend, I called anyone who listened. No one believed me. They searched the woods for weeks, but only found the crushed and crippled trees. They blamed it on us drinking too much and suggested Eric must have wandered off when I was passed out in the kitchen.
They officially listed Eric as missing presumed dead, and that I could agree on, but I find it cold comfort when I look up at the sky at night and wonder just what lurks on the far side of the seventh planet.