Chapter 1: The Past Is Prologue
I will be posting the full chapter in the body of this blog. If you’d rather, it is available in .pdf format at the top of the page under “Chapter 1: The Past Is Prologue.”
- The Past Is Prologue
Two Years before the Stars Threw Down Their Spears
A breeze swept across Michael Ridge’s face, and he was happy. Free.
The fourteen-year-old boy had, for the first time, snuck out of his house. At the time, the idea seemed like a good one, but when the coyotes howled in the distance, he began to have second thoughts.
“About time you showed up.” The voice made Michael jump. He turned and saw his best friend Ben.
“What are you talking about? I’m early.”
Ben rolled his eyes. “So, how does someone find a UFO anyway?”
Michael, having never actually seen one before, hazarded a guess. “It’s like seeing a shooting star. You just watch until you see one.”
“Sounds like a blast.”
“Maybe you can set up the camp then.”
Another voice came from behind. “As long as I can build the fire.”
“We can’t build a fire, Tyler. The aliens might see it as a sign of aggression.” Ben laughed at his own joke, and Michael was again rethinking his plan.
“Be serious.” Michael said. “We should find a place to set up camp. You two go look for a spot. I’ll see if I can find some wood for a fire.”
“We can’t go yet,” Ben said, his face turning crimson.
“Why?” The other two groaned immediately.
“We have to wait for Karen.”
Michael hadn’t yet cracked the code of why Karen was friends with them. She rarely showed up on time; she seemed to hate everything they did; and worst of all, she dressed up for everything. He knew Ben had a crush on her, but she hadn’t given any indication that she noticed or cared. Judging by the shade of red Ben was turning, Ben had probably invited her out on the UFO hunting trip to spend more time with her.
“You guys go ahead I’ll—” That’s when they heard it. The high pitched squeal blaring various synonyms of ew and gross.
Tyler leaned over to Michael, “You didn’t mention anything about Lucky Point having banshees.”
Karen appeared from the field dressed in a white knee-length skirt. She was swatting the air with one hand and dragging something in the other. She said, “no one told me there’d be bugs.”
“It’s the woods, Karen.” Tyler said. He paused, “Is that luggage?”
“I just packed a few things.” She said. She then brushed her shoulder-length brown hair out of her eyes and stuck it behind her ears. Her hands then moved down her neck and straight to her hips. She had on one of her many skirts that she thought were fashionable. In reality, they made her look like a gypsy. The guys continued staring a beat too long. “What?” she said, “I only brought the essentials.”
Tyler opened his mouth, but Michael interrupted, “Alright, is that everybody?” He nodded at each one of them as if he were taking attendance. “Good. Karen, why don’t you find us a spot to set up camp. I’m sure you’ll find the cleanest one. Tyler, you and Ben go get some wood for the fire.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to take some readings.”
For as long as he could remember, Michael had been interested in aliens. The thought there were strange civilizations living at the farthest reaches of the universe delighted—and was welcomed by–his young mind, but he could never understand why most people didn’t feel the same. Everyone except his grandfather. Grandpa Joe had always encouraged him, no matter what the activity. He had even bought Michael the device he was using to take the readings—an electromagnetic pulse detector. The device looked like a remote control with strange lights, and it was supposed to emit a sound whenever there were anomalies. That’s what his grandfather had said anyway.
He stared down at the device and wondered if he’d put batteries in it. He opened the back, saw the batteries, and put the cover back on. He gripped the device harder, willing it to light up and make noise. His disappointment melted away momentarily as a red light in the top corner flickered, and with a suddenness that frightened him, the device lit up and a scream pierced the silence.
There was no mistaking that sound. Karen was in trouble.
Michael ran toward the scream. He could make out some lights in the distance. His heart was beating rapidly. Sweat formed on his brow though the night was slightly chilly.
“Get that thing away from me!” Karen yelled.
“Come on, Karen, I’m just messing around.” Tyler said, waving something in his arm that looked like a piece of wood.
“I said get it away!” Instead of a shriek, this exclamation came out as a whimper. Her guard was down and the only ones she trusted were taking advantage of the situation.
“That’s enough,” Michael said. He grabbed Tyler’s wrist and seized the source of the screaming. Though he never considered himself an expert on the subject, Michael was sure the artifact in question was a bone, and it looked human. “What the hell, guys?” He yelled and dropped it on the ground.
“Chill out, Mikey, it’s just a cow bone.” Tyler said.
“Yeah, Ridge, chill out,” Ben chimed in.
Michael wanted to question his friends on when they became experts on bones, but the taunting was over and he saw that Karen was crying. Great, he thought, I come looking for aliens and I get tears. He went over to Karen and put his arm on her shoulder. She stifled her tears.
“Thanks, Michael,” she said, her doe eyes still moist. Michael almost thought she was pretty at that moment. The dusk descending on the woods; the crickets chirping in the distant; and here he was, savior of all damsels in distress.
He was trying to think of something charming to say, but all that came out was, “You’re welcome.”
“Are we gonna get on with it or are you two gonna get a room?” Tyler. The instigator.
From a place none of the boys knew she had, Karen mustered up the courage to say, “Knock it off, Tyler.” After which she turned to Michael, “I found a spot up the hill over there. The tree cover is less dense, and the ground is flat. I think we can set up camp there. I figure it’s level enough for us to lie down and clear enough for us to see the sky.” She paused, but not for long; she was on a roll. “I believe that’s what they’d call a prime UFO-hunting spot.”
Ben nudged Tyler in the ribs and said, “See she ain’t so bad.”
The hike up to Karen’s Grade-A hunting ground was not a long one, but the incline was steep and the daylight was quickly retreating. At one point, Karen slipped, and Michael grabbed her arm. Michael was having a difficult time understanding what was going on. He had never considered Karen a girl before, though all the sign were there—her incessant need to wear her skirts as if they were security blankets; her endless complaints of how dirty the ground was; her all too common complaint of needing a restroom. They hadn’t know each other long, but Michael had always considered her one of the guys. The fact that was changing was troubling him.
He had had a girlfriend once. Her name was Erica, and they went out for a couple of weeks in the sixth grade. She kissed him one day when he was over helping her with a science fair project. She tasted like Chiclets and Colegate.
After it was over, he ran out of the house, jumped on his bike, and pedaled as if his life depended on it. Before he got too far, she threw the potato they’d be trying to turn into a light bulb at him. They never spoke again.
“Here it is,” Karen said displaying the clearing as if she had created it herself, and in some respects she had. There were blankets stretched out in a square with more than enough room for the four of them. Candles in the center of the square illuminated the space with an orange glow and the scent of Citronella. Bug spray and hand sanitizer were propped up on each of the four throw pillows, which were found near one of the corners.
Tyler started to take a step toward the pillows when Karen yelled, “No!”
“Take off your shoes.”
“You heard me. Take off your shoes or keep off. It’s that simple.”
Tyler grumbled and removed his shoes. The other two boys did the same to avoid the embarrassment.
“The suitcase came in handy after all,” Ben said, attempting to win points.
Ignoring Ben’s remark Karen addressed Michael said, “What is that?”
Michael looked up from the device, “It’s supposed to detect anomalies.”
“What kind of anomalies?” She asked as if it were the most interesting thing in the world.
Michael shrugged and said, “I don’t know. The thing’s a piece of garbage anyway,” and threw it toward the center of the blanket. Once it tumbled to the ground, the lights on the top lit up once again, and a noise pierced the silence. “See what I mean. It only makes noise when you throw it.”
Tyler went over and removed the batteries. The noise slowly faded away.
After the commotion died down, the four of them spread out on the center of the blanket and turned their attention to the heavens. The sun had just set, and the night sky began to give away its secrets as tiny pinpricks of light. Everyone content to watch the interstellar display except Michael, who was staring into the sky so intently one might have imagined he was trying to will a UFO into existence.
And for a moment, he thought he had done just that.
The darkness of the forest gradually became lighter. Shadows danced off the trees. A huge meteor fell from the sky in a dazzling display of brilliance.
Michael smiled. The earlier disappointments and complications seemed smaller somehow.
“You can’t say you’ve never seen anything at Lucky Point now,” he said.
Karen batted her eyes and asked Michael, “Why do they call it Lucky Point?”
“Because this is where our parents came to get lucky,” Tyler responded.
“That’s disgusting, Tyler”
“He’s not wrong,” Ben said.
Karen rolled her eyes and looked to Michael for support, “You were saying, Michael” though he hadn’t started to say anything.
“They’re not wrong, either,” he said without elaborating.
Karen rolled her eyes and said, “Men are pigs.”
“Men may be pigs, but they bring their dates here. Or at least they used to. Back when our parents were younger this was the place to bring your girlfriend if you wanted to get lucky.”
“That’s it?” Karen asked. “We’re all sneaking out of our houses to visit make out point?”
“What can we say, Karen, aliens are voyeurs.” Tyler said.
Michael continued, “That’s not the whole story. The legends go back hundreds of years to when the Indians lived here. There’s a story that says this spot always had animals to hunt and water to drink, and so they called it lucky. Sometime in between, these woods became a central point for all sorts of paranormal entities: Bigfoot, UFOs, ghosts; there’s even one story about a giant black cat with glowing red eyes. I guess depending on how you look at it, it’s lucky for someone.”
“No one said anything about Bigfoot.” Karen said.
“Don’t worry, Karen, I’ll protect—” Before Ben could finish his thought the device Michael had been using to detect anomalies began its high-pitched squeal. This time the screech was louder than before.
“I thought you took the batteries out of that thing,” Michael yelled at Tyler.
Tyler nodded. A look of panic rarely seen on his face was prominent, as if gravity itself was pulling his cheeks down. Karen started yelling. Ben ran for the device while Michael was looking in every direction he could turn his head. He was looking for something. Anything. He saw it down the hill, toward the main road. A shadow that wasn’t. The height of the specter was impossible for the fourteen year old to guess, but the most frightening aspect of all was that it didn’t seem big. The shadow’s normal size made scarier somehow.
“You guys.” He tried to compete with the screaming of the blinking device. It was a losing battle. “You guys!” He tried again louder not daring to take his eyes off the figure. Chaos still erupted behind him.
“You guys!” He yelled at the precise moment everyone went silent. He turned around.
“What’s wrong with you,” Tyler said. His panic had subsided.
“Yeah,” Ben said. The concern in his voice was evident. “You look like you saw a ghost.”
A ghost. At that moment, Michael realized he had taken his eyes off of whatever was watching them. He turned around. Trees and nothing more.
“There was someone, something, down there.” He pointed down the hill from where they had come.
Karen had had enough. “Alright, that’s it. I saw a shooting star, and I’m declaring my wish right now. I want to get out of here. You guys are creeping me out.”
“I’ll walk you home.” It was Ben.
“Fine,” she said.
The four of them packed the small campsite back into Karen’s suitcase in silence. They were all slightly afraid. Once everything was placed back in the case, they walked back toward the field were they had met, consciously taking a route which didn’t pass by the spot where Michael had seen his ghost. The only sound came from the plastic wheels of Karen’s suitcase.
They all mumbled their good-byes when Tyler grabbed Michael’s wrist and whispered in his ear, “Meet me back here in five minutes.”
Michael nodded and walked away.
As promised, he waited until Ben and Karen had vanished into the night and walked back to the same spot they had met a couple of hours before. Tyler was already there.
“She ruins everything.”
“She’s a girl.”
That’s all they said for a moment. They walked back to the clearing. They found a fallen tree not too far from the original site and sat down.
“What did you see back there?” Tyler asked.
“I don’t know. It was like someone was watching us. I couldn’t make out any features. I know it’s dark out here, but it was like it was eating up the only light there was to begin with. It wasn’t tall, but I think that was weirder. It almost looked human.”
“Humanoid maybe?” Tyler asked as if it were the most logical question in the world.
“I doubt it,” Michael paused to think about it, “I don’t think it was skinny enough to be alien. I suppose the most likely candidate would be a ghost.”
“Ghost of an alien?”
Michael frowned until he noticed the grin on Tyler’s face.
Tyler said, “I’m just playin’. You know, I’m glad we came back. No matter what it was it was more exciting than watching something on the SciFi channel with my mom.” Michael nodded. Tyler’s mom was obsessed with all things science fiction. The first time Michael heard this he had thought that Tyler’s mom must be the coolest mom in the world. He continued to think so until he actually met her. One night a few months ago, Tyler invited Michael to stay the night at his house.
Tyler’s mom never left the couch. At dinner time, Tyler had even microwaved something for the three of them at which point Tyler and Michael sat at opposite ends of the couch, Tyler’s mother in the middle, and they watched a movie about Bigfoot, though in the film they called it a Sasquatch.
Michael hadn’t been back since.
“What should we do now?” Michael asked.
“You’re the expert in the paranormal,” Tyler said.
Michael had never considered himself an expert in anything. He supposed it made sense. He certainly wasn’t an expert in the normal.
“I guess we could—” There it was again. The figure. This time it was closer. Still far enough to be unrecognizable, though this time something glittered near the middle. The moonlight hit the center of the figure, and a green shaft of light sparkled and disappeared. Michael pointed, “Tyler. Look.” Michael’s whisper was animated enough it sounded more like a hiss.
“What is that?”
“It’s what I saw earlier.” Before Michael could explain any further Tyler ran at it. “Tyler what are you doing?” But it was too late. Tyler always one to leap before he looked was off after the unknown. He was about thirty feet away from it when something strange happened. The figure started running away. The ghostly figure that had watched them in the woods earlier and vanished was now being chased by a slightly overweight fourteen year old with too much self-esteem.
The sheer preposterousness of the situation gave Michael the courage to follow Tyler. The trees flew by as Michael ran through the forest. All sound vanished and was replaced by the sound of the wind blowing by his ear. The sound reminded him of running water. It ebbed and flowed with his own movements. He had almost caught up with Tyler when he heard someone behind him yell his name. The voice was female and sounded a lot like Karen.
He didn’t want to look back. Up ahead, Tyler was gaining ground on the ghost, though Michael wasn’t sure what Tyler would do once he caught it.
“Michael!” The voice from behind again. He tried to get it out of his head, but it bounced around as if the inside of his skull was nothing more than a canyon for words to play in. He finally acquiesced and glanced over his shoulder.
It was Karen.
Michael froze while Tyler continued to chase the unknown. Michael couldn’t imagine what Karen was doing here or, for that matter, why she had come back without Ben after the scare they had had earlier. Even stranger, she wasn’t moving. She just stood there staring at him. Then, with a fluid motion she raised her right arm and pointed at the sky. A fireball like the one they had seen earlier lit up the night sky and then it stopped. The giant star hung there in the air. He was enticed by its beauty; he didn’t want to look away, but he was brought back to reality when Karen began speaking. Her face bathed in a red orange color from the meteor. At first, it was difficult for him to make out what she was saying, but gradually he began to understand the difficulty. She was saying the same thing over and over again while pointing: “Moros is coming. Moros is coming. Moros is coming.”
“Michael!” This time it was Tyler. Michael turned around, but he couldn’t see his friend. He turned back to Karen, but she had vanished like the figure earlier. Michael was beginning to think he was losing his mind when Tyler yelled his name again, and Michael ran toward his voice as fast as he could.
The air felt warmer against his face now, and he had a difficult time seeing his way through the forest. The star which moments ago had illuminated everything had disappeared like everything else. Even the moon’s glow seemed dimmer. He half expected it to vanish next; he half expected everything to vanish until there was nothing left but him and the darkness.
He saw Tyler up ahead hunched over something.
When Michael arrived, he grabbed Tyler’s shoulder and looked down. He could see a man’s face in the pale light that was left. His head was mostly shrouded in a hood. The man was also wearing some kind of necklace with a green stone. Its surface was not reflecting any moonlight this time.
Then Michael saw the man’s chest. It had been cut open. For a moment, the scene reminded Michael of an autopsy: the way the body was laid, the way the organs were missing.
The man’s chest was just an empty cavity.
“Tyler, how is that possible. Is this the guy you were chasing.”
Tyler nodded. He couldn’t speak, and he looked as if he were about to cry.
Then the dead man opened his eyes.
The boys screamed but couldn’t will themselves to move. The man’s mouth opened and shut as if trying to speak. Finally, after repeating the motion like he were the tin man oiling his jaw, a voice bellowed. It didn’t sound human, “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright, in the forests of the night.”
The two boys ran as fast as they could. Branches whipped at their faces, trying to hold them back to the man with the inhuman voice. The more resistance, the faster they ran until suddenly they were out of the woods.
“What was that?” Tyler asked.
Michael shook his head. No response seemed appropriate. They were only out of the woods by a matter of feet, but they already felt safer. Neither boy wanted to move, but they both knew they had to. “I’ll walk you home,” Tyler said after a few moments; he had regained some of his bravado. They passed the time in silence; the memory of the event was fading with each footstep closer to home. Deep down, neither could deny what they had seen. Michael tried to pass the idea off, but he found it unlikely. After all, what were the odds they had both hallucinated a talking, disemboweled corpse.
There were no lights on at Michael’s house. He had purposefully picked a night his parents had to go to bed early. He whispered something to Tyler which he hoped sounded like goodnight, and snuck in the back door of his house. He gingerly moved down the hall, up the stairs, and into his room.
It all went off without a hitch.
He took off his clothes and hid them in the back of his closet in case they had gotten too dirty from the woods. He figured he could wash them on the weekend. He put on his favorite pair of sweatpants, climbed into his bed, and hid under the covers. He tightly curled his bedspread around him like he had done as a scared child. The fear was mounting again. The terror made his chest feel tight. The image of the man in the woods wouldn’t leave his mind’s-eye.
Voices aside, the fear had one benefit—it had worn him out, and it wasn’t long before he was asleep.
His mother woke him up the next morning. She kept shaking him, but he didn’t want to leave the comforts of sleep. The security of his dreams.
Then he remembered she was supposed to go into work early.
He glanced at his alarm clock—8:45. She should have already left.
“Get up, Michael,” she kept saying, “this is important.”
“Karen wasn’t at home this morning. Her aunt is worried sick.”
“That’s impossible, Ben—” The words spilled out before he could stop them. Over the course of the next half hour, he explained everything to his mother, with the notable exception of the gutted man. She wasn’t happy, but she was slightly relieved. Maybe Ben knew where she was. Michael’s mom tried calling Ben’s house.
Ben’s father picked up on the first ring. “Mr. Young, this is Sally Ridge, Michael’s mother—”
Confusion crept over Mrs. Ridge’s face, “Mr. Young, Ben isn’t over here.” She paused waiting for Ben’s father to finish. Michael couldn’t hear what he was saying, but it sounded frantic. “Mr. Young I think you should call the police. I’ll have a talk with my son and call you back.”
Michael’s mother hung up the phone and addressed her son, “Ben’s father says that Ben was staying the night over here.”
“I told him to say that so he could sneak away easier.”
Sally Ridge’s eyes widened and her chin began to tremble, not from what had happened, but from what could have happened to her own son. “Michael, Ben didn’t come home last night either.”