Our eyes seem always hungry for all the sights of creation we can muster. We dive into the mysteries of science and medicine, drink in the secrets of molecular biology and the humbling visages offered by new physics. How little we see that the enlightened human fears or despises. Never do we ask how much lies in the periphery of our vision, hiding in the dark places of human knowledge, ideas that we bury like corpses from ages past. How many shadows does the human eye gloss over, knowing that in them lie things that should not be known, things that should not be?
On the 24th of November, 20--, the world turned its electronic eyes towards an object 20 million miles above the surface of the earth. Those who cared about such things had followed the metal lump as it progressed passed the outer planets, but as it moved silently passed Mars various calculations revealed that it had swerved, as if under an influence that no asteroid would feel. And instead of hurtling in towards the sun, the object started out towards Earth.
The first image was put together from data beamed from numerous satellites; photographic magic was applied to make it fit to be seen by the world. And when the world peered at the dark object, the dark machine, suspended in a sunbeam, they cheered, and the cry went up: "We are not alone".
I now see that the image is a terrible thing, and it chills me to look at it even for a moment. It was almost black, but against the blackness of space you could see that it carried an unearthly green tinge, like that of pond-slime. It was smooth, and from it jutted what were called 'towers', but to me seem more like appendages. White lights lined these giant limbs, and seemed to pool like oil; they seemed slippery, somehow, as if the surface of them writhed away from the grip of your gaze even in the stillness of the pixelated image. It seemed slick, and despite the cold of space it had the sheen of meat left to rot in a warm, damp place. But that it was pieced together by some alien mind no-one could deny, and this fact made it a jewel in the eyes of us all.
And so we all watched this thing as it slipped across the void faster than any human craft. Scientists estimated that it would arrive in eight days, and in all the cities on earth clocks counting down the days sprung up. Photographs of increasing detail and sharpness appeared. At first, these pictures appeared everywhere, and at first people called them beautiful. Scientists, philosophers and celebrities pontificated on what this discovery meant to them, how it would change the world. Debates went up as to who would meet our alien visitors.
However, as the images improved, as the glistening appendages came into sharper focus, and the chilling movement of the surface became more and more clear, less and less people looked at it. People felt uneasy sitting down to dinner after having seen it, and children cried at night, saying they saw it in shadows. Newspapers ceased to print pictures, and news channels would accompany their stories with screen shots from old Science Fiction shows, rather than subject their viewers to the ghastly image. People talked about the object less, and went back to their busy jobs.
When there were four days before the thing arrived, one of the many labs following it's progress posted a sound file on their website. They said that it was a transmission, apparently sent on an AM channel, from the object. No major news stations played the clip, and few reported it at all. Soon the site's owners took it down. People talked quietly about it in bars, about speakers producing sounds that were dark, and wet, and came in tones and vibrations that the human ear should not be made to witness. Few admitted having heard it at all.
The news that the object had disappeared, two days before it was due to arrive, was met with a mixture of horror and relief. It must have been destroyed, people said. Collided with some bit of debris, and been obliterated, with the pieces flung off in unpredictable directions. A few called it a tragedy, a handful of calls were made to find the remains, to look for survivors (if such a word even applied to the alien things that inhabited the object); such a project was deemed too expensive, too unlikely to find anything, and not worth undertaking.
Slowly the clocks were taken down, and people stopped talking about the object. People went on with their lives; any suggestion that the thing was still out there, still moving unseen through the blackness of space, was met with a change in conversation or a derisive laugh. An internet search for articles related to the object turned up only fringe news outfits and personal websites; the images could still be found, and probably even a bootleg of the horrendous alien sounds, if you were to look for such a thing; but almost everyone made sure you would not stumble across it, and that no-one would be forced to recall it.
While doing research for a book, I came across an article in one of the local papers of Ashfield, Nottinghamshire. Dated the 4th of December, 20--, it reported on the murder of a wife and child, and the severe beating of another child, at the hands of the husband. A further article, dated the 18th of the same month, said that the husband, one Jeffrey Marsden, had been charged with two accounts of murder and one of Grievous Bodily Harm, but had been deemed insane and committed to a hospital for the mentally ill. The second article noted that the man had ranted constantly about being attacked by demons, but that the dried blood on his fists made his guilt in the matter doubtless. His surviving son, while still technically alive, was at this point considered brain-dead.
I considered the case to be a good case-study for my book, and decided to investigate further, arranging an interview with the man at the hospital where he is to this day kept. I also contacted the man's elderly parents, who had taken care of the surviving son, but they refused to see me, saying that they wished to have nothing to do with Jeffrey or his story.
Jeffrey Marsden was kept heavily medicated, but seemed lucid enough. He asked if I knew whether his son was well, and I said that I believed that he was well enough. I told him I wished to talk to him about the death of his wife and child; this seemed to upset him somewhat, but he nonetheless began to talk in a halting voice about what I can only assume was that night.
The story he told me was fragmented, and inconsistent, and in many parts chilling, but I managed to piece this much together. It was late afternoon, and he was driving back home with his family. They had stopped for a walk through some local fields near their home, and the children had ran off to play, while he and his wife wandered off, having some trivial conversation. It is at this stage he claims to have encountered the thing he called a demon.
He could give no accurate description of it, other than that that it was ugly, "a hideous affront to God", and that it filled him with absolute terror and loathing. He said that his wife, who had a weak heart, had fallen dead at the sight of it. He claimed to have ran at it in anger, wanting to kill it, but before he reached it he realised that the sun had been blotted out.
At this stage in the story he could no longer continue, and started to lash out violently against his constraints. He exclaimed wildly, mostly curses and threats of violence. I was startled and got up to find a nurse to sedate him.
However, as I was leaving I picked out a phrase that made my blood run cold. "sky black, slick, writhing". His rantings bought images to my mind that we had all buried years ago. For a moment curiosity overcame terror, and I looked on my internet phone for that image we had all tried to forget. I pushed it in front of his face, and asked him if this was what he saw.
When he looked at the image he let out an inhuman scream. He struggled against his bonds like an animal, until he collapsed panting. I could get no more from him, and soon the nurses arrived to sedate him, and told me that it was time to leave.
I do not know what to make of this meeting. Doubtless Jeffrey had seen the image I showed him before, and in his current state his reaction to it would be unsurprising. To speculate that he had seen the object that we had all hoped had been destroyed would be idle, as I cannot know such a thing. However, I do know this: I recovered the autopsy reports for the Marsden family. His two children had been savagely beaten, and their blood had been found on their fathers hands. But the body of his wife was untouched; she had died of heart failure. And the picture of her that I saw still haunts me to this day: the look of utter terror frozen on her white face. It was a face that had looked on something no human should ever have to see.
I cannot shake the feeling that I have caught a glimpse of something that the human eye does not want to fix upon. I commit it to this page; maybe a braver person than I will force us to look upon it. But I have lost all stomach for the matter, and now I hope only that the accursed image will fade at last from my mind.
Save the cheerleader, save the world.