“You can’t leave the fort until you say it, Emma” Adam said bossily. We had been friends for our entire childhood, and got on pretty well, and I had never known Adam to be a bully.
“What’s the point in saying it if it’s a lie,” I argued. The truth was, he was scaring me a little. At eleven years old I was old enough to know there were dark and mysterious forces in this world, but too young to tell how they worked, or to know the difference between harmless fun and Scary Stuff. And, when I was eleven, most stuff was Scary Stuff.
“C’mon, we’ll both be late for dinner if you don’t just say it.”
My knees were beginning to ache from kneeling on the boards of his treehouse. He and I were kneeling, facing each other, holding a weird shiny rock he had found that he insisted was a moonrock. When I had questioned the authenticity of such a rock, he’d told me last night when he let his puppy out back to do it’s business, there was a moonbeam, like a spotlight, shining in the middle of their lawn, and he saw this rock fall from the sky.
I’d wasted no time telling him I thought he was mental.
So here I was, holding a corner of a rock with my best friend, being told I’d be locked in the treehouse if I didn’t chant with him that aliens were real and we wished to be “taken to their leader”.
“What’s the chant again?” I asked him dully. Might as well get this over with, right? My mom was making baked Mac n’ Cheese, and I did not wanna be late for that.
“I wish, I wish, upon a star, for you to take me where you are. I believe that you are real, aliens, hear our appeal.” He looked at me with the utmost pride in his eyes.
“That is without a doubt the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Fine, if you like the treehouse that much,” he said grumpily, as he made to stand up.
“UGH. Fine. Get back down.” He obeyed with a smug little grin.
“You know it then?” He asked, and I nodded. “Okay, on three.”
“One,” I said.
“Two,” he said, eyes wide with excitement. I felt so incredibly foolish. As if anything was going to happen. We were gonna say this, stare at each other for a second, and then move on with our weird little lives.
“Three,” I said flatly, and then we both spoke in unison.
”I wish, I wish, upon a star, for you to take me where you are. I believe that you are real, aliens, hear our appeal.”
“Are you happy?” I asked him, smirking despite my annoyance.
“What’s that sound?” He asked. We were both still clutching the rock, and his eyes had grown wide as saucers.
“Lawn mower?” I said, a little nonplussed.
But he needn’t have told me. The rumbling and rattling had grown past the usual neighbourhood commotion. It was as though a transport truck was doing donuts around the treehouse. It grew from grumble, to rumble, to roar in a matter of seconds.
The boards under our knees began to rattle and shake. We were still holding onto the rock.
“What is that?” Adam yelled over the noise.
I finally let go of the rock, and went to the door of the treehouse to look out.
“Adam!” He came up beside me, peeking through the cutout in the wood door that we called a window.
I had no words for what we saw. It wasn’t what you’d expect a UFO to look like. It wasn’t a silver flying saucer with a little bubble type thing coming out of the top, like you might see in a space-themed comic book.
The shape of this was essentially a giant can of soup. A cylinder, black like onyx, with a slight sheen to it. Directly in front of the treehouse door, a small slit appeared. Whether it evaporated, or part of the wall retracted into itself, I’ve never known.
The roar died for a moment long enough for us to hear the hissed word that followed.
“At least the aliens speak English!” Adam said cheerfully.
The next few moments passed in a blur of motion that I was far too stunned to fight against. Before I knew what was happening to me, Adam had grabbed my hand, opened the treehouse door, and ignoring our step ladder literally just leapt into midair, trusting that there would be some sort of magical alien magnetic beam that would draw us onto the ship.
Apparently he knew what he was doing, because that’s exactly what happened.
The gap in the wall closed behind us, and the roar picked up again. For a painful two minutes or so, I felt like my eyeballs were being sucked into the back of my skull, and like someone was pushing down on the top of my head and my stomach all at once.
“We must be leaving the planet,” Adam said to me in an anguished voice. I guess that made sense, the air pressure would be pretty intense.
“There was a ride at Disney World like this, where you can see what it’s like for astronauts, and this is how it felt,” he explained. Fair enough, then.
After several minutes my brain returned to a functioning capacity, and I opened my eyes again. I realized I was still clutching Adam’s hand, and I quickly let go.
“I wonder if they came to take it back,” Adam mumbled. I looked at him inquisitively, and he held out his other hand to show me that he was still holding that stupid rock.
“Oh, my god. If it was that important, why would their stupid ship have crapped it out in the first place?”
“Maybe theirs didn’t,” he said with a shrug. With that, he stood up, looked around and decided on a direction, and started walking down a random hallway.
The inside of the ship was pretty nondescript. The walls were a beigy-grey colour, and were flat. No nooks, crannies, seams, screws, just flat wall. Here and there it was interrupted by a door, the kind of door you might expect to see in Star Wars. Sort of like a techy looking sliding panel, I guess. I didn’t watch the movies, but Adam loved them. I mean, he loved them. I kept cutting glances over at them, and he never stopped beaming.
“Stop,” said a hissing voice from behind us. We froze, but unable to face the idea of a creature slinking up behind us, I whipped around. Then I swallowed my laugh.
Slouching toward us was a creature that couldn’t have been higher than my waist (and I was eleven, after all). It looked like a cross between a mushroom and a monkey, with a big umbrella-like top to its head, complete with spots and freckles, but a relatively humanoid face. For it’s body the torso was like the stock of a mushroom, in that it was sort of pale and mushy looking despite also resembling a tree-trunk, but for arms and legs we were back to monkey.
As aliens go, it wasn’t too scary, and let me remind you that most stuff to eleven year old me was Scary Stuff.
“You have it?” The creature rasped out.
“Sorry, we didn’t mean to steal it,” Adam said earnestly, holding out the rock.
“How did you come to acquire it?” The being asked, turning to walk away. Adam immediately fell into step behind it, and I followed a little ways behind, listening. I wanted to go home. I didn’t want to be floating through space talking about a pebble while my mom and dad wondered why I hadn’t come home for macaroni night.
“It fell into my yard, where you brought us on board. It had light all around it, so I picked it up.”
“Why would it have chosen you?”
“I don’t know. What is it?” Adam was trotting to keep up with the creature now, and I reluctantly struggled to keep pace with them. We had backtracked to where Adam and I had first been brought on board, and were now heading down a separate hallway. This one had black walls and red floor, and I couldn’t help but think that in movies, those colours meant they were the bad guys. This hallway had many more doors off it, and I really hoped one of them didn’t lead to prison cells or something. I hadn’t seen as many space movies as Adam had. I didn’t know what to expect, and I was beginning to feel genuinely scared. My breath was feeling more ragged, and my eyes felt bugged out (though that could have been from them almost exploding or whatever a few minutes before).
“It is one of the ancient crystals. Each solar system has but a few, forged in the hearts of stars. The lore informs us that whomever the crystal is bestowed upon must play their part in our history, on the intergalactic scale.” The creature was still speaking at barely above a whisper, and I almost missed what he was saying over the sound of my panting to keep up. Luckily, we seemed to have arrived at our destination, and my gosh it was a strange thing to behold.
We were standing in what can only be described as the bridge of the ship. Soup can. Ship. Whatever.
We were surrounded by about twenty of these mushroom-monkey-men, all milling about their various duties. As you’d hope, there was a giant window or screen (who’s to say, with these things?) which seemed to be plotting our course and providing various information. While the mushroom-man who’d accompanied us so far had been speaking English, the text on the screen was illegible to me.
“Sorry, did you say intergalactic scale?” I said, addressing the creature for the first time.
“Indeed, child,” it said to me in a grave voice. “We will be taking you to the council.”
“No, we can’t go. We have to get home,” I said shrilly. The creature had said Adam had to play out his fate here or whatever. I couldn’t spend the rest of my life in a soup can. We were both so young, that was a long time to spend away from home. Would our parents never hear from us again? Would they organize search parties, doomed to live with grief and panic instead of their children?
“You have no choice, child. If they have a short task for you, you may perhaps return home some day. It is for the Masters and the Oracle to decide.”
“I’ve heard about Oracles,” said Adam enthusiastically.
“I don’t think reading Percy Jackson counts this time,” I said to him quietly. He ignored me.
“All this because he picked up a rock?!” Listen, I hadn’t meant to yell at the mushroom-monkey-men. But fear, anger, and hysteria sometimes decide to plunk you in the passenger seat in life, and you find yourself in the midst of losing your crap. It was of course a mistake to give way, for the mushroom-monkey-men did not take kindly to hostility.
“Rock? You have an honour bestowed upon you that many hope for, train for, live for for their entire lives, and this is the gratitude you can muster? No. No, child. You will be grateful. You will fulfil your quest, or whatever the oracle and council see fit to shoulder you with.” The hissing was awful - not quite a full whisper, or a rasp, but not really a voice either. It was like nails on a chalkboard, and made me want to punch the creature in his stupid head. His eyes were boring into mine now, beady, milky purple eyes that looked like they contained galaxies of their own but also cataracts.
“For now, we shall keep you away from here, so we can work.” And with that the being led us back off the bridge down the hall a little ways, seeming to be deciding which door to open.
“Can we at least get a room with a window?” Adam said, with the hope of a child asking to open just one present on Christmas Eve. “I’ve never seen space before, not like this.”
“Indeed, you should become acquainted with it,” said the being, seeming to weigh Adam’s comment quite heavily.
He finally selected a door, and we were told to wait in a little chamber with a window instead of a wall. I barely took note of the fact that despite being on a soup-can-space-ship the table and chairs and solitary lamp looked like they were from ikea.
Instead, I went immediately and wordlessly to the window, with Adam right beside me. We were floating through a sea of stars. That was the only way I knew how to describe it. They were above us, below us, behind us, in front of us, to the side...engulfing the very matter in which we existed. They shone, while seeming to give off very little actual light. They twinkled, various specks of silver and yellow and blue and purple, and despite my lack of interest in science fiction movies that Adam loved, I finally understood why he loved the night sky. It seemed to suggest infinity, possibility, both hope and despair, everything and nothing. And it was beautiful.
There was a knocking at the door, but I couldn’t turn around to see who was coming in. The knocking continued, but my vision was blurring at the edges. The stars faded from view, and so did the window.
It was all black and blurred, and still the knocking continued.
“Emma, come on, come out of there. It’s unlocked.”
I didn’t remember the alien knowing my name. The blackness was everywhere. I couldn’t see. I felt my head lightly rolling against something, some kind of hard surface.
“Emma, are you still in there? Open the door.”
I lifted my head, and opened my eyes. I was laying on the floor of Adam’s treehouse, where he had locked me in the night before. I was clutching the white moonrock he’d found – i remembered now. My stubbornness had won out, and I’d stayed the night in the fort. His stubbornness had won out in that he’d left me there, but at least he’d slept in a comfortable bed.
Next to me on the ground was an empty can, one from what we called our “rations” or emergency store of food that wouldn’t really go bad if left in a treehouse.
Apparently I’d treated myself to cold, canned mushroom soup for dinner.