My first day on Magnet Island was more like the first day of school. From the moment I stepped out of the ship onto the lush green grass I was guided through an overwhelming orientation of my new life.
"What's your name? Are you Thomas?" A man dressed entirely in white shouted at me.
"Yeah that's me."
"Welcome to Magnet Island. What's it like experiencing real gravity for the first time?"
"It's fine," I replied, breaking eye contact. He slapped me on the back and guided me away from the ship. He didn't say another word, but instead just pointed his narrow finger at a large white cube in the distance. I grabbed my bags and started walking.
Magnet Island had a long history. I was due for endless tours nonstop lectures on the "beauty" and "perseverance" of the human spirit. My mind, of course, was elsewhere. I wasn't interested in the boring history of the settlement, or how long the New Pilgrims fought to make the land habitable. All I could think about was Abigail, and the few nights prior when we had shared our final kiss. But that was in heaven, not only in my mind, but it was quite actually in heaven. I left the satellite 8 hours before and was now walking beside massive trees down on Earth because that’s where I was “needed.” Whatever reasoning they gave me I wouldn’t stomach it. I belonged in the stars.
But that really didn’t matter anymore. I was an Earthling, or so my welcoming committee told me. Then again these were the same people that destroyed the planet in the first place, so what can I really believe?
The entire afternoon I was led through pristine marble halls and obnoxiously lush gardens. I was introduced to statue after statue of brave men & women who re-colonized islands like the very one beneath my feet. We were living in a “new Eden” they kept telling me. The woman (again, clad entirely in white) who was guiding me through this labyrinth wouldn’t hesitate to use the word “perfection” to describe the Earth’s current state. In fact they stressed this point so severely it made me uneasy.
“The generations that came before us had to hide behind closed doors when the sun set,”
Everything they told me faded into white noise.
“For fear of the dark, and those who lurk in it,”
And I was drifting off into that deep unending white,
“But we are not like the people of the old days,”
Like I was slipping into a dream,
Flying far above this island,
“For we have achieved paradise. But it comes at a cost.”
Back to the satellite where I belong, and with who I belong.
“Just remember what we have told you today.”
Obviously I didn’t remember, because I didn’t listen.
That night I was laying on my back in a deep soft bed of grass. Above me were tall beautiful trees that stretched toward the distant stars. On the rolling green hills were the sleeping bodies of everyone who lived on Magnet Island. The breeze ruffled through the grass at an even tempo, which occasionally matched the gentle rhythmic breathing of those surrounding me. It was truly lovely, and like nothing I had ever experienced on the satellite. I began to notice small blinking lights landing on the blades of grass around me, and I had no idea what they were. But I suddenly heard the echo of some recent memory ricochet in my brain,
“After the sun sets you’ll see small glowing creatures flying in the darkness. We call them lightning bugs.”
Of course, this was one of the little details they told me on my tour of the island. The lightning bugs gave me a sense of peace.
As my eyelids began to flirt with the concept of sleep, I felt like a real human for the first time. Every one of my senses felt entirely organic, fluid, and bizarrely electric. I was apart of a herd, and it was beautiful.
But… some other distant words called out in my mind. A memory from today I was only in that nocturnal moment truly hearing for the first time.
“Beware, newcomers. When you lay in the grass to sleep, you must immediately fall asleep and not wake until the morning light-“
But I couldn’t remember the rest. Either way, it would have to wait until morning because I was finally falling asleep.
Or was I?
I was suddenly jolted awake with a very intense sense of fear. I kept my eyes tightly shut but listened intently the noises around me. I could only hear the gentle breeze and the familiar sound of people sleeping. My sudden fright gradually left me, and I was left to my own thoughts once again.
“No matter what you hear, do not open your eyes-“ but once again I could not remember any more of what they told me. Was there something I was supposed to fear?
My heartbeat exploded in speed, but I kept my eyes barely shut. I had heard something my conscious mind could not yet render. There was nothing immediately around me I could sense, but I was overcome with unrelenting dread.
Then I heard a foreign sound. It was like a finger slowly rubbing over a wet surface and joined by a low animal hum. Through my squinted eyes I could see all the lightning bugs had vanished. The opaque melody was nearing me.
My adrenaline brought back all the words I had drowned out and spelled it out for me with insulting clarity.
“We do not know what they are but you cannot let them know you are aware of them. If you wake up in their presence or view them with your naked eye you will be immediately slain, and strung out raw and flayed like a slaughtered animal.”
This was it, yet I had ignored the warning.
Very carefully I peeked open one of my eyes to get a panicked look at what might be near me. I took ample time to separate my eyelids so that no beast around me would notice my subtle movement. Through the foggy obscured lens of my eyelashes I could only see the familiar shapes of those sleeping around me. I wondered if my imagination was getting the best of me. But in a horrific moment of realization I understood I was wrong.
There was a large headed creature looming over one of my sleeping neighbors. It had two of it’s long insect like arms caressing the temples of a young man just a few feet away from me. Its other hands and arms were exploring the deep grass and swaying bodies of those around me.
My mind careened back into absolute horror. I wanted to get up and run but I knew there was nothing I could do.
The very second I saw the creature it immediately stopped what it was doing and hovered over to me. It began to let out a long and loud human sigh that did not end. I did not feel it touch me, but I could feel its presence directly in front of my face. The sigh was growing louder and angrier as my panic grew. I was paralyzed in fear. It could sense my fear, and must have known that I was awake and aware of it. The sigh was slowly becoming a scream. My mind scrambled to find any serene thought to calm me down. I had to quell my fear.
It’s fingerless hands gripped my temple with an incredible and deliberate strength. I tried to remember my home on the satellite. Its hot breath was erupting from the sigh onto my face and went shooting down my nostrils. I tried to remember the happy days of my childhood.
Its lips wrapped on my forehead.
I remembered Abigail.
It stopped moving for a moment.
I remembered our final kiss before my departure.
It loosened its grip.
My heart slowed to a relaxed beat.
A moment later I was softly placed on the grass like a child.
I was alone again. The sleeping around me was still undisturbed, and the lightning bugs returned to their nightly routine. I stared above at the stars, wondering which white light was my satellite. Suddenly I missed home more than ever before.