This story is by Grace MacPherson and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
I’m late! I’m late! Isn’t that how most stories begin, particularly when the protagonist is rushing to work?
Maybe, if I were to be late, it would be a basic beginning but, as it so happened, I was quite early. Chills, like laboring ants, crawl up my spine with the consideration of disclosing what my eyes have seen and ears have heard this very day.
Let me explain. I wasn’t rushing to work, but instead taking advantage of the fact I would be early. It was only a specific moment that my spurt had ensued, and up to that time, I had dwelt on the thought of my manager’s praise.
“Early again!” He would say and then continue, “I admire your punctuality!”
Nearby a lady gasped, her coffee dropping to the sidewalk and spilling across a man’s shiny shoes. The cup rolled in the wind, a few undiscernable, ancient letters written on its side. I didn’t notice.
“I admire it so much in fact…” Mr. Stevens would continue.
A small terrier stopped and yapped at me ferociously, it’s owner gaping. A few screams echoed from a nearby coffee shop and everyone on the sidewalk stumbled away from me. A sign’s letters above the coffee shop began to twist, turn and distort until they were also written in a seemingly different dialect. I didn’t notice.
“I think you deserve a promotion!” He would finish. My eyes glazed over in distant longing.
I was finally jerked back to reality by the sound of ice cubes clinking in a cup. My gaze fell upon a man lounging leisurely at a cafe table, sipping a sweating glass of iced tea.
I stopped dead in my tracks. This was the defining moment.
“Man” could barely describe the creature. Its complexion was warbled and knotted and it’s body mutated into a mass of black ink that had hardened like coal. Two beady eyes swept their gaze from the iced tea to me, and it’s hand, loaded with a trio of acicular claws, stopped, drink midway to mouth. It stood up abruptly, causing me to jump backward, and bolted away, a long spiked tail trailing behind.
I stood awestruck for a minute but soon snapped out of my daze and raced over to a crowd at another table.
“Did you see that!?”
They all stood up quickly, the closest falling out of his chair with a frightened yelp and sprinting away.
A cold sweat formed on my brow and rolled down to the peak of my nose.
I darted to the center of the sidewalk.
“Did anybody see that creature?!”
No one replied. The city street was empty and the few people to be seen were running away.
I barreled into the cafe, it’s silver bell dinging. A bevy of people poked their heads up from behind chairs, tables, and counters. As I looked at them closely their bodies began to change. They took on the form of the monster I had witnessed earlier.
My voice was an agonized whisper and my fingers dug into my disheveled brown hair. “What is happening?”
I dashed out of the cafe and to my workplace, only to see more monsters take shape along the way. They were all around, standing at crosswalks, eating donuts, carrying briefcases, and yet they weren’t human. When I entered work, the building was empty. I looked around frantically. Why was no one here?
That was the day half of my memory returned. My knees scraped as I fell to the blank, stony floor, and my head was pounding with the ache of a thousand points drilling into the front of my skull.
I had been on a ship, leather straps digging into my chest and flashing buttons and gadgets all around me.
It was soaring through space and harboring me from a blue planet to this other Earth. There I had fallen through the atmosphere and crashed, heat engulfing me. My body lurched forward. I felt my forehead connect with the glass, a breaking sound shattering my ear drums. Then coolness seeped into my body, and I was sinking.
As my eyes rolled back in my head, I perceived a green light flashing on my fading vessel. Above it, the words “Emergency Perception Filter” stood out in bold white. I felt a square object materialize in my back pocket before the world shifted into blackness.
Sunlight battered my forehead. My eyes flicked open and I struggled to sit up. Dusty grains flew around me and I flailed my arms, in fear I was still drowning. Soon, my mind recovered itself and I calmed down. Pushing myself off the ground reluctantly, I felt a bulging object on the backside of my jeans.
Reaching my hand around, I pulled out a square wallet. I opened it slowly. The edges were fringed due to the water and the paper crinkled. Inside was some money and a picture of myself, with the name Charles West accompanying it. That was the day I decided not to question how I came to be on that beach, or why I didn’t remember my childhood. Instead, I would live on in contentment.
Today just happened to be the day that perception filter lost its power.
The monsters were afraid of me, just an average human, as I was afraid of them.
I finally realized two things.
First, I was the other-worldly creature, and second, it was Sunday, and my workplace was closed.