I think the best place to start is the beginning. Or more accurately, about sixteen hours before the beginning. The last sixteen hours before my life took a turn down Weird Street and parked itself at the intersection of Batshit and Crazy. I’m telling you all this because someone has to. Certain pieces of my story are common knowledge, while more are bound to come out. I figured, if everyone’s going to know about it, they might as well know the truth. My name is Matthew, by the way.
The day was March 23rd, and I was just waking up. I lived in a tiny apartment in the San Fernando Valley, and I could hear the traffic on the 101 Freeway from my bedroom. The constant stream of cars rushing by took some getting used to, but after a couple years I stopped noticing it. I wasn’t scheduled to work that day, so my alarm clock didn’t begin its shrill nagging until ten a.m. If I had known that I would never have another day like this, I probably would’ve hit the snooze button. Instead, I blearily staggered to the bathroom.
After my business there was completed, I got dressed, toasted a bagel and checked my e-mail. There isn’t much to do on Wednesday afternoon in the valley, and all my friends were either working or otherwise preoccupied. I had plans to get together with George after he got off work at five, but until then I just had to kill time. George had been a friend for a long time. We met in high school when we were both sophomores, and had hit it off immediately. You know that prank where you take apart someone’s car and rebuild it inside a classroom? That was our senior prank. I didn’t think it could work, but George has always been the optimistic one. Up for anything and why the hell not?
I spent the next six hours being completely and fulfillingly unproductive. At a few minutes to five, George knocked on my door. I immediately knew it was him because he used his secret knock. Six fast, pause, three slow, pause, two fast. One time I asked him why he felt we needed a secret knock, and he said it was in case anyone tried to replace with doppelgangers. Even after everything that’s happened, I’m still not sure if that was a joke or if George was just a little bit crazier than I thought he was.
I let him in and he immediately went to the fridge in the kitchenette that took up one third of the living room/foyer. “How’s it hanging?” he asked, taking a beer out of the fridge. “Pretty good. You?” He was already drinking the beer, so he gave me a thumbs up. He sat down on the couch that faced a TV. “Awesome,” he said, “Guess what’s happening tonight?” I thought for a second. “The Lakers are playing?”
“No, guess again.”
“We’re going to sit around playing video games before going to a shitty diner?”
“No, G-, Well, yes. But something else, too.”
“I have no idea.” I walked over to the TV and turned on the XBOX. “Why don’t you just tell me?”
He seemed to genuinely disappointed with the suggestion, but as I handed him a controller he acquiesced. “Okay, here it is.” He said, speaking barely above a whisper. “One of these guys I work with, he’s into all this voodoo nonsense. So, I’m talking to him, and he tells me that a bunch of those hippie Wicca chicks get together every full moon and dance around naked.” I looked out the window. Even though it was still light out, I could see a full moon over the hills. “You know that state park near the high school? That’s where it’s happening. At two o’clock. The dude from work told me the best place to watch from.”
I looked George in the eye. “You know, George,” I said, trying not to hurt his feelings, “There are a lot of easier, less… unusual, ways to see girls naked. If you want, I can Google some strip clubs in the area. Or I could Google naked people. Neither of those involve hiking into the woods at night to spy on some new age witch ritual.”
George looked at me like I was nuts. “It’s not just the naked part. Don’t you want to get a look at a secret ritual? You’re always saying I should widen my world view, and if that view just happens to include tits, so what?”
I could see George really wanted to do this, and I knew that he was going to be there whether I went with him or not. “Fine,” I said. “I’ll go.” George high-fived me and we started playing some first person shooter.
It’s funny the things you remember. I remember that he beat me fifteen kills to eight, but I can’t remember what game we played. I remember that our waitress at the diner was named Roxy, and that she was pigeon-toed, but I can’t remember what I had to drink. One thing I remember was that I had this cloud of apprehension over me the whole time. They say that hindsight is 20/20. They are full of shit. Looking at the past is more like looking at a 3-D image without glasses; You get two different images. One image is the way things actually were, and the other is the way you assume they must have been, your attempt to add reason and order to what is really just chance and chaos. I can tell myself that I had, on some level, an inkling of what was to come, but honestly I was just worried that a coven of angry Wiccans was going to kick my ass.
We took George’s beat up Accord to the entrance of the state park. We parked in a picnic area at about one and got out of the car, each armed with a flashlight and backpack of supplies: snacks, beer, binoculars, the usual. We started off down the main path into the woods. Every couple of minutes, George would check the directions he got from the “voodoo guy.”
Even with the flashlights, we couldn’t see much. And it was quiet. There was the occasional chirp from a cricket or rustle of leaves, but that was all. We had been walking for almost fifteen minutes when George said, “Here it is,” and illuminated a small path to the right that snaked up an incline. I followed him up the hill, promising myself that, if we were murdered by some whacko in a hockey mask, I’d blame George.
We made it up the hill intact, and came to a ledge overlooking a small clearing. It was roughly circular with a small hole in the center. “I bet that’s their fire-pit,” George said.
“Or maybe it’s where the mafia dump the bodies.” I suggested. George looked at me with wide eyes. “That would be so cool.” He said, “We could be the star witnesses, and go into witness protection and everything.”
“Sure.” I said. I checked my watch. 1:45. “Pass me some chips.” George reached into his bag, and tossed me some Nacho Cheese “Flavoritos.”
“What the fuck are these.” I said, after looking at the “not evaluated by the FDA” caveat on the bag. “Chips,” he said, opening his own bag. “Well, obviously. But why’d you get some Dorito’s knock off.” He shrugged. “They taste the same. Plus, I can get a crate of these for, like, five bucks.”
I looked the bag over again, paying close attention to the little notes: Not for Resale and Product of N. Korea. “Y’know what, I’m not that hungry.”
“Suit yourself, but I gotta tell ya, the –”
“Who the fuck are you?” someone shouted from behind us. We turned around to see two people approaching from the same path we took. The one who had spoken was a brunette girl. I later learned that she was 23 and worked at Starbucks. She was with a guy, I still don’t know exactly how old he was, but I’d put him at forty.
“Who the fuck are you?” She repeated.
“We could ask you the same question.” George said, turning his flashlight towards them. The girl was wearing a flannel shirt over a cheap tee. The guy was wearing a slacks and a coat and was carrying a camera.
“Who are you?” she asked again.
“We asked you first.” George said.
“No, you didn’t.” The man said.
“Oh,” George said, “In that case, I’m George and this is Matthew,” he gestured to me.
“Hi,” I said, “I’m Matthew. And who the fuck are you?”
The man stepped forward. “I’m Barry Loemer, I write for the Daily News.” The girl laughed. “What he means,” she said, “Is that they print his editorials every now and then.” She extended her hand. “I’m Tara, by the way.” George and I shook her hand. “I’m guessing you guys are here to watch the witches,” she said.
“Yeah,” I admitted, “Not one of our brightest ideas.”
“I disagree,” said George. Of course he did.
“That’s okay,” Barry said. “I’m here to write a story about them. Tara told me about this, said it could help my career.”
“So you’re a witch?” George asked.
Tara blushed. “I dabble.” She looked at the clearing. “They should be here by now.” I looked at my watch. It was five past two. Suddenly there was a loud buzzing noise. “Sorry,” Tara said, taking her phone from her pocket, “I gotta check this.” She read for a moment. “Shit.”
She looked at us apologetically. “Looks like the show’s been cancelled. They were having lunch at Lilly’s place and everyone got food poisoning.” She threw her hands into the air in a “well, what can you do” gesture.
Barry looked devastated. “Sorry,” she said, putting her hand on his shoulder. “We can come back next month.” Barry muttered something, and they turned to leave. I was ready to follow when I heard George shout “What is that!” He was pointing to the sky, at what looked like a red flare. “It’s getting bigger,” he said. It did look like it was growing. Then I began to see more details: chunks of gray inside the flickering red, a trail of smoke behind it. “Get down!” I shouted, throwing myself to the ground.
There was a moment of complete silence as we lied face down in the grass. Then came the Boom. Imagine the sound of an aluminum can being crushed. Then multiply that by a million and throw in a train crash for good measure. After a few minutes of smaller Bangs and the occasional Pop, we shakily stood. In the clearing was a large chunk of metal obscured by the thick black smoke. We stared in awe for a few minutes. Somewhere in the distance a car alarm went off and sirens were blaring. Tara cleared her throat, “It looks like you got your story,” she said, then started chuckling. Barry started laughing, and it wasn’t long before we were all laughing that special laugh that only accompanies near disaster.
We hiked down the small path and stopped a few feet in front of the wall of smoke emanating from the crash site. “I don’t suppose you guys brought any gas masks,” Tara said. George looked in his backpack. “No. I’ve got chips if anyone wants any,” He said, taking out a few bags.
“I love Flavoritos!” Barry said, taking a bag that guaranteed ‘Super Good Mouth Times!’ The sirens in the distance were getting a little louder. “So,” I said, “What do you guys think it was?”
“A meteor,” Tara said.
“Or a piece of space junk,” Barry said.
“Flying saucer,” George said. We all laughed. “Seriously, though,” he said, “It was probably some spy satellite or something. Maybe we’ll get interrogated by the CIA or NSA or some shit.”
“Can you imagine that,” I said, “I swear I was just trying to spy on the witches!” I laughed, but the others didn’t. They were all staring into the smoke. I followed their gaze, and saw what looked like a human shadow moving towards us. As it neared the edge of the curtain of smoke, there was no doubt that it was anything but human.
The creature had deep gray skin pulled taut on a tall thin frame. He had small blue dots for eyes, a small hole for a mouth, and long legs that bent in two places. But what I remember most clearly are the hands. It looked as if an octopus had grown out of the thing’s wrist. It opened its mouth to speak.
“I don’t have a lot of time, so let’s get this over with quick.” It said in a distinctly human voice and a southern drawl.
George fell to his knees. “Please don’t probe us!” he begged.
The alien rubbed his forehead. “That happened one time! One time! And now every time I talk to one you people, the first thing I hear is ‘Please don’t probe me, Mr. Spaceman.’ I’m not going to probe you. Just listen.”
George stood up as the sound of sirens got louder. “Okay,” the thing said, “Short version is, Emperor Konakor of the Gu’lareat system is trying to seize power from the order of the Ji-Xonklo. So the Fen Federation issued an edict that -”
“Wait,” Barry said, “Is Emperor Konakor the good guy?”
“I thought the Ji-Xonklo were the good guys.” George said.
“I have no clue who the good guy is.” Tara said.
“Yeah, we don’t know any of these people.” I added.
“Whatever,” the alien said. We could hear dogs barking now. The alien took out a glowing green orb. “The point is, I have a lot of power in this crystal and I need somewhere to hide it. Konakor set one of his drones on me, so it’s only a matter of hours before I’m dead.”
“I told you Konakor was the bad guy!” George said.
Tara looked at the orb, “So you want us to hide it for you?”The alien said nothing for a moment. “Something like that.” His tentacles slid along the surface of the crystal, and it began to glow a blinding gold. I felt the strength being sapped from my muscles. The last thing I remember before passing out was George saying, “We are so probed.”