When Aliyah Ziddi was four years old, she stole candy from her older brother’s Halloween stash. When he went crying to their mother, Aliyah felt guilty, but upon seeing her brother squawking in the typical fashion of a six-year-old-boy, she burst out laughing and earned herself an hour in time-out.
When Aliyah was eight, her friend Rosie’s parents were getting divorced, and she advised Rosie to throw a tantrum to get them back together. Rosie’s parents employed a therapist for their daughter and sent a very long, concerned email to Aliyah’s parents.
But none of these mistakes held a candle to the one she made on March 8th, 2020.
For on that day, sixteen-year-old Aliyah set her morning alarm an hour ahead. And the worst mistakes form from the most innocuous of intentions.
Aliyah smiled at the glorious sunset outside her bedroom window. The flickering flames of burnished auburn, pale fuchsia, and magnificent gold painted her room in colors of hope. Hope that Monday would come peacefully and gently, soothing instead of painfully rousing her from the allure of dreamy sleep.
The forest below swayed, the furry evergreen heads bobbing in assent.
Goodnight, Aliyah, they seemed to whisper. Sweet dreams.
And she burrowed further down into the downy warmth of her sky-blue comforter and fell asleep.
Morning came like an uninvited guest rapping at the door.
Her alarm reverberated noisily, drumming unwelcome beats of silence-shattering agony into her skull.
Aliyah groaned and struggled to sit up.
She opened her eyes and screamed.
Moss, scraggly-green and funereal gray, silver damp and sunlit slippery covered her bed, her room, and her body.
Uncertain wetness permeated her comforter, which had been reduced to a tenth of its vibrant blue hue.
An angry, putrid smell wafted from the moss, which appeared to have been decades old.
Aliyah lurched backward, only to meet with the headboard of her bed, covered in an entirely different type of moss—velvety-thick and olive-basil, covered in droplets of dew that shone like fairy tears.
In one shuddering, brave breath, Aliyah ripped the comforter off.
A sound like a sticky, squelching scream echoed when the comforter was ripped from the bedsheets.
She crouched and leaped to the floor, only to be further scared.
The floor was thick with the green monster, shifting and roiling beneath her feet like snakes of viridescent hell.
The scream that Aliyah let out left her throat raw and stinging.
Gasping, sobbing with disbelief, she cried out, “Aai! Baba!” to which the house creaked with ominous promise.
Aliyah scampered to the door and tugged.
It came apart at its hinges, loosing a shining shower of mossy apologies.
Aliyah tripped down the staircase, half-sprinting to the front door. When she yanked it open, the porch was covered in not just moss, but the fiery remnants of coals and ash.
Outside, the sky was painted a lurid red, the only birds flying a shade of monstrous, nightmare black. One of these dark-winged birds cocked its head Aliyah’s way and regarded her with a beady, crimson stare. After a few seconds of them both glaring at each other, the bird flapped its bony, bat-like wings and sped away.
Aliyah shook her head and looked around.
The entire neighborhood had been reduced to crumbling wooden beams and strips of fluffy ochre drywall. The ground was littered with ash and bird droppings, and Aliyah carefully stepped to avoid getting a surprise.
The only sound in the neighborhood was her shallow, heaving breaths and the dim ringing of her alarm, which had the audacious capacity to sing even during the apocalypse.
Aliyah glanced back at her house, waging an internal debate between the sides of her phone-addicted personality.
If she went back in, she could arm herself with a tool. Call someone for help. Search up directions.
If she didn’t for fear of the ever-present moss, she
Aliyah chose the former option, plugged her nose, and stormed into the house.
Her next movements were a blur, but when she got out of the house, she stumbled on the ground before throwing up five seconds later. Angrily, Aliyah wiped her mouth and walked away.
Her phone seemed to work, which was a minor relief. She tried calling her mom, her dad, her brother, and Raj, her best friend.
All the calls were met with the same, eerie buzzing. No voicemail. No hellos or goodbyes. Just a painful, bee-like buzzing that made Aliyah want to gouge out her eyes.
She knew the way to the police station by heart. A whisper of a smile jumped on her face, and Aliyah started walking.
Before she took two steps, a funnel of iridescent gold struck from the sky.
She jumped back, whimpering.
A fissure appeared in the road, eating up more and more tar-black asphalt as it spread.
Aliyah ran around it, but she could hear cracking, popping, sickening sounds right on her tail. She ran forward, faster, more desperately.
When she finally felt like she’d outran it, she let her elbows fall onto her knees, sinking to the ground in a ball.
Grateful breaths hissed out and back through her lungs. Aliyah lay down on the ground, sighing.
And too soon for her to do anything, the fissure roared behind her and swallowed her whole.
Aliyah fell for hours. Or seconds. It was hard to tell in the roaring darkness.
And at one point, she fell into a pocket of air.
The air rattled out of her in one whooshing breath and everything turned white.
Aliyah blinked, trying to get her bearings and miserably failing. The blinding white scenery still existed. And she was still falling.
Suddenly, gold jumped in at the forefront of her vision, adding a little pop to the white.
Aliyah fell further and saw where the gold was coming from.
A stunning spiral of what seemed to be woven threads of gold churned peacefully.
Aliyah sucked in a breath, seeing that she was about to be absorbed into the giant gold cylinder.
She braced herself and dropped in.
Inside, bronze threads unraveled, turning into brighter shades of yellow. Spools of glistening, glittering amber leaped around, dancing to an unheard, unidentifiable beat.
The air was warm and ripe with honeysuckle and sugar.
Aliyah smiled. At least this was better than the moss.
“Ah’see yav funde the strandz ah time.” A booming male voice echoed in the void.
Aliyah struggled to place his accent. It was rich with power, somewhat Scottish, but somehow not. It was so unfamiliar, yet so familiar. She couldn’t put her finger on it.
“Yeh humanz av been destroyin teh wurl es long as yuh were mayd. Crazy laht, yuh awl.”
“I’d like to accept your compliments, but I don’t seem to know where I am, or who you are.”
“Ah weel ahm jus the gahdian. Gahdian of time.”
Aliyah frowned. Guardian of time? What was that supposed to mean?
“Yuh seh, yull be tah furst human. Humanz destroyed the wurl, sah a litl blip en time appeared. Picked a person tat could stahrt et awl agen.” If the voice could have shrugged, it would have.
She shook her head, to which the voice replied, “Yall were the furst trial. And yeh failed. Misrahbly. Sah we er going agen. Round two!”
“What?” Aliyah’s eyes grew as wide as saucers. “We’re a test? An experiment?”
“Ah mean, if yuh wanna put et lahk tat, shur. Countdown en three, two, one!”
“No! No, no, no!” Aliyah screamed, possibly bursting the eardrums of the voice--if it had any.
A fizzy pop boomed through the void, and everything turned black and white and bright.
And then, suddenly, it stopped.
Aliyah stumbled into daylight, gasping.
An ape-like creature with some human characteristics smiled at her, thin pink lips protruding from its smooth, hairless muzzle. Dark, shaggy hair formed covered the circumference of its oval-shaped head, and large, curious brown eyes blinked against the blistering sun. The creature stopped smiling, its puckered, wrinkly ashy-brown skin sagging against its lips.
It lifted a gnarled, soft, finger to stroke Aliyah’s hair, twin to its own.
She tried to scream, but only a strangled screech came out.
Her legs and arms were stunted; she was in a crouched, hunched sitting position, and when she tried to stand up, her legs caved, and she fell backward.
The primate next to her threw back its head and screeched horrifyingly. It was only when Aliyah saw the mirthful look in its eyes when she realized it was laughing. So she smiled too.
And slowly, all memories started fading and spinning away from Aliyah.
She knew what was happening. What would come.
Soon, the only memory she was clinging to was her name.
And even sooner, that disappeared too.