The Cluster Series - Part 1

Submitted into Contest #119 in response to: Start your story with a character saying “Listen, …”... view prompt

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Creative Nonfiction Mystery Science Fiction

“Listen, alright? This is for your own good, Margaret. The only thing keeping them out are those stones encircling our farm.” He said, pointing to the long row of red stones surrounding them. “If we go beyond those stones, the creatures that live on this planet are liable to devour us . That’s our only rule.”  


She looked at her father and thought about his words carefully. The only thing keeping the monsters of the Overflow from their land was a set of disorganized stones, she skeptically asked herself. She couldn’t understand it; if the creatures were so fearsome and vicious, what stopped them from crossing the stones themselves? Couldn’t the winged beasts simply fly over them? She cleared her throat as she spoke, choosing her words meticulously, hiding her incredulous tone.  


“Well, what keeps the creatures from crossing the stones, and why must they eat us in the first place?” She studied her father’s face as she waited for an answer. He had a dark look in his eyes as he pondered her words, the lines on his face evidence of long, sleepless nights. She inhaled deeply and wondered what concerned him so deeply. Since being sent to Overflow-nine, he hadn’t been his normal self. Sometimes, late at night, when he thought she and her twin sister Lucille were sleeping, she’d be wide awake in her bed, listening to him pacing about the house, slamming doors and cursing to seemingly no one. She’d tried desperately to hear what he would murmur to himself in those twilight hours, but she could never make out the words.   


“When we were sent here, Margaret, the Citadel promised us safety from the creatures outside the stones.” He cut himself off as he lowered his gaze, tears slowly beginning to form in his eyes. Can I tell her everything, He thought to himself. He knew one day he would have to tell his daughters the truth, but he was fearful of their reaction to the man he once was. He changed the subject before she could pry any further, blinking the tears away.  


“Where is Lucille?” He asked, abruptly turning as he headed back to the farm with Margaret close on his heels. “I haven’t seen her since breakfast this morning.”   


“I think she’s with Bleeper.  She said, as her father picked up the pace. “She

likes walking him to the pond to play.”  


“She sure loves that dumb dog.” He grumbled. 


“Yeah, she does. But Dad, you didn’t answer my question though. Why do they want to eat us? Are there other people on this planet those creatures eat too?” She put her hands behind her head, interlocking her fingers as she walked in step with her father. "I thought we were the only ones who lived here.”  


“I don’t know why they do, Margie.” He said, as he looked at his curly-haired daughter, bemused by her mental acuity. “And I don’t know if any other humans live here either. But all you need to worry about is staying inside the wall where it’s safe.”  


He finished speaking to his now silent daughter, looked up at the sky and observed the planets orbiting the black hole, Nerlixus, from his vantage point. Over 1 trillion in the cluster, he thought to himself. Over one trillion different planets, all around 40 times larger than Earth-1, respectively orbiting in place by the massive black hole. Each world had an average of 694 billion souls that called each of them home. The whole idea completely defied logic and common understanding. Yet, even when considering what the Citadel provided for the citizens in its commonwealth, all he felt was an icy resentment to their overlords. So deep, he feared his daughters would learn the meaning of hatred from watching him too closely. He shuddered from the idea.  


Margaret and her father continued walking in silence to their homestead, their new home on Overflow-nine. The homestead was the only earth-style dwelling that could be found on all the Overflow planets, and it stood out in stark contrast to the dreary blackness and thick mist that surrounded them. The creatures that lived on Overflow-nine were all nocturnal, so the vacuum fluctuations of the black hole that produced light didn’t reach this place. There was no need for illumination.  


Margaret looked at the massive patio of their three-story home, the large front windows and manicured lawn, the artificial complex lighting system, and wondered how and when it was constructed. After they were transferred from their original planet, Narsus-twelve, to Overflow-nine, the home was already built and fully furnished. She had many questions and was frustrated her father wouldn’t tell her what she wanted to learn. 


They walked through the front door, as Margaret darted for her bedroom. Inside, she peered through her window that overlooked their small, backyard pond. There she was. She spotted her sister Lucille, and their little dog Bleeper, running wildly through the shallow body of water. Lucille was her identical twin, and the only thing that set them apart were their hairstyles; Margaret’s hair was short, coiled and kinky, while Lucille's was straight, long and flowing. Margaret was confused at what she saw, however. Lucille had her back to their pond, was facing the wall of red stones her father warned her about. What’s she doing, Margaret wondered to herself. Lucille then waved at someone hidden in the mist, as Margaret's heart skipped a beat. Lucille laughed, then turned and pointed at their carefree, mud-covered dog.  


Outside now, Margaret began to head for her sister's location, her feet sinking into the wet dirt as she quickly walked. She tried to be silent, but Lucille’s long, pointed ears perked up as she approached. She turned and looked at her sister with a look of distaste in her eyes. Did she see me, Lucille thought to herself, annoyed at what she and her small family now had to endure. Not only do I have to live on this awful planet, but I can’t even enjoy some solitude without Margaret being curious as ever, she complained to herself. Putting on a friendly smile, she waved at her unaware, curly-haired sister walking through the swampy grass. Bleeper ran out of the pond and B-lined for Margaret as she drew near.  She knelt and extended her arms wide, waiting to embrace the muddy animal.  


Lucille looked on, but quickly returned her gaze to the mist beyond the wall. He’s gone now, she thought to herself, good. She knew Margaret would tell her father the things she had seen and learned from her new “friend”. Her thoughts were interrupted by her mud-splashed sister holding Bleeper.  


“Who were you talking to?” Margaret asked, as she gestured to the crimson wall. “I saw you talking to someone out there. Where’d they go?”  


Lucille looked to the sky in frustration as she closed her eyes tightly. Taking a deep breath, she quickly looked down at her sister biliously.  “I wasn’t talking to anyone, alright?” She lied, as she shrugged her shoulders and turned away. Fibbing to her sister was something she hated doing, but she knew her father wanted them both to be in the dark about everything that’s happened. She had to be patient.  


“You can’t be serious Lucy, c'mon now; I know I saw you talking to someone out here.” She probed even further, trying to maintain eye contact with her shifty eyed sister. “I even saw you point to Bleeper for a second.”  


“Well, if you really need to know, I was praying for the Citadel’s grace.” She said flatly.  


“Oh? I didn’t know you were so pious, Lucy.” Margaret peppered the compliment with sarcasm, sensing her sister was hiding something that she couldn’t explain. Bleeper squirmed in her arms, as she set him on the ground.   


“There’re lots of things you don’t know, Margie. Trust me.” Lucille said through a stifled laugh and broad smile. She knew how much Margaret disliked that nickname but couldn’t help herself. She looked down at Bleeper. “Let’s go Bleeps, time for a bubble bath, you muddy thing!”  


Margaret stayed silent as Lucille headed back to their homestead. She looked off into the distance, still curious at what Lucille was looking at and speaking to. She looked up at the black sky and the dotted planets surrounding Nerlixus. The only ones who live here, she thought to herself.  


Suddenly, she could hear a deep hissing noise coming from beyond the wall of red, hidden deep in the opaque mist. She remembered her father’s warning, whirled around and sprinted for the safety of the homestead without looking back.   

**** 

It was a few weeks later when Margaret woke to Bleeper barking outside of her bedroom window. She sat up, yawning and groggy, only to see that Lucille was missing from her bed. Unusual, she thought to herself, I’m always up before Lucy. The barking outside continued as she got dressed and headed out the door. She stopped in front of her mirror, placing an earring into the lobes of her long, pointed ears -- the tell-tale sign of a type-2 human. Down the hallway to her father’s room, she wonders where Lucille disappeared. Since that day she saw her speaking with someone beyond the wall, things between the sisters have been different. Lucy normally was sweet and solicitous towards her twin, but these past few weeks she was cold and distant. At times, Lucille would completely ignore her for days on end. The biggest change she noticed was how she interacted with their father, though; Lucy had been downright evil and hateful towards him. She must know something I don’t, Margaret thought.  More questions that she couldn’t answer. Outside of her father’s door, she speaks loudly while knocking.  


“Dad, have you seen Lucy?” No response, as she opens the door and walks in. “Why is Bleeper outside, is she with him?”   


Silence. 


Again, she calls out as she looks around his large bedroom. She's taken aback at what she sees: clothing strewn about, furniture overturned, almost like someone was rummaging through his belongings. Something is wrong, she warned herself, Dad is never this disorganized. Bleeper’s barking interrupted her thoughts, but she ignored the noise and continued to look for her father. She opened the door to his bathroom and walked inside. Her heart thumped out of her chest, as she saw the pooling crimson on the floor. Blood, blood everywhere! She slammed the door and screamed in horror.  


“Dad! Dad! Where are you?” Frantically she yelled, as she scrambled around the room. 


She gasped as she saw her father: face down on the floor, covered in blood, unmoving, claw marks over his face and torso, legs twisted in unnatural angles, a blade deep in his neck.  


Margaret stood speechless as reality set in. Tears streamed from her face, as she covered a stifled scream with the crook of her elbow. By the look of it, her father, the man who brought her into this world, was violently murdered by someone or something. She wiped her face, not having the time to properly grieve. She needed to find her missing sister. What if she’s dead too, the thought chilled her. She had to get moving.  


Outside now, Margaret searched for her small dog. Walking around the homestead to the rear of the house, she saw him at the pond with no sign of Lucy anywhere. Bleeper was barking at the red wall, and Margaret knew something was up.  


“Bleeper!” she called out to the dog, but he ignored her and continued his incessant barking. Kneeling to console him, she looks at where he’s barking. Beyond the wall into the thick mist, her view was obstructed entirely. She picks him up, cradling the scared dog.  


“Where’s Lucy boy?” She speaks softly as the dog looks up at her with concern in his eyes. “Where did she go, Bleep?”  


She sets him down and sprints back for the house, her thoughts giving way to sudden panic. None of this made any sense, and she couldn’t put her finger on what. There were only three people who lived on this ranch: Herself, Lucy, and their father. Now, if someone or something wanted to hurt them, why would it only be their father that was murdered? Margaret knew she must have been sleeping when he was killed, so why wasn’t she killed too? Hell, even little Bleeper would be an easier target than her father. Nothing seemed to make any sense whatsoever. The shock from what happened hadn’t truly set in for Margaret, but she had her suspicions as to what happened. What she needed to do now was find her sister and learn the truth of everything.  


Walking into the house again with Bleeper at her side, Margaret began thinking about everything her father told her about this place and the dangers they all faced.   


“The only thing keeping them out are those stones encircling our farm.” She replayed his words in her mind. “If we go beyond those stones, we’re liable to get devoured by the creatures that live here. That’s our only rule.” 


If it was truly a native creature from Overflow-nine that killed her father, why wasn’t he devoured by it like he had warned? Why were she and Bleeper spared? Lucille. She knew something was wrong, and she was determined to find out what.   

**** 

Once she collected herself, she went back into her father’s bedroom. Inside, she tried her best not to look at the corpse splayed on the floor. The smell of death lingered in the air like a perfume. He deserved better than this, she thought to herself, I’ll need to give him a proper burial when the time is right. Walking into his closet, she took the key he had given her and searched for the lockbox. Her father’s words were in her mind again:  


“Margaret, if anything ever happens to me, and I mean anything, I need you to take care of yourself.” He had said with a grave look on his face. “Inside my bedroom, in my closet near my shoes, there is a box that is locked that has weapons that can help you when you’re in need.”  


Margaret held the key tightly, as she looked around her father’s closet. Nothing but expensive clothing and shoes. There! She could see it, a trunk sized box with an intricate locking mechanism at its mouth. This has to be it, she thought to herself. She remembered the rest of what her father had told her.  


“Now, Margaret, I need you to keep this key and the weapons in my room a secret. Do not tell Lucille about any of this.” He had a look of sadness in his eyes as he spoke. “Things between her and I have been … challenging.” He chose his words carefully as she wondered at the intention.  


Now that he was dead, she knew Lucille had something to do with this chaos. She put the key inside the lock of the box, nervously twisting her wrist. CLANK. The lid of the box slowly opened, as Margaret peered inside.  


She didn't understand what she saw: a ruby red bracelet and something that looked like a futuristic pistol. She slammed the lid hard as she espied the lethal weapon. Whoa, He left me a gun, she thought, what am I supposed to do with a gun? She slowly opened the lid again, looking back in. She picked up the bracelet first, examining it as she turned it over. It was brilliant, the crimson rubies magnificent and deep. To her untrained eye, it looked like a machine of some kind. She could see small mechanisms that looked to control the jewelry’s diameter. She placed her hand inside the loop of the bracelet, and abruptly screamed in pain.   


The bracelet, without being controlled, was tightening on her wrist, moving so fast she couldn’t take it off in time. Once it touched her skin, it seemed to just sink deep into her epidermis. Digging into her flesh as her wrist exploded in pain. She tried to take it off, but it was far too late. The pain subsided and she looked down at where the bracelet was placed. Around her wrist now was a beautiful red pattern, resembling an intricate tattoo. She rubbed over the design, trying to find evidence of the bracelet she just held. The tattoo was seamless to her skin and looked like it was fully healed.  


“Pretty crazy stuff, huh?” The jovial voice asked behind Margaret tenderly touching her wrist. Margaret jumped to her feet and dashed out of her father’s room hysterically. Bleeper, in an excited frenzy, barking at the sudden commotion, followed her outside.  


“Someone is in the house, Bleeper! Someone’s inside!” She yelled, panicked from the sudden appearance of the stranger behind her.  


“I don’t think Bleeper can understand you, Margaret.” The voice appeared again. Margaret turned around to see who was speaking, her eyes wildly searching for danger.  


In front of her was a life-sized woman glowing like she was illuminated by a massive projector. She looked slightly older than Margaret and had a friendly look upon her face.   


“I guess it’s time to tell you who I am, or what I am to be more precise.” The hologram spoke with an air of confidence that calmed Margaret’s nerves. “I also need to tell you about who your father was, and what this planet truly is.”  


Margaret looked down again at the tattoo on her wrist, then again to the glowing woman in front of her. She cleared her throat before she spoke:


“I don’t know who or even what the hell you are, but I’m ready to learn.”  

The glowing woman nodded her head excitedly, and Margaret could swear she could see a tinge of relief in the woman’s disposition.   

**** 


November 09, 2021 06:20

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2 comments

Madi K
21:00 Nov 18, 2021

Pretty good, I'd like to see a part two!

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02:45 Nov 19, 2021

Your comment means the world to me! Thanks for reading, part 2 coming soon!

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