1 comment

Horror Science Fiction

Kaelyn had been staring at the image on her computer for so long that she’d forgotten to eat dinner. Trapped within the confines of the screen was a rectangle filled with stars. Kaelyn was an astronomer, so she looked at stars a lot. Normally the images she took with the telescope looked like a black sheet of paper with small holes poked in it revealing the brilliant light shining beneath. This image, however, had a face. A horrible face made of stellar gases with red giants for pupils. Its awful smile stretched for light years. Its eyes looked sunken as if it were skin stretched over a skull. Kaelyn couldn’t look away.

The grant she’d been given a year ago to research dual-star systems was running out, so she stayed at the observatory late that night. If she didn’t have something to show the university board, her whole career could veer off like an orbit-less comet. The part of the sky she pointed the telescope at included a binary system she’d nicknamed Colin after her dog. Many nights were spent with the stellar Colin rather than the furry one, trying to unlock the secrets of its gravitational pull. That particular night, she was exhausted. The equations she needed to work weren’t working. It seemed like her dream career had come to an early end. Then the face appeared.

Kaelyn left the room and splashed herself with drinking fountain water. As the water dripped off her brown skin, she thought about what she saw. Like any rational person, she was convinced what she saw wasn’t real. Sometimes the power of perspective makes cosmic matter appear in shapes familiar to humans, but this was too uncanny. It didn’t look kind of like a face. It was a face, and it was still a face when she returned to her desk. Not knowing how to handle this discovery, Kaelyn did what she did best: math. Based on her calculations, the face was 98.2 billion kilometers wide and 130.6 billion kilometers tall. That would make it a third the size of the solar system. She couldn’t help but feel like a mite staring at the gaping mouth of a king. The true king of the universe. 

She refreshed the telescope’s image, hoping to get more detail, and the face was gone. Its afterimages still hung on her retinas as if they had been burned into her eyes. The disappearance of the face was more distressing than its appearance. Kaelyn questioned her sanity, but looking at the saved images revealed the horrible grin again. She knew that nothing should be able to move that fast or at least nothing she knew yet. Up until that point, the empty void of space had been calming. But the seas look empty too, yet there are predators within. Suffice it to say, she avoided looking up on the walk to her car. 

Three frowning, wrinkled faces stared at Kaelyn from the other end of a long wooden table. She stood in front of a screen with the face projected onto it. To avoid looking it in the eyes, she angled herself acutely to its horrible glare. One of the board members, a button-shaped woman named Pam, squinted at the projection. She pulled her thick-rimmed glasses closer to her face and leaned forward. 

“Can you make it bigger, dear?” Pam asked.

Kaelyn took in a gulp of breath, peered down at the tablet controlling the projector, and enlarged the image with a flick of her fingers. For some reason, she felt like she shouldn’t breathe while looking at the face. As if she were staring a dominant predator in the eye. Pam’s expression didn’t change as she stared at the face which now took up the whole screen. The man to her left, an ancient professor named Harold, finally spoke up.

“Ok, I’ll bite. What is this supposed to be, Miss Valin?” He asked.

Kaelyn forced herself to look at the image behind her. Framed in the box was a perfectly visible human face made of star matter. She unfocused her eyes, trying to see what it might look like from far away, but it was still clearly a face.

“It’s a face,” she said, timidly.

“It is?” said Pam, once again squinting at the screen. 

“All I see is an amateurish image of the night sky. There’s no face.” Harold chimed in. 

“Are you ok, honey?” Asked Pam. “Have you been working yourself too hard? We can give you an extension on the project if you really need it.”

Kaelyn looked back and forth from the board members to the image. How could they not see a face? She walked all the way back to their end of the table and still she saw it. Even when she squatted at their level, it was still there. She asked them all to come closer, but their perception didn’t change. To them, there was nothing in the image except stars and dust. 

The hurry with which Kaelyn left the room, stunned the board. Pam immediately placed a call to one of the school’s counselors. A sea of students flowed through the hall just outside the conference room. Kaelyn grabbed one of them and shoved the tablet in front of her. She couldn’t see a face. A group of men around the corner couldn’t see one either. A few more tries later and she’d lost all hope. She kept glancing at the screen hoping that she would share in the experience of those around her. The screen reflected her face like a mirror and overlayed her visage onto the cosmic one. Its red stellar eyes lined up perfectly with her pupils giving them a fiery glow. She felt a strange urge to bend her mouth into the gaping smile on the screen but resisted. 

 A horrifying thought was born into her mind. The stars, planets, and gases seen in the night sky are much older than they appear. Light requires time to travel through space so when it hits a telescope or someone’s eye the thing it reflected off is potentially millions of years older. When people look into the sky all they can see is the past, the present is a mystery. Kaelyn knew this better than most, but she hadn’t considered what it meant for the face. The image she’d seen of it was from millennia in the past. The way it disappeared showed that it was faster than anything humanity had ever encountered. A bug of horror ran up her spine. The face could already be on top of them. But it wasn’t coming for them. It was only coming for her. 

What Rina, the university counselor, found in Kaelyn’s room a month later made her question her career choices. Rina was a pro. She was tall and wore her graying hair with pride. More than anything, she was good at her job. At least that’s what she thought before she met Kaelyn. After Pam called, Rina immediately reached out to no avail. She attempted to call every few days but never heard back. Eventually, she grew genuinely worried and made a trip to Kaelyn’s on-campus apartment after work. Even outside the door, something felt wrong. 

The fact that Kaelyn’s door wasn’t locked showed Rina that the astronomer was no longer concerned with human predation. The room she entered smelled viciously of ammonia that stung her nostrils. Light only entered through the door Rina had opened and the cracks between boards Kaelyn had nailed to her windows. Otherwise, it was dark. Someone had spotted a woman tossing furniture into the dumpster behind the dorms, now Rina knew who that woman was. The apartment was completely bare except for a huddled figure in the corner. 

Rina approached her, cautiously. 

“Hello. Are you Kaelyn?” She asked. “I’ve been trying to reach you. There are some people who are very worried about you, honey.”

“Light…Light is the key…” Kaelyn whispered. “If there’s no light, he can’t see me.”

Rina squatted to put herself on the same level as Kaelyn. She could only barely make her out against the walls. 

“Who are you hiding from, Kaelyn?” she asked.

Kaelyn didn’t answer, but her breathing audibly quickened.

“Who are you hiding from?” Rina repeated. “It’s ok. You can tell me.”

A shift in the shadows. Kaelyn turned toward the wall. She didn’t want to speak about him to anyone, so she spat her words at concrete.

“There’s nothing you can do about him,” she said. “He’s everything. He only showed himself to me because he knew I was looking. He wanted me to know because he knew no one would believe me.”

Rina noted that Kaelyn spoke as if she was in great pain. Whether this was emotional or physical was unapparent. She had been briefed on what the young woman was talking about. It seemed like an average psychotic break. She’d looked at the image herself and saw no face, but whatever Kaelyn saw had clearly done a number on her. 

“He needed a physical form, and he chose me,” she said with more confidence than any of her previous words.

“I don’t understand,” said Rina, cautiously. 

The shadow of Kaelyn’s arm stretched to a light switch just above her head. White overtook Rina’s vision for a moment and later she wished that she had remained blind. Before her was not the 26-year-old astronomer with big brown eyes and a round face, it was a monster. Large chunks of Kaelyn’s cheeks had been sliced off making her mouth look like it stretched from ear to ear. Half of her nose was gone, leaving a bloody lump in the center of her face. She had attempted to scalp herself but stopped about halfway. A thick slice of skin and hair hung just over her shoulder. What stuck with Rina the most, however, were her eyes. The eyelids and brows were crudely removed. The gooey orbs seemed to stick out several centimeters farther than the rest of Kaelyn’s face. With every movement, they shook like good China on a high shelf. 

“He’s too big for our world, so he made me him,” were the last words Kaelyn whispered before passing out. 

Rina wanted to help her immediately but couldn’t fight the urge to vomit. Once her heaving ceased, she sprung to action, calling the police, and getting Kaelyn upright. Paramedics arrived quickly and she was taken away on a stretch board. Rina followed them to the ambulance, but Kaelyn didn’t make it inside the vehicle. The EMTs provided CPR but it was no use. Something had already consumed Kaelyn’s heart. Something far more weird and powerful than anyone else had ever known. 

A blanket was laid over the young astronomer’s face as she was lifted into the ambulance. Rina knew that she would have to call Kaelyn’s next of kin, but she needed a second for herself first. This was easily the most emotionally exhausting moment of her entire career. A cold, wooden bench caught her as she fell into it. She craned her head back and stared at the sky. There was so much light in this part of the world, that she rarely saw stars dotting the black void. That night was no different, but there was something strange that kept her focus. The blackness of the night sky seemed to curve into a sharp smile. Part of Rina didn’t believe that it was really there, but part of her knew that it was. 

August 08, 2023 19:43

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 comment

Gregg Punger
14:19 Aug 13, 2023

This is a cool twisted story. The description of Kaelyn after she mutilates herself is great in a gruesome horrifying way, and I like the ending. It has a cool vibe kind of like The Ring.


Show 0 replies
RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.