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Science Fiction Drama Fiction

“Do you want to try and stand on the paddle board, Deacon?” The plump lady in a wetsuit cooed like I was an infant. I was seventeen and every summer since I was ten years old, my mother would ship me off to what she called ‘the retreat’. She believed that attending this activity packed vacation, getting away from the city smog and spending time with people who faced similar challenges to me, would somehow be beneficial and therapeutic. She couldn’t be more wrong. I hated this place and everyone in it.


“Come on Deacon, give it a go,” she beckoned, “Look at Venessa, she is having a great time doing it.” I glanced toward the lake just in time to witness Vanessa dramatically tumbling from her paddle board, landing in the lake with a splash. I shook my head ferociously in response. I didn't want to participate in this activity or any other activity in the itinerary for that matter.


The evening sun peaked from the heavy clouds dusting them with pale shades of pinks and blues. The lake stretched beyond the horizon, mirroring the colourful sky above with the exception of the dark shadow casted over the water by the rickety boat house perched on the wooden dock above. We would usually sleep in the boat house during our three week stay. I had thought it was impossible to downgrade from the old, dusty and musty smelling residence but ‘fortunately’ for me it was indeed possible. We were to slum it with sleeping bags under the stars. What kind of retreat was this? The only retreat it offered was a retreat back to the stone age era. Before I know it, they will be asking us to hunt and kill our own food and gather berries from the forest next.


As I waited in line to collect my assigned camping gear, my patience began to wear dangerously thin. What took everyone so long? All they needed to do was grab the camping gear that the two camp leaders were carefully handing out, and go. Instead, hugs were given, conversations were struck and even Vanessa decided to do an impromptu dance. When I finally reached the end of the line, I snatched the rolled up red sleeping bag, military green canvas backpack and torch.


“You don’t have to be so difficult, Deacon, this will be fun,” the smallest of the two camp leaders said.


“And your mother mentioned how much you loved marshmallows and the stars,” the rotund lady from earlier enthusiastically chirped in. I made a sound of annoyance and with my baggage in hand, stormed off to catch up with the others. The others were standing in a semi circle listening intently to a third camp leader who was animatedly giving instructions. All the staff at camp wore matching khaki shorts and bright orange T-shirts with the words summer camp written across the centre. The luminous t-shirts were for identifying purposes, I assumed - not like it was needed. In a secluded place like this where only the trees, lake and wildlife could keep you company, you were more than likely staff if you were human and appeared to be over the age of thirty.


With little debate, the camp leaders organised the sixteen people gathered into groups of two. I was partnered with Vanessa who insisted that I held her hand. I wanted this night to go as quickly and painlessly as possible, so I indulged her. With one of my hands occupied as Vanessa interlaced her warm, soft fingers with mine, the other arm carried both mine and Vanessa's sleeping bags. As we traipsed through the forest hand in hand, I couldn’t help but notice how joyous Vanessa seemed to be. Despite being around my age, I hadn’t paid much attention to her before. Her beaming smile was infectious and shot a peculiar warmth down to my core. With such little time spent with her, she was already rubbing off on me.


Pulling me along gently, she began to skip down the long, windy dirt path sprinkled with pine needles. As I walked behind her, cautiously avoiding the thick twisted roots which sprang from the earth, my gaze darted from Vanessa to the coniferous trees that surrounded us. The well-dressed fir trees stood together and tall, swaying lightly in the cool evening breeze. I breathed deeply and the damp yet refreshing earthy scent penetrated my nostrils. I had almost forgotten how different the air tasted and smelt out here in the wilderness. It was worlds apart from the constant fumes that I coughed into my lungs back in the bustling city of New York.


Under the fading sun, the group continued to stroll deeper into the forest. However, the further into the forest we went, the darker the forest became as the dense foliage blanketed the forest floor from the sky above. With the lack of light, the impenetrable wall of trees were casted in an ominous glow and their shadows grew longer, eerily longer. At one point, I thought I saw something amongst the ancient trees but after giving it more thought, I chalked it down to the vivid imagination that I was known to have. 


The once gentle breeze suddenly blew colder and harsher, tousling my cropped brown hair and setting a chill into my bones. I had never been afraid of the dark, but out here, in the middle of nowhere, anxiety started to creep in. With every step came a snap of a twig and the crunch of dried leaves. To me, those sounds were like sharp nails on a blackboard. I could feel my heart begin to race and my hands becoming slick with moisture. Simultaneously, I dropped both Vanessa’s hand and the camping gear. With my hands now covering my ears, I shook my head from side to side. I felt like I was drowning. I needed to get out of there immediately! As I was spinning out, Vanessa grabbed me by the shoulders, her cerulean blue eyes searching mine. The smile that spread across her face earlier was gone, replaced with understanding and sympathy. Once she was certain that she had my sole attention, she tapped her headphones, her noise cancelling headphones. She reached down to the ground to retrieve my backpack and unzipped it. Within a moment, she found the item she was looking for - my noise cancelling headphones and placed them on my head. 


After Vanessa saved me from heading towards a downward spiral, we walked along the dirt path for another five minutes before we entered into a clearing. Whilst out in the open, I could see that the sun had finished her day shift and the moon had now taken over for the night. Unlike the city, the moon had assistance with his nightly task of illuminating the sky. His thousands of minions, the stars, twinkled brightly bringing both light and beauty to the world.


I followed Vanessa’s lead as she held the marshmallow on a stick over the crackling and blaring fire, the sound of it dulled by my noise cancelling headphones. The light from the fire set off beautifully the golden and auburns strands of her wavy chestnut brown hair, which perfectly framed her heart shaped face. She was breathtaking, as beautiful inside as she was out.


After charring my previously white marshmallow, I sat beside Vanessa on the log bench that we had earlier slung our backpacks and sleeping bags on. Everything the camp leader had mentioned before was correct - I did love marshmallows. I loved everything about them - their soft, chewy texture, the way they resembled fluffy clouds and the distinct sweet vanilla flavouring. It didn’t take me long before I devoured the entire bag. While the rest of the group were taking part in music therapy, Vanessa and I stayed back in the seating area watching the fire blaze. Realising that I hadn't thanked Vanessa, I grabbed the black tablet from my backpack, and quickly typed a message that I wanted to say, but couldn’t.


“Thank you Vanessa, for earlier,” said the robotic voice, billowing out from the side of my tablet.


“That’s no problem, Deacon. We all need some help from time to time.” she replied.


The sound of her angelic, slightly high pitched voice, shocked me. I hadn’t known that, unlike me, she was verbal. My eyes returned to the screen of my tablet and I briskly typed my response.


“In all the years we have been in camp together, I don’t think I have ever heard you speak. I had always thought you were nonverbal like me.”


Vanessa smiled, “I don’t speak very often, I prefer not to. Besides, I don’t think you have ever approached me. You have always been the brooding boy in the corner.” 


After a couple of seconds, Vanessa tilted her head in thought “I can sign if it’s easier, saves you having to keep typing,” she both signed and said verbally.


“Signing is perfect,” I replied with my hands.


Vanessa and I sat on the log benches talking for what seemed like hours before the others returned. The eyes of all three camp leaders lit up in surprise as they beheld me smiling and conversing with Vanessa. On seeing them return, my grinning face dropped and shifted back to my usual scowl. 


“It seems you’ve made a friend, Deacon, but I’m afraid it’s time for bed,” one of them said in an overly exaggerated but slightly undermining tone.


With a grunt, I collected my belongings and stomped across the emerald green grass to the furthest point of the field, just on the outskirts of the forest. I wanted to get away from the demeaning camp leaders and be out of earshot of the horrendous snores. I wanted to be alone so I could really appreciate the star constellations. As a boy, I was fascinated with the stars and planets, some would say I was obsessed. On my tenth birthday, I was ecstatic when I received a telescope from my mother as a gift. Each evening, I would excitedly peer into the optical lens in search of a new star or planet. However, each night I would come away disappointed as the stars would not reveal themselves to me. Hence, the telescope was quickly packed away to gather dust in the attic.


As I lay on the cold and lumpy ground, snuggled in my sleeping bag, I peered towards the night sky. The midnight blue canvas was painted in star light, the Sirius star shining the brightest of them all. With Sirius identified, I traced the silver speckles neighbouring it with a pointed finger and discovered a dog standing on its hind legs. It was the Canis major constellation, my personal favourite. After pointing out to myself several more constellations and what appeared to be a shooting star, sleep finally found me and swept me under.


The first thing I registered when I woke a few hours later was the pain in my back and the tension in my shoulders. It seemed as though the thick, padded grass did little to soften the hard ground. As I sat up right, my back cracking with the movement, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. It was pitch black, even the ethereal moon and the twinkling stars had dimmed. The only real light came flashing from my backpack to the left of me. In a sleepy state, I pulled the tablet from my bag. The screen of the tablet was acting on its own accord, switching on and off, then on and off again. I held the reset button down but it did nothing to stop the repetitive blinking light. 


As I attempted to fix my tablet, I spotted movement in the corner of my eye. With a slow turn of my head in the direction of the movement, I watched as Vanessa skipped towards the forest while everybody else was sleeping soundly. In an instant, I was up racing towards Vanessa. Just before she entered the forest, I managed to reach her and held her by her shoulders searching those eyes of hers. But the eyes that peered back at me were not hers at all. They were older, unearthly and glazed, not the glistening cerulean blue that I was beginning to love.  


“What are you doing?” I signed, but there was no indication from her facial expression that she understood.


“Vanessa, what are you doing?” I repeated, “you can’t go into the woods at night all alone.” Vanessa pushed against my grip with an unnatural strength, knocking me to the floor. In a trance, she skipped past me, her focus fixed to the forest behind me. That’s when I heard it - the clicking sound. Without my headphones, the sound of clicking tongues was ear piercing and made me recoil. The clicking sounds echoed from various points of the forest, seemingly coming from more than one source, differing in pitch. It appeared to be a way of communication, a language different to ours, someone or something talking and another answering. 


I twirled around, finding not just Vanessa but another creature standing amongst the tree line. Although it was dark, I could see the creature clearly. Its metallic coloured skin reflected the moon, making it easily identifiable like the luminous orange t-shirts that the camp leaders wore. The creature was a few inches taller than I was, making it at least six and a half feet in height. Its spindly limbs gestured for Vanessa to come closer, while his huge onyx eyes set in its oval shaped head bore into mine, warning me to remain where I was. Ignoring its warning, I rose to my feet and sprinted towards Vanessa but she was already in the creature's clutches. Holding her firmly in its grip, the creature's mouth curved upwards showing its pointed, sharp teeth. It was grinning at me, taunting me. With a couple of clicks of its tongue and a wave of its unusually large hand, a tunnel of light flooded from overhead, scorching holes into my retina and temporarily blinding me.


I was forced to shut my eyes but as soon as all remnants of light had disappeared, I opened them again. The blinding light was not the only thing to disappear. I scoured the tree line but there was nothing but trees in sight, no creature or Vanessa. I listened attentively for the clicking sound that I’d heard earlier. However, all I could hear was the slight rustle of leaves as the wind passed through them and the faint hoots from owls which watched in judgement from a nearby tree branch. I hovered there for a moment, my mouth slightly ajar and my hands trembling before I realised that I desperately needed to get some help.


I scrambled to the camp leader's designated sleeping spot, tripping on my own two feet several times on the way, and shook one of the camp leaders wide awake. 


“Deacon, what are you doing?” She whisper-shouted as the chorus of snores surrounded us.


“VA-NESS-A, GONE,” I mouthed slowly so that she could understand.


“Yes, Vanessa - your new friend. You will be able to see her in the morning. Go back to bed Deacon, it’s still the middle of the night.” The camp leader shooed me off in dismissal and rolled over. I walked around to the side and pulled the hand that her round head was resting on.


“Go back to bed,” she spat, “I thought you were improving after this evening but it looks like you have reverted back to your troublesome self.”


I made a loud sound of frustration which woke the other two camp leaders up.


“What’s all the commotion?” One of them yawned.


“Deacon is back to his usual antics and being difficult again,” she announced to the others. With my eyes, I pleaded with all three of them to take me seriously but they were having none of it. They weren’t going to help. I would have to search for Vanessa in the forest by myself.


From that moment until the morning sun danced through the canopy of the trees, I surveyed the forest for any signs of Vanessa or the creature. I had even veered off the worn, narrow trail into the depths of the forest, which judging by the reactions of the wildlife, no man had ever walked before. I knew it was a hopeless task but I couldn’t stand idle.


When the sun reached its peak, I stepped into the clearing once again, covered head to toe in mud, and was met with people buzzing around like bees in panic. At the other side of the clearing, all three camp leaders wore faces of hysteria and distress as they spoke to two men immaculately dressed in uniform. Upon catching a glimpse of me, one of the camp leaders shouted, “He’s here. Deacon is here,” and began running towards me. 


A short time later, we arrived back at the lake. A lake that only yesterday I witnessed Vanessa fall into. As I sat on the hood of the police car gazing at the shimmering lake at that very spot, the soft blanket wrapped around me did nothing to prevent me from shivering violently. 


“Son, I’m going to ask you a few questions and I want you to answer them as best as you possibly can,” one police man politely said while the other handed me my tablet, which was now functioning properly. I simply nodded in response.


“Vanessa, do you know where she is?”


“Gone, Vanessa is gone,” the single tone, robotic voice answered.


“Where?”


I contemplated whether or not to tell them the whole truth. If I told them everything, I ran the risk of them thinking I was crazy. But for Vanessa, a true friend that I had only just made, it was worth the risk.


“Aliens, she was taken by aliens.”


August 06, 2023 20:58

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