Cars littered every road leading up to Ash. It’s a miracle this desolate place became a town at all. If you didn’t come prepared with an extra couple of gallons of gas, you’d end up litter on those roads too. John didn’t know about this place before he found it on a 1950’s map. He typed the address on his GPS, and it took him to the edge of town. The bumpy dirt road never seemed to end. For kilometers, the only thing he saw was a sign, the size of the textbook, with the words “Entering Ash.” There was no cellphone signal, but he never left home without his satellite phone.
John’s Subaru could handle the terrain, but just after the sign, too many cars blocked the road. He parked it out of the way, marked the location on this satellite phone, and went on foot. He walked for about ten kilometers, passing abandoned buses, trucks, and even a military van. He recorded every moment of his journey, as he approached the center of town, he started to see houses built far away from the road and spread apart.
He considered going into some of the houses, but he needed to get to the center of town before it got too dark. He felt prepared for everything with his stuffed High Sierra hiking backpack. However, the houses themselves weren’t unique enough to deviate from his plan.
“Can you guys see this? This is like some end-of-the-world shit. How come I’ve never seen a video or picture of this place? Did you guys know about this place? Look at the road; there must be about forty or fifty vehicles stranded in the middle of the road. Dusty as hell,” he marked every spot with a tap of his phone, for future reference, as he narrated.
The center of town only had a few two-story buildings. The most prominent of them looked like a church from afar, but it was a library- once closer, he could see the sign. Next to it was the government center, or so it said in the rectangular sign perched above a row of tinted windows with double doors in the middle. The wooden facade of a general store on the other side of the library crumbled, flake by flake when a strong gust of wind hit. John jumped a bit, letting the GoPro camera fall to the now snow-covered dirt road. It took him a minute to feel the chill, the apparent change in temperature, from the Ash sign to the center of town.
“Do you see this? Guys? It was 70 fucking degrees, where I left the car. It’s freezing here and packed snow on the grown in September. What the hell?”
He filmed the storefronts; he noted they were abandoned but not dilapidated. He’d seen hundreds of abandoned buildings, towns, even cities around the world, but this felt different. A thin film of white dust covered almost everything in town that wasn’t a plant.
“Do you guys even hear anything? I haven’t seen a bird or an insect since the car. Actually maybe even before the car, I don’t even remember. Man, this is fucking weird. Who’s coming here and fending off nature from reclaiming this place? Alright, which building should I check first? What do you guys think?”
He did a pan shot of the entire town center and focused on one, the library—the tallest building in town, thanks to the tall brick bell tower. The large wooden sign shaped like an open book didn’t have the same wind damage as the general store, but it was still cracked – as if it had endured many extreme fluctuations of temperature.
“Wait a minute. There’s no bell in the bell tower! That’s it, I’m going in,” he waved at the GoPro camera, taking a quick selfie before opening the library door.
Not a single book was out of place. The same white dust that’s everywhere outside was even thicker inside. He left footprints on the floor, and his hands felt like they were covered in powder. He sank in a plushy couch near a children’s section, letting loose a white cloud of dust.
“Look at this place! It’s like everyone JUST left,” in the small coffee table next to the couch, he spotted an unusual book. A big and old looking tome that didn’t have a single speck of dust covering it. He turned it towards him and opened it in the middle page with a bookmark.
Scribbled in a piece of paper was a message “they’re not real.” He zoomed into the note and took a few pictures with his phone.
“This is incredible. Look at this book, when do you think this was written? I don’t think sticky notes existed before the 1900s. So this note must be from recently,” he scans the page that the note was in and finds a two-page illustration of two Earths in the middle and the words “Figvra dos corpos celestes.”
“What is this?” when he looks around, he notices the graffiti behind him. It was covered in dust, but even then, the thickly spray-painted words “Primum Mobile” were visible. He dusts off a section behind him and sees the chicken scratch writing on the wall. He couldn’t decipher a word of what was written, except a couple of times he could see roman numerals. “This is interesting. Once I’m back, you guys are gonna help me figure out what all this means.”
He took a rag from his backpack and dusted as much of the wall as he could. He felt sick just by trying to understand what he was seeing. The spray-painted words “Primus Mobile” were easy to ready, but the rest looked like they were size 6-point alien font. When he blinked, they shifted slightly. The barely imperceptible changes didn’t alter how it looked, but it was enough to be unsettling. He took the book and held it tight – as if it offered some protection from whomever or whatever wrote on the wall.
“Alright, that’s it. It’s weird like I can feel them,” he stepped back and took pictures with a different camera, a black Pentax with a long lens. After a few shots, some with flash and some without it, he stashed everything and decided to head out. He pushed the double doors of the library gently, letting a cold breeze enter. When he stepped out, a flash of light blinded him.
He didn’t scream, but he wanted to yell at the top of his lungs. Instead, he let out soft gasps without closing his mouth. When he opened his eyes, he saw dozens of people standing perfectly still in the middle of the dirt road with their eyes closed. Their bodies were facing the library, and their mouths were partially open. Before leaving, he had attached his GoPro camera to a chest mount. He tried to cover it, and then take it off, but the catatonic people didn’t seem to care. He scanned the town center and decided to count precisely how many people were playing this weird stop and go game
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know there were other people here,” his voice cracked as he tried to reassure himself that they were just weird. None of them responded, so he spoke a louder. “Hey! Look, I’m just exploring, I’ll just get out, leave you guys be. I’m sorry. This is weird, c’mon –“
He fumbled to find his satellite phone, and it fell a few feet away from him, closer to the dirt road. When he took his first step, all the townsfolk back torso started to glow as if they were hiding a big candle behind them. Before he could take another step, a woman grabbed him from his shirt and dragged him back to the door.
She walked out of the library as if she was on a mission. Her thick black boots caked in dirt made squish noises as she stomped her way halfway to the dirt road. John stared at her from the doorway in disbelief. She extended her arm up high and screamed.
“He hasn’t left the library, he didn’t steal the book,” her voice raspy and tired carried farther than John expected.
Their light dimmed, and she lowered her arm. She turned around, scribbling something on an old notebook. Her baggy jeans and army jacket had caked smudges of mud. Her eyes, wide open and bloodshot, couldn’t focus on just one thing. She clearly saw something John couldn’t.
“Hey,” John didn’t want to step outside, but he felt a strong urge to run.
“Please, stay there,” she gestured to stop, almost as if she wasn’t sure John would understand just her words.
“C’mon, what is going on here?” John’s voice sounded shrill in comparison to hers.
“Go sit on the couch, and maybe this will all make sense to you,” she closed the door behind her, but she waited for a second, concentrating on sounds. She placed her right palm gently on the glass door and sighed.
“There’s been a mistake, I –“ she shushed him, almost covering his mouth to stop him.
“Whatever is going to come out of your mouth better not be a lie. Do you understand? If you are going to lie, just stay quiet. Nod if you understand?”
John nodded, pushing her hand away from him as politely as he could imagine. He took his backpack off and plummeted on the sofa again. This time, there wasn’t enough dust to make the same mess, but enough to make a little wavy plume of the white powder.
“Ok. I have two theories. They’re either demons or angels. Right now, I’m leaning towards angels, but they could be aliens, who knows? Maybe angels and demons are aliens, I mean, they are alien to earth, right?” she rambled, grabbing her nearly matted brown hair as if she was pumping her ideas with it.
“I just want to get out of here,” John couldn’t tell if she was crazy or he was going insane from the strange events that just unfolded.
“What do you have there? What is that?”
“A GoPro,” he detached it from the mount and presented it to her for inspection. She immediately grabbed it and threw it across the room. “Lady, what the fuck?”
“Shut up,” she concentrated on the sound again, she pointed as if she knew where the omnipresent low hum originated. “Alright, I guess we can fucking curse!” her strident yelling felt directed at someone else. John looked around, trying to find who she was talking to or about, but he just saw a very well kept abandoned library.
“Can I go?” John held his backpack tight on his chest, expected her to grab it, and throw it as well.
“I’m Melissa, what’s your name?”
“John, like, seriously, I don’t care what you and your friends are doing here. I don’t care if I stumbled unto a cult, I just wanna leave now,” he winced, not sure if his statement about stumbling unto a cult was entirely truthful.
“I don’t know, can you go? For you to be able to go anywhere, you must traverse through time and space. Both very absent in this void.”
“I’m going to go ok; my Subaru is parked just at the edge of town. You can come with me?” he winced again, but he truly wanted to help her.
“Fine, you want to risk going to your Subaru, go ahead,” she dragged outside an old chair from the back of the circulation desk. She positioned the chair next to the door and crossed her arms. “Go ahead, John with a Subaru. Get out of here without turning into dust.”
“What?” he dashed to recover his GoPro from the floor, undamaged thanks to a hard-plastic shell. Her comments gave him nausea, and a sick feeling he couldn’t shake.
“All they do is wait. If you walk around town, you’ll see them. They’re standing in the middle of rooms with their eyes closes and their mouth partly open. I think they can only hear us and, I guess, taste us in the air?” she kept her arms crossed, lightly hitting the back of her head with the wall as she swayed nervously.
“C’mon, let’s go. If whatever these creatures are want to feed on us, why stay?”
“You don’t get it, do you? I don’t know how you got here, but I was here when this place was just another boring old town. Those people,” she straightened her back and snarled, “I mean bodies, are from people I knew. From my mother, my father, my husband, my son, my neighbor, my fucking priest.”
“God, I’m sorry. Listen, more reason to want to get out. There’s a world out there that doesn’t know what happened here. We can tell that story,” John walked out, expecting the people to be still standing there, but the place was empty again. Deserted and quiet. “Where did they go?”
“What did I tell you? They’re standing in the middle of rooms waiting for one of us to do whatever triggers them to act. I don’t know what, I mean I have an idea. It’s been a while,” she didn’t move from the chair. Instead, she tangled her legs with it.
“Fuck it. Stay here, lady. I’m not staying. You’re fucking nuts, and this place is just a mess. A hot garbage mess of bullshit,” John didn’t know why his words came out that way, he just felt angry at the thought of being stranded in this place, constricted. John felt he had more to live, more places to see, more videos to share.
“I moved my family to this place to study this phenomenon for the government. I should know about this place, but I don’t. I don’t pretend to know. I have theories, but I don’t know. I don’t know what prompts them to act, what makes them do what they do,” once again, she pumped her hair in frustration and batted her eyes as if she was looking at many things at the same time.
“Sure. Whatever you say. I’m going to leave and get help,” John mounted his GoPro again on his torso and jogged the same direction he came in.
Melissa crossed her arms again and stood up to see him leave. She tip-toed by the edge of the library, staying vigilant. John looked back a few times, but as he got further and further, his memory of Melissa seemed faded, foggy.
“Did you guys see that? There’s some sort of cult here, and this lady fucking attacked me. She wanted to keep me here as her toy or something,” John spoke to the camera on his phone and took a few selfies as he walked away from the town center. He could still see her far away behind him on the selfie camera. “Look, there she is, she’s trying to get me to come back. Look at that –“
The flash of light came with an uncomfortable warmth this time. His eyes watered immediately, and he felt unsettling vibrations entering his ears. When he opened his eyes, he could barely see but took a step back as he recognized the shape of people in front of him. From their backs, wings of light spread with only a few lines of thin ashy veins delineated the patagium and the wingtips. The bodies fell to the ground as the being of light exited from the spine.
“This isn’t real; it can’t be,” John couldn’t see anymore. Dozens of beings of light surrounded him, and he felt each one pass by him like bolts of electricity. After just a few passed thru him, he was no longer self-aware, and after they all passed, he was dust on the floor.
Melissa saw the feeding from the library. She took some notes, scribbled furiously on her notebook, and watched as the beings reentered the bodies, and walked back to their resting locations with their eyes closes and gaping mouths. The strong wind carried John’s ashes across the dirt road and covered his nearby Subaru. His possessions seemed to roll back into town as if the ground was moving them like a conveyer belt. When it gets close enough to the library, she grabbed the GoPro and the backpack, tossing them in a room behind the circulation desk after taking out her old book. Things tumbled out of the room, forcing her to shove them back, latching the door in place as soon as she could.
“Angeles, for sure, but what do they feed on?” wrote Melissa on the notebook, and went back inside the library to write more on the wall.