Have you ever looked at the stars? I mean, really looked at the night sky, far away from the light pollution of the cities, all alone in the dark? It is a breathtaking, humbling experience. I almost didn’t get to experience it and maybe that would have been for the best.
When I arrived at the cabin I had rented for this week, the sky was grey and oppressive. The last time I had checked the weather on my phone was at a gas station / bait store about half an hour away from this cabin. Out here I had no reception, and I had no intention of listening to the radio, hoping to catch a weather forecast. It would have eradicated the little bit of hope I had left in me that the sky would clear up. I had intentionally planned for the entire week, knowing that there is nothing worse than having a weekend ruined by ruin. I tried to enjoy the silence and the solitude, but the rain on the metal roof of the cabin was a constant reminder.
I cleaned my telescope twice during the first two days and trudged in the rain through the muddy woods to scout out the ideal location to set up when and if the weather would clear up. A large rocky hill about half an hour hike through the woods would be the ideal location to set up to stargaze. As the rain continued on the third day, I felt more and more anxious, pacing around in a tight circle in the middle of the cabin. I had brought enough food supplies to last me the entire week, but I had barely touched them. As the daylight faded and the rain continued, I felt a migraine setting in, adding to my general misery. I wasn’t expecting the rain to let up anytime soon, so I decided to get some extra sleep.
I don’t know how long I had slept, but when I woke, my head was still throbbing. Then I realized it was silent and my eyes shot open. Moonlight softly illuminated the inside of the cabin, shining through one of the small windows. Adrenaline shot through my body and I jumped out of bed, ignoring the searing pain in my head. I ran to the front door, pulled it open and stepped out into the chilly night. The moonlight shimmered from the branches and off the wet ground. The air was cold and clean, wisps of exhalation rising into the air in front of me.
Peering between the trees, I could already see the lights of all the galaxies so far away from me and I felt the stress and anxiety of the past months and days slough off of me in an instant. Quickly, I returned inside, slipped into my clothes and grabbed my gear. I didn’t linger to see if I had forgotten anything, so great was my excitement to be underneath the stars.
The trek to the rocky top was slower than I would have liked, but the last thing I wanted was to slip and break my gear. I had to restrain myself not to run. I worried this was only a momentary reprieve and that the sky would be hidden again from view at any moment. After what felt like an unbearable eternity, I reach the top and once the entire sky opened up ahead of me, I couldn’t help but just stand there and admire it in its beauty. If this was the only moment on this entire I got to enjoy, I’d be content. An overwhelming energy and love for the universe swept through me.
Once I was able to pull my eyes from the sky, I set up my gear, carefully installing my telescope. I was shaking in anticipation. What would I look at first? The possibilities seemed endless, like the glittering sky above. I decided I would aim for Jupiter. Once I had everything set up, I watched the night sky a moment longer and then held my breath as I leaned down to look through the telescope. My initial aim had not been as good as I hoped and I carefully adjusted the telescope until finally Jupiter became visible in all its gorgeous detail. I don’t remember if I made a noise, but Jupiters intense beauty and gorgeous detail on this night startled me. Even the Great Red Spot was clearly visible. I don’t recall how long I stared at this sight.
It might have been the absolute silence that made me pry myself away from the telescope, but as I looked up, I gave an involuntary yell. The sky was almost devoid of stars and the darkness had almost completely engulfed me. Where the moon had stood in the sky before, I could only see a faint shimmer before even that disappeared.
Something must have been happening to my vision. I closed and rubbed my eyes and when I opened them; I was in perfect darkness and absolute silence. I could only hear my heart beating fast in my chest and the blood rushing through my ears. Had I damaged my eyes when I looked into the telescope? It couldn’t be.
I tried not to panic and felt with my cold hands for the lantern I had used when setting up the telescope. After feeling along the wet rocky surface, my hand found it. With shaking hands, I flicked the switch. The bright light of the lantern was painfully bright. The relief I felt from being able to see only lasted a fraction of a moment once I realized the lantern was the only source of light. I could not see the delineation between the black sky and the woods that had been all around me before. I felt as if I was drifting on a small rock through the darkness, untethered to everything. I strained my eyes to make out anything beyond the small radius the lantern provided, but it was as if nothing existed outside of my little bubble. I somehow knew with every fiber of my being that this was not a natural phenomenon and that there truly was nothing around me. I feared walking away from my position, terrified the ground would stop.
For a moment I tried to discern if I had possibly ingested something poisonous or anything other mind-altering. I had been drinking water from plastic bottles and the stress of the past few days had made it difficult to eat anything other than a few small snacks. I felt my face and my skin, trying to discern if my perception was altered, anything to tell me that what I was witnessing was in any shape or form as unreal as it seemed. My skin was cold and damp from sweat, but nothing else felt out of the ordinary. As the panic rose inside me, I hope to wake sweat-drenched in the cabin’s bed, but I stayed in the nowhere.
I cannot tell how long I must have stood motionless after that, but once I turned towards my telescope, my joints and my muscles felt stiff and painful. I don’t know what I was expecting to find once I looked back through the telescope. I slowly bent down and held my breath as I pressed my eye against the instrument.
I still can’t recall what I saw at that moment. My mind will not let me, though I can still feel the fear taking hold as if was there again. Every time I think about this moment, it returns and grips my entire being. I pushed myself away from the telescope, stumbling and falling away from the only place that seemed to exist outside of me. The fear was so overwhelming that I got up, turned, and ran into the nothingness. I wanted to cease existing, disappear. I don’t know how long I ran or how much time had passed, but I found myself in a strange place when my consciousness or my memories returned to me.
I distinctly recall how foreign my perception felt to me, as if I had never seen, heard, or felt anything before. The shapes and forms I saw made no sense to me at first. I couldn’t tell if they were real or imaginary, but even if I attempted to conjure such images now, I could not.
Eventually, my surroundings began to make sense to my mind. I perceived shapes and distances, colors, and even sounds.
I could feel my body sitting on the floor, my hands firmly placed on a smooth, warm surface, like a smooth stone warmed by the sun. I sat in front of an enormous steep cliff, its surface so perfectly black and smooth, I didn’t realize I was looking at myself. My form looked so foreign, out of place, as if it did not belong here, and I can recall observing myself like a scientist might observe a captured creature.
Standing up, I noticing all the minor sensations like the tensing of my muscles or the movements of my joints. I could feel something flowing over my skin, like a pleasant cold breeze. I turned and ahead of me I could see a massive plain ahead. Giant abstract shapes and forms, hundreds of not thousands, were jutting at impossible angles out of the ground and shot towards the red sky. The tallest ones pierced through the firmament and, where their tips disappeared, purple waves spread outwards along the sky until they faded into its deep red.
I stared for a long time, trying to make sense of the landscape before me, but it felt as foreign to me as I did to myself. I am not sure what I felt, but I had no fear. To this day I can’t say if it might have been in shock, but I felt oddly calm, if alone. I felt a sort of excitement when I eventually noticed smaller structures far away in the distance, surrounding what must have been the largest and tallest of the impossible forms jutting out of the ground. In a place like this, their placement and repetitiveness looked out of place, though they were too far away for me to make out any details. I immediately knew this was where I needed to be.
Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days