We used to wonder if there was something out there, in the night.
We were all fairly certain of the existence of something beyond the walls of our crashed ship, but past that small confirmation, agreements were scarce. The instruments installed never seemed to pick up on the enigma’s traces during their staunch overnight vigil, but the sound of claws against the bulkhead and body dragging past the walls are all the scientific proof we need. Mandy’s the only one who claims to have seen it, but even her description of the alleged monster left much to the imagination. We can’t blame her, a tiny porthole only lends so much to the eye, especially on nights as dark as the ones we’re forced to endure here. For months, it was the fear of the unknown that kept us from pursuing this figment of the Martian night, and perhaps that was better than foolishly seeking the answers we thought we wanted.
First, it was caffeine and curiosity fueled all-nighters. We had to sit in the dark, ever so carefully preserving the power reserves of our downed ship whilst we awaited aid from the blue marble some fifty million miles away. We pressed our eyes to the portholes, each determined to be the first to lay eyes on whatever life lay beyond, but our hubris was no match for the sly shape of shadow. Every night as we watched, we heard its nails, sharp as daggers, scraping against the thick hull, seemingly always just out of eyeshot. We heard its body, sliding across the pale red sand like a massive snake, perhaps driven by curiosity or hunger towards our craft. We prayed for the former.
Our tactics grew sharper as the weeks wore on. None of us were foolish enough to risk venturing out, keen to remain within our thick spacefaring armor. ‘Foolish is the snail that abandons his shell,’ Yuri loved to remind us. We had grown a certain affection towards whatever creature came to visit us. Each night it came, like clockwork, sometimes pacing around our craft, sometimes crawling atop it, rarely even striking at the parts it seemed to think were soft. Did it think us prey? The presence of such stimulation kept us all sane, I like to think. Veronica filled a book with sketches of what she imagined the nocturnal visitor looked like, from its talons to its tail. Some were long like snakes, others stocky like bears. Some had beaks, some had fangs, some had no face at all. The details made for topics of many a scholarly (and many more an un-scholarly) debate between the five of us, and the constant through-line was that it was larger than an elephant and would make us all famous when we returned to Earth.
Eventually, we were sleeping through the day and sitting awake all night, just to document the daily passing of the monster. Sometimes, we’d catch a fleeting glimpse of a tail (or tentacle, some protested) as it passed by a window, more fuel for our theories that quickly grew more and more wild by the day. Was it the same animal coming to visit us each night? Was there more than one of whatever stalked the surface of Mars?
As diligently as we strived to uncover the truth behind all these questions, the answers cared not for our resolve. The answers elected to arrive when and where they chose.
Mandy was the first to get those answers, just as the sun was rising over the red horizon and the lot of us were preparing to go to sleep. No monster had come that night, no claws rattled our craft and no body dragged across the sand. We were all left disappointed, figuring that perhaps whatever spectre of the night was visiting us had simply grown bored of our silent, unmoving shell. Mandy was sole among us in choosing to stay awake just an hour more and finish a report, her excuse to hold out for the arrival of the mystery beast. As the sun rose over the rocky desert, though, she was met with the reality that our visitor had been just outside the window the whole time.
We were, naturally, ecstatic at first. We saw its rock-red body lying not even a ball field’s length away, long legs rested against the sand and head partially obscured by the awkward position it had taken up. It was only as the sun continued to rise that we realized we were looking at a corpse rather than a living specimen. It was the length of a bus, and easily the height, unchallengeable by even the greatest of Earth’s fauna. Its claws were long and sharp, body powerful, tail thick, and yet it lay in the sand, neck snapped and flesh feasted upon by something much larger.
We used to wonder if there was something out there. We don’t wonder anymore.
Ricky Martin is a senior with a side passion for creative writing, especially flash stories and poetry. Fascinated by fantasy and science fiction alike, he does his best to find inspiration in every aspect of life, and aims to one day go on to be a professional author.