Writing Prompt #67 — Unstable Foundation

Prompt: You are sent to the Moon as part of a crew to start the construction of humanity’s first moon base. Half way thru your stay there, you realize one if your crew member went missing.

There was another crew before us. Four men and one woman. They were meant to lay the foundation of the base, but soon after their arrival HQ lost contact with them, one by one. HQ had cameras set up there long before crews were sent up, but they were old, black and white; not much could be made out. One minute they were there, shoveling moon sand, carrying bags of cement, doing the work they were paid to do; the next they weren’t. It as though something plucked them out from space.

They needed that base built and they sure as hell weren’t going to wait out to figure out what happened. Accidents happen in space. People forget to re-fill their O2 tanks and suffocate, some even forget where they’re at and get lost. They were just another statistic. After a while, HQ decided to send another crew up. My crew.

We were only three guys. Jerry, Chad, and me, Michael. Our ship landed near the last crew’s. It still remained like a beacon of the past, looming over the gray landscape. Jerry went to check out their ship, while Chad and I went to worksite. They had made a lot of progress. Bags of cement and jugs of water still sat in the gray sand nearby, and there were long steel poles, gleaming under our flashlights, laid out for the skeleton of the base. The foundation was sound and solid, though only partially complete, except there were weird marking across it, as though some sort of bird had crossed it before it dried. Could’ve been a mistake by the crew, but it didn’t really matter at the end of the day.

“Jerry, how’s the ship?” I asked in the short-wave intercom. After no response, Chad said: “Hey, Jerry, everything okay in there?”

We turned from the site and stared at the looming ship. It wasn’t large. A normal landing ship. One level. No artificial gravity. Jerry couldn’t have gotten lost getting to the ship, or somehow fell inside and hurt himself.

I looked to Chad, he shrugged, then over the flat, gray landscape, then the ship. The freeze dried food hardened in my stomach. “Jerry,” I said into the intercom, “we’re coming to the ship.”

Chad went in first and it seemed as soon as he was inside, he said, “Michael, get in here.”

I climbed the small ladder inside as quickly as my suit would allow and once my head was through the portal, I understood why Chad sounded urgent. I stopped midway in. The walls, the ceiling, the floor was covered in dark gray etchings of long, scratchy words. It wasn’t English — it wasn’t any language I had ever seen. I tried to sound some of the words that looked sort of like English in my head, but it only made my temples throb. The scratchy language covered the entirety of the ship, swirling around until there wasn’t empty space left.

Chad looked down at me. “What do you think this is?”

“I don’t know… It’d guess it’s old, whatever it is. Look, some of the scratches are rusted.”

“That doesn’t make sense — this ship hasn’t been here that long. How could it be rusted?” Chad reached and scratched one of the coppery patches. It flaked away, revealing smooth steel underneath. He stumbled, the back of his helmet hitting off the low ceiling. “Shit, that’s not rust! It’s dried blood!”

“Let’s return to the ship. HQ had to know about this.” I pushed myself out from the ship, my boot slipped and I fell on my stomach. Tufts of grayness enclosed around my helmet. “Shit, Chad, can you help me up?”

There wasn’t a response.

“Chad?”

I crawled to the ladder and pulled myself up to my feet. Through the open hatch, the ship was empty. I turned to find nothing but desolation. “Chad?” I said into the intercom once more, and when I received no response, I ran to our ship and sealed the door.

As I opened a long-wave relay to HQ, I stared out the small window in the hatch.

“HQ, this is Michael Browny of US-SKEW 2, over. Repeat. This is Michael Browny of US-SKEW 2, over. Chad Young and Jerry York have disappeared, over. Chad Young and Jerry York have disappeared.”

It would take over fifteen minutes for HQ to receive the relay. I waited, looking outside.

Impressions appeared in the sand, like bird’s feet coming down before taking flight again. But, there weren’t bodies, there wasn’t anything, like an invisible thing hopping across the land. One after another until they stopped before the ladder to the ship. The inside of my suit sweltered with heat and my wide eyes stung from sweat. I heard scratching from above and behind and quickly I turned to see the same scratchy words appear inside the hull, rising out from the steel as if it was water.

I glanced outside again, quick, and saw a faint form. Needle-thin arms, legs; tattered cloth hung over gnarled, gray flesh, a beaked head sticking out from beneath a hood covered in scratchy words. Then it was gone, vanishing into the darkness of space. The moon wasn’t inhabited as we were lead to believe.

“Abandon the mission, US-SKEW 2,” HQ’s voice said over the intercom, making me jump, “Abandon the mission, over.”

Before my mind registered what was happening, I was flipping switches and pressing buttons and the hum of the ship rattled my brain. I refused to look outside once more, refused to stare at the woods etched into metal by the things that seemingly passed through like a ghost. The ship rose and rose into the blackness of space towards home, but what I realized as the ship left the moon’s orbit, was that the scratchy words weren’t only on the ship but cut into my suit and I horrifyingly wondered if once I took off my suit, would they be on my flesh, too?

Read my previous prompt, “Adam’s Amorphous Alehouse.”

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