A flurry of snow swept through the small town of Alexandria, VA, forming a thick, white sheet of slush and ice over the deserted streets and storefronts, brick buildings full of tiny rooms running amok with children dancing to pop songs on a black stereo system as Mechelle waited for her boyfriend Matt to come home and nestle with her under the purple colored comforter. His roommate Trevor was playing a brass trumpet in the living room, taking long and short breaths to create haunting melodies and chords with his soothing voice. As the snow started to accumulate faster and faster outside the window, Mechelle grabbed a piece of paper from the loose-leaf stack on Matt’s desk, saying she would be away for a few hours to gather wood for the fireplace. She went into his bedroom to get her pea coat, the lights dimming. And as she put it on, she noticed a journal sitting on the nightstand. She knew it belonged to Matt, but for some selfish reason, Mechelle thought she was entitled to read what was inside of the journal, at least a page or two. She opened up the journal, flipped through the pages, and touched the dog-flap in the middle, and read the bold letters: Japan Station No. 1.
She looked over her shoulder to see if anyone was nearby; Trevor was still in the living room, now listening to Thelonious Monk on his laptop speakers. She went back to reading the journal entry, becoming captivated by the characters Abigail and Bryan. She read about the heart-shaped piece of wood, how Abigail and Bryan could never be apart from each other, and the passage on ‘the future.’ Taking out her phone, Mechelle took a picture of the journal entry and then set the journal back on the nightstand, face closed. Once, she exited out of Matt’s room, Trevor turned to look at her from the couch. He said, “Hey it’s not any of my business, but you shouldn’t go through Matt’s stuff, especially when he isn’t here.”
“You’re right Trevor, it’s not your business,” Mechelle said, putting on her boots and wrapping her scarf around her neck. When she opened the door, she glanced back at him and felt bad. “Do you know anything about Japan Station No. 1?” she asked, her hand holding onto the door knob.
Trevor sat up straighter in his seat. “How do you know about that?” he asked. When Mechelle didn’t respond, Trevor chuckled lightly and stretched his arms out. “Just forget what you read. It’s not real. It’s a story. Make-believe. Fiction,” he said, going back to his laptop.
“Tell me more,” Mechelle said, letting go of the door and walking back inside.
“I don’t think you want to know about this,” Trevor said, his face strained from deep thought.
Mechelle closed the door, sat down on the couch cushion adjacent to him, took out her phone, and showed the picture of the journal entry. “Who’s Abigail?”
“You really want to know, huh?” Trevor asked, as he moved to face her, his eyes downcast and hollow. He appeared to be caught in a bind, trapped in his thoughts, and adrift from reality, as though stumbling into a daydream.
“I really do,” Mechelle said.
Mechelle passed him the phone. Taking it in his hands, Trevor sighed and focused on scrolling up the page. He looked up at her and spoke softly, “Matt’s going to be pissed at me if I tell you.”
“He doesn’t have to know,” Mechelle said, cupping her hands over her face.
“This stays between you and I. And it doesn’t leave the room,” Trevor said, giving her back the phone.
“Mum’s the word,” she said.
Trevor cracked his fingers, sighing, as he peered out the window and saw the snow dropping at a slower rate outside. He turned back to Mechelle and said, “So the other day, Matt old me he went over to our friend Sean’s house. You know him? Sean Taylor? Not the football player, obviously. So anyways, when Matt got there he met Bryan. This tall guy with a beard who carried a wooden heart. The heart had his name and his girlfriend’s name Abigail. So, Bryan told him this story about how Abigail had once revealed to him that she’s not from here.”
“What do you mean not from here?” Mechelle asked.
“Well from what Matt told me, Abigail is from the future.”
Mechelle leaned in closer and said, “The future.”
“Apparently, she’s from this place called Japan Station No. 1,” Trevor said. “It’s a space station/ship, and it’s not in this reality. It’s actually from the future. Now I don’t know why Abigail left her ship and came to our planet, but I’m assuming she was either looking for answers, or trying to escape something dreadful. The thing is she’s dead. Or supposedly dead. But if she’s from the future, maybe she died in this reality, but not in the one she’s from. I don’t know, I might be overthinking it. But yeah, that’s what Matt told me.”
Mechelle thanked him for telling her the story and got up from the couch, and walked out the house. She trudged through the heavy blanket of snow covering her driveway, got into her rusted green sedan, and drove, driving until her mind was clear and free of negativity and confusion. She stopped at a gas station, went inside, and picked up a pack of cigarettes. She stood near a bench, lit her cigarette, and looked up at the sky, staring at the moon as it glowed brightly, its light reflecting onto her. And she wondered, wondered what it’d be like to live far away from this planet, up in the air, up in space, on Japan Station No. 1.
Hi, my name’s Janet and I’m a timekeeper at the Temple of The Past. I spend a lot of time polishing the grandfather clocks and the digital time-pieces hanging from the walls of the immaculate blue building. The job pays the bills, plus, it gives me space and time to work on constructing lighthouses. My dad used to live on Earth—the real Earth from all the stories people have passed on throughout the years—tending to this lighthouse out in Florida, near the Keys, and every day he shined a bright, magnifying light across the ocean, in search of lost people who’ve fallen off of jet-skis, or sailboats, sipping on his black coffee, as the waves pounded the crags and rocky bluffs beneath him.
And that’s how I got into constructing these miniature, holographic lighthouses; it’s my tribute to him, for sending me to space to live a different and more exhilarating life than most people get to experience. He passed away three years ago, but it still feels like it happened recently, as though the moon had only erupted yesterday, exploding and destroying him and thousands of other space residents, their lives becoming stardust in the universe’s timeline.
As I walk around the temple and clean the clocks and timepieces with a blue cloth, I look outside the bay window and see the planets slowly spinning around the sun, the stars shining with blinding light like the light found in my miniature houses. The time passes in small increments on board the temple, slow as a snail slugging through a puddle of mud. I can’t lie, I get lonely sometimes, being up here in space, a vast expanse which still needs to be explored in all of its nooks and crannies.
Sometimes when I’ve finished wiping the dust and fuzz off the clocks, I go upstairs to the voyager’s deck and peer through the grand telescope, turning the knobs and expanding the broad lens over the universe. Looking through the amber glass, I stare at the Earth’s moon, Saturn, the stars, floating debris, even Japan Station No. 1 when it’s cruising in our vicinity. Dad once lived on Japan Station No. 1, acting as the ship’s captain and deciding who gets admittance to the Temple of The Past, in order to acquire access to the black hole funneling to Earth’s sole ground terminal. He did this for years apparently and never even complained, not a single time. When I was born, he wanted to move to a quieter place and we ended up moving to St. Thomas, a space city on Earth’s moon. You would think that the human beings living on Earth could see us, but we built our city in one of the biggest craters that the moon offered. Plus, a time distortion spread around Earth’s sky like a blue blanket prevented anyone from noticing that we lived on the moon in.
All of the professional people working at NASA used to work at Japan Station No. 1 and other spaceships and space cities like St. Thomas. We’re human too, just humans living in space. Only the top American and British government officials know about us, everyone else thinks we’re aliens.
CJ sent me a message the other day, telling me he wants to go looking for Abigail. I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. We can only send a couple of people at a time through the black hole, which is in the basement of the temple. He wants me to go with him and Tori, but I’ve never been to Earth. The thought of going there scares me. But also it makes me feel warm in the cheeks. No matter how long I’ve lived in space, I’ll always have roots on Earth through my father. My pocket starts vibrating and I reach inside, taking out my phone. I check the screen as it lights up with a message.
CJ: Hey it’s me again. I’m leaving Japan Station No. 1 in a few hours today, to go to the temple. Tori and I can really use your help. What do you say?
I text him back, and then walk to my bedroom, and put on my white astronaut suit.
The large, gaping black hole stared back at you like a dark pupil, as classical piano played in the background, the same chords playing over and over, so loudly you wanted to close your eyes and fall into the deep, black abyss. You touched the computer screen, lights flickering, and watched as a hologram of Earth popped up into the air. It freaked the hell out of you, seeing how much blue filled the screen, how little green remained, now covered up with brown terrain and messy orange spots.
The overhead monitor sounded like a thunderclap when it crackled to life, the speakers buzzing with static. You could hear Greg tapping his walkie-talkie, his voice sounding restrained and clear: “Timekeepers, we’ve received a message from Japan Station No. 1 informing us that Abigail Fowler has lost all communications with our headquarters. She went missing from our radar 8 hours ago. We believe she’s somewhere in Northern VA, seeking refuge in a forest called Accotink Park. We don’t know this for sure, but Abigail is an intelligent and resourceful person who knows how to take care of matters in a professional manner. She’s been living on earth for 19 years now, but it was only recently that she sent us a distress call. She wanted to warn about a looming shadow approaching swiftly across America. The shadow warriors. When she ended the call, she showed us a picture of a man named Bryan Lane and said we can trust him. She said she’d inserted a digital map into an oak tree under her name which was engraved into the wood. The map contains answers to the location of the shadow warriors and a detailed log on them. We believe Bryan knows where the map is, and hopefully the whereabouts of Abigail. All timekeepers report to the main loading dock.”
When the speakers shut off, you went upstairs to the observatory deck and walked over to Greg who was taking off his headphones, setting them on the desk. He looked tired and disheveled, heavy bags hanging from his eyes and thick hair starting to sprout from his cheeks. The moonlight explosion had left scars and intentions on the left side of his face like a grizzled birthmark. You grabbed an orange juice box from the mini fridge, and sipped on it, while Greg swiveled around in his recliner, acknowledging you with a big smile and saying, “sup Aki.”
Greg stood up from his seat and greeted you with a handshake, and ran his fingers through this hair, his eyes focused on the vast sea of stars shining in space, a volume of blackness so large and so thick of emptiness. He slung a backpack over his shoulder. He put on his astronaut helmet and zipped up his white spacesuit. You slung a backpack over your shoulder as well, a change of clothes inside, a laser pistol, ammunition, and food rations. And then you followed Greg down the winding stairwell, past the second floor, and the first level, traveling to the loading deck. We waited for the asteroids to settle down and the airlock opened up and the giant glass door raised to the ceiling. Japan Station No. 1’s front shuttle module inserted neatly into the loading deck, closing up the airlock. Janet came running down the stairwell, putting on her helmet, zipping up her astronaut suit as the latch opened and CJ and Tori walked out.
“Let’s go find Bryan.”
Bryan found himself sprawled out on the floor of a spacecraft, marooned on a tropical island, a few feet away from the ocean, looking out the open door, the snow dropping on his face like white paint coating a hard surface. He stood up, slowly but surely, and noticed he was wearing an astronaut suit. The waves from the ocean towered over the shore and pummeled down on the sand, water bursting into the air and crashing into the opening of the spacecraft. Water began filling up the structure, as Bryan undressed out of his heavy white suit and crawled out of the open space and onto fresh sand. He wondered how he got here, or perhaps he had always existed in this world. A world feeling vaguely familiar to him, but still relatable in some sense. He remembered hanging out with Sean and Matt, passing a spliff around the front porch, smoke entering his lungs like wonderful bliss. He could never thank Sean enough for rescuing him from the pit of melancholy that was the alleyway behind that coffee shop. Matt was kind as well, for his company, for his dope. Did his friends cast him out on this island? Why would he assume such a horrid judgment on them? But where were they? He tasted a drop of snow, flakes brushing over the length of his shirt, already beginning to melt into water, staining his chest in brilliant impermanence like a henna tattoo. He walked around the space-craft in his moon-boots, and looked for answers, ones he would never find. Although, he did see a name imprinted on the left-side of the space craft: Japan Station No. 1 Capsule. He read it again, moved closer to the name, and read it again. By the third reading, he knew it was real, this gross reality, this space theory. Abigail’s face twisted up in his mind: black hair, gaunt face, button nose, and purple eyes. He couldn’t believe what she had told him, that she was from Japan Station No. 1. And now, as he was backing up from the imprinted name, marked in red, pasting into his head, like the oldest story in time blazing right before his eyes. Behind the spacecraft, Bryan pressed a couple of buttons on a touchpad, not knowing how he knew the sequence of the code, and found the back of the ship launching forward slowly, to reveal a blue jet-ski hitched inside. He rustled into his pocket, searching deep, and pulled out a heart-shaped piece of wood. Abigail’s’ name was on it, as was his. In that moment, he felt a tugging, no, a pulling deep within his chest, that yearned to be extracted and cradled in his arms. That feeling was love, a feeling he knew was reserved for no one other, than Abigail. Bryan brought down the jet-ski onto the sand, and pushed it out into the ocean, water sliding off his ankles. He turned on the jet-ski, easing forward on the throttle, and drifted out into the water raging all around him. Snow dropped at a heavier rate, searching for Bryan.
“Bryan, man you awake?” Sean asked, on the floor beside him, shaking his shoulder.
Matt took a wet rag and began dabbing Bryan’s face with it, the cold drops of water clearing and cleaning his pores. He wondered if Bryan had gotten too high, or if he simply was just passed out from exhaustion and worry. The snow was settling down on the ground, freezing up the grass in the process.
Lying there on the porch floor, Bryan seemed at peace, a serene peace, caught in a sleep that was deeper than a well of water. His eyes were closed and a smile appeared on his face, teeth jutting out, like an exposed watermark.
As the Temple of the Past spun on its axis, we crept over the thin edge of the blue well, outer-space only a couple of feet away from our moon-boots, and dipped our bodies into the black-hole, our astronaut suits pressing up against our chests, our hands, our faces, the stars shining bright like a forest-fire torching everything in sight. We spread our arms, plunged down, deeper and deeper into the narrow, spiraling abyss, breathing on oxygenated air, as the blackness pulled us in closer to its heart, a torn piece shattered as though discarded by a tired lover from despair and negligence. Down below, laying suspended in the air, was the gray-time machine. We pressed the touchpad and as the airlocks hissed and cranked opened, we entered through the rising opening, and settled on the floor. The door closed shut behind us, and the lights turned on and the ancient ship flickered on to life. We took off our astronaut helmets and unzipped our space suits, feeling free as our apparel dropped to our feet. The time machine looked much larger than it did from the outside, equipped with state-of-the-art hologram screens and grand digital computers. We sat in our chairs, clipped in our safety belts, and took hold of the steering wheel, the time-machine unhitching and lifting up from the loading tray beams. The engine came alive, rumbling and humming, as we took off and swam through and maneuvered through the depths of the black-hole.
Sean and Matt, using their strength together, pulled Bryan off the floor and seated him against the couch cushions. “Hey man, wake up, wake up,” Matt said. But Bryan wouldn’t budge. He just stayed there, as though in a vivid nightmare, trapped in his mind.
Robin and I hovered closely over the heated container shaped like a coffin, a slight chill traversing through the underground cave, as we watched Abigail sleep and snooze gently in her bed, her chest rising and lowering like a machine being cranked, turning slowly. Her breathing sounded like a metronome, just as steady and controlled as one. Her eyes stayed closed and as Robin and I looked at her, I could sense a vibrant awakening in her spirit, didn’t know why I felt the way I felt, but the connection was so strong, so full, and so potent.
“Kelsey,” Robin said, turning her back on the coffin. “Do you think she’ll ever wake up?”
I wanted to shrug, wanted to sigh, but instead I nodded, in an attempt to convey strength, and hopefulness. “Any day now. She’ll come around. Any day now,” I said, as the air grew warmer.
After we had spent an hour keeping watch over Abigail, Robin and I took the elevator upstairs to the main-entrance, an abandoned mine shift that was converted into a group of safety quarters. The vast wilderness surrounded our humble corridor, hundreds of trees looming large over our hideaway, deer running through rushing streams, a strange and restless silence pervading through the afternoon sunny glow. As we walked out the mine shaft, sunlight greeted us and coated our faces with its warmth, our worries subsiding like waves pulling back from the seashore. We walked through the forest, going over a rocky-stone bridge arched across a river embankment.
Foxes howled. Bees buzzed. Even the birds sang love songs.
Robing took out a vape and puffed on it gingerly, a trail of puffy smoke clouds leaking out the corner of her mouth, as we stepped over fallen branches and ingrown-tree stumps. I carried a red-plastic pail under my arm, rusted from the rain and other elements. When we reached the smooth stone well, I grew more alert and glanced around at what surrounded us.
A plethora of wooden and stone bear statues towered around in an irregular circle, bordering the wide and worn well. Robin stepped forward, grabbing the coarse rope that hung over the opening, used it to tie a thick knot round and round the plastic bucket, looping and weaving to make bunny ears that drooped sideways. With the bucket secured in place, I dropped it slowly down the long and dark well, dropping it slowly and carefully with a metal crane and pulley, the wheels click-clacking back and forth as the statues stared at us, as though waiting for a mistake to transpire.
But as the bucket dropped to the bottom of the well and filled up to the brim with ice cold water, nothing out of the ordinary happened. And as we turned away from the well, we held our breaths and clutched tightly on the bucket when from behind us, came an agonizing and guttural cry, sounding as deep as the well, we had just stepped away from.
I gasped for air and looked over my shoulder.
The sun was setting, creating a shadow rising over the well.
Andy Tran is a young professional working and living in the Washington DC metro area. His work has been featured in The Virginia. Normal, Defenestration Magazine, and Calliope, and currently at Queens Mob Teahouse. He's a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, and he has a degree in English.