Truth or Dare
“See I knew you wouldn’t do it.” Jess was staring at me, her green eyes poking out from her black hair, all tumbled in a mess around her eyes. She brushed away her bangs, huffing. “You’re scared.”
“I am not.” It was hard to argue with Jess; we were mirror images of each other, the only difference that while her eyes were green, mine were brown. “But I don’t see the point. We’re not 15 anymore.”
“Yeah, we’re 20 and you’re still as scared as you were when we were eight and you saw that spider in the bathtub.” She crossed her arms in front of her, her black coffin nails tapping her arm. “What’s the big deal? You’re the one who wanted to play Truth or Dare.”
We were standing in our backyard facing our house, the night sky overhead glistening with stars. I could see the patterns that mapped the darkness, counting them off in my head. The wind was warm and wet, clinging to our shirts and shorts. I could hear the cicadas in the background.
The sound always made me feel a bit better. Still felt like Earth was the same as it was when our parents were growing up.
“Seriously, the roof?” Jess knew I was afraid of heights. “Why not the basement? Or the shed. You know Dad hasn’t been in there since he came back from his mission.”
“Right, the basement doesn’t have anything in it and the shed has all of dad’s parts from the mock-up rocket competition.” Dad loved his job as an astronaut so much that he would build mockups between missions. We still had the one he made in tribute to the Challenger, a tragedy that happened before our parents were born, in our living room, in a place of pride. “That’s not scary. Open space is, and this is as far as we’re gonna get right now.”
I looked up at the roof of our house. Dad had insisted on keeping it, even though living in the country was rough, what with Mom working on the Mars colonization mission in Houston, but he wanted to make sure that we understood how lucky we were on Earth.
When you girls get to Mars, you’ll never see the planet again. This is it. Enjoy it while you have it.
“What, you think ET is gonna come get you?” Jess scoffed. “You saw the briefings just like I did. We know what they look like, what they sound like.”
“I know what they said,” I muttered. Jess knew as well as I did that the government always keeps things close to the vest. Mom and Dad weren’t telling us anything either, but at least I believed them when they said we had nothing to worry about since we were already in training to be part of the first colonization trip.
“Alright, fine.” Jess threw her hands up in the air. “Don’t do it. You just need to get over your fears. Give me a second to come up with a really good Truth.”
You signed up to be part of the first colony to Mars and you’re afraid of a damn roof? To be in a spaceship to go to a planet that isn’t ready for humans to live on yet? I shook my head, sighing. I hated when Jess was right as much as she hated when I was right, but she was right.
“I’ll do it.”
“Oh c’mon Cass, you don’t have to,” Jess said. She was only one minute older than me, but sometimes, it felt like years. “I was just…I don’t know. Bored, I guess. Giving you a hard time.”
“Yeah, but you’re right. We know what they look like. I have to get over it.” I walked over to patio, peering into the living room. Both of our parents were asleep, in bed most likely. Mom had just come back from two weeks on in Houston and Dad had been working overtime on his super-secret project. “Just check for them. You know Dad flipped out last time we were on the roof.”
“We were 12,” Jess said, but she moved over enough so she could see through the window. The back door was the only way into the backyard so she’d be able to see our parents, and even if they went out the front door and came around the side, I’d spot them first before they spotted me.
Unless it was Mom and then I was in deep trouble. She was 5’2”, so about 7 inches shorter than me, but when she got angry, she was like a panther.
I climbed up on the generator that Dad had linked up to the back of the house for emergencies and then onto the trellis. Within 30 seconds, I was on the roof.
So that was part one of the Dare.
The second part was to stay up there for five minutes in complete silence.
“3…2…1…” As Jess counted down, we synchronized our watches. We have always shared info, so she could keep an eye on my vitals. Since the dare was not to speak, it was the only way she could make sure I was alright.
The first three minutes went by fine. Our house sat on a large hill and standing there, I could look all the way down into the valley to the river that charted its course there. I could see the few houses around, but for the most part, it was bare land.
The lack of trees was part of the reason the Mars Mission had been pushed up, a full 50 years ahead of schedule. Humans were running out of time, even with the Population Initiative.
I walked to the edge of the roof, giving myself a space of about three feet. I could still hear the cicadas humming their lullaby that I’ve memorized since I was about three. It was so peaceful that it was mesmerizing.
Until I realized that something else was humming along with the cicadas.
And whoever or whatever it was wasn’t on the ground. It was on the roof with me.
Jess, I swear in the name of the Cosmos, I’ll kill you, I thought to myself. I came up with a game plan – I’d turn around really fast and jump towards her. No. I couldn’t do that. What if she fell off the roof?
The humming was getting closer. I started to feel hot. Not warm, but hot. Like I was standing next to an open fireplace or an oven. It felt like little beestings all over my body, sticking on my bare skin.
Okay, so turn around. There’s gotta be an explanation, I thought. But I couldn’t move. It felt like I was frozen in my place, my feet sinking into the tiles on the roof, holding me still.
I opened my mouth to talk. I didn’t care that the five minutes weren’t up, or maybe they were. But I didn’t like what I was feeling. It felt unnatural.
I couldn’t get anything out of my mouth because it felt glued shut, like the adhesive we’d worked with at that space camp we went to when we were little. I still remember the time we accidentally glued our hands together; took the counselors and a technician two hours to get us unstuck.
The stinging was getting worse and then I could feel it:
The breath. Hot, sticky, sweet but rotten, right in my left ear.
“Take me with you.” I heard it say right before I felt bony fingers dig into my ribs on both sides. The fingers felt like irons, but the voice turned me cold from the inside. “Don’t leave us here alone.”
A second later, the fingers traveled up to my face, covering my eyes. I’m not sure what happened next, it couldn’t have been more than a split second, but I managed to swing around.
There was nothing. Nothing at all. The voice, the stinging, the hot air. It was gone.
It was just an empty roof.
“Hey, next time you plan on taking a nap up there, let me know, alright?” Jess started talking the minute I began climbing down. Her voice bounced off my back. Normally it would be a comforting feeling, but it didn’t this time. It just felt empty. “I mean, didn’t you get any of my messages?”
I was on the generator when I checked my watch. I had 14 messages from Jess, all saying can you come down now? We’re gonna get in trouble. Then I saw the time.
“Crap, it’s three am?” I turned around to look at her. “I swear, it felt like five minutes.”
Jess didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to because her face said it all – once her face fell, I knew something was wrong.
“Cass, what the hell happened to you?” Jess pulled my face towards her, staring at me. “What is this?”
“What?” I turned away from her to look into the window next to the generator.
There, on my face, were dozens of scratches. They were already welting. Some were even drawing blood.
From behind me, close to the shed, I heard a low, deep laugh.
“I think we have more important things to worry about than what’s in the stars.”