Something’s not right.
The problem is I don’t know if it’s me, or the rest of the world. Could it be Ostium? Something to do with Ostium? Something that Ostium has done? Everything is out of sync. Somehow.
It all started when I got up this morning, took a shower, made myself some oatmeal and strong coffee, and sat down at my laptop. In my head I was thinking it was Sunday, should be a nice, quiet relaxing day for most of the world; no work for those who don’t work retail or food industry. I opened up my email and saw right away that my first email was from Wednesday . . . three days from now. Sometimes there’s weird spam like that that’s sent from somewhere in the world and it shows a future date and time according to the stamp. Only it’s usually at most a day ahead, if you figure it’s getting sent from Australia or something.
Except this was from my coworker, Robert, a guy I considered a decent acquaintance. He was the one who’d been checking in with me on Facebook; we’d hung out a couple of times. I could see his email address, the date of Wednesday, 8:26am – if that was correct, the email had been sent just five minutes ago – and the subject line.
It was three words in bit block capitals:
YOU’VE BEEN FIRED
My first feeling at seeing this wasn’t anger, or shock, or fear. It was . . . Indifference. That made me stop and consider my thoughts and how I felt about it. I wasn’t exactly well off and able to live comfortably with what I had in the bank at this moment. I had some savings, enough to get me by for a while. But being fired for just not showing up to work was . . . A reasonable reason, and would make getting another job certainly a little tricky. But the scary thing was my mind was so far beyond that it didn’t even register.
It was like the front part of my brain was reading this and reacting to it in a minor way, while the rest of my mind was thinking about one thing and one thing only.
Ostium had changed me. Whether for the better or the worse, I didn’t know. I didn’t really think I was ever going to definitively know, either. I was just different now. Like discovering incontrovertible proof of the existence of extraterrestrials, or an archaeological find that conclusively proves that human beings at one point had wings and flew in the sky with the birds. It made everything else just fall by the wayside.
It made me not care anymore about the mundanities of normal life. I was beyond that now and wouldn’t be coming back to it. Perhaps ever.
So let’s focus on the other part of that email: the apparent fact that today was three days in the future of what I thought it was.
Did I sleep for three days? No, that didn’t seem right, plus I wasn’t hungry enough for that. So then I thought back to how many times I’d checked the date and time recently. Not much was the answer. In my head it was the weekend. I could tell if it was night or day and that was all I really cared about. The date and time just hadn’t been important. So basically I’d completely lost track. In a major way.
I started hitting newspaper websites, then just general news pages and blogs, then some stock exchange pages. They all confirmed that it was indeed Wednesday.
What the fuck?
And then it came to me, like those scary, terrifying thoughts always do, a cold, thin sharp blade slipping in between the ribs.
It was Ostium. Ostium was a unique place that took me to other places through doors. Doors that went to other times. Times in the past. I didn’t know yet if any of those doors led to times in the future. But time seemed to be the salient parameter here. It meant, logically, that Ostium was somehow a place out of time. And what happens when you’re in a place out of time? The place you just left continues on its own time stream, regardless of you.
Apparently Ostium was a very special place. Because when I went there, time for the rest of the world went – from my perspective in Ostium – at a faster rate. Kind of like if you’re in a rocket ship traveling close to light speed away from the Earth, and then you return and everyone is significantly older than you. Einstein’s paradox, isn’t it?
The world and everything in it was now three days older than me. Technically speaking I was living in the future.
Woah, this is heavy.
As I focused on trying to stop my hands from shaking, I grasped my mug of coffee and took a long drink. I thought it might help me focus and perhaps calm my nerves. And that was when I realized something else I’d missed and turned back to the screen.
While I’d been checking the date on those various news sites, I’d barely glanced at the top headlines on the screen. I did so now and found my left hand covering up my mouth while my right hand scrolled and clicked.
Something terrible had happened.
A nuclear power plant in the Ukraine had blown and two of its reactors were in meltdown. The radioactive cloud was still expanding and was currently being blown in a westerly, south-westerly, and southern direction covering a wide scope. Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova were currently suffering the effects of the cloud that was traveling fast. Germany, Austria and Croatia were next. The death toll so far was in the tens of thousands and increasing daily. No teams could get close enough to the nuclear plant to do anything because it was all so radioactive. They’d just be walking to their deaths. There was little end in sight for the mounting death toll, as for the long-term deaths and effects from radioactivity, it was impossible to predict at this point. It made Chernobyl look like a little fire.
I took a few deep breaths. I walked over to my window giving me a view onto Broadway. I watched the many cars going and coming from somewhere. It seemed like a normal piece of the planet here, things going along like they did every day, whereas in Eastern Europe.
So I wasn’t that indifferent to the world.
And speaking of normal, there was a place to the north of here that didn’t belong. That was anything and everything but normal. No scientist would be able to quantify it; no philosopher able to qualify it.
It was Ostium. And it was calling to me like a foghorn you can’t get far enough away from not to hear; like the strong smell of burnt toast that won’t go away, and you’re hoping it’s not a stroke.
It had me and it wasn’t going to let me go.
I also realized I wasn’t going to let it get away either.
I pulled my large duffel bag from under my bed and packed a few days’ worth of clothes, grabbed necessary toiletries and anything else I thought I might need. I made myself a lunch for the trip, locked my door and stared at it for thirty seconds, wondering when I’d be coming back. Then I got in my car and started driving.
For the whole drive up all my mind would let me think about was the golden number two on the wooden map table and the fact that when I went to sleep tonight in a bed in Ostium, I might have an unexpected roommate.
The first thing I noticed when I pulled into my familiar covert parking spot was that the gate was now closed. When I made my quick exit yesterday I distinctly remember leaving the gate noticeably open and not giving a damn. So someone had closed it.
I wanted to address my humor for a moment. Or at least my attempt at humor. Heheh. It may seem a little strange that at tense moments in my experiences in Ostium I use levity and crack with the wise-ass jokes. There are two reasons I do this. One is, so far, I am recording these diary-like recollections and experiences ex post facto or after they take place. They’ve already happened, and if I’m able to recount to you – whoever you, dear listener, might be – it means I survived and am alive and, presumably, relatively well and able to provide my experiences with some distance and some added humor to lighten the mood and hopefully keep you – dear, faithful listener – entertained.
The other reason is . . . Because I’m human. And even when I’m recording this usually way after it happened, it’s still powerful and emotional for me, as I’m living through it again, and the jokes make it a little easier to process and absorb.
And now we return to our regularly scheduled broadcast.
Once I’m inside the gate of Ostium, I make my way towards Ye Olde Clock Tower, with the heavy duffel containing my worldly possessions thrown over one shoulder. About halfway there I have a thought. A disturbing, scary thought. I walk faster, then I start to jog.
I’m soon there, throwing the door with the number one wide open. I drop my duffel to the ground, hearing a loud thud and wince, hoping my iPad survived the fall. I’m looking at the wooden map table, my hands on either side, looking for number four. I find it over in an area of what looks to be grassland not too far from the clock tower.
I have two immediate thoughts. One is: huh, interesting. The other is relief. My worrying thought that had made me outright running here is what if the four on the map table were already gold? What if whoever was also visiting Ostium had already checked out what was behind door four and brought back a trinket?
But it’s just the wooden carving, no gold shininess.
And right behind all this is a new and refreshing scary thought: is this mysterious person here now?
I’m frozen on the spot for a moment, feeling like Wile E. Coyote hovering over a yawning chasm, then I suck in a breath and head for the doors. I go through them all real quick, looking for any movement with no clue what I’ll do if there is some movement.
The small bedroom is the same; the sleeping bag and pillow with the daffodil pillowcase is still there. It looks a little more rumpled than yesterday, but that could just be my imagination. I open the door and find the bathroom as it was yesterday: empty.
I check the kitchen. Nothing but lots of cans of different kinds of foods and goods.
I’m alone in the clock tower, like last time; but I also know I’m not really alone.
I grab one of the PB&J’s and a bottle of water from the bag and leave the rest in the kitchen for when I return. I know in my mind I’m also leaving plenty of clear evidence for whoever else has been hanging out here that they’re not alone. I know it’s kind of the equivalent of a dog marking its territory, but I’m making a point here. It’s not just their home, but mine too. We’re going to share or we’re going to have a fight on our hands.
Whatever that means.
Another way of thinking on this is I’m laying some metaphorical cheese for a metaphorical mouse to come eat it . . . Metaphorically. Though I don’t have a metaphorical trap in place really, it’s more to see if anyone . . . Or anything will eat said metaphorical cheese.
I think that’s got you plenty confused. I know my brains are feeling pretty scrambled . . . or is that cheese whipped?
I head back to the wooden map and whip out my iPhone. I don’t really know why I haven’t done this before. I proceed to take a number of photos of the map, making some close up shots of each area in a grid going from left to right and working my way down until I’m at the bottom right quadrant. I’ve got a bunch of good references now when I’m not here with the map right in front of me.
I pour over it again, honing in on door number four, then looking at the best route to take from where I’m standing, I make my mental course and head out the door.
It feels weird walking away from the buildings and streets I’d become used to. It’s not long before I’m surrounded by grassland, lots of it that stretches far. I can see in the distance the wall surrounding Ostium. At this point I don’t think I’d realized how truly large Ostium was. While I’d thought I’d walked through over half the town, from this vista, it’s more like barely a third, with two thirds of it being wide open land. There are various structures and shapes around that are too far away to make out or recognize. I assume they’re more doors. I’m a lot closer to the water tower now, the large letters clear and black against the white round shape. I wonder if it’s actually used for water. The door is in the underside, at the top of the ladder. If it’s full of water, opening that door will lead to a wet awakening, won’t it? Maybe I’ll be somewhere else . . . Underwater?
That’s the thing with Ostium. You really don’t know. Nothing is predictable.
I pass a door on the ground and stop.
It’s literally that. A door horizontally on the ground. Number twenty-three. How the physics and mechanics work for opening it and passing through I don’t know. I suppose if I make it to that door, I’ll eventually find out.
I see something in the distance.
I keep going.
I check my phone, referencing the map to make sure I’m on the right course. I see the structure getting bigger and clearer.
It’s an outhouse.
Just sitting out there, in the middle of nowhere.
But this is Ostium after all, so go figure.
I soon notice that the handle is different from the other doors. Just a curve of old rusty metal, completing the image of a small place where one can relieve oneself. I grab it and pull.
The door opens quick and easy, again not like other doors. It feels like opening a cabinet or closet. Or . . . an outhouse.
I don’t really know what I expect. A grimy, stinky, soiled old toilet that I would never consider putting my nether regions in the vicinity of?
Nope, just the ever-inviting darkness of Ostium. I take a deep breath and prepare myself. I wonder if there will ever be a time when I might have an inkling of what might be on the other side of that darkness.
I don’t think so.
I step through the black and into . . .
. . . Space
Well, not actual space.
But wherever I am it’s big. Even though I haven’t taken in any details yet I get the sense of size around me. My eyes are closed, like the last couple times I went through. I think it helps me deal with the astonishing surprise I am about to experience, by letting my eyes relax and the rest of my senses acclimate, so to speak.
Then I open them. And my mouth. Wide.
The eyes are incredible organs. They can take in so much within the blink of themselves.
The first thing I fully understand is that I’m not just in Ostium anymore, I’m not on Earth. I’m on another planet somewhere.
It’s a giant room. All the surfaces shiny and metal. Burnished. Immaculate. It feels like looking down a long hallway, because the metal walls and ceiling stretch out for hundreds of yards. The ceiling looks to be at least five stories tall. I’m sure I’m getting a wall-eye effect making this room feel like it’s stretching on to infinity. Like looking at your reflection in a mirror, and seeing a reflection of that reflection of that reflection of that reflection and so on and so on and so on… and I’ll stop there. You get the picture.
There are occasional banks of buttons and colorful lights and various screens. Computer terminals I guess, and all of a sudden this is starting to feel a lot like an episode of Star Trek.
About twenty feet down on the left wall is a long rectangle of window stretching many tens of feet in length. The effect makes it feel like a strip of glass. I jog over to it, wanting to see everything that is on the other side. I push my face up to the long window, touch my nose, cheeks and forehead to it. It is icy cold to the touch and I wonder if I’m going to have trouble peeling my face off of it, if I ever want to that is.
On the other side of the window is an alien landscape.
There are reds, and oranges, and ochres, and a whole palette of those colors blending together in various tints and shades. It’s barren. Harsh. Hills of varying sizes. In the distance I think I see the hazy mirage of mountains. Lots of red rocks; some mighty boulders that look like they’d be fun to roll down a hill and see how far they’d roll. What’s gravity like here?
Now you might be thinking, well, this doesn’t sound that alien to me. It could easily be the Badlands, somewhere in New Mexico, or that hot place known as Death Valley. And I would be with you on that, except for the fact that there’s a rocket ship out there on a launch pad. It looks a lot like those imagined in the sixties from the minds of Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. Yeah, I’m a scifi geek. And that’s hard scifi in case you’re wondering.
It’s your basic big phallic spaceship, tapering to a resistance reducing point. There’s no obvious markings on the fuselage to tell me whether it’s NASA or perhaps another space-traveling constituent. But it’s big. Massive. It’s about half a mile away and still stretches high into the gray sky.
I look off to the right and see some sort of vehicle. It looks like a giant buggy with a white canopy over the top. There’s a front windshield, but I can’t see any other windows in the vehicle from where I am. What I can see on the side of the vehicle are words.
Words I can read.
The top one in big block letters is NASA.
My heart rate speeds up.
The two words below it are “Martian Colony #4.”
My heart goes even faster and I start panting.
A million questions invade my mind.
What year is this?
How may colonies have there been?
How did the first three turn out?
How is this fourth colony doing?
Where is everyone?
Why is it dead quiet here?
Why is the door to the buggy hanging open?
The iciness of fear trickles into my body.
I do at least have one answer.
I’m on Mars.
I start walking along the floor of metal, constantly switching from looking ahead to the window and back again, as I don’t believe it. I really don’t. But I also know what Ostium has done and the potential for what it can do now seems limitless.
I glance at the terminals as I pass them, but the screens are all blank. The buttons laid out in your usual QWERTY way, but there’s a host of extra buttons with strange symbols on them that mean nothing to me. They don’t look Greek or Cyrillic. They look alien. I might try playing around on one of these terminals, but not yet. I want to find out more about this place.
The giant hallway starts to curve around and as I make the bend it continues straight for a long ways and then curves to the right again. I have the idea I might be in some sort of circular habitat and I’m on the outside walkway. Before I continue down the walkway I turn back real quick and make sure I can see the Ostium door I came through in the distance.
It’s still there. Door wide open. Interestingly the whole door is like a thick metal airlock door. I can’t see what’s on the other side of the doorway from here, but I’m fairly certain Ostium is there, waiting for me.
Letting out a breath I keep going.
It’s not long before I find a door on my right. At least I think it’s a door. It’s a vertical rectangle of metal in the wall with a quarter inch gap around it. I think it’s a gap. It’s like a separation, indicating that this rectangle is different from the rest of the wall. That’s why I’m thinking it’s some sort of door. But there’s no handle. No blemish or scratch or marking of any sort on its surface.
Not sure what the hell I’m supposed to do, I try just pushing on the left side of the presumed door where I think a handle should be. And I’m shocked when it opens inwards. I push it open further and step inside. The door seems to be attached to the wall with one long hinge, though I can’t really see it. I close the door and it joins with the wall silently.
I turn and see I’m in some sort of medical room. Everything in the room is white and feels sterile. Finding a mote of dust in this room would be next to impossible. There’s a bed in the center of the room. Counters along the walls with cabinets above and below. Again, there’s an absence of handles . . . Anywhere. I could spend more time trying to figure out what people in this time and on this planet had against opening doors and cabinets easily, but I remember that strange oncoming blackness with the crackling sound on the Mary Celeste. I haven’t heard anything so far, and I’ve been keeping my ear to the ground or the wall so to speak. Didn’t see anything when I was studying the rocket ship through the window either. Nevertheless, I can feel the imaginary clock running down and I need to get a sense of what happened here and discover whatever relic I need to bring back to Ostium.
There’s another door on the opposite wall. I go through it and find myself in another curving hallway. The curve is more pronounced here as I’m moving more towards the center. Once again there’s not another person in sight. What’s an awesome colony station on the planet Mars doing sitting abandoned like this? What happened? Did everyone up and leave? There’s that one rocket ship I’ve seen, but for all I know, there should be five out there normally.
I just don’t know.
What the hell happened here?
That’s when I hear a sound.
I freeze on the spot. I’m instantly terrified, but also curious. It’s something. It’s a potential answer.
I remain still, listening for more. It sounded like something accidentally dropped, though muffled within a room somewhere. It couldn’t be too far away or I wouldn’t have heard it.
There it is again. Definitely a metallic sound.
I jog down the hallway and open a door from where I think the sound emanated. It looks to be living quarters. Three sets of bunk beds and some closets. On one of the beds is a device that looks kind of like an iPad; probably some sort of tablet or datapad. It’s the size of a mass market book. I see the opposite door is slightly ajar. That’s all I need. I follow.
I’m in a massive round room with an unbelievably high ceiling. It feels like being in a concert hall or auditorium. There are some displays encased in what looks to be glass. I run up to one of them, my excitement growing. I don’t need to check the display tag on the ground to know this is the Martian Lander. I run over to another display and recognize Pathfinder. Next is Spirit Rover. Opportunity.
They’re all here. The unmanned craft that helped teach us everything we know about the planet Mars. This is a . . . Museum.
That’s when I catch a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye. It’s a person! Running away!
I immediately take up the chase, not really thinking about my safety; just wanting to get some answers.
I fly through doors, following, pausing at times and listening, then following again. I’m not really paying attention to where I’m going and before I know it I’m in the outer ring, looking out the window again at that intoxicating Martian landscape. This time I’m stopped dead in my tracks and it’s not good.
I can’t hear anything, probably because of the thickness of the glass and the wall, but I can see that blackness getting closer and closer by the second. It encapsulates everything: stretching high up and sideways into space and beyond my visible horizon. Where there’s blackness there are no stars anymore.
I watch that absence of light reach the rocket ship. It doesn’t consume it bit by bit. I don’t get the sense there are any breaking, crushing or destructive sounds. It seems quiet, almost peaceful. One second the ship is there, the next it’s just gone.
I peel my eyes from the window and look down the hallway at the open door of this colony station that leads back to Ostium.
There’s a woman standing in the doorway. She’s looking back at me. She’s black. She’s beautiful. She gives me a wink and steps through the portal, closing the door behind her.
Shit I whisper to myself, then run for my life.
When I reach the closed door, I don’t know how close that blackness is to eating me up. When it reaches me, I wonder for a split second, will it hurt? Will it be quick and painless? I have a feeling I’ll just cease to exist and that will be it.
I wrench open the door, not taking in any details of what’s on the other side. I basically fall through, managing to throw the door closed behind me.
My eyes are firmly shut, like usual.
I hit my head and the blackness remains.
I wake up in bed in the room of the clock tower. My blanket is thrown over me. My head really hurts.
That’s when I record this. I notice my phone is showing me a strong wifi connection. Somehow I’m getting Internet in Ostium.
So I go ahead and upload this recording like I’ve done with the others so far.
If you’re listening to this it means it worked and was successfully uploaded and posted.
Who knows what day or time it is when you’re listening to this.
Now I need to get some sleep. I can’t keep my eyes open. And I hope when I wake many hours from now my head won’t feel like someone sank a cleaver into it.
I also hope my fellow Ostium neighbor doesn’t do anything to me while I’m asleep.
See you on the other side.
[End Credit Music]