Rachel looked around in confusion at the darkness that surrounded her. Only moments earlier, she had been sitting on her grandfather’s porch. It had been a bright and sunny day, with a warm breeze blowing the puffy white clouds gently across a Carolina blue sky.
But that was before. Instead of a warm sunny day, there was now a cool, dark night.
Rachel sat up on the ground looking around in fear, seeking solace but instead finding only the darkness to comfort her. She was still disoriented when she finally stood up and began trying to piece things together, to make some sense out of what had happened to her.
She had been in her grandfather’s back yard just moments earlier, running after Jessie…but why? Then she remembered–the glimmer. First, the bird had disappeared into it, then Jessie….
Rachel turned to look around and found Jessie sitting on the ground a few yards away, looking around much as she had been doing. Next to Jessie was Michael, who held Eli close.
Relieved that everyone was safe, Rachel looked up to find herself staring at a dark and alien sky. She gasped and her eyes widened at what she saw. Instead of the sun hanging in a beautiful blue sky, there was a massive orange and red gas giant, which consumed much of the night sky high above them. Wherever they were, it was now clear to her that they were no longer even on Earth.
Among the infinite number of stars visible in the night sky, Rachel looked for but was unable to find any familiar star patterns. Orion’s belt, Taurus, Sagittarius, even the Moon; all of them were—missing. After trying for several minutes she was still unable to make out any of the constellations. Furthermore, the stars appeared to be much larger and brighter than any she had ever seen before on Earth.
Her gaze fell from the sky back down to the surface as she began surveying her immediate surroundings. She found that despite the considerable light radiating from the stars overhead, it was difficult to make out anything more than vague shapes in any direction.
Still a little perplexed, Rachel walked over to where her brothers and her sister still sat on the ground, bewildered. She recognized that the others were terrified and disoriented by what had happened. At that moment, she knew that she had to be strong, for all of them.
As their eyes gradually adjusted to the darkness, they found themselves gazing in awe at a strange and alien landscape that stretched out before them in all directions, as far as the eye could see. The land seemed to be mostly flat, reminding Rachel of the high desert country found in much of the western United States. Shapes resembling mountains or large hills were faintly visible at times in the distance. In the weak light, she could see that vegetation consisting of mostly grasses and small bushes covered much of the ground’s surface all around them. The vegetation appeared to have a bluish hue, something that Rachel attributed to the eerie light playing tricks on her eyes.
No one said anything for the longest time, gaping in wonder at the fantastic beauty all around them. In time, however, they ceased looking around them and began looking to one another.
“Michael, what do you think happened?” Rachel asked. “How do you suppose we got here? Am I imagining this, or is it just some incredible dream?”
“I don’t know what happened or how we got here, Rachel, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t a dream,” he answered.
“Where is Grandpa’s house?” asked Eli. “What happened to the Sun, and the clouds?” he asked.
“How should I know?” quipped Michael. “All I know is that one minute we were all at Grandpa’s house, then that bird disappeared, then Jessie went in after it.” Michael turned with a snarl to his younger sister. “This is all your fault,” he said accusingly, pointing at Jessie.
The little girl shrank back in fear at the outburst from her much bigger older brother and started to cry.
“Good job, Michael,” Rachel said dryly, rushing over to comfort her little sister, while staring angrily at her brother. “Like that’s going to help!”
“Where is Grandpa?” asked Eli with an increased sense of urgency, as if he was now beginning to sense that something was wrong. There was a lot of yelling and crying going on, and he was getting scared. Rachel motioned for him to come to her, and he immediately complied. She held Jessie and Eli close to her, offering them comfort while finding solace for herself through the embrace as well.
“Grandpa had to run to the store, Eli,” she said calmly, gently stroking his head with her hand as she did so. She sat him in her lap and looked him straight in the eyes. “How are you doing, Tiger? Are you doing okay?”
“I want Mommy,” he said, sniffling.
“I know, Eli, so do I. We’ll see Mommy soon, I promise.” Rachel cast a hard look at Michael, whom she could see was about to say something less than helpful in response. The look in her eyes stopped him cold, before he could blurt out anything else.
After a few minutes of peace and quiet, everyone calmed down a bit and the four of them looked around for the second time. Rachel’s face took on an expression of alarm when she looked back in the direction from which they’d come. Michael, seeing the look of fear on her face, turned as well.
“That thing we came through—it’s gone!” he yelled. “How are we supposed to get home now? We’re never going to see Mom again!”
Eli suddenly started to cry, and this time Jessie started sobbing as well.
“Michael Seekers! Why, for once in your life, can’t you act your age? Why don’t you take a look around you? We’re on some strange alien planet, and we have no idea at all where we are! Now you’ve convinced Jessie that this is all her fault and you know that’s just not true! And as if that wasn’t enough, now you’ve gone and scared poor Eli half to death. Can’t you try to be a little more helpful here?” she asked sarcastically.
Michael looked at her, dumbfounded. He was hurt at first, then angry, but soon he came to realize the truth. She was right, about all of it; he just had not looked at it that way. All of them were going to have to grow up a little if they were going to survive.
“You’re right, Rachel, I’m sorry.” Michael then walked over to Jessie and lifted her gently up off the ground, where she had been sitting with her head buried in her arms, still weeping.
“I’m sorry, Jessie,” he began, “this isn’t your fault, I promise. I was just running my mouth without thinking. Any of us could have touched that thing. How could any of us know what would happen? Whatever happens now, it’s not your fault; I was just being a jerk. Will you please forgive me?”
Slowly, Jessie raised her head, looked at Michael, and nodded.
“I’m sure it’s not your fault,” he said calmly, hugging his sister.
The teenager then looked over at Eli, who sat on Rachel’s lap, scared and crying. “Hey, little man, how are you doing?” Michael asked his five-year-old little brother.
The little boy turned and looked at Michael, tears still streaming down his face. “I want Mommy!” he told Michael angrily. “You said that we would never see Mommy again!” Eli then began sobbing uncontrollably, and cried out once again. The sadness in his tears grew more and more heart wrenching and difficult to watch.
Michael put Jessie’s hand in Rachel’s, then knelt down to embrace his little brother, partially to console him and partially out of guilt. He promised himself that he would be much more cautious about what he said in the future in front of his little brother. Eli was going to need him; they all were. “Don’t worry wild man, we’ll see Mommy again soon, I promise!”
“We will?” the little boy asked, his eyes lighting up.
“Yay!” he exclaimed, jumping up and hugging his big brother.
Michael could not help noticing the mixed look from his older sister, a slight smile combined with a look of concern, clearly uncertain her brother would be able to deliver on that promise.
With the initial shock and acceptance of their new reality behind them, Rachel began thinking about how they had traveled from Earth to wherever they were now, and what their next move should be.
“Michael, why don’t you help me try to find that glimmering thing we came through? It should be right here somewhere; it’s probably just hard to see.”
“What do you think that thing was, Rachel?”
“I’m not sure,” she answered casually.
“Do you think it could be one of those Einstein-Rohlp thingies?” asked Michael.
“You mean an Einstein-Rosen Bridge, a wormhole?”
“Yeah, something like that. I saw something one time on a science channel on television talking about that.”
Rachel rubbed her chin and considered it for a moment. “I suppose it must be something like that, Michael. I mean, how else could we have stepped through that shimmery-portal thing and gotten here from Grandpa’s backyard?”
“Exactly,” Michael answered, pleased with himself for having remembered something from television that was actually useful.
“Well, wormhole portal or whatever, we’ve got to find it if we’re ever going to get back home,” she stated. She began walking around, gradually working her way farther and farther from where they had been talking. In just a few minutes she and Michael were already well beyond where the portal should have been, but without success in finding it.
“I don’t understand; it’s got to be here somewhere!” Rachel declared, raising her voice in frustration.
“Maybe this bridge-portal thing was a one-way deal,” Michael suggested.
“Or maybe the portal to get home is somewhere else now. Regardless, we must try to find it. It’s our only way home.”
“So what should we do now?” Michael asked her, looking to his big sister for answers. “It’s dark, we’re tired, and we’re going to get separated wandering around in the dark if we’re not careful.”
“Alright,” she answered with a heavy sigh. “That’s a good point. Let’s start looking for someplace to stay for the night, somewhere we can get out of this wind and hopefully stay warm. But we have to stick together, okay? Like you said, Michael, we could get separated in the dark. We’re a long way from home and we have no idea where we are or what dangers may exist, so it’s important that we all stay close, agreed?” The others nodded in agreement. “Great; okay, Michael and I will start looking around for possible shelter but we’ll stay close. Jessie—stay with Eli at all times, okay?” Jessie nodded.
“It looks like there are some hills or something off in the distance, Rachel,” Michael told her, pointing towards the mountain peaks in the distance. “Do you think we should head for them?” he asked.
“I don’t really see much else,” she answered. “Of course, I haven’t been able to see much, even after my eyes adjusted to the dark here.”
While Michael was watching a look of terror suddenly appeared on Rachel’s face. With her back to where the portal had been, she now faced away from Jessie and Eli. Upon seeing the look on her face, Michael, who faced in the opposite direction, quickly turned to see what she was looking at. Had he not been immediately immobilized with fear, he undoubtedly would have grabbed the others and run for his life. Barely visible under the faint light of the stars he saw something…a creature…considerably taller than any of them. It walked on two legs but it had four arms, two on each side of its body. While it was still difficult to see in the faint starlight and the little light that reflected off the gas giant, he could tell that whatever the creature was, it was covered with fur, and it was big, really big. Michael estimated that the muscular creature had to be at least seven or eight feet tall, with large, massive shoulders. It was a fierce-looking creature, with an angry expression on its face, and it was walking toward them.