It wasn’t until the third day that they began to appear; the women in the sky. They would watch us as we, from the ground, struggled to stay alive. Our ship had crashed on an uncharted and uninhabited planet, or so we thought.
These women were as large and elegant as the clouds, transparent and graceful. We were not afraid, for they were not here to harm us. As to who they were, some speculated they were angels while others imagined they were apparitions and hallucinations. But if all of us saw them, how could they not be real? Perhaps they were all that was left from a civilization that has long since vanished, or perhaps they were here to guide us into the places we have always feared to go.
They did not appear until the sickness set in. Two men complained of stomach and head pains one day, then the next they refused to move. Instead, they sat staring at the sky. That’s when the women began to appear. Their sightings soon became common, an occurrence that garnered no reaction until the infected men began to speak. It was then we noticed the women were somehow communicating, but only to the sick.
The men, they were dying. No matter what we did, it wasn’t helping.
At night, we’d hear singing just over the horizon. It was them. Their melodies became the lullabies that put our hearts to rest. We dreamt of vast oceans that bathed us. We saw trees that spoke with the wisdom of our fathers.
One morning, we emerged from our tents to find a woman in the sky looking at one of the sick men. Her arms were outstretched; she wanted him to come to her. With his eyes watering and mouth pulled into a smile, he whispered, “I’m coming home.” Death took him over. The woman in the sky bowed her head, crossed her arms and disappeared.
By sunset, the same scene happened to the other sick man. Then, three more men contracted the sickness.
As we vanished one by one, so did they. It never occurred to us that our living numbers were the same as theirs.
When the sickness hit me, I was unprepared. Though I had seen it on the faces of my men, they could not have readied me for my journey anymore than my own mind could imagine. I fought as hard as I could to stay alive, but it was no use. When I accepted this cruel fate, a woman appeared. I sat and watched her. She was beautiful. She understood me all too well, as if she were the vision upon which I had built my life. Underneath the blanket of the sky, she stretched out her palms and called my name. These women had found us; the stranded, the hopeless, the forgotten, and took us into their arms to guide us home.
This has been “Explosions and Collapses” by W.T. Paterson, the third installment in our Lost in Time series.
W.T. Paterson is a Chicago writer. Recently nominated for the pushcart prize, his work can be seen in places like Far Cry Magazine, New Bourgeois, and Whispers from the Past. Check out his full length novel ‘Dark Satellites’ due out in early 2015, or send him a tweet @WTPaterson