Look, the conspiracy theories were everywhere. Invisible asteroids falling from the sky, aliens headed to earth, sightings of probes scanning the surface, people losing their memories in groups, clocks that stopped… Some of them were obviously false, others twisted versions of news reports (shootings and kidnappings being too mundane). So, when your wife wakes you up at 3 am, claiming you have to go receive otherworldly visitors at the top of the northwest hill trail immediately or tragedy would befall the planet, it isn’t illogical of you to call her crazy and tell her to go back to sleep.
It also isn’t completely illogical of her to throw a pillow at you, call you an insensitive pig and storm out of the room, especially since that fight yesterday when you insisted that she come home and change before meeting you for dinner, not wanting to be seen with a grown woman wearing a puff-sleeve dress with planets and stars on it, a less fabulous and more realistic version of Ms Frizzle. It didn’t matter that she was a teacher wearing a costume for a school event, and it didn’t matter that she’d stitched it herself or that she actually looked rather striking in it or that she loved it. It didn’t matter that it would take an additional hour for her to get home through traffic and then to the restaurant on the other side of town either—you insisted anyway. And, right now, it doesn’t matter what you think; you can’t let her go to the hills alone in the dead of the night.
You struggle out of the bedcovers and don your jacket, rushing to your car. It still smells tangy and stale from when you’d given that neighbor—Jina? Fara?—a ride a week or so ago, her bag full of food. Cursing your wife again for rolling down the window instead of ignoring Jina-Fara’s wave, cursing her for not taking her own car that day, you follow her taillights round a bend. It’s the breaking point, you know it. The two of you haven’t been the same after she left you without a word for four days last winter and wouldn’t admit that she was sneaking around with Sam, wouldn’t admit that she’d been gone at all. “Maybe it’s a sign. Something’s coming,” was all she said, turning to her incense sticks and crystals, and you moved into the guest bedroom that night. You’re not new to her ramblings about celestial cycles or the high-pitched ringing of other frequencies, and she’s stopped trying to make you care. You were tired then; you still are.
You have gained altitude, and the mist is thick now, seeping through your clothes. You follow the winding road up the hill until you see her car by the curb, still and empty. Clouds float by, stars peering through the gaps. There is no one around. Not a leaf or stone rises from its slumber.
You stand on the roadside and rub at your eyes wearily, wondering how it came to this. You had thought her charming once, had vowed to go wherever she went. You’d stood together, on a night like this, drinking beers at a tailgate party. I will follow you into the dark played from the speakers and you sang along, looking into her eyes. It’s been six years since, and you haven’t danced with her in a while.
Startled, you turn to see her standing there. She seems different, somehow. Brighter. Almost like the moon is casting a halo around her whole form, setting her eyes aglow. “Where have you been? What are we even doing here?” Then, you throw your hands up and say, “You know what? Doesn’t matter. Let’s go home.” She doesn’t move.
The radio of your car sputters and crackles and then a melody slips through; you haven’t laid a finger on it. I will follow you into the dark, the singer croons.
“You were thinking of that night, weren’t you?” Your wife’s voice is serene, blending into the night air, almost as if you’re hearing it through water or from miles away.
You sigh. “What trickery is this? I have a long day ahead, and it’ll be dawn soon. Now’s not the time.”
“Now is absolutely the time,” she replies. “You see, love, there will be no long day. There will be no more dawn.” Her voice echoes, and the song echoes around her. Your feet are leaden, anchored to the ground. You stare into her eyes, entranced. She blinks slowly, and the world blinks with her. First the lights from the town below flare before getting extinguished. Then, she turns to look at the sky—and you look up too—and the stars begin to vanish, one by one, the moon fading, shadows taking over the world. You feel her shift next to you, smell her strawberry shampoo and a subtle hint of perfume, feel her fingers on your neck, growing warmer, warmer, searing the skin.
You let out a hoarse yell. “What are you doing? What are you?” and she says, “I am your wife, and you promised to follow me into the dark. But you fell behind. You were too late.”
She opens her mouth, wider and wider, light streaming from her lips, until you see a thousand burning stars sucking you in.
Purnima (she/they) is a writer, editor, and artist from India. Her fiction and poetry can be found in Capsule Stories, Kahini Quarterly, Walled Women Magazine, Ellipses Zine, and others. Twitter: @purnimabala