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An Astronaut Lights a Candle

The candle needed to be put out. I knew this. Still, as I descended the basement staircase watching the flames flicker, I feared the darkness of the dying flame.

The candle burned every night, casting its light against the walls. These walls—the walls of Grandmother’s house—had stood through the Blitz when she was a young woman. They stood now in the age of cell phones, Twitter, and Facebook. Grandmother had watched the candle burn and now me. I was the last watcher of the candle. I would be the one to put it out.

I had been building my courage to step into the basement for nearly three weeks. Each night I’d swallow a glass of red wine and step onto the staircase. I would stand, simultaneously experiencing the light of the candle as well as knowing it couldn’t possibly be there. Its existence was impossible. I would wait for the footsteps and the shadow. As soon as I sensed the presence of another in the basement, I would turn away, close the door, and try to forget what I had seen. There was no candle and no man in the basement.

***

I was five or six when my grandmother took me to the basement for the first time. We were in the kitchen, me propped up on a stool by the bar and grandmother standing before me, her face long and serious. She seemed ancient to me. I realized now she was probably only in her late forties, the age I am now.

“Siobhan,” she said, “your mother is gone.”

I nodded. Mother had been gone for some time, though I didn’t know the exact amount of time. It could have been months or just a few days. Time didn’t mean much to me. My days consisted of playing in the garden when it was sunny or playing in my room when it rained. I only knew mother had vanished one day. It had not alarmed me. Maybe she had gone on holiday. Eventually, it sunk in, becoming a fact like the sky is blue or fire is hot—Mother was gone, and I would not see her again.

“Your mother has left us, child, and it’s not such a bad thing,” Grandmother said. “She was not always here when I needed her. Or when you needed her, for that matter.”

I nodded again, more for show than understanding. My mother lingered in the background of my life, sometimes scolding, but mostly indifferent. I never needed her. It was Grandmother who fed me, clothed me, and told me when I could play in the garden.

“She couldn’t handle the responsibility of this house. Because she is gone you’ll have to take on her job much sooner than I wanted.” She paused, as if expecting an answer.

This time I didn’t nod. I didn’t understand Grandmother’s words. I remained silent and nervously tugged at my jumper.

“Look at me, Siobhan.”

I looked up. Grandmother’s eyes were wide, blood shot. I concentrated on the lines of blood lacing across the whites of her eyes. These lines terrified me. Would they burst? Had they always been there? Or had they only developed because Mother was gone?

“I’m going to take you to the basement today,” Grandmother said. “I’m going to show you what it means to take over this house. You might be scared, but know I’ll protect you. You needn’t be afraid of anything you see down there.”

The basement—I had never been allowed. Grandmother said spiders lived down there and large rats as well. This was enough to deter my curiosity.

Night had fallen when we stood at the basement door. I held her hand loosely, but when she pushed open the creaking basement door, I tightened my grip. The glow of a flickering light filled my vision.

She led me down the stairs, each step creaking. At the base of the staircase, I saw a small table with a single white candle held by a brass candleholder. Fat drips of wax ran down the side of the candle like sweat. The plain wooden table did not seem out of place, and I idly wondered why my grandmother would leave a candle burning.

“What were you going to show me?” I asked.

“Wait.” She placed a hand on my shoulder and dug her nails into my flesh. This hurt me, and I let out a small gasp, tried to pull away. “Wait,” she repeated. “Watch the candle. Look at the table it sits upon. What do you see there?”

“Only a candle burning,” I said. “Why did you light it? Is there no bulb?” I glanced up. A single bulb with a long pull string hung from the ceiling.

“Watch!”

I started to protest, to run up the stairs, but a gust of wind brought my attention back to the table. The candlelight was gone. The basement was shrouded in darkness. A ground level window let in a small amount of light, and I could make out the shape of the table. The candle was in the center of it, not lit, the wax new and smooth with no drips down the side.

I pressed against my grandmother. I wanted to close my eyes but a loud pop, a sudden flash of light, made me look. Then he appeared.

I assumed it was a he, though I didn’t know. Some form of human stepped from behind the table. He wore a white suit, similar to suits of the astronaut that had walked on the moon a few years earlier, though his suit was slimmer, harder looking, not as puffy. The helmet over his head was made of a smooth reflective glass. The images it reflected were not of the basement, not of me and my grandmother, but of a dark stone room.

I whispered to my grandmother, “Who is he?”

“I don’t know. But he cannot hear us. Cannot see us. He is in another world.”

“Is it a man?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

Years later, I realized she didn’t mean man or woman, but rather, she did not know if he was human.

He leaned over the table and picked up a book of matches. He struck a match against the book and lit the candle. Then he lifted his head as if hearing something in the distance. He dropped the matches, backed away from the table, and something lifted him into the air and pulled him away into the dark hole that had formed behind him. The candle remained lit and the hole disappeared.

I learned this scene of the candle being lit repeated daily. After the first day, my grandmother showed it to me, I refused to see it again. I cried in my room alone, weeping for the man who was pulled into darkness.

“We should help him!” I told Grandmother.

“Nothing can help him. We can only observe.”

She didn’t know what would happen if the house were destroyed, but she feared it could be disastrous. On her deathbed, only about twelve years after I saw the candle for the first time, she said, “There is a thin membrane between this world and his. Whatever pulls the man into darkness could pull all of us into it. We must protect the window, keep the glass from shattering and letting darkness in.”

I inherited the house when I was barely an adult. I gave up on the idea of university, a real job, or moving away from London. I needed to stay in the house, to watch the candle and guard the membrane. I was protecting the world from darkness, or so I told myself.

Often in the night, however, I’d wonder if any of it was real. Sometimes I would stand at the top of the staircase, reminding myself there was a candle.

People offered to buy my house, developers wanting to build new condos. I turned them down. I could have taken the money and bought a nice little cottage out of the city. Maybe I’d have taken a job at shop or a pub. Anything would have been better than staying in the house with the candle burning in the basement.

Thinking my grandmother wished this upon me brought up a great anger within me, turned my body hot, and made my mind incapable of coherent thought. I wanted to destroy the house. Take a sledgehammer to the basement and smash through the walls. I wanted to bury the astronaut. If such an act destroyed the world, so be it. The world deserved destruction. It deserved nothing more than what I’d already given it.

Other times I felt a sense of pride knowing I had a secret. This secret kept the world safe. In some way, I was a hero. Siobhan Harris—superhero.

All these thoughts came to me late at night. They faded as daylight came. Then I’d go on with my job down the street—an assistant in a bakery. I never bothered learning much in school, knowing I would never be able to go far. A woman could do many things in London. But the house called, and I couldn’t abandon it. I didn’t want to be far from it for any amount of time. What if someone saw it? What if a robber broke into the house and touched the candle?

The world would be gone in an instant—maybe.

Or maybe nothing would happen.

Why risk it?

Now I had to risk it. I had to face the astronaut.

A few weeks after my forty-seventh birthday, my doctor diagnosed me with pancreatic cancer. I was very ill, he said. I’d felt poorly for some time but never bothered with taking care of myself. When I finally went in, he said I had nine months—maybe. If I kept up with my treatments. I should get my affairs in order, he said. Tough business, cancer, he said.

I decided not to keep up my treatments. I would die alone in my house, as my grandmother intended. Perhaps she wanted me to have a family like her. Maybe I was to have another daughter and force her to live in the cursed house.

I’d never inflict my curse on another generation. The curse must end with me. I knew as soon as I died, the house would be demolished. It was an outdated, poorly maintained blemish on an otherwise modern street. The roughness of the destruction would ruin whatever delicate boundary existed and the whole world would be destroyed. Everything my grandmother feared.

Of course, I didn’t really know this. Grandmother never really knew. But I felt it in my heart. She must have felt it as well. We were given this house and place for a reason. The reason must be as protectors. Before I died, I would enter through the barrier, disrupting whatever loop trapped the astronaut. I would do it safely, without destroying the world. That would be the end of it.

After three weeks, I gained my courage to finally sit on the floor of the basement and watch the astronaut closely. I noticed the subtle movements of the man. When he came into the room and found the matches, he paused glancing around the room quickly, as if searching. His hands fumbled with the matches, nearly dropping them more than once. He shook as he lit the candle. What else did he expect to be in the room?

My own hands were shaking the night I decided I would slip through the barrier. I told no one, didn’t say goodbye to anyone. I didn’t expect to come back through the barrier. I would most likely be sucked in with the astronaut. Or I would cause the end of the world. I didn’t know, couldn’t know. I was dying though, so what did I have to lose? I was ready to find out the truth, even if it ended my life a bit prematurely.

I waited for the candle to go out. This happened between 6 and 8 PM every night since my grandmother was only a girl. She never mentioned if anyone else in the family had known of it. Had my grandfather known or even my father? I had known neither of them, and they were never mentioned. As I stood waiting to step through, I wondered if they knew and couldn’t stand the secret, couldn’t live with knowing such a thing existed. Only a woman could keep a secret like this for so long, only an English woman could hold something so tightly to her heart without ever loosening it.

The whoosh happened suddenly although I expected it. It always occurred suddenly. I didn’t hesitate. I stepped toward the table, expecting some kind of sensation as I passed through, but there was only a drop in temperature and a change in the smell. I smelt dampness, wet stone. My breath fogged in front of me. A shiver passed through my body.

I realized I stood on something other than the smooth concrete floor of the basement. It was dirt and gravel beneath my feet, making crunching sounds as I walked. Then the astronaut was before me. I saw myself reflected in his helmet’s glass face. Close to him, I saw the suit was stiff, a hard white plastic. I knocked the candle from the table, ending the cycle. Then I reached out to touch him. As my fingers grazed his mask, a light flashed.

***

I awoke in a white room. People swarmed around me, at least six or seven men and women I didn’t know. They spoke at once, their words incomprehensible.

A woman with loose black hair cascading over her face held out her arm and shouted, “Everyone! Get back and shut up!” She moved close to me. “Are you all right?” she asked. “Do you know where you are? Do you know who you are?”

“Siobhan Harris,” I answered. “I don’t know where I am. I was just at home a moment ago.”

The people turned, looked at each other.

“Siobhan Harris?” the woman asked. “The Siobhan Harris who lived at 14 Lorne Road.”

I nodded. “That’s me.”

The woman shouted at a man behind her, “Help her out of here! Let’s get her to the clinic.”

The man started to lift me, but I felt suddenly dizzy.

***

I was lying on a small cot with a rough blanket covering me. Sitting in a chair across from me was the same woman from before. She was reading a book, but when she saw me sitting up, she closed the book and set it on a table beside her.

“You’re awake,” she said.

“Where am I?”

“That’s going to be difficult to answer,” she said, her words slow and deliberate. “You won’t believe me, but I want you to remain calm and know I have no reason to lie to you.”

She stood, walked to the edge of the cot, and sat. I should have felt uncomfortable by her closeness, but I didn’t. I needed this closeness, needed to feel another human near me. It had been so long since I’d talked intimately with someone else. I hadn’t realized my life was so isolated, so focused on the candle in the basement.

“I’m Dr. Preeti Ramesh. You asked where you are. That is difficult to explain, and yet, the answer is very simple. You’re home. You’re at 14 Lorne Road.”

“I don’t—“

Preeti held up a finger.

“Please, I’ll explain. You’re at the same place you were before you woke up here. However, you’re not in the year 2016. It’s 2085.”

I started to stand up, but Preeti pressed on my shoulders.

“Before this morning my colleagues and I thought Siobhan Harris was dead. She disappeared nearly seventy years ago. The people who knew her had no idea where she’d gone, but her doctor reported she was dying from cancer. So maybe she’d gone to some beachside town in the Bahamas to live her last days. That’s what people liked to believe. But I’d always suspected, she’d done something else with herself. I was right, wasn’t I?”

This was a rhetorical question, I suspected, so I said nothing.

She went on, “After you disappeared, a developer wanted to build condos on this block. They had your home declared abandoned. When crews went in to demolish it, something strange happened.”

Preeti paused and smiled. “The debris of the demolition began to disappear. Walls of plaster and wood gone, as if it had all been sucked up by a big vacuum. This continued to happen. When certain government agencies heard of it, they took over. Everything was covered up, and their best scientist set to work. They discovered an anomaly, a bubble of space and time that did not belong. Although invisible to the human eye, this bubble when breached absorbed whatever came into contact with it. Where did these things go? No one knew.

“For two generations we’ve been working here, trying to understand it. For that long, we’ve had nothing new from it, no better understanding, until today. Do you know what happened today?”

Preeti looked at me, but I had no answers for her. I didn’t even know what day it was, let alone what had happened.

“You happened. You appeared on the floor just outside the bubble. When you watch the videos from the monitors, you can see it. The bubble forces you out. Plops you on the floor. When the bubble opened up, we could see inside of it. Do you know what we saw?”

This time I did answer. “You saw a room. A stone room. With a candle on a table?”

Preeti nodded slowly. “That’s right. That’s exactly right. What is that room? It’s not your basement. The basement was made of concrete and brick walls.”

I shook my head. “I would tell you if I knew.”

Preeti came closer to me, took my hands in hers, and said, “Tell me everything you do know. Nothing is too mundane.”

I looked at her dark, smooth hands clutching mine. Then I told her everything. I started from when I was a girl, how my mother had left us, and continued on to the point I crossed the barrier into the stone room and kept the astronaut from lighting the candle.

When I had finished, Preeti squeezed my fingers. “Thank you for sharing. You need more rest and maybe a bite to eat. I can have something brought up to you or you can come down to the cafeteria and eat with us.”

“I think I’d like to be alone for now.”

“Of course. There’ll be some food up here soon. Then you rest. We can talk again tomorrow.”

“I’ll be here.”

“You’re not a prisoner here,” she said. “You can leave if you like, it’s just—“

“It’s just I have nowhere else to go. I’m already home.”

***

The next day Preeti took me to the basement to see the bubble. It was unrecognizable as my old basement. For one thing, the table, candle, and astronaut were gone. They must have vanished when I breached the seal seventy years ago. The concrete and stone had been replaced with new white flooring, and most of the white walls were lined with desks with computers.

She showed me the tests they ran daily and the data they’d been gathering for years. None of it made sense to me. I thought often during her tour I was dreaming. I had fallen asleep in the basement and imagined all this. Or I was still a child, and Grandmother had yet to show me the secret lying in the basement.

“You can see most of our data answers nothing for us at all,” Preeti said. She held a sheet of paper with columns of numbers beneath my face.

“This all means nothing to me.”

Preeti dropped the paper and said, “Of course it doesn’t. Honestly, it doesn’t really make much sense to me either. I’ve gathered nothing useful in all my years here. I’ve created a lot of charts about changes in pressure, but what has that gotten us?” She laughed and smiled a close-lipped smile.

“Then why even bother with this.” I motioned at the center of the room, where presumably the anomaly lay. “Whatever this is. There’s so much life beyond this tiny space. I spent my whole life dedicated to protecting something which has absolutely no meaning. I thought it would destroy the world if I left it alone, but no. It’s nothing. If it has an answer to the question of its purpose, I’m sure the answer is its own insignificance.”

Preeti shook her head. “I can’t believe that. I believe understanding this will change the world.”

“Don’t waste your life like I did,” I said. “I’m not going to anymore. I’m going to leave.”

I turned to walk up the metal staircase, which had replaced the old wooden stairs of my home.

“You don’t have much time left!” Preeti shouted after me.

I turned mid-step.

“We ran scans on your body yesterday. You don’t have much time left. Your cancer, there’s a cure nowadays. We can send you for treatments. You could be well by the end of the week.”

“Why would you do that?” I asked.

“Help us understand the anomaly. You’re the only one to have spent so much time with it. You’re the only thing to have come out. That must mean something.”

“It means nothing. My grandparents just bought a house in the wrong spot.” I started up the stairs again and didn’t look back. I found my room with the cot and tried to gather my things to leave. But nothing belonged to me. The closest thing I had to my own was the hole in space in the basement below.

There was a knock at the door, and Preeti entered.

“Stay,” she said. “Let us cure you. Not for the bubble, but for your own life.” She came toward me and took my hands in hers. I should have pulled away, but I felt comforted by her.

I looked into her golden brown eyes and decided I would stay.

***

Preeti hadn’t exaggerated about how easily I could be cured. The facility brought in doctors and treated me in my small room. My cot was exchanged for a hospital bed. After a series of intravenous treatments—which made me feel awful for three days—I was, according to my doctor, completely cured. I could live another fifty years if I watched my health. But what were fifty years in this strange world with technology I didn’t understand? Such a life would be miserable, but then Preeti started staying with me. During my treatments, she pulled my sweaty hair back when I needed to vomit. She was an angel while I was in hell.

I was in love with her, but I couldn’t tell her, couldn’t say it aloud. Thankfully, she did it for me.

When I had recovered, she took me to her apartment and asked me to stay.

“I think you know how I feel about you,” she said on my first night out. “I think you feel the same. So why not stay with me? You’ve been alone your whole life. You don’t have to be anymore.”

So I did, and I wasn’t alone for the first time since my grandmother died.

Preeti showed me the latest in London life. It wasn’t much different from what I had left. The cars had changed shape a little. Some new shiny buildings had been erected. The old structures—the Tower of London and Parliament—looked exactly the same.

Most nights during dinner, Preeti ranted on about the bubble, what it meant to science. Sometimes she would get especially scientific, and I would look at her with glazed eyes. Then she’d sigh and shake her head.

“We’re talking time travel. Openings in space and time,” she said one night when she was particularly excited. “Moving great distances through the universe in a short amount of time. If we could only understand the bubble and apply what makes it tick to our own technology. That must be pseudo-science enough for you to understand.”

“Maybe I do. Maybe I don’t. Or maybe I don’t care either way.”

“What do you care about?”

“You,” I said, smiling. “The portal is amazing. You’re right about that. But it’s only amazing to me because it brought me through time to you. It’s a love portal.”

Preeti laughed. “That’s a good theory on its purpose, better than our own at the lab.”

“What’s your theory?” I asked.

“You’re not going to like it,” she said, looking down at her plate. “We think the bubble is just a fluke. A disruption in an otherwise well-functioning universe. Like a paint chip on a shiny new car. But what a fantastic disruption it’ll be if we can learn the things I’ve talked about.”

She was right. I didn’t like that theory. I grew sullen, knowing I’d spent my life worrying over a fluke.

***

Over the following weeks, Preeti’s colleagues interviewed me, ran tests on my body. They asked questions about the basement, about the “astronaut,” and about the candle. They wanted to know the type of candlestick, the details of the metal. What color was it? What did it smell like?

“It had no smell,” I answered. “Only the smell of a cellar. Dampness.”

I was sure nothing useful came from my answers, but I wasn’t bothered. I only wanted to be near Preeti, to complete the life I was lucky enough to have.

Then Preeti told me some interesting things were discovered after my arrival. The bubble expelled trace amounts of my DNA on a daily basis—fibers of my hair or bone.

“That’s creepy,” I said. “What does it mean?”

Preeti stared at me, frowning. “I think it means you’re still in there.”

***

Although Preeti was trying to act normal around me, I could tell something was wrong. After the discovery of my DNA, everyone at the facility started acting strangely. It made no difference to me if bits of me were flying out of that damned bubble.

But other things were happening as well. Throughout the day at the facility, I’d hear alarms blaring in the basement, people rushing about looking harassed. No one ever spoke to me about these problems, and I didn’t care enough to ask.

Then one evening Preeti rushed through the front door of our apartment, her eyes wide in panic. She hugged me. “I won’t let them do it.”

“What?” I asked.

“They’ll come, and they’ll try to take you, but I won’t let them.”

“Who’ll try to take me?”

Her eyes were unfocused, fearful. “We need to get out of here!”

She rushed to the bedroom, and I heard her open the closet door. I could tell from the noise that she was pulling things down from shelves quickly.

“What are you doing?” I called after her.

I was about to try to calm her when the front door opened and two men came in. One held what looked like a gun, but not quite like any gun I had ever seen. He pointed it at me, so I held my hands up.

“Siobhan Harris, come with us.”

Behind me, Preeti had rushed out of the bedroom, sobbing.

I thought they would take me to some hidden bunker or prison cell, but instead, they took me back to the facility, back to my old room with the cot. They locked the doors. In the back of my mind, I thought Preeti would rescue me. She would come for me and save me as she had saved me from my cancer.

I fell asleep on my cot and awoke to Preeti standing over me.

“You’re going to be okay,” she said, but I could tell from her voice things were not okay. “We’ve had a meeting, all the board attended. I didn’t get to speak, of course, but everyone agreed they can’t force you to do anything.”

“What are you talking about? Can I go now?’

“No,” she said and let out a great sob. “Siobhan, they won’t ever let you leave now. You’re too important.”

I started to make a sound of protest, but she interrupted me.

“Let me explain.” She took a deep breath. “We’ve been developing probes to send into the anomaly for years. We’ve sent many models through, but it’s always been futile. As soon as they go through, they’re gone. We never gather any data from them. But in the last few months, we had a new model we thought would work, a different kind of signal that we believed would be strong enough. We were going to send it through last week, but it won’t go.”

“What do you mean it won’t go?”

“Nothing can go into the bubble now, except—” She stopped speaking and took my hands in her own. “Except pieces of you.”

“Pieces of me?”

“We realized nothing could go through at the same time we realized things were being expelled—your DNA. And I didn’t tell you, but the fragments of you were old, as though it had been floating around for a hundred years. Then some of the other doctors had an idea—they thought if you were coming out, then maybe pieces of you could go in. They started to send your blood samples through. And when they did, the sample containers came back out immediately, but they had also aged.”

“So?” I searched her eyes and realized I knew the answer.

“We’ve never been able to get readings inside the bubble. That’s really what we need. So they wanted to send you through to get those readings.”

“I won’t go,” I said, sitting up.

“You won’t!” Preeti said, pushing on my shoulders. “We already agreed that no one could make you. But they want to keep you here for samples. Send your blood through, laced with tiny robots to record everything.”

I sat down again. “Okay, so I just provide a sample of my blood every once and a while? That should be okay.”

“It will take some time to develop the new sensors that can go in your blood. Until then, they want to keep you safe here.”

***

For several weeks, I lived contently in my little room with the cot. Eventually someone brought in a better bed, and Preeti brought items from her home to make it feel cozy. We ate dinner together in the cafeteria, and I tried to stay positive. My life was still better than before. I had Preeti. And even though alarms were going off more and more in the basement, I rarely thought of the astronaut and the candle.

I thought Preeti was happy too until one night when we were eating dinner the alarms went off again. Only now the alarms blared in the cafeteria as well. Everyone stood and rushed from their tables toward the exit.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Something’s happened to it,” Preeti said.

I followed her down the stairs to the basement where dozens of people stood at the perimeter of the room staring at one wall. Immediately, I knew why they were staring—a wall of computers had been ripped out, revealing crumbling dry wall.

In the center of the basement, I saw a shimmer of something flickering.

“It’s volatile,” one of the onlookers shouted.

Preeti shouted back, “We need to put in another sample, but we can’t get close enough! We need to drop the perimeter!”

She sidled across the back wall and placed her hand over some kind of screen. A light flashed on it and then I heard a loud thud. I looked at the center of the room. A huge metal box had fallen from the ceiling and encased the bubble. The alarms died.

***

“I didn’t tell you how volatile it was because I knew it would upset you,” Preeti said.

“What else haven’t you told me?”

“Well, it also only calms after a sample of you has been sent through.”

“But why?” I asked, stunned.

“We have our theories.” Then she became silent.

“What are they?”

“We think it’s expecting you. That it requires you to go back in to set something right. It knows you’re out of your time, and it needs you to go back in.”

I sat on my bed shaking. “This doesn’t sound like the behavior of a fluke, a disruption. What happens if it continues growing as it has been?”

Preeti opened her mouth, but no words came out. Tears fell down her cheeks.

“It’ll keep growing until it can’t be stopped, won’t it?” I asked.

She nodded.

I sat for several moments rubbing my arms and shivering. Then a calm came over me. “I’ll go in then,” I said. “What choice do I have?”

“We could keep trying to contain it!”

“There’s not enough time,” I said. A sense of peace came over me, as if this decision was the first right one I had made in my life.

***

I nearly collapsed to my knees when they showed me the suit with the sensors, the suit I’d wear into the bubble. It looked like an old astronaut’s space suit, but it was slimmer, made of hard plastic, not as puffy.

“You’ll be tethered, and we’ll try to pull you back once thirty seconds has passed,” some faceless scientist said to me. “The sensors will be on collecting data while you’re there.”

I nodded solemnly.

“What will it feel like when I’m there?” I asked Preeti.

“We don’t know,” she answered.

“Will I die immediately?”

“We don’t know. You might not die.”

“When you pull me back, if you can, a hundred years will have passed. I won’t be alive. That’s how all my samples have been.”

“It might be different,” she said. “We don’t know.”

“Cheer up. Think of all the data I’ll have collected,” I said. “Think of how the world will be changed by it. Do you think that was the point all along? That’s my theory.”

I slipped on the suit, which made my body bigger, mannish even.

I approached in the center of the lab.

“Siobhan, try to make contact when you pass through,” another scientist said. “Press the button on your wrist to speak to us.”

I nodded, but I knew I would not speak to them ever again.

Then I stepped through.

Around me, the stone room was finally complete. It was an old cellar, probably built in the eighteen hundreds by the looks of it. I couldn’t see too well, so I approached a table in the center of the room. I knew a large box of matches would rest on it. I struck the match against the book and lit the candle. I could see the lights of my sensors inside the helmet recording each moment. I looked around nervously. Would I be taken back?

I felt a pull backwards and then blackness.

I was in a room, a cellar. There on the table was a candle. I needed to light it again. The sensors continued recording.

Blackness.

I needed to light the candle again.

I lit the candle again and again. How many times? Hundreds. Thousands.

Each time I appeared, I realized my fate again and wondered if it would be the last time or if it was the first time.

I never grew tired, never felt anything other than the desire to light the candle and do what had to be done. How did I know it had to be done? Because it had already been done. I had witnessed in my youth. My grandmother had witnessed it as well.

I moved toward the candle, but this time it was different. I heard a pop. An arm knocked the candle from the table and then reached for me. I looked up and saw a tired woman. She touched my face, and I felt myself pulled back for the final time.

A bit about the author:

Megan Neumann is a speculative fiction writer living in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her stories have appeared in Crossed Genres, Daily Science Fiction, and Perihelion Science Fiction. She is a member of the Central Arkansas Speculative Fiction Writers' Group and is particularly appreciative of their loving support and scathing critiques. Visit author page