The Room Where the Stars Live

Do you remember the little house on the edge of Mount Wilson, the house that had nothing inside it? Do you remember the astronomer Van Dyk? Do you remember the music, the message to the other side of the stars?

We thought it was all over. Aliens were going to land on Earth, they were going to absorb the people of the Earth as they'd absorbed Dorothy, and that would be that. It'd be like a neat little science fiction story, a cautionary tale to the next species that might think itself master of the Earth.

That was sixty eight years ago. Nothing happened. At least, we thought nothing happened. Now... now I know better. Soon, so will you. You aren't going to like it one bit, so if you want to live the rest of your life in peace I suggest you stop reading this right now and go watch some cat videos on Youtube.

Still there? Okay, you asked for it. I'll tell you. Listen.

On that fateful day in 1949, when the beings from Alpha Centauri were due to land on our Earth, I was with Steve -- you remember, Dorothy's brother Steve. We went up to the top of Mount Wilson together after dark that evening, because somehow it seemed like the appropriate spot to meet our fates. We were greeted there by Van Dyk, as if he'd been expecting us.

Van Dyk guided us to the hundred inch telescope. Steve was looking through the lens when the thing happened.

"The stars!" he exclaimed. "They're all gone!"

The real shock came when we both looked up at the sky directly. There were no stars anywhere in the sky, on what had been a perfectly clear night a moment earlier. Can you explain that? Nobody can, no human anyway. A minute later the whole sky just blinked back into existence, and everybody went on as if they hadn't noticed -- at least everybody except us three.

"What happens now?" I asked Van Dyk, my voice quivering.

Van Dyk smiled at me. "Nothing," he replied. The way he said it sent a chill down my spine.

After that day, Steve and I went our separate ways. I moved to a marketing job for a chemical plant in Van Nuys. I don't know what happened to Steve. I do know what happened to Van Dyk.

It wasn't until 1967 that the next thing happened. I was retired by then, and I had a thought to come back to the observatory one night, just to banish once and for all the uneasiness that'd been keeping me away all those years. I drove up the long windy road, got out and stopped a moment to admire the city lights a mile below.

Something caught my attention from the corner of my eye: a little house made of corrugated iron sheets, with a high peaked roof, hanging on the edge of the mountain. It was the house with nothing in it. Somehow I was drawn to the house, despite my fear. I walked over and pressed my hand against the cold iron door, reassuring myself that it was real, not just a figment of my imagination all these years. It was locked of course.

I must've jumped ten feet in the air when I felt the hand on my shoulder. It was Van Dyk.

"You're back," he said coldly.

"You," I stammered. "You're still here, after all these years!"

"Thought I must be dead by now? I can assure you I'm not." He just stared at me for a few moments with a sort of knowing look in his eye, not taking his hand off my shoulder. "You want to see inside? I'll show you."

Van Dyk fished a key out of one of his pockets, deposited it in the rusty old lock, and the door swung silently open.

It was nothing, the absence of everything, no sight or sound or smell. It made my hair stand on end.

"Go on in," the old astronomer motioned to me. "Go on in."

"I don't want to," I objected. I only wanted to get away from that place as fast as I could, yet I stood still, as if entranced.

"Go on in," Van Dyk commanded, and with that he gave me a shove I wouldn't have thought possible for a man his age.

I fell forward, and then suddenly there was no forward or backward anymore, just nothing all around. Even my own body seemed to have disappeared, I remember trying desperately to flail about in my panic but there was nothing to flail with or in.

A while later -- it's hard to say how long since time starts to lose meaning there -- I began to hear a faint music. At once I recognized it as the music from the other side of the stars, the music Dorothy first heard at the bottom of the old well with the Spanish soldier. Slowly the music grew until it enveloped me, and finally I felt it emanating from my own mind and felt myself slip away until there was nothing but the music.

That's right, I was absorbed. No, I didn't disappear into a little gray-green ball like Dorothy had -- they're just as capable of inhabiting our bodies as they are of absorbing our bodies into theirs, and apparently they found my body convenient for some purpose. No, I'm not an alien now. I was one for nearly 50 years, but I'm not now. They can grow old and die, you see. They usually live a thousand years or more, but I got lucky, the one who absorbed me died last year. When the music finally faded out after all those years, I was able to reassert myself.

It was like time travel for me. One moment I was in 1967, the next moment I woke up in 2016. I look perhaps five years older than I did in '67, it seems our bodies age much slower while absorbed.

It's taken me some time to piece things together, to work out some of what I (or rather, the alien in my body) was doing all those years. The clues led me right back to Mount Wilson. I've worked out they've been building something there all these years, something from nothing behind the door of the odd old building.

Finally last night I got it in my head to figure this thing out once and for all. I waited for the work crew to arrive, waited for them to unlock the door and go inside. I waited another 5 minutes, then walked up and stood by the door a moment, afraid to open it.

I wasn't surprised at all to see Van Dyk stroll up, looking not a day over eighty, fifty years after we'd last met. My lack of visible surprise saved me there, because he assumed I was still absorbed. He simply nodded at me, opened the door and walked through into the building. After another moment's pause to collect my wits, I re-opened the door to follow him.

It wasn't just nothing anymore. Imagine a small room with nothing around the edges, but with a structure in the middle somehow dwarfing the room itself. The structure is perhaps thirty feet fall and ten feet wide, smooth and white. It has no exact base or top, it just kind of fades around the edges. In the middle of it is a circular portal through which I could see a strange blinding landscape. Van Dyk floated toward the portal, then into it. From all around came the soft music, the voices of a conclave of beings from another world.

There's not much more to tell. I would've run away, but more workmen had come up behind me. It was clear they expected me to go in, and I couldn't risk them discovering I wasn't absorbed, so I pushed off toward the portal and floated through to the other side.

I'm writing this to you from an alien world, a blisteringly hot world set afire by binary suns. I don't know if I'll be able to make it back undiscovered. Perhaps my story can make it without me.

This is what I've learned:

The invasion happened that day in 1949, without any of us noticing. The visitors from the other side of the stars didn't choose to conquer cities like the aliens of science fiction stories, because they consider us an inferior form of intelligence and have no use for our cities. They rarely absorb people, most of them prefer to retain their natural state. They can live anywhere, but mostly choose to live in hot deserts like the Sahara, where the climate is closest to their home planet.

Relieved? Not so fast. They're a very patient people, very methodical. They've decided to adjust our climate to be more like theirs, a climate where a scorching Sahara summer is the norm planet-wide. They've decided to achieve this not by taking any great action of their own, but simply by manipulating the human population into starting a runaway greenhouse effect.

Have you heard the reports about the disappearing arctic sea ice, or about antarctic ice shelves thousands of years old breaking apart in a matter of weeks? Did you read about the recent winter heat wave up in Canada? Global warming, they say. Listen carefully on a hot day this summer and you may hear a faint unearthly music on the wind.