Yesenia was six years old when she encountered a strange phenomenon. She kept her sighting and experience secret from both her mother and father. When she encountered it, her mother, Maria, had sent her to collect stones from the river. The river was a key resource for the town; it provided food, water, and a plethora of natural resources the township cherished. On this occasion, Yesina's mom needed rocks to slow-cook a pig in the family's underground pit in the backyard. The indispensable river ran through the center of town, and Maria had learned from her father that it produced rocks that were perfectly round and smooth - perfect for the family's pit. The rocks were also small enough for a child to pick and carry.
"Yesenia," Maria called out to her daughter and asked, "I need fifteen rocks from the river. Can you go get me some, please?" The mom smiled as she looked at her daughter who gleefully beamed a smile back at her mother anytime she asked for help. A warm feeling consumed Maria's heart every time she saw her daughter smile. The small town they lived in was tucked away in the rugged mountains of Arizona, where mining had become the single source of income for most of the people in the town and its surroundings. But ever since the mining company picked up and left town three years prior, the town had been suffering an economic collapse. Smiles were a commodity hard to come by nowadays, and Maria rejoiced in the small gift her daughter granted.
"Please, Yesenia," her mom begged, "make sure the rocks are no bigger than a green apple, understand? I don't want you hurting yourself." Yesenia nodded and smiled at her mom enthusiastically and quickly ran off. Mom watched as her daughter exited the kitchen with a wicker basket in hand for the rocks. Staring out her kitchen window as she returned to cutting veggies for the family meal that evening, Maria soaked up the sight of her daughter prancing through the yard with her flowing, yellow dress she had sewn a few weeks back. As she ran, one of her small brown shoes slipped off her tiny foot. For a second, her mom worried that she would continue on with only one shoe when she suddenly stopped, turned and slipped her shoe back on.
Stepping her two little feet into the calm and cold river water, goosebumps danced across her arm and her upper back as the frigid water vivified her senses. She smiled at the feeling and sight of her bumpy arms. Looking up and down the river like her mother always told her to, she found that she was the only person in the river that afternoon. Again, a smile passed her lips as she imagined herself the owner and ruler of the glimmering water space she was standing on. The young child closed her eyes as she let the various sounds of the river come to vivid life in her imagination. She could feel the cool breeze blowing through her pony-tails and swopping the tail end of her dress downwind. Taking a deep breath ingesting the crisp afternoon air, a putrid smell filled her wiffer. Grimacing at the awful smell, Yesenia opened her eyes to see where the smell was coming from, but she saw nothing. Again she peered up and down the river, as far as her eyes would allow, to no avail - the place was empty of all life, including animals.
Annoyed at the untenable and unseen source of the smell that was starting to dissipate, she bent at the waist and stuck her right hand into the water. Sifting her hand through the sandy river bottom, she saw sediment bloom around her hand and up to her forearm. Again, her mind took her to another place as she imagined each grain of floating sand as a star in the cosmos. Just as fast as previously, the putrid smells returned, and she flinched as she saw a shadow running across the periphery of her left eye. Hastily, she returned her hand out of the crisp water and stood up straight holding on tightly to the wicker basket. With a trembling bottom lip and voice, she called out, "who's there?" She froze in place as the goosebumps returned and ran up and down her spine. This time though, no smile crossed her lips; instead, her eyebrows furrowed with concern and freight.
Slowly backing out of the water one step at a time, she looked in all directions as the putrid smell kept getting worse. As she turned to walk on to the riverbank, she saw the shadow run through her periphery again, but this time it was close, much closer. Not hesitating, she turned to run back towards her home, and that's when she saw it: a mysterious object towering over her small and delicate four-foot frame. The object stood almost ten feet tall and three feet wide; she was in awe at the object's novelty. She had never seen anything like it anywhere, not even in town where her mother exposed her to new and strange items on occasion.
Somehow her mind drifted and she forgot all about the thing creeping at her peripheries. Transfixed like a moth to a light bulb in darkness, her mind tried to understand what she was looking at. The object was black as the blackest cat in town and shiny like her mom's cutlery. She stepped towards the object and sniffed at it to see if that was the source of the putrid smell, but it wasn't, the object was devoid of any order. Her smile returned as her interest piqued at the object towering over her that seemed as harmless as the tree beside it. Instead, she was mesmerized by this novel thing she had encountered in her short and inquisitive life. For some unforeseen and inexplicable reason, she wanted it to be hers.
With growing interest, Yesenia extended her hand to the object and felt its surface. Instantly, she retreated her hand as the object didn't feel like she expected. She anticipated the object to be solid as a rock, instead, it felt like warm liquid. Her eyes couldn't release themselves from the object, as ripples extended across the object from the point her fingers touched its surface.
Mustering the courage to touch the object again, she felt a strange, but growing connection to the object that made it seem okay. Calmly she walked up to the object and extended her hand. She felt her hand break the surface of the object and saw her hand sink into the dark object generating more ripples across its surface. For the third time, goosebumps danced across her body and the tiny hairs behind her neck came to attention. She didn't know if she was scared or excited; the feeling was unlike anything she had experienced.
Continuing to sink into the dark object with every step she took, she stopped and reminded herself of the rocks her mother needed. Pausing her progress, she felt a sucking feeling pulling her into the towering object, but she resisted. Grunting and slowly pulling her arm out of the dark abyss, she looked back and froze with fright. The thing she had been seeing, skirting her periphery, was standing there, watching her every move. Now though, it was crystal clear; it was an exact copy of her, it was wearing the same dress, shoes and her hair was pulled up into two pony-tails like her mom had set for her when she first woke up. Also, it was holding the wicker basket her mom had given her to retrieve the rocks for that evening's dinner. Her heart sank in fright and she let out a cry for her mother that echoed across the tall bank of the river and trees swaying in the wind.
Pulling herself out of the object's hold, the thing that looked exactly like her pushed her into the object and she disappeared. Along with her went her cries for help.
Standing by the object and staring at its dark and imposing presence to ensure the little girl wouldn't emerge, the faux child watched for three whole minutes before the dark object disappeared. Turning and walking to the riverbank, it completed the task the mother had issued and returned home. As she walked the dirt road's bend towards the child's home, she saw the mother of the child at the window waving at what she thought was her daughter. The imposter waved back and with her opposite hand lifted the wicker basket containing the fifteen rocks the mother requested.
Walking through the kitchen door, her mother reeled at the putrid smell that her daughter dragged into the house. "Oh my, child," her mother said. "What did you step in that you carry that awful smell?" The child shook her head and raised her shoulders showing child-like ignorance. "Jump into the bathtub and wash yourself down, now." The child's mother was irritated, incensed by the additional work her daughter had brought upon her in addition to the meal preparation she needed to finish before the rest of the family arrived.
Later that evening after the family gathered around the dining table feasting on the meal Maria had slaved-over, everyone had noticed Yesenia had been acting strangely. Her father who normally made his daughter laugh with his corny jokes, sat puzzled and recognized something was wrong with his daughter. Her three older siblings were also dismayed that none of their cracks could rile her up like they normally would.
Standing from the table, Yesenia excused herself and asked her three siblings if they could join her in the living room, she wanted to show them something. With the four children leaving the room, Gerardo, Yesenia's father asked Maria, "Did something happen between you two that Yesenia is acting this way"?
Confused herself, Maria responded, "she's been like that most of the morning. I sent her to get rocks from the river, and ever since, she's been acting strangely."
"Interesting," Gerardo responded as he looked towards the living room, "you think something happened at the river?"
Before the mother could respond, the putrid smell was back. "Oh my god, that smell is back." In the living room, the children were yelling and squirming like they always did. "Yesenia," Maria yelled, "why is that smell back?"
Stepping back into the kitchen alone, Yesenia looked at her mother and said, "it'll be gone shortly," and she returned to the living room. Seconds later, the ruckus the kids were creating came to a sudden stop. The abruptness made both parents look at each other in worry and they ran to the living room, but it was empty. Looking around the room, the children's father saw all four children standing outside the house, staring at something he couldn't see through the window.
Approaching the door, he saw his eldest daughter staring blankly at nothing. He then saw the rest of his children doing the same, except Yesenia who seemed to observe them all.
Yelling at his children, he got them all to return to the house and finish their meal. As the evening ended and the children returned to their rooms upstairs, the two parents couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. Whatever Yesenia was experiencing was now being mimicked by all four of their children.
Weeks after that strange night, every parent from the town met in secret at a church. The church's hall was loud as every parent shared what they were experiencing with their children. They all knew something was amiss, but they couldn't tell what was wrong. Their children were healthy and extra obedient, which sounds strange to complain about, but they also seemed robotic and void of emotion.
Walking to the church's pew, the city mayor kicked off the meeting. It took him almost two minutes to quiet down the room of worried parents. "Welcome everyone," the mayor started. "I understand we have a problem we don't know how to address. Many of you have spoken with me about strange observations and smells that occur before a change materialized with your family. I too have experienced this and agree something is wrong, we just don't know what's wrong." Again, the room came to a ruckus as people yelled indiscernibly about what they have been seeing.
After calming the room down, the mayor continued sharing the common observations people had been sharing. He had the town doctor come up as well and share his learned opinion, but he did nothing to calm the people's nerves. One by one, people stood and shared their thoughts about what was happening and why. People riled about this being an impending apocalypse that scriptures had warned about; others claimed the government was conducting experiments. They were all wrong as they quickly learned.
Looking out the front door, one of the parishioners noticed that a large group of children had gathered. Turning to tell the people inside what she saw, she noticed that at the center of the church was a dark, pulsing orb that was floating like gravity didn't exist. Everyone else in the church had already noticed the object and were transfixed by it like an addict to its fix. The first one to make contact with the dark object was the mayor. No one responded or reacted the moment the mayor disappeared after touching it. Instead, more and more people walked up to it and did the same - all coming to the same demise. After the last person disappeared, the object stopped pulsing and dropped to the ground.
Walking through the doors of the church first after all the parents had disappeared was Yesenia. She placed her tiny hand on the dark and ominous object and watched it disappear into her body.
Twenty miles to the north, the dark alien monolith appeared once again the following morning. This time, it appeared on a path used by children who visit the lake. It stood there as it sought its next victim.