Her Geometry notebook was filled with sketches: trees, rocks, animals, and shapes. At first I thought the shapes were just part of the homework, but there were more there than “find the surface area of the cylinder” could explain. And strangely, there were more cubes than anything else.
She never talked much in Geometry. She just sketched, and I just watched her sketch. That explained my terrible grade, and why I got a detention during a test when I zoned out while watching her doodle one of the cubes on the edge of her paper.
The detention wasn’t that bad. It gave me a chance to focus on studying, for a change, and I was able to mostly ignore the lecture I got about keeping my eyes on my own paper. As I left detention that evening, I was in the middle of resolving to forget about her, and that cube from her sketches, to pay attention in class… and maybe to sit on the other side of the room so I wouldn’t be distracted by her.
But she was standing across the hall leaning against some lockers when I closed the door of the Geometry classroom.
I tried to pretend like I hadn’t seen her. I shifted my shoulders under the weight of my backpack and turned to walk to the front doors.
“You weren’t cheating off me,” she accused.
I stopped. “So?”
She glared. “So you either have a crush on me―” I opened my mouth to protest, but she continued: “or you want to know about this.” The history textbook she had been holding close had a brown paper bag cover which was covered in her doodles. When she flipped it over, I could see that on the back she’d drawn a larger version of the cube that decorated nearly every page in her Geometry notebook. She’d added detail to the inside of this one, though; there were lines criss-crossing it, as though the surface of the cube was the underside of a leaf, or a city seen from miles overhead, or the inside of a thunderstorm.
“Maybe I just think you’re a good artist,” I replied.
She gave me a look of disbelief as she shoved her history book into her backpack, then tossed the bag over her shoulder. “Come on,” she commanded.
I followed her.
To anyone else, it may have looked as though we were friends walking home from school together, but that wasn’t the case. We were both walking, it was true, and we were both headed for the same destination, but the walk was anything but friendly. Neither of us spoke. I didn’t know where we were going, and that kept me half a step behind her the whole way. Plus, there were the looks she kept giving me: like she was grudgingly letting me in on a well-protected secret, while at the same time, she would happily thrash me if I didn’t go with her.
Several times I nearly asked her where we were going and what we would see when we got there, but somehow I knew she wouldn't answer. She led me down the hill from the school and out of the neighborhood, across the railroad tracks and down another hill, then into the trees. I started to wonder if she was really going to show me something to do with her sketches or if this was elaborate revenge for looking at her Geometry test.
I was so focused on wondering where we were going and why that when she finally stopped, I was surprised, and I didn’t even see it until she pointed it out.
It was a quiet, thickly clouded afternoon. Light found its way to the earth anyway, where it illuminated the ivy climbing up the trees, revealed the different kinds of flowers that carpeted the ground, and reflected off of the gigantic cube sticking up out of the earth.
Art by Andrei Pintea
She spoke first, because I couldn’t. “I figure it’s probably a terraforming cube that didn’t quite finish dissolving,” she informed me. Then she stared at me, challenging me with a gaze to contradict her theory.
Eventually, when I replied, all I said was, “What?”
“A terraforming cube,” she repeated. Sighing as though she was explaining for the sixth time, she shook her head and explained for the first time. “It’s obvious. Every living thing on this planet must be a transplant from somewhere else. Our ancestors dropped these cubes from orbit; probably there used to be cubes like this all over the place, but they disappeared when they did what they were designed for and made the place okay for humans and animals to live. Oh, and they probably killed the dinosaurs.”
I stared at her, trying to ignore the huge, weird cube sitting out in the middle of the trees. Could there be hidden cameras waiting to catch my reaction for some kind of hilarious video? Was this a game she was playing, and she wanted me to play along? Had I stepped into an alternate universe when I left detention?
I couldn’t leave the cube out of the equation. It was huge. It was weird. It was there.
“You watch too much science fiction,” I told her. “It’s probably just a rock. Left over from a building project or something.”
“Like the Great Pyramid?” she asked skeptically, her eyebrow raised. I could tell that she must have considered my idea already. “Yeah, because there are so many ancient wonders of the world around here.”
I looked at the cube and pitched the next thing to come to me: “It’s… an art project! Some students from the college put it here.”
She rolled her eyes. “They must have aced that class. And then they were super quiet about how awesome they are at doing art, because no one but me ever comes out here.”
I geared up and took a final stab at it. “A meteorite?”
“I watch too much science fiction?” she replied with a disdainful glance. “I’m sure tons of geometrically perfect things fall out of the sky every day.”
We sat down on some rocks and stared at it.
“Fine,” I said after half an hour or so. “It’s a terraforming cube. All life on the planet is alien to it, and this thing and a whole bunch of things like it are why life exists here.”
She nodded, pulled out a notebook, and started sketching. “And now that you know what it is, you’ll be able to concentrate on Geometry. You can stop staring at my notebook.”
“Maybe I just have a crush on you!” I scoffed, offended.
She leaned away from me, obviously disgusted. “Do you?!”
“No!” I snapped. Then I stood up. “Look, have you ever gotten close enough to even see what it’s made of?”
“Of course not!” she shot back. “There’s no way to know why it didn’t finish dissolving, or what it would do if something organic came in contact with it!”
I frowned. “But it’s been out here a while, hasn’t it? So, it gets rained on and stuff? And look,” I said, pointing at the base of the thing. “The grass around it is organic. It’s touching the cube, and nothing’s exploding. If it was going to do something sinister, wouldn’t animals stay away?” I tapped a finger on the notebook she held, where a caribou was coming to life under her pencil. Her model stood about ten feet away from the cube, quietly grazing.
She glared at me, and for the first time that afternoon was without a quick reply.
“Why are you afraid of it?” I asked her.
“Because, it’s…” she floundered. “It’s obvious that it’s not supposed to be here.”
“Why didn’t you tell someone else about it?”
“I told you,” she said, “nobody comes out here but me. If I told somebody else, they could get hurt.”
“But what if it’s got advanced technology in it that could, like, cure cancer? You could be holding back the entire world!”
She jumped up and looked me in the eye. “Or I could be protecting it!”
“Only one way to find out,” I told her, and then I marched stubbornly toward it.
“No, don’t!” she called, obviously worried but just as obviously unwilling to get any closer to the cube.
Her cry didn’t stop me, but it did spook the caribou, who shot a frightened look at us and then loped away.
I kept going until it was near enough to touch. I had expected that the cube would be a bit more mysterious up close. It should have been putting off heat, or pulling heat in. It should have been humming quietly, the sound getting louder as I approached. At the very least, the lines that were etched across it like a vein in a gold mine should have been shifting around, fading or growing brighter depending on the phase of the moon, or where you looked at it, or if it was a Tuesday.
But it wasn’t doing any of that.
And maybe the fact that it wasn’t overtly creepy, or something that would easily have fit into an episode of Star Trek was what made me stop, and to think for the first time that she might be right.
I turned to look back at her and saw that she had ventured a little closer than the rocks where we sat, but not much.
“Please,” she pleaded. “What if something bad happens?”
“What if nothing happens at all?” I called back. “You’re going to feel stupid when I’m standing here touching it and it’s just a rock, and all you’ve been doing is drawing pictures and being afraid for no reason.” I reached out a hand.
She shook her head violently. “Don’t!”
Slowly, I felt my fingers brush the side of the cube.