Contest Prompt: The year is 2030. The first astronauts have landed on Mars. They find a cave with a single human skeleton and four
words written on the wall. ****Contest organized by Megan Koch.
Story #1 ****First place winner**** Brianna Griesenauer
“Don’t come in here.”
Those simple directions. Those four words etched into the wall, giving us a simple answer to the question we asked ourselves: should we search this cave? I cannot believe we ignored the message even with the skeleton staring straight into our eyes.
It was all such a blur when it happened… when we became trapped in this place.
The entrance was so captivating, our research team checked every crevice of it that we could reach from the outside. Our youngest cadet glanced inside, letting out a small scream. I hurried over, leaving the rest of the team to continue their studies, and asked what had happened. The cadet could only point and stare at what they had seen.
Inside the cave was a sight that shook me to the core. A single skeleton… a human skeleton, leaned against the back wall of the cave. Next to it, a four letter message was engraved on the wall. If only I was not so stupid as to ignore the dead man’s words and stayed out. I stepped inside, not thinking any danger could come from it. After all, the man was already dead, so surely the danger he spoke of had passed. I had never been so wrong.
I was the first to enter the cave, my cadet awaiting my orders to come in. I looked around for signs of danger, but I could not find any, so I told my partner that it was okay to come in. She put one foot in the doorway when the entrance of the cave dropped… crushing her underneath. I had never screamed so loud in my life. Floods of tears fell from my eyes as my gaze was locked onto where my cadet had once stood. At that moment, I realized that those words on the wall weren’t to be taken lightly. However, I was already trapped. There was nothing I could do.
My panic rose in my chest, fear filling every corner of my brain as anxiety crept into all of my nerves. I needed to escape, but there was no way of me doing so on my own. Even the tons of equipment that we had brought could not move the boulder. The boulder… my cadet… my cadet would never be removed from under the rock, never brought back home. I felt tears return to my eyes at that simple thought, but wiped them away quickly knowing that it wasn’t the time to cry. I had to escape. I had to prevent this from happening to anyone else.
Just as I went to go bang on the boulder in hopes of alerting my crew, I felt something touch my shoulder. My blood went cold and a chill crept up my spine. I could not force myself to move, every muscle in my body stiff with fear. No one else was here. Who was it. Who was touching my shoulder. I slowly managed to turn my head towards my shoulder and nearly passed out where I stood. It was the skeleton.
“I thought I warned you, dearie… I warned you not to come in…” it spoke, voice surprisingly clear from its lack of speech components.
“......I….” I did not know what to reply with, so I mentioned the fatality of my friend,
“The boulder… It killed my cadet. You warned us of it and we did not listen-”
My breath was suddenly taken from my lungs as I was hoisted against the wall by my neck. The skeleton let out a blood-curdling chuckle as it looked at me with empty eye sockets. “Oh little astronaut… your friend was lucky. I was not warning you of the boulder.”
Story #2 by Rachel Swain
I find myself practically racing towards the tiny doors, eager to get out of the little rocket. In actuality, it was a rather large rocket, hundreds of feet, towering into the sky. Somehow after such a lengthy trip, where three other astronauts and I retired to cramped sitting rooms and dark bed chambers, in a vast sea of stars shining brightly the monster sized rocket seemed all too suffocating.
The door slammed open and I jumped down to the ground. The very first thing I felt was the clunk of my heavy boots against the rough surface of the new planet. Then, a cloud of dust rose up, circling me in a swirl of red, and I marveled at the sight. I didn’t dare to move until every single particle was scattered and resting, a clear view of the horizon.
Being where it was situated in the solar system, every visible inch of the planet was dimly lit a warm color. It was always portrayed as red, but so close I can bend down and run my gloved hands over the hard edges I can see that it's more of a tinted orange color, practically glowing in the faint light.
A whistle sounds behind me and I turn smiling to face my partner. “Look at this place, I can’t believe we made it.” Comet’s gruff voice is quiet and low, almost reverent at the sight. “The view is so beautiful, makes all that training and hard work worth every bit of it.”
Sandy steps out next, thick gloved fingers looked through two hooks on either side of her waist. “Scientists lied though, place is totally orange.” Although I couldn’t see her face through the thick dark glass of her helmet, I knew she was grinning ear to ear.
Snow stayed back in the door frame, silent. Towards the beginning of the trip, I would have thought he would be scared, but now I can picture him peering out wide eyed in joy. “We really made it.” He whispered, and I knew that was all we’d hear of him for most of the trip. They were words well spent, because all of them were overjoyed to meet their goal.
Sandy wandered first, then they all began to walk away, searching on their own but close enough that the rocket and their companions were within view. It was mostly the same: dust, rocks, small craters. I saw something in the corner of my eye, a dark spot in the sand. On second glance there was some sort of hole in the ground. I peek inside to see a large hollowed out area, cave-like and dark without much of a drop. I called Comet, being the closest companion, to come take a look too. With a huff, I slipped through the surface and into the cave below.
It was dark, eerie, so I clicked on my light to examine the walls. It was about the same as the ground layer, but less dusty and more solid and cold. I glanced around more, the second time searching finding discoloration on the scratchy surface. It was off white, scribbles, something I couldn’t exactly make out. Writing? It could have been but then what would it say. I stared hard, as if the longer I looked the more it would come into focus. They varied, short and long, each style different. I took a step closer to run my hand across the words, or maybe not even words at all. Something crunches under my foot and my eyes widen from the crackling sound and the slip that sends me slowly falling to the ground. I cast my light fast.
There, hiding in the shadows, was a bony skeleton, bits of flesh still clinging to its small frame. The light casts on its drastic cracks and curves, and bits of it are mangled and broken into pieces. I stare horrified a million questions flooding into my head. With shaking hands I try to push myself up. Then a loud low sound reverberates in the underground space. The entire cave shakes with its clear rage. Without thinking I shoot upright and run for the opening. I should get samples, I should see what the sound is, but every ounce of my being screams for me to just get out. Comet spots me, my head poking out of the small space, and asks if I’m okay. I only yell for him to run, back to the ship, somewhere. He doesn’t have much time to process what I say; however, before something seizes my legs, I feel them shatter between something and holler, and then I’m pulled back under the surface of the red planet.
Story #3 by Malachi Gnade
I proclaimed to the hundreds of hard workers back on Earth, “Houston, we made it.”
Hearing the screaming and rejoicing of my beloved friends was the best gift anyone can ask for.
It was priceless. My five teammates and I decided before we landed that we would each take the
first step onto Mars.
My teammate Nigel gave the important signal, “Now!” We bounced and leaped off of the
ramp and onto Mars’ surface. Red dust sprayed upward and our boot prints lay in the clay as we
each took another step. We are officially the first people on Mars! The first people to be on a
completely different planet. This place looks like a wasteland, but it should be. Nobody has been
here before. On the surface lay a few mountains and some overhangs along their bases. Since we
landed close to one of the mountains, I decided to go investigate the cave so we could sleep
inside of it.
One of my teammates decided to go with me to the cave. When we got to the opening, we
were astonished by what we found. We found a skeleton. A human skeleton; how can this be?
There’s no way...there’s just no way. My friend then pointed something out. The skeleton was
looking at something on the wall. The words “Am I even real” were written on the wall. As I
turned around to talk to my partner, he began to break apart. His body and everything else began
deteriorating, floating in the air, until I began floating. That was also the moment I woke up on a
rocket ship. The clock read 1:00, one hour until we arrived. I got myself dressed with my space
The moment we landed, I ran to the cave. It looked exactly like it did in my dream. I ran,
nothing else mattered. When I looked in, I found five humans, surrounding a fire.
Story #4 - Monica Turntine
“Come in, Carry, come in!” Jim yelled into his earpiece, desperation in his voice. He was separated from the other astronauts in the storm. For being the first scientists on Mars, they really were stupid.
A few hours ago they had been collecting rock samples, only to discover the remains of a creature. Not just humanoid but human. Excitement filled the astronauts until they looked at the bloody writing on the cave wall and had promptly run to the shuttle.
They never made it there. The winds kicked up sand and the clouds were too thick to see through. One by one the astronauts stopped responding to Jim’s calls. He was running blindly now, not caring where he went as long as he found somewhere to take shelter. Eventually he found a cave. He sat against it, waiting and waiting. In his boredom and impending doom, he accidentally tore the glove to his suit, and his hand became disfigured and bloody. Knowing it was the end, he wrote four words on the cave wall.
Back on Earth, the news mourned the deaths of the four astronauts, lost on Mars.