's 2017 Horror Write-off:

The Red Marble

Submitted by Omny

The craft had appeared one midsummer morning, hovering quietly over the ocean.

How it arrived without any warning was just one of its many secrets- it was a gargantuan thing, smooth and toroidal in shape, stretching across nearly half the visible horizon when viewed from the nearest beach. At first glance it looked as if it were made of crystal-clear glass, but further observations found it was made of some kind of highly reflective metal that mirrored the sea below and the sky above, and had no visible doors, windows, or seams of any sort. Even viewing it myself from the lighthouse, it seemed almost unreal, like an amateur CGI model of a perfectly smooth, colossal chrome donut hastily pasted onto the sky.

For four days straight, it simply hovered there, never moving, never making a sound. Cargo ships and commercial airplanes were re-routed at great expense and inconvenience to go around the mystery craft, as none dared to approach it too closely. Speculations over the crafts'pilots (if it was indeed piloted) and their intentions sparked heated debate both on the internet and amongst the leaders of the world. There were many attempts at communicating with the craft, both from military forces and civilians (despite the former's attempts at keeping the latter away), mostly through radio broadcasts. Greetings, questions, and threats all went unanswered. Several amateur pilots attempted to land on the craft, but were never heard back.

On the fifth day, another craft appeared, identical in size, shape, and suddenness of arrival, hovering over the Indian Ocean. Another two crafts appeared over the Pacific some time later, followed by four more circling the Antarctic. More and more appeared without a single noise or warning, simply "poofing" into existence in the blink of an eye, until nearly a hundred of them were scattered above the Earth without any recognizable pattern.

After several hours of nothing, a great and terrible noise roared throughout the atmosphere across the globe - a low, metallic rumble like the chugging of a train engine slowed down to a thundering bass, kicking up the waters below and blasted nearby clouds away, followed by a blinding, blue beam of light blaring down out from the hole in the center of each craft. From my window I watched with curiosity as the sea below the craft nearest me began to foam and spiral. Curiosity turned to horror as the waters were quickly lifted in a spiraling cyclone of water, sucking up into the craft's middle from below, but not emerging from the top. Before long the cyclone became a massive, twisting cylinder of water wider than a mountain, rapidly lifting up into the craft's eye without any sign of stopping. From the beach, I watched the water being dragged from the shoreline like a carpet, and never rushing back. Whatever these machines were, their purpose was clear: they were draining our ocean.

Needless to say, the world panicked. More fruitless pleas of mercy were broadcasted on every frequency, even pulses of x-rays and gamma rays were utilized with the theory that perhaps our visitors communicated on a different frequency. Temples and churches around the globe all bowed and prayed to their respective gods for help. Some mad individuals took boats out to where the ocean was being drained, perhaps to communicate with the crafts or simply to fulfill a death wish. Either way, their boats were all crushed within the waves and sucked up into the cyclones, never to be heard from again.

Every military force on the planet turned their guns on the alien invaders- missiles, jet fighters, drones and more relentlessly bombarded the machines with everything they could, even our nuclear stockpile was unleashed out of desperation. But new footage revealed that anything that attempted to strike the crafts'hulls simply vanished into nothing mere yards from the alien machines- no explosions, no re-directing, not even a puff of smoke; just disappearing from view as if deleted from existence. All attempts at landing on the craft ended in a similar fashion. When that failed, the remaining military forces simply focused on securing whatever land-locked lakes and rivers remained, as they were unaffected by the draining machines.

Before sundown, the ocean was almost entirely drained, according to satellite footage. From my vantage point, what was once the Atlantic Ocean was now a vast, rapidly-drying desert of sand and rocks, stretching out for miles in every direction. On the horizon, the shimmering craft and its titanic cyclone of water was silhouetted against the sunset, continued its robbery of our waters unabated.

For the longest time I just stood and stared at the thing, thinking and feeling nothing. I had turned off my radio, TV, and internet long ago, having grown tired of hearing the same reports of mass deaths, panic, and chaos repeated ad nauseam.

By midnight, our oceans were no more.

When the last bit of seawater vanished into the craft's center, the blue beam dimmed, and its metallic roar ceased, but the craft remained, reflecting the stars and clouds beneath the moon. It was almost eerily beautiful; an awe-inspiring distraction from the utter destruction of our most precious resource. For a moment I thought about hopping into my jeep and driving out along the sea bed to see the craft up close- a foolhardy quest, no doubt, but considering how the world as I knew it was now no more, and my job as lighthouse keeper was made obsolete in the most insane way possible, what other possible goal in life could I have?

My thoughts were immediately interrupted by another great and terrible noise from the craft, not an ear-shattering roar but a low and slow whooshing, gurgling noise, like the stomach of a titanic, hungry beast.

The center of the craft lit up once more, now an angry red instead of blue, followed by a column of something suddenly pouring out of the craft like an unplugged sewer pipe. I could not tell from the darkness and distance, but I assumed it was water, hoping perhaps that, whatever these things were and whoever sent them, had some benevolent gift for us. Perhaps these aliens took pity upon us humans and decided to clean up our oceans for us, undoing centuries of pollution with their wondrous technology? Was this a gift from beyond? A token of peace? I would take any glimmer of hope at this point.

Once it approached the shore, however, my optimism was immediately snuffed out as my lighthouse's beam swept over the craft's "delivery".

This was not water. This wasn't like anything on Earth. This was red. This was thick and viscous, bubbling and heaving and folding over itself again and again like lava, or freshly-ground meat. Dark red waves with crusted, scabby skin stretched and smothered over each other in their race to the shore. Soft, pale pink tendrils coiled and uncoiled from the creeping mass like tongues.

Translucent yellow pustules, some as big as cars, bubbled and jiggled with a dark fluid before rupturing violently, great rivulets of crimson custard spewing forth in every direction. The stench- oh dear God in heaven the STENCH- washed over me like a tsunami, pouring down into my lungs like hot, rancid soup. As I knelt down to retch, I watched as a long, flat tongue of the red slop slid it ways up the beach and pooled around my bare feet.

It was unpleasantly warm and wet, and rippled and probed along my soles and between my toes, like some big toothless dog was gnawing and slobbering all over my feet. It was enough to finally send me over the edge, and with a great heave I painted the crimson wave with the contents of my stomach, which immediately foamed and swirled into the surface of the red goop, releasing thick red steam as it gurgled. I finally gathered the resolve I needed to leap out of the intruding sludge and high-tail it back to my lighthouse, sealing the doors and windows for all the good it would do. I washed my feet as best as I could (they were slightly pink where the sludge had touched them, but otherwise normal-looking), and immediately dove into bed, trying to forget everything I saw.

In the morning, the craft was gone, but the ocean I was hoping to see was replaced with a vast expanse of red. Its scabby surface rose and fell in waves and ripples, but with a motion more akin to a breathing animal then any body of water. I looked at my feet, hoping they at least had recovered from touching that stuff, but they had only gotten worse. From the ankles down, the skin was mottled crimson, shiny and rugose with thin patches of pale, crusty scabs all over. My toenails, once thick and only slightly yellow, were now a deep burgundy, heavily wrinkled and brittle like burnt bacon. A faint smell, like a fainter version of what I had smelled before, wafted from my afflicted flesh. I felt no pain. In fact, below my ankles, I felt nothing.

When I turned around, I saw that I had left a trail of blood-red footprints on the floor the other night. My sheets were stained a similar color. They would have to go. Before anything else, I checked the news on my computer. Perhaps the nature of this new red ocean was revealed.

The very first search result on Google was a single image, taken via satellite of the planet Earth. I saw the world I now lived on.

A red marble.