Field Trip to The Cube

It was field trip day, but none of Mrs. Johnson’s eighth grade class was excited because for the fourth year in a row they were going to The Cube.

Jeremy fidgeted with his jacket on the bus. It was a warm day, and practically stifling with the sun pouring through closed windows, but The Cube was in the middle of a large field next to the Atlantic, which meant however warm he was now, he’d be freezing when got off the bus. He pulled it off anyway, afraid of pit stains. He’d forgotten antiperspirant this morning.

“Are you going to ask her?” Todd asked.

“Don’t stare!”

Jeremy punched Todd in the arm. Todd punched back but at least stopped looking at her.

Ashley Summers was sitting at the front of the bus, on the other side of the aisle, surrounded by her friends. Her jacket wasn’t some third-generation hand me down, but a puffy down coat in a purple that made her eyes sparkle. Her curly hair was pulled into a tight bun, probably to protect against the winds sure to come off the water, and her makeup was perfect, the thick lines of eyeliner making her positively radiant.

Jeremy swallowed hard and counted to ten. The New Freshman Dance was going to be in two weeks. The last week of school. Next year they’d be in high school. The possibilities…Jeremy nearly salivated over them. If he could get Ashley to go to the dance with him at the end of this year…why, by next year they could be exclusive.

“You’ve got to ask her!” Todd nearly shouted.

If Todd fucks this up I’ll break his bike lock.

The bus pulled off the highway a little fast and everyone casually held onto the seat in front of them to keep them from tumbling into the aisle or bashing their head against the windows. Mrs. Johnson stood up at the front.

“I want everyone on their best behavior!” she called out. “No running, no yelling, everyone listen to the tour guide!”

“Why are we going to The Cube again anyway?” Kayson Anders called from somewhere in the middle of the bus. “We’ve all already seen it! Like, two or three times!”

Mrs. Johnson’s lips became a line as she pulled a gym whistle over her head. “It’s important! It’s living history. The Cube has given us so much, and any day now it could speak again and give us more. It’s a different story every year!”

Everyone groaned, even Jeremy and Todd. That’s what all the adults said when they talked about The Cube, but they weren’t the ones who had to waste an entire day parading past it in a windy field. He almost wished he was back at school, until he realized what time it was. If they were back at the school he’d be in algebra.

Maybe a walk past a plain black rock wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

The Welcome Center was exactly as they all remembered it. A brick building in a cube shape, to look like The Cube. Only much smaller. And duller. And covered in graffiti from years of bored children being forced to come here. Jeremy hoped he wouldn’t have to come back in high school.

While Mrs. Johnson and her assistant went inside to buy the tickets the rest of them milled around out front. A few went inside to used the facilities. Kayson and his buddied went around back to find the spot they had carved their names into the last three times they had come.

Jeremy watched Ashley from across the open space. The wind was so strong she already had fly aways. She kept having to pull them out of her mascara-ed eyelashes as she laughed about something with Tina Caruso and Poppy Holliday.

“She’s perfect.”

Todd nudged him. “Go ask her, man! Before Mrs. Johnson comes out.”

But the timing wasn’t right. They were surrounded by people. Tina and Poppy were right there and definitely wouldn’t leave just because Jeremy asked. If Ashley turned him down he didn’t need an audience.

“It’s not the right time yet.”

Todd rolled his eyes. “You’re going to keep saying that until it’s time to leave.”

No. No, I will ask her.

Anyway, Mrs. Johnson came out at that moment with a tour guide and it was time to walk out to The Cube. Jeremy tried to file in close behind Ashley.

“I think I recognize some faces!” the tour guide announced as they started down the paved path. “So I believe we should all know the rules! Stay on the pavement, no running, no shouting, and most importantly, do not try to touch The Cube! Any rule breakers will be sent back to their bus!”

Mrs. Johnson turned around and glared at them all. She’d never had a single incident at The Cube, she’d told them that morning, and today wasn’t going to break her streak.

“Now, The Cube came to us nearly one hundred years ago today, June 24, 1925. At least, that’s when we first noticed it! Journals and newspaper articles from that era claim it was simply here one morning. You’ll notice when we get close there is no impact crater, no drag marks, and at the time it was reported there were no footsteps or signs anyone had put The Cube there. It simply wasn’t until it was.”

Jeremy was only half listening. Most of his attention was on Ashley, and anyway, he’d heard it all before. Several times. The Cube showed up, sat there for a few years unmoving, blah blah blah, couldn’t blast it away, blah blah blah, revealed secrets of the universe, coveted by other nations, blah blah blah. Unless it could get Ashley to say yes to going to the dance with him he didn’t care.

“Man, kids who live in, like, literally any other state are so lucky,” Tina muttered. “They don’t have to go to this stupid windy field every year.”

Jeremy tried to laugh hard enough that the three girls would hear him, but not so hard Mrs. Johnson and the tour guide would notice. Poppy shot him a weird look, but he otherwise failed.

The path took them up over a hill covered in grass. The first thing he noticed coming up over the top was the ocean. The second thing was The Cube.

It was exactly thirty-two feet and five-point-three inches in every direction, the darkest black known to mankind, something about a magnetic field, and one corner pointed perfectly north. The tour guide last year, who had been much funnier than this dud, also pointed out that even though they were close to the water, and thus the air was filled with screaming seagulls, none of them ever seemed to poop on The Cube. Or, if they did, the poop disappeared.

Jeremy had to admit it was cool to look at. The pictures in textbooks or online didn’t do it justice. From where they were on the path, still a quarter mile away, you couldn’t see any dimensions to the cube. It was so black you couldn’t even make out the corners or the edges. It looked like a hole in the universe. It was only as you got closer that you could make out the square shape. It looked the same no matter what sort of light was shining on it, like it absorbed it all.

It was cool. For a few seconds. Then he was back to thinking about Ashley. Once they got to The Cube they’d be able to circle around it. Then he’d get her alone.

“The Cube hasn’t spoken in three years, so we’re expecting something big soon!” the tour guide announced. “As we approach, remember to stay behind the railing, don’t reach for The Cube, and try not to make any sudden movements or loud noises. We don’t want to disturb it!”

‘Disturb’ it. Sure. They’d all been here enough to know that a bunch of unruly children weren’t enough to ‘wake it up’ or whatever. If it really was some alien or cosmic god or whatever the cults said it was, Jeremy didn’t think it would care about a bunch of shitty thirteen-year-olds.

The guide went on and on with facts to an audience that consisted of Mrs. Johnson and the two kids who had moved here recently and had never been before. The rest of them had spread out as soon as the path did, surrounding The Cube on all sides and, once they were out of view of Mrs. Johnson, ignoring it.

“Touch it,” Chris Reed said.

But Kayson only shook his head. “You’re out of your fucking mind if you think I’m touching that thing.”

They were all bored of The Cube, and didn’t think it cared about them in general, but they all knew better than to anger it. Kayson and Chris went to the far end of the pavement and started picking up rocks to chuck as far as they could.

“Jer, look,” Todd whispered.

Jeremy’s heart stopped.

Tina and Poppy had gone off to the other side of the cube, leaving Ashley alone while she checked something on her phone.

“It’s now or never, man,” Todd said, and pushed him a little.

He’d punch Todd for that later. For now, he was right. It was sort of romantic, if he thought about it the right way. Asking a girl out to a dance in the shadow of a mysterious cosmic cube.

“H-hi, Ashley,” Jeremy said.

Ashley looked up at him and smiled. Smiled!

“Hi, Jeremy. Pretty boring, right?”

“Oh, yeah, totally. This is my fourth time here.”

Ashley rolled her eyes. “This is, like, my tenth time, I think. Yeah, every time family comes in Mom insists on bringing them to The Cube, and for some reason I have to go, too.”

“Oh, man, that totally sucks.”

He looked over his shoulder to look at Todd. He waved his hands at him impatiently: Don’t look at me, look at her!

“Listen, uh, Ashley. I was wondering…see, I’m going to go to that dance in a couple of weeks, and, you know, people go together, so I was wondering if you wanted to go together. With me, that is.”

He was looking at The Cube the entire time. It seemed easier that way. When he dared to look at her, his heart sank. That was not a ‘yes’ face she was making.

“I’m sorry, Jeremy. Kayson already asked me, and I already said yes.”

“Oh, yeah, right, totally.”

“But we should definitely hang out at the dance, like, as a group?”

“Cool, yeah, I’ll…I’ll find you guys.”

Ashley gave him a final smile before slipping past him. Probably to find Tina and Poppy and laugh about the loser asking her to the dance. He could only hope she didn’t tell everyone.

“Oof,” said a voice behind him.

Jeremy looked but saw no one. Unsure, he looked at The Cube.

“That sucks,” said a voice from The Cube. It was a perfectly normal voice, except Jeremy could swear he was also hearing the winds of eternity at the same time it spoke.

“Yeah,” Jeremy said.

“But, you know, you put yourself out there, and that’s the hardest part. Keep your chin up, kid, you’ll find someone to dance with.”

“Uh…thanks…Mr. Cube.”

But The Cube was silent once again.

There was a sign at the Welcome Center instructing all visitors to report any words spoken by The Cube, but Jeremy wasn’t sure if this sort of thing mattered. Also, if he told them he’d have to give context, and since that context was getting shot down by his crush, Jeremy walked by the Welcome Center to the bus and kept his mouth shut.

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