Author: Bill Cox

I’m making this recording standing on the cliffs at Troup Head on the Moray coast of Scotland. This used to be one of my favourite places. It’s famous for the seabird colonies that nest here, Gannets, Guillemots and Razorbills creating raucous seasonal cities on sheer faces of rock.

I especially liked coming here at sunset, on evenings like this, to watch a golden sun sink below the watery horizon, ornamenting the sky in ever-changing hues of oranges, reds, purples and pinks. I’m watching the sunset now, my rational mind telling me that the elements of beauty are still there – the vibrant colours, the crashing of the waves, the natural setting – but inside I feel nothing.

Of course, I’m not alone in that regard. I’ve heard plenty of other people say the same thing, read all the internet think-pieces, the blogs and scientific journals, seen the statistics for the soaring suicide rates. Like you, I know exactly when beauty was taken out of my life. Four months ago, on a Tuesday, at 1143 am.

I remember where I was at the time – who doesn’t? It’s the ultimate ‘where were you when’ moment. I was in a sandwich shop downtown, waiting in a queue, when they arrived.

The invasion of Earth lasted 15 seconds. Enough time to look puzzled and ask ‘what’s happening?’ They were everywhere at once. There was no spirited resistance, no plucky Earthmen facing down the alien menace, no nukes launched by embattled Presidents. The technological gulf was simply too large for us to do anything other than stand helplessly, mouths open slack-jawed.

The alien occupation lasted sixty minutes. Like you, I’ve only dream-like memories from that hour. I remember being aware of their presence beside me, of shapes and colours and sounds I’ve no words for. Like you, that hour ended for me with a profound sense of loss. Then they were gone, leaving only a message behind, copied onto every computer on the planet.

It took months to decode it, chunks being released to the public as our best and brightest deciphered them. At first, there was widespread jubilation. They’d left us details of cures for almost all human diseases, which promised to usher in an unprecedented era of health and longevity for all mankind.

Then the other shoe dropped. The final part of their message talked about having taken something from every human being in return. Inside each of us had been a microscopic sliver of dark matter, the substance they used to power their machines and great engines. The aliens treated us like crops of wheat and barley. They harvested us.

Biologists and physicists were puzzled. However, as reports of accelerating epidemics of depression, mental health crises, loss of faith, loss of identity, all came to light, a startling conclusion was reached.

They’d taken our souls.

I used to be an artist. I loved to draw. Now, my sense of beauty, of awe, of transcendence, it’s all gone. Mechanically, I can still put pencil to paper, but the drive, the desire, the satisfaction have all vanished. I feel hollow inside, a shell without any substance.

I stand here on these cliffs, aware that, barring misfortune, I could live a long, healthy life. It means nothing to me. All I feel is emptiness inside. So, I’m deciding whether to jump now. If I do, I’ll leave this recording here, to explain why.

It’s a long way down, but inside, I feel that I’ve already fallen so far, into a deeper despair than I could ever have imagined.

What’s a little further?