Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
We didn’t quite know what to call it. It wasn’t lightning and it wasn’t any space rock either. Just a streak of white fire falling from the sky. Howie caught it first, while it was only like a star. Together, we watched as that star slowly descended. It grew faster, brighter, until for a second it flew right over our heads and…
It landed over the field, right on top of the supply barn.
We wasted no time, each of us hauling a couple of pails. But when we got there, the barn was clean. There wasn’t even any smoke. Except, something was up with all the wires. Engines rattled, lights flickered, it was like someone flipped the switch on every piece of equipment we owned. I climbed up the side of the tractor and killed the power. Howie was inspecting an odd mark on the floor when he put his hand to it. He shot up, all startled.
“What’s wrong? Is it hot?”
“No,” he replied, “It’s ice cold…”
I went around, fixing the other machines while Howie checked the cellar. Half of the equipment was shot, the other half drained of battery. I couldn’t put any reason to it and I still hadn’t a clue as to what Howie and I saw outside. But just then Howie came up behind me. He had a look on his face I ain’t never seen before and he spoke almost giddy, like he had a big secret he was dying to share, “Johny, come down into the cellar. There’s something I wanna show you…”
I followed him, down the concrete steps into the damp underbelly of the barn. None of the lights worked save for one I couldn’t see. It was a pale glimmer that shone from somewhere deeper inside. It flashed and when it did the light could be seen walking on walls. My stomach turned.
Howie stood at the corner of a hallway, in line of whatever was giving off that unnatural glow, and motioned for me to come closer. I had no reason to fear a light, I had no reason not to trust Howie.
I turned the corner and at the end of the hall, in a cramped little room, hung a single lamp. In and around that bulb the air breathed, and its breath glowed cold. Standing before that strange shimmering sun, I felt my whole body come apart, like I was becoming air, the light faded through me as if I wasn’t there.
The light… it wasn’t a light at all.
Calling it that would be no better than describing a book only by the texture of its spine. It hadn’t any color, but a shade to it that spoke far off. And it shimmered like an ocean under the moon.
“What… what is that?”
Howie gleamed beside me. “C’mon, you have to get closer.”
I moved closer, not out of wanting to, but that’s just what happened.
We reached the end of the hall and now I was fully under its wings. I couldn’t look away because there was no “away” to look to. I realized then my breathing must have stopped because I couldn’t even hear my own heart. But it’s heart, that… that I could feel.
Howie said it best: the light, it was like a song but one you could speak to and one that would reply. I saw things in the light without really seeing. And I knew things I couldn’t have known, like the color of my great grandmother’s eyes, or the position of the Oxriz void, or what the Oxriz void even was. Staring into the light, I even knew…
how I was going to die…
“It’s an Angel, Johny.”
Howie’s voice woke me from the nightmare.
“Don’t you see?” he said. “It’s gotta be. An angel sent from heaven…”
An Angel, I thought, is this really a servant of God?
“Howie,” I felt sick saying his name, especially after what I saw, “Howie, do you think what we see is really gonna happen?”
He broke from his trance and looked at me with bright shining eyes. “So you see it too?” he said. “I pray it is. Oh God, I pray it is true.”
I knew then, he didn’t see. He didn’t see what I saw. He couldn’t have.
Created by Danny Ingrassia
Howie said he wanted to show the others. The idea didn’t sit right with me. It was all too much too soon. I told him we should wait. We hadn’t the first clue, really, at what this was. If we were wrong…
Howie didn’t agree with me, but he trusted me… So for now, we did it my way…
It was hard keeping a secret like that from everyone else. Howie and I were the only farmhands, so it wasn’t like Old Man Hicks was gonna go down into the cellar anytime soon, but it was a moral fight. Part of me worried I was keeping a deadly animal hidden downstairs. And truly my plan wasn’t any better than throwing a rug over the dirt, hoping it’d go away. But another part of me felt oddly selfish. There weren’t no denying that what we saw in the light was impressive. If things were different, I’d say we struck gold. But it had to be fool’s gold, else what I saw was true.
Apparently, Howie had different plans than I did. I learned the next day he’d spent the morning down in the cellar. He told me afterward that there was gonna be a storm. I thought it unlikely given the weather, but he was confident, said he “saw it in the light”. He even said the rotten old oak was gonna fall. Now that was just impossible. Twenty-three years we worked on this farm and a hundred storms have tested it. Yet not once has that giant log even leaned an inch. It may be dead, but I swear it was staked to the ground by God himself.
But there was no disproving that to Howie. He treated the matter like fact.
“There’s gonna be a storm and the old oak’s gonna fall.”
And damn it, he was right…
They say lightning never strikes the same place twice. So I guess the rotten old oak had to take three. Now, what are the chances of that? I saw it through the window, and it was like fate threw down a hand grenade.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
The tree toppled over like it was nothing. Of course, it wasn’t nothing. It was something to Howie, and it was something to me. Neither of us could call it anything other than prophecy, though it did little to settle my doubts.
Howie took it all as a sign from God and from then on threw every bit of himself into his faith. He downright treated the cellar like his church. And every morning, like Mass, Howie went to pray in front of the light. He told me once that he believed the light projected “The Vision of God” and that by following in its path he’d be under His protection. He made it sound all pretty but really what that meant was everything Howie did could only be done if it was “a part of the plan”.
Howie spoke different. Howie acted different. It wasn’t like he was trouble, in fact he was all smiles and happy words, but he couldn’t be moved to do anything other than what he claimed was destined by the light. I tried convincing him to take a few days off, suggesting whatever was in the cellar might have made him sick, but he wouldn’t budge.
“I’m needed here,” he said. “It’s what the light has shown me.”
It seemed to me he was taking orders.
He invited me a few times to come pray with him. In his mind the light was a blessing to be shared. I told him I for one didn’t like the idea of being told what to do by a malfunctioning lamp. To that, Howie replied, “It doesn’t tell you what to do, Johny. It tells you what you will do.”
Howie stopped and smiled at the thought. That smile stabbed my heart.
I wanted more than anything to tell him, to come out with the truth. But in what way could I tell my friend… that I was gonna kill him?
My glimpse into the light was only just that, a glimpse. But by some strangeness I was able to see more in one moment than I had ever seen in my entire life. Yet as hard as I tried my mind just couldn’t wrap around all those thoughts. I held these memories like sand, and no matter how tightly I squeezed most of it all slipped through.
I saw myself die, burning alive, trapped. But just before that I also saw Howie. I held a rifle to him, finger on the trigger. He made a move in my direction. A gunshot. A flash. And then… Howie was gone.
There was no doubt in my mind, that light would only cause pain. I don’t know what it showed Howie to make him so enchanted, but it had to be a trick. Either that or it was tricking me. In any case I wasn’t gonna allow anyone to get hurt. I had to get rid of it and I had to get rid of it quick.
Over the next few days, I went snooping around the barn. I went while Howie was busy. No one else would think twice if they found me there, but Howie might raise an eyebrow. I stayed clear of the cellar but searched everywhere else for clues, my goal being to find some way to flush out the light without causing a stir.
I remembered the day we found it and how all the equipment was acting up. Even after, we were still having some trouble with the tractor and over half the tools needed new batteries. It was almost as if everything in the barn was being drained of power.
I wondered, if I could get rid of that power then maybe I could starve it? Then it would have to leave. Trouble was, there was no way I was pulling everything out there. There were more wires and tools than I could count. But maybe I didn’t need to get everything.
If I was right, all that electricity seemed to be gathering around the light, and the light was gathered around that one lamp. If I could disconnect that lamp, maybe rewire it to a portable battery, then maybe I could walk it right out of there. Or hell, maybe all I had to do was unscrew the bulb and the light would go with it. In any case, I realized if I were to get rid of this thing I’d have to do it with my own two hands.
It really wasn’t much of a plan, but it was the only one I had.
I went during the night, packed with all the tools I’d need. I hated to think what Howie would say when he found out. It really felt like a betrayal, though I knew that’s not what it was. I was trying to keep everyone safe, not just Howie and me, but everyone. Old Man Hicks, Mrs. Hicks, Jennifer, Grant, everyone that lived on the farm. I had no idea what might happen if Howie showed them the light. It might spread more lies or blind them like it was blinding Howie. I knew he was dying to share it with them, and I could only stall for so long. It was now or never.
Busy, summer bugs muffled any noise I might have made, and the clouds kept even the moon from giving me away. It was the perfect night to go unnoticed. I just had to be careful with the rusty, cellar doors.
I tried for the handle… and nearly jumped!
The metal stung! It was the middle of summer, yet the doors were colder than ice.
Using my sleeves like gloves I wrapped my hands tight around the lever and pulled. The doors complained and groaned, fighting every tug, until I heard a snap of ice and WHOOSH! A great big burst of air rushed down the stairs, almost knocking me down. I caught myself before a cold wind whipped back. There, I got a good look at my next problem.
The whole basement was flooded with light…
It was like the light had grown, but if that’s true then it was growing faster than any kind of weed. Glowing vines reflected off the walls and hung from the ceiling in blooming shapes. It was swimming and flowing through the air, catching my own breath and swirling around.
A bad feeling settled in my gut. I was worried now that the light might have spread too far or grown too big for me to carry out all on my own. But I knew I couldn’t give up just yet. I had to try.
Stepping into the glimmering clouds sent a tingling sensation all through me. I almost lost balance, feeling as though my whole body went numb. Making it worse was the fact I could barely hear a thing. My own ears were clogged with silence, leaving only my thoughts to hear. My thoughts and that bright, glowing song…
It streamed around the corner, flowing out from that cramped little room. I brought myself to move closer and at first I was trudging through mud. My legs were heavy and slow, and my heart seconds from freezing over. But the closer I got the lighter I felt. Lighter and lighter until everything worked on its own. I didn’t have to think or fight for every step. I was walking down the hallway, not because I wanted to, but because that’s just what happened.
The light was in front of me now…
In front of me…
It was everywhere and I was here, at its heart, ready to cut the strings that tied my fate, the same strings that tied Howie’s fate.
It glowed with a million moments and I realized I might have been standing there for any matter of time, lost and gazing into the cosmic aurora… But I refound my moment and reached for the lamp.
Howie’s voice broke through the song.
When I turned around, I found him there, a look of confusion left on his face. Of course, that wasn’t the only thing I noticed. My eyes were locked with the hunting rifle strapped to his back.
“What are you-?” Howie didn’t finish his sentence. Instead, he looked at my toolkit, and suddenly his expression grew quills.
“Hold on,” I said. “Just wait and let me explain.”
“Explain what, Johny?” his voice turned colder than the room, and his hand tightened around the sling.
“What do you have that for?” I asked, nodding at the gun.
I was avoiding the question, and his white knuckles told me he knew that. “I saw in the light I’d catch someone on the farm who was up to no good. Thought I’d bring this just in case. You ain’t seen anyone else around, have you?”
This was it, my last chance to come clean.
“Howie, I don’t know what you saw in the light, but it ain’t what I saw.” I held up my hands. “What I saw was us dying, Howie. And in a pretty bad way. I need to take it out of here before any of that can happen.”
His face got all rough as he parsed what I was saying, but his hands held tight.
“No… No, I see what you’re doin’. You want it. And you want it all to yourself.”
“What?! Howie no-”
“That’s why you didn’t wanna show the others! That’s why you wanted to keep it quiet and why you wanted me to stop seeing it! All so it’d be yours and only yours. Well, that ain’t gonna happen Johny. I won’t let it.”
There wasn’t even a second before the gun was pulled and I was on him. We were in each other’s face, hurled around the room, but I had the initial charge and threw Howie on his backfoot. In another moment I had him on the floor. I pulled so hard on the gun the sling snapped off. And then I was a few feet away, aimed, finger on the trigger, Howie ready to lunge, my nightmare playing side by side with reality.
I raised my aim to the lamp.
A gunshot. A flash.
The room ignited! In less than an instant the light and everything around was set ablaze. Howie was engulfed, lit up like coals, white hot, before evaporating from sight. The explosion threw me back so fast I couldn’t rightly see what happened. When I came to, I saw the ceiling coming down, a hole burned straight up to the sky. The whole barn was coming down like a fire pit, smoke and debris threatening to crush me.
With a broken arm and likely more I crawled out from the rubble. I couldn’t even stand but looked around and saw that every path was blocked. I made for the burning hole, rolling out of the way of raining metal and wood. I felt like I was gonna cough out my lungs! I was there, at my one exit, right under the sky. But I couldn’t reach. I couldn’t climb. Now I couldn’t even breathe.
The only thing I could do was roll onto my back and stare out into the stars.
I was going away. A streak of white fire rising into the sky.
A light burning bright, and soon gone.
To be only like a star.
Far, far away…