An orange dart streaked across the sky, brighter than even the moon. It made fireflies of the stars, lit up the treetops as it curved toward Earth. Somewhere in the Northern area of Indiana, it struck the ground with all the force of its cosmic ejection. In a shower of dirt and demolished foliage, it came to a rest in a nondescript forest with the world largely unaware of its presence.
Two figures emerged from the trees to the glow of red-hot rock in a small crater. The first figure was taller than the second, but neither beyond the height of childhood. Eric Williams and his younger sister Linney crept nearer, felt the meteorite’s heat even from the distance. They were still clad in airy, thin pajamas, both intermittently glancing back to ensure their distant, tiny tent remained where they’d marked it in their minds.
They ambled, step-by-step, toward the meteorite, until its heat was too intense to go any nearer. Linney made to step forward again, but Eric’s hand was firm on her wrist. Instead, she stood transfixed, staring.
There wasn’t anything inherently interesting about the meteorite, save its pulsing glow. The longer Eric stared, the more shapes swirled in the glow; tiny little ovals or cylinders squirming and writhing, as equally agitated by the heat as fueled by it.
It was just his imagination, he knew, but it disturbed him. He tugged at Linney’s arm, “C’mon. We’ll come back in the morning.”
Linney was enthralled. She didn’t hear him. He tugged harder, began walking backward, pulling. Her eyes finally swiveled with her body to follow him. Every few steps he’d have to tug her again as she lagged, neck craned over a shoulder to watch the glow fade. They returned to their tent, nestled themselves into their sleeping bags.
Eric laid awake, thinking on the strange shapes he’d seen. He feared sleep; Linney might fake it, sneak out and back to the crater. It wouldn’t have been the first time. These camp-outs were common, and given the family’s massive property, Eric though it a shame to waste the opportunity. Linney though, liked to think that eight years old meant smarter and stronger than anything in the world. She was smarter than Eric, he knew for sure, but she couldn’t be allowed to think that. He forced himself to stay awake until his eyes fluttered, and he succumbed to sleep beside her.
In dreams he found himself standing in a fluid that glowed red-hot like the meteorite. All around him thrummed and thronged creatures he couldn’t distinguish. He felt their presence beside him. They writhed and squirmed, hummed and rippled, as the glow nearly blinded him.
He opened his eyes to sunlight peeking in through an overhead, mesh-window. It splayed over his face, as blinding as the glow in his dream. He scooted backward to lean upright, rubbed sleep from his eyes. He yawned a deep “good morning” to Linney.
There was no reply.
His head snapped toward her empty sleeping bag. He was suddenly up, sprinting. He screamed Linney’s name between heavy, terrified pants. It was futile. If Linney didn’t want to be found she wouldn’t be. Even if she did, she might still remain quiet in fear of incurring his wrath, or worse, Mom and Dad’s.
Eric bee-lined for the crater, calling to her. The nearer it came, the further his voice carried its fitful projections. He was hyperventilating when he stumbled up beside the crater, came to a skidding halt on his hands and knees. Across the now cooled, jagged form, Linney lay unconscious.
Eric scrambled over, knelt to shake her. She merely bucked and jostled, limp against his grip.
He screamed at the meteorite, “This all your fault!”
Tears streamed down his face, body wracked by terrified sobs. He knew there was something he was supposed to do, some type of thing doctors did, but he wasn’t sure what.
He reacted in the only way he could. With a massive heave of a twelve-year old strength, he lifted his little sister and sprinted for the house. Linney was dead-weight. Foliage crunched and swished under his agonizing, break-neck speed.
He burst through the kitchen’s back-door to find Mom and Dad eating breakfast, reading their respective newspapers. He shook and stammered, his parents dumbfounded. They were suddenly up, rushing Linney to the living room couch. Mom took out a few medical instruments. Explanations and pleas fell from Eric in a terrified, jumbled din that his parents barely heard. Mom and Dad seemed to agree Linney would be alright just as Eric exhausted his other emotions and collapsed in a blubbering heap.
It was around noon that Linney finally awoke. The family had been in various states of dismay around the living room. Dad paced and muttered a lot. Mom cried in silence, stroked Linney’s hair. Eric just stared, his mind paradoxically both empty and overflowing.
She awoke with a sore “umph,” and shook away sleep like a puppy. Questions raged atop silent mutterings of relief. Someone finally addressed her directly with, “What did you think you were doing, young lady?”
For a moment, she stared off, and then, with an almost whimsy replied, “I was dreaming.” It was obvious even to her young mind this wasn’t sufficient. “I… went to see the space-rock. It wasn’t hot, so I touched it. And then I… started dreaming.”
The family mocked disbelief, but were too relieved to interrupt.
She paused for a long time, then finally explained, “I was dreaming. But it wasn’t a normal dream. It wasn’t one of my dreams. It was someone else’s. Like a boring documentary about people and Earth, but not one I’ve ever seen on TV. It was… different. The people didn’t look like people, and the cars flew in the skies, instead of riding on roads.”
Her face made confused shapes. Mom and Dad gave one another a deranged look. Eric merely stared, breathless, hanging on her every word. She couldn’t be lying. He knew that much. Linney didn’t have a very good imagination. She’d always been more “grounded in reality” as Mom put it. That’s why she always wandered off, because curiosity “got the best of her senses.”
Tears began to well in Linney’s eyes with a sorrow beyond her meager years, “And then… a-and then there were space-ships. Screaming. Fires. It was terrible. So terrible.” She choked on her next thoughts, piercing the family’s hearts with it. “And there was someone saying something over a lot of beeps and screams and fires and the smell of dead things. Millions of voices and different languages. I couldn’t understand them. But then I heard ours.”
She choked into silence, weeping and sniffling. Eric had to know. “What did they say, Linney?”
She screwed up her face to reply to her brother, inflecting something he’d only seen a few times– a sort of sibling code that said to take her deathly serious, “I-it s-said… they’re coming.”