Eleanor Was Painting Her House
Eleanor was painting her house when the sky opened up.
Actually, she was just about to take a break. She stood propped against her ladder, shielding her eyes from the late morning sun and wondering how hot the day was bound to get as she reached into her pocket for a pack of cigarettes. She brought the rolled, white paper to her lips and withdrew her lighter from where it was stored within the soft pack of smokes, bringing the flame to the end of the cigarette and inhaling deeply. She told herself enough dust was blowing in from the fields she’d left fallow this year - and good thing, too; there’d barely been enough rain to support the berries she was growing on the opposite side of her land - she could probably just breathe in if she needed any more particulates in her lungs, but it never stopped her from lighting up anyway. Slipping the pack back into her jeans pocket, Eleanor rubbed her eyes and worked her fingers into her loosening ponytail, working the elastic away from her scalp so that she could tie it up again, more tightly this time. She was just about halfway done with the house, she figured; she might be able to finish before evening if the sun didn’t get too unbearable. Tomorrow at the latest. It was a big, old farmhouse, but it was all right angles, and she’d done this before. Her hair secured more tightly on her head now, away from her eyes, Eleanor took the cigarette away from her lips and breathed out almost as hard as she’d breathed in.
And that was when it happened.
There was a sound like a whip cracking, and not like that at all. Sometimes when the jets flew overhead from the airfield, if they hit mach speed at just the right instant, they made a sound like this, and for a brief second, that’s what Eleanor thought it had to be, until she felt the shockwave. The tiny jolt from a flyover would hardly shake the windowpanes. This nearly knocked her off of her feet; it knocked her into the ladder well enough, and she found her arms flying out to catch the paint bucket that was resting on the third rung and steady it before she lost the better part of five gallons of Loyal Blue. A bit sloshed over the side and onto the ladder, but she probably had more than that on the front of her white t-shirt, and anyway, her priorities were rapidly shifting as a thin, green light filtered over the sun, pale at first, then heavier, like storm clouds. Eleanor tried to look up to see what was happening, cigarette clenched in her teeth, but the brightness of the day, the brightness of the green, and the obfuscation of the growing dark blurred her vision until all she could see above her head were roiling pea-green clouds.
It was a bit late in the season for tornadoes, and this far north she hardly saw more than one or two a year, if that, but Eleanor wasn’t about to take any chances. There wasn’t anything else it could reasonably be.
She ran around to the front of the house and darted up the porch steps, slamming open the screen door and dashing into the kitchen. The door snapped back closed behind her. Digging through drawers, Eleanor grabbed candles, matches, a flashlight and a packet of batteries, and the master keyring - the ones with the keys to the barn, the shed, and the storm cellar. She grabbed her cell phone from the kitchen table. She chucked all of this in a cloth grocery sack that had been hanging up next to the fridge, and threw it onto the table. She flung her cigarette in the sink, and as quickly as she could, she went around the house upstairs and down, closing and locking all the shutters and windows, hoping it didn’t fuck up her fresh paint too royally - as though a tornado wouldn’t. She found Swiffer, her tiny grey kitten, who was blessedly still in the house, sleeping on the foot of Eleanor’s bed, and unceremoniously threw the poor creature on top of all her storm equipment in the grocery sack. Then she picked the whole thing up, slung it over her shoulder, and made quickly for the front door. She heard Swiffer mewling pathetically as Eleanor slammed the front door shut. She was just about to jam her key in the deadbolt when it all stopped.
There hadn’t been sound, except for the sound of wind. But now the silence was oppressive. Eleanor was frozen on her porch with one hand on the doorknob, one jabbing forth a key, afraid that if she stirred somehow she would bring it all back.
She held her breath.
She held her breath until she couldn’t hold it anymore, and then she exhaled quickly, sucking in fresh, if dusty, air, feeling her lungs expand. Swiffer cried softly from within the grocery bag, and the flashlight and batteries clacked together as the animal tried to find its footing in the soft sack. Finding her strength, Eleanor backed away from the door, gripping the keys in her fist as she stepped down off of the wide porch and onto the lawn. She walked cautiously around to the side of the house where her ladder was still propped, paint still upright, Swiffer still meowing in a frustrated way, now trying to poke her head up and over the side of the bag. Eleanor swatted the cat gently back down, whispering to it, “Just wait one second.” The kitten, sensing perhaps the urgency in her owner’s voice, quieted now, and settled down to a stillness.
Eleanor peered up at the sky, fist that clenched the keys brought up to her brow to shield out the sun that now seemed as bright and strong as it had when she’d climbed down from the ladder for a smoke. It seemed bright and strong, but a bit… discolored. There was still a definite greenness to the sky, there were still fits of twisting clouds, but they all centered now around one central point, away from the sun, a point that seemed to want to pull up and in on itself at the same time that it forced out all the green. She had no good words for it, maybe whirlpool, or black hole, but nothing like that was quite right. It was like a second tiny green sun churning away in the sky, but not in space, no; it was in the sky she could fathom, some fixed point above her head, maybe a few hundred yards or even feet over her. She couldn’t judge it exactly, but she knew it was close.
And below that all-too-close point churning and burning above her, some short distance away on the perimeter of her land where her lawn met her field, were people.
Eleanor backed up to the house, went back up the porch steps, unlocked the front door, and went back inside. She gently set the grocery bag down next to the coat rack, setting Swiffer free. Retrieving her cell phone as the cat bounded away from the bag and back into the kitchen, Eleanor stood and went to the hall closet. From within and beneath a forest of coats, Eleanor withdrew a shotgun. It was the only gun she owned, and she hated it, hated even the idea of it, but it had been her father’s before he had passed away, and so she left it where he had left it in the closet, next to a box of ammunition. It was never loaded anymore. She didn’t load it even now, only held the barrel of the gun in her left hand as she stuffed a few shells in her pants pocket with her right, and closed the closet door shut behind her. Equipped now with a phone, a half a pack of cigarettes, and a gun, Eleanor went back once again to her ladder, and watched to see if the figures approached.
They were at enough of a distance that Eleanor had to strain her eyes to see if they made any movements at all - she’d left her glasses on the nightstand, damn it; she hadn’t wanted to get paint on the lenses, and besides, she almost never wore them when she wasn’t in front of a screen - but Eleanor thought that, in that impossible silence, broken only by an infrequent and distant buzzing she figured must be coming from the green light above her, she could hear voices. And they seemed to be shouting.
The sound took her off guard, not because it scared her, but because the two most forward figures seemed to be as frustrated as she was right now. It was almost comforting, somehow. It was almost funny. They clearly weren’t planning a stealth attack (though perhaps the lightshow was evidence enough of that), and now, from a half a hundred yards or so away, they seemed completely unable to get their shit together.
Behind the two leading figures was a row of what Eleanor could only assume were soldiers; she judged this solely based on how still and even these figures seemed to stand compared to the two closest to her, who were absolutely shouting, and possibly flailing.
This, if nothing else, gave Eleanor the courage to begin to walk forward, since she thought it might be a while before the figures decided to do the same. She walked slowly, non-threateningly, with the gun resting on her shoulder, barrel aimed well behind her and at the sky. Her right hand remained close to the cell phone in her back pocket, just to be safe, but she went on with confidence.
The figures caught sight of her, and their voices quieted.
Eleanor paused, and fear crept back in. With the sound dulled, the thing in the sky seemed even more present, even more threatening, and now, she remembered, completely inexplicable. What the fuck was going on here?
Staying still, she called out, “Hello there?”There was a beat, and then a voice called back, “Hello! I don’t suppose you’ve got a map, have you?”
Author's note: What you are reading is my 2015 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) project, which is to say: it may or may not need lot of work. I have done nothing in the way of editing save for spelling and grammar and any enormously gaping plot holes. I'm posting it here to get a sense of what people think of it over all and am open to suggestions (or pandering and overblown compliments, those are always welcome).
I do want to point out one major thing, before I get a thousand comments (or two, whatever): I started writing this in May/June before I stopped and decided to save it for NaNo. As such, it is not strictly compatible with the Trespasser DLC. I already had something like 20k words before that content was released, so I decided instead of retconning such a huge piece of work, I would just let it stand as a piece of strictly non-canonical fic. I had read The Masked Empire at this point, so it's not entirely bonkers, but it has nothing to do with the content in Trespasser.