COURAGE IS THE FACULTY of hope—of all things living and bright. And every someone knows this to be true—or, so Gecko likes to think on those late afternoons in December, where his eyes are matched with candlelight, and his dreams almost come true.
A comet's tail, in the depth of an unending cosmos, was scheduled to fly by the Earth's atmosphere on the night the cyan vortex was formed. People would set up seats on their rooftops and crack open a cold beer, watching the biggest threat to the planet barely miss the night sky. Some might have said they wanted it to make contact with the Earth – and, well, as far as Gecko could determine, that was nothing more than pure nihilistic bullshit.
Once the warm shade of light deteriorated beneath the thin gap of his bedroom door and he could see the stars rise to meet the moon in darkness, Braeden Willingham – known infamously by his screen name, Gecko – zipped up his hoodie as quietly as he could. He slipped a beanie on over his shoulder-length hair, shuffling a little to make sure it fit. He was indeed fully dressed like he had been yesterday night, though, this time, his mother was asleep.
He had tan skin with a moustache that looked as though it possessed a mutually negative relationship with a razor, and dark brown, braided hair.
He snatched his phone from his bed and stuffed it in his pocket.
Gecko went over to his closet and pulled it open, creating a loud creaking sound. His mouth shaped into an 'O' – the same reaction people gave whenever they saw someone do something moderately painful. Gecko supposed that's exactly what it was – a painful noise. Inside there was a telescope with anime stickers attached to the body.
Here it is . . .
Gecko grabbed the telescope and paced across the darkness of his bedroom, his feet tip-toeing along the carpet. He went into the kitchen and grabbed his mother's keys off the counter, careful not to make a sound. Gecko's older sister slept in the room next to his; she had a larger room because of their three-year age difference. His mother slept in the master bedroom upstairs. All was silent. All was quiet in the house on Clove Lane.
It had thin, silver walls with cracks that elongated from one end of the house to the other. Windows were shut firmly, and Gecko supposed that the wind that so consistently pushed against them would not calm for another three hours.
Hurrying his way through the kitchen and into the garage, he saw the 2027 Volkswagen standing in the centre of the room. His mother won it in a baking contest several years ago. It was worth twenty thousand dollars and housed six seats, one battery instead of an engine, and four squeaky tires. Its icy white hood with a thick black line that cut through the middle was beginning to wither away.
He could feel the cold gales force their way through the garage door.
In front of the car, the remote-controlled door was three-quarters of the way closed. It was stuck. His mother had meant to have it fixed by late August of that year, but by that time a swarm of bills had to be paid before she could even hope to make a start.
Tip-toeing his way towards the garage door, he ducked and crawled underneath, hitting the top of his head off the steel. It made some noise and jiggled the garage door. He snapped his head back and gritted his teeth, breathing heavily through his nose.
About ten seconds passed by. He was in the clear.
Gecko sighed and whispered, "Thank Jorge up above, goddamn."
He turned around and headed outside. A strong icy wind caught his hands and shook them vigorously.
First he went around the back of his house, footsteps louder than they had been inside. He took his phone out of his pocket, gripping the telescope under his arm, and shone a light in front of him. Then he made his way towards the shed in the backyard. Bits of broken glass cracked and popped beneath the soles of his shoes. He glanced down.
The grass was still wet, and it had been for quite some time. The rain in Orlando was so frequent that people predicted a flood would arrive in the coming days. But Gecko didn't think too much of it; rain was something he enjoyed listening to at night – something he loved to be out in – something he shared a platonic relationship with. Much like how he loved to watch the stars.
He had gone up to his grandparents' house in Philadelphia on the afternoon of July 24 to watch a comet pass over the Earth, but he forgot to bring his telescope with him. So he took pictures instead. Those pictures have since been printed and hung up on his bedroom door. He knew they reminded him of a greater time . . . a time before the end of the world became a reserved priority for the government.
He found the broken glass a little bit unusual but passed it off as nothing more than someone's shattered bottles.
The shed was no bigger than a public outhouse, and had a window . . . a broken window on the right side. Sticky piles of autumn leaves still prevailed in his backyard, along with branches and winter sleet. He slid his key into the shed door and opened it.
A jet of wind swung the door open with a thud.
"Shit," he said. That ain't good.
Inside there was a ladder that could extend about eight feet, a built-in desk with a couple shotgun rounds on it, a large telescope stand, and a toolbox set in the far left corner of the room. Gecko set his telescope against the inside of the shed and gripped the stand by its legs, carrying it out into the back garden. Holding it painfully, he sighed and placed it against the sidewall of his house, and then backed away to look out into the night sky for a moment.
Something inside him made him believe the meteor had already passed by.
He was wrong.
Turning around, Gecko went back to grab his telescope. Another puff of wind drifted through the pathway to his backyard and caught his braids. They looked like beads that people often saw only three or four times in their life – those special beads that you could remember seeing but were unable to accurately identify.
He thought about the possibility that his mother could wake up at any moment, or perhaps even his sister – that scared him a little. He'd been having palpitations for the last several minutes or so. His mother had told him to stay out no later than 10:00 P.M. and that there was nothing he could do to persuade –
His ears caught the gentle sound of glass snapping beneath soft-soled shoes, and this time, they weren't his own.
Gecko spun around and stumbled onto his feet in a panic.
He saw something that he'd never seen before – it wasn't a star, nor was it a comet. No . . . this was a couple of feet in front of him, standing about seven feet tall, and possessing a frame that reminded him of those bouncers that stood outside nightclubs to keep teenagers from sneaking in. It glowed brightly with a brisk and blueish-purple aura. But Gecko didn't realise any of this – and before he knew it – he'd already forgotten who he was, where he came from, and who he grew up with.
Its face was no different than the night sky: it had no eyes or lips or ears or hair; instead it possessed a facial structure full of stars and a body littered with the deepest pockets of space. Galaxies, nebulae, quasars; it was all there in this being's body, illuminating the backyard with a loud thrumming noise.
Gecko's mother never saw him again.