Day 1: The Attack (Heather)
Heather watched her Dad flip burgers, glad-handling the neighbors. He had a good turnout, and it seemed like the whole street showed up. Even the people from the top, above the circular curve that made up the base of the court. She only recognized a handful of people. Matty Cutler and Pete Carter sat at the end of the street. Or at least Pete did, it appeared Matt was coming over to talk to her and Kate. Mr. Gardner followed behind, done with his quick game of catch with Pete.
“Round two, Kate.” She jutted her chin toward Matty.
“Leave him alone this time. It’s funny, but you’re scaring him.”
“I promise to be good.” Heather put her hand on her heart. “How much time are you going to give him?”
“If he doesn’t ask me out this time, I’ll do it myself. Besides, he needs a win today after throwing up on himself.”
“Get him into shape. A guy shouldn’t collapse after three laps around the street.”
They laughed together as Matt approached, and Heather sensed the awkward shyness coming off him in waves. Matty Cutler was a sweet, cute guy, but honestly. Grow a pair.
“I hope you’re not laughing at me,” he said, waving.
“Oh, we completely are,” Heather replied, and Kate punched her arm. Stop it, her gestures seemed to say.
“She’s teasing, Matty.” Kate rolled her eyes. “Are you feeling better?”
“Oh yeah.” He tried to play it casual. “I’m sure it was something I ate, no big deal.”
“I wonder what the Romans ate before they went jogging,” Heather said, and Kate slapped her arm again.
“Didn’t you say you left something in the treehouse?” Kate asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh, right. I should get going.” She took the hint and besides, she’d promised to be good. The treehouse would be empty as Liz wanted to stay home, not feeling up to socializing. She worried about seeing Pete with her arm all burned to hell. Heather wished there was something more she could do about the situation, but Liz had sworn her to silence. Maddening.
She turned to leave when Abby, Matty’s little sister, ran over and slapped her on the bum.
“Let’s play tag!” Her ten-year-old smile lit up her face, and she giggled behind her hands.
“Not now, Abby,” Matty said. “We’ll play after dinner.”
“I wanna play now!” Abby pursed her lips and folded her arms tight to her chest.
“Why don’t we play together in the treehouse?” Heather asked, taking Abby by the hand. “You can tell me about your favorite shows, and I’ll tell you the secret to winning tag.”
“Come on.” Heather pulled her away, and both Matt and Kate looked at her with gratitude.
She leaned over to say something to Abby when a noise crested over the horizon. It was unlike anything she’d ever heard, a tearing that came from every direction. Her ears filled with the sound, a catastrophic wrongness that obliterated thought.
She saw Matt and Kate clap their hands to their ears as the adults did the same behind them. The sound came from every direction, a low rumble that vibrated through her bones. An earthquake? Beside her, Abby dropped to the ground, crying.
“Matty,” Abby’s mouth formed the words, but Heather couldn’t hear anything, the sound blocked out all other noises. Matt ran over and picked Abby up, and Heather pushed them all toward the treehouse. Behind her, Kate screamed and ran closer to her parents, who stood in front of the barbecue.
As fast as it came, the sound stopped, and her ears popped in the sudden silence. She looked around, dizzy, not able to get her footing. It was like everything held its breath.
“What the fuck is that?” Matt yelled and pointed upwards.
The sky started bleeding.
There was no other way to describe it. A fantastic rent tore the sky in half, a staggering cut that must have been hundreds of miles tall. Red miasma and smoke gurgled from it. Behind the gash, darkness pulsated, and she mistook it for the night sky, but that couldn’t be right. The night sky didn’t move. This blackness poured from the sky-wound, expanding outward like spilled ink.
Abby screamed and hugged Matt. Heather grabbed his arm and pulled them towards the treehouse. She didn’t even know what she was doing, only that she needed to hide. They scrambled up the rickety wooden steps together. She reacted on pure animal instinct, barely aware of moving, only knowing she needed to run from that horrible tear in the sky and the blackness that poured from it. Her vision narrowed, like looking down a long, darkened hallway. She could see Pete and his parents down at the end of the street, crouched by the path to the forest, screaming.
The blackness in the air took form, and where there was once a puddle of darkness, it split apart into individual shapes. Like pepper sprinkled over the sky, the darkness coalesced into black dots. Thousands. Then more. Somehow, more.
The dots spread across the horizon so fast that for a moment she thought her eyes didn’t work. Striations that meant she needed glasses or something. That wasn’t it though, the black shapes moved, spilling across the sky, blotting out the clouds and sun with their numbers. There must be millions. It looked like a swarm of locusts, but bigger. Behind her, the wind picked up in response. It screamed at her, a buzzing noise added to the cacophony. It was all too much.
The black dots whizzed across the sky with red flashes coming from them, striking down toward the earth like unerring bolts of lightning. There were no explosions, but the red, piercing lasers were everywhere, and they came closer. Thousands and thousands of red lights fell from the black shapes, creating something like a fireworks display.
“What’s happening?” Matt yelled into her ear, but she couldn’t talk or move. Frozen, she stared at the horrible fissure that ripped her sky apart. It was odd to be protective of the sky, but seeing it ruined by this creeping sickness, she experienced nausea borne from impotent rage. None of this was right. Whatever this was, it would destroy everything.
“Get away from the door,” she said, unsure if any sound came out. She licked her lips to work moisture into her mouth. Some instinct caused her to tug harder on Matt’s arm and pull him further into the interior of the treehouse. Abby sobbed into her brother’s neck, her arms and legs wrapped tight around him. Matt’s mouth formed a gaping ‘O’ of shock, and he followed her into the shelter.
In the sky, the black shapes flew closer, allowing her to make out individual details. They were egg-shaped, with no noticeable markings or attachments. Black, but with a gleam and polish that somehow gave off light. Nothing visible propelled them through the air. No jets, no exhaust, nothing. And fast, so fast, at first appearing miles away and then in an instant, dozens surrounded them, pulling up short and hovering over the crescent. Her first thought was a terrorist attack, but unlike anything she had ever seen on the news.
From beside her, Matt said, “I think they’re-”
Before he could continue, the black ships erupted with the same red flashes from earlier. Each blast sounded like a chainsaw, a revving and angry rip.