The Object: a free serial novel
Episode One: “Hiding the Sun”
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When Lillia crossed Magnolia Avenue, a young man staggered out of the Mag Bar and began to trail her up 2nd Street. Before she reached West Ornsby she knew he was following her. To be certain, she cut over to 3rd Street for two blocks, then turned right onto St. Catherine. She glanced back as she crossed the 2nd Street intersection. He was still there.
A college student, she surmised. He wore a dirty gray hoody with U of L lettering. He held a cell phone up to his unshaven face, either texting someone or pretending to, and he was grinning, mumbling to himself, making eye-contact with her each time she rounded a turn and glanced back at him.
She quickened her pace as she made a left onto South Brooks, where up ahead her foster home sat in the shadow of the interstate. Traffic was minimal here. Even if someone did drive past and she called out for help, they were unlikely to stop. Not in a poor neighborhood. The streets and sidewalks cracked and broken like a deadpan field in a drought, windows either barred or boarded shut, dark alleyways between the three and four story houses, most chopped up into apartments. The constant roar of interstate traffic.
As she neared her house the man called after her.
“Hey cutie,” he said. She didn’t turn, but he said, “Whatcha lookin’ at? What’s your name, anyway? I’m Mike. Is that your house?”
It occurred to her Mrs. Wilkins wouldn’t be home until five. The only boy in the house was Drake, and he was just ten years old. This scruffy-looking college guy Mike was drunk enough to follow her home–was he drunk enough to try to break inside?
She continued on where the sidewalk darkened under the overpass. Then she ran.
Most days when she came home from school she would check on the kids–Drake, Cindy, Kate, and Audrey–to make sure they had made it home. She would feed them a snack, talk for a bit with Drake and Kate, and then send them all to do their homework.
With Cindy and Audrey this sometimes took a while. They were Mrs. Wilkins’s biological children–something they seldom neglected to mention–and though Mrs. Wilkins had charged Lillia with the task of babysitting, Cindy and Audrey believed they were exempt from her authority. Indeed, if Lillia argued with either girl long enough, the two would throw a fit, retreat to their shared bedroom, and conspire to get Lillia in trouble. “She hit us,” they would tell Mrs. Wilkins, or, “We did our homework and she’s just lying,” and one time, “She had a boy here!”
That time Lillia didn’t see the sunlight for a week, except when she snuck out her bedroom window, which was painted black–all the windows were painted black, to prevent Peeping Toms–to sit on a small section of rooftop only accessible from the room she shared with Drake and Kate.
On days when she didn’t have to waste an hour arguing with Cindy and Audrey, Lillia would slip out the door and head to a weedy vacant lot on the other side of the interstate, where she practiced throwing rocks at rusty tin cans and glass bottles. She’d once seen a western with a young girl who effectively protected herself this way. That was a long time ago, when she had had a foster mother who allowed movies and television. Mrs. Jenny was a nice woman, until her husband divorced her; after that, she gave Lillia back to the state without even saying goodbye.
As she entered the vacant lot, Lillia leaned over and scooped up a rock the size of her fist and then ran to the vine-draped wooden fence dividing this lot from an old mechanic’s garage. Here she ducked behind the rusted park bench where she mounted cans and bottles to use as targets. Broken glass crunched under her sneakers. One hand gripped the iron bench; the other held the rock like a baseball.
Mike stalked towards her, swaying, crunching gravel and glass. All over the city the three o’clock church bells began to chime.
“I can see you,” he said. “Come on out from there and talk to me.”
Lillia shifted her weight from her right foot to her left. She rested the hand with the rock between her legs, in fear that he could see up her skirt. His shadow was long against the low autumn sun and when it first darkened the bench Lillia sprang up from behind it, took aim, and hurled the rock into the golden sunlight.
Distracted by the prospect of losing her job due to repeated absence and tardiness, a young waitress named Staci McKenzie barely noticed she was seconds from passing her exit. When she swerved into the right lane without looking, the back end of her car clipped the front bumper of a Bootleg Barbeque catering van. The car jerked violently, spun broadside, and then flipped three times in midair before colliding with the pavement in an explosion of glass and debris that shot all across Watterson Expressway, then flipped twice more before landing upside down and sliding to a stop in the middle of the Bardstown Road exit ramp.
The driver of the catering van pulled over to the emergency lane and dialed 911 with his company cell phone. He reported the accident and the location and then hung up. No other traffic was disturbed, except for the other vehicles exiting the expressway, but there was still plenty of room to navigate around either side of Staci’s mangled Ford Focus, which lay there clicking and smoking and leaking fluid.
No one stopped. Everyone assumed someone else would.
Roger Lansing peeked out the passenger window of his van to get a look at the wreckage. All he could see was blonde hair whipping and lashing back and forth in the driver’s seat, where a rather large girl hung suspended by her seatbelt. The girl was alive, but she was crying hysterically and calling for help.
“You’ve done all you can do,” he said. He turned on the radio to drown out her screams.
Danny Roberts had one bar of battery life left on his cell phone and no more prospects for a ride home in his contacts.
He was sitting at a table in front of Cafe 360, watching the cars roll by on Bardstown Road, watching couples and groups stroll past, laughing and discussing unimportant things at unnecessary volumes. This was the Highlands, after all–a place where people didn’t have conversations but rather took turns delivering monologues. Politics, pop culture, and the smell of overpriced food in the air.
Danny loved the area but only at night, when alcohol and music finally shut people up. This was the first time he’d ever seen Bardstown Road in the daytime. He wasn’t even sure how he’d ended up in this situation: alone, abandoned by his friends, an hour away from home.
The last thing he remembered from last night was being pushed out the door of Phoenix Hill Tavern by two bouncers. Why they had kicked him out escaped him. He didn’t know what happened to his friends, whether or not they’d come looking for him. The only thing he knew for certain was he had broken something–the shrill explosion of glass echoed in his last night’s memory. He also knew he’d vomited but only because the evidence was still caked to the right sleeve of his jacket. Two hours ago he’d woken up stretched out on the back porch of a house behind Phoenix Hill’s parking lot, cell phone on his chest, puke-smeared. When he climbed to his feet, a dog started yapping on the other side of the back door, so he ran.
His back was still stiff and this metal chair wasn’t helping. He also noticed a soreness in his right hand–another piece of last night’s puzzle? The knuckles on his index and middle finger were raw and peppered with dark red flakes of dried blood.
A waitress came out the door and approached him with a menu. She had streaks of blue, green, and pink in her hair and her entire left arm was sleeved in tattoos. She didn’t even make eye contact with him as she pulled out her order pad and clicked the button on her pen.
“I need to take your order now,” she said. “We’re really busy.”
Danny could see right through the glass on the door. The place was all but empty. In the ten minutes he’d been sitting here no one had come or gone.
“I’ll take a water,” he said. He wanted something caffeinated, but he didn’t have any money.
The waitress sighed. “What do you want to eat?”
He glanced up at her and her eyes darted away. He picked up the menu and nervously scanned through it. She’d make him leave if he didn’t order something, and he was most definitely hungry. Still, the money problem remained–or rather the fact that he’d lost his wallet along with his friends.
The waitress was fidgeting, tapping her foot. She sighed deliberately.
“You know what,” Danny said, smiling and nodding. “Give me a chicken quesadilla. And a bacon cheeseburger with fries. And a cup of coffee.”
The waitress scribbled quickly. “Still want the water?”
“Is that all?”
“And a hookah.”
“I need your ID.”
“I don’t have it on me.”
“You can’t get a hookah without an ID.”
Danny raised his chin and ran his fingers through his thick beard. “Can’t you tell I’m over eighteen?”
The waitress leaned in close and waved her pen like a conductor’s baton as she spoke. “You can’t. Get a hookah. Unless you have an ID. We keep it at the bar until you pay. Now is there anything else?”
“No,” Danny said, and as she stomped up the steps, he added, “Sorry you’re having such a bad day.”
“I’m not,” she said without turning. Then she was through the door.
“Well,” Danny said, “the day is young.”
Sherman strolled up West Main saying hello to every passerby and hitching his pants every couple of steps. The button on the waistline had popped off weeks ago when two CNG boys robbed him in the pouring rain and threw him over a cyclone fence out near 28th and Greenwood. He knew he had no business out on the west side. CNG used to be known as Badd Newz, until a big LMPD sting operation put a bunch of those boys in prison, forcing the rest to cloak themselves in a new name–but everybody knew who they were. Maybe not Louisville Metro, but half the time Louisville Metro pretended gang activity didn’t exist–notwithstanding the nightly gunfire, the stabbings, the robberies, the rape.
For two days following the incident with the CNG boys–neither of them a day over fifteen–Sherman had to walk around holding his pants up, until finally an old white lady in front of city hall gave him a safety pin and a five dollar bill. “Everybody needs pants,” she said. “They’re only two dollars at the Goodwill.”
Today was Friday, and in the crook of Sherman’s arm a small bundle of gauze was secured with two pieces of surgical tape, forming an X. Wednesdays and Fridays Sherman walked all the way from the Wayside men’s shelter to the plasma clinic, both on Jefferson Street but eighteen blocks apart–a good mile and a half. At the plasma clinic he would lie in a chair while a machine extracted his blood, separated the plasma from the blood cells, and then returned the blood cells to his body, a two-hour ordeal that put twenty-five bucks in his pocket on Wednesdays, thirty-five on Fridays.
When people returned his hello or offered a wave, Sherman would spin around and walk backwards and say, “Any chance you’d spare a couple bucks for a brotha in need?”
He kept count of his daily solicitations and rate of return. On plasma days he only begged casually. Thirty-five bucks would carry him through the weekend: a half-gallon of vodka, a pack of smokes, a couple of dollar hamburgers, a few bucks left over. Monday was always tough, but today wasn’t Monday.
“Three of ten, still not bad, not bad,” he said when a woman in a business suit ignored him. She was coming down the steps in front of the Science Center and averted her eyes the moment he spoke. “Thank you anyways, ma’am.”
He almost hadn’t bothered. White women were the easiest to differentiate, in terms of their willingness to speak to a black man.
He waited for the woman to pass by and then he hopped up on the steps to pick up a “partial,” as he referred to them: a half-smoked and discarded cigarette. He collected them in a worn and scuffed tin case he’d found two years ago on the riverfront. This one was fresh, so he put it between his cracked lips and lit it with a fifty-cent lighter he’d bought that morning at a gas station.
“Nervous day in Louisville, ladies and gentlemen. I’m pickin’ up partials all over the place.” Indeed he had. He’d filled his case on the way to the clinic; on the way back, he’d supplanted some of the shorter partials with longer ones. The shorter ones he put in his back pocket until he passed a trash bin–he prided himself on making an effort not to litter.
Sherman jogged back down to the sidewalk just as the bells started clanging–the closest one a Presbyterian church down near Fourth Street Live: a cluster of bars, restaurants, and comedy clubs where the young people gathered to drink and dance.
In a moment doors would fly open all up and down Main Street and hundreds of working folk would spill out onto the sidewalk and swarm the parking garages and go back to their apartments and studios and homes, their normal lives with families and health insurance and tickets to Cardinal basketball games, while Sherman weathered the outdoors, keeping the streets clean of cigarette butts.
Sherman scanned the street corners for police and then pulled a bottle of KG from the inside pocket of his denim jacket. He took a swig and returned it quickly. Across the street, a heavyset man dressed like a lawyer made eye contact with him through the plate glass window of a coffee lounge. The man wiped his chin with a crumpled napkin and then looked away.
A block to Sherman’s right, an enormous steel replica of a baseball bat lay against the side of the Louisville Slugger Museum.
“Gonna knock that buildin’ over y’all,” Sherman muttered. It’s what his mother had said the day he took her to see the commemorative bat set in place back in ’95, six months before she died of a degenerative muscle condition.
Sherman took a drag from the cigarette dangling between his lips and began to swagger up the red brick sidewalk. All around him people poured out of the buildings.
“Excuse me, sir,” a voice called from across the street.
It was the big man from the coffee shop. He stood at the curb waiting for a car to pass and adjusting the seam of his trousers with his thumbs, suit jacket unbuttoned and open, tie flapping in the breeze. When the car passed, the man jogged across the street, one hand pressed against his jiggling belly.
Sherman backed away a few steps as the man hopped up on the sidewalk and approached him. He cleared Sherman by a foot, and his big bald head eclipsed the sun. When he spoke, Sherman realized he was still chewing his last bite of food.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m just headin’ home, sir,” Sherman said. He kept taking steps backwards, and the suited man pursued him.
“What happened to your arm?”
“Donated plasma today. Just doin’ my part to save the world.”
“You do that for money?”
The man shook his head and smirked. “You’re in the wrong part of town, buddy.”
“You a cop?”
“I’m an attorney, and you need take your stinking ass back to the west end.”
“I don’t live in the west end.”
“Where do you live?”
Sherman stopped and raised his arms out to his sides.
“All over, Mr. Attorney, sir,” he said. “Wherever I am–that’s where I live.”
“If you’re homeless you have no business north of Broadway. This is the one part of Louisville that’s managed to remain unblemished–hey, are you listening to me?”
They stood under a tree next to the Main at 7th Tarc bus shelter, behind which lay a shady little garden area with a trickling fountain. At the intersection on Main, a police cruiser idled in the left lane, waiting on the traffic light to turn green. Sherman looked all around for a way of escape. His eyes stopped at the building across the street and the red statues perched upon its second story ledge–more on the roof.
“Are those penguins or Virgin Marys?” he said, pointing.
The man’s face contorted into an angry, confused grimace and he turned to look at the Proof on Main building, an upscale restaurant and art gallery, a place people like Sherman never dared to enter. Then the light changed and traffic started moving. Sherman’s new lawyer friend waved at the police cruiser, not to flag him down but as though he knew the officer inside.
Meanwhile Sherman had backed away to the Tarc pavilion. The lawyer glanced back to where Sherman previously stood, then spun around, spotting him.
Sherman dashed across 7th Street. A car turning right off Main screeched to a halt and the driver slammed his palm on the horn, drowning out the lawyer’s exclamations.
People stepped aside and some even ducked into entryways or jumped off the curb as he ran past. After all, to run is indicative of guilt. Sherman might well have just committed the most heinous crime this town had ever seen, and to catch a waft of his scent was to absorb his evil–or be absorbed by it.
Before the next intersection he cut between two parked cars and crossed the street, then veered right at South 6th, coming around the corner and tearing through caution tape onto a section of soft concrete. Luckily the city workers who should have been guarding their work were nowhere to be found. Sherman didn’t stop to see how deep of an impression his shoes had left. He kept running. Up ahead was a nine-story parking garage–a great place to hide, wait it out, just in case someone came after him.
He made it to the entrance just as the sky went black.
The rock struck Mike the stalker just above his left eyebrow. For a brief moment his body stiffened. Then his legs turned to noodles and he collapsed, hitting the ground like a sack of potatoes.
Then something strange happened.
It was as though Lillia shared Mike’s consciousness. In anticipation of her accuracy–and fear of what might befall her if she missed–she’d hardly noticed, and in the ensuing moments she reeled in confusion.
When the rock struck Mike in the forehead, everything went dark.
Not completely dark. She could still see the yellow sky out on the southern horizon, but the houses in the foreground–and her stalker’s crumpling body–were nothing but dark silhouettes, and suddenly a strong, erratic wind blew her skirt up and whipped dust in her face. Tin cans rolled around and rattled on the ground and vines scraped against the wooden fence at her back.
Lillia shielded her eyes, peered up at the sky, and gasped.
Play Episode One’s Original Score
She wandered out from behind the bench, past her stalker, who lay with his arms stretched out to his sides and his knees bent slightly, like a frog pinned to a rubber mat for dissection.
Lillia paid no mind to her flapping skirt. No one was around anyway, except for Mike, whose condition she hadn’t had time to ponder. He wasn’t moving, which meant he was unconscious–or worse.
The object in the sky looked like a moon, only it was close. Really close. Within the atmosphere, even under the clouds. Perfectly round, enormous–probably several miles in diameter–most of it cloaked in its own massive shadow but its edges touched by sunlight. The color of desert sand, the texture of sepia. A great and ancient stone hovering in the Louisville sky, enveloping the city in darkness.
For a moment she wasn’t afraid. She couldn’t be. This thing, this object–it was astonishing.
She was ten paces away when her stalker began to moan and roll around on the ground. Without thinking she went to him, knelt down, and began to shake him.
“Hey, Mike, wake up. You have to see. It’s amazing. It’s the craziest thing–“
Mike opened his eyes–two glints of light in the blackness. He sat up, groaning and mumbling to himself, and touched the bloody wound on his head.
She could smell the alcohol on his breath, the sourness of his clothes. Body odor and cigarettes. Mrs. Wilkins’s husband smelled like that all the time–at least for the two days of the month he spent at home. Mr. Wilkins was a truck driver, and Lillia didn’t imagine he smelled any better out on the road.
The waft of that smell drove her back several steps. It made her nervous, as Mr. Wilkins had always made her nervous, especially when he and Mrs. Wilkins started yelling at each other–or when she’d wake up in the middle of the night and find him standing in the doorway, watching her.
Suddenly Mike lunged for her.
She screamed and dodged his advance, staggered, almost fell. Then she ran across the lot and made a wide turn out onto the street just as a police cruiser popped around the corner with its headlights off.
Meredith cut to the left and overcorrected and the back end of the cruiser fishtailed. She slammed on the brakes and the car made a one-eighty spin in the middle of the road, skidding to a stop directly facing the young girl, who stood now with her arms at her sides and her head down, shaking, hair blowing in the wind.
“Jesus,” Meredith said. She gripped the steering wheel with both hands and sat there a moment, taking deep breaths. The radio droned with the voice of dispatch calling all cars back to the precinct. Something had darkened the sky. She didn’t know what. She was too afraid to look up.
It happened right as she pulled away from a traffic stop. Some dimwit had run the red light at East Hill Street, almost hitting a cyclist, and a fight nearly ensued before she talked the cyclist down and sent him on his way.
Three days working at the precinct, each of them filled with adventure. On Day One two kids with semi-automatic pellet guns sprang up from behind a fence and shot her six times. She returned fire. Two bullets she was certain would haunt her for the rest of her career. Luckily she’d missed, but when the boys ran she didn’t chase them, and now she would have to explain two empty shell casings to her superiors. She’d cried for an hour in her car that morning.
On Day Two she was first response to a double homicide. A young white male and female, both striped with track marks, swollen and infested with maggots, holding hands on the floor of some run-down apartment building amidst their own blood and feces. You couldn’t walk across the floor without your shoes crunching on needles and crack pipes–small glass tubes, always blackened on one end.
Today was Day Three, and so far there’d been no gunfire, no forthcoming paperwork, no death. She’d written three tickets to three nervous, irritated drivers. She’d also responded to a request for back-up at a domestic disturbance call, which turned out to be non-violent, only verbal.
Then in an instance the lights went out. Not like a storm cloud passing over the sun, dragging a shadow across the city. One moment all was normal. Then she blinked, and it was as if she’d suffered a blackout and came to late in the evening.
Not a minute later she almost mowed down a young girl with her car. What an auspicious beginning to her career that would have been.
Meredith flipped on the headlights–something she hadn’t thought to do in the moments after everything went dark, something that might have prevented this incident.
She threw the gear shift in park and stepped out of the car, one hand gripping her holstered firearm. Leaving the door open, she took out her flashlight and pointed it at the girl, then slowly approached.
“Hey,” she said, “are you okay?”
The girl nodded. Meredith couldn’t tell if she was crying or not. Her hair was in her face, along with several strands of red and white fake dreadlocks.
“What’s your name?” Meredith asked.
“Do you live close by, Lillia?”
“Okay,” Meredith said. “Why don’t you come get in the car and I’ll take you home.”
Lillia pointed into the vacant lot from which she’d sprang.
Meredith shined her flashlight in that direction and found a young man climbing to his feet, face bloody, grumbling. If not for the wind she would have heard him.
“He was following me,” Lillia said. “I threw a rock at him.”
“Does he have any weapons?” Meredith asked, drawing her gun.
“I don’t think so.”
“Go stand by the car.”
She waited for the girl to move away. Then she locked the flashlight in line with the gun barrel and stepped up to the sidewalk at the entrance to the vacant lot. The man was spinning around in circles, leaning forward, searching for something.
“Sir, can you come over here, please?”
“Lookin’ for my phone,” the man said.
“What’s your name?”
“I said I’m looking for my phone!”
Meredith stepped into the lot. She approached the man slowly. Behind her, Lillia said something, but her words dissolved into the wind.
“What’s your name, sir?”
“Mike, and I didn’t do anything. I gotta get back to campus before they stop serving dinner.”
“Why were you following that girl?”
“She’s lying,” Mike said. “I was just taking a walk and here she comes throwing rocks. What time is it?”
“It’s about quarter after three,” Meredith said.
“Quarter after what?”
“Three. Sir, I need you to–“
“Okay then if you’re gonna be a lying bitch, too,” Mike said, and he came at her, his face crossing through the beam of the flashlight for an instant, snarling, one side of his dirty face glazed with blood, his eyes blackened with rage.
Lillia was crossing under the overpass when she heard the gunshot. Above her, on the interstate, people were honking their horns and the speed of traffic was quickly increasing.
On Brook Street people had emerged from their houses, some standing in their yards or on the sidewalk, gawking at the sky, others running to their cars or standing in doorways screaming at their family members to hurry. The sound of panic was growing all across the city. Car alarms, honking, screams, crying. When she reached her house she heard the screeching, grating impact of a wreck on the interstate and the squeal of dozens of tires as so many people slammed on their brakes. Then a second impact.
She leapt up onto the porch and fumbled with her backpack to retrieve her key from a side pocket and then she came through the door and slammed it shut and locked it.
“Drake!” she called. “Kate!”
She check the living room, then the kitchen. Cindy and Audrey were rooting around in the refrigerator. They turned and scowled at her.
Cindy said, “They’re upstairs. You don’t have to yell.”
“Don’t go outside,” Lillia said.
“You can’t tell us what to do,” said Audrey.
Lillia ran back to the foyer and up the stairs. Drake was coming out the bedroom door.
“Why’s it so dark?” he asked.
Lillia ushered him back into the room, where Kate sat on the floor holding her porcelain doll, and closed the door.
“Is it gonna storm?” Kate asked.
Drake tugged at her skirt and she turned to him.
“Lillia, what’s wrong?”
Lillia went to the window and struggled to raise it. When she’d first come home with Mrs. Wilkins this window had been painted shut. It was wood-framed, heavy. She had to prop it open with a sawed-off piece of broom handle.
Kate hopped up from the floor and took her doll to the bed. Then she stood next to Drake. Together they stared at Lillia.
Lillia turned to them, a strong breeze gusting in, ruffling their clothes and the hair of dozens of stuffed animals seated on the inset shelves.
“There’s something in the sky,” Lillia said. “You guys wanna see it?”
Roger Lansing stood with three paramedics, four police officers, six firefighters, and a dozen pedestrians who had pulled over to inspect the carnage of Staci McKenzie’s car or comfort the girl while she waited for the ambulance. She had a broken arm and a broken collar bone, and after a few minutes of hanging upside down and screaming her head off, she’d passed out.
It wasn’t until the police arrived that Roger got out of his van. He didn’t like blood, not even that which seeped from the steaks he had to grill on a daily basis.
Now she was awake again and back to her screaming, though no one paid her any mind.
They were all staring off toward the city, where a giant marble hovered in the sky, with some kind of ring wrapped around it.
Traffic had slowed to a crawl, and among the spectators speculation swelled against the mumblings of prayer.
“It’s a UFO,” one firefighter shouted repeatedly while his colleagues blurted every curse word they could think of at the giant object.
“What the hell is that thing?” said a man whom Roger remembered stepping down from a tractor trailer hauling a backhoe.
The girl hanging upside down in the car cried for help, and someone else said, “Isn’t anybody gonna help her?”
“It’s a meteor!”
“Oh Lord help us.”
“It’s not a meteor, you dumb shit.”
“Hey, piss on you, buddy!”
“I’m tellin’ you that’s a UFO,” said the firefighter. “Unidentified flying object. I never believed in such a thing but that’s what it is.”
Then the wind hit them, and everyone took a step back.
“You know what I think,” one police officer said to another.
“That we need to get the hell out of the city?” his partner said.
They started for their cruiser, and the first officer turned back to the crowd and said, “Everybody get the hell out of here, get home to your families and out of the city. We’re all gonna die!”
Panic erupted and the crowd quickly dissolved as people ran back to their vehicles, leaving Staci McKenzie still trapped.
The girl who had called upon them to help Staci stood at the driver’s side door. “Where are you people going? You have to help her!”
One by one engines fired up and cars precariously cut into traffic. The police cruisers blared their sirens. One fire truck sideswiped three cars, pushing them into the middle lane.
Roger felt a hand hook him by the elbow. He turned to the girl.
“Please don’t go,” she said.
Danny swallowed a bite of his quesadilla, took a sip of his coffee, and then took a long drag from the hookah. Creamsicle. Refreshing. All around him people were running, screaming, delivering apocalyptic monologues of the highest drama. His rude waitress, who’d surprised him by bringing the hookah, popped out the door moments before with two coworkers, all holding hands and dashing down the back alley to their cars. Just a few feet away, a man lay on the sidewalk crying and holding his broken leg. He had tried to cross the street at the wrong moment and had been struck by a black Trailblazer, flinging him back where he’d started.
Danny agreed with the hipsters: this was the end of the world.
He sure as hell wasn’t going to die hungry.
“Wow, that’s so cool,” Drake said.
They sat on the small section of slanted rooftop, Lillia hugging Kate, Drake standing against the brick wall, peering up.
“Come sit down, Drake,” Lillia said.
“I’m not gonna fall, I promise,” he said, but without further instruction he reached out for her and inched his way across the roof. Lillia grabbed his hand and held it until he sat down next to her. Then she put her arm around him.
“Is it aliens?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Lillia said.
“I bet Timmy is flipping out right now, he’s such a wuss.”
“He is, isn’t he.”
“Totally,” Drake said, laughing.
Kate, who sat between Lillia’s legs, turned her head and looked up at her. “Are they gonna hurt us?”
“I won’t let anyone hurt you,” Lillia said.
“Okay,” said Kate, unperturbed. She resumed staring up at the strange dark object.
Lillia felt a vibration in the roof, which meant the big heavy front door had just slammed shut. Mrs. Wilkins was home early.
“She’s home, guys. Back inside. Hurry.”
As she helped Kate slide through the window, she heard Mrs. Wilkins’s high-pitched scream, not uncommon in this household, even without unfathomable anomalies hovering above. She put a hand on Drake’s hip as he stood and stepped past her. When he was through the window, she climbed back into the room herself, then closed the window as quietly as she could.
Kate was gathering her doll and Drake stood waiting for Lillia’s next move.
“Stay in here a minute,” she said.
When she came out to the second floor landing, she saw Mrs. Wilkins standing at the door with her enormous purse, beckoning her daughters, pushing them out onto the porch. Then she rushed outside, closing the door behind her.
“You gotta be kidding me,” Lillia said.
She hurried down the stairs and came out on the porch just as Mrs. Wilkins was climbing into the driver’s seat. She had left the car running despite the unusual number of people on the street.
“Mrs. Wilkins!” Lillia called. “What about us!”
Mrs. Wilkins glanced at her briefly. Then she closed the door and sped off.
From the roof level of the parking structure Sherman could see all across the city–even glimpses of the river between the northernmost buildings. The wind softened the hubbub below, the screech of tires in the levels below him, the weather sirens, the screaming. All things considered, this was a pretty peaceful spot. He sat straddling the ledge, watching the people and cars fleeing like cockroaches when the lights come on–this the antithesis of that.
He pulled a partial cigarette from his tin container. To light it, he had to lean away from the ledge and form his hand into a cup in which to fire up the lighter. Then he sat smoking his cigarette and scanning the visible edges of the object.
“You’d love this, Momma,” he said, shaking his head.
He pulled out his pint of KG and finished it off, then dropped the bottle on the concrete floor.
It was then that he noticed the man climbing up on the ledge of the perpendicular wall, tie flapping out behind him.
“Sir!” Sherman called. He jumped down and started jogging toward the man. “Sir, that wind’ll blow you right off there! Sir!”
The man glanced back at him briefly, then raised his arms up, palms together. He bent his knees slightly and kicked off the ledge like a diving board.
Sherman slowed down to a walk, then stopped altogether. He put his hands on his hips, winced, took a drag from his cigarette.
“Nervous day in Louisville, ladies and gentlemen. Yes sir. Absolutely yes.”
To be continued . . .
Read Episode Two