It had been a warm early May day and the kids celebrated the first day of summer vacation down by the pond. The screen door slammed and sounds of muddy boots echoed through the kitchen. Helen and George chuckled. They remembered all the summer afternoons Levi spent frogging down at the pond before he moved away to the city. They loved having their grandsons, Junior and Max, in the house but wished it had been under different circumstances.
Four feet sloshed up the wooden steps signalling it was all clear. Helen smiled and went into the kitchen. She picked up four socks, two wet t-shirts, and set them in the sink. George wandered in as she stuck her hand into the pocket of one set of jeans. Her face wrinkled and she giggled as she pulled out a small frog.
“Just like their dad.” George picked up the other pair and pulled out a lizard and two small rocks from one pocket and a frog from the other. “Exactly like their dad.”
Helen handed George her frog and wiped a tear from her eye. Levi had been gone three months and it was still hard to think about her little boy lying in his grave up on the hill.
George opened the back door, set the lizard down and watched him run off toward the woods. He looked at the frogs, trying to decide where to best leave them. As he looked toward the pond his mouth dropped. “What in good heavens!”
“George? George, what is it?”
George dropped the two frogs and looked into the sky.
“George!” Helen rushed to his side and was irked he made her worry by not responding. “What is –” She followed stare skyward and crossed herself. “In all my years … it’s not supposed to do that … the boys!”
George and Helen hurried upstairs and burst into the boys’ room without knocking. Before they could protest, George whipped out their backpacks and emptied them while Helen grabbed handfuls of clothes. It all happened so fast, neither boy could stop to think before they were dragged downstairs and out toward the storm shelter.
The air was warm and breezy, just as it had been all day.
“Grandpa,” Junior said. “Stop! What’s wrong!”
George handed Junior off to Helen and pointed to the sky as he opened the shelter door. “Look!”
Junior and Max looked up and smiled. “Whoa,” they said together.
“What is that,” Max asked.
George helped Helen down the steps, then looked into the sky again. “They look like the Northern Lights, but they can’t be. Now get in.”
Junior and Max saw the panic in his eyes and did as they were told without question.
Inside the family shelter, Junior and Max sat on one cot and watched as George cranked up the radio and tried to find the right station.
“Attention, listeners,” the voice said. “If you are hearing this, get to safety now. Reports are coming in from all over the world.”
Helen gasped and covered her mouth.
“Shh,” George said, hugging her.
“The lights in the sky,” the voice continued, “are not the Northern Lights. They are as yet unidentifiable, but people are urged to take shelter inside their homes until the source of the phenomena has been identified.”
Meanwhile, at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, the country’s best scientific minds were frantically trying to identify the source of the strange lights.
“Give me an update,” demanded the chief astrophysicist. “Is the source of these lights from Earth or is it extraterrestrial?”
“Our initial findings, sir,” one of the lead scientists said, “lead us to believe that these lights are extraterrestrial, but at this point, we don’t yet know the specific source nor the meaning of the lights. So far, the presence of the lights is causing a world-wide panic, but we can’t yet confirm or refute that there is any hostile intent.”
“I, for one,” a scientist said, “believe that the source of the lights is attempting to communicate with us. I am highly skeptical that there is an evil intent and I suggest that, until we make a definitive determination as to the source and meaning, we should not overreact and initiate any kind of hostile response.”
Another scientist jumped up and said, “Excuse me, but my team has just identified the source of the lights and determined their purpose.”
“And what did you find?” the chief scientist asked.
The radio station was broadcasting continuous music with a promise that as soon as anything definite emerged they’d be straight back with an update.
“They’ll be playing ‘Blue skies nothing but blue skies’ next!” quipped Helen hoping to lighten the mood. Georges expression made it clear he wasn’t amused. He took Helen by the arm and led out of earshot of Max and Junior.
“This is serious Helen,” he said. “You saw the sky, you heard the announcement”
“Yes but I don’t want the children alarmed”.
“Grandpa, grandma” yelled Max. “Come here, the man on the radio is talking about the sky”. George and Helen hurried over to the kids.
“Go and get yourselves some biscuits kids,” Helen said. They scurried to the other end of the shelter and clambered up to the food locker.
‘…and on the advice of the Chief Scientist we are suggesting that all of..of…you..y..aa..m…t…zzzzzz…’
The radio fell silent.
“Best we all try to get some rest,” said George. “It’s late. Drink this” He handed them each a steaming mug of cocoa. “It will help you sleep”
Within minutes Helen and the children were sound asleep in their bunks.
George climbed onto a stool, pushed open the hatch in the ceiling and peered up at the night sky. Blue had turned to black. But the dazzling silver streaks remained, moving this way and that, crisscrossing the land as far as his eyes could see.
He got down then crept to the door. He prised it open, taking care not to make a sound. He went through, quietly closing it behind him then climbed the steps. He began walking down the muddy track towards the pond, slowly, very slowly, a shard of light leading his way.
Helen opened one eye and squinted at the glowing clock. Six-forty-five. They ought to get up. She stretched, then felt across the bunk expecting her hand to fall upon George’s shoulder. But it didn’t. She switched on the lamp. He wasn’t there.
Max sat up and rubbed his eyes. ‘Where’s Grandpa?’ he asked.
‘Where is he, Grandma? yawned Junior.
The story died here