Monday, January 2, 2012

Stars Fall (Part 1 of 3)

"How many do you think there’ll be?" Missy asks me. She tilts her head way back so she can look up at me. It pulls her mouth open wide and she looks like a fish, gasping for air. Somehow she still manages to have that grin in her eyes, the one that got her her nickname. Her real name’s Cadence but we call her Missy, short for mischievous, because ever since she was born she’s been joyfully getting into trouble.

Whether she’s dropping something, just to see what happens, or finger-painting the walls, or digging holes in the yard she does it all with this look of pure delight in discovery. She’s six now, but from one minute to the next she could be two, or twenty-seven. Her personality is boundless. I’m already the smallest girl in the sophomore class, but sometimes she makes me feel even smaller. I just try to keep up.

"I don’t know," I say. "A lot. Too many to count. They’ll be moving too fast, anyway." The night air has bite and I force myself not to shiver. I refuse to regret not taking Mom’s leopard-print Snuggie. There are some things worth freezing for. My pride is one of them. Still, I eye Missy’s footie pajamas with longing.

There isn’t much I like about living outside of town, but I do like the way the sky feels like the whole world at night. It spreads out before us, the moonlight adding blue to the black. Any minute now the meteor shower will start. Our big, flat backyard, bordered only by the woods behind it is the perfect viewing spot. I would never admit it out loud but I’m almost as excited to see the shower as Missy. There’s something about the idea of all those shooting stars. So many wishes.

I hop onto the picnic table, and Missy climbs up next to me. She scoots as close to me as she can. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was afraid being out here in the dark, but nothing scares Missy. For her, everything is an adventure. I’m the one that secretly uses her cell phone as a night-light.

"What are you going to wish for?" I ask.

"Tabby," she thrusts a tiny finger at my face, scolding. "You’re not supposed to tell!"

"That’s only for birthday wishes. Meteor showers are special. They don’t count."

She frowns, thinking it over. "Oh, right," she nods slowly, totally trusting her big sister way too much. "I forgot."

Sometimes I just want to hug her. "So?"

"I’m gonna wish for a swing set, and a swimming pool, and a magic wand, and…" She takes a deep breath so she can shout the rest. "An adventure! The real kind. Not like when you just pretend."

"Wow," I say, but before I can finish the thought, Missy squeals and points to the sky.

"It’s starting!"

The sky comes alive with little streaks of light. Three or four at a time at first, and then a steady stream of yellow shoots from behind us, across the yard, and toward town. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. They light up the yard like fireworks.

I didn’t expect them to be so bright.

Missy runs out into the yard and spins, her head tilted back, pure glee on her face. "Look at all of them Tabby! Look!"

I do as she commands, and I’m surprised to see that in just the few seconds that I looked away, the meteors seem to have gotten bigger. Or closer. Or both.

They’re no longer tiny star-sized dots in the sky. They’re growing. I track one as it flies over my head. The angle looks wrong. Like it’s going down instead of across. The next one I track is even bigger. And the one after that is huge. I watch it disappear into the horizon and then there’s a slight flash of light, like heat lightning, in the distance.

My skin prickles. That’s not right. I may spend most of science class doodling in my notebook, but I’m sure that meteor showers go past the earth from like millions of miles away. They’re not supposed to get bigger or enter our atmosphere.

For the first time since the shower started I sit still and just listen. Faint pops sound from every direction. The meteors. Missy dances in the yard, practically in her own spotlight. My throat goes tight and I have to force myself to take a deep breath and look up.

The sky is filled with giant glowing orbs. They don’t seem to be falling at random anymore. They move quickly, on their own paths, some close, some miles away. Over the popping sounds now I can hear the thrumming beat of helicopters, and sirens in town. The flashes that once looked like heat lightning are getting bigger and brighter and a ground-rumbling thunder accompanies each one.

This is bad. This is so, so bad. "Missy," I shout, as calmly as I can manage. "It’s cold. Let’s go inside."

Missy doesn’t even bother to tear her eyes away from the sky. "No way! This is the coolest thing ever."

Before I can argue, the yard lights up bright as day. A burst of heat and light streaks right over our heads with a high, keening sound, heading toward the patch of trees behind our house. It – something – lands there with a boom that I feel more than hear.

Missy squeals with delight and runs toward the glow. "Missy! No!" I shout, but it’s too late. She’s already disappeared into the trees.

Come back Wednesday for part 2 from Natalie!

"Geminid-Shooting-Stars" photo found here.

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