Upon arriving home on his Huffy, Charlie noticed that his dad’s truck parked in the driveway. He stopped his bike, chained it where he always does, and walked through the front door. The aroma of dinner washed over him and he realized how hungry he was.
“Mom, I’m home. Stopped over at Dan’s for a bit. Is dinner ready?” Charlie said, as he took off his shoes and went to his room to put down his backpack. He could hear the TV blaring in the living room, the news going on about the President signing the Goldwater-Nichols Act or something, not caring in the slightest. Jerry walked into his room and pounced onto his bed. The tabby looked up at him, meowing at Charlie to pet him.
“Hey, how you doing, Jer? Did Mary leave you alone?” Charlie said as he petted the cat. Jerry purred in satisfaction.
“Charlie, is that you? Yes, dinner has been ready for about five minutes.”
And with that, Charlie raced towards the dining room, stomach rumbling. Mary sat in her chair, playing with her peas. His mother had started on hers already. His plate was waiting there, the same as everyone else’s, Steak and eggs, with peas.
“Charlie, don’t run in the house,” His father said, in his baritone voice. Charlie’s dad worked in the coal mines and as such, he had no patience for shenanigans and trivial bullshit. The man had a strong build and his hands were massive, hard, and callused from work.
When Charlie’s father was a kid himself with a hard drinking father, who struck him once or twice a day and worked in the coal mines before him, he had these words drilled into his head from his own father.
You ain’t worth much, Timmy, until you’ve worked your fingers to the bone bringing food to the table, ya hear, boy? Life is hard and it will beat you to the ground but it’s how ya pull yourself together afterwards that matters!
As much as Charlie’s father hated the man, he knew the man had a point. And he lived by those words right through school, high school, and college. When his father was hospitalized due to black lung disease, built up over the years from working in the mines, Charlie’s father came back home to take care of the man who had once held high him high above his shoulders.
He died two weeks later.
Afterwards, he got drunk often, followed by getting into fights often. Only after meeting his mother, did his father get himself together. When Charlie was born, his father had cried with tears of joy. Or at least, that’s how his mom tells him the story every time. Charlie had never seen his dad cry, and he didn’t smile much unless he watched football on TV (He was beaming when the Redskins beat the 49ers two years ago.), other than that, he was a serious man the entire time.
“Sorry Dad, I-“
“Don’t be sorry, be something else.” And with that, Charlie took his seat as his father took a sip from his Coors.
“Tim, don’t spoil the mood. How was school, dear?” His mother asked. “Mary, don’t play with your peas, eat them.”
Mary harrumphed and scooped up a spoonful of them, stuffing them into her mouth as a disgusted look swept over her face. Charlie’s dad just grunted.
“It was good, not bad.” Charlie said, chewing on a piece of steak.
“I’ve been meaning to talk with your teachers about your grades. Hopefully they’re improving,” Charlie’s dad said, “Where were you this evening? You’re supposed to be here, doing your homework.”
“I was hanging out with Dan-“
“I hope you two were helping each other with homework. You’ve been having a slump in math. Again.”
“Oh yeah, definitely, I just needed some help with my pre-algebra.” Charlie lied, beating himself up for not remembering his homework. His dad stared at him, scrutinizing him, trying to see if Charlie was lying or telling the truth.
“Good then.” Charlie’s dad said, settling on the former.
“I’ll just call Dan’s grandmother to confirm this.
The TV news was still going on, reporting on an archaeological dig in Southern Oman. Strange formations were uncovered in the Dhofar Province. The local govt. has restricted any access to the excavations, military troops stationed around the area. Again, boring stuff that didn’t concern Charlie at all; he ate up his steaks and eggs quick and asked to be excused from the table.
“Don’t forget to wash your plate.” His mother said.
Charlie scrubbed his plate quickly and went to the phone, dialing his friend.
“C’mon Dan, pick up the phone.” His grandmother picked up the phone instead.
“Hi, it’s me, Charlie. I just wanted to talk to Dan for a minute. I seemed to have left something at his place, earlier today.”
“Oh hello there, Charlie, I’ll see if Dan isn’t too busy outside with his telescope.” Charlie could hear Dan’s grandma call his name out, door opening and closing in the background.
“Hey, my dad is gonna call later on today and I-“
“If you were wondering if I told my Nana that we did homework together, yeah don’t sweat it, I got you covered. So how did it go with Sam?”
“It was so cool. I still can’t believe it happened.”
“Sweet. Hey, I gotta favor to ask. Could we meet up near the woods tomorrow, after school?”
“Um…why do you want to meet near the woods?”
“Cause I think I saw something fall from the sky and into the woods.” Charlie sighed, wishing his friend would give up this obsession with UFOs. Yet, Dan seemed determined to go, with or without him. Charlie relented, thinking he might as well keep Dan from accidentally killing himself.
“Okay, say it’s E.T. or an Alien. What do you plan on doing once you find the thing?”
“No clue. I’ll figure that part out when we get there,” Dan said nonchalantly.
“Fine. See you tomorrow.” Charlie hung up.
“I’m telling Mom and Dad on you.” Mary said, startling Charlie for a moment.
“Crap, don’t do that. And if you tell on me, you can kiss your stupid dolls good-bye.”
“Give them back to me and maybe I won’t.”
“And then go back on your word and squeal? I’ll give them back. After I come back home tomorrow.” Charlie said, heading back to his room. He was getting sick of Mary sticking her nose into everything. He opened his backpack and took out the space shuttle model, admiring the details on it. Mr. Anderson’s words echoed through his mind. I just wish Dad said the same words. He put the model on his desk, next to his beat up Optimus Prime figure and his X-Wing model. For the next hour or so, Charlie worked on his homework late, slogging through fractions and negative integers. After finishing up, Charlie read Roger Zelazny’s My Name is Legion for the remainder of the evening, before he looked out his window, at the moon. Man, how amazing it must have been to up there, walking through that monochrome landscape as Earth loomed above the horizon. He yawned, realizing how dead tired he is. Time to hit the hay, I guess.
And with that, Charlie went to bed, dreaming about the moon, about Sam’s face leaning in real close to him.
The next day was no different. Same routine, rise up from bed (Charlie really needed to pee.), eat breakfast while arguing with Mary, and getting to school on his Huffy. School was mostly fine, that is until, after school ended. Charlie was getting his bike ready for whatever it was that Dan had planned out when he heard some shouting near the parking lot. He went to check it out and saw Blaine and his cronies harassing Dan, his hair being yanked by Kenny.
“I gave you the cheat sheet, man, why are you hassling me? You got what you wanted.” Dan whined, as Kenny pulled his hair more.
“Shut the fuck up you little bitch. You open your fucking mouth again and I’ll make you eat the fucking pavement.” Blaine snapped, balling his right fist and slugging Dan right in his stomach. Charlie couldn’t stand by anymore.
“Hey, what the fuck are you doing?! You got what you wanted, Blaine, leave him alone.” Charlie said, gearing for a fight. He might be able to sucker punch Blaine but how would he deal with Kenny and Billy?
“Why don’t you go call your mommy then? Danny boy here has been really mouthy lately. So I need to teach him some manners.” Blaine slugged him again.
Charlie just charged at Blaine, not caring about the other two, and hit him right on the back if his head. This only made Blaine mad as he turned around and hit Charlie above his right eye. Charlie saw bright flashes and swung blindly, missing Blaine. Then he felt a punch in his gut and that took the wind out of him, causing him to collapse on his knees. He felt his shirt being grabbed and then a kick to his abdomen. At this point some kids had gathered around them, staring at Blaine kicking the shit out of Charlie. Meanwhile, Dan struggled to no avail against Billy and Kenny gripping his arms. Charlie kept losing his breathe with each kick. And then the kicks stopped. Charlie gasped for his breath, as Blaine tried wriggling out of Mr. Anderson’s grip.
“What is the matter with you two?!” Mr. Anderson said, as Charlie tried getting up. He was trembling, out of nervousness, adrenaline, and shame. He tried not to cry and yet, tears were streaming down his face. He noticed the group of kids looking at him in silence and two more teachers holding Kenny and Billy. He felt immense shame and humiliation. This only served to make his throat tighter than it already is. And then he noticed Sam’s face among the crowd. At that point, he wanted to run far away, to hide from all of the stares. And then he started to bawl loudly, knowing that this made him look even more pathetic in front of everyone. In front of Dan. In front of Mr. Anderson. In front of everyone. In front of Sam.
“Come on, Charlie; let’s have the school nurse look at those bruises.” Mr. Anderson said tentatively, holding out his hand. Charlie took it, being led away from the crowd and into the nurse’s office. The nurse told him that nothing major had been broken, some nasty bruises which would go away after a while, and a couple of cuts which were daubed with alcohol, stinging him. Nothing major had been broken. Yeah right, just his pride. He felt dazed, as the nurse gave him a bag of ice for his bruises. Mr. Anderson checked in to see if he was all right. Then he told Charlie that he called his mother about the fight. She would pick him up in about ten minutes or so.
When his mother showed up, she was almost on the verge of crying. She helped him put his Huffy in the trunk, as Mary watched from the front seat. On the drive back home, she kept asking what happened to Charlie. Charlie yelled at her to shut up, causing Mary to yell back at him. Their mother both told them to be quiet. The rest of the drive no one spoke.
When they pulled up in the driveway, Charlie got out and pulled his bike out of the trunk without any help and dropped it on the lawn. Then he went straight to his room and threw himself on his bed, burying his face in his pillow. He realized that his father would hear about the fight. This filled Charlie with so much dread that he started crying again. The worst part was the waiting. He hoped his dad would be home late at least.
Unfortunately, his father came home just in time, as heard his familiar truck pull up to the driveway and kill the engine; the door opening and closing. The front door opened and his father coughed before asking Charlie’s mom what had happened. Their voices were muffled from the other side of his bedroom door, but Charlie could them rising. His mother seemed to be trying to placate his father but the man was having none of it. Footsteps could be heard right outside his door, and then the door was flung open, hitting the wall.
His father dressed in his work clothes, mining helmet resting on top of his head. His face covered in soot from work, which didn’t help at all. His mouth tight lipped, he spoke in a low tone.
“Boy, your mother just told me about the ruckus you caused.”
“I didn’t start anything, they were picking on Dan.” Charlie said, his voice cracking.
“I don’t care who started what. You should know better than to get into fights.” Charlie’s dad snapped.
“But they were whaling on Dan-“
“And that gives you the excuse to get into trouble?”
“They were picking on him for no reason.”
“Now you listen-“
“No, you listen, Dad!” Charlie interrupted. “You’re never happy with what I do, and I was trying to do the right thing! I’m sick of being treated like a kid by you!”
His dad glared at him for a bit and then he left the room, only to come back seconds later with a box.
“You want to start being treated like a man? Then start acting like one. All of this junk here isn’t helping.” He said, grabbing Charlie’s models and action figures, tearing down his posters, and throwing them into the box. He put the space shuttle in as well. The only thing that signified any accomplishment in his life and his father wanted to take that away from him. Charlie protested.
“Dad, don’t throw that away. Please. It’s a gift from Mr. Anderson and-“
“You said you want to be treated like a man. A man does not whine. He does not cry. And he doesn’t play with toys.”
His father cut him off. “GODDAMMIT BOY, YOU ARE ALMOST FOURTEEN. And yet you still act like a spoiled brat. When are you going to learn to grow up? I’m doing this for your own good.”
“You never care about me. I hate you. I fucking hate you!”
His father dropped the box and smacked him across the face. “Don’t you ever speak to me like that to me again.”
He picked up the box and left the room, slamming the door. Charlie could hear his mom and dad arguing with each other. He slumped on his bed, crying again. The door opened again, Mary coming and crying too. She ran up to him and hugged him.
“Please don’t be sad, Charlie, I promise I won’t tell on you.”
Charlie hugged her back, wishing he could tell his sister that he would be fine but Charlie couldn’t bring himself to say it.
The next day was Saturday, but Charlie wasn’t allowed to leave the house for the weekend. He spent the whole day moping in his room, doing his homework, and reading his books. Dan tried calling but his mother answered and told him that Charlie couldn’t come out. The only times he left the house was when he had to take out the trash and mow the lawn. Charlie finally relented and gave Mary her dolls back, feeling a little better for doing so.
Sunday came along and was no different. Charlie didn’t want to speak with his father, so he ate dinner early and left for his room. He turned on his desk lamp and wrote a letter. When Charlie finished writing, he checked the hour. Eight o’clock in the evening. There was a knock on his door and he quickly put the letter away in his pocket.
“Charlie? I need to talk with you, dear. Can I come in?” His mother said, from the other side of the door.
She opened the door and walked in, standing right over him. “I just wanted to tell you that your father may not show it but he really loves you. He means well.”
“He has a funny way of showing it.” Charlie replied, not looking up from his desk.
“Please don’t be like that.”
“He always seems to be ashamed of me. Nothing I do ever seems good enough for him. I just wanna be alone.” Charlie looked up at his mother. “Please?”
His mother patted his head. She had a tired look on her face. “Okay. Goodnight.”
After his mother left, he took out his letter and read it. Everything was in order. He went to his bed and waited for what felt like an eternity before looking at his clock again.
10:30 PM. Right on time; he sneaked out of his bedroom and tiptoed to the kitchen, made some sandwiches and bagged them in Ziplocs. He got some water bottles too. Trying to not wake up his parents and making his meals, all in the dark, proved to be difficult but not impossible. Jerry almost made things much harder than they needed to be, but Charlie gave him some ham to make him shut up. He went back to his room, packed his meals in backpack, took the letter out of his pocket and placed it on his desk. He made his way to the front door very quietly when Mary, walking out of the kitchen with a glass of water, wiped her eyes and sleepily asked, “Charlie, where are you going?”
He froze, feeling panic and some pangs of guilt. He had to think of something to tell her.
“Uh, I’m just going out for a short walk. Just need some fresh air.” Charlie said.
“Okay…be back soon or Dad is going to be mad if he finds out you’re not home.”
“Yeah sure, I won’t be too long.” Charlie said, surprised that she bought his excuse even with the backpack on him. Guess it was too dark for her to see me. He got out, closed the door with as little noise as possible, walked to his Huffy, and he was about to ride away when he heard some rustling, coming from the west side of the house. Against his better judgment, Charlie crept up to that side. Thoughts of a masked manic with a massive machete chopping him up into pieces ran through his mind. He reached the corner and the rustling stopped. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, Charlie thought, maybe I should just go back inside, lock the door, hide under his blankets and wait for sunlight.
Just as he was about to decide, Charlie felt that someone stood behind him and before he could react, a hand clamped around his mouth to keep him from screaming.
“Relax, it’s me. What are you doing out?” Sam whispered into his ear, relaxing her grip on him. She wore pants and a red shirt this time.
Charlie, stunned and embarrassed, said, “Me?! What are you doing here; how did you find out where I lived?!”
“Cause I led her here, man.” Dan said, causing Charlie to nearly jump.
“Jesus Christ, does everybody wanna give me a heart attack? Why are the two of here?” Charlie said.
“Well, you see, it wasn’t my idea to actually come here-“
“I wanted to know if you were okay. I convinced Dan show me where you lived. What were you guys going to do on Friday night?” Sam interrupted; she took out a quarter and made a coin roll.
“How are you even-never mind. Dan said that some asteroid-“
“Meteor, the term is meteor, although it’s probably a meteorite now.” Dan cut in.
“-That some meteorite is in the woods. At least that was the plan before what happened….” Charlie trailed off, not wanting to recount the events that happened. “Wait, why do you care if I’m okay? I’m not cool anymore.”
Sam looked up from her coin roll and said, “It doesn’t matter if I think you’re cool or not. I was worried about you. That’s why I asked your friend to take me here. Now that I’ve answered your question, it’s your turn to answer mine. Where you headed?”
“I just wanted to take a stroll in the night.”
She looked at him as if she didn’t believe a word he said, but then she merely shrugged. “Good enough for me. Why don’t we check out that thing Dan wants to see so badly?”
“Uh, well, that’s up to Dan. It was his idea.” Charlie said. They both looked at him, as Dan messed around with a corner of his shirt. He looked back at them, his eyes widening.
“You can’t be serious. Now? Sheesh, tomorrow is a school day and it’s really late.” Dan said lamely. Charlie had to agree with him, it is pretty late and he didn’t really want to go. Except that Sam wanted go check it out. And he is curious about whatever that thing in the woods is. Charlie made his decision.
“I’m going if Sam is going. If you want to go back home, that’s fine.” Charlie said, trying to sound confident and feeling the opposite of it. Dan sighed, before he made up his mind.
“I guess that makes three of us. I am the one who spotted it, after all. Besides, I’m not letting you hog all the glory, man, and she needs our protection.” Dan said.
“I got protection.” Sam replied coolly, putting the quarter away in her pocket.
“Ooooookay, forget I asked then.” Dan went around the corner of the house and brought his bike out. Charlie was about to ask how Sam came over here without a bike but then she pulled out a skateboard from under his Dad’s truck.
The trio had to make a stop at Dan’s place before going to the woods. He needed his Sun 660 Polaroid AF, in case nobody believed them about the meteorite, a map, and some flashlights. They rode through the town, the lampposts buzzing intensely above their heads and tinting the streets yellow. Twice they passed some cars driving around, which ignored the kids due to indifference or urgent business. Luckily, they didn’t have any encounters with patrol cars so the trip through town went off without a hitch.
The edge of town is where the highway started, and now they were surrounded by complete silence, the lampposts still buzzing along them as they rode on to one of the pathways leading into the woods. The three hid their bikes and skateboard behind a bush somewhere and clicked on their flashlights, the beams of light cutting through the darkness ahead. A couple of clouds floated through the night sky, sometimes obscuring the moon. Dan pulled out his map, shining his light on it. “Okay, we’re about three miles away from. With any luck, the meteorite should be near this open field.”
They trekked through the forest on a worn path. Charlie, having felt relief and a bit of anger after leaving his house, now felt unsure of what to do next. He hadn’t told Dan or Sam (Although she probably knew.) that he had become a runaway. What was he supposed to do next? How would he support himself? Charlie only had twenty dollars in his wallet. Where would he live? Maybe this was a bad idea; he should forget about running away and go back home. He checked his Seiko G757 5020, another gift from his uncle Barry. Charlie didn’t know where his uncle got the money to buy the watch, so he assumed that his uncle won it at a poker game. Charlie thought about asking him until he remembered that he wasn’t going back. He frowned, as his watch told him that it was one in the morning. Damn, I didn’t realize how much time passed. And I’m only getting farther now, so what would be the point if I came back? Dad would catch me by the time I returned. And yet, walking in the dark, far from home, made him rethink his decision. Shit, forget about homicidal maniacs, what if we run into a fucking wolf? Or one of us steps on a snake? Panicking, Charlie quickly checked the ground around him, making sure there was nothing slithering. Sam stopped to see why Charlie erratically pointed his light around his feet.
“Charlie, what are you doing?” She asked, pointing the light at him.
“Uh, just checking for snakes. Don’t wanna get bit. I don’t wanna die in the middle of nowhere. I don’t want them to chop off my leg. I don’t-“
“Charlie, Charlie, listen to me. Relax. You’re not going to die, okay? Here, take my hand.”
Charlie, stunned by her offer, took her hand. He didn’t know whether to feel embarrassed or relieved. He wanted to say something but he didn’t know exactly what to say.
“Hey guys, turn off your lights, I think someone’s out here.” Dan said as he clicked his off, Sam and Charlie doing the same. Submerged in the pitch black of the night, Charlie began to panic again, so he squeezed hard on Sam’s hand. She squeezed back reassuringly, calming him down a bit. At first, he couldn’t see what Dan meant by someone being out late at night. Charlie squinted as he spotted specks of light through some branches. They were 200 yards away, but something seemed off about them. His eyes were beginning to adjust to the darkness, and those lights were beginning to look more unnatural. Suddenly, Charlie didn’t care if he came back home late, that his parents would be mad at him for running away. The nervousness he felt a couple of hours earlier paled in comparison to the very real fear he felt looking at those lights. And then Sam pulled him towards the direction of the lights. Charlie tried resisting but her grip was tight. Dan seemed to be walking behind him, pushing him along.
They reached the edge of the forest, the field wide open, the grass waist high. The source of the iridescent lights lay ahead of them only a few feet. And Charlie nearly had enough of this. The lights were in no way normal. Fuck, abnormal would be understating it. The lights reminded him of the Northern Lights, if somebody took out the beauty out of it, leaving in a sickly imitation.
“Whoa.” Dan said, taking out his camera. The lights were beginning to hurt Charlie’s eyes. The color swirling through them didn’t belong to any known spectrum. Dan began to snap some photos, before suggesting they get closer. Charlie finally couldn’t take it anymore.
“Are you nuts!? Let’s get the fuck outta here!” Charlie said, trying to wriggle his hand away from Sam, only for her to abruptly let go and walk closer to the lights. She got close to the source before calling out to the boys.
“Guys, come check this out!” Sam called out, as she picked up something. Groaning, Charlie ran to where Sam stood, leaving Dan to sort out his pictures. When he got close to Sam, Charlie tried to not look at the source of the lights. The spot where the lights were coming from seemed to be circular in shape. Or was it oval? The ground looked burnt and devoid of any grass. The light shined a spotlight on the ground, yet when Charlie looked up at the sky, he couldn’t find a chopper or a crane. Sam held a rock in her hand and she casually tossed it into light. Instead of falling to the ground, the rock stretched like a rubber band before shooting up into the sky, vanishing from sight. Charlie gulped a bit, before noticing solid shape in the middle of the spot. The glare made it hard to see, but Charlie could not take his eyes off of the oval shape. It glowed weakly, giving off an even worse vibe than the lights.
“Sam, do you see that thing on the ground there?” Charlie said, trying to keep his cool as he pointed at the thing. Sam turned her eyes to where Charlie pointed, making a small gasp.
“Yeah, I do. That looks like an egg. I wonder if I could reach it….” Sam said.
Charlie thought about what happened to the rock. He didn’t want to know what the light would do to a person.
“Sam, maybe it’s time we head back. I don’t think I can handle this anymore.” Charlie said, completely frightened and a tiny bit ashamed. He was a coward through and through. Fuck, he hated to admit it. Sam contemplated this, and then she saw Charlie’s eyes, full of fear.
“Yeah, okay, maybe we should get going-“
Sam was abruptly cut off as a large pincer the size of a desk appeared out of thin air, missing her head by a few inches as it snapped shut on empty air. Charlie screamed as something came out of the light, clicking and clacking, hissing. Or at least it sounded like hissed, because the noise it made had Charlie feeling extremely nauseous as Sam yanked him back, nearly dodging a pincer. Charlie got a good look at the thing and wish he hadn’t. The thing looked like a nine feet tall praying mantis, with pincers, and a sphere for a head. It had no eyes and no mouth or at least Charlie thought it had no mouth until its entire head opened up like a macabre Venus flytrap, row after row of teeth the size of daggers. Sam had pushed Charlie behind her, pulling out a blued Astra Terminator revolver from the back of her pants and fired five times into the gaping maw of the bug thing before it clicked empty.
The rounds tore fleshy chunks, covered in ichor, off the bug thing, causing it to shriek in an unholy manner. It skittered away, towards Dan, who stood frozen in abject terror as he raised his Polaroid in defense. Charlie yelled for him to run away but it was too late, as the bug thing picked up Dan in its pincers, tearing him apart as it crushed Dan’s skull like an egg, making a loud CRUNCH that echoed across the field. The camera flashed one last time as it hit the ground.
Charlie and Sam tried to run away but the bug thing closed the distance between them, trapping them. And then tendrils of light started to move around them, like arms grabbing at anything. The bug thing came upon them and before Charlie and Sam could react, it swiped down at them, as the light enveloped the two kids.