When the Sky Fell on Splendor(11)

When Nick cleared his throat pointedly, the lanky girl set her book down and introduced herself as Sofía Perez, the niece of the steel mill’s receptionist and granddaughter of a steel worker.

She had just moved here from New York City, which immediately made her glamorous despite her plain clothes, and she wondered whether we liked our school (we didn’t) and whether we played lacrosse (I hadn’t even heard of it).

“I tried out for a team once,” Nick said, “but then the coach got busted for printing fake money in his basement.”

Sofía arched an eyebrow. “That doesn’t sound very true.”

“I swear to Gah,” Nick said, and no one argued.

Sofía turned to me, her dark eyebrows pinching in the middle. “I heard about your brother. That must be so hard.”

Arthur bristled beside me, his mood turning the room icy. “What, are you looking for the scoop on the Great Splendor Tragedy like all those leeches taking pictures at the funeral? We don’t know what’s going to happen, so maybe don’t put him in the grave just yet!” Arthur didn’t wait for a response, just stood and stormed from the room, leaving behind the chill he’d summoned.

Sofía drew back, teary-eyed. She looked around the table, silently apologizing or maybe searching for an ally, but no one said anything.

She hadn’t done anything wrong, not really. Arthur just didn’t want to talk about Mark, or our parents, or the way home had started to feel like a sinkhole and the future had turned fuzzy and dark.

He didn’t want to talk about how afraid he was, or how much he hurt.

None of us did.

That was the start of our long-term policy regarding the accident—unspoken, but fully understood: Don’t say a word.

Five years later, we still didn’t talk about it.

Bits of the accident hid in every dark corner of our lives, but dragging them into the light for everyone to see would only hurt worse than leaving them be.

The six of us were destined to be alone, trapped in a grief we weren’t willing or able to share, but from then on, at least we were alone together.


TURN ON CHANNEL 11 NOW, Levi texted the group. Arthur had been fully invested in googling things like “ice disc” and “magic lightning” and “weird meteorite, lost time” for the last few hours.

He tended to become obsessed with things, especially things he thought could scratch the itch of boredom that came from living in Splendor. One week he’d be hell-bent on becoming a skydiving instructor; the next he’d want to be a tattoo artist, or a pilot, or an actor or a firefighter or a private investigator.

Watching a piece of meteor fall out of the sky was likely to transform his last two weeks here into a quest to become either an astronaut or a geologist.

He sighed as he read Levi’s text, then shoved the old laptop we shared aside and turned on the TV.

Sheriff Nakamura appeared onscreen, standing in front of a field. It was almost nine PM, but the footage had been shot during daylight. It was one of those reports they kept running over and over again, a talking head in the corner adding information as the story developed.

“This is absolutely some kind of hoax,” Sheriff Nakamura was saying. “There is no natural way for the ground to have become scorched in this intricate pattern without doing damage to the surrounding crops. It’s simply not possible. Think of this as graffiti in the extreme.”

“What do you have to say about the behavior of the cows?” the news anchor asked. I recognized her as Cheryl Kelly. She’d been the face of the reports about the accident at the steel mill too, though back then she always wore navy blue, whereas now you never spotted her out of her signature red blazer.

The sheriff chuckled and thumbed the front of his hat. “Now, Cheryl, I’m afraid you’re going to have to ask a veterinarian, or maybe a bovine scientist, that question.”

The screen cut to a different image: a wash of green marred by brown.

Arthur squinted. “What is that?”

The camera panned over the dull brown-green. A series of gray rectangles appeared at the bottom edge of the screen, a thin streak of silver outlining the shapes. Boxy buildings and a fence wrapped around them.

“The substation. On Jenkins,” I said. And from the fence along the top edge, brown sprouted outward in a symmetrical pattern. Like a tree’s branches, like roots hanging from a plucked wild onion, like the scars up Arthur’s and my arms.

The grass was burnt, charred, resembling a hundred streaks of lightning, some of them reaching out through the two acres of corn to the left of the electrical plant.

But there was something else in the grassy field behind the metal structures, something black and white arranged along the charred patterns, mottling the gaps between them into speckled bands.

Cows. They’d moved from their line along the fence that morning and fanned out to graze along the burns.

The screen cut back to Sheriff Nakamura and Cheryl Kelly. My phone rang, interrupting her next question.

“Seeing it?” Levi asked as soon as I accepted the call.

“Uh-huh,” I said.

The camera cut once more to the field, and my eyes dipped to the scars on my arm, trying to determine whether they were, as they seemed to be, identical to the massive pattern burned into the field onscreen.

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