When the Sky Fell on Splendor(4)

“Who do you think you get to be?” Sofía said. “The hillbilly. You’re always the hillbilly.”

“Give the people what they want,” Nick said, and shrugged.

“You’re just so good at it!” Levi said.

“I call Nicky Jr.’s wife!” I said, before anyone else could.

Nick gave me a high five that left my whole arm ringing.

He was, technically speaking, the best at improvisation (years of practice making shit up), so I loved partnering with him.

When we’d made “Kite Chasers,” he and I had worn matching windbreakers I’d found in a box of Mom’s old stuff and spent the whole day chewing gum with our mouths open and gasping, “Baaaabe! Did ya see that? That’s what freedom looks like, babe.” It had been one of the best days of my life, until Arthur and I got home and Dad saw me carrying the jackets through the hall.

It wasn’t like there’d been a big fight. Dad had just shuffled upstairs with a bottle of beer and the calendar he was always scribbling odd jobs into, leaving us to wonder when we’d see him next.

Since that day, I’d become more cautious. The past had settled over our house like a layer of dust, and I picked my way through our halls careful not to disturb any of it, so Dad and Arthur wouldn’t have to remember. I didn’t touch the stuff Mom had left behind in the downstairs closet again, and I’d switched the nautilus shell necklace I’d found in my brother Mark’s room onto a longer chain so the memory of him could sit over my heart without Dad or Arthur seeing it.

The less we remembered, the happier we all were.

“I say we just do this,” Levi said, and turned on his camera, the white light spearing out to catch the sharp angles of Nick’s pale face and bulging eyes.

“I,” Nick hissed, hamming up his accent, “feel spirits here. What about you, baby doll?”

Levi swung the camera toward me, its light momentarily blinding me. “Oh, sugar, I feel ’em too.”

And then we were off. Sofía became a two-bit medium who only heard the ghosts in the house calling out various Billy Ray Cyrus lyrics, and Arthur became a skeptical scientist who first discovered he was a ghost and then found out he was specifically the ghost of Colonel Sanders, of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. Remy always had a hard time doing anything but giggling onscreen, which he usually tried to channel as a stoner character who was high, but since none of us except Arthur had ever been high, we had no idea how accurate Remy’s representation was.

As we moved from room to room, we sank deeper into our roles, and Arthur killed off his character so he could focus on special effects, running ahead to trigger them as we went.

Upstairs, he set up the fake fire he’d been perfecting all week (three clamp lights covered in orange gel, hooked up to dimmers so that he could make the light leap and dim at random, just like flames), and Levi started up the stairs, backward so he could get footage of us moving in a wide-eyed pack to the second floor through the fake fire.

From there, we made our way into one of the front bedrooms, where the windows faced the electrical substation across the street.

“Um, Remy?” Levi said. “Could you make your face look less like you’re watching a dozen golden retriever puppies bound toward you? Just one line: ‘The spirits are awake.’”

“The . . .” Remy’s stony expression twitched. “The spirits . . .”

Droog was getting impatient. She started to pace. Sofía grabbed her collar, but Droog kept whining, straining against her.

Remy settled his face into a serious expression. “The spirits are—”

Droog gave an anxious bark, and Remy’s voice dropped off as a gust of wind ripped through the open window, scattering the trash on the floor. Droog’s barking amped up, and I threw my free arm in front of my face to block the flurry of dirt and empty Big Gulp cups rolling toward me. With one final bark, Droog broke free and tore from the room.

I looked to Remy for help, but he’d turned to the window, his dark hair ruffling in the wind. Arthur and I exchanged a glance then went to see what he was looking at.

In the light from the electrical plant across the street, we could see Droog running out across the yard, her barks getting lost in the wind. She barreled to the center of the lawn then stopped, spine rigid and tail erect, and I followed her gaze upward.

Silver light was streaking across the black sky, once every handful of seconds.

“Well, gah-damn,” Nick mumbled.

“Meteor shower,” Sofía shouted as the wind ratcheted up a few notches, sending waves through the grass.

Droog was barking so forcefully now that her front paws kept lunging off the ground. She was raging at the falling stars, or at the sky for dropping them.

Across the street, the low hum coming off the metal towers mounted. The lampposts around the electrical substation brightened, the bulbs glowing white against the black night.

The air buzzed. My hair had gone staticky, strands of blond floating out around me. Arthur’s own dark-blond hair lifted in a halo around his head, and his hazel eyes, a mirror of mine, narrowed.

Someone—Nick, maybe—yelped, and I looked back to the window in time to see the row of lights beyond the chain-link fence suddenly spark and go out, blanketing the street in darkness, complete except for our flashlights and the light atop the camera.

Emily Henry's Books