A meteor shower causes the earth to bloom with creatures never seen before.
In a time when the galaxy was young, life was born to travel and spread among the realm of stars.
The small neighborhood park usually had crowds strolling in the cool night air, for none of them had the money for air conditioning. Tonight the crowds were especially numerous. Exactly at midnight all the lights in the city had been turned off for the meteor shower. The city was poor and it seemed a good excuse to save expenses. For illumination the stands selling fresh fruit juice, tortillas, and snacks had candles, their flickering flames too gentle to ruin the night vision necessary for viewing the faint trails of burning meteors. The vendors had done a nice job of advertising the event calling it the night of candles and weeping stars.
Holding the hand of Simon, Juanita lingered in the shade of a tree, wondering what to say. Her grandmother would normally never allow her out at such an hour, but tonight had something special; a celestial event that crowned teenage romance. And, even though her older cousin, Patricia, was chaperoning, her heart was beating so fast she had to take a deep breath for she felt her chest would burst.
Whenever Simon looked into her eyes she felt he could see everything. It was so exhilarating and shameful at the same time that she couldn’t keep the gaze for more than a few seconds. Yet, she trusted him completely and raised her courage to look into his eyes again and again.
Juanita heard soft voices in the park exclaiming the beauty of meteors burning up in the sky. It seemed half the town was in the park. Then, the whispers turned into shouts of awe as a fireball roared overhead. Exploding just over the horizon, it lit the park in a soft glow. A moment later she screamed as a boom shook the earth and wind blew dirt and twigs into her face. For one moment all was quiet, then countless names shattered the silence.
She heard voices, “Juanita, Juanita are you all right?”
Looking up, Juanita couldn’t understand how Patricia and Simon had gotten so much taller until she realized she was sitting on the ground. She had fallen in fright. She took Simon’s offered hand, got to her feet, and said, “I’m okay. Thank you, Simon.”
Before he could reply, Patricia gently slapped Simon’s hand away and said, “I’ll take you home, Juanita. I think you’ve had enough excitement for tonight.”
A chill went through Juanita as she saw worry in Patricia’s eyes. She didn’t protest. Nodding her head, she said, “Yes. Let’s go home.”
Simon grabbed her hand. “Juanita, I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you. Please, forgive me.”
“Oh, Simon. I’m not angry at you.”
“Really! I’ll never let that happen again.”
“All right, you two. You can see each other at school tomorrow.” As Patricia took Juanita home, meteors burned in the sky.
Grandma Maria was kneeling in front of the altar in her bedroom, a rosary in her hands as she prayed to the Virgin. She had heard the explosion and was worried for her granddaughters. When Juanita’s parents, her daughter and son-in-law, had died in the car accident, she had been so sad and confused; the Father wasn’t supposed to take them before taking herself. Since then, raising Juanita had given her purpose and restored her strength. She sometimes thought she was spoiling Juanita, but couldn’t help it. She attributed it to old age and her own loneliness.
She knew that Juanita was coming to that age of rebellion at the reality of life’s limits and restrictions. She had allowed her to go out tonight, but was terribly frightened that something awful had happened in the park.
The sound of the front door opening brought her out of prayer. She heard the voices of her two granddaughters. She whispered thanks to the Father and Mother and standing up, hurried into the hallway.
Patricia and Juanita called out, “Grandma, we’re home.”
“Thank Heavens, you’re safe.” She hobbled up to them and brought their cheeks to hers. “Have a cup of tea before you go home, Patricia. I want to hear what happened.”
It was a good hour before she let her go home.
The next day a special news bulletin interrupted all programs. Due to an unusual number of students and staff calling in sick, schools were closed for the day.
Grandma Maria stood in the kitchen stirring a pot of her chicken soup, listening to the radio. Juanita was nauseated and hadn’t gotten up to prepare for school. The call from school had shocked her and she had called their doctor, but he had apologized that he was overwhelmed by the number of patients and had recommended rest and nourishment. He promised he would call later in the day.
She went into Juanita’s room with a glass of water and some aspirin on a tray. Her grandchild, sweat glistening on her face, was sprawled on the bed. The blankets crumpled on the floor like a mangled body.
“I’m hot, Grandma. Please, open the window. I can’t breathe.”
Dropping the tray on the dresser, the old woman rushed to the window almost ripping off the curtains to open it. A strong breeze pushed past the woman as if seeking something to take away. Grandma Maria bent over her stricken grandchild. A wrinkled hand moved a strand of hair off a feverish brow. Gently raising Juanita’s head, she offered the pills.
“Juanita, take this. That’s a good girl. Now, drink this water.”
She drank the glass dry swallowing the water in big gulps.
“I’m going to Senor Gonzales’s clinic for medicine. I’ll be back soon.”
“Okay, but could you leave me some more water?”
After leaving a pitcher of water, she went out the front door purse in hand. The clinic was just a ten minute walk away. She noticed something different right away. The houses and trees were the same. But, in the shade of every house and tree were cats, rats, and dogs. Panting. Digging holes.
She tried to make sense of it, but being superstitious the only image that clung to her mind were graves. Animals were digging graves. She never heard of animals doing that. She didn’t want to think about it, so looking straight down at her feet and whispering a prayer, she walked toward the clinic. Halfway there a fallen bicycle blocked her path. She looked up to walk around it. She lifted her head and goose bumps rose on her arms. Across the street, Mr. Mendiola, a decent neighbor, was naked on his lawn and digging with his bare hands. So frantic were his efforts that pieces of sod were flying. She heard a door slam open like a clap of thunder quickly followed by a cacophony as if all the gates of hell were opening in a final storm. Neighbors, all of them naked, were rushing out, falling to the ground, and digging. She looked across the street. Mr. Mendiola had finished digging and had his head in the hole, twisting it deeper and deeper into the hole he had dug.
She lost what courage she had. She turned and ran, but her old legs couldn’t keep up. She fell, dropping her purse, her rosary spilling out like guts, the coins spinning and rolling away. She lifted her head. All down the street, she saw animals up to their necks in the ground and neighbors digging. Then, she noticed a few neighbors screaming and trying to stop their crazed loved ones. They were all old or mere children.
Maybe, she thought, the aged and the very young weren’t going crazy. Maybe, Juanita was still young enough to make it through. She got up and staggered home. Opening the door, she called out, “Juanita, Juanita!”, and rushed to Juanita’s room. The bed was empty. The curtains were waving in the wind, reaching out to her, beckoning her to see. Three steps into the room and the window framed a horrific picture; a naked girl, barely into her teens, scooping out dirt and flinging it back between her legs, her back arching up and down in extreme effort.
Screaming, Grandma Maria went through the kitchen, out the back door, and collapsed on the lawn beside Juanita. She gasped, “Juanita, stop!” Putting her arms around the girl’s waist, she grasped with all her strength. Yet, with a rude shake the girl shook her off and plunged her head into the hole.
The old woman landed with a thud on her back. Raising herself to a sitting position, she cried out in dismay. The young girl’s long black tresses were spread out, the roots in the damp soil. She crawled over, and saw that Juanita’s eyes were closed and her face covered with bits of grass and dirt. Grabbing her head, she pulled up. Juanita’s eyes jerked open with a deep pain-racked scream convulsing her body. Blood sprayed from her ears. The old woman lost her strength and collapsed. She stayed there too fearful to try again, just watching, trembling, and muttering her prayers, unwilling to comprehend.
The metamorphose took all day and night. The body grew stiff and vertical, though the arms and legs were rag doll bent. Hours later, the arms softened as if the muscles and bones were melting. By sunset they were limp like old empty balloons. The head and torso remained wholes and pointed skyward. As the hours of night proceeded, they, too, began melting and dripping into the skull. The skin of the chest and back thickened and became translucent. The heart and lungs simmered like butter on a hot skillet. Then, it began to pulse, opening and closing like a giant quivering jellyfish. Finally, just before dawn, the brain was eaten.
The heat of the rising sun inflated it into something like a soap bubble; the purples, reds, and oranges shimmering on its swaying body. Dozens of bugs, their wings dripping from the slimy stew in the skull, crawled out. They crept up the pulsating bubble, their pale segmented bellies visible through the translucent skin. At the top, they squirmed through and dried their wings, unfurling to butterfly proportions. A pale pink, the wings brightened as if an inner force were surging in till they became a deep red. Their bodies darkened and glistened like polished ebony. They fluttered away, and the bubble with its energy spent, shuddered and collapsed.
The spawn flew, and all across the neighborhood they were joined by their kind until the sky was covered in crimson. They formed snaky clouds that swayed and dipped in a wild dance. When the sun was at its highest the wings rained down and, carpeted the ground in glory. Their bodies softened like caramel as gas inflated them into globes that rose to disappear into the darkness of space.