Tabitha chases a falling star
|Tabitha awoke with a start to the squealing of hydraulic cylinders. She scooped the sheet from her bed, wrapped it around her and scrambled to the window, where she watched the garbage truck swallow her single bag of trash. Thank God she had remembered to take it out to the curb last night. What if she had forgotten and Craig had walked in after working third shift at the refinery and smelled the chicken? How would she explain that? Oh, I’m so sorry, honey. I know we agreed to a vegan diet but that was before I realized how much I would miss KFC and Whoppers with Cheese.
Lately Craig didn’t always come home directly after work, so their paths might not cross until she arrived home at 5:30. He said he needed to unwind, so he stopped at an organic coffee place on Cherry Avenue with the guys from work. So far, she had resisted the urge to check up on him.
She yawned and gazed upward at the inky sky. A purple haze hung in the air, a permanent reminder that they lived too close to Houston for comfort. Beyond the streaks of smog a myriad of stars dusted the sky. Tabitha was deciding whether she had time to lie back down and catch another half hour of sleep before she had to get ready for work, when she spotted the falling star. It hung in the sky like a bright firefly, then swooped downward in a long arc. She was following its path when another brighter light appeared near the Little Dipper. She frowned and gathered the sheet closer, a chill creeping up her spine. This one arced closer, on a trajectory that took it close to the woods on the other side of the freeway, just a few miles away. It sank to the ground and blinked out. As she watched in wonder, a third star seemed to fall from the heavens in the south, perhaps landing in the Gulf.
She realized she had been holding her breath when she gasped, and a stream of air entered her tight chest. What the hell was that all about? Was it a meteor shower? She hadn’t heard anything about one, but that didn’t mean anything. She rarely listened to or watched news. It was mostly bad, so what was the point?
She dressed quickly, pulling on a flannel shirt and an old pair of jeans. Then she found a flashlight in the storage cabinet in the garage, checked the batteries and backed her Dodge down the driveway before she could talk herself out of it. The streets were mostly deserted at this early hour, but she observed a few lights in houses as she cruised through her subdivision. She wondered if others had witnessed the falling stars? There was some traffic on the freeway and she blinked groggily, wishing she had made a cup of coffee in the Keurig to bring with her.
At the first exit she got off and drove slowly along the access road to Myers Road, then veered north toward the woods. Tabitha and Craig had hiked here often when they first bought their house. They were excited to live near a Metropark connected to 80 acres of wetlands. They shared a love of nature, and they spent many happy hours together exploring the trails on their visits to the park. They hadn’t been here in at least six months, not since Craig started working midnights. Still, she knew the area pretty well and dawn was imminent, the sky blooming in yellow ochre hues to the east as she parked her car.
A gull floated down near her, squawking in irritation and was joined by another a few seconds later. Their beady eyes regarded her warily as they scavenged in the deserted parking lot, while she turned on her flashlight and inhaled deeply, relishing the crisp air. Today would be humid, as it always was, and top out at ninety degrees or better. She smiled and raised her arms, stretching. She was suddenly glad to be up early and on an adventure. It made her feel alive, in tune with nature.
The walking path was wide and paved with asphalt. She walked leisurely, scanning the trees with her flashlight. This excursion was an impulse, an excuse to change her routine and make Craig wonder where she for a change. If he came right home. She wasn’t expecting to find anything, and that made the shock of what she saw next even greater.
Tabitha halted and shone the beam of light off to her left, where a large crater had flattened several trees and broken the tops off at least a dozen others. She stepped off the path and walked gingerly toward the depression, the flashlight in her hand wavering a bit. When she reached the hole she looked down and her hand went to her mouth, stifling a scream. At first her mind refused to believe what her eyes were seeing. Then she had turned and was stumbling back to the path, breathless screams erupting like the cries of a frightened kitten from her paralyzed vocal cords.
She fell once, blinded by panic, scraping her leg badly and losing the flashlight, but she made it to her car. The tires screeched and she gulped for air as her heart thudded wildly. This can’t be, it really can’t… I am going crazy…things like this don’t exist. Aliens are only in movies… I did not see what I think I saw…so many of them… God help us all.
On the freeway her pulse slowed a little and she fumbled in the console for her cell phone. When she didn’t find it she remembered she had left it charging at home. It was after 7:30 and her shoulders sagged with relief when she pressed the garage door opener and saw Craig’s truck.
She didn’t see the thing in the back seat.
993 words winner of Cramp 8/11/15