Something strange happens one morning in the town of Leland, Wyoming
It wasn’t exactly crowded, but there were more people gathered in the town square of Leland, Wyoming than Lori thought there would be. But she wasn’t really all that surprised. After all, this wasn’t something that happened very often. A few of them had brought their thermoses, either because they were late risers or they were just simple caffeine addicts, and a lot more had brought their ice chests, apparently expecting to make a day of it. Some were sitting in lawn chairs or lying on blankets, while others stood around huddled in groups and making small talk.
“I wonder how many people here are playing hooky from work today,” she asked her boyfriend.
“Hard saying,” Kurt said, popping open a can of Mountain Dew. “Probably a lot.”
“Speaking of which,” came a voice next to him. It was his good friend, Alan. “Why aren’t you at work today, Kurt?”
“Boss gave us the day off. Said he didn’t want to miss this, either.”
Lori’s sister, Jessie, who was the fourth and final one of their little group, spoke up. “Well, at least it’s a nice day. I’m glad the weatherman got it right for once!”
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And how right Jessie was. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was 10:15 in the morning of Monday, August 21st, 2017, and the first total solar eclipse to encompass at least some of the 48 contiguous states in thirty-eight years was about to begin. It was also the first one to occur in the young lives of the foursome. There was excitement in the air, mixed with anticipation, but also a little anxiety. Superstitions of solar eclipses dated back centuries, if not longer, from the ancient Greeks believing it was a sign of angry gods causing disasters, to numerous cultures having a story about a demon or animal trying to steal the sun, to the ancient Chinese believing a celestial beast (usually a dragon) was making a meal out of the sun.
But even though all of those superstitions had been disproved with modern science and technology, there was still something surreal about the moon completely hiding the sun, even in this day and age.
Alan noticed people starting to get their viewing glasses out or doing it the old fashioned way by poking holes in sheets of paper in order to see this astronomical event. He reached into his backpack and handed each of his friends a pair of their own viewing glasses.
It was seven minutes before the beginning of the eclipse. The next total one wouldn’t happen in United States until April 8th, 2024.
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Jessie grabbed a soda out their cooler and opened it, while Kurt and Alan laid out some blankets on one of the grassy knolls in the town square that still had some space. A few late-comers were still straggling in, and as the minutes slowly dwindled down, so did the volume of the crowd’s conversations. At least until 10:21 that is, one minute before the eclipse was about to begin, when somebody’s baby let out a loud scream. Alan saw a couple of people actually jump at the noise, but as everyone’s eyes turned to the source, all they saw was a young mother looking embarrassed and desperately trying to calm her infant. It didn’t take her long, and everyone’s attention was once again focused on the main event just as the first tiny bite was taken out of the sun.
Conversations could still be heard, but they were the conversations like those inside of a church right before the service was about to begin.
Kurt and Alan saw some old friends on the other side of the square and went over to chew the fat with them, leaving the girls to themselves.
“I’ve seen a few partial eclipses before,” Lori said to her sister, “but this one seems so different.”
“I know,” Jessie replied. “And it’s just starting. Just think what it’ll be like when it’s full.”
“When’s that supposed to be?”
Jessie pulled a notebook out of her purse and flipped it open. “According to these notes I took from the internet, it’s not supposed to be completely full until…11:42.”
“Damn. That’s not for another hour or so.”
“Well, you know what they say,” Jessie said. She took a quick drink of her soda. “Good things come to those who wait.”
Unlike her older sister, Lori wasn’t one to sit still very long, and she started trying to come up with an excuse to leave for a little while. After a couple of minutes, she was pretty sure she had one.
“Hey, Jess. I think I’m gonna run back to the apartment and change. I didn’t think it was going to be this warm out today.”
Jessie wasn’t fooled in the least by Lori’s lame excuse — hell, she probably knew Lori better than Lori knew herself — but she’d play along with her little game.
“OK,” she said, checking her watch. “But you better be back here soon. I wouldn’t want you getting lost in the dark.”
“Ha, ha. Very funny, Jess. Tell Kurt I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Will do.” She watched Lori stand up and head back to her apartment. But as Lori crossed the street, she noticed wavy streamers floating around her, like the heat haze that rises from the asphalt on really hot summer days that causes that rippling effect. It was getting a little hot, but it didn’t seem like it was that hot yet. She didn’t give it a second thought though, and went back to watching the sun gradually disappear.
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Lori’s apartment was seven blocks away from the town square, and she managed to make it in just over twelve minutes. As she stepped in the door and started heading for her bedroom to change, she turned on her television simply out of habit. She had cable and rarely had any problems with her service, but for some reason on this day the reception wasn’t coming in very well, which was rather odd on a beautiful day like this. The picture was grainy, and it intermittently kept flashing off and going to ‘white noise’, like back in the days of when TV first came onto the American scene and the only reception people could get was by using antennas mounted on their roofs. There was some special report on, but with the picture and sound going off and on every two or three seconds, she could only make out the words ‘Lincoln Beach, Oregon’, ‘eclipse’, ‘panic’, and ‘mysterious’. It piqued her interest, but Lori was never much of one to watch the news, and she needed to get back to the town square anyway. She went into her bedroom and changed, but she could still hear those words coming from the TV every few seconds, as well as a few other ones.
One of those words was ‘screaming’.
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It was 11:26 a.m. The sun was already three quarters hidden and there was still no sign of Lori. The day was becoming noticeably darker, and so was Jessie's mood.
Where the hell is that girl, she wondered. She’s been gone for an hour. She should have been back here by now.
It wasn’t that Lori needed to be here with them to see the eclipse, but it was kind of a special event, and the four of them had planned to enjoy it together. She considered asking Kurt to go back to her apartment and find out what was taking her so long, but she knew he’d say something like, “Oh, you know Lori. She rolls to the beat of her own drum. Don’t worry, she’ll be back.”
But Lori’s prolonged absence wasn’t the only thing that was bothering her. The day wasn’t getting any warmer — in fact, it seemed like it had cooled off a little — but that heat haze she’d seen earlier around her sister was now all around on the streets that surrounded the town square.
And then something else happened.
She was reaching into the cooler for a sandwich when she first noticed it: the ground seemed to move a little bit. At first she thought she was imagining it, and maybe she was. But when she sat back down she was sure of it; she could feel the earth trembling under her butt.
She looked at the other people in the square, and they seemed to notice it too. Instead of gawking up at the sky, they were looking at each other and asking questions. A few of them even stood up and stared at the ground, including Alan and Kurt.
But then it stopped. Some people laughed, some shook their heads. Leland, Wyoming wasn’t prone to having earthquakes, and having lived here her entire twenty-three years, she couldn’t remember the town ever having one.
“You felt that too?” Kurt asked her.
“Yeah. I thought I was imagining it, but I obviously wasn’t.” She paused for a moment, and then asked a question of her own. “Kurt, have you noticed what’s going on all around the square? That ‘heat haze’ or whatever they call it coming off the streets?”
He looked around. “Wow. That is kind of weird. I don’t think it’s hot enough to be seeing that.”
Alan overheard their conversation and added his own two cents. “Well, they said it was going to be a ‘special day’.” His pulled his glasses down over his eyes and went back to looking up at the eclipse.
It was 11:30, twelve minutes before the sun would be completely blocked by the moon.
‘Totality’, the astronomers called it.
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Lori wasn’t sure what happened in Lincoln Beach, Oregon, only that it was something big. And she also wasn’t sure what had happened to the time. She checked her watch when she got to her apartment and it was 10:41, but by the time she was done changing and walking out the door it was 11:32. It didn’t make any sense at all, and she wondered if she might have blacked out, but even that didn't add up. She’d never blacked out before. She could remember everything she’d done in the apartment, which consisted of walking in, turning on the TV, watching the picture flash on and off for a minute, changing her clothes while listening to those disturbing words she could make out from the commentator, brushing her hair, shutting off the TV, and rushing out the door. That couldn’t have taken her more than seven or eight minutes, ten at the most.
And now here she was jogging, almost running, back to see the complete eclipse happen with Kurt and her friends. Jessie was most likely going to be mad at her, but that wasn’t what bothered her the most. She was still too concerned with what happened to all that missing time.
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At 11:41, one minute before ‘totality’, Jessie was nervously looking across the street waiting for her sister to show back up. There weren’t very many cars out today, but the few ones she did see were just shimmering ghosts. And what’s more is that they looked like they were going in slow motion. Most of the crowd was still looking up in the sky in anticipation of the seeing the sun disappear completely, but a few had had apparently noticed the strange things she was seeing. Instead of pointing up at the eclipse, they were pointing at the streets and talking among themselves with curious expressions on their faces.
And then the ground began to move again. But it wasn’t just a mild temblor this time; now it was actually shaking, and it was getting worse. People took off their viewing glasses and stood up, not sure what to do or where to go, their voices getting louder with each passing second.
Chaos was erupting.
“Jessie!” Alan yelled at her. “What’s happening?”
The ground was now rumbling, making a roar that rose along with the panicking voices.
“How the hell should I know?” she yelled back.
Everyone in the square was now standing up, trying to maintain their footing as the earth became a wild trampoline, bouncing them to the left and to the right, some falling down, and of course there was the…
And then the sun was gone, leaving Leland, Wyoming, and particularly the town square, in darkness.
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Lori was about fifty yards away from the square when totality occurred, and what she could see from that distance frightened her to the core. Everyone and everything inside the square looked different, like shimmering ghosts, and she could tell by the expressions on their faces that they were screaming, but she couldn’t hear them.
And they were all being tossed around, as if they were inside some huge snow globe and some giant hand was shaking it up.
As she closed the distance and crossed the street, it hit her that everything was completely normal outside of the square. The cars that went up and down the street were just everyday cars, and the people inside them acted like nothing was happening inside the square!
Was she the only one who could see this terrifying event?
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Kurt was the first one to see Lori, and he grabbed Jessie’s arm and pointed to her. They could tell it was her, but she looked so different now, even more different than when Jessie first saw her crossing the street on her way back to her apartment. But she wasn’t being tossed around! The earthquake, or whatever it was, was only happening in ‘here’, because that’s the only way Jessie could think of it now.
Alan had joined them now, and the three of them stumbled as fast as they could to get to Lori. But as soon as they came to the point where the street met the square, they hit an invisible barrier. Invisible anyway, except for those shimmering waves. They were all screaming and yelling at her, and they could see her doing the same, but neither Lori nor her companions could hear the other. Jessie began pounding her fists against the barrier, as did her sister, but they may as well as have been pounding their fists against a brick wall.
Lori didn’t know what was happening, and she really didn’t care. She yelled and screamed and banged her hands against that nothing that was something, and she could see the terrifying looks on all of their faces. She was crying now, and so was Jessie.
For the next fifteen seconds she watched as the shimmering figures of her sister, Kurt, Alan, and everybody else inside the town square slowly started to disappear.
Just like the sun will disappear on August 21st, 2017.