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Saturday, October 15, 2011

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Invasion of 2020: Chapter one: Meteors

Fourth of July, 2020
Somewhere in the dense forests of the Keni Lake in Alaska, strobes of colorful light flashed across the grey fogged skies, one red light descending toward a lone ranger wanting to catch a glimpse of the firework spectacle. Stumbling and then falling, he scraped his knee as his brown cap tumbled to the ground.
“Damn. What the hell was that?!” The strobe etched his skin, burning his arm. Intent on the intrusion, the ranger hawk-eyed the ball of spitting photons as he felt the extreme level of heat emitting from the strayed light...and then as if guided by itself, the light then turned on the man like a rabid animal, darting at his chest.
With a few heavy, quick breaths, the ranger sensed danger. Not the kind of danger he ever experienced confronted by wolves or bears, but a danger unknown and uncertain. 
Racing past the dying campfire he had set hours earlier, the last of the embers took a crackling breath. Quiet, the woods offered more than entertainment, they offered sanctuary. But tonight, they only brought fear. Darkness consumed the forest as the fire drew on the last of oxygen and the ranger felt as if he took his last breath too; hyperventilating, he couldn’t see and something was out there. Something that wanted him dead?
The only sound, a light buzz of the strobe and the only thing visible, a splattered flash here and there of red. 
“What the hell are you?” he commented under his breath as he felt mesmerized, paralyzed and panicked all at once. Buzzing again, the strobe rushed toward him, scraping against his leg and burning his pants. “Damn it! 
Fleeing from the dead campfire, the ranger plodded over thick grass and dashed through heavy foliage, dodging branches  and trees with his sense of touch and memory. Several more steps and the red strobe stopped him in his tracks as it descended in front of him before his eyes. Blinking like erratic traffic lights, the strobe began to spin, a whizzing noise emanating from its quickened motion. 
Jumping away from the light, the ranger darted up the grassy path leading uphill. The further the ranger climbed, the closer he should be coming to his vehicle. But upon the top of the hill, and in the dark, he noticed he had climbed too early. His jeep sat still many yards away from him. 
“Have to get to the next hill.” The man grumbled as the red enemy pushed past the trees, branches, fog, and grass and confronted the man yet again. “What do you want?!” he screamed out of more fear than inquiry. “Stay away from me!” 
But the light persisted. 
Each movement the strobe took forward, the man moved back...until the man inched his way to the edge of a cliff. Waves from the lake crashed up against the rocky descent and the sound of them breaking on the rocks set a rush of goosebumps up the ranger’s spine. 
Fueled by fear, the man teetered on the balance between falling and standing, his boots resting on the ledge like a crazed tight-rope acrobat. “Get away from me! What do you want!” he shouted again, pushing his hands outward in a ‘stop’ position. 
But the strobe pressed forward, the heat glazing over the man’s face and body, the buzzing ringing in his ears, the adrenaline pumping his blood. Stepping backward, the ranger felt the balance fall into the enemies favor and his feet slipped out from underneath him. 
Plummeting to the abyss below, his body caught the waves and washed out to sea.   
* * *    
The same night, on the beaches of the Kenai Lake, Uri Petrov and Julia Smart, his girlfriend of two years, sat on the white crystal like sand. Both wore faded blue jeans and sat with legs crossed over each other. Fingers twined, they occasionally exchanged glances as they admired the fireworks in the sky. Students anticipated the Fourth of July firework show, and most drove several hours from Anchorage to get there.
A gray summer evening popped with colors and blared like a loud horn from the crackling and sometimes vibrating acoustics of the fireworks. Yellows, reds, blues, purples, oranges, silvers and more saturated the evening sky like an exploding rainbow.
Turning to Uri, Julia pressed her lips on his rough cheek before speaking. “The show is spectacular; better than I thought.”
“What you think? I take you to boring place?” Uri cracked a joke in his heavy Russian accent and broken English. But nothing about him touched Julia in a rigid, broken way. To her, he was perfect. Rustic. Robust. Usually with stubble on his chin.
Combing her long strands of curly, blonde hair, something he rarely saw in Russia, her icy blue eyes watched his, waiting for him to draw close to her. Like the storm on the ocean, Julia seemed to Uri, crashing in like a wave just to pull back to the sea, a flowing and ebbing of emotions. He hadn’t fallen for any Russian girls as much as with Julia — perhaps it was the hair — but he loved her.
Born in St. Petersburg, his parents determined early on their son would study English in America, and relayed their wishes on his fifteenth birthday. Leaving his friends, his school, his neighborhood, that would be best for him? By his sixteenth birthday he conceded. Dreams of Uri Petrov making something more of himself than the son of a coal miner and seamstress pushed him aboard a ship bound for Anchorage, Alaska when he turned eighteen. Now at twenty-one, in his senior year at university, he couldn’t even remember what all the fuss was about then.
Sliding his right arm behind her, he yanked Julia into his warm, encasing chest and they fell upon the sandy shore. With sand rubbing between their toes, he smothered her with wet kisses and her laughter only encouraged him.
“Uri, Uri...please.” She chuckled, small white teeth showing. “I am trying to watch the firework display.”
“Ah...yes. The fireworks. American freedom and all that.” 
She rolled her eyes at him and his accent, as if she didn’t know the real reason he brought her here. And it wasn’t for the firework show.
“I want to watch, because it’s only once a year.”
“Yes...yes.” He felt chided and often did with Julia, but he liked that about her. No nonsense. Pulling a bottle of Chardonnay from his wicker basket, he popped the top and poured a glass for Julia which he kept beside the bottle in the basket.
“Thank you.”
“Ne Za Shto,” Uri finished before sipping his own glass. He used that phrase a lot with her, with his friends. She determined it meant something along the lines of no matter, or don’t worry about it, or it was nothing.
With their eyes fixed on the lights exploding above them, the sheer brilliance radiated on their faces and bodies, making their skin glow. That effect fascinated Julia and she rubbed her fingers over her tanned skin to see the strange colors return when she took her hands away.
Laughing, she responded. “Now isn’t that something?”
Uri joined in the laughter as he caressed her neck. “Da, da.”
To their left and right sat couples and groups of friends. Uri’s good pal Paul Boyette barbecued with a few of his buddies just a few yards downwind. Breezes scattered dead fireworks toward the crowd as peers blew on noise makers. Stacked beer cans waited to be discarded as soon as the show ended, and students whistled through their teeth at the start of each firework explosion. A few chose to dance about and some men ripped their T-shirts off, like gorillas gone mad.
Reggae music permeated the air and rushed over Uri and Julia, basking under the night sky. The firework show ended when the last trail of sparkling color slowly faded. Couples fell into each other’s loving arms, swaying or simply rocking each other. Sweet sounds of smacking lips saturated the air. Even Uri now could appreciate the full magnitude of bringing Julia to Kenai Lake. His friend Paul made the suggestion. 
Nestled between his thick neck and shoulder, and with legs propped outward, Julia relaxed her back in the soft sand. Her white tube-top revealed her belly button piercing. She found where she wanted to spend the night. Nothing was more serene than that moment.
Somewhere in the middle of necking, the youthful bodies shook at the loud bang resounding in the sky. More fireworks? Jerking his head skyward, Uri disturbed Julia’s comfort as her head fell backward, but the two set their eyes on the vibrant array of what appeared to be a series of shooting stars. Like cylinders comprised of various spectrums of light, the spectacle crossed the horizon and came towards them. The display marked the sky with as many colors as the firework show.
“What is it?” Julia nudged him with her shoulder.
“Meteor shower?”
“But aren’t stars...meteors...yellow?”
“I...I’m not sure.” A wrinkle broke between Uri’s brows and his left eye twitched as it did when he didn’t quite grasp something. 
“Maybe we should take pictures?” Julia jumped up and dusted the grains of sand from her pale jeans. Pulling her miniature camera out from her square silver purse, she snapped photo after photo as the stream of stars...meteors...lights...whatever they were...flooded the skies and shot across Kenai Lake, heading towards the forest.
Placing his hands over her back, he stood behind her. “You get picture you wanted?” Uri asked.
“I think so.” Julia spun toward him on her heel to let her boyfriend see the exuberance in her face. This was exciting, more entertaining than three years of university had been for her.
“Look!” Uri pointed with his right forefinger, leaning toward the uncanny sight in the distance. A glow like neon lights beamed golden and then hovered over the lake for a moment before shooting across Kenai and into the forests, disappearing.
With mesmerized attention on the blaring lights, the two took time to finally pull their focus away from the skies and noticed people standing on the beach with them, watching the lights in stunned awe. To their left and right and behind them, the sandy shores filled with curious spectators, mostly students from the University of Alaska and a few permanent residents of Kenai.
A few couples spoke in the background. “Is this part of the firework show?” a female voice asked.
“No, no,” a male with a deep voice answered. “This is...those are shooting stars.”
“They are not,” another female interjected. “That is a meteor shower.”
“Isn’t that the same thing?” the male retorted.
“No.” The female stomped her foot. “They are completely different.”
“I don’t think so,” the male’s voice commented.
Between the man and woman bickering, Uri threw his arm around Julia’s neck and motioned her forward. Wanting to step away from the soon-to-be-argument and hoping to catch a better glimpse of the lights shooting across the skies, Uri strolled with Julia along the shoreline with their bare feet getting wet by the lapping shore.
“Much better,” Uri said.
“Yes.” Julia pinched her lips together in a strange contorted pucker, caught between holding in a laugh and preparing to kiss him. His ability to disengage from the world around him amused her. Forget the crowd, heck, even forget the unique sky lights. Uri only wanted one thing, and that was to spend time with her.
“You warm enough?” Uri asked as he rubbed his hands over her back, leading up to the nape of her neck.
Nodding, she just about rested her head on his shoulder again before another light, a purple-white strobe, flashed across the sky. Hovering for a few seconds several yards above them, the purple-white light then blasted toward the thicket of trees and disappeared behind the web of branches and spruce.
“What do you imagine that was?” Julia lingered, her left foot teetering between moving forward and heading back. A tall man with tousled brunet hair stood to their left, holding the hand of his girlfriend. Overhearing, he felt compelled to answer.
“Aliens. They’ve come.” His scratchy voice made the words more ominous.
Turning his head toward the man, Uri sputtered, “A...aliens? What you smoking?” The Russian accent took a moment to register before the man responded.
“You’ve never seen the little green men?”
“Green men?” Uri guffawed, gripping his belly, unable to control his laughter. Julia smiled at the man as she tried to hold Uri up straight with the brace of her arms.
“This is not a joke.” The man grew defensive, his dark brow arched.
“A joke...a good joke.” Uri nodded with an inviting smile, in the way that said you are a friend. Shaking his head, the man turned to his girlfriend who rubbed her temples.
“Let’s just go home,” she suggested.
“Home, sweetie!? This place is perfect to see them coming!” Both agitation and excitement crossed his face, as if he couldn’t make up his mind which emotion made more sense for him. But leave? He couldn’t leave now. With a sigh from the girlfriend, everyone knew who won that discussion. 
Yanking Uri forward with her arm underneath his, Julia guided him away from the couple and farther down the shoreline. The silence didn’t last long before someone jumped up behind Uri and grabbed his shoulder.
“Wait up!” Paul declared. Uri turned, seeing the hopeful eyes of his best friend. The fashion-challenged business major who he met his first year at university sighed.
With his foot sinking in the wet sand, Uri glared at his friend. “Paul?” Uri sounded disgruntled. “What you want?” That was Uri’s way of saying go away. Paul knew this, but these lights were too mysterious to enjoy without his best friend — the guy who did everything bordering illegal with him.
“Isn’t this something!?” Paul raked his thin piano fingers through his dirty blond hair. He frequently played piano when he wasn’t studying for his business classes. Blue eyes fixed on Uri and widened.
Squirming, Uri couldn’t make up his mind what he wanted more, fulfilling his curiosity about the lights or his curiosities about Julia. The latter seemed more relevant to his life and he curled his lip under in answer, like an angry mutt.
“Aura Borealis more bright. Light shows all year round.” Uri waved his hands and began to walk away from Paul.
“No, no...not like this.” Paul gripped his shoulder. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“Is this only happening on the Kenai Lake?” Julia inquired to no one in particular.
Uri kicked a pebble on the wet sand. Now, Paul drew his girlfriend into the craziness. The lake already soaked in curious whispers and awe-struck citizens. She didn’t need to be added to the bunch. Up and down the beach, flashes from cameras marked this event permanently. The images were burned forever into the minds of the spectators.
“I’m going to call my sis in Anchorage. Maybe she knows.” Paul flipped his cell open and after a few rings began to talk. “Are you seeing this light show?...No, no, no...not the fireworks...the...the meteor shower?” he asked with a strong question, because he wasn’t sure what kind of lights these were. “Yeah, some kind of shooting stars for the past twenty minutes....all kinds of colors. Purple, silver, gold, red, yellow, blue....Nothing? Turn on your television, anything?” He waited a minute before responding, his eyes searching the skies above him. “Really? I’ve got to show you these pictures. Later.” Click, the phone shut off and he snapped another image before turning to Uri.
“What did she say?” Julia questioned.
“She didn’t know what I was talking about. There is nothing on the news and she hasn’t seen anything but fireworks in Anchorage.”
“But wouldn’t it be rare that a meteor shower would be seen all over the state?” Julia stated.
“I don’t know.” Paul shrugged. “But this sure is interesting.”
Slipping his phone into his back pocket, Paul looked skyward again, as did all eyes on the Kenai Lake. Silence fell over the shore, whispers quieted and then a rush of awe. Even Uri turned away from Julia for a moment to see what brought on such a reaction.
Twenty lights of various colors darted across the evening sky at once, and without a sound. Then all the lights disappeared behind the trees as quickly as they began. The lake sat silent and empty for ten minutes with students and residents just standing, staring, hoping a light would return and spark up the sky again. But nothing. Then ten more minutes passed and the spectators grew restless, packed up their things and headed to their cars.
“Do you think the lights will come back?” Julia asked Uri with puppy dog eyes. And how could he refuse her?
“Certainly.” He squeezed her shoulders. The three turned away from the water and toward the parking lot up the hill.

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