By: Karen McQuestion


I couldn’t believe it was happening again. Couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sleep. It was a Monday night; school started the next day at 7:20 a.m., and I was exhausted, but my body didn’t care. I shifted in bed and punched my pillow into different shapes, like that would help, even though it never did before.

Finally, after midnight came and went, I dealt with it in my usual way—I got up. I got out of bed, threw on some jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, and tiptoed downstairs. When I got to the back door, I paused to pick up the Nikes I kept next to the mat and slipped out into the night. Once outside, I pulled on my shoes and headed out. Just me and the night air. I was never afraid to be out alone at night because I kept undercover. Even though I was a pretty tall guy, almost six feet, I was able to stay hidden in the shadows. I relished the time alone with my thoughts. But mostly I looked forward to getting back home when I was done with my walk so I could finally get some sleep.

The weather was cool and a little clammy. Not too bad, pretty warm for spring in Wisconsin, and there weren’t any mosquitoes yet. Our next-door neighbor had used his outdoor fireplace earlier in the evening and a faint smoky smell still lingered.

I walked around to the sidewalk in front. My house was dark except for the one lamp my mom always kept on in the living room to scare off burglars.

I didn’t stay there for long. I had a certain route I did every night and it didn’t involve roads. I preferred cutting through yards, fields, and parking lots. I told myself that if I just covered this route I could go home and go to sleep. It was a little psychological game I played, and it worked like nothing else did. I didn’t know it yet, but tonight was going to be different.

It’s amazing how many people are up at two in the morning. Driving or working mostly. There are others too, people like me who just seem to be awake for no reason at all, pacing in their houses, watching late-night TV, reading. They can’t sleep and I can’t sleep. It makes me feel better when I see them through their windows, and know I’m not the only one.

That night started off the usual way. I did my route through a residential section on the other side of town. There were a few houses that were always lit up, occupied by people like me still awake at that hour. I’d pause by each house watching them through the window, feeling a sense of kinship even though they never noticed me lurking outside. After that, I headed for the strip mall three blocks from my house and wandered around behind the building before taking my usual path through the industrial park toward the old, boarde- up train station.

I was almost to the train station when I noticed a series of bright lights moving fast in the sky overhead. I stopped, trying to figure out what it was. It wasn't a plane or a flare or any kind of reflection. More like a blur of shooting stars. Except that shooting stars were usually higher in the sky, I thought. This thing was heading downward and breaking apart as it traveled, almost like fireworks, but dispersing in a more random way. It looked a little bit like photos I’ve seen of an aurora borealis, but I was sure if something like that was going to happen I’d have heard about it.

I wished someone else was around to see this thing, to tell me what they thought it was. I sure couldn’t figure it out. Then I heard the rush of air as it arced in the sky. It seemed to be dropping down at a slower rate now, almost defying gravity, and broke apart, scattering sparks as it went. The pieces fell to the ground in a slow, lazy motion, like an artistic explosion. The whole thing landed close, maybe only a block away, on the other side of the train station. Despite the slow descent, when it finally hit, the whole mass came down hard. I swear the earth vibrated on impact. The soles of my feet tingled in a weird way, and I found myself moving toward the thing, whatever it was. I wanted to get a closer look.

I darted around a building that had once been a train station decades before. It was boarded up and there were signs warning people not to trespass. I walked over the tracks, now unused and in disrepair, over to the other side. The field beyond glowed with fragments of something, like someone had tipped over a charcoal grill the size of a water tower. The embers glowed blue and gold, beautiful like jewels. I got closer and noticed the glowing chunks were different sizes but that overall they formed a swirling pattern that covered the entire field. How could it have landed in such a perfect spiral?

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