On the morning of March 3, the people of Crooked Corner woke believing that it was going to be a day like any other.
Hannah Woolcroft was the first person to spot the lights in the sky. She was standing in her backyard, enjoying the cool and the quiet of the pre-dawn. She woke at four thirty every morning, so she could have time to herself, the only time alone she would get for the rest of the day. Her husband would be out of bed in an hour, their children a hour after that. She would spend those hours running around, preparing breakfasts and lunches, rarely having a moment to stop and sip her own cold coffee.
Once her children were off to school and her husband off to work, it would be time for her to head off to her own job. The next nine hours, including her lunch break because they seemed to have forgotten what that meant where she worked, would be spent running errands around the hospital, cleaning up other people’s messes and taking complaints from anyone who thought that because she wore a uniform she would have a clue what happened around there.
Hannah was considering all of this, wondering how bad it would be of her if she crushed some of his sleeping tablets into his after dinner drink, when the light appeared. One moment the light was there and then it wasn’t. As it first approached she didn’t give it much thought. She had seen many falling stars in her morning retreat, but this one was different. Instead of burning up in half a moment, it streaked across the sky, bright, white and silent, getting bigger with each second. As it rushed overhead, the sound of the rushing air squeezing in around her, the autumn leaves lifting off the ground and blowing across the yard. The silence that followed was also the silence that came with the snow; absolute and at once terrifying and peaceful.
She rushed inside to tell her husband, rousing him from his sleep. He grunted his disbelief at her, pushing her away with a violent shove that sent her crashing to the floor and bruised her hip for the next week. Later, when the whole town talked about the lights, he would tell the others he had believed her all along. Eventually, the more that he told the story, it would change to him standing there right beside her, the first to catch a glimpse.
Soon after that other people began to see the lights. A trucker heading out to work, coffee in hand, leaned forward against his steering wheel as he spotted the first light racing above him. Instead of crashing to the ground in a shower of sparks and debris, it dipped and turned back towards the town like a practised dancer. The trucker slammed on his brakes, unsure of his state of mind. A young athlete, working her way through college, was out for a morning run when the same light that the trucker saw flashed by her in an instant, bringing her to an abrupt halt. She pulled her earphones out in time to hear the rushing wind that tugged her forward, the tinny sound of the music from her headphones washed away.
Jackson Pullman, a thirty year old man who hated his job, stood on the roof of the station with his phone in his hand, telling the people of Crooked Corner about the light dancing above their town. As he spoke a second light joined the first. It was a little smaller, feistier, he told them. “Look outside for yourselves”, he insisted to the few people that were still listening to him. “They’re dancing.” And to most people that is what it looked like. The two orbs circled one another, swing close to the ground, kissing each other briefly as they close in on one another.
Like Jackson Pullman, Rudy Fuller was standing on a roof. From up there at the school on the hill he could make out most of the town. He was the first to see the third light join the other two. Before long the new lights, one brighter and one small than the others there were half a dozen lights dancing in the sky, playing out a tango that kept the whole town in awe. They rose and they dipped, sometimes coming so close to Rudy on his rooftop their warmth brushed his skin, the buzz they made rattling his bones.
At first all Rudy could do was stand and stare at it, wonder at it. This, he knew, would be a once in a lifetime chance. No sooner had he decided to go down and have a closer look at it than the second one landed. One of the few people who hadn’t caught on to the buzz about town, a kid dressed for school, went running into the field.
Canasta Grillo, Rudy Fuller’s least favourite student, had been so busy looking at his feet as he walked to school he had never noticed the lights flying over his head. If he had heard, which he hadn’t, he would have thought it was a plane, or a car, or even a bird. He was too busy wondering how he was going to make dinner out of a loaf of stale bread and mouldy cheese to have seen them, until he walked into the school grounds and the third one was zipping by, circling the school and him.
Canasta and Rudy came around different corners of the gymnasium simultaneously as the last of the lights landed in the centre of the field. Rudy saw Canasta, and with instant revulsion wished that it had been any other kid. If he had to share this with anyone else he wouldn’t have chosen him. For a flash he considered telling him to stay away because they didn’t know what they were, but in a moment of unusual kindness he changed his mind. He turned back and kept running towards the lights, hoping to get there first. He wanted to be able to say he was the first.
The little orbs hummed and they buzzed, the sounds not uniform but a seemingly a conversation that neither Canasta nor Rudy understood. They looked at each other, the only moment in their lives they two of them would understand the other, and smiled.
Canasta first caught the sirens as they pulled up outside of the school. The hair on the back of his neck bristled, his body prepared to go into flight. There was no way they could blame him for this, surely.
He turned back to the lights and it didn’t really matter to him what they thought about him, so long as he could look at them a little longer nothing else mattered very much. Whatever happened after today he would always have this.
Officer Juan Rogers was the first official to arrive. He outran his partner by a half minute, shouting orders at Canasta and Rudy to move away from the lights. He didn’t know what they were but he didn’t want civilians getting too close. They ignored his orders and kept getting closer, stopping only as the lights began to morph into a series of strange shapes.
When they had first landed the lights were orbs, but as the crowd watched on, the light faded in an out, and the balls morphed in and out of shapes too quickly to be caught. Officer Rogers stopped running, stopped barking orders, and stood beside Canasta as the lights took on different forms.
The nearest one, the smallest, one moment looked like it was about to become a rabbit, then the next it was a blob again, before trying to take on the shape of a face. Later, when they went through Officer Cullum’s chest camera footage, the only shape that anyone could ever agree on was that at one point it looked a lot like Benny Goodman.
Soon half the town was standing on the lawn of the school, pushing at each other to get a better view. The town’s few local news reporters, and a few of the more resourceful of the townsfolk, had climbed up to the roof of the school where an hour earlier Rudy had been standing. From there they watched as the crowd swarmed, undulating almost the same way as the orbs. Half of the people down still wore their pyjamas, their hair unbrushed and their plans for their days forgotten. Everyone wanted to get near them, have their moment with the lights. They wanted to say they had been there and seen them.
Those closest to the lights took a step backwards and the crowd surged outwards . People at the outer most edge couldn’t see what was happening but they sensed the alarm that rippled through the crowd, picking up on it and pulling back a little farther.
The panic didn’t last long. The single large blob of light, twisted about itself as molten glass, the light inside burning brighter and brighter until all of a sudden the town of Crooked Corner was awash with a white light. Their skin tingled as it touched them all, and for a single moment in time every single person in Crooked Corner knew their neighbour, knew themselves better than they ever would again. Every atom in their body tingled with a queer warmth when asked later most people described as love.
The light withdrew, the orb twisting about itself before finally settling into a single shape. It took on the form of a woman, tall and lean, with long flowing hair and delicate hands. There was not one person in that crowd who looked upon her who didn’t think that she was beautiful.
Officer Rogers, who with three of his fellow officers had managed to stop people from doing anything too stupid, not because they were very good at their job but because most of them were too afraid to actually do anything, took a step forward. The words of his great grandmother came to him for the first time since his childhood, her prayers playing through his memories.
Without warning the light melted, changing back into six blobs, their light fading in and out as they rounded themselves back into orbs. Officer Rogers let his hand fall by his side. Those watching said that right until the final moment her was smiling. They circled him, slowly at first, then faster and faster until nothing remained but a blur. Some said they caught glimpses of Rogers, others said that they only the curtain of light that surrounded him. Camera footage was inconclusive.
And then they were gone, along with Officer Rogers. The first one darted into the air, followed by the second, and then one by one the others until the place where the woman, the angel, the ball of light, had been standing was nothing but grass and silence.
The crowd stood around staring at the spot for a good while waiting for them to come back. They stared up into the sky, waiting, until one by one, the crowd drifted away. Only a few stragglers remained, the last of the police force milling around waiting around for answers or trying to come up with what they would tell Roger’s wife. Eventually even they went home.
On March 4, Hannah Woolcroft stood in the pre-dawn light of her back yard, waiting for the lights to come back. She wasn’t alone this time. She was joined by her husband and her children, and by the sounds of the voices of a few thousand other people waiting in their own yards for one more glimpse, one more moment in that light.