Starfall

Cody Libovitz

 

It was late in the afternoon when Lana remembered why she had woken up early that morning. She was standing alone in the west plot, trying to coax potatoes from the ground with a plow made of turbine blades, when it occurred to her: today was Starfall. An electric tingle ran through her, but she carefully composed herself long enough to finish turning up the thin, dusty dirt.

"Won't get many taters from this one," she said to herself. But it was all right. Today was Starfall. She hoisted the mighty plow onto her back and hurried home, keeping her eyes down so the setting sun would not blind her.

Home was a tiny cottage of planks the neighbors had helped build. It leaned a bit, but kept out the sun and wind well enough. Lana carefully laid the plow at the door and went in. The interior was sparse; Lana always slept on the floor. There was an ancient, water-warped sea chest in the corner, and she opened it and took out her two greatest treasures.

The first was a dress, burgundy-red like dried blood, the hem of which hung just above Lana's ankles. There had been a jagged tear at the waist when she found it, but she'd been able to sew it together with red yarn. The second was a woman's hairbrush, made of an unfamiliar blue material nobody in the village knew how to make.

So it came to be that Lana walked at the side of the road, resplendent in her dress, brushing her hair as she walked. Before long, her neighbor - an elderly man who hobbled along on a crutch made of a crosspiece of wood - joined her.

"Evening, Lana."

"Hey, Barcus. Going to Starfall?"

"Sure am. Been three years since the last one. Why don't you walk on the road?"

"Wish I could. But They built it so it holds the sun. She lifted a foot, showing him the bare sole. "My skin'd fry off."

"Oh." Barcus looked down at his shoes, with the rubbery soles protecting him from Their black stone road.

A gathering of thirty, standing atop a hill no taller than Lana's cottage - this was the Starfall crowd. This was the only time Lana got to see most of her neighbors. They stood in clusters, talking amongst themselves, and all four children were gathered around Berrie, the only man older than Barcus. Berrie's generation looked vaguely similar. Lana's generation looked like cousins. The children's generation looked like siblings.

Before long, it was Starfall. "Look!" somebody said, and all eyes went upwards.

Tiny blazes of light, barely visible at first, began to drop from the sky in wide arcs. Sparks appeared in the clear night sky, and each spark gave birth to another falling beam of light. They grew brighter and brighter as they hurtled towards the ground, leaving trails of soft pink light as they disappeared beyond the horizon.

Countless years before, the Pollux program had been a rousing success. One thousand twenty-four American defense satellites were in the air, orbiting the planet at thousands of miles an hour. Just waiting for their order to detonate, to explode and to take some unnamed evil out of the sky with them. Just waiting for somebody to push the button.

Nobody ever pushed the button.

Nobody ever got the chance.

So the steel sentinels floated miles above the Earth, waiting for months. Years. Decades. The Pollux satellites' orbits began, as all things do, to decay. One by one, over a period of many, many years, the satellites hit the atmosphere. As they did, they caught fire and broke into pieces, crashing into the ground a mess of radioactive components.

"It's beautiful," Lana breathed.

Euphemism Campus Box 5555 Illinois State University Normal, IL 61790