Daniel had begun sleeping through the night; she hadn’t. Her body was still certain he would want to be fed at three in the morning. Her breasts stretched with milk, heavy in their pull from her ribs. She slipped from her parents’ guest bed without waking Jon, padding to the living room to peer into the travel crib. Daniel’s chest moved steadily in the dim light from the window.
Dim, but oddly bright. The moon hung low in the east, dark side clear. Stella slid open the patio door for a better look. It seemed to her that when she was a child, the dark side of the moon had been as black as the sky behind it. Now it stood out chocolate against the blue-black night. She wondered if Earth’s unnatural lights had finally grown so strong they lit even those distant stones said to be dark as asphalt. She wondered if Daniel might someday walk there as she had once dreamed of doing.
Daniel stirred a little in the faint draft, giving a faint chirp in his sleep. Stella went out, the stone cold under her feet, the air clammy with summer humidity, and closed the door behind her. Near the moon, a star gleamed much too bright, and as she watched, brighter still. Bigger. All the sky seemed to awaken as though with growing dawn. She hugged her nightgown closer, squinting at this crimson blaze with sleepy mind. At this hour of the night, this beacon in the east seemed a message for her alone, a message about the loved ones closed in behind her.
It was a shooting star, she thought, one of the most magnificent she’d ever seen, clear and round in the sky, bright enough to taint even the moon’s whiteness with its orange. It seemed she could put up a glove and catch it, if she had ever been good at such things. She hadn’t. If it were baseball sized, though, it would have been a very high fly ball indeed.
It would burn away soon, she was sure, and she made a wish. She wished good fortune for the little boy sleeping in his cotton pajamas.
She looked away, across the lawn. The security light cast tree-shadows one way, the moon another. Now there was a third shadow, the absence of the faint orange light from that swollen star. She blinked, trying to clear her eyes, and squinted up once more.
It was the color of a tangerine with more flavor than beauty, a sickly pale color. Whiter, and almost perfectly round, still growing without movement. A faint fear bloomed behind her navel and she started to turn back to the house, driven by the instinct to be with her baby. Even as she did, the whitening star split to the sky barely to the south, filling her sight with a ball of fire. The horizon splashed upward. The line of trees a mile across the fields stood stark and black against the orange then vanished into it an instant later.
She might have time to scream her sleeping family awake before the tremor and sound and flames reached them. That would be no mercy. There was one last thing she could do for them. She could stay perfectly still. She watched the liquid earth flash toward her, her breast aching with love and milk.
She wished she could have held her baby one more time.
© Erika Tracy
Erika Tracy has published short stories with Reflection’s Edge, Crossed Genres, and Enchanted Conversation, among other places. She is currently working on two very different novels simultaneously, raising a child, and training dogs.