People started seeing them around the 4th of July. The dogs howled and cowered at the fireworks and intermingled with the booming spectacle and the families’ cheers and their fear and useless defenses was another sound. It was subtle and quavering, not loud enough to mention but loud enough to stand a little stiller for, listen a little harder. Like a sound in one of those dance songs, almost melodic, so high you could hardly catch it, undulating. The sightings started in deep desert as might be expected; lilac and amber lights visible for so short a moment it could have been you tricking yourself, peeking over the dunes and around the cacti, disappearing. That high pitched sound that was so light it was more of a feeling. Maybe it was a feeling, not a sound. People said that their eyes were white, but the center was a different kind of white, more like transparent with more white behind it. They couldn’t remember what the rest of them looked like, no one could look away from their eyes. Maybe they just weren’t there. No one sounded scared when they talked about it. They wanted to be scared, knew they should have been, but it was so… pretty.
Allen and Tess started running into the house panting, hands on their knees, stuttering and yelling over one another before they paused to breathe again. They said they saw lights and chased them and then they saw something else. They said Wolfie kept chasing it and the new pup Channer followed like he always does. They said they were shooting at lizards with their BB guns and then it started to get dark and when the sand cooled they walked around barefoot kicking it up and playing tag and then they saw them, the lights. I’m not the most imaginative type but I did the mom thing, listened, looked out the window, mostly asked after the dogs since I hoped they hadn’t gotten lost chasing the kids. Their dad’s better at that kind of thing. He always makes up stories with them, plays characters, enjoys their games. Ned listened with rapt attention and then walked outside saying “Well! Come out come out cuz I don’t like when you two get to see things that papa bear doesn’t!” And then it got quiet and Ned came back inside looking kind of pale.
The dogs came back and the summer bore on. I drove the kids to get ice cream and caught up with May and Beth and some of the other moms I’d met at school functions and chaperoned Halloween parties where they’d had their faces clumsily painted like tigers and zebras and things. We’d give each other closed mouthed smiles and chat while Allen led the kids in enacting an alien invasion, making laser sounds and jabbing his cone at things until his ice cream fell on the ground.
“Yeah, we’ve heard stuff.” Beth said, nodding at her husband in the parking lot.
“Well, I mean, I’ve seen some stuff. But I’m not sure.” May said shaking her head, brow furrowed, shy that what sounded harmless from the kids would sound crazy from her.
The quakes started soon after. By mid-August we expected the house to get rattled a few times a week and had taken all of the fine china out of its cupboard and stored it in a container. Ned was quieter than usual. He started telling Allen and Tess to hush when they told their stories but listened intently to everything they described. I didn’t want to let them out there alone anymore but didn’t want to admit that I believed there was a threat either, so Ned and I just spent more time outside watching them like hawks. We finally got a proper outdoor table and chairs for our endless lawn of sand and took more care about how far they ran in an area where we usually had no worries about unwanted company.
The night it happened was after the biggest quake we’d gotten. It rocked the house so hard that the dogs whimpered and shrieked; they hid under our bed and didn’t come back out. Ned and I didn’t have time to get everyone outside because it was so fast – more like an impact than the shifting of plates – there and gone. When it stopped we went out, took some snacks and a blanket and sat a little ways from the house, safe for any aftershocks. “They’ll be coming, after a quake like that, you bet.” Ned said. But they didn’t. Dusk came and the stars started to appear and the sun and the moon were in the sky at the same time as they so often are at summer’s end. We had lively conversations, distracting ourselves with good company but also lost in our thoughts. I saw the flash first this time, me who doesn’t see what I don’t want to see, I was facing the right direction. I must have jumped because Allen turned around faster than I could think and started running towards it. I stood up to stop him but the sound came and this time it was loud, too loud to ignore. And it was beautiful. And the lights rose high and the melody was like an answer, and Tess caught up with Allen and they stopped – his tall skinny frame and her smaller one silhouetted in the strange brightness. And I opened my mouth but nothing came out and Ned had tears running down his cheeks because he’d known. And then it stopped. Allen fell on his knees where he’d stood and Wolfie inched his way outside, Channer reluctantly following. Ned looked away and I just stared at the kids’ backs, then out at the dunes. I started to catch my breath and I knew they were friendly, I knew they were greater than us.
We got ice cream in town today. No one wanted ice cream and no one ate it but almost everyone within a ten mile radius was there pretending they wanted ice cream. We all looked at each other but no one knew how to start. So we just let it melt and were glad that we were together. We wondered what would happen if it’s louder and brighter tonight.