Light of Another Star

Jake Donnelly lived a simple life, enjoying nature, and having a minimal impact on the environment in his tiny cabin.

A scream woke him up to a new light in the sky. A change that impacted everyone on Earth.

A light that illuminated his future.

🚀

The light coming through the window two feet above Jake Donnelly’s head woke him up. He hadn’t drawn the shades down over the skylight window when he climbed into the loft last night because he liked to lay in bed and look up at the stars.

He couldn’t see the stars now. Gone. Lost in the light. He squinted against the bright light, then raised his hand against it. It was bluish but so bright that it illuminated the flesh of his hand, turning it a glowing red against the dark shadows of his bones as if he had a powerful flashlight shoved against his palm.

Who would be shining a spotlight down on his cabin in the middle of the night? He’d parked his cabin in one of the longer campsites at Ferry Lake, looking forward to enjoying some peace and quiet. Was it Drug Enforcement Agents? Federal Bureau of Investigation? Not the Ferry County Sheriff, they wouldn’t be up in a helicopter at this time of the night.

Except he couldn’t hear a helicopter.

He wasn’t hearing anything except his own breathing and the tick of the clock above the front door.

No dogs barking. No coyotes yipping and yammering in the night. Nothing. It was so quiet here in Ferry county. Most other places, there was always traffic noise. That was one of the reasons he’d brought the cabin trailer here, for the quiet, but this was a different sort of quiet. Quiet like everything had stopped.

And the light wasn’t moving.

It was fixed on his cabin. How could someone in a helicopter even hold a spotlight that steady? The shadows, though, they didn’t waver, except those that moved when he moved his hand.

Drops of sweat ran down his forehead.

Was it getting hot? He didn’t have anything to hide from the D.E.A. or the F.B.I., or whatever outfit it was that was up there trying to blind him. He lived off-grid because he liked it, because he could write anywhere, and traveling always gave him material to write about. After the divorce, and Amanda leaving, it had made sense. What did he need? Living simply, just him, his truck, and his cabin, moving from one campground to the next. He never stayed anywhere more than two weeks because that was the rule when it came to these places.

Jake threw back the covers and scooted down to the foot of the bed. Getting away from the window it was clear that the whole place was lit up. That bright bluish light, it really was like the annoying light that came from some asshole’s L.E.D. headlights except brighter and was coming in all of his windows. Not just the skylight, but the ones beneath the loft too.

He slid down the ladder rails into the main room. He took a step, dropped down on his knees into the padded window seat on the left side of the room, and looked outside.

All of Ferry Lake was illuminated. Outside it was as bright as daylight but it had that strange bluish cast to it. The trees, mostly lodgepole, ponderosa, and tamarack, around his camp cast bold shadows that angled away from the lake. Whatever was up there was holding extremely still, as not even those shadows were moving. Not even that, but it was the whole damn lake lit up, everything, as far as he could see, just like during the day.

A scream outside broke the silence. It was followed an instant later by a second scream. Then a third, which sounded like a different voice.

Jake jumped off the chair and took the few strides necessary to cross his cabin to the kitchen, and peered out the window above his sink. More screams rang out from the tent at the next campsite over. Two women were camping there, he hadn’t met them yet, but he had seen them coming back from the lake with their kayak last night. They looked like a nice couple, youngish, maybe late twenties or early thirties, but he was really bad about telling people’s ages. It was only them, and him, staying at the campground right now. Too early in the year for most people.

The screams had stopped. The zipper on the tent moved.

Jake moved too. He was wearing boxers, but he grabbed his blue jeans out of the basket in the closet and pulled them on as he took the couple steps necessary to cross the main room to the front door. He zipped, opened the door, and stepped shirtless out onto his tiny porch.

Even with the porch casting a shadow, the light was so bright that he raised his arm as he padded down the couple wood steps to the ground. The night — not that it looked like night anymore — air was cool on his bare chest. The gravel on the ground, even with the layer of pine needles, was rough against his bare soles, but he went barefoot most of the time. It didn’t both him.

He took a couple steps away from the cabin, still shielding his eyes against the unnatural light from overhead. It wasn’t any damn helicopter.

A head popped out of the tent at the next site. One of the women looked out, raising her hand to shield her eyes.

“Are you okay?” Jake called.

She nearly jerked back inside but stopped when she saw him.

“Yeah,” she said, her voice shaky. “What is that?”

“I don’t know.” That sounded so lame, but he didn’t know what the hell it was. “Woke me up.”

“Just a sec.” She ducked inside the tent.

He heard a bunch of whispered voices, and their silhouettes moved against the tent fabric. He turned away, squinting at the sky to try and see what was causing the light.

It was bright. Like the sun, except small, and far away. Like really far away in the sky. It wasn’t anything hovering over the lake. Whatever this was, as impossible as it seemed, it looked like a new sun, just a small one.

How could there be a freaking new sun in the sky? It was still hours before sunrise, and the sun wasn’t this weird sort of L.E.D. blue-white.

He looked way and saw spots dancing in his vision. Tears stung his eyes. At the sound of the zipper, he looked back at his neighbors’ tent.

Both women came out, holding hands. One blond, one brunette, the one that he’d talked to was the brunette one. She wore a pair of blue sweats and a V-neck t-shirt. The other was thinner, almost skinny, wearing some sort of light cream-colored pants and a thin, zippered pink hoody. They both shielded their eyes with their hands and looked up at the light.

“It’s like there’s another sun,” he said.

They were looking away, looking at each other. The blond woman leaned into the other and buried her face in the brunette’s shoulder.

“How can there be another sun?” The brunette said. “That doesn’t make any sense. Stars don’t just show up.”

Jake stopped trying to look at the thing, which was too bright anyway. He walked to the edge of his campsite, closer to his neighbors and stopped there.

“I’m Jake Donnelly. I think we’re going to be okay.” It was lame. He didn’t have any reason to think that was true, but what else was he supposed to say? Welcome to the end of the world?

The women separated. The blond stepped away, sniffing. The brunette squeezed her hand.

“Maggie Jefferson.”

The blond woman turned, lifted her hand and dropped it. “Gale Eckhardt.”

“A supernova,” Maggie said. She jabbed her finger up at the sky. “Maybe it’s a supernova?”

Jake glanced up at the point and away again. “Are you a scientist?”

Maggie shook her head and laughed, but it was a scared laugh. “No, just a geek.”

Jake forced a grin. “Geek? Do geeks get out and kayak? Is that allowed?”

“Oh God,” Gale said. “Seriously? I must be such an imbecile, freaking out! I mean it’s not like a star exploded or anything!”

“You’re not an imbecile,” Maggie said.

Gale’s anger quelled his attempt at levity. What if Maggie was right? Maybe the light was coming from a supernova, but he remembered reading something about that once, that made it sound like the nearest stars wouldn’t go supernova. Not the right type or something.

“Is it dangerous?” He said to Maggie.

She took a couple steps away from Gale, squinted up at the bright light and then looked down. She pulled at the front of her shirt, pulling it away from her chest. Dark circles of sweat soaked the t-shirt beneath her arms.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “It might make it hard to sleep. Some animals might have their patterns disrupted, but it’d have to be very close to be any danger. I don’t think any of the close stars could become supernovas.”

Was it warmer? Or was it just him, that the night didn’t feel as cool anymore?

“What do we do?” Gale said.

How was he to know? They didn’t do supernova drills at school growing up. There was always someone to tell them what to do, like the emergency broadcasts —

He said, “Wait a second. I’m going to get my radio.”

Gale shook her head. She pulled out a cell phone. “I’ve got my cell! I can —”

He stopped and looked back. Gale looked up from her phone, at Maggie first, and then at him. “I don’t have any bars.”

“We’re way out in the country,” Maggie said, touching Gale’s arm. “We’ve hardly had any bars for most of this trip.”

“Yeah, but we did last night. Remember? We got back and I posted that pic on Instagram.”

Maggie was right. Cell phones hardly worked out here at all. It had to be that. “I’ll be right back.”

He walked quickly back to the cabin, jumped up onto the porch and slipped inside. He only had to go a couple steps before he could reach the shelf above his chair. He picked up the emergency radio and carried it back outside, cranking the handle as he walked. He kept it pretty charged, but just to make sure. He looked up and found Gale and Maggie standing right in front of the cabin. He stopped on the porch.

“There must be something on the radio,” he said.

He stopped cranking and switched on the radio.

— dents remain in your homes. Preliminary reports indicate that the supernova—

“I knew it!” Maggie said.

—does not present an immediate threat. Officials urge all residents to stay calm as information continues to come in regarding what some are calling the blue sun.

It was surreal listening to the radio. He sat down on the steps, the radio between his hands, on his knees, and listened. A supernova, less than 300 light-years away, but from a star that apparently no one had expected to explode.

“Figures,” Gale said. “And we’re supposed to take their word for it that we’re going to be okay? Maybe we should go inside, you know? Get out of this, what do you call it? Starlight? Sunlight?”

Maggie held her hands up to the bright bluish light. “Nightlight! It’s not going to hurt us. It’s too far away for that.”

“You don’t know that,” Gale said. “They can’t be sure. Has this every happened before?”

“Yeah,” Maggie said. “The Earth, you, me, all of it was made in supernovas. Remember Sagan? We’re all star stuff.”

The radio station repeated the message. Jake listened to it through once more, then turned it off and put it up on the porch railing.

He stood, and said, “Since we’re up, would anyone like some hot cocoa?”

Both women turned to face him. He saw the surprise on their faces and shrugged. “The star exploded what, almost three hundred years ago? It’s everywhere. We can’t run from it, even if it was dangerous. But cocoa might make us all feel better.”

“That’d be nice,” Maggie said.

Gale managed a smile. “You’ve got marshmallows?”

“I think I can manage that, come on in.”

The rule with tiny houses included a great design, and making use of the small space. Jake went in first and pushed the loft ladder off to the side of the room, in front of the bookcase. Maggie came in first, with Gale behind. He heard gasps as he went back into the kitchen.

“This is beautiful!” Gale said.

“Do you live here all year?” Maggie asked.

Jake busied himself lighting the stove, fueled by denatured alcohol. He filled the kettle from his water pitcher and put it on the flame.

“Sort of,” he said as he took ceramic moose mugs that he’d picked up in Montana down from the shelf. He actually had three, the same number as seats. He didn’t keep a lot of stuff, but it made sense to have three mugs in case he had guests.

He put the mugs on the counter and took the mason jar of hot chocolate mix down from the pantry shelf. They were still standing in the main room, probably unsure about which of the chairs to leave for him.

“Go ahead and take the chairs,” he said. “I’ll get the hanging one down in a second.”

“Hanging one?” Gale said, but she took the padded window seat.

Maggie moved and sat down in the padded corner chair, close to the closet and the narrow bookcase. He turned back to the kitchen and twisted the lid off the mason jar. It was all so domestic, a bit like having a party back when he still lived in Portland and would have other writers over to hang out, which Amanda never liked, back in the house. Had she woken up yet? Did she know about the supernova?

As he spooned cocoa out into the mugs, the night light streamed through the window onto his hands and the counter. Everything was starkly illuminated, almost a medical sort of light, that was just wrong for being out in the woods. His hand shook a little.

He took out the jar of marshmallows and added a few to each mug.

“What did you mean, sort of?” Gale asked.

The water still hadn’t boiled. And now he was feeling chilled again. He put back the jars, then went back through the cabin, past Gale to the closet, and pulled out the t-shirt he had worn yesterday. It wasn’t actually all that dirty. He pulled it on.

“I live in the cabin year round,” he said. “But the campgrounds don’t let you stay usually more than two weeks at a time. I’ll move around from one to the next.”

Gale laughed. “So you just tow this? Your whole house?”

“It’s like an RV,” Maggie said.

Gale shook her head. “This is way cooler than an RV!”

Maggie leaned forward and looked out her window. “I can’t believe how bright it is! It’s like daytime out there, except it is two in the morning!”

“I don’t like it,” Gale said. “It’s not normal light.”

“At least we’re out here,” Maggie said.

She was right. What must this have been like in the cities? Even just in town? A lot of people were probably freaking out right now.

He saw on Gale’s face that she didn’t get it. She looked from Maggie, to him, and back. “What do you mean?”

“People do weird shit,” Jake said. “Think how scared you were when you woke up.”

“I’m still scared.”

“Maybe, but imagine in the city, all those people scared. People trying to evacuate, as if there’s some place to go.”

“Riots, probably,” Maggie said. “Hoarding. I bet the survival nuts are going crazy right now. You can almost hear the bunker doors slamming.”

The tea kettle started whistling. Jake went back to the kitchen.

“That’s the real danger, how people react. Whether or not the government can keep a lid on things,” he said.

He poured water into the mugs. The scent of rich dark cocoa floated up on the steam, illuminated by the light of another star.

Gale and Maggie both accepted the mugs with smiles. Gale cupped it in her hands and inhaled the steam.

Jake went back for his mug. When he came back he reached up to the loft and dragged down the hanging hammock chair. It was rainbow colored and hung from the ceiling into the walkway to the kitchen, but was great when he had guests sitting around.

Sitting in the hammock chair took a certain amount of practice, but he managed without spilling a drop of cocoa.

“People aren’t going to be like that,” Gale said. “Are they?”

🚀

Confirmation that people were responding as bad as they feared came an hour or so later, only a little after three in the morning, with the new sun was still shining in the sky. His guests hadn’t left. They’d spent the time sharing some background. Gale taught Zumba and yoga classes at a local gym, while Maggie turned out to be a librarian that worked with teens.

Jake had decided to try the radio again, to see if they could get anything except the recorded emergency message. Tuning the dial he picked up a station based out of Republic. Not one that he usually listened to, but this time he stopped and listened.

Riots were spreading across the country and beyond. The rest of the world was waking up to what was happening as well, as images and videos poured out in a tsunami of information across the net. A lot of those people on the other side of the planet were boarding up, hunkering down, and taking shelter before the new sun would rise.

The guy on the radio speculated that the supernova was a sign from God for the righteous to rise up and take back the country and the world from the liberals and the fags. Real great stuff.

“Turn it off,” Gale said. “I don’t want to hear any more.”

“I can find a new station.”

Maggie leaned across the space between them, and took Gale’s hand. “It’ll be okay.”

Gale shook her head. “Okay? How? With people like that, just waiting for an excuse?”

Jake spun the dial, but the other stations were all just playing the emergency broadcast. Nothing new there. Supernova. Not dangerous. Stay home until people calmed down. He shut the radio off and stuck it on the bookcase behind his ladder.

“We’ll be fine out here,” Jake said. He had food for a few days, but not more than that.

Gale shook her head, and suddenly slid off the window seat and stood up. “No. We’re not. We’ve got to go. Let’s pack up and just leave. If we go now we could be back home before noon.”

“We can’t,” Maggie said. “You heard them on the radio. The highways are all backed up. All those people trying to get somewhere else. We’d just be stuck on the road.”

Jake understood the desire to get away, but Maggie was right. It wasn’t going to work. He could see how Gale would be upset, after that nut-job on the radio, but getting out on the road now was probably a quick way to all sorts of problem. No way was he towing his cabin out there until things were better.

“Give it a couple days,” he said. “By then people will see that the world isn’t going to end. People will be too tired, being kept up at night by this thing. It’ll blow over. Then we can head up into town and see how things are there.”

Hopefully under control.

“It’s just light,” Maggie said. “People have to realize that it isn’t going to be a big deal.”

“That’s the thing,” Gale said. “You keep saying that. The radio announcer said it, but that doesn’t make you right. They didn’t think that this star was going to explode either, but it did. Right? So how do they know it isn’t dangerous?”

“Gale, honey, they can measure the light and radiation. They know whether or not it’s dangerous.”

“You do think I’m an imbecile!” Gale stood up. “Just because it can be measured, it doesn’t mean that they’d tell us the truth. You heard how things are now, just think how bad it’d be if they actually told us that any exposure to the light was going to cause cancer.”

Maggie stood up too and tried to take Gale’s hands, but she pulled away. Maggie said, “I don’t think you’re an imbecile. And sure, if it was bad they could lie about it, but people would figure it out sooner or later anyway.”

“I want to go,” Gale insisted. “I want to go home.”

Maggie caught her hands and pulled her into an embrace. Gale fought for a second and then gave in. Jake stayed in his hammock chair and looked out the window at the lake. It was strange to see it as clear as any other day, the new sun lighting everything up.

It made some things clear.

Maggie stepped back. “Okay. Whatever you want. Let’s get packed up and go.”

“Can’t we just go?”

Maggie shook her head. “I’m not leaving the kayak here. It won’t take long.”

“I’ll give you a hand,” Jake said.

Maggie was right. It was useless to argue with Gale about leaving. And who knew? Based on a crazy DJ and a few recorded statements, they were going to hide out in the woods?

That was his decision.

Downsize. After the divorce, he’d decided to do that because he realized something clearly when Amanda went after everything that they owned. He didn’t care. Take the house, the car, all the DVDs, the crap that they’d collected over ten years. What did it all matter in the end? He kept the truck, his MacBook, and his copyrights—which at the time didn’t amount to much. After that, he just started traveling and writing. Published things as e-books and kept going. Built the cabin on the trailer and started living in that, which was a nice change from the tent he had used.

He didn’t need much, but it was a relief right now. There wasn’t anywhere he needed to go.

“Thank you,” Gale said. “Thanks for everything. Really.”

“Yes,” Maggie added. “We appreciate it. We can pack up.”

Jake swung his legs and hopped up out of the hammock chair. “It’s no trouble.”

They all went back outside, instinctively raising their hands against the bright light in the sky. They cast weird shadows across the ground. It had moved a bit across the sky, or more correctly, the Earth had turned.

Jake gave the women a hand, and it didn’t take long to collapse the tent, toss it, sleeping bags, and cooler back into their Subaru Outback. He helped lift the kayak up onto the roof rack and secure it down, and then they were ready to go.

Gale offered her hand. He shook. Her palm was sweaty. “Thanks. Be safe, okay?”

“I will.”

Gale went and got into the passenger side of the Outback, slamming the door.

Maggie came over and threw her arms around him, surprising him, in a quick hug. “Thanks for the hot chocolate. You’re going to be okay?”

“I’m fine,” he said. “I’m already home. Good luck. Be careful.”

“We will,” Maggie said.

She waved and went off, climbing into the Outback. It started, and a few seconds later turned the corner and was out of sight. The engine noises faded.

Jake went back down, past his cabin to the edge of the lake. A frog croaked. Somewhere a crow cawed. Was it yelling at the new sun? The light was different but clear.

🚀

3,978 WORDS

Author’s Note

This story is the 82nd short story release, written in November 2013. I remember this as a bit of an odd story. I’m not sure I actually accomplished my goals. It goes that way sometimes.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Next up is my story, Journey to Emberland.