When the Sky Fell on Splendor(13)

“A two-year-old is having a birthday party in Palm Desert?” I said.

“I didn’t know there was one of those,” Arthur said. “A palm desert, I mean.”

“Yeah, like the Springs weren’t enough for them,” I said. “They had to take the desert too.”

“Assholes,” Levi agreed. “Come here, Fran. You need to see this video up close.” He turned in his chair to face me, the monitor light catching the angry blue bruise on his forehead.

“Levi! What happened to your head?” I asked.

He reached toward the mark. “I was napping and I sleepwalked into a cabinet.”

“Huh,” Arthur said, peering at the mark like he’d just now noticed it.

He reached out to touch it, and Levi knocked his hand away. “Forget that! You have to see this!” He spun back to face the monitor, and I glanced uneasily at the paused video.

Now that we were so close to it, the idea of seeing what had happened to us—a moment none of us could remember—sent panic through me. I reached for my necklace, and my stomach lurched with the renewed realization that it was gone.

Levi started the footage. “Without further ado, I present to you . . . Some Very Freaky Yet Incredible Crap!”

The camera jaunted up and down, the sounds of Levi’s breaths hissing off the speakers. It was dark, except when the beam of light atop the camera managed to catch something. A flash of my shoulders and paint-stained tank top crossed the screen, my hair turning almost white in the light. And there was the side of Remy’s face, his neck, his hair. Nick looked over his shoulder, his skin going transparent under the glare so the veins under his eyes looked purple. And then more darkness, Levi breathing fast as he ran between the metal towers.

The camera dropped low, snatching at bits of our legs and shoes, the illuminated gravel blurring past. Levi must’ve lowered it while he was running. All I could see were his yellow Doc Martens whipping past.

The back of my neck prickled, as if that same electrical charge were in the room now, its static pulling at us like invisible fingers. I edged closer to Arthur and Levi.

I’d been there, seen this in real life, and yet there was a part of me that expected something horrible to leap out. Something we’d missed before.

Something that explained it all.

The movement onscreen stopped. The camera rose, light panning up Arthur’s back. Levi’s breath came in shuddering gasps.

The hair on my arms stood upright, and I smoothed the back of my head, expecting to find strands dancing in the buzzing air.

But there was no electrical charge in the room. My hair sat in heavy tangles at my shoulders.

Onscreen, the crumpled heap of metal came into view, and then—

My heart skipped as the camera floated closer, homing in on the glassy disc and the streaks of light moving in and out in repetitive patterns, like blood through veins.

“Like our scars,” Arthur said, fascinated.

He was right. The light looked just like the marks on our skin, like the burns in the field.

Sofía’s whisper came through the speakers now: “It must be heavy to have done this kind of damage.”

My own voice answered, the sound of my fear disorienting to me now. “Do you think it’s like . . . part of the comet?”

Onscreen, Arthur’s red T-shirt, visible in flashes, moved toward the disc.

My voice, the recording of it, sounded foreign in its shock. “Arthur?”

And then, in a flare of blond hair and sun-browned skin, I was lunging toward him. “ART! Don’t—”

A stark snap rang through the speakers, followed by a high-pitched warbling, easily twice as loud as the rest of the audio. The screen went white. “What is that?” I shouted over the warbling screech.

“Sounds like metal,” Arthur shouted in reply.

Levi turned the volume down. “It’s like . . . groaning metal, or something,” Arthur repeated.

The metallic warble went on, changing in pitch and volume, and the screen stayed solidly white.

The only thing this video told us about those lost hours was that we’d likely sustained hearing damage during them.

“Why did we just ride two miles in like two-hundred-percent humidity for this, Levi?” I said. “You could have played this horrible sound over the phone!”

“Right!” He pulled up a tool bar. “But I wanted to show you something. Look. When the video plays at normal speed, it’s white. Just solid white, until the battery died and the video ends. But watch what happens when I slow it way down.”

Levi dragged the cursor along the bar at the bottom of the video until the moment before the flash, then tapped a few buttons, and hit Play. Again, that vicious CRACK rang out, but the sound that came after was lower, almost like a choir of humming voices.

The white rippled across his computer screen, but instead of a solid blanket of it, this time it flickered. So fast it was almost imperceptible.

Levi looked up at me, eyes alight, then spun to face Arthur. “Now watch.” He drew the cursor back and let the scene play out even more slowly.

There was the CRACK. The melodic sound like humming voices, or bows being drawn across a hundred quivering violin strings. The flashes of light came slower.

But in those off-moments, when the light retreated, the screen wasn’t entirely dark.

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