Above the crackling flame of the fire, the dark unobscured night sky sprawled out in an endless array. Juan sought out the few scant constellations he knew, guessing at which bright spots were stars and which were distant worlds.
“Is this weird?” Asked the girl sitting beside him on a collapsible camp chair. “Were you wanting to go?”
“What?” Juan feigned a smile, did his best to frame his face with confusion. “Nah. This is… this is real nice.”
The girl smiled back, taking a sip from the warming beer bottle hanging from her hand. Her name was Meredith but beyond that Juan honestly didn’t know much about her. She was a co-worker at his new job, a friend of sorts or at least a compatriot. But she was more than a friend now, right? Juan wasn’t really sure, didn’t really want to think too hard about it. He stared once again into the abyss of space.
“Thanks for hanging out, man.” Meredith spoke into the silence. “Thanks for, you know, not leaving and making it weird.” She gave an artificial laugh, punching Juan playfully on the shoulder.
“The pleasure’s all mine, m’lady.” Juan cringed at himself the moment the words left his lips. What the hell are you even doing man.
“Seriously though, I’m really glad you came over.” Meredith said, staring into the flames. “It’s been awhile and… well, it’s stupid but…”
There was a flash across the sky, a brief brilliance of white followed by something unfurling a glittering tail falling among the starscape.
“What the hell is that?” Meredith stood up. “That a comet?”
“Nah, don’t think so.” Juan had spent enough time visiting his tio and tia in Florida to know that they were witnessing something like a rocket reentering the atmosphere, breaking up and disintegrating as it fell to earth. It soared seemingly overhead, brightening up the night sky.
“Something crashing.” Juan said without thinking. He followed the trail with his eyes as best as he could. Whatever remained seemed to descend just beyond the water tower sitting at the edge of town.
A thud reverberated in the distance, the ground moving beneath their feet for a brief terrifying instance. Up and down the street, car alarms arose in staggered columns and a chorus of scared dogs barked. Juan half-expected to see a massive fireball erupt on the dark horizon. In that moment, he steeled his legs against some oncoming shockwave, expecting that perhaps his life would soon end in a flash of pressure and heat.
Only darkness persisted. Swiftly, the surrounding houses were alit by porch lamps, yards populated by confused townsfolk. Meredith reached for Juan’s hand, her grip tight and her palm wet with perspiration. Juan stiffened at the touch.
A police siren wailed somewhere behind them. Another answered from the east. People began stepping into the street, taking timid steps toward the supposed epicenter of the crash.
“Should we go see what that was?” Meredith asked, turning to the Juan. Her eyes flickered with the dying embers of the campfire. Juan looked past the wooden fence bordering Meredith’s yard, his stomach dropping as he attempted to visualize what would be found lying in the ground beyond that water tower.
“I dunno.” It’s probably only a fallen satellite. It had moved so fast though and at such a sharp angle. Juan was no expert, but there was a bubbling uncertainty building in his gut that grew the longer he stared into the deep country darkness of the fields on the outskirts of town.
“C’mon man.” Meredith began to pull him toward the gate opening to the street.
“Hey, you know what?” Juan pulled back at the girl, allowing her to fall into his embrace. She laughed, her breath sour with cheap beer. “Let’s just chill here. I’m sure whatever it is will still be there in the morning, right?”
“Maybe we can go see it together when the sun comes up.”
“You… you wanna stay over?”
A few minutes ago, the answer would have been no. A few minutes ago, Juan would have been more than happy to take a nice quiet midnight stroll home. But now, listening to the sleepy town come to life, full of agitation, Juan wasn’t sure that he wanted to be anywhere out in the open air. Juan wasn’t sure that he wanted to be alone, at least not that night.