That first hour was the worst.
On the night it all began—when I was just eleven years old—I sat on my back porch practicing chords I’d just learned on my guitar when I looked into the sky and saw what appeared to be a shooting star. Lone, white, and resembling a firefly in the dead of night, it broke through the upper atmosphere and trailed across the horizon as if it were an angel cast down from the Heavens.
“Dad,” I said, setting my guitar on the step beside me.
“I see it.” My father stood at the grill, cooking hamburgers and hot dogs for the evening meal. “Pretty cool, isn’t it, Son?”
Nodding, I continued to watch as it plummeted throughout the upper atmosphere, both impressed and somewhat leery over the event taking place. Though I’d been lucky enough to see shooting stars before despite the bright lights of San Antonio, Texas, I’d never seen one that close.
My mother stepped out the back door, drying her hands on a dishtowel. “Is that a shooting star?”
I couldn’t reply. Neither could my father, who’d seemingly lost interest in the food cooking in front of him. We were both so transfixed by the star that we couldn’t open our mouths to speak, let alone utter a coherent sentence.
At one point, it looked like it wouldn’t stop falling, and though normally not one to be paranoid, I swallowed the lump in my throat. I turned to look at my parents and said, “Maybe we should get away from the house.”
“Don’t be silly,” my mother replied with a laugh. “It’s just a falling—”
She stopped speaking.
Her face paled, her mouth dropped open.
I turned and stared.
At that moment, I realized it wasn’t a shooting star falling toward our house.
It was an aircraft.
Shaped like a chrome disk and bearing many flashing lights along its edges, it came to rest in the sky above our backyard. The nearby trees shifted as it descended, whipping leaves from branches and knocking a bird’s nest to the ground.
“Jason,” my father said as he stepped off the porch and took hold of my shirtsleeve, drawing me back several steps to stand beneath our back porch’s awning. “Get in the house.”
“I said: get in the—”
He wasn’t able to finish.
A blinding blue light pierced through the night and struck my father dead center, illuminating him like a dancer upon a stage.
A short moment later, he rose into the air.
My mother screamed. I cried out.
Within seconds my father was gone—sucked into the glowing nexus of the disk’s underside.
“Call 911!” my mother screamed. “Call 91—”
She, too, was struck by the light at her place on the porch—and though she tried to flee, she couldn’t free herself. Instead, it lifted her into the air just like my father.
As she rose into the blinding light, she screamed, “Jason! Run!”
I bolted into the house, too scared to watch her disappear and too panicked to consider the implications of what my flight would mean for her survival. Heart hammering, I burst through the back door, grabbed my cell phone off the tabletop, and dialed the three numbers I knew might save my parents’ lives.
“The number you have entered cannot be reached,” the operator said. “Please check the number and try again.”
“No!” I yelled, pulling the phone from my ear and scrambling to redial. “No no no no—”
The sound of a trumpet—unlike any I had ever heard—blasted through the air.
Pictures fell from the walls.
I turned, tears in my eyes, and stared as the aircraft began to rise.
“NO!” I cried, running back toward the doorway.
A second trumpeting blast cut through the night.
I cried out, stumbled, then fell, landing with enough force to knock the wind out of me.
The ship rose, my parents somewhere within.
Tears burned at my eyes as the aircraft slowly began to make its way out of the backyard.
I feebly reached for the phone lying nearby—believing that something, anything, could be done so long as I got a hold of the right person.
But 911 was down.
What was I supposed to do if I couldn’t get a hold of the police?
I had just started to regain my bearings and was rising when I saw a pair of yellow lights appear in the backyard.
Laughter—much like a hyena at the San Antonio zoo—cut through the silent night, chilling the blood in my veins and causing the hairs on my arms and neck to stand on end.
It stepped beneath the porch light, revealing its full form. Tall, emaciated, with a loped gait and a sloping jawline, the creature resembled a werewolf, but looked to be more like an upright-walking Coyote with glowing yellow eyes.
I froze—unable to breathe, unable to move.
Again, it laughed, opening its mouth to reveal two rows of dagger-sharp teeth. It flexed its knife-like fingers as it lifted a foot and took another step.
“No,” I breathed, grabbing my phone and pushing myself upright. “No… this can’t be real. It can’t be. It—”
The creature’s giggling cut me off before it lunged through the back door.
Dashing into the living room, I tore around the corner and took the staircase as if it were the last thing I would ever do, pounding on the wooden steps with enough force to make the planks shake and the railing vibrate. Right on my tail, it gave chase, maneuvering the stairs with lupine ease all the way up to the second floor. I felt the brush of air as it reached out to swipe at me just as I threw myself into the bedroom and slammed the door shut.
The door buckled as the creature slammed itself into it.
I gasped, stunned, and took several steps back, staring in mute horror and terrible fascination at the one thing that separated me from a world of trouble.
All at once, it stopped.
I was convinced I was having a nightmare—that I’d fallen asleep on the couch while waiting for my father to finish dinner. It was all just a dream. I would wake up to my mother’s gentle voice and eat dinner with my family while the world continued to turn normally.
Except it wasn’t a dream.
It was real.
The doorknob began to turn.
My breath caught in my chest.
I hadn’t even considered locking the door.
Glancing at the window—at the road outside which lay illuminated by streetlights—I realized there was only one thing I could do.
I threw my body against the door before the monster could fully twist the knob and only pushed myself away when I heard the lock click.
The creature—desperate to gain entry—jiggled the doorknob.
I bolted toward the window.
When the monster realized that it could not gain entrance, it smashed its entire weight against the door. Flimsy, old, thin enough to push on one side and see the wood bow on the other—it wouldn’t take long for the creature to gain entrance, and when it did…
I couldn’t think about that.
Fumbling for the latch at the window, I tried, desperately, to find purchase upon it as I worked to free myself from the confines of my room.
The door splintered.
The creature shoved its head in.
I thrust the window open and crawled onto the roof just in time for the door to cave in.
Without hesitation, I began to scale the roof. I struggled to guide myself along its slanted surface and nearly stumbled to my death. In the room behind me, the creature charged the window, slamming its fist through glass and attempting to squeeze through the tiny compartment. I almost tripped several times over the course of the next few minutes. Had it not been for my near-perfect balance, I would’ve fallen to my death.
At the edge of the roof, I peered at the latticework below me and tried to determine if it would be strong enough to hold my weight. My father had always threatened to ground me if I ever tried to climb it, though whether that was because it was unstable or just because he didn’t want me crawling on it I did not know.
Right then, I didn’t care. I had to get to the ground.
After casting a glance over my shoulder to see the monster still struggling to free itself, I took a deep breath. I took a deep breath, then slid onto my butt before flipping onto my hands and knees and sliding the first foot onto the latticework.
The monster broke through the window as my hands left the roof. Unable to find purchase, it slipped, stumbled, then fell, only barely missing me. It hit the ground with a grisly crack.
I looked down. Its body twitched, its eyes flickered, its black tongue slipped from its mouth. Then the light in its eyes went out and it stopped moving.
Convinced I was safe, I climbed down with a speed I could’ve never possibly imagined and planted my feet on the ground. My heart threatened to burst out of my chest, my thoughts racing as I stared at the dead creature.
What had happened?
Where were my mother and father? What had taken them? What was this thing lying dead at my feet?
All those questions, with absolutely no answers, assaulted me. Though I wasn’t normally prone to crying, tears stung my eyes. I was completely and utterly alone.
A scream rent the night.
Lifting my head, I scanned the road.
In the distance, another disk-shaped aircraft tore across the sky, skimming the tops of houses and knocking free the brickwork chimneys that fed from their fireplaces. Debris sailed through the air, making a cacophony of sound as it hit the ground.
Lights similar to the ones from before lit the night.
More of the monsters stepped into the street.
I had no choice.
The creatures—who’d been standing in bushes, in front yards, beneath the awnings of other homes—gave pursuit. Their footfalls slapped against the asphalt and caused every nerve in my body to alight in flames. It was like I was running the triathlon of my life—and, if I wanted to be honest with myself, the triathlon for my life. I couldn’t afford to stop for anything.
My lungs burned, my legs throbbed, my feet felt like there were thousands of tiny glass shards buried within them.
The monsters, however, did not slow. They continued to laugh, and giggle, and whoop.
I reached the end of the neighborhood street and was forced to choose to go right or left. As I considered my options, I stopped, turning to see the monsters’ bright eyes staring back at me. Then I saw another light—distantly, beyond the pursuing creatures. It took but a moment for me to realize it was a car.
The monsters turned—and seemingly aware of the danger, retreated to the sides of the street.
Waving my arms over my head, desperate for the driver to take notice of my plight, I hoped, prayed they would stop and save me. There was little to no chance of me surviving on my own, especially not with monsters giving chase.
The vehicle—tearing down the road at a speed of at least eighty miles an hour—came to a screeching halt as the headlights showered my body.
A split second later, the window rolled down and someone screamed, “GET IN!”
I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. At that point, I couldn’t have cared less. Someone had come to my rescue, and if I didn’t hurry, I was bound to end up dead.
Throwing myself toward the white car that was stained with blood, I flung the passenger’s side door open just as the vehicle started to move.
“Let me get in!” I cried.
“Hurry!” the driver—a young woman with curly red hair—replied.
I cast a glance over my shoulder to find that the monsters were once again giving chase. Without an ounce of hesitation, I thrust myself into the passenger’s seat, then leaned out, took hold of the door, and slammed it shut as the car began to speed down the street.
“What are those things?” I asked as I turned my head to regard the creatures.
“Beats me,” she replied. “Hey—are you ok?”
“Are you hurt?”
“No. I’m… fine. I—”
“Was anyone with you?”
“My parents,” I started.
“Where are they now?”
I couldn’t help it. I broke into tears.
The woman turned her head to look at me before reaching forward and adjusting the dial on the radio.
“What’re you doing?” I asked.
“Trying to find an emergency broadcast station,” she replied.
I fumbled with the radio as she continued to race through the streets, not sure what she was seeking. It was likely she had gone through the same thing I had and was trying to find shelter. While I maneuvered through the radio’s many stations, catching tail ends of people’s screams and news reports on the events taking place around us, I came across an emergency station. It repeated the same thing over and over.
“Residents of… county… are advised to seek refuge at the… high school. Military support and evacuation are awaiting your arrival.”
“Military?” I asked. “Evacuation? What’re they—”
“It’s happening,” the woman said, her face blank as she continued to maneuver throughout the streets.
“What is?” I reached out to grab her shirtsleeve. “What’s going on? Tell me! What’s going—”
“They’ve finally showed up.”
I blinked. Aliens? Had I heard her right? Had she said aliens?
“What do you—”
She made a sharp turn and headed down the long road I knew led to the local high school.
“—mean?” I finished.
“Isn’t it obvious?” She laughed. “We’ve made first contact with beings from another world. And they’re not friendly.”
“I don’t under—”
“Neither do I, kid. Neither do—”
She slammed on the brakes as a series of cars came sailing out from another street.
“Hey!” she screamed, smashing her hand on the horn. “Don’t you dare cut in front of—”
One of the ships that’d taken my parents appeared at the edge of the road.
“Oh no,” I said.
“Hold on,” the red-headed woman replied. “This might get bumpy.”
After reversing, she angled the car toward the curb, then hit the gas. We flew onto the sidewalk.
“Are you sure this is a good—” I started.
I watched in horror as a single beam of light struck a car, then ejected the inhabitants from their seats before pulling them into the light.
“—idea,” I concluded.
“Let me do the driving,” she said.
Swallowing, I nodded, reached to grab my seatbelt, and buckled myself in. “How much farther until we reach the school?”
“Not much further,” the woman replied. “Hey… I forgot to ask. What’s your name?”
“Jason,” I responded. “Jason Parks.”
“I’m Emily DeMira. Sorry we couldn’t have met on better terms.”
“You saved my life. Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. We still have to get to the school—and even if we make it there, it doesn’t guarantee we’ll be safe.”
“But what about—”
“The military? When have they ever been reliable?”
I couldn’t respond. I didn’t know what she was talking about. From what she said, it sounded like we wouldn’t be safe, regardless of the guns and ammo and armed men and women that would surely be there. But how was that possible? How could we not be safe?
I shook my head as she continued to drive—not wanting to think or even care about what she’d just said.
At the speed we were going, it took mere moments for us to cross the distance between one side of the street and the other. By the time we reached the high school, all hell had broken lose.
Men and women stood outside the building—children and the elderly screaming and crying for someone to let them in. Nearby, a contingency of soldiers awaited them, directing traffic and the people within to park their cars and trucks along the sides of the road. It was pure chaos. I wanted nothing more than to throw myself out of the vehicle, but I knew I had to stick with Emily DeMira if I wanted any shot at staying alive.
As we pulled up alongside a tall black man in military fatigues, Emily rolled down the window and asked, “Where do you want us?”
“Pull over wherever you’re able to,” he replied.
Emily did as instructed—cautiously aiming the vehicle up the road before maneuvering the small white car into an unoccupied space at our right. She killed the engine, but didn’t bother to withdraw the key from the ignition.
“Aren’t you going to—”
“I’m not gonna need this where I’m going.” She popped the driver’s side door open. “Let’s go.”
The humid night air assaulted me when I climbed out and followed Emily DeMira down the sidewalk, back toward the school.
As I peered into the sky to see even more lights streaming down in the distance, I shivered and thought of what could go wrong if they noticed the congregation of people standing there. I distinctly remember telling myself I couldn’t think about that—that panicking would do me no good. I straightened my posture to keep from looking small and afraid.
We approached the throng of people along the edge of the street as a series of yellow buses spilled out of the nearby depot.
“Listen up!” the black man bellowed, cupping his hands over his mouth to amplify his voice. “I said: listen up!”
No one seemed to listen. They kept screaming, crying, demanding answers to their myriad of questions
He reached to his side and withdrew a pistol.
At first I thought he was going to shoot at something—a monster, an alien, as Emily DeMira had put it—but he aimed the gun into the air and fired into the air toward the empty side of the street. I exhaled as the crowd fell silent instantaneously.
“Now then,” the black man said. “My name is Captain Frank Henshaw. I’m here to tell you that San Antonio is falling, and we—the Texas National Guard—are here to transfer you to a designated safe zone just outside of Fredericksburg. Now, if you could please line up and board the bus, we can—”
The crowd surged.
Henshaw fired once more.
The throng of people stopped moving.
“Slowly. Women and children first.”
“Go,” Emily said, pushing me forward.
“But what about—”
“I’m right behind you, kiddo.”
Frank Henshaw gestured me toward him with a wave of two fingers. As I approached, he clapped me on the back. “Where are your parents, Son?”
I bowed my head—unable, and at that moment, unwilling, to speak.
“I see,” the black man said. “Get on the bus and seat yourself near the front. I’ll keep an eye on you.”
“You… you will?”
Henshaw nodded. “Now go.”
I climbed on-board and seated myself at the very front—watching, and waiting, as other women and children boarded. When Emily DeMira stepped into the bus, she settled down beside me, nodded, and said, “I’ll stick with you.”
“You don’t have to,” I managed.
“We Texans got to stick together. Right?”
I took a moment to consider what she said, then nodded.
It didn’t take long for the first bus to fill up, nor for the one after it, or the one after that. Eventually, the four were filled to the brim—including standing space. Even though there were still people amassing out and around the school zone, there was no way the four available busses would be able to hold any more people.
Henshaw climbed aboard shortly after I took note of it. He gave me a stern, resolute nod as he beckoned for the driver to close the bus’s door.
“Suh-Sir,” I managed. “What about the rest of the people?”
“They’ll have to make their way there on their own.” He crouched beside me. “You ok, kid?”
“I’m… I…” Tears streamed down my face in the moments thereafter. “They took my parents.”
“The spaceship. The aliens. Whatever’s in them.”
“I’m sorry,” the army man said, reaching forward to set a hand on my shoulder. “Yours weren’t the first, Son, and they definitely won’t be the last.”
“What are they?”
“We’re simply referring to the invaders as Them.”
The captain stood and bellowed. “Let’s get out of here!”
The bus surged and the people inside shuddered while it made its way up the street.
As we moved through the streets of San Antonio, toward a destination I could only hope was safe, I leaned back against the plush brown seat and stared out at the world beyond. I watched as more of the ships descended upon the city, sparing no mercy as They took into Their folds those unsuspecting people who’d just been trying to live their lives. I tried not to think of my parents—of my mother, my father, of the home I had left behind—but it was no use.
The more I thought about it, the more reality began to set in.
They had finally come, and with Them, had brought a world of destruction.Our world was about to change—and, I knew, for the worst.