It was a clear day, which might be why nobody thought to look up. If it had been overcast or windy or something, one of us might have looked up at some point and seen it. Maybe then Alek would still be alive.
Maybe not, actually. Maybe it’s for the best that it was sunny.
I was walking up the hill to find him. This was normal. We often met there, especially when it was nice out. Maybe that’s why it happened there, come to think of it. That makes sense.
Anyway, so I was walking up the hill. It was sunny, just past noon so the shadows were cast behind me, and Alek turned toward me. And he shoved his thick blond hair out of his eyes and smiled that lopsided smile that I loved so much and waved. I can remember it so clearly: the sun shining bright in the sky, the crisp shadows on the ground, the sky so achingly blue and the grass a deep, emerald green because it had rained the night before. And I waved back.
Then I saw the shuttle.
You know when you see something so completely wrong your mind fails to realize what it is for a split second? Like your family dog turning rabid and attacking you, or the sea catching on fire. You just freeze while your brain tries to decipher the meaning of what you’re looking at.
It took me a second to recognize the giant hunk of metal in the sky, rapidly hurtling toward us. Alek saw…
I don’t know what he saw. The shadow of the shuttle on the ground or the look on my face, maybe. He had just enough time to turn and see it, though probably not enough time to realize what it was, and then the thing landed on him.
I stood there. I couldn’t believe it. The shuttle smelled like dust and burning ceramic. It burned my nose and throat. Years later I would find this smell in surprising places. Like when I had to brake too hard to avoid hitting a squirrel, or when I accidentally touched the broiler and set my oven mitt on fire. That harsh smell. It haunted me. And somewhere under the hulking, smoking, reeking shuttle was Alek’s body. Then, it started humming and whining and a door opened, unfolding into a ladder.
A figure in a space suit stood at the top of the ladder for a moment before stiffly walking down.
I couldn’t move. In my brain a voice was screaming in terror but all I could do was stare. And that’s when he took off his helmet.
It was a man. He shoved a thick shock of blond hair peppered with grey out of his eyes and smiled a lopsided smile that was familiar.
“Kelly?” he said, as if he was having as much trouble believing what he was seeing as I was.
It didn’t make sense. “Alek,” I said, feeling as if my voice were coming from somebody else’s body. “You just died.”
And suddenly he had that look on his face. The same look he had before he was crushed, incomprehension dawning into horror.
Then he was gone. He and the shuttle and the crater and the acrid, choking smell were all gone and all that was left was the body.
And that’s how Alek died.
Bridget A. Natale is a playwright and novelist. Originally from Pittsburgh, she moved to Seattle in late 2010 and began working in theater. Her productions include serving as the Technical Director for Project I-District’s production of Lola’s House in 2011, and Set Designer for Stone Soup Theatre’s production of Wdeunfrol Wdors (Language Art) in 2012. Her most recent play, Bread of an Everyday Life, was featured in Freehold Theater’s New Play Lab Showcase and her short story, Relativity, was published by the Foliate Oak Literary Journal. In her free time she enjoys dabbling in political activism and teasing her cats.