Our town of Esperance keeps its Watchers out all night. Dad says I’ll get used to it, but I’m here to tell you that I won’t. Ever.
Cecily Patchett is the Watcher’s oracle; she sits on her front stoop 24/7 and stares at the sky, her eyes cataract-cloudy and her mouth in constant motion. If you walk close enough to her house, you can make out Cecily’s irregular hums and clicks. Morse code, Dad says. He believes in the Watchers, but then again, he believes that Nicole Kidman is a Russian spy and that Russell Crowe is his cosmic twin.
Anyway, Cecily swears she saw telltale streaks in the sky last month, signs of the Great Fallout—all the chemical junk we’ve been spraying into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution, coagulating into one carbon-dense comet that the Watchers say is heading straight for Esperance.
Remember Skylab? Dad asked. This will be hell-a-worse!
The Watchers say that Skylab’s crash into our town in 1979 is what forever changed sleepy Esperance—that it opened up a galactic hole and made us vulnerable to the astrophysical whims of the universe. I say the town’s water supply should be tested for heavy metal poisoning—what with this much homogeneous crazy.
The air around me shakes. If I run fast, maybe I can beat this thing, the lava of coal and ash and petroleum distillates oozing from the sky. BOOM! BOOM! My skin is soot and the whole yard smells like burning hair and I’m alone.
Dad’s always out in the barn lately doing god-knows-what for the Watchers—is that where he is now? There’s fire all around me and the sky is bubblegum pink, and I blink and blink until my eyes are free of grime and then I see it—a moat that snakes all around Dad’s barn, wide enough to accommodate the Exxon Valdez. The barn is now as big as an airport hangar; its new metal roof has wings like an A380 Jumboliner. Dad waves at me from the barn door and points toward the moat. Next to him is Cecily Patchett, sitting on top of one of Skylab’s spherical titanium tanks. Her eyes are diamond clear and filled with the reflection of shooting hydrocarbon trails. Cecily’s clicks and hums accelerate. The moat’s polluted with a rainbow oil slick; the barn lifts off the ground as I dive.
Michele Finn Johnson’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, Booth, The Adroit Journal, DIAGRAM, Barrelhouse, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her work was selected for Best Small Fictions 2019 and won an AWP Intro Journals Award in nonfiction. Her fiction has been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfiction. Michele lives in Tucson and serves as assistant fiction editor at Split Lip Magazine. Find her online at michelefinnjohnson.com and @m_finn_johnson.