Jake lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. He let out a sigh, then turned over, maybe he’d watch some TV? He considered it for a moment, then decided he felt well enough to walk to the sitting room. He sat up and slowly stood, once standing he wrapped himself in a robe and shuffled out of his room.
In the sitting room he collapsed onto the couch and grabbed the remote, then he turned on the TV and started to flick through the channels. Of course, it was typical that he was sick the one night of the year that everyone looked forward to. He was probably the only person in town who hadn’t gone to see the lights. It’d be his first year missing it too. He was not looking forward to tomorrow, everyone would be talking about it, everyone but him.
He always loved going to see the lights, ever since he was a child. They were always spectacular. About a mile from the towns edge was a valley, it was a nice place, a stream, trees, a good place to go camping or exploring as kids. Every night there would be a light, at least one, sometimes up to three. They would dance and wheel about the sky, creating fantastic shapes and what ever colour it was, it would always be so pretty. There was one night of the year that was different, on this night there were hundreds of them, thousands, that all appeared, so many different colours wheeling about the sky. It was breathtaking. It became local legend and an event in and of itself. Some merchants would set up stalls selling hotdogs or cotton candy, others would sell soft drinks or beer. The entire town would show up, the elderly would even be bussed down to the valley. Some people walked, others drove, but there was always plenty of room for the folding chairs and picnics people had brought. Everyone would talk and laugh and watch as these lights filled the night sky. When morning came, they would fade away, one by one until there was none left. No one knew what the lights were, but no one cared. They existed for as long as anyone could remember, there were even legends from a local Native American tribe that talked about them. Sometimes outsiders would visit, tourists or scientists, to see the lights or divine their origin. Everyone had different theories. Except for this night, this was for the locals only, a well kept secret. Sure, the tourism could revitalise the town, but the lights were far too beautiful to share.
Jake scowled at the TV, everyone was out there and here he was, missing it. He had caught something a few days before, he didn’t really know what it was. A weird kind of flu. The town doctor had told him to get plenty of rest and fluids and that was what he was doing. Despite the rest he still felt weak and his parents had overruled his objections and decided that he would just have to stay home. His dad had offered to videotape it, but Jake had turned down the offer. It just wouldn’t be the same, a shadow of the true beauty that the lights held. As he sat watching the TV and brooding, he began to wonder if maybe he wouldn’t miss it after all. He could see the mouth of the valley from the attic window, if he was up there he might catch some glimpses of it. It wouldn’t be the same, but it would be something at least. He stood from the couch, leaving the TV on, and went to the stairs.
When he reached the attic, he was breathing heavily, he stopped at the top step and sat down for a moment to catch his breath. What ever this was, it was really taking it out of him. Once he was breathing normally again he stood and went to the window, opening and leaning out. The air was fresh and warm, blowing gently from the valley. He could hear noises, vague murmurs of a hundred conversations, the occasional sound of awe. He stood on his tip toes, trying to see, until he finally caught a glimpse. It was just one at first, then more as they rose higher into the sky, swirling and twirling about one another. He smiled pleased that he could see it, even from this distance.
As he watched he began to doze, they were so bright, almost hypnotic in their movements. There was a sudden flash of light and complete silence. Jake stood up straight, peering at the valley. The lights were gone, but it was still dark out. He wasn’t sure of the time, the breeze still blew, but it no longer brought sounds of merriment, just the rustle and creak of trees. Maybe it had ended early this year? He moved downstairs into the sitting room. He was feeling much better, perhaps the fresh air and light sleep had helped. He grabbed his phone and checked the time. It was only 2 am. There was no text or phone call from his parents. He rang them, one after the other. Both times the phone rang out. That wasn’t like them. They would have answered. He started texting his friends and after waiting a few minutes, he began to ring them too. No one answered.
Ten minutes later he was pacing around the sitting room. He was no longer feeling tired, or even sick. Adrenaline coursed through his body. Something must have happened, what was that flash? He went into the kitchen and grabbed the keys for the second car. His parents wouldn’t be too impressed if everything was fine, but it was an emergency. He didn’t have a licence yet, but he could kind of drive. Hoping that he had had some kind of fever dream, he got into the car, not bothering to change out of his pyjamas and robe. The streets were eerily empty, it was late sure, but there was no sign of anyone. The lights in the houses were off, no cars drove on the street. He drove with the windows down, hoping he’d hear the sound of people. He had flicked through the radio stations, but they were all playing music without a DJ so he had turned it off.
The drive to the valley was a short one, only about fifteen minutes. It would have been shorter if he hadn’t stalled the cars a few times. He had driven quite slowly until he had gotten the hang of it a little better. The empty streets were a reassurance in a strange way, if he lost control of the car he would be unlikely to hurt anyone.
He parked the car a little distance away from the valley in a small parking lot, he didn’t want to get the car stuck or crash into a car someone had parked at the side of the road. He stepped out of the car, pulled his robe tighter and started to walk.
The valley was empty of people. He found evidence that they had been here, picnics laid out, sleeping bags, blankets, empty stalls, but no actual people. It felt eerie walking around the valley, even though he had been here many, many times before. It felt wrong somehow. At times he felt like he was being watched, but he dismissed it as imagination. The situation was creepy enough as it was and if there was someone hanging around, no doubt they’d want to talk to a person, even if they were dressed in pyjamas and a robe. He circled through the valley and then finally returned to the car. As he passed empty ones he looked inside the windows, making sure that there was no one inside. When he returned to the car it was just 4 am. He reversed out of the spot and carefully turned the car around. As he drove, he flicked through the radio stations again, they were just playing music. The local morning show wouldn’t start for another hour or so. The roads were still empty as he drove home. He parked the car, then went into the house.
He didn’t expect a response, but it still seemed like he should try. After a few minutes consideration, he rang the police station, it too rang out. He sat on the couch, suddenly feeling tired. He tried to fight it, but after a minute he dozed off.
When he woke it was morning, his parents were in the kitchen, his mother cooking eggs, his father sipping a cup of tea.
“Morning, we didn’t want to wake you, considering how sick you were yesterday. Hope you’re not too stiff.”
“Where were you?”
“What do you mean? We went to see the lights, like we do every year.” His mother frowned, “Are you feeling ok? Do you have a temperature?”
“No, I feel fine. I went to look for you last night, but you weren’t there, no one was.”
His father smiled, “must have just been a dream. You look a little tired. Did you sleep well?”
“No, I was out looking for you!”
“Maybe you should go lie down for a little while? It must have been a dream, we were in the valley all night. We’re going to have some breakfast, then have a nap. I’ll leave some food out for you when you wake up.” His mother turned back to the stove, his father continued reading through the paper. Maybe they were right, maybe he had been dreaming. It had seemed so lifelike. He moved back towards his room. As he did so he passed through the hall and saw his runners, still covered in muck and leaves. They were clean yesterday. He checked his phone, the messages and phone calls were still there. He sat on his bed, waiting until he heard his parents go into their room, he went into the kitchen and there, on the counter was his fathers phone. He picked it up and scrolled through the missed calls. His number wasn’t there. It hadn’t registered on the phone. He put it down and went back to his room. He had definitely made the phone call, his phones log proved that. He hadn’t seen any clothes or electronics around the valley, they must have gone with everyone too. He lay on his bed and feeling uneasy, he fell into a light doze.
Later, he sat with his parents eating dinner. They seemed completely normal and fine. He had texted some of his friends and they had all told him how awesome the lights were, how they had crashed at about seven when they finally got home. No one mentioned anything strange happening. As far as everyone was concerned it seemed like a normal viewing.
That night when his parents were in bed Jake went back up to the attic and peered out the window. He could see one of them, a ball of bright blue light, flying and twisting above the valley. They usually didn’t go so high. As he watched it he felt a strange sense of dread in his stomach. He backed away from the window slowly and went downstairs.