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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 4

Cover for White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1)

FOUR

Sarah saw a tactical flashlight behind the glass of the front desk. She reached through the open sliding glass window and took the cold aluminum light from the desktop, then walked out the front door, past her rough idling pickup.

Several yards ahead of her were people heading toward the winery’s grape field, several blocks from the police station. She kept the flashlight off and matched the cadence and posture of the people ahead. The red glow from the sky gave enough illumination so that Sarah could see that people of all ages were being affected, even mothers with babies.

Then it occurred to her, how was she going to get back to the station without drawing attention to herself. She decided that she would solve that problem later as she continued to follow the crowd down the tar-bound street, over mowed lawns, and through parking lots. Apparently, staying on the sidewalk was not an efficient path to their destination. They walked past the winery to the sloping vineyard.

Sarah slowly veered away from the people until she found a place where she could hide and still see, to some degree, what was happening. A lawn’s manicured hedge provided the perfect hiding place next to the field’s rows of drooping grape vines. She knelt down and pushed aside the stiff branches so that she had only a partially obscured view of the field’s tractor lane, and the spot inside the vineyard where the people were gathering.

The sky grew brighter as a blue orb appeared above the vineyard. The already inadequate shadow of Sarah’s hiding spot was disappearing. The sphere hovered slightly higher than the water tower before shooting a brilliant blue cylindrical beam of light to the ground. Frenzied people began to moan and call out in pleasure as they pushed and shoved to get near the uniform ray of light, large enough to absorb bodies.

She watched as people entered the beam and then disappeared. What is happening to them? Are they getting beamed up to the orb or are they disintegrating? What is that thing, a spaceship? And why aren’t I affected and that prisoner?

No sooner had the people entered when some began to exit the same beam, looking more possessed than ever. Their posture seemed twisted and their gate was less fluid as they lumbered in Sarah’s direction, the rows of grape vines forcing them to exit the field in straight lines.

“I’d better get out of here, this is not looking good.”

Bent low, Sarah dodged between bushes, houses, and cars parked randomly in the street as she made her way back to the jailhouse where Jack and Jibber were waiting. She noticed the pickup was ready to stall when she reached the front door. Looking back to where she had come from, she saw people, if they were people, continuing their disorderly trudge toward her.

She burst through the door and shot down the hallway. “We got to get out of here!” she said, gasping for breath.

“Finally, you see it my way,” Jack said, trying to shake the cell bars.

Sarah approached the cell. The other two men were more agitated as they hit the cell wall violently with their bodies. Blood dripped down the white painted blocks, likely from clawed off fingernails. She looked at the lock. “How do I unlock it?”

“There should be keys or a button at the control desk,” Jack said. He looked back at his crazed jail mates. “You better hurry up before these guys decide that I’m more interesting than that wall!”

She ran to the door of the glassed-in control room. It would not open. It must close and lock automatically, she thought. The sliding window was open; it was her only way inside the room. She pushed a plastic chair under the window, stood on it, then reached through and sat the flashlight on the counter. As she climbed through the opening, she scraped her elbows and knees on the window track.

When she got inside the room, she shined the flashlight around as she opened drawers and scanned the walls and desktop for anything that looked like a way to open the cell door.

“I can’t find the keys!” she yelled back down to Jack.

“Look under the desk.”

She turned her gaze toward the front door. Past the panes of glass, she saw that the disorderly crowd was across the street and heading their way. Dropping to the floor by the desk, she felt every nook and cranny. She was starting to get panicked when she felt them. They clinked as she took them off the hook.

“I got them!” Sarah yelled. She opened the control room door and placed a small wastebasket next to the doorframe to keep the door from closing and locking, and then ran back down to where Jibber was still standing guard. There were several three-inch keys on a metal ring. She fumbled with them, trying one after the other.

“Come on, get it in there, we’re running out of time,” Jack said, looking back at the crazed men behind him who now were turning around. Blood dripped from their foreheads, down their faces, and onto the floor, as they stared at Jack. “Hurry up, Sarah!”

“Got it!” The key turned and the door clanked open. Jack took the ring of keys from Sarah and slammed the cell door shut behind him, locking the inmates in as they reached for him.

Jibber barked as they ran to the main door, but the mob was only feet away from it.

Jack looked down at the orange jail sandals flopping on his feet. “These damned flip-flops are not going to make it easy to run, but they have my shoes locked away . . . with my wallet.”

Sarah glanced down at Jack’s feet then up at the people beyond the door. She stopped dead in her tracks and gasped, “They’re like zombies.” She could not see them well, but she saw them well enough to notice that the skin on their faces was an ashen gray and their eye sockets were dark and sunken as if the fluid and blood in their shambled bodies had been partially removed.

“We can’t get out this way,” Jack said, grabbing onto the door handles to keep it closed. “Find something to put in these handles to keep it from being opened.”

“Doesn’t it have a lock?”

“It needs a different key than the ones on that key ring,” Jack said, using his weight to pull back on the doors. “We don’t have time.”

Sarah went back into the cage where she had seen a billy club on the counter. She ran back to the door and slid the short stout club into both handles. “This is going to fall out, we need something longer.”

The spooky others were outside the glass doors, pushing on them rather than pulling. “I don’t think they know how to pull,” she said. No sooner had she said that when the zombies began to pull and bang on the glass. Sarah looked at their faces; it was as if they lost their humanness and gained the anguish of a painful death.

“Stop looking at them,” Jack said. “Go to that closet and see if there’s a broom or something.”

Sarah moved quickly to the door that appeared to be a closet. Jibber was restless, holding back her instinct to run down the hall. Sarah found a janitor’s broom and placed it in the door pulls, alongside the club. They backed away from the door, pausing only for a moment to look at the invading bodies. Their faces contorted and drooling.

“You’re right; they are like frickin’ zombies,” Jack said, taking Sarah’s hand, his palm damp with perspiration.

“Their moans sound like they’re in pain,” Sarah said, looking at Jack’s concerned face. He frowned as his eyes darted between the broom and the things on the other side of the glass.

“We got to get out of here before they eat our brains or something,” Jack said, only half joking. He pulled Sarah away from the door and down the hall to where Jibber was already waiting for them. They could hear the bangs as force was applied to the broom and club lying loosely in the handles.

“Them eating our brains doesn’t sound like an implausible idea,” Sarah said, running next to Jack, letting her hand slip from his. “Look, Jibber found the back door.”

Jack tried to open the steel door; it would not budge. “We’ll need a small key to get out,” Jack said, looking at the lock. He put his ear next to it. “I don’t hear anything.”

Sarah looked at the keyring stuffed in the back pocket of Jack’s jeans. Large keys dangled out. Then she saw it, one small key. “There’s a little key on that ring!” She took the bunch from his pocket and held up one small brass key.

“Let’s hope that’s the one,” Jack said, taking the keys from her.

Sarah watched as Jack placed the key in the lock. It turned. He opened the thick door and then closed it.

“What are you doing?” Sarah asked, rolling her eyes. “We got to get out of here.”

“We need weapons,” Jack said, running back down the hall, toward the zombies beyond the glass.

“We don’t have time; we have to get to the truck before it stalls,” Sarah yelled back at him.

Jack tried to not let the sound of bodies thumping on the glass distract him. He entered the control room through the propped open door and went to the gun cabinet.

“The guns are locked up, we don’t have time to get them,” Jack said as Sarah ran up next to him.

Sarah saw Jack’s eyes land on the billy club holding the door closed. “Don’t take it, don’t even think about it.”

Jack did not listen. He ran out of the control room and stood in front of the doors, for only a moment, before sliding the club from the handles. “Let’s go, that flimsy broom won’t hold long.”

They ran back to the rear door where Jibber anxiously awaited. Jack opened it and slowly walked out. “It’s clear,” he whispered.

Jack was leading the way down a pea gravel path to the corner of the building when they heard the broom handle snap and the front door crash open.

“They’re coming,” Sarah whispered, petrified. If Jack were holding her hand now, it would be trembling. “We got to get to the truck.”

Sarah was close behind Jack, and Jibber was close behind Sarah as they followed the brick wall to where they could see the front parking lot. The sputtering truck was in sight.

“Shit,” Jack said, pointing to a white pickup surrounded by zombies. “Is that your truck?”

“Unfortunately.” Sarah grimaced.

Then they heard the back door, from where they had just come, open and slam into the side of the building. The sound of feet dragging through the gravel was getting louder.

“It’s like they can smell us,” Sarah said, drawing closer to Jack and the heat of his body.

“Time to go,” Jack said, holding up the nightstick. “Follow me.”

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 3

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THREE

After a quick squeal of devices powering off, an ominous silence filled Sarah’s bedroom. The only sound was the faint whir of her laptop’s fan and Jibber’s breathing. With the big baby of a dog still on her lap, Sarah dialed her sons again to warn them not to go outside, but there was no connection. She felt panic come over her for fear something would happen to Georgie and Willis.

“Come on, Jibber,” Sarah said as she pushed the resistant dog off her lap. “We got to get the kids. I don’t know how we’ll get them because Larry will give me a hard time, but I can’t just stay here, not knowing if they’re okay.”

Jibber jumped off the bed as Sarah put her wallet purse inside her large crossbody bag. She put her soft cardigan sweater on before putting the bag across her body. Then she stuffed it with a pair of underpants, a T-shirt and anything she thought she might need if she could not make it back home.

A faint red glow was filling the house, finding its way around the sides of the curtains and through any unsealed space as Sarah and Jibber slowly made their way through the pink darkness to the mudroom. She rummaged through drawers feeling for her one dim flashlight.

“Damn it, it needs batteries,” she said, twisting the top and tapping it against the palm of her hand.

She opened the drawer where she kept batteries in a box. She searched through sharp screws, loose change, and any piece of junk that needed a temporary home. She was not surprised when she could not find the D batteries she needed. “That figures.”

Pushing past candles and old cell phones fit for a museum, in the remainder of the drawer, it suddenly occurred to her that her nursing penlight would be a good substitute. She made her way to the bathroom where she kept a basket filled with nursing items removed from her scrub pockets when she got home from work. Moving aside a patient worksheet and her stethoscope, she pulled the penlight from a pocket organizer where it was tucked next to calipers and bandage scissors. She squeezed the clip and went back to the kitchen, the small beam of light was better than nothing.

She crammed a water bottle and a granola bar into her already overflowing vertical messenger bag. She took the pickup keys off the hook and looked at Jibber. “Are you ready? I know we’re not supposed to go outside, but I can’t just sit here.”

Her hand lay on the knob only a moment before opening the door in slow motion. Almost afraid to breathe, she kept thinking of the confused people in Australia and if they were infected with something, and the warning to not go outside. The sky had turned to a bright red with faint sparkles dispersed in the waves of the atmosphere. “It’s beautiful,” she said, with awe.

Sarah moved quickly to the pickup’s cab. “Come on, Jibber, get in.” Sarah did not have to ask twice; Jibber jumped into the cab of the pickup without hesitation.

Sarah put the key in the ignition, but it barely turned over. She tried again and still it would not start.

“Why the heck isn’t it starting? It was running fine when I parked it,” Sarah said as if the anxious pooch could understand. She was beginning to feel like she would never make it to her sons.

“Please, God, let it start,” she said, resisting tears as she turned the ignition again. This time, it started. She put it in reverse, turned around in the gravel, and headed down the bumpy driveway to the road. The truck sputtered as if it would stall if she let off the gas, so she kept one foot on the gas pedal and the other on the break as she negotiated mud puddles and avoided trees next to the two-track drive until they reached the road.

After a couple miles, they entered the village of Bloomingdale. People were walking down the sidewalk and across yards to the village park, next to the Depot Museum.

I wonder what’s going on, Sarah thought as she slowed down and looked over toward the park’s gazebo. Several people stood in the center, near the abandoned railroad station where trains in the 1930s had once hauled eighty oil tank cars a day from what was once thought to be one of the biggest oil fields in America, but the boom ended a decade later.

“There’s Lilly, what’s she doing here in the middle of the night, in her pajamas?” Sarah said to a restless Jibber, not staying still in the passenger seat.

She let off the gas and pulled over next to the telephone company. The pickup was idling, but barely. Jibber tried to follow her out of the cab. “No, Jibber, you stay here.”

Sarah got out, crossed the road and ran up to Lilly, who seemed to be sleepwalking. “Hey, Lilly, what’s going on?”

Lilly kept her gaze toward the same spot in the sky as everyone else, then answered with a bland, “Nothing.”

Sarah was taken aback, Lilly was always talking, never shut up and now she was blowing Sarah off. Following Lilly’s eyes, she looked up to see what everyone was looking at. Sarah only saw the so-called, Aurora Borealis.

“Is something wrong?” Sarah asked, keeping stride with Lilly, who was walking as if she was late for work.

Lilly did not answer; she continued to walk with the others until she was part of the mass, like ladybugs cuddled in a warm corner near the ceiling. No one was talking, making it easy for Sarah to hear the pickup beginning to stall.

“Lilly, come with me.” Sarah grabbed Lilly’s arm near the elbow. “I don’t know where you’re going, but it can’t be good.”

Lilly pulled her arm away forcefully and with a gravelly voice said, “Leave me alone, Sarah.”

She looked at Lilly’s eyes, they seemed to have an iridescent glow, but it could have been a reflection from the sky. Lilly turned and walked into the crowd of automated people.

Sarah could hear the pickup sputtering, taking its last gulps of gasoline. She did not want to leave her friend, but she could not let the truck die, it may not start again, and her kids were the highest priority.

She ran back to the truck, got in and placed her foot on the gas just before it pushed out its last puff of exhaust. “That was close.”

Locking the doors, she looked at the gas gauge, a little over half a tank. That would get her there, but not back. No power, no pumping gas at the gas stations.

“Let’s get out of here, Jibber,” Sarah said, putting it in gear. She drove through the four-way stop and headed out of town while people walked in the red darkness on this weird night. A night where they were going to get a trick rather than a treat.

“If I can keep this truck running we should be to the kids by two,” Sarah said, looking over to Jibber, who was now finally lying quietly on the seat. The truck sputtered as Sarah approached an intersection. Since the traffic lights were not working, she only slowed down, but then, she was the only one on the road.

“This is strange, Jibber. Where is everybody? I don’t see any other cars on the road. I know it’s the middle of the night, but you’d think there’d be other cars, at least a few.”

She could not keep her eyes off the sky; it was mesmerizing, hypnotizing, like snowflakes in the high beam of a car’s headlights.

“We’re almost to the highway and then we’ll make time,” she said to Jibber, whose ears perked up.

They entered the larger town of Paw Paw. Once again, lines of obedient people were heading toward some common place.

“This is like a horror movie. Where are they going?” She looked over to Jibber, who was now sitting up and looking out the windows.

“I wonder if we should stop at the police station. I’m beginning to think we should’ve stayed home,” she said, pulling into the police station parking lot. A vintage black and white police car sat at the far end; it made her think of the old Abbott and Costello show, Police Rookies.

Once again, she left the truck running; Jibber got out with her. The power was out here, too. She approached the front door without the benefit of streetlights. I hope we don’t get shot, she thought as she pulled the double glass door open, entering a darkened hallway. “Hello, is anyone here?”

With heightened senses, Sarah walked into the reception area; her sneakers squeaked on the tile floor. A backup generator seemed to be operating, putting out very little power as the emergency lights flickered. “Hello,” she called.

Her voice fell on silence. She walked further in, past a gumball machine and waiting area, when she heard a male’s voice. “Hey, back here.”

Sarah and Jibber walked past the windowed front desk, past the unlocked security door, and down the corridor to the back of the jail toward the voice. “Over here.”

Sarah looked around the corner; an inmate was talking to her from a jail cell that smelled of old piss.

“You got to get me out of here,” said a voice from behind the bars.

She walked up closer and saw a man about her age locked up in a cell. He did not look like a criminal; he was clean-shaven and had wavy brown hair covering the top of his ears. Two other men were in the cell with him. Oddly, they were standing and facing the back wall, oblivious to Sarah even being there. “Where is everyone?” she asked.

“They all just walked out, saying something about a red sky,” the man said, gripping the cell bars. “Looks like you and I are the only ones with any sense around here.” He pointed toward the men in the cell with him who were now trying to walk through the block wall.

“Where’d they go?” Sarah asked, keeping her distance from the cell so that he could not grab her.

“I don’t know, like I said, they just walked out.” The inmate tightened his grip on the steel bars. “You got to let me out, there’s something strange going on and I don’t want to be trapped in here, especially with these two characters.”

He looked honest, but she was not always a good judge of men, take Larry for example. “What’s your name?”

“Jack. What’s yours?” He smiled, relaxing his grip on the bars.

She did not answer right away. He was looking at her in an ‘I would like to get to know you better’ sort of way. Like they had just met in a bar and he sat down beside her.

“My name’s Sarah.” She paused and shifted her weight. “Why are you in jail?”

“Too many speeding tickets, nothing serious if that’s what you’re worried about. They’re supposed to let me out in the morning.”

Sarah sized him up again. Both arms had tattoos, but she could not determine what they were from the distance she was standing. “I need to find an officer first.”

“You won’t find one, they all left.”

“And you don’t know where they went?”

“I don’t know, but they all went.”

“Every one of them?” She hoped he knew more.

“Every last one, it’s like they all just dropped what they were doing and walked out the door.” He looked at Sarah. “You know, this thing has affected everyone but you and me; I wonder why?”

“I don’t know.” However, Sarah knew what he meant. For some reason, everyone was acting strangely except for the two of them and Jibber. She turned and began walking back down the corridor.

“Where are you going?” His voice echoed, bouncing off the concrete walls.

“I just want to see if there’s a police officer who’s not affected.” When she reached the front door, she saw people walking away; even a police officer was heading toward some common area.

“Sarah, you got to let me out. I don’t want to be trapped in here helpless. In case you haven’t noticed these guys aren’t exactly acting normal.” The two men were now beginning to claw at the wall as if trying to dig their way out.

Sarah walked back to where Jibber stood guard in front of Jack’s cell. “I’m going to follow them and then I’ll be back.”

“Let me out and I’ll go with you. I don’t think it’s safe to be out there by yourself.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be right back.” She jogged back toward the front door. “Jibber, you stay here.”

Jibber lay down in the hallway in front of Jack’s cell, watching his every move.

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 2

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TWO

Even though it seemed safe at the moment, Sarah knew things were not right. She felt it in her gut, or maybe it was the way her skin tingled when she was outside. Either way, her instinct told her to stay out of the light emanating from the sky. As she began drawing the curtains closed throughout the house, she could not help but wonder if something was still reaching inside, penetrating through the vinyl siding and insulation, like a scanner’s X-ray searching for cancer.

Sarah went back upstairs with Jibber still at her heels. The television had spurts of static but was viewable. Doing what she does when there could be a tornado; she changed into sneakers and tied them securely. The shoes would stay on the feet if she ever needed to run.

Spreading out the top blanket so as not to get her shoes on the sheets, she climbed back into her favorite spot. She turned up the volume on the television as Jibber jumped on the bed, curling herself on Sarah’s lap as if she was hiding from loud cracks of thunder.

“You’re too big for a lap dog,” Sarah said, stroking the trembling dog to keep her calm. Jibber kept trying to nuzzle under Sarah’s arm as if it were burrowing into the shelter of a rabbit hole.

Programming was once again interrupted with the same newscaster, but this time, he was not smiling. “We are interrupting this program to bring you this breaking news. Reports are coming in from around the world about the strange lights in the sky. It seems that both hemispheres are being affected,” he paused, and then looked to the side. “We have this report from Adam Smith in Australia.”

The pixelated screen flickered, making the reporter’s limbs appear as if they were disconnecting from his body. “As you can see, it’s daylight here in Australia, underneath the red sky,” the reporter said, turning slightly. “If you look behind me on this city block of Melbourne, you’ll notice people wandering around as if confused. Not everyone is behaving this way, but many are. This all began when the sky turned a bloody red.”

“Adam, we’ve had a spectacular Northern Lights display here in the US. Do they know what’s causing this to happen in Australia?”

As Adam began to answer, a staggering man in a business suit who looked like he had a few too many malted barleys at the local pub bumped him temporarily off camera. Adam pushed his bangs away from his forehead and stood back in front of the camera. “Scientists here are baffled, they initially thought it was coming from the sun, but that appears to not be the case. It’s a mystery.”

“Adam, we’re going to leave you while we bring our local meteorologist back on the air. You be careful down there in Australia.”

The static on the small color TV set was getting worse. Sarah could barely hear the Australian reporter say, thank you. She turned the volume up even louder as she tried to make out what the meteorologist was saying. Through the video squiggles and the audio crackles she could only make out the words “exposed to something” and “Channel 3.”

“What? Exposed to something? Exposed to what? I can barely make out anything they’re saying, and I manage to pick out only part of a sentence and the station identifier. Isn’t that just my luck, Jibber?” Sarah said, reaching for her beer.

The television was now all static and unwatchable. She turned the volume down and took a cell phone from her purse. Even though it was approaching midnight and the kids would likely be sleeping, she was not going to let that stop her from calling them.

“Damn,” Sarah said, hitting the redial button. “Come on, connect this time.”

Her fourteen-year-old son’s phone rang unanswered. “Georgie, answer your phone.”

She then tried her older son, Willis. “The number you called is not a working number. Please check the number and dial again,” the recorded message said.

Sarah hated calling the regular house phone because both Larry and his new wife Bertha were nasty and obnoxious. Larry would always lecture her with his demeaning tone. He was a debaser while Bertha was always falsely accusing Sarah of one thing or another. Both Larry and Bertha had no problem with slander and perjury.

She dialed the house phone. Just before the answering machine came on, Sarah heard Larry’s nail scratching voice, “Hello.”

“I need to talk to Willis and Georgie.” Sarah wanted to get straight to the point so that she did not have to deal with Larry any longer than necessary.

He replied in his usual condescending tone. “Sarah, they’re sleeping. You can’t talk to them.”

“It’s important; I really need to speak with them.”

“No, you’re not. We have things to do early in the morning and I’m not waking them up.”

Sarah did not want to beg. “It’s important, something has happened.”

“Like what?” He always gave her a hard time.

“Have you looked outside or listened to the news?”

Sarah could hear Bertha in the background. “Who is that? Is that Sarah?”

Larry replied with a disgusted, “Yes.”

“Hang up on the bitch; there’s no reason for her to call in the middle of the night.”

The line went dead.

“I hate your guts!” Sarah said, pushing down hard on her Droid’s red button. She would have slammed the handset of a regular phone into its base if she had one. She felt like crying.

“Okay, Jibber, what do I do now? I want to go get them, but I know he won’t let me take them, he won’t even let me talk to them.”

Sarah turned the volume up on the television to see if there was any better reception. She flipped through the channels, unable to make anything out. Apparently, the satellites are being affected, she thought.

I better call Lilly and make sure she is okay, Sarah thought. She and Lilly hit it off right away when Sarah first moved to the area. They had a lot in common. Not only were their kids the same ages and in the same school, but they liked to go out occasionally to watch a local rock band and have a few too many drinks.

A sleepy Lilly answered the phone, “Hello.”

“I’m sorry to wake you up, but there’s something weird going on outside.”

“What’s going on?” Lilly asked, yawning.

“Look out your window and you’ll see.”

“Okay, hold on.” Sarah could hear Lilly get out of bed and walk to the window. “What the hell is that? What’s going on?”

“I don’t know for sure, apparently it’s not the Northern Lights like they first thought,” Sarah said. “Turn your TV on before it goes out and see if there’s any more news.”

“I can’t believe this, it’s really strange,” Lilly said, walking back across the room.

Sarah could hear the static of Lilly’s television and then the phone lost connection. She looked at her TV screen; it was almost impossible to make anything out. Just before it went black and the electricity went out, Sarah could hear a voice in the static say, “Stay inside. For God’s sake do not go outside!”

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White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1): White Horse – Chapter 1

Cover for White Horse (Seven Seals Redux, #1)

ONE

Revelation 6:1–2. 1 Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say, as with a voice of thunder, “Come!” 2 And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and its rider had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

***

“What is that?” Sarah Van Dam whispered to herself as she stared off into the distant watercolor sunset. Mixed among a smear of peach and rose-colored clouds was a small blue dot. She leaned forward toward the pickup’s steering wheel as if doing so would bring the orb into better focus. Could it be a big balloon, one of those that car dealerships sometimes raised high into the sky to draw attention to their latest sale? Not likely, she thought, it was too high and too still. Maybe it was a bright blue star or a Halloween prank; it was that time of year after all. The highway curved. A long line of roadside poplar and elm trees began to obscure the object until it was no longer visible.

Sarah sat alone in the cab of her father’s old Dodge pickup. She had inherited it upon his death several months ago after he had died of lung cancer; surprisingly the smell of stale cigarette smoke still filled the cab. It was no wonder that this disease overtook his body; the murder of her mother and the lifelong companion of her father came at a high cost. It tore the family apart. Except for her two sons, Willis and Georgie, Sarah was alone.

She continued her drive home to West Michigan, the blueberry capital of the world. Before fields of blueberry bushes stretched across Lake Michigan’s countryside, there stood mighty Grand Junction Oaks, Walnut trees, and pines. Old-timers would grumble at how the blueberry industry destroyed the pristine landscape. Now it was Sarah’s home.

Dropping her teenage sons off at her ex-husband’s house was difficult. Larry Sallo had been convicted of domestic violence a few years back. Not only was he physically abusive to Sarah, but he was also mentally abusive. Lies would roll off his serpent tongue with such ease and persuasiveness that any remaining family Sarah had turned against her in support of Larry. Someday, she thought, Larry would get what was coming to him.

Sarah’s mind wandered between her kids and that strange blue light as she drove the hundred-mile trek back home; a distance that enabled her to start fresh, away from the people and places she knew.

Before long she was turning onto her long gravel driveway. She followed it a quarter-mile into the woods along a walnut tree ridge until it met her blue-gray colonial home. As she parked next to the side door, her Labrador-German Sheppard mix ran up to greet her.

“Hey, Jibber,” Sarah said, patting her on the top of the head. Jibber’s tail wagged enthusiastically as if Sarah had been gone for eons.

She opened the red steel door; Jibber wasted no time pushing her way in between Sarah’s legs and the doorjamb. “Slow down, girl!”

Sarah took her shoes off in the mudroom, hung the keys on a hook by the phone, and walked to the kitchen where Jibber was waiting, sitting with its tail brushing this way and that, as if sweeping dust on the hardwood floor. She looked briefly at her calendar notes on the refrigerator door before opening it and taking out a cold can of beer.

She grabbed a bag of salty potato chips from the cupboard and went upstairs to her bedroom, Jibber right behind her. “What’s gotten into you?”

Leaning back on the large overstuffed pillow that lay against the headboard of her canopy bed she began searching through the blankets for the TV’s remote control. Finding it rolled up in her quilted bedspread, she turned on the television and took a swallow of the beer’s cold bitterness.

As she was reaching for the laptop next to her in bed, a news broadcaster interrupted the laughter of a sitcom, on the local Kalamazoo channel.

Buttoning his suit jacket and adjusting his earpiece as he rolled his chair in close behind the broadcast desk, he spoke. “We are interrupting your current programming to bring you this important update. The brightest and most intense Aurora Borealis is currently taking place. This unexpected event, also known as the Northern Lights, can be seen as an undulating red and blue light show. Meteorologists report that there is nothing to be alarmed about, but they are looking into what is causing this quickly developing and exceptional phenomenon.”

Sarah watched as the reporter paused and turned in his seat while a director with a headset approached him, pushing a wheeled desk chair. He spoke quietly in the newscaster’s ear before walking back off camera.

The newscaster cleared his throat as the camera panned out. A middle-aged man, looking as though his game of golf was just interrupted, approached and sat next to the newsman. A young stagehand with jeans and a Mohawk placed a microphone on the man’s yellow polo shirt and then walked quickly off camera.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is meteorologist Andy Wilkins from Western Michigan University.” The newscaster turned toward the slouching man. “How are you?”

The meteorologist paused, hesitating as if he was afraid of the camera, and then said, “I’m fine, thank you.”

“What is causing these spectacular Northern Lights?” the newscaster asked, staring at the camera-shy man.

The meteorologist looked at the people around the camera, took a drink of the water that had been placed in front of him and turned toward the newscaster. “Charged particles from our Sun’s solar wind produce an aurora or light emission in Earth’s upper atmosphere. The magnetic field of the Sun’s solar wind collides with Earth’s magnetic field, and when conditions are favorable, we get a light show, also known as a geomagnetic storm.”

“I’ve never seen a storm this bright and intense, Mr. Wilkins. Would you say this one is setting a record for us here in Michigan?”

“Please, call me Andy,” he said, looking no more relaxed than when he first walked on the set. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this Aurora beats the great geomagnetic storm of 1859.”

“Andy, should we be worried? Are we in any danger?”

He shrugged. “In folklore, it’s believed that the Northern Lights are an omen foretelling disasters such as war or famine.” Drawing in the side of his mouth, he said, “But I don’t think we have anything to worry about. Although, ham radio operators may have trouble communicating because auroras can affect some radio wave frequencies.”

The newscaster let out a breath, smiled and said, “I’m sure we’re all relieved to hear that, except for the ham radio operators.” Turning forward toward the camera, he said, “Stay tuned to Channel 3 for further updates.”

Programming then switched to a Halloween Superstore commercial. Sarah got out of bed as an image of ugly rats flashed on the screen. “Come on, Jibber, let’s go outside and check this out.” She put on her worn clogs and motioned for the dog to follow her.

Sarah went downstairs, out the front door, and onto the front porch. She crossed her arms over her chest to ward off the chilly evening air as she walked to the north end and leaned against the railing. She did not need to have a clear view of the night sky, free of treetops, to notice that the sky was bright with red hues that seemed to squirm far overhead as if alive.

“Wow, look at that, Jibber,” Sarah said, pointing toward the mysterious rose glow as she knelt down to hug her faithful companion. “It’s so bright I can see deep into the woods.”

Jibber broke away from Sarah and ran into the yard where she began to pace and whine. A blush of pink was cast onto Jibber’s black coat as Sarah followed the dog into the dewy grass. “What’s wrong, Jibber?”

Sarah knew it was not normal for the Northern Lights to look this twisted and intense as if it was searing like a steak on the grill. An eerie feeling came over her as her skin began to tingle, and the hairs on her arms began to stand up, not from the cold air, but from what felt like static electricity. She looked straight up at the ribbons of red light, dancing like curtains blowing in the wind.

“This isn’t right, there’s something terribly wrong about this,” Sarah said as she grabbed Jibber’s collar, causing the dog tags to clink together. “Let’s get inside.”