We Are ☆ Star Club!
When you are together with friends, time seems to warp: either passing by in a moment, or stretching so slow that it almost freezes. During this night, time seemed to be missing completely. I was sitting on the picnic blanket, between Maria and Erica, munching happily on my sandwich, its rich, umami taste filling my mouth. My field of view was filled by the night sky, with its countless stars. I took out my camera, wanting to capture the sky. No, if I was being honest, I just wanted to capture this night, being together with them. Who knew how much more time we had left?
"They’re beautiful," Erica sighed, next to me, "aren’t they? I’m so glad we can experience this together."
"Me too," I mumbled back, still completely lost in the view behind my camera.
Next to Maria, Pudding moved, softly mumbling, and I wasn’t sure if she was awake or not. Maybe all of this had exhausted her already. That was something I could understand, for I was drained of all energy, too. Her presence was calming, comforting, just like the sweater she wore to keep herself warm.
"Oh, I almost forgot."
Quickly, I unbuttoned my coat, sitting up so I could take it off. At first, the cold wasn’t so bad, but I knew it would come soon enough. Still, I held the coat out to Maria.
"Here. You really shouldn’t catch a cold."
"That’s so sweet of you!” She smiled, but her expression was worried. “But you shouldn’t get sick, either. Wait, weren’t you sick just a week ago? You’ll take it back soon, right?"
"Sure, if I remember."
We exchanged a quick smile, before I looked up at the sky again, Maria surely doing the same.
"It’s a shame this will be our last meeting...", she sighed, trailing off.
"And I doubt I’ll convince my parents to let me stay this late without a real club," I agreed.
"Same here. They’ll probably think I’d sneak off with some boy."
"Geee, I can’t imagine why."
I had a big grin on my face.
To my right, Erica sat up, walking over to our club leader.
"Hey, Pudding, wake up. The meteor should appear soon."
She shook Pudding’s shoulder, and her digital watch glowed in the dark. We only had a few minutes left. Pudding only grumbled as a response.
"Uwa... I’m awake, I’m awake..."
"Really? Because you say that even in your sleep."
"Urgh, you are so meeeaaan, Ericaaaa..."
Pudding rolled on her other side.
But Pudding ignored Erica, though I wasn’t sure if she really was asleep or not. I looked at Erica instead, not able to read her expression.
"What are you going to do, after our club will be disbanded?", I asked her.
She looked back at me, thinking about it for a moment.
"I don’t know," she answered honestly, "Probably join another club, and go out at night, anyways."
"Really? Your parents allow that?"
Erica made a noise, somewhere between a scoff and a laugh.
"And you don’t think it’s scary? Out here, all alone?", Maria asked her.
I had to agree with her, for I knew of the dangers that lurk in the dark. There was a reason why I stayed close to the main streets, never too far away from the city, even though the light pollution made it more difficult to see the stars. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have come out here tonight. But Erica shook her head.
"Not really. The night is beautiful, not scary. Or, at least, worth the risk for me."
She struggled for a moment.
"I’m really bad with words when it comes to this. I wish I could say what I want, with a poem, or a picture, but..."
"Well, you don’t have to do that now, since we’re all here together, right?"
She smiled back at me.
"That’s true. Even if this isn’t forever, at least we can make memories together," she added.
"Sara, you must be freezing! Here, let’s have some tea, everybody."
Maria took out a thermos from her bag and started to fill small plastic cups for each of us. The sweet smell of red fruit tea reached me, and even made Pudding sit up.
For a moment, we sat in a circle, each with a warm cup in our hands, not saying anything. Only now did I notice how cold I really was. The cup felt almost burning against my hands, and I had trouble moving my limbs. I couldn’t be too cold yet, but still... What if I get sick again? No, I can’t. Not that it matters much, this night is much more important than missing school or feeling horrible tomorrow, but my parents will kill me if the cold doesn’t do it before them. And I really don’t wanna know how our teacher will react... I’m already behind on everything, so this would be the worst. No, I can’t get sick.
I coughed, breaking the silence.
"Uh, could I have my coat back, just for a moment, Maria?"
"What? Yes, of course."
She seemed as forgetful about it as I was, but promptly took of the coat. I put it back on, still nice and warm thanks to Maria, who now looked much smaller in the light than before.
"Will you be alright?"
"Sure! I’ll just drink lots of tea."
She showed off the cup in her hands, smiling optimistically.
"Are you sure? I mean..."
"No. I don’t want you to get cold, either."
She looked at me with a surprisingly serious expression.
I nodded, looking down into my tea. The light of the stars was bright enough that I could see my face mirrored in the cup, dark hair hanging in my face, eyes full of sadness. This is fun. Even though I assumed the worst, this is actually a lot of fun. And I really, really don’t want this to end.
Then, I saw something in the reflection. A bright streak of light, even brighter than the stars around it. My heart beat faster.
"Everyone! Look up!"
Erica pointed towards the sky, just as I tilted my head back to observe the meteor. It was beautiful, bright, and bigger than I had anticipated. I couldn’t move, just wish. And my wish, my plea, was...
I don’t want this to end.
As if the meteor had heard me, it blinked, glowing brighter and brighter. Slowly, I raised my camera, but I felt weird. Something was off. The meteor shouldn’t be this big, right? But it also shouldn’t be close to Earth... I raised my camera, trying to get a better look at it through the viewfinder. It was bright, unevenly formed, and it almost seemed like a dark splotch was on it, vaguely human-shaped. No, that couldn’t be true. I squinted, trying to make out more.
"Wow, it’s so beautiful."
Maria sounded bewitched, and when I looked back at her, her gaze was fixed on the meteor.
"It’s coming closer." Erica shook her head. "That’s not possible."
"Aaaaah, it’s not going to hit us...," Pudding shrugged.
"I’m not so sure about that." Erica sounded serious, and I had to agree. "Looks like it’s heading right for this hill."
"Eeeek!" Maria almost splashed her face with the remaining hot tea. "This is not how our cute stargazing session is supposed to end!"
"We have no choice. Everyone, let’s pack up and get to safety."
This time, nobody complained about lifting the heavy telescope, as we abandoned everything else that we could afford to leave behind. Around my neck, my camera dangled, but I was too focused to stay with the group to take a picture.
"Hurry! Take cover!"
The hill was lit up by the meteor, as we crouched down, hopefully far enough away that it wouldn’t hit us. The light got blinding, and as I shut my eyes, the ground shook underneath my feet, not really different from an earthquake. Somehow, we all managed to stabilize the telescope, Only when the ground stopped shaking, I opened my eyes again and let go of the telescope.
"Is everyone alright?"
Erica sounded worried, but after a quick glance at each of us, sighed with relief.
"What are we going to do now?" Maria tilted her head to the side, still holding on to the telescope for dear life.
"Are we going to look at it?"
The others looked at me, confused, as I grabbed my camera.
"Well, we’re going to be the first to see the meteor!", I explained.
Maria seemed to think it was a good idea, and the other girls also seemed more interested than doubtful.
"Okay," Erica reasoned, "We can look at it, but stay away. Don’t touch anything, okay?"
Despite her words of caution, she was the one to lead us all towards the meteor. A giant pillar of smoke made it impossible to see. The meteor crash would have been noticed by anyone living close nearby. Surely, the police and others were already on their way. It reeked of burnt plants, the air still hot around the impact crater. Still, my curiosity was stronger than my disgust, and I pushed forward. Tears formed in my eyes, and I couldn’t stop myself from coughing. Still, my hands clung to the camera, ready to photograph whatever I would see. The wind changed, and suddenly, we were caught in the smoke.
"Are you all still here?"
For a moment, I couldn’t see anything except for dark gray smoke, burning in my nose and on my tongue. But then, the wind blew, tangling my hair and pushing the smoke away. The moonlight revealed the big crater, with some smoke still lingering at the bottom of it.
"Oh, that’s huge. And it stinks."
Maria took a few steps back, together with Erica and Pudding, their noses crinkled in disgust.
"I think I’ve seen enough," Pudding agreed.
I started to take a few pictures, but the smoke obscured anything interesting. Through the viewfinder, I tried to catch something, anything, interesting... and then I could make out something in the smoke. It moved.
"H-hey, what’s that?"
I lowered my camera, holding it out to Erica, who was still closest to me.
"There’s something in the smoke, I think."
With my hand uselessly in the air, weighed down by the camera, I still stared at the crater, and the thing moving in it. Could it be an animal? But what animal would be stupid enough to go there? Still, I tried not to get too excited. Whatever it was, down there, came slowly closer. This was dangerous. Or, at least, it could be dangerous.
"Yummy," said a voice that, despite sounding girlish, belonged to none of us.
Suddenly, the smoke rose, cloaking the creature, about as tall as me. The camera got yanked out of my hand, and with a metallic crunch, was devoured by the being in the smoke.
"Noooooo, my camera!"
This wasn’t how my first meeting with an alien was supposed to go!