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They Fell Like Comets

Hans Hergot can be found at hanshergot.com. This is his second story for Daily Science Fiction.

It's a sin to kill a lightning bug. Its guts will not turn a whiffle-ball bat into a light saber. Smearing its green butt on your face will not make you a fairy.
We knew it was wrong in our hearts. But we did it anyway.
That summer, they paid us ten dollars a jar to catch fireflies. We went out in the dusk armed with nets and small hands.
The fireflies blinked like the stars overhead. We caught whole constellations. We cut a swath through their milky way. We filled mason jars with a million tiny stars, each a beacon of light to the universe.
A firefly can only fly so high before it has to come back down. We were patient, waiting till they fell like comets.
The jars blinked in a dolesome unison. We were impervious to their pleas. Each jar went in the freezer; then to the fire department where we collected our shekels--and spent them at Kmart on G.I. Joes and Transformers. I hid Snake eyes in the linen department so I could get him the next week. Ten dollars was just too much money for a boy growing up in the south to ignore.
We went to sleep each night with the smell of fireflies in our nostrils--that high fishy-smell as distinctive as honeysuckle.
They told us the scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory wanted the lighting bugs for an experiment. They never told us what for. It was as secret as the Manhattan Project. They had harnessed the atom, what more could they want? We imagined the energy of a million tiny tails squeezed out like orange juice concentrate.
That winter we watched as the Space Shuttle raced to the stars, fueled--we were certain--by our fireflies. The rocket burned like a million tiny suns. The shuttle rose into the blue Florida sky. It blinked once. Like a firefly, it could only fly so high before it fell smoldering to the earth.
We watched from the school auditorium, sharing in the collective guilt and horror.
They never again asked us to collect lightning bugs, and if they had, we would not have supplied them.
We watched the fireflies in the summer sky blinking in unison, calling out to each other from across the darkness, silent as the stars in flight.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 1st, 2014

Author Comments

This story was written on the porch of the Green's Bed & Breakfast during the annual synchronous firefly gathering in the Smoky Mountains, which is an event beyond science or fantasy. This is a fake memory or a memory mash-up and was inspired by two DSF stories: Samantha Murray's "Jumping Off Into the Sky" whose bottle of invincibility immediately made me think of the lightning bugs we used to collect and by Alex Shvartsman's semi-autobiographical "Things We Leave Behind."

- Hans Hergot
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