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Nightcrawlers

Zack Lux lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. When he isn't working or writing stories, he enjoys exploring the many natural wonders of Northern California. Find him on Twitter at @ZackLuxSF.
The chaos began with a whisper.
An astronomer in Hawaii spotted it first: a faint red glow from Alpha Centauri.
She sent the coordinates to a friend at the Gran Telescopio Canarias who verified her readings. Other observatories took note, and by morning, all agreed that the magnitude six object hadn't been there the night before. They also agreed that its luminosity grew with each passing hour.
"This'll make you laugh," said Julia with tired eyes. She spoke through a secure video feed to JPL. "This reminds me of when I was a kid, when I lived on the mainland. My grandpa used to take us to catch nightcrawlers."
"Night what?"
"You know, worms that come out at night after a good rain. We'd use them as bait for fishing trips."
"Ok, but..."
"We'd sneak up on them with our flashlights."
"Huh?"
"Never mind."
Twenty-four hours passed before the general public became aware of the strange glow and its increasing intensity. Experts gave interviews. They explained there was nothing to worry about, that it was likely a supernova.
"Don't turn on your light, until you're ready to snatch 'em," grandpa whispered. He and Julia held hands, as they tiptoed across the muddy grass. An owl hooted nearby.
"Why?" asked Julia. She couldn't see a thing, but could smell the nearby raspberry patch, along with grandpa's pipe tobacco.
"Because once they know we're here, they'll go underground. They're fast."
Three days later, the glow had grown brighter than a full moon, visible all hours of the day. Government leaders still referred to it as a supernova, just a harmless, far away light.
Julia's contact at the Gran Telescopio Canarias called and said otherwise.
"Whatever it is," she whispered. "It has mass, and it's slowing down as it gets closer."
"This seems like a good spot," said grandpa. "I'll hold the can, and when you're ready, turn on the light and grab 'em."
"Ok."
"Remember, be fast."
Julia shined her light.
"Oh wow!" she squealed. And that was it. She had startled them, and before she could reach down, they withdrew into the ground.
"Ha!" grandpa pulled out his pipe and laughed. "It's OK, dear. Let's wait a bit. We'll try again."
"What if they don't come out?"
"Just watch."
Minutes later, they returned to the surface, and Julia didn't hesitate.
A week after Julia's initial discovery, the "supernova" had grown so bright, night never came. Temperatures soared. Looters emptied Bass Pro shops and big box stores.
Julia and her family, along with close friends, huddled inside a bomb shelter. She watched as everyone sat on the floor, smiling, playing board games.
"Quick question, doctor" her husband said quietly. "How long do you think we'll be down here?"
She laughed despite herself and asked, "have I ever told you about catching nightcrawlers with my grandpa?"
"What?"
"Let's just say we should hold out as long as we can."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, July 7th, 2021


Growing up, I used to visit my grandparents in upstate New York during summer break. Each trip included a long list of memorable activities: camping, building model rockets, using grandpa's metal detector, berry picking, hunting for quartz crystals, and sometimes, just lounging on the porch during lightning storms. I always looked forward to those trips. And yes, grandpa and I used to sneak around the backyard with flashlights after heavy downpours. I can still smell his pipe tobacco.

- Zack Lux
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