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I had a long drive ahead, and I was tired.
I'd been on the road in my little blue Honda Civic for twelve hours, and the current leg of my lengthy journey had put me on a dead backroad of Iowa. It was three in the morning, and the endless miles of corn and soy fields, farmhouses, prairies, and depressed, decaying towns that make up rural Iowa had all started blurring together, as had the songs coming from the rock station I'd been listening to. The result was that the last several hours had come and gone in a haze of asphalt, guitar riffs, and the occasional lonely tree or road sign. On either side beyond the road, walls of knee-deep, yellowing grass swayed in the breeze.
I was going out to visit my parents for the Independence Day weekend. I hadn't seen them since Christmas, and they'd been wanting me to drop by more often. Whenever I complained about the drive, they liked to joke about how I shouldn't have moved so far away. When we lived in South Dakota and the job I was finally offered was in Chicago, though, I didn't have much of a choice.
When I started out, I thought I'd save myself some money by driving straight through the night rather than stopping at a hotel. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it had stayed that way until I found my head coming down to rest on the steering wheel. Now I was giving serious thought to pulling over to the side of the road and just taking a nap in my car. I didn't think I'd sleep well, though. I'd probably still be tired when I got up. I figured it was best to keep going and get it over with.
Then, at some time I can't pinpoint, my radio's signal slowly but steadily degraded to static. The station I'd been listening to for the past few hours was dead. I tried another one I liked. Dead. After a few more unsuccessful attempts to find a station, I flipped to the AM band and tried the same. No signal. My annoyance turned to unease when I pushed the seek button and it ran the entire AM and FM bands without finding anything.
Seeing my hand tremble a bit, I took a breath and muted the radio. The lack of sleep was getting to me. There wasn't any sense in getting myself worked up over the lack of a signal; most likely, some circuit had failed or the antenna had gotten misaligned somehow. It'd mean a trip to the mechanic at worst.
I jerked my head up, realizing I'd been staring at the radio's LCD display. I had to stay focused on the road, to keep looking ahead. The last thing I wanted was to end up hitting a squirrel or driving into a ditch. Just a couple more hours, I told myself. You've already done most of the work.
When I first saw the lights, I thought the lack of sleep was causing me to hallucinate. They hovered in the sky, round, the size of the moon, and they blinked in and out like someone was turning a massive flashlight on and off in space. It was a bright, eye-searing yellow, and it made my head hurt. I pulled over to the side of the road to rub my eyes.
That was when I realized that the lights didn't move when I turned my head. They weren't tricks of my eyes. They were coming from above, caused by... what? Aside from the impossibility of being there, they weren't behaving like normal lights; the area didn't become any more brightly lit when they blinked on.
I shook my head again before continuing to drive, perhaps a bit faster than was wise in my sleep-deprived state. The unnatural and inexplicable appearance of the lights made me feel uneasy, though. Out here, alone in my car, I felt very exposed to whatever they were preceding.
It was a few minutes before I found out what that was. It began with a low, steady whistling sound, and at first, I had thought it was just the wind picking up. Then I noticed that none of the grass or wheat was swaying at all; despite the sound, the air was still. I pulled over to the side of the road and shut off the engine to try to figure out what it was and where it was coming from; as unsafe as I felt being out there with whatever was causing the noise, I felt even less safe trying to drive while it was happening. Not wanting to remove what small, flimsy barrier was between me and whatever was out there, I decided against rolling the window down.
The whistling, which seemed to come from everywhere at once, gradually got louder, and louder, and louder, and meanwhile, its pitch began to drop. Soon, it was a roar that sounded unbearable even inside my car, and I put my hands over my ears, hunching over, shutting my eyes, desperately hoping that the awful noise would go away. What was most disturbing, though, was that it seemed to be coming from everywhere above me at once, as if the sky itself were screaming.
Then suddenly, I couldn't hear anything. I reluctantly uncovered my ears, but the noise was gone, cut short as quickly as if someone had paused a recording. It was at this point that I realized that, somewhere along the line, I'd begun holding my breath. Taking in enough air to breathe a sigh of relief, I undid my seatbelt and began looking around the car for a CD to put in the player. Having something to listen to with the radio down would calm my nerves. I didn't really expect to find one, but I didn't want to get back onto the road yet, so this would kill time until I worked up the nerve to start driving again.
That never happened. Not a second after I put my hand on the key to turn it, the patterns appeared in the sky. They were rippling bands of harsh neon colors, fading in and out, twisting around dark holes left in the night sky like fluid swirling in drains. Almost as soon as they had appeared, they were everywhere at once, smothering the entire sky in a purple-yellow soup.
Even worse was the noise. This wasn't the deafening whistling and roaring from before — that would've been welcome by comparison. The best I can describe this one, is it sounded like hundreds of people were wrapped up in every one of those spaghetti-strands in the sky, and they were all shouting at once in hoarse, nasally voices.
I remember gasping at this point. I think I might've screamed. I'm not ashamed to say that I dove down onto the floor of the backseat at this point and clamped my hands over my ears again. Any wound my pride might have suffered was an afterthought compared to the need to shut out whatever this thing was as fast as possible.
In spite of my better judgment, morbid curiosity won out a few times as I lay there, and I took began to sneak terrified glances out the windows. I wasn't at a good angle to see anything, but given what I was looking at, that wasn't terribly disappointing and I certainly wasn't going to do anything to change it.
The only thing I can remember clearly seeing was a group of weird purple "bulges" dropping down from the sky, growing longer and longer until (I think, I can't be sure) they were reaching the ground. They slid back and forth like giant fingers, and once one of them passed within feet of the car. When that happened, I definitely screamed, but it was drowned out by the screams coming from the sky.
I lay there, curled up, hands over my head as if bracing for a tornado, just wishing it would end, dreading every second that some thing would shatter a window or rip off a door, exposing me to the full fury of whatever event I'd had the misfortune to be caught in. Minute after minute trickled by, without any sort of pause or gap in the noise from above. I can't say anything about the sights, because after I saw the "fingers," I didn't want to look out the window again.
Finally, there was silence. At first I just sighed and relaxed in relief, feeling that maybe the worst of it was over. Slowly, shaking, I craned my neck so that I could look up, not willing to leave my relative safety, and looked out the window in the hope of seeing a calm night sky.
What I saw instead was even better; the sky was a pale blue, the first signs of daylight. At long last gaining the courage to sit up, I saw out of my rear window the brilliant orange of the rising sun. Somehow, on some gut level, I knew that I was safe now. Whatever phenomenon I had been through was too weird and too disturbing to show up in broad daylight.
It was hard climbing into the front seat. Laying there curled up and tense for several hours had left my muscles stiff and sore, and before I'd even pulled myself into the seat, I'd decided that I was definitely having a nap before I finished my journey. I started the car just long enough to see if the radio was working again, and I could finally relax completely when the sounds of a DJ talking came through my car's speakers. Satisfied that all was well, I reclined the seat and settled in for sleep.
In the end, I wasn't killed or even injured, and I can't even say for sure whether I was in any real physical danger, but to this day I still can't explain what happened that night. I don't think I ever will. I certainly don't drive at night anymore if I can help it.