We've reached into the recesses of Prospero's twisted past to bring you these four short stories, and endeavored to stay about as spoiler-free as the back cover with regard to the present day storyline, so whether you've already read Splinters or not, tune in every Sunday night in October for a fresh tale of the dark and clandestine history of everyone's favorite Splinter-infested small town!
For our second tale, beware the woods, and beware the skies...
The Kirby Ridge Lights
By F.J.R. Titchenell
Paul - 1973
I could have been watching Bewitched on the couch like I’d never been away, fan on full blast, pretending there was no such thing as a Geometry prerequisite.
We’re adults, Keith said. We can go where we want now, he said.
So on the second day of summer break, we, Keith’s cousin Sharon, and far too much luggage were jammed into the already sweltering heat of his new VW bus, going where he wanted to go. That meant Roswell, New Mexico, by way of every place on the way down from Berkeley where anyone had ever claimed to have seen anything remotely, potentially, vaguely related to aliens.
I’d had no idea there were so many such places, even accounting for the fact that Keith’s definition of “on the way” spat in the face of even my understanding of geometry.
“We’re going to be the ones, I can feel it!” Keith’s energy for this project remained undampened by the fact that we were now seven hours into our second driving day, creeping ever further south, into the smothering warm. And we weren’t close to what could be called Southern California yet. Hell, we weren’t even south of home yet after all of yesterday’s detours. “This is the summer the lid gets blown off of the whole cover up! One of these places has to have the key to introducing humanity to the outside universe once and for all, no going back. The truth never stays buried for good!”
“Of course not,” Sharon yawned, rolling over on the makeshift couch across from me, resting her head the map she hadn’t needed to glance at for the last two hours of straight highway. “And now all we have to do is find the loose end that experts have devoted their whole lives to looking for, in three weeks of touring the most obvious places. But hey, if we don’t, we’ll still come home with some cool t-shirts.”
“Ah, but we have something those ‘experts’ don’t!” Keith answered readily, as animated as an overeager professor trying to engage a class on a day this hot. “Incorruptibility!”
I’d been expecting something a little better. Sharon obviously hadn’t.
“Right,” she crossed her fingers conspicuously behind her back and rolled her eyes at me. “We’ve obviously got that.”
Keith may have had a little help talking me into roasting myself alive in the name of one of his quests. Like his little cousin casually inquiring whether I’d be coming along too.
It was my first and last summer with the advantage of being the cool older college guy, before she’d start classes in the fall. At least, I hoped I was the cool older college guy. It was worth trying to make the most of while it lasted.
“I know I’m one of the only three incorruptible people in the world,” I said, “aren’t you?”
Sharon snorted out loud and buried her face in one of the bright green cushions.
Instead of arguing with us, Keith swerved hard to the right and slammed on the brakes, sending me sideways into the back of his seat. Sharon braced herself against her pillow niche to avoid hitting her head.
“Here it is,” he said, beckoning us to look at the sign he’d almost hit on the shoulder.
Welcome to Prospero
The sign was slightly askew, as if someone before Keith had topped his enthusiasm, or failed to match his precision on the pine-needle-carpeted asphalt.
“Never heard of the place,” I answered Keith’s expectant gesture.
“And you thought I only knew the obvious places,” he aimed at Sharon. “Not many people have,” he told me, “but Prospero is easily one of the top five towns in the country for verifiable paranormal history.”
“How verifiable?” One of us was obviously supposed to ask. And I wanted to know. A little.
“Well, ignoring the dozens of Bigfoot sightings,”
“Yes, let’s ignore those,” Sharon agreed.
“Ignoring those and about a hundred other one-time incidents no one on earth seems able to explain, Prospero happens to be the home of Kirby Ridge.”
“I think he’s holding for applause,” I said to Sharon after a few seconds of silence.
“Let him hold,” she said.
Keith broke the silence himself with a sigh and the crunch of pulling back onto the highway out of the needly ditch.
“Kirby Ridge, in turn,” he explained, “is home to the only known nocturnal luminescence that has yet to be explained publically by science and is predictable to within seven minutes with a ninety-five percent success rate. Is that verifiable enough for you?”
I was watching the farms and gas stations of the Prospero outskirts cut into the surrounding forest and outcroppings of rock more than I was listening. It wasn’t until Keith turned onto the unimaginatively named Main Street that anything distinguished this town from the one we had passed before it, or the one before that.
The shops had a kitschier, more welcoming front, in need of repair in places, but without giving the feeling that their remoteness was a matter of ardent preference rather than geographic circumstance. A building that could once have been a movie theater announced itself in bold letters on every side as the Prospero Museum of Unnatural History.
“So, what you’re saying is we’re going to see a light show?” Sharon translated.
“Best and most important light show in the solar system,” Keith confirmed. “Wherever it comes from, it’s been playing every twenty-nine days in the same place, twelve minutes after full sunset. We’re going to figure out who’s putting it on and what it means.”
Suddenly the time Keith had insisted on spending zigzagging up through the national parks almost to the Oregon border yesterday made a lot more sense. Now sun was already dipping behind those jagged, redwood-covered hills on what was presumably the 29th day by Keith’s count.
He steered us away from the relative hominess of Main Street, up to the hillier, darker far edge, and pulled over next to a vacant lot, thick with grass and saplings, half fenced in and looking as though it had been vacant longer than it had been anything else.
The makeshift path up through the damaged chain link was marked ahead by a roadside booth that could barely be seen through the cloud of smoke wafting out of it, carrying the scent of charcoal and fresh corn.
On this traffic-less summer Sunday evening, it had taken less than five minutes to cross from the nowhere on one side of Prospero to the nowhere on the other. Friendly town or not, I had the feeling there weren’t any motels nearby that had made it into our guidebook.
Keith looked around at the shades of green visible through the windshield with a satisfied nod and set about rolling a joint, his sign at the end of every day that the driving was finished.
Sleeping in the bus it was. Again.
Sharon snapped a Polaroid and scooted back to the rear before Keith could, in spite of all his legalization pride, snatch it out of her fingers.
“People will want to see the man who ushered in the next scientific revolution before it all happened!” The print clicked against her hand as she tried to shake it and shield it from view at the same time. “You look very sophisticated,” she assessed.
“Expands the mind,” he said on the exhale of his first long drag.
“A head your size has room for it,” said Sharon, showing us the newly visible distorted image of said head looking larger than usual.
“Just for that, you don’t get any,” said Keith, lighting and handing me the second one.
I shrugged at Sharon and took a pull on it, but only one. I could never stay on opposite sides with her for more than a few seconds, even in fun.
I gave Sharon mine.
“You need all our minds expanded if you want to find anything, right?”
With an exaggerated sigh, Keith rolled me another. Thank god. Not knowing how long we were going to be sitting in that lot staring at the sky, I wanted to be able to enjoy whatever light show did appear.
This first real stop on our quest could have been more comfortingly touristy, but it could have been less so too, I supposed. There was a decent sized gathering already in the lot once we got past the first rise of uneven earth, and the night was young.
A fair number seemed to be people like us, college aged, passing through, dressed for vacation with unmistakably new white sneakers.
Even those who were obviously local greeted us with pleasant smiles. I went straight for the roasted corn booth at the outer edge of the fence, Sharon and Keith falling in next to me without debate.
It had been three hours since our last rest stop, and we had only picked up coke and pretzels.
“Where you kids visiting from?” the woman behind the grill asked.
She was round and cheerful and reminded me, with a dose of homesickness, of Mom.
“Berkeley,” Keith answered for us all, though it wasn’t quite true for Sharon yet.
So much cooler to say than San Francisco, where we were actually from, if we were to get technical.
“For school?” she guessed.
We all nodded with some unavoidable pride.
“I think that’s wonderful,” she said, buttering the three ears of corn at once with the grace of a slight-of-hand magician. “Learning a lot? Making lots of friends?”
We nodded again, though I couldn’t honestly claim to have made any friends I hadn’t had before. Lots of acquaintances. Not friends.
I only realized when the woman’s eyes drifted over my head that Keith was still smoking. She took a deep breath of the mingled flavors of smoke and thankfully didn’t look disapproving. Interested, maybe. A little envious, even.
“Wonderful,” she repeated, handing us each one of the ears by the napkin-wrapped husk.
For the amount of research Keith had clearly put into this trip, he’d left us comparatively unprepared for the details. Camera and notebook he had. Bag full of all the mind-expansion we could need he had as well.
Blankets and deck chairs we did not have, so we stretched out on the thick, bare, and thankfully dew-less grass to eat and smoke and wait for the sky to light up.
I spotted a few “Stop the Conspiracy” t-shirts in the crowd before it got too dark to make them out.
A girl of maybe eleven or twelve walked among the groups, selling Frisbees decorated to look like flying saucers, which were soon flying over the picnicker’s heads at regular intervals.
We declined the Frisbees, but I bought a packet of “Official Kirby Rige Lights Sparklers” from her.
I wondered if she’d made (and spelled) all the labels herself.
By the time the first lights appeared between the trees at the side of the lot opposite the road, I’m not sure what I’d come to expect.
An artificially manufactured spectacle, or nothing at all, either would have been unsurprising.
This, though, did look like a naturally occurring phenomenon, though not like any I’d ever seen or read about before.
A sphere of glowing green broke over the treetops like another world’s moonrise, too pronounced to be imagination feeding off the expectant atmosphere, too subtle to be a show, unless it was a far more calculated and expertly executed one than the home of “Official Kirby Rige Lights Sparklers” was likely to be capable of.
The green sphere drifted upward like a lost balloon in slow motion, growing fainter as it rose until it could no longer be distinguished against the dark sky, but before it was gone, it was followed by a violet one to its right and a delicate, golden-white one on its left.
That was all it was, spheres of light floating up and fading away, leaving room for more, and a faint green glow surrounding the treetops, or maybe it was only a reflection of the glowing orbs.
The slow, endless flow of them was difficult to look away from. Would have been, I imagined, even without the weed, in the way a campfire, or a lava lamp, or a kaleidoscope compels you to keep looking at it as though you might miss something.
I was so engrossed in the view that I startled when Sharon elbowed me in the side and directed my attention with a jerk of her head.
Keith was on his feet, treading carefully, purposefully between the picnic blankets toward the lights, notebook in hand and camera strap around his neck.
Though the lights made no noise, sitting under them felt like being in a movie theater, and I couldn’t bring myself to speak up over everyone else’s silence, so I followed Sharon in following Keith at a quick tiptoe.
“Where are we going?” I whispered once we drew even with him, though I was afraid I probably knew the answer already.
“For a real look,” he had the decency, or perhaps the paranoia, to whisper back. “I told you we were going to be the ones to find something.”
I expected someone to stop us before we reached the treeline where the relative openness of the lot ended without fence or sign or other man-made boundary.
I hoped someone would stop us. It was dark, I was tired, I’d been limiting my fluid intake to handle the lack of bathrooms on the road for long enough to make slightly weak and bring on a dull headache, and I certainly couldn’t count on my sense of direction to bring us back to civilization when Keith was ready to join us there.
The attendant at another food booth near the edge followed us with his eyes, signaled to a nearby man in a button-down shirt who might have been some sort of unofficial event security, and they exchanged a few whispers, their heads bent so close together that they must have been touching, but no one made a move toward us.
Maybe it wasn’t only that I was tired. Maybe I looked back at all those faces staring up into the sky as one and thought they had the right idea. When we see this, we sit in groups at a safe distance and watch. Something about that felt like human instinct, like not putting your hand in that fascinating campfire. Something not to be messed with.
Or maybe that was just stoned wisdom.
I’d wake up tomorrow marveling that I’d momentarily found that thought of mine deep. For now, Keith was feeling his way into the dimly backlit trees, Sharon was rolling her eyes behind his back at me even while she followed, and I was following her.
The floating lights couldn’t be seen properly from under the tree canopy, but the soft, ambient glow they gave off became brighter the further we stumbled toward them, until we were nearly able to stop stumbling, able to see enough of the roots and rocks in our way.
“We come in peace!” Sharon called out when we were too far from the lot to disturb its silence, then giggled. “Or, I guess, we receive you in peace? Since it is our planet, and you’re the ones coming?”
Then she lapsed into giggles too thick for more words, maybe at her own crude innuendo, maybe at nothing at all.
“Shhh!” Keith hissed at her, raising a hand behind him at both of us.
Sharon humored him by pressing her own hand to her mouth to stifle the sound. “I heard something.”
He squinted into the fluctuating green and purple dimness ahead, and I squinted with him, expecting a trick of the shifting light, then seeing a trick of the shifting light, and finally understanding, with a drop of my stomach, that it wasn’t a trick of the light at all.
Three short figures stood among the trees ahead, naked and gray and featureless, except for their tiny, shapeless mouths and the huge black eyes that took up most of their disproportionately large, elongated heads.
The one in the middle opened its tiny mouth, and it took a few words before I realized that the rasping, clicking, mechanical sound that came out was English.
“In present company, little ones,” it said, “we are not the newcomers to this world.”
Sharon screamed, and at first I thought it was only for the reason I knew I would scream myself if I could get my throat to respond.
Then her feet left the ground next to me.
I reached for her, tried to make out what was happening, wildly imagining glowing tractor beams or the glittering remains of teleportation.
All I could see were the arms of a fourth creature, wrapping around her, extending far longer than the creature itself, and yanking her up into the tree with a creaking, cracking wooden sound that made me sure the whole tree would collapse under them.
It didn’t. There was a crashing rustle in the next tree, and the next, and by the time I thought to get one of the sparklers out of the packet and light it to see by, the branches above me were empty.
The three figures in front of us had not moved since announcing themselves.
Or, rather, the four figures in front of me hadn’t moved since that time.
He was so completely motionless that I wondered if the creature had done something to freeze him that way.
Then he looked me with the halting turn of a music box dancer.
“It...” he looked like he wanted me to take the words out of his mouth, but I didn’t know them. “It wasn’t supposed to be real,” he whispered.
For a few seconds, he seemed to wait for me to understand him. Then he shoved me aside, into the nearest splintery trunk, and bolted past me, down the hill toward the bus.
“Keith!” He didn’t look back. “Keith!”
I started after him, slipped on the uneven dirt, dousing my sparkler in it, and realized in the time it took to get my weight back on my feet by way of my freshly skinned elbows, that the passing seconds would probably be better spent chasing after the screams coming from the opposite direction.
She didn’t call back, not exactly. There was plenty of noise to follow, though. Her screams themselves were muffled by the thunder of their thrashing through the underbrush.
I nearly overshot when I caught up. The bushes were shaking for yards in every direction, and the creature that had wrapped itself almost entirely around her had also gone a reddish brown color and begun to sprout camouflaging pine needles. I could only tell exactly where in the mess she was when she grabbed my ankle.
I lit a fresh sparkler, accidentally spilling blue-and-yellow sparks from the cheap thing all over the tangle of Sharon and the creature.
The twisted, redwood-camouflaged limbs of the thing bubbled and charred where the sparks made contact, and a sound of pained protest seemed to come from the whole thing at once.
It was something.
“Sorry,” I told Sharon. “Brace yourself.”
Her hand tightened painfully but comfortingly around my ankle, since I didn’t have enough hands to grab her as well.
I slid the rest of the packet’s contents halfway out of it, lit all the ends at once, then broke them off and let them rain down all over the thing, mini fireworks coating the stretching red and green and grey skin trapping and inadvertently protecting Sharon.
The creature sizzled and withdrew with a screech and another several snaps of breaking wood, though it barely touched the bushes around it. The wood almost sounded like it was inside the thing.
Once Sharon was able to wriggle a second hand loose, I grabbed both of hers and pulled, she kicked the smoldering mass free from the rest of her.
We both stood for a moment, absorbing the fact that it was quickly recovering, returning to its alien shape with more of that splintering noise, the burns fading out, crouching over the hole in the ground I’d found it and Sharon struggling in.
There was no ship, saucer-shaped or otherwise, to be seen anywhere, and it had been dragging her into a burrow in the ground.
“What the hell kind of aliens are you?” I asked, as if it might explain itself.
“The abducting kind!” Sharon shouted the only answer that mattered, grabbing me by the shoulder of my t-shirt and pulling me forward.
There were sparks alive in her hair and on her clothes, the smoke of them strong and acrid in her slipstream as we ran, not pausing to put them out, the moving air making them brighter.
“Where are you going?” she whispered when our ideas of forward diverged and the link of our arms went taut.
“The road!” At least, I hoped that was what I was heading toward. “Where are you going?”
“Back to the ridge!”
“With all those UFO nuts here to stare at the lights?”
“Can you think of anyone else who might believe us?”
“I don’t care who believes us!” I shouted. “I just want to go home! Please, let’s just get out of here.”
She didn’t waste long thinking.
“Okay.” She turned and led the way in a direction close to the one I’d guessed at.
They were behind us somewhere, I was sure of it, popping and snapping, or maybe it was only the twigs under our feet.
I’d never been so glad in my life for Sharon’s love of maps as I was when we tripped at the raised edge of forest and stumbled down onto the road that had been cut through it.
I couldn’t see the bus, maybe we were too far from the lot, or maybe Keith had gotten here first and taken it, but there were a few stragglers on the road from the light watching.
“Do you know where there’s a phone we can use?” I asked the first human silhouette, before recognizing her as the woman from the corn stand. “Do you know where the nearest one is in town?”
I wanted to shake her for responding so slowly. Didn’t she know an emergency when she saw one?
“Jim? Annie?” she called cheerfully over her shoulder.
The man I’d taken for a security guard and the Frisbee-and-sparkler girl came close enough to make out in the fading light from the ridge. A few more familiar faces crowded in behind them. The man in the “Stop the Conspiracy” shirt looked on impassively.
“Looks like we’ve got a couple more runners,” said the corn lady.
The guard nodded and the girl smiled, cracking her knuckles with the unmistakable sound of splintering wood.
Sixteen-year-old Mina Todd knows about the otherworldly shapeshifters that secretly run Prospero and has dedicated her life to fighting them. Ben Pastor, in town to attend the funeral of his missing childhood friend, Haley Perkins, has never believed any of the strange stories about what happens in Prospero. When Haley turns up alive and well at her own memorial service, Ben and Mina are forced to work together to uncover what happened to her. Though they may not always understand each other, Ben and Mina’s unlikely friendship may very well be the only thing that can save the town, and possibly the world, from its insidious invaders.
The dark history of Prospero is not over.
To learn more, click here to get your copy of Splinters, book 1 of The Prospero Chronicles,
Or check out The Prospero Chronicles official website, for tips on defending yourself and your loved ones from Splinters.