Den McHenry

Excerpt From Plateau

'Won’t be long now.’

They sat on the bluff looking out over the town below and over past the mountains in the distance. The old station wagon a few yards away had long since gone cold as they watched the sky through so many still hours. ‘Won’t be long now’ he said again, but they were running out of darkness, and if it wasn’t now then it wasn’t going to happen. Jim plucked a weed from the grass and spun it between two fingers, thinking about vague but tender things, and as its little form came into focus in the slowly creeping light his dad’s voice brought him back to the horizon.

‘There. See? What’d I tell you? God damn.’

The last words were more whisper than exclamation. A dozen or so meteors seemed to appear at once and fade, then a few less. Soon the sky grew bright as the sun made its way over the mountains in the distance. He hadn’t had enough time to catch a single one through the telescope. His dad still looked with religion at the place where the meteors had been, and Jim looked back to the weed in his hand, his thumb and finger stained slightly green, and let it fall to the ground.

His dad slapped him on the back the way men do, laughed and turned for the car. Jim wondered, as he’d often had, how to react, and all of that hesitation, all of that wondering made him stoic. Everyone called him smart, thoughtful, reflective; but these were euphemisms. He was awkward, and he knew it. He lived in fear that he’d be discovered for the fraud he felt himself to be.

‘Those pancakes aren’t going to eat themselves, Jimbo.’

As his dad loaded the telescope in the back of the wagon, there was a flash like lightning. The earth shook, and finally a thunder like nothing they’d ever heard. Looking back to where they’d seen the meteors they saw another flash. This one nearly blinded them. It wasn’t quite lightning, and if they hadn’t seen it together one would never have believed the other. As their eyes recovered and things came back into focus the familiar peak on the horizon was gone.

‘Jesus.’

His dad knew a lot of things you might not expect, like where to see a meteor shower, or how to tie a bow tie, or what it was like to kill a man, but now he was just as scared and confused as Jim, and that made the boy even more afraid.

They were frozen there watching the spot where the mountain’s peak had been, waiting but hoping not to see that flash again. In the distance now they thought they could make out jets from the base in the far valley. Jim wanted to ask his father what was happening, but he didn’t know how, and so they both watched in silence. As the jets drew closes to the spot where the peak had been there was another flash, more intense than the first. They were blinded and in a second or two, it seemed, a gust of wind slammed them both into the car, kicking up dust and gravel as the earth shook again.

‘Let’s go.’


This is the opening of a YA novel I started back in 2010. I didn't quite get to 10,000 words, but it's been on my mind again, and I'm giving some thought to seeing it through.

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