“I suspect some pain killers would help,” my husband said.
We were driving through the dark central valley cornfields, late at night, on our way to visit family. We had been driving for over five hours, the light of the sun had faded long ago, with only a few stops to stretch our legs.
“I suspect that you have no idea what it is to be in my body,” I replied.
“Just take something!”
“Seriously, I wish I could just pop a pill and my body would somehow calm down. But it doesn’t. You know that.”
He was quiet.
I was quiet.
My right hip was not quiet.
It was big and loud and never shut up. My left ankle was talking tonight too, talking of fire and electricity. My shoulder was yelling at me as it pulled on my spine. My body ached in the loud angry way that no one else got to hear.
I’m the only one that gets to hear my body talk. I often wish I could plug it into a microphone, plug it into someone else’s brain, find a machine that reported back on every nerve commentary.
Instead, I sat silently adjusting each muscle, stretching and kneading and rubbing.
The road was two-lane and dark, the shadow of the corn stalks waving to our right and our left.
“What’s that glow?”
The fields ahead of us, along the horizon, radiated a soft yellow light that seemed to have appeared from the deep darkness.
“We’re not near town yet, are we?” I asked.
“Not enough for that kind of light,” he said.
“Maybe they’re harvesting tonight?”
The light ahead of us began to brighten, going from a soft reflective glow to something more defining. The cornfields around us began to have shadow and definition.
Suddenly, the light was gone, as if a switch was turned off and the night was silent.
“That was weird…”
As he said the words, a pinpoint of light lifted from the horizon before us. Lifted, levitated, it seemed to hover. Colors shimmered around it, reflective and translucent. The dash lights of our car began to flicker as the engined sputtered, finally turning dark, leaving us only with a focus of that single point of light.
“Are you seeing this?”
His voice was awed, seemingly unaware of the car’s failure. I noticed the death of our engine, but the ball of light was more important. It engaged me. It wanted me to step from the car, to stand amongst the stalks.
I found myself standing in the middle of the road, my husband’s hand in mine, not knowing how it was I got there.
The circle of light lifted higher, a rainbow of color trailing behind it.
Without warning, the light shot skyward. At its pinnacle, the glowing orb seemed to hit a barrier, crashing through our atmosphere like a pebble hitting a still pond; waves of rainbow energy radiated outward. Light filled the sky, the colors streaked as if a paint brush stroked the heavens, floated outward from the pressure wave.
I had never seen the Aurora Borealis, the shades of blues and purples and greens, but I felt that I was witnessing its glory.
Swirling and twisting, the colors became a dome over us, the light descending, melting through me and my vision, until I could hold the color in my hands.
As the color swirled behind my eyes, I lost all sensation of pain. I was filled with beauty and wonder. My skin glowed, my husband glowed. I felt divinely connected to something more, something greater than me. My body relaxed into oneness and I understood how hard it was to exist in a human body, how much work it took being alive.
I don’t know how long I relaxed into the light, how long I stood in the middle of the road holding my husband’s hand, tranquil and at peace, when my hip let out an internal cry.
My hand ripped itself from his, clutching at my leg. My ankle, my shoulder, my back, they were all talking to me, burning and throbbing. How, for just those moments, however long those moments were, had I forgotten? How had my body misplaced the pain of living?
“Well that was weird…” I began, turning to my husband. Still he looked up at the sky, his mouth slightly slack and his eyes unfocused. “Hey,” I said, rubbing his arm. “Are you okay?”
He didn’t respond to me and his eyes seemed to be glowing with color. Color that swirled as if a reflection, but the sky was clear, there were no lights, no variations, only the stars stood out brilliantly against the blackness.
His eyes emanated color as if from the inside. Light flickered from his nose with every breath, there was luminosity in his ears. Even light escaped from his slightly open mouth. Under his skin, he seemed to glow.
He didn’t respond to my voice, so gently I moved my husband back to the car, helping him to sit, putting his feet into the passenger side. When I went around to the driver’s side, the key still in the ignition, the car started easily.
“We’re maybe 30 minutes to town, just hold on in there, I’m going to take you to the hospital.”
He didn’t respond within his world, wherever he was. His eyes swirled with unfocused radiance.
We came to the end of the cornfield, to plowed open land. Clusters of rabbits stood looking up at the sky. Beyond them was a pack of coyotes. The coyotes stood silent, their muzzles pointed at the stars. There was one however, it seemed to have a broken leg, that limped around the others, sniffing them.
“Pain,” I said quietly. “The poor coyote is in pain.”
As we drove closer to town, I began to notice more cars parked in the middle of the lanes and along the sides of the road. We came to the bridge that marked the town boundary; it was impassable with people, lined up and hypnotized by something I could no longer see.
I parked our car along the edge of the road and carefully helped my husband out. The hospital was only a few miles from here, I could guide him there.
As we crossed the river, weaving in and out of these empty bodies, the water itself seemed to reflect swirling light, as if it had absorbed the phosphoresce.
In the distance, I heard weeping. I left my husband standing amongst the others and tried to find the small little cries.
Curled up against the edge of the bridge was a little girl, her brown pigtails curled up on top of her head. She wore a thick purple cast on her arm.
“Hi,” I said quietly.
“I want my mommy and daddy!”
“I know, can I help you find them?”
“They’re right there, but they won’t talk to me.” She began to sob now and I saw a few of the women on the bridge move, tiny movement, as if the child’s tears was awakening something within them.
The girl pointed to a man and a woman, holding hands and staring at the sky.
“I see your cast,” I said to the girl. “It’s pretty. Did you break your arm?”
The little girl nodded, “I fell out of a tree.”
“Does it hurt?” I asked.
“It hurts and I want my mommy. And I’m hungry. And I have to go potty.”
With that last statement, the child let out a wail. A few more women began to move, as if struggling to wake from a dream.
“I have an idea,” I said to the little girl. “I’ll be right back, I promise.”
I made my way back to my husband.
“I’m sorry sweetie, if you can hear me, but I have to give this I try.”
And then I raised my hand and I slapped him.
The rainbows took a moment to melt away, but his eyes cleared.
“What the hell? Did you just hit me?”
He looked around at the people on the bridge, confused. I smiled as he rubbed his cheek, gave him a quick kiss, and returned to the little girl, still sniffling.
“I think your parents will wake up if we can make them feel something that hurts. But I don’t want to hurt them.”
“I had a sticker in my shoe once, it hurt,” said the child.
“That’s a great idea. It may take a little longer for them to wake up… can you help me collect some sharp rocks?”
The little girl and I began to gather rocks from the roadway, slipping them into the space of her parent’s shoes, where the rocks would press against the tender flesh.
My husband was once again staring at the sky, his eyes radiating a gentle glow of color. Apparently I hadn’t hit him hard enough and he was back in his bliss. I found a particularly sharp rock and placed it against his ankle bone, making sure the shoe applied pressure.
The awakening was slow. Eyes cleared and then eyes returned to rainbow translucence. It was a cycle of pain and awareness, a cycle of disappearing into tranquility.
When the aliens came, they did not come in fancy ships or human form. They came as bliss and joy and beauty. They came to distract us. But they did not know pain.
The pain took the rainbows away.
The hypnosis spread like a virus, circling the globe in a matter of days. All one needed to do is look in the swirling colors behind the iris of the infected and the light awoke in them.
There were deaths, although not as many as you might imagine. The lights in the sky made vehicles inoperable for only those few minutes. Crashes were avoided simply by the refusal of machines to operate. The radiating light encompassed only a small area of sky, and whether it was luck or divine planning, no aircrafts were flying in the waves of tranquility.
Some pilots reported no fly zones in the area and others reported aircrafts refusing to start. The aliens, if that is what we saw, wanted to survive. Crashing would kill the host.
The body could not stay in this state forever, it is too strong for that; but many did slip in and out of consciousness over time. There were those that stood in the glory of the color until the sun began to burn their skin. Hunger becomes pain in time, bladders become full, muscles begin to cramp, discomfort grows.
Most people have some sense of pain now. There are bracelets that give a steady mild shock, enough sensation to keep from disappearing into the light. On the opposite side, the development of pain management has grown and many choose to sleep in the radiance of the light, the removal of discomfort has become a sedative.
It has become a drug in a sense, a place to escape from the sadnesses of the world. For those living in chronic distress, new medications allow pain to dissolve and thus, the user to disappear into a few hours of bliss.
I tend to overlook my pain these days. When the aliens came, we expected them to come in ships and bodies. We did not know if they would be friend or foe, if they would bring with them wisdom or destruction. Never did we anticipate that they could teach us that on somedays, our pain can be a gift. Pain is the tether the connects us to this body and I am not ready to let this body go.
This Week’s Prompt – The Light
An alien in disguise among humans
Include: Aurora Borealis, paint brush, corn field, cluster, lineup, overlook, suspect, bridge, dome, dash
Several years ago, my husband, daughter, and I were driving to see my parents who live in the Sierra Nevada foothills, away from light pollution and having minimal neighbors. The skies above their home is considered military airspace. (This is not as unusual as many might suspect. I’ve included a link to military airspace over the United States.) Military airspace is used in training and support of military mission and requires different permissions for general aviators.
It was late at night, around 11 pm, and as we drove up their road, we noticed a glow of light softly lighting up the base of mountains in front of us. From our distance, the light must have covered several miles and couldn’t have been from a small source.
I thought there was fire. The glow was broad and yellow and stretched along the base of the mountains from East to West. I don’t remember seeing it turn on, it was more that it gradually became apparent.
We were all discussing the light and where it could be coming from when it abruptly turned off and a small ball of light shot directly up into the sky. The light stopped and hovered over the mountains before shooting to the right, crossing a huge distance and hovering over a different set of mountains. The light then dropped low, out of our site, before shooting up again and disappearing.
My husband was a pilot for the USAF at the time and he had never seen anything move like this. I certainly hadn’t either. We arrived at my parent’s home within minutes and were excitedly reliving for them what we had seen. At first, they assumed we were playing a trick on them. We weren’t. All three of us had experienced this object and none of us had an explanation.
I don’t know what it is we saw. Being military airspace, perhaps we witnessed an aircraft with amazing speed and maneuverability. Perhaps we were in the right place at the right time to experience alien technology. Whatever it was, it impacted my view around life outside our current existence.
I didn’t want to write a standard alien story, they have been done well and trying to rewrite one feels like reinventing the wheel. So I began to consider an unlikely alien living within our midst.
I live with chronic pain, and while I often have it under control, there are times that I have flare ups. I’m in one right now which made this idea closer to my thinking. It also made writing this week exceptionally difficult and I wanted to quit this story more than once.
What if pain itself were the alien. Or a virus. Viruses themselves seem to be perfect possibilities within the realm of an alien living and hiding among us. Viruses are often stealthy and can present differently in different people.
Looking at what we know (or don’t know) now about Covid, and long Covid specifically, we can see the different presentation in different populations of people. What if my pain were actually a defense against the virus in the story. What if my active pain receptors kept an alien virus at bay?
I can’t really find a happy ending here; living with pain really isn’t a happy ending for anyone.
Special thanks to my daughter for the drawing of the girl with the rainbows in her eyes. Please follow her on Instagram @isobell.dohn.art
If you liked this story, please share it. I send out a newsletter every Friday, you can sign up here.
I am also working on a new art website, coming soon to www.loscotoffart.com
The topmost image of the eye was a happy accident I created while painting. The paint had a mind of its own and the image lives only in photographs. The paint soon morphed into a Rainbow Heart.
Next Week’s Prompt
Week 20 – A young child makes a discovery
Include: Superman, ginkgo biloba, cavern, clicker, aloe, moviegoer, stretch, fury, yardstick, makeup
Isobell Dohn artwork on Instagram
My 52 Week Journey
What is the 52 Week Short Story Challenge
Week 17 – The Dilemma of Purpose
4 Replies to “The Light | A Short Story”
Wow! I’m super impressed by your ability to take your pain and turn it into this original alien story. You did a fantastic job of describing what it’s like to live with chronic pain. “My right hip was not quiet.” Pain does indeed speak, often quite loudly.
I really liked the imagery of the bracelets to keep people feeling pain so they don’t disappear into the light. It was such a good detail I could see happening.
It’s interesting you are playing with the idea of “don’t go into the light” of death. Because if you surrender to this alien bliss you will die.
Your last line is so incredibly powerful! I’m going to send this to a few people I know with chronic pain and I imagine it will speak deeply to them.
Hi Bridgette! Thank you for taking the time to see so much of what I was trying to say. It was a battle for me to consider why, if you were in such pain, you wouldn’t just want to give over to this lovely existence. But then I thought, only those in pain would be left to see the others wither away. What is life, children, experience, what are these worth to us? Most of us are willing to work through chronic pain to feel to joy of the beautiful moments.
I really like this angle on chronic pain keeping us tethered to life.
Thank you Ali, for taking the time to read this and commenting. I think of all the tethers we have–love, family, children, etc–and these tethers are beautiful ones. But it seems the times we are most in our bodies (and honestly, when it becomes too much, outside of our bodies) is when there is a discomfort or pain making us aware. We would never desire change or growth is everything was always perfect. Thank you again for taking the time to read my story.