From the author: Anne has a strange feeling the mysterious lights in the sky have something to do with the number six she keeps seeing everywhere.
Based on a true story…
No amount of squeezing my ordinary mind grapes could’ve prepared me for the day after I saw the strange lights. Or that they’d change my life forever.
“Anne!” Mr. Gariboll snapped and pointed at the lunch line with a raised eyebrow.
Like a good little student, I shuffled into place, one of my middle fingers planted inside my pocket with its message aimed at him. What a tool. How many times did I have to explain I’d brought my lunch from home inside the brown bag I carried in plain sight? No lunch line needed.
High school was good for one thing—teaching me what our cattle must’ve felt like on the farm. Sorry, cows.
The lunch line crawled along while I stared at the hairy mole on the back of Zachary Dormison’s neck. The hair curled into the number six over his shirt collar when he moved. Any appetite I might’ve had vanished. But I tried to blank it all out—the squelch of macaroni salad splatting onto the trays, the slamming noise as the friendly cafeteria ladies shoved them across the counter to hungry students, that the number six kept haunting my day—so I could focus on what I desperately needed to tell my best friend, Becky. It was major, like way beyond anything my text to her this morning could do justice. Just thinking about it spiked my heartbeat.
After leaving Zachary and his mole, I speed-walked—nope, crept along on my tiptoes under Mr. Gariboll’s scowl—to our table. Finally!
“How did you do on your English test?” Becky asked as soon as I sat down.
I blinked. “No.”
“No?” She frowned as she dug into her hamburger with her elbows propped on the table.
“I don’t want to talk about that.”
Her green eyes narrowed, scrunching up the freckles scattered across her nose. “So you… failed?”
I heaved a breath, reprogramming my brain to dismiss the question so we could focus on more important things. Becky was a bit of a whip-snapper when it came to grades. Everyone’s grades, even the dust bunnies that lived on the windowsill behind her. It might’ve been annoying if I hadn’t needed a kick in the head every once in a while to make me actually care. No way I’d repeat sophomore year.
“My English test was the greatest English test. I have the best English tests. Okay?” I’d probably squeaked by with a C minus at best. “Now sit back and relax, Bex, because do I have a story for you.”
She wiped her mouth with a paper napkin and adjusted a lock of auburn hair behind her ear. “Is this about the lights in the sky you thought you saw?”
A giant horned beast slammed into our table. Wait, no, just my little brother’s tuba case, but I yelped anyway.
“Sorry, sorry.” He placed it underneath the window and then held out his hands as if to ward off the stares and smirks of the nearby tables. “I’m sorry, everyone! Go on about your business. Nothing to see here.”
My brother, the clueless pain in my ass since his birth.
“Lewis,” I hissed.
“Sissydoodles,” he hissed back. His dark hair flopped over one side of his face, and the weird triangle on his necklace swung free of his flannel collar when he plopped down next to me.
Typical sisters would slither away from their brothers in the high school cafeteria, but my rank on the social totem pole couldn’t be any lower. Besides, if he wasn’t right next to me, he was usually a bully favorite. I sucked at a lot of things, but being a big sister wasn’t one of them. Still, I didn’t have to like him, either.
“Why didn’t you park your instrument in the band room like a normal person?” I asked.
“Because I don’t worship Mrs. Berkins.” He swiped a French fry off Becky’s tray with a wink.
Becky blushed. She’d been doing that a lot lately whenever Lewis was around. I wanted to think she was allergic, but I had my doubts.
“Mrs. Berkins wanted me to come by after band class for a chitchat—her words—and I refused,” Lewis said.
I shook my head. “How is talking to her the same as worshipping her?”
“Well, apparently you don’t know Mrs. Berkins.” He shoved the fry into his mouth.
He was right, because I took choir and sat in the back row with all the other note manglers. Lewis mastered everything he touched thanks to his extraordinary brain. He’d skipped fourth grade and could’ve easily skipped several more but didn’t for his “social well-being,” which is how he wound up a really immature freshman. My family joked—actually, I joked and no one else listened—that I’d donated my brain to him, settling instead on ordinary mind grapes. I made him pay for that donation every day by making him do a lot of my farm chores.
I sighed and glanced at the clock above the window. “Okay, well, go get your food.”
“I will, but I gotta rest first.” He plucked two more fries off Becky’s tray, a lopsided smile on his face. “Is it okay that I’m eating your cold fries, Bex? They taste raw anyways.”
She hid her grin and half of her reddening cheeks with her napkin. “I’m more interested in Sissydoodle’s story.”
I unpacked my lunch bag, a fake, tight smile on my face. The truth was I didn’t care about silly nicknames, especially that one, since that was how Lewis used to say goodbye to me when he was little. I’d been the only person he’d given a special name. It was stupid, but I liked it, and I’d milk a thousand cows on a winter day before I ever admitted that out loud.
Lewis snorted. “Oh, good. Another story.”
“Laugh it up, buttercups.” I tore into the cellophane on my peanut butter crackers. This was my lunch every day because I was trying to watch my weight. Not for some spazzy high school boy, but for me. I’d also packed an apple in case I suddenly discovered I liked apples.
“Wait, is this the same story you told over breakfast this morning?” Lewis asked.
I nibbled my cracker. “Uh-huh.”
“Run, Becky!” Lewis shouted. “Run while you still can!”
The entire cafeteria went quiet. Heads swiveled. Judgmental stares pricked up my scalp. Laughter bubbled up around us.
I sat back in my chair and stared out the window behind Becky. How much time would I get if I murdered my own brother? Surely the judge and jury would take pity on me. I could plead insanity like they did on TV and blame Lewis for causing it. Becky could be my witness. Just because I loved my little brother didn’t mean I had to, you know, keep him alive.
I kicked him underneath the table. “Can you not put so much cocaine on your waffles in the morning?”
He doubled over the table to grab his leg, his face pinched as if I’d actually hurt him. “Can you not? Can you just not do that?”
“No.” I fished out another cracker and pointed it at him. “Next time I will hurt you, and there will be blood.”
He sat upright and clasped his hands in prayer with his head bowed. This kid was nuts.
Becky ticked her gaze to the tables around us, most of which were ignoring us again, her freckled cheeks now beet red because we’d been the center of attention for a second. Normally she hated that, but with Lewis, it was an everyday thing. Since school had started a little over a month ago, I was pretty sure she was starting to see that. And liked it. Maybe she could plead insanity too.
“Well, now I’m really curious,” she said. “Tell me about the lights in the sky you thought you saw.”
“I didn’t think I saw them,” I said. “I know I saw them.”
“Here we go,” Lewis murmured, still “praying.”
“I was lying in my bed—”
“Not an appropriate image for school,” he said.
I flashed out my hand and dug my fingernails into his arm like Mom did when he bugged the hell out of her too. “Just lying there in the dark, waiting for sleep, when a white light appeared outside my window. It came closer and closer, and it got bigger and bigger, and then…”
Becky leaned forward, her green eyes bright. “Then what?”
“I don’t know.” I took a bite of my peanut butter cracker and chewed thoughtfully. “I pinched my arm to see if I was dreaming, and I wasn’t.”
“Huh.” She propped her elbows on the table and rested her chin on her clasped fingers, studying me like one of the mysteries she always read. “Is that it?”
“No. The light zipped through the air like a balloon losing its helium. Then it was gone. After that, I think I must’ve blacked out or fell asleep. Or something.”
“What do you think it was?” Becky asked.
Lewis took my hand from his arm. “Headlights.”
“We live out in the middle of nowhere.”
“Airplanes don’t act like that.”
“No, Lewis. It didn’t look like that.”
“You know what I saw, Lewis Chester Rhodes,” I snapped.
He dropped his prayer hands in his lap and fell quiet, but there was a skeptical twist on his mouth.
“UFO,” Becky whispered, her eyes wide.
“Do you believe me?” I pleaded.
She shrugged. “I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time this kind of thing happened, right?”
“To me? Yes.” I leaned toward her. “But you believe me?”
“I believe you saw something, yes.” She glanced at Lewis.
“Way to play it vague, Bex,” he said, igniting her blush all over again. “I’m not denying aliens exist, but why would they come here? Not to seek intelligent life, that’s for sure. Have you seen the state of the world lately?”
“Yes, Lewis News Channel Ten.” I sighed. “Thanks for that report.”
“And, no offense, Sissydoodles, but why your window? Why not Becky’s?”
Becky frowned. “My bedroom’s in the basement.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe it was just a random visit, but…”
“You don’t think so?” Becky asked.
I ran my thumb along the ridges of my next cracker while I moved my tongue over my next words, not liking how they tasted. “I’ve seen other things, too, but I hadn’t realized it until late this morning. It…it’s weird. I’m pretty sure the aliens or the universe is trying to tell me something.”
Lewis and Becky stared at me so long, stunned into silence, I wondered if I’d actually said anything at all.
“What?” Becky finally asked, more of an exhale than a word.
I gulped down the cracker in my desert throat. “Six. The number six. I’ve seen it everywhere. I woke up at 6:06 a.m. My math quiz had six questions on it. My grade in English is a 66 percent. I have six crackers for lunch. Zachary’s mole hair is shaped like the number six.”
Lewis covered his mouth and fake-gagged. “Let’s pretend you didn’t say that last part. Sissydoodles, you’re talking like a crazy person.”
I scowled at him. “For real? I’m the crazy one?”
“No, wait.” Becky sat back in her chair and crossed her arms. “I’ve heard of this, where people see the same number over and over. It’s called…”
“Master numbers.” Lewis shrugged. “I read books. Some of them are about numbers.”
Becky’s eyes widened. “Angel numbers! My aunt swears she sees 314 everywhere, which also happens to be her birthday. She’s big into numerology.”
Lewis made his skeptical face again. “Whatever you call them, all it means is you’re looking for that number, so if you’re looking for it, you’re going to see it. If I tape an extra finger to my hand, guess what? I’ll have six fingers. If I put two pairs of glasses on, guess what? I’ll have six eyes.”
Becky shook her head at him. “No, you won’t.”
“Right.” He snapped his fingers at her with a smile but kept his gaze on me. “My point is it’s dumb. You see six because you want to. You see lights outside your window because you want to.”
“I don’t want to,” I said. “Why would I want to?”
I snorted. “When have I ever made anything as detailed as this up? Besides, you know what I do when I get bored.”
“You walk,” Becky said.
I nodded, happy to have someone who knew me better than my own brother.
Becky raised her eyebrows at Lewis. “She’s right. It isn’t her style to make stuff up.”
He threw his hands in the air. “Then you’re trying to get attention. I don’t know.”
“Trying to get…” I couldn’t believe he’d said that. Me. Making up stories with numbers and lights when he was the attention seeker. I zeroed in on him with my big sister I-will-cut-you eyes like I always did when I’d had enough, until he sagged back into his chair, unnaturally quiet. “Go get your lunch, Lewis.”
He shoved to his feet and swayed as if he wasn’t sure if he should say anything else. Finally, he turned and dragged himself to the end of the lunch line, his frown as droopy as his slouch.
“It’s selfish to think we’re all alone in the universe,” Becky said, staring after him with googly eyes. “It’s about time the aliens got here.”
“Unless they’re the violent kind.” I shifted my chair, blocking her view of my brother. Someday I’d make her admit her weird crush, but today was not that day. I barely had the stomach to see it, never mind hearing about it.
She looked at me and shook herself, all innocence once again. “Yeah. Unless they’re the violent kind.”
The sixes wouldn’t end. The rest of the day, it was like neon lights strobed the number in a dizzying pattern on the floor tiles, swimming up through the bottoms of my feet and burning out my eyes.
My ears too. Even sounds had taken up the number as their very favorite. Mr. Gariboll knocked six times at Ms. Stevens’s door. The speaker during end-of-day announcements had squawked six times. Lockers slammed closed in groups of six, one right after the other, and then a long pause until six others closed.
It was like someone was trying to tell me something. Maybe a warning. Worry sank deep into my chest on the bus ride home. It was kind of stupid since I didn’t even know if the lights and sixes were related, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were. Whatever those things meant, I was sure it wasn’t good.
Lewis sat next to me, his tuba case bumping my knee every time the bus bounced over the dirt road toward our farm. He was quiet, likely because he thought I was still mad at him. I let him think that. Unlike Mom and Dad, my world didn’t revolve around him, but he could go on thinking it did if it shut him up.
A flash of movement outside the window caught my eye. The old burned-down church stood in ruins like an overcooked skeleton. I searched the caved-in boards and stones for what I’d seen, but only a family of tumbleweeds rolled past. That hadn’t been what had moved, though. Whatever it was had been red or black, maybe a mix of the two. And it had come from inside.
Surely someone wasn’t dumb enough to go exploring twenty-five miles from the nearest town in a burned-out church that could crush them if they breathed wrong. Right? But what if someone was lurking inside, just two miles from our house? My brain sparked with movies I’d seen of frothing dogs and men with knives, but I shut that down real quick. I didn’t make up stories unless they actually happened, which made them fact. I’d seen some tumbleweeds. End of non-story.
Still, when the bus squealed to a stop in front of our farmhouse, I was anxious to put as many locked doors between me and outside as possible.
I shoved at the tuba case. “Go, Lewis.”
“That’s what I’m doing,” he hissed, squirming his legs into the aisle so he could stand. “You know it’s not easy with this thing.” He pushed the tuba case in front of him, and if anyone but the driver had still been sitting on the bus, stray elbows or heads would’ve been pummeled.
Death by tuba case.
“See you tomorrow, Rick,” the driver called to us when we stepped off.
No idea who he was talking to since neither of us were named Rick. We waved and then started off toward the barn for our chores.
The fall wind ruffled my hair, prickling goosebumps up my scalp. I turned toward the burned-out church, but I couldn’t see it, not from this distance over the rustling corn. The sun was already dipping down behind it, lengthening the shadows from the field.
Something was very wrong. It was just a feeling, like a tight squeeze around my heart. But there weren’t any sixes or lights to make it do that. It just happened. Kind of like Lewis.
He dropped his tuba case inside the barn just a few yards ahead, and I jumped, snapping out of my thoughts. Mom and Dad made him practice in the barn for obvious reasons, so he stored it there. I followed him inside and kept my ears and eyes peeled for any sixes.
Surprisingly, none came.
A thud outside my window bolted me upright in bed. I stared through my open blinds, but it was too dark to see anything. It’d sounded like maybe it’d come from the barn, like the doors had blown open, as they often did in the Kansas wind. I glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand. 12:06 a.m.
I gulped, the inside of my mouth tasting like cotton. It would be ridiculous to go out there after everything I’d convinced myself of, but I didn’t want to wake either of my parents for something so simple either. The door needed to be shut so none of the animals accidentally got out. Not exactly brain science to solve that problem. Besides, I was awake.
After I untwisted myself from my blankets, I tiptoed to my bedroom door, then out into the hallway. And then had a freaking heart attack. Lewis stood outside his door next to mine, his dark eyes huge in the glow of the bathroom light we always left on.
“Why are you just standing there, freak?” I hissed.
“I heard a noise,” he whispered. “I think it was the barn door.”
“Go shut it, then.”
“I was listening for it to keep banging, but…” He shook his head.
He was right. Usually it kept banging against the side of the barn, but this time it had banged once. Not six times. Once. As if someone had opened it, lost their grip in the wind, and then quietly closed it again.
“I’ll give you five bucks if you go do it,” he said.
I rolled my eyes. “Sac up, doll face. You go do it.”
“Fine.” He started for the stairs.
I zipped my gaze to Mom and Dad’s bedroom at the end of the hallway. Maybe one of them was out there checking on Lady Jessica, our pregnant mare. I hurried to their door and peeked in, but both of them were out cold. So I ran downstairs after Lewis.
The pinching feeling around my heart was back, squeezing tighter by the second. The front door clicked softly closed, and I leaped the last six steps. Lewis shouldn’t be out there. Not without me to protect him. From what, I didn’t know, but whatever it was made me feel sick.
I jammed on a pair of shoes by the door and then threw it open. Wind blasted inside and tossed my hair around my head. I barreled into it, closing the door behind me, not able to see anything until I raked my hair out of my way.
Lewis bent into the wind on his way to the barn. The barn with a closed door. Either that hadn’t been the sound we’d heard, or someone really had opened it, closed it again, and was inside. Maybe the same person I thought I’d seen in the burned-down church.
I raced after Lewis, determined to get there before he did. He must’ve heard my footsteps crashing toward him over the howling wind because he turned, a giant question mark on his face.
“Go back in. I got this,” I said, breathless, and passed him. Pretty sure I didn’t have this.
I skidded to a stop outside the barn door, my ears burning for a sound that would explain what we’d both heard. Because I didn’t want to go in there to check around. Not by myself. But not with Lewis either.
He stepped up next to me, hugging his arms around his skinny body, squinting as the wind whipped around us. He listened about as well as I did. At least with him next to me, I could keep an eye on him or tell him to run to Mom and Dad if needed. He glanced at me, a worried pucker digging between his eyebrows, likely thinking the same thing I was—why was the barn door closed if we’d heard it slam open?
I lifted the lever and opened it. Lewis rushed inside and to the right to flip the lights on. I latched the door behind us and whirled around to face the barn. Inside were normal barn things—hay, dirt, poop, and animals.
All good things, but not under flickering overhead lights. They blinked on and off, swallowing the barn in complete darkness before sputtering back on again. I dove for the large flashlight on top of an old tree stump just inside the door. Lewis tripped over his tuba case in his hurry to get by my side. I flicked on the flashlight, which blinked in the same rhythm as the overhead lights. Steady, unlike my heartbeat knocking against my ribs.
I didn’t know what was happening, but we needed out of here. Now.
With the flashlight shaking in my hand, I lifted it toward Lewis’s face. His eyes widened as he seemed to read my face, and he gulped so loud I heard it over the wind.
A thud sounded at the back of the barn. Loud. Wood against wood. In quick bursts of six and then a pause.
Lewis gasped. I gripped his hand and backed us into the door, shining the sputtering flashlight in front of us. Shadows bounced, creating movement where I didn’t think there was any. Still, we were out of here.
I lifted the lever on the door with my flashlight hand and squeezed Lewis’s with my other one. We rushed outside, closed the door, and then ran toward the house.
The wind rushed us, slowing our steps, blinding me with my hair. I couldn’t see anything—the flashlight had died, along with every other light in the house. The generator would kick in if the lights didn’t. Any minute now.
I dropped the useless flashlight so I could hold the hair out of my face. A tug at my arm stopped my slog toward the dark shape of our house. Lewis stood still, staring down the side of the barn toward the swaying cornfield. His mouth moved, but I couldn’t hear a thing.
“Lewis!” I shook his arm until he looked at me.
And then I wished I hadn’t. His face was ghost-white, and he trembled so hard, tears leaked from his eyes.
A sinking, horrible feeling shoved down to my toes because I didn’t know what was wrong. All I knew was that something was, and I hated it. Hated that my baby brother was scared almost to death by the looks of him.
His watery gaze lifted above my head, and his mouth popped open in what might’ve been a scream if I’d let him stick around.
I released his hand and pushed him. “Run!”
Without seeing which way he went, I did what I usually did when bullies attacked Lewis. I pretended I was a knight and sworn to protect him, like I’d done ever since we were little. I whirled around with an upper cut. But my knuckles met empty air.
What had Lewis seen? More importantly, where had he gone?
“Lewis!” I screamed, but the wind sliced his name up like confetti.
With the clouds tumbling across the moon, I couldn’t see jack. I clawed my hair out of my face, searching while I backed up to the front porch. He would’ve gone inside if he’d been able, so I ran up the steps and opened the front door.
At the same time it clicked open, a faint shout sounded behind me and to the right. In the direction of the cornfield. If he was in there, I might never find him in the dark.
Panic burst into my throat as I leaped off the porch and sprinted toward the field. “Lewis!”
As I raced past the barn, the thudding from inside continued in counts of six. No way he’d gone back into the barn. Still, the thought was enough to slow my steps before I exploded into the corn. Past what was happening just behind the barn to my right.
I didn’t know what was happening. The scene there shriveled my mind grapes enough to blank all thought. Lewis stood behind the barn. Looming over him was a wiry thin…I didn’t know what. It was so white, the color screamed at the night around it. It had impossibly long legs, arms, and fingers—two fingers on each hand. Those curled on top of Lewis’s head, digging deeper. Like it wanted to tear out his extraordinary brain.
“Hey!” I shouted. The shock in my voice chopped it through the wind and bounced it against the back of the barn.
The thing whipped around, dropping its hold on Lewis, and stared.
I shuddered so hard I stumbled backward a few steps. The thing had nothing else on its face except eyes. Nightmare black against the white of its body.
It turned back to Lewis and lunged. He screamed.
This thing—this thing was not from here. It had come, maybe with the lights, or maybe it was the light, from somewhere else, not to search inside my window, but in Lewis’s. It wanted him. Or at least his brain.
But that wasn’t going to happen on my watch. Big sister didn’t play.
I leaped toward it, even as my skin itched to run away. A war cry rose up from my belly and tore from my mouth.
I barreled into it, sending it sideways away from Lewis. But it had latched onto his arm and pulled him with it. They crashed to the ground with Lewis on top. I kicked, sank to my knees, and punched everything white and not covered in flannel pajamas. Lewis scrambled free, but the thing caught him by the ankle and twisted.
Cracking bone rolled my stomach into a tailspin. That was nothing compared to the rage boiling to my fists, though.
Lewis went as pale as the alien and flopped to his side in the dirt, stretching his hands toward his unnaturally bent ankle, his mouth stretched into a pained O.
It lunged toward him again. Another war cry peeled off my tongue as I followed it. My punches dug into rubbery flesh around its face. I caught it in one of its eyes, and it stared, dazed. So, I did it again, this time in another eye.
It had six eyes scattered across its face as dark as the space between stars.
When I reeled my fist back to strike a third eye, it jumped into a crouch and then ran on its arms and legs into the cornfield.
I blinked at the spot where it had disappeared for only a second, then bolted to Lewis’s side. He clung to me so tight I almost couldn’t breathe, eerily silent, even though I knew he wanted to scream in pain. Deep shudders jumped through his bones and made his tears fall harder.
“Shhh,” I whispered into his ear and squeezed him tighter.
I had to get him to the house, but with him hurt, that would be a chore. And what if there was more than one of those things out there? But maybe there wasn’t. Maybe there was only one, and the six warning had to do with its eyes. It had seemed like it hadn’t wanted me to hit it in its third eye, but what if I had? What would’ve happened if I’d hit him in all six of them?
“Lewis.” I leaned away to wipe the tears from his cheeks. “I can’t carry you. You’re going to have to lean on me, okay?”
He nodded, shivering so much his head sprang about like a bobblehead.
As gently as I could, I hauled us both to our feet, Lewis’s arm around my shoulders and mine around his waist. Side-eyeing the cornfield, I led us back around the side of the barn with Lewis hopping along slowly beside me. The warning bangs in sixes followed behind, drowning out every sound except the howling wind. I craned my neck around since I wouldn’t hear anything creep up behind us over this racket.
The hairs along my scalp lifted. The cornstalks over my shoulder waved and bowed, ushering us farther, and nightmare eyes lurking inside them made me haul balls as fast as we could go.
Just as we reached the front of the barn, the doors banged open. Lewis and I jumped back, my heart now permanently housed in my throat.
We slipped backward toward the porch of our house, our gazes stuck to the inside of the midnight-black barn. Something was moving in there, shadows sliding against shadows, not a glow stick alien, but something darker. The warning bangs in sixes had stopped.
I turned my head to see how far we had left to go, only a split second. Enough time for Lewis to be plucked from my arms.
A flash of movement several yards away. The alien, so bright in the darkness, carried Lewis by the collar of his flannel shirt, his arms and legs whipping around the alien’s scrawny frame.
I heaved a choked groan and sprinted after it. My heart broke and sewed itself back up with a trickle of hope that I’d be able to get him back, again and again, but each time that trickle suffered a drought. They raced past the open barn door toward the cornfield.
Out of the barn’s shadows came a hulking, black beast—Lewis’s tuba case. It spun in the air and knocked into the alien and Lewis like an airborne bowling ball. They sprawled to the ground, giving me extra seconds to catch up.
I threw myself on top of the alien, my fists already coiled for attack. The flesh around the two eyes I’d already hit had darkened into throbbing, gooey circles.
Legit gross. Only four more to go.
I let my fists fly. Seconds later, the light inside the alien winked out, leaving a dead glow stick underneath me, and then it vanished.
So not expecting that, I spilled face-first into the ground. Cool blades of grass stabbed my cheek. I stared at my brother, standing in the barn’s warm glow. He must’ve turned the lights on.
I blinked and turned to my brother lying near me with his back facing me while his sobs clenched around my heart and stung my eyes.
Wait. This was my brother.
I leaped to my feet and stared down the imposter inside the barn. But it looked just like Lewis with his red-and-black flannel and jeans, floppy dark hair, and even his weird triangle symbol necklace. The Lewis in the barn was taller, though, with wider shoulders.
“Lewis?” I whispered since tonight’s craziness had punctured my lungs.
“I’m trying to throw them off my tail, Anne, but more might come,” he said. “Not might. They will.”
“Why?” I choked out.
“Because they’re after me, the younger me, because I know how to kill them. They want to erase my existence in the future.” He glanced at the younger Lewis behind me lying on the ground and winced. “I hid out in the old church because I can’t be seen. It could affect the future, so I sent warnings to you through time.”
“The…future?” I swallowed while realization rattled around my mind grapes. “That’s where you’re from.”
He nodded. “You figured out my warning like a pro. I’ll try to warn you again when they get near.” He waved a hand over his shoulder, and door of pure white light opened behind him.
My eyes bugged out of my head. This couldn’t be real.
“You always wanted to be a knight, Anne.” He tipped his chin to his younger self. “Will you be one for him? For me?” He shook his head, his eyes filling with tears. “Because I can’t do this alone.”
“You’re my brother,” I answered with a squeak, and that was all that needed to be said.
He nodded, his shoulders sagging with what was probably relief. “If they find and kill me first, it could mean devastation for humanity. They say they were here first, and they’d like their planet back.”
Geez. So if I couldn’t protect him… No pressure or anything.
He stepped inside the glowing doorway. “Don’t forget my tuba’s still outside. And close the barn doors so Mom and Dad don’t get mad. I, the younger me, just have a broken ankle. I’ll be fine.” He flicked his gaze to mine again, his eyes bright. “I know I’m asking a lot of you for your protection, but I’ll make this up to you, Sissydoodles.”
Something about his tone splashed tears down my cheeks. He sounded like he’d already lost so much. “Darn right you will.”
With a faint smile, both he and the doorway vanished.
I inhaled a deep, shaky breath and stared over my shoulder at Lewis. The other one. I’d always been his protector. Not like I could stop now anyway.
After stashing his tuba case in the barn and dragging the doors closed again against the wind, I led him back to the house, my eyes and ears on alert.
More might come. Not might. They will, future Lewis had said. When? How many? What if I failed to protect him? Devastation for humanity, he’d said. I didn’t have to squeeze very hard to get that message.
Once inside the house, I flicked on the lights. The electricity had kicked back on. I made sure the door was locked by checking it about fifty times while Lewis buried his head in my shoulder, refusing to let go, even though he had to be in so much pain.
“I peed myself,” he whispered.
I moved my lower half away from him, slowly guiding him toward the kitchen so he could sit, and rubbed his back like Mom did when we were sick. “It’s okay.” I gave myself bonus points for not saying ew.
“Were you talking to someone in the barn?”
Lewis had said he couldn’t be seen, or it could affect the future. But what about me? Did my knowing not affect the future? If he couldn’t be seen, then he couldn’t be heard, either, I supposed.
“You saved me,” he said.
I bit down on a sigh, but it was the tired kind more than anything else. It didn’t sound like I was done doing the saving.