The man zipped up his jacket and pulled on its hood. It was a cold night, and he was sleepy, but he told himself every year that he would watch the annual Perseid meteor shower. This was the year he finally stayed up for it.
It was just midnight, and he was setting up a lawn chair in the backyard, adjusting it to lean back as far as it would go. The shower was supposed to peak at around one in the morning, but he wanted to give his eyes enough time to adjust to the darkness. A small table at his side held a glass of fine Irish whiskey to help keep him warm on this unusually chilly August night. He sat down, placed a pair of earbuds in his ears, turned on some Charlie Parker, and leaned back to wait.
The hour passed slowly and quietly. Parker's sax wove melodic patterns around the harmonies and rhythms played by his band, and the man's thoughts traced patterns in parallel. He kept his eyes trained in the direction where the meteors were supposed to originate. The night was clear, the moon just a sliver, and he could discern the subtle differences in color between the stars. Betelgeuse, on Orion's left shoulder glowed an angry orange.
He didn't realize his eyes were closing until they jerked open. He willed them to focus and checked his watch. One-twenty AM. He scanned the sky, north to south, east to west. Nothing but a cloudless black sky, filled with innumerable pinpoints, none of them moving.
He sighed and resigned himself to going to bed without seeing the meteors again this year. Perhaps he had the night or the time wrong, or perhaps he was in the wrong location for it. Whatever the problem, he was sleepy, and enough was enough.
His cold joints creaked as he began to push himself up out of the lawn chair, and a flash on the edge of his vision caught his attention. He looked up again, and another light zipped across the sky, tracing a short, light green arc. A third came, from approximately the same location, headed in approximately the same direction. Then more came. He had read that he could expect to see one or two a minute at the peak, but they started shooting across the sky at a rate of one every few seconds. The arcs grew longer, stretching from near the zenith further and further down the vault of the sky. And faintly, at the edge of what could be heard, a high-pitched whistling. That wasn't possible, was it? That he was hearing these space rocks as they sliced through the atmosphere? Of course not. The vast majority of meteors in a shower were no larger than a grain of sand and burned up completely high above the earth.
The shower slowed, and the trails shooting across the sky occurred less and less frequently. When five minutes passed since the last meteor he saw, the man once again leaned forward in his chair and stood up. He smiled, having finally satisfied his long-held wish. He could now go to bed and get up in the morning with a story to tell his coworkers. Or perhaps he would just keep it to himself. He mused about the possibilities as he walked toward the back door of his house.
Casting one last look up at the sky, he managed to catch one more streak of light. The color was slightly different than the previous traces: whiter than the others, not green at all. The track it followed differed as well. And it trailed longer and further. The trail reached down, lower to the ground, and seemed to grow in size and intensity. He could hear it now. Standing motionless in his backyard, staring at this streak of light, he could hear the same whistling sound he was unsure about just a few minutes earlier. But it was clearer and growing louder. The sound was piercing, and the man started feeling it like needles being pushed into his ears. He raised his hands to cover them when he was jolted by a much deeper sound, an explosive thud which thundered percussively through his bones.
The whistling sound was gone, but the man felt like a shock wave had passed through him. He pulled a deep breath in through his nose, and that was when the new and pungent smell struck him. There was the ozone smell of burnt out electronics, and something else burning, something which, if he had to put a name to it, smelled like brimstone.
He looked about him, and when he saw the smoking hole in the ground in his backyard, he was simultaneously shocked by the unlikelihood of having a meteorite strike so close to him and relieved that it had not hit his house.
He stepped closer to the hole, and in the quiet which had once again taken hold of the night, coming from within it, he heard the low but distinct sounds of beeping and the whirring of gears.