At approximately 6:30 AM on a Sunday morning in late September, two brothers, Eugene and Leonard Coleman, were traveling down a country road in an old Buick LeSabre. They were headed away from the small town where they shared an apartment together, and toward the bigger city that the small-towners relied upon for work, utility, and entertainment.
Eugene, the elder brother, was a twenty-four-year-old software engineer who’d been working and doing well for himself for two years since college. He’d always been the type of guy to put his nose down, work hard on whatever was necessary, and keep up with society’s standards. He was smart, disciplined, and stable.
The younger brother, Leonard, was nineteen. Leonard had always struggled more than his brother because he lacked confidence and had a tendency to overthink things. He’d graduated high school the year before, but instead of pursuing further education like his family encouraged him to do, he got a job in a factory because it seemed more appropriate to the level of challenge he was prepared for. He questioned himself too much to have a solid identity, and he questioned the world too much to feel like there was a good place for him in it. He didn’t know what he was he was going to do with his life, and he reacted to this natural roadblock by making the classic mistake of hoping for clarity to come along and give him courage instead of just using some courage to gain clarity.
Leonard had done fairly well at the factory for about a year, but the place laid off all its workers and closed down only a week before. Now, he found himself being dragged to the city on a cold Sunday morning before the sun was even up by his older brother. First, they were going to have breakfast, and then there was going to be shopping, and more importantly, job hunting for Leonard.
“It’s kind of cold in here. Can we turn the heat on?” Leonard asked.
Eugene responded, “There, the heat’s on. I was letting the engine warm up first.” He looked at his younger brother, who was staring out the window at the pastures, farms, and soon to be harvested fields of northern Illinois. “Look, you can’t control whether or not you’ll get a job today, but you can try. Put some thought and effort into it. It doesn’t have to be permanent – it just has to keep you from being a freeloader. Are there any places by the auto parts store that you’d like to work? Any place in Rockford at all?
Leonard tried to think of places he was qualified for with only a high school education and one year of factory experience. Fast food? No way. More factory work? No, there’s got to be something else… A hardware store? He didn’t think he could cut it, answering questions about snow blowers and power tools, because he didn’t know anything about that stuff. He then thought of his uncle Mark, the fireman. Leonard had long dreamed of being a fireman, he’d just never told anyone because he didn’t think he was actually capable of it. Firemen were brave and quick on their feet, and most importantly, they had common sense. They were able to navigate through the world competently. Leonard was a self-identified idiot, not because he wasn’t smart, but because he was absent minded and lacked self-confidence. Every job stressed him out. Even the idea of being a fireman seemed too stressful. As a fireman, his screw-ups could put lives at risk, not just his job or his ego.
Before Leonard could answer his brother, he noticed a strange green light that shined down from the sky. It was faint, and seemed to cover a fairly large area. It looked more like a natural lighting effect, coming from up above, than anything man made.
“Do you see that green light over there?” Leonard asked while pointing to his three o’clock.
“Whoa, what the hell is that?” Eugene replied. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
“You didn’t learn about this kind of thing in university?” Leonard asked. It was hard to tell if Leonard was mocking his brother or being genuine, but Eugene took it as a bit of both.
“No smartass, I studied computer science, not Earth science. It looks awesome, though. This road has a big curve to the right coming up soon. I think we’ll be driving right into where it is. Either that, or we’ll be driving into where it looks like it is from here; maybe it’s like a rainbow, and it doesn’t actually end where it looks like it does.”
“Well, a green rainbow that comes straight down from the sky is a good way to start the morning. I’m feeling lucky already. Thank you for bringing me along,” Leonard replied as he continued to stare out the window.
Within a couple of minutes, the old Buick was driving up a hill and right towards the mysterious green light. Eugene slowed down to forty-five miles an hour, and as they crested the hill, the brothers saw a giant of mass of something covering the whole road. The entire mass was basked in the green light that came down from the sky.
“What in the absolute fuck?” Eugene uttered. He slowed down to ten miles an hour, but his curiosity caused him to speed back up to twenty-five. The old sedan moved closer to the anomaly, and each brother leaned forward in their seats, trying to make sense of what they were seeing. The vehicle stopped seventy-five yards from the roadblock, and from that distance, their eyes could finally decipher the thing that their brains hadn’t ever expected to see.
They were looking at a giant pile of dead animals that was at least six feet high in some places. The largest animals were the most noticeable ones at first glance. There was a great number of cattle, a few horses, and a couple herds of deer. These large quadrupeds were scattered haphazardly all the way across the road. The field to the left had a fence that had been trampled down, and the animals were piled up a good ten yards into the field. The right side of the road had no fence, but the animals were similarly stacked up ten yards into that field as well.
The roadblock was comprised of other animals, too. There were quite a few raccoons and rabbits, a number of coyotes, and a large scattering of birds. A few opossums, skunks, and foxes had found their way into the pile, too. There was one large dog, a mastiff, with its hind legs up on top of a cow and its front paws and head resting dead on the pavement at the front of the pile. Its tongue hung out of its mouth, and the dog’s eyes, like the rest of the animals, were faintly glowing green. The eyes looked as if dim green lasers were being shined into them from somewhere inside the skull.
Eugene sported a bewildered look and spoke slowly, “Dude, this is the craziest thing I have ever seen. Everything looks green.” He put the car in park and said “I’m going to call the police.” As Eugene reached for his smartphone in the cup holder, Leonard snatched it away and screamed, “No, we need to get the fuck out of here right now! Get moving! We’ll call them later!”
Eugene wasn’t going to argue with his little brother at a time like this, especially when he sounded like that. He popped the car into reverse and started driving backwards so he could safely turn around down the road. As his brother was reversing the car, Leonard noticed a large hawk flying in from the right. It stopped flapping its wings as it got closer to the green light and then just glided full speed into the pile, ultimately smashing into the rear end of a horse. The hawk didn’t move again. Nothing moved. Everything in the pile had been reduced to nothing but a roadblock of dead flesh.
Leonard studied the green light. It was dim and subtle, and almost every square inch of earth that the light touched was now covered in animal carcasses. The light went all the way up into the clouds, and beyond that, Leonard had no idea.
Just as Eugene started to edge the Buick into the ditch on their right to turn around, he noticed three cattle galloping right towards the vehicle. He tried to brake, but it was too late – he smashed into two of them. As the car slid backwards into a deep ditch, a bull, the one who’d taken the brunt of the force, got wedged under the back of the vehicle. Neither the bull nor the cow that were hit vocalized any expressions of pain.
Leonard watched the only cow that wasn’t hit by the vehicle run towards the roadblock, which was now two hundred yards away. The cow that got hit lagged behind, limping, but unfazed. The car started to lurch as the bull tried to break free. Leonard looked at his brother and his heart felt like it was pumping cyanide instead of blood as he noticed a faint green glow in his brother’s eyes. Eugene was now only looking straight towards the green light. He slowly, clumsily managed to unbuckle his seat belt and then pried the door open.
“Eugene! Eugene! Are you okay, man? What are you doing?” Leonard unbuckled his own seat belt and surged out of the passenger door. By this time, Eugene had walked around the car and into the road. Leonard ran over to Eugene and grabbed him just as he started to sprint. Leonard looked into his brother’s green glowing eyes and shook him by the shoulders. “You can’t go that way! We need to go the other way! Can you hear me, Eugene?”
Eugene did not answer. He started swinging his arms wildly to break free, never taking his eyes off the green light in the distance. Leonard, who was thirty pounds lighter than Eugene, struggled to hold him back. He got hit in the face a few times, and just as he was getting ready to try to throw Eugene down on the ground, the two brothers got blindsided by the bull. It had gotten out from between the ditch and the car and bolted towards the green light. The brothers were directly in its path, and it clobbered them good.
Leonard was on the ground with the wind knocked out of him and a smashed up left hand. As he struggled to breathe, he saw Eugene get up and start moving toward the green light again – this time more slowly. Eugene’s left leg, having been trampled by the bull, was in bad shape.
A wheezing, ticking sound zoomed by right next to Leonard’s head. He looked up and saw a man riding a bicycle. The man wore a helmet and aside from the occasional wobble, he made rapid and steady progress towards the green light and the roadblock of dead bodies.
Leonard finally managed to catch his breath and shouted to the bicyclist, “Hey, stop! Don’t go that way, it’s dangerous!” The bicyclist ignored the warning and continued on unperturbed. Leonard got up and started chasing after his brother, not even bothering to scream out this time. He caught his brother from behind and gave him a bear hug in order to restrain his flailing arms. Leonard managed to stop Eugene’s forward progress, despite the fact that his left hand was so hurt he couldn’t feel what he was doing with it. Reluctantly, Leonard glanced to the bicyclist as he closed in on the mound of death. The bicyclist plowed into what looked like a large buck at the edge of the pile and then flipped over the handlebars, landed on the rest of the bodies, and never moved again.
Leonard confirmed what he already suspected: the green light attracted and killed all species. Leonard thought about how the bicyclist had managed to keep his bike upright. He hadn’t gone into full stupid zombie mode – he was still able to perform habituated human functions. His brother had been able to unbuckle his seat belt and open the car door, too.
Somehow, every creature within a certain radius of this green light was being taken over and compelled towards it. Leonard wondered if he was immune to the effect or just lucky so far.
In a feat of adrenaline and intuition, Leonard bent down and pulled Eugene up over his shoulders. He did it the way that seemed the most natural to him without even knowing that the move he was implementing was called the fireman’s carry.
Leonard’s heart pounded in his chest just as hard as his feet pounded on the cool pavement as he did his best to run away from the green light. Eugene was swinging the two limbs that Leonard didn’t have a hold of, but it wasn’t enough to break free.
As Leonard was just about back to their car in the ditch, everything in his vision started to take on a slight green hue. He looked at a white “pass with care” sign on the side of the road, noticed it looked green, and then started moving even faster. His brother had already gone through this process, he assumed. Soon, he’d be carrying Eugene towards certain death for both of them instead of away from it — unless he did something fast.
Leonard took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and exhaled slowly. When he reopened his eyes, he saw the morning’s first rays of sun, tinted green. He took in his surroundings, which to him, looked a little like home and a little like an alien world at the same time. For a moment, despite the incredible amount of danger that he was in, he was fully present. He then realized for the first time in his life that action and struggle had beauty, too.
With great rapidity, he opened the driver’s door of the car, reached in with his good hand, and grabbed the keys out of the ignition. Leonard then carried his brother to the back of the car and, with practiced ease, unlocked the trunk of the old Buick. He pulled the trunk open, hurled his brother in head first, threw the keys on the ground, and then jumped in the trunk, slamming the lid down over him. The last thing he remembered seeing were Eugene’s glowing green eyes in the darkness of the trunk, and then everything went blank.
Eighteen minutes after Leonard had locked himself and Eugene in the trunk of the Buick, the mysterious green light was gone and their uncle Mark was the first to arrive on the scene. He drove his own black Ford 150 equipped with flashing blue lights. The station was located on the other side of the most bizarre roadblock ever contended with. Uncle Mark pulled up next to the Buick, noting that it very much resembled the one his father had given his nephew, Eugene. He parked his truck and called in what he saw on the phone.
Mark then got out of his truck and walked over to the Buick in the ditch. His stomach churned as he saw a Chicago Bears license plate frame that he knew Eugene had put on the old LeSabre. He looked around, but saw no sign of his nephew. “Eugene? Eugene Coleman!” Mark started to trot towards the unprecedented pile of dead bodies, but then he heard a thud behind him. It was coming from the trunk of the Buick.
Mark darted over to the trunk and pounded on it. “Are you in there, Eugene? Are you okay?”
Later that evening, Uncle Mark walked into Eugene’s hospital room. Eugene was on the bed, his left leg all wrapped up in a cast. Leonard was sitting in a chair next to the bed. Both of the brothers had their hands bandaged up and they were watching the Bears play the Packers on the small hospital TV.
Leonard noticed his uncle first and excitedly got up. “Hey, Mark! It’s good to see you.” Mark and Leonard gave each other a quick man-hug.
Mark looked down at Eugene and said, “Hey, partner. How’s the leg?” He offered his first for a fist bump, then hesitated as he saw Eugene’s bandaged hands.
Eugene stuck his own fist gently against his uncle’s and answered the question. “Well, the bull that stomped on me could have done worse, that’s for sure. I have a fractured fibula and a torn-up calf muscle.”
“Damn, you got stomped on by a bull? I didn’t know any of the creatures affected by the green light also became aggressive.” Mark replied.
“They didn’t, as far as I know. I was just in the way. I was already being sucked into the green light when it happened. Leonard was still conscious at the time, though.” Eugene nodded to Leonard, as if to let him take over.
Leonard and Uncle Mark both sat down facing each other. Mark shook his head from side to side, and said, “I know you guys have no idea what actually happened — not any more than the rest of us. We’ve got the feds and many different agencies trying to figure it out. But, aside from what little info I got from you over the phone, I want to know your story; the whole thing. When I pulled you two out of the trunk, you seemed completely out of it. I thought something was seriously wrong with you. When did you fully wake up? And what the fuck happened to you guys out there this morning?”
Leonard leaned forward in his chair and, with a little help from Eugene, recounted most of the story. “And by the time I got Eugene in the trunk, my vision was almost entirely green and I knew I was about to lose control completely. I slammed the trunk lid down over me and the last thing I remember was seeing Eugene’s glowing green eyes before I lost consciousness.”
Mark carefully studied each of his nephew’s eyes and was relieved to see that there was no hint of green in them at all.
Leonard held up both of his bandaged hands, and continued, “And this is the result, apparently, of me in a zombie-like state trying to claw my way towards the green light. I knew I had to put us in a position that we couldn’t get out of, because I had already seen Eugene and the bicyclist still continuing to do normal human things even though they weren’t conscious anymore. It’s like they were sleepwalking.”
Mark just sat there, nodding his head, until the Packers intercepted the ball in the 4th quarter. At that point, he shot up out of his seat and shouted, “Yeah, go Pack!” Eugene shook his head in disappointment and whispered some swears to himself. Leonard was unfazed by the turn of events in the game and just stared out of the window.
Finally, Leonard spoke up. “Mark, did you ever find out who the bicyclist was? Were there any other human casualties aside from him?”
Mark nodded his head once. “The bicyclist has been identified. He was a local. Forty-six years old. John Clarence. I went to high school with him. And there was one other, unfortunately. An old farmer named Paul Greenberg who lived nearby. Widower. Him and his dog were both found in the pile.”
Leonard nodded his head once. Uncle Mark got up, put a hand on Leonard’s shoulder, and said, “But, hey, you did some good shit today, Leonard. You and your brother could have easily died, too. First, your intuition told you that danger was still very much present and ongoing, and then your courage, grit, and quick-thinking enabled you to save you and your brother’s lives. I’m very impressed. We could really use a guy like you on the department.”
The self-identified, absent-minded idiot with low confidence and a tendency to overthink things heard these words, and believed them. He looked up at his uncle and simply asked, “How do I get started?”