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Orb

Directly above her prone figure on the bed, a white ball puffed into existence.

By C. L. NicholsPublished about a month ago 7 min read
Top Story - April 2024
22

Alone and abandoned. Again.

Johanna Underwood lay on her back in the center of the queen-sized bed she’d shared with her husband, Guy. One hand rested in the dip her slight body had formed while the other petted the deeper hollow her husband had left behind.

Left. Although it already seemed longer, Guy had disappeared less than forty-eight hours ago. Just like her father when she was nine. With no note. With no goodbye kiss. With no clue.

Except for the ring now sitting atop the night table on her side of the bed.

Hanna turned her head to stare at where it still lay, next to the capped bottle of pills that had become so essential to sleep.

She admitted to herself, she’d grown overly restless, not the easiest person to live with. Had those seeds of moodiness sprouted, spiraling up into a giant’s house of turmoil? A vast expanse of irritableness and aggravation exceeding Guy’s ability to cope?

Yes. Hanna exhaled softly. His desertion provided ample proof.

Evening shadows painted the room in bluish undertones, and pale light from the barely cracked bathroom door cast a thin slice across the bed comforter.

Her gaze shifted to the pill bottle. It belonged in the medicine cabinet. Guy must have placed it here with the ring. His dark humor often puzzled her.

The bottle was nearly full, the prescription only recently filled. Over-the-counter sleep aids no longer sufficed, so she’d escalated through more potent medications. Guy said just one would kick your butt like a mule. He always exaggerated.

Hanna felt tired but knew she’d be unable to sleep naturally. Maybe never again. She reached for the bottle. A couple would do.

She shook out two, dry-swallowed them, then returned the bottle next to the ring and stared at them. How many would be too many? Could she just drift peacefully away? The two items on the table became more distinct, like an image more sharply focused. Perhaps an open bathroom window had let in a draft, cracking the door gap wider. She kept all windows locked. Frowning, she glanced toward the doorway. It looked the same.

The bedroom continued to brighten.

Directly above her prone figure on the bed, a white ball puffed into existence. At first only a pinpoint, it quickly mushroomed in size and brilliance, sending shadows scurrying like insects from light.

Hanna lifted an arm as a shield, trying to look directly, but it hurt her eyes. Something moved inside the ball, sticklike limbs unfurling as the ball grew. Something turning toward her.

Something watching her.

Now about two feet in diameter, the hovering bubble moved toward the end of the bed. Hanna examined it as whatever lived inside observed her. The outer membrane spun slowly, but the thing inside never wavered. A globe within a globe?

The … creature? … was like a tree? It possessed a trunklike backbone with limbs that branched into … ribs? These ended in rootlike tendrils that ebbed gently back and forth, as if inside fluid.

Hanna tried to make sense of the creature. Like a fleshless skeleton, it looked bare and …needy? Whatever, it was alive.

Several of its branches unwound, stretched toward her. Pointing, or reaching out? For what purpose?

The ball of light glided sideways, away from her bed toward the window, the creature continuing to stare. Turning her head on the pillow to follow, Hanna felt its intense scrutiny.

Although the curtains were partially open, the window was locked shut. The light ball arrived at the window panes, paused as the creature took a final look back, then pushed through and outside.

Hanna pushed aside the bedcovers and hurried to her feet, ran to the window, and shoved the curtains aside. Fingertips touching the cool glass, she saw the light enter the forest that began beyond the cleared space surrounding the house. The ball moved smoothly between tree trunks and vanished from sight, then she noticed a pale glow in the woods.

What was that? She had to know.

She grabbed her robe from the foot of the bed and ran through the house to the back door. As she felt the wet grass on the soles of her feet, she realized she was barefoot but didn’t slow. She could barely make out the hazy light above the treetops.

Hanna knew she should be frightened, but instead she felt awe. She didn’t understand but something was happening, and she experienced a sense of wonder she hadn’t known since childhood. Since before her mother’s death had ended any childlike wonderment.

At the edge of the clearing, she paused. She should go back and get dressed. She wore only a sheer nightgown beneath her robe. At the least, she needed shoes. She plunged ahead.

And within five minutes was lost.

Hanna hadn’t been aware of low clouds obscuring the moon, or how quickly the evening turned dark. She stumbled over a depression and stopped, turned slowly, taking in the closeness of the dense forest.

What had become of the ball of light?

From a treetop to her left, it swooped down, headed directly at her face. She ducked and felt her hair lift, as if from static electricity. She spun around to locate the ball, then gasped as it looped up and then back at her again.

Frightened now, Hanna tripped over a small bush. She ran, trying to escape. Rising into the air, the orb arced past before diving back, attacking, driving her ahead. What did it mean to do?

Branches and low brush clawed her arms and legs. Whimpering, she retreated but the ball stayed right behind, like a mad terrier nipping at her heels. She looked in time to see it speeding toward her. She dropped to her knees, barely noticing the scrape of rough ground.

It zipped by, bare inches from her scalp, lifted, then shot over a tree canopy and out of sight.

Voices and laughter surprised her, made her turn to her right. Hanna stood at the edge of a large flat space. A mass of people were gathered, packed closely together. Over them swarmed a confusion of orbs, swiveling side to side just above the crowd, emitting variously colored lights like strobes. Was one of them her orb? She couldn’t tell.

Individuals broke away from the mass, formed couples, and began to dance to musical tones that seemed to play in her head. Dozens of bright balls swooped, flitted, and dived,

Rhythmic. Hypnotic.

In obvious rapture, the couples joined into concentric circles. As the tones accelerated, the circles started to go around, rings within rings, speeding up like a merry-go-round.

Guy! Her husband was one of them, holding the hand of a woman she didn’t know. He looked at Hanna as if surprised to see her, waved gaily, then was lost again as the circle turned. Hanna ran toward them. Whatever was happening, she wanted to be a part, just not to be alone anymore.

When she moved forward, intent on forcing her way inside, something rebuffed her, pushed her back. She was solo, uncoupled, so denied entrance. Hanna cried out, repeatedly attempting to break in. She froze, staring at the couple that had just gone by.

Her mother happily danced with a man Hanna didn’t at first recognize. Then she remembered the black and white photograph in her mother’s bedroom.

“Daddy!” The music absorbed her voice. She reached out, willing her parents’ return. As the circle continued to spin, Hanna waited for them and Guy to come back around, but they didn’t.

Without warning, the balls swooped down upon the crowd. The music chopped off, and the globes flashed light so intense she was nearly blinded to the crazy scene in front of her. Red blossoms filled the air, then screams. The balls were hurting them. Dismembering them?

Standing on the outside, Hanna felt none of their pain. She could only watch in mute horror as the slaughter became more frenzied. Their sounds of agony rose into the night.

She sat up in bed. Alone again in the near-dark, the thin slice of light from the bathroom spilled across her comforter. She must have fallen asleep, finally awakened by the nightmare.

The orb puffed into existence above her face. Was she still caught up in the dream?

The ball lowered. Hanna felt its warmth as the globe’s surface merged with her skin. The creature unfurled its limbs. She felt its alien touch. A thought passed through her, as if transmitted by the creature.

No longer alone.

The thing entered her body. She felt it settle in, attach itself to her backbone. Its breath became one with her own.

A circle of smaller orbs formed in front of her, slowly rotating. Light cycled up and down, dim to bright, dim to bright. They moved lower, penetrated her chest. She felt them racing through her blood, moving into her heart.

Hanna lay still, experiencing the new life within her. Surrounded by light, her entire body glowed. A sensuousness swirled all through her being. Like warm liquid circulating inside, it calmed and relaxed, soothed away her tension. Her spine throbbed, evidence of her new companion.

She glanced at the wedding band on the table. Then at the open bottle on its side, empty but for two stray capsules that had spilled onto the wooden surface.

Smiling, Hanna welcomed the friendly light that filled the room and coursed through her body.

No longer alone.

Short Story
22

About the Creator

C. L. Nichols

C. L. Nichols retired from a Programmer/Analyst career. A lifelong musician, he writes mostly speculative fiction.

clnichols.medium.com

specstories.substack.com

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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Comments (14)

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  • C. L. Nichols (Author)29 days ago

    Thank you to all who read my story and responded so well to it. I hope to hear from you all soon, and I wish you the very best for your writing.

  • Anna 29 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story!🥳🥳🥳

  • ROCK about a month ago

    Wow! I have not been so familiar with Orbs until now; I shy away from sci-fi in general but ya caught me!

  • Hannah Mooreabout a month ago

    Intriguing, the calmness, still, in the face of tragedy

  • Hi we are featuring your excellent Top Story in our Community Adventure Thread in The Vocal Social Society on Facebook and would love for you to join us there

  • Carol Townendabout a month ago

    That was a brilliant, psychologically-hitting story. You write well.

  • The Writer about a month ago

    Congratulations!!!

  • Sergej Klementinovskiabout a month ago

    Thank you for the read!

  • D. D. Leeabout a month ago

    A well-told-tale of longing. I enjoyed it. Congrats on Top Story!

  • Andrea Corwin about a month ago

    11oops, forgot to say, Congrats on TS!!

  • Andrea Corwin about a month ago

    Holy cow! Such a good story, with twists and turns and she ends up at the beginning only not really.

  • Margaret Brennanabout a month ago

    I know these are my thoughts, but what a beautiful way to take your last breath - peaceful and not alone. Well done, it's great.

  • Gerard DiLeoabout a month ago

    Beautiful flow and an ending just vague enough. Well done.

  • Alex H Mittelman about a month ago

    Great story!

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