Chapter 1

Griffin stared blankly at the expanse of asphalt that seemed to extend forever. He was tired, as most people are when they come home from work, and the dim lighting outside made him feel even sleepier. He pressed down on the gas pedal even harder, wanting to be home already so he could get as much sleep possible. His black 1993 Tatra MTX was now accelerating well above the speed limit, but he didn't care. The two-way road was empty in both lanes, just how it always was with a cop never in sight.

The sun began sinking lower and lower in the sky, until the puffy clouds that were once white turned a brilliant pinkish orange. The tall redwood tries that surrounded the road on both sides blocked out the sun's diminishing light even more, so Griffin had to flick on his headlights. With his headlights now on, he was able to see the herd of deer crossing the road up ahead. He slammed the brakes and the tires let out a loud screech before the car finally slid to a stop a mere foot in front of the last deer.

The deer had been alerted by his car's headlights and the sound of the tires screeching, and had been too frozen in alarm to move out of the way. It still stood there as stiff as a statue with wide, dark eyes staring straight through the windshield at Griffin. He stared back at it, wondering if it could understand how close it had been to dying. After what felt like a lifetime, the deer blinked out of its trance, shook itself, and proceeded to cross the road with a snort. Griffin let out a sigh of relief, for he was beginning to think that it would have never moved and he would have had to run it over to get home.

With the deer finally gone, Griffin accelerated his sports car until he was going even faster than he had been before; his anxiety to be home was increasing by the minute. Soon the sun was completely below the horizon, darkening the sunset sky to a deep purple, and as Griffin glanced up he could see the faint outline of a full moon beginning to fade into view.

As he continued to drive, he felt his eyelids droop out of exhaustion, and he caught himself beginning to doze off several times. The deep purple of the sky eventually transitioned into a navy blue, and then finally a pitch black. The full moon shone brightly in the sky now, illuminating the road ahead of Griffin's speeding car. Stars began to twinkle into view here and there until the sky was full of their sparkly light.

Griffin felt himself drifting off yet again, and this time it was much harder to regain his diminishing sense of consciousness. Just when he thought that he might fall asleep completely, a bright light flashed across the sky. Griffin's eyes opened wide in response to the light, and he was now fully alert so he could see what it was. He gazed up at the source of the light and watched as it soared across the sky. It set off a brilliant orangey yellow incandescence, and its light was so bright that it even made the moon appear dim.

A shooting star! Griffin realized with a twinge of excitement. He had never seen one before in his twenty-two years of being alive on this planet because of their rarity. It wasn't long before the shooting star was covered by the tall trees surrounding him, so he turned his attention back to the road. With the bright light of the shooting star no longer shining down on him, the road seemed even darker and desolate than it had before, and Griffin felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness that he couldn't place.

His feelings of loneliness grew worse as time passed on, and for some strange reason he felt an unbearable, increasing urge to cry. What's wrong with me? He wondered, bewildered. Maybe he took pity upon his own dull life. Maybe he wished he was as brilliant as a shooting star.

Suddenly, the sound of many birds shrieking in alarm startled Griffin out of his trance as he stared at the road ahead while he drove. He jumped in his seat at the cacophony of bird calls and looked up to see hundreds—no thousands of birds flapping around frantically in the sky, colliding into one another clumsily as if they were fleeing from something. Their bodies were black against the light of the moon, and there were so many that their silhouettes seemed to block out the light of the stars. Griffin peered through the windshield at this strange sight in confusion, wondering what could have caused the mass flee.

Then there was a bright light shining down on him. It was so bright that the birds' black bodies disappeared, and Griffin was nearly blinded. Squinting, he tried to see where the light was coming from, and as he looked up he saw that it was coming from the sky.

What is that? He wondered. As he studied it for a moment longer he realized, that's the shooting star from before!

But then he noticed that the light was giving off an unearthly orange glow instead of the blue tinted white light that one would expect from a shooting star. The light seemed to be made of fire almost, rather than ice and dust particles from space.

Griffin then realized with a jolt that the light was getting closer; too close for comfort. It seemed as if it was shooting downward, and the closer it got the more rapidly it fell from the sky. The orange glow became more intense and Griffin felt the temperature in his car rise to the point where he was sweating. He turned the air conditioner on full blast but it seemed to do nothing.

What happened next was over in a matter of mere seconds, but to Griffin everything seemed to happen in slow motion. The light finally reached its destination, the road a few feet in front of Griffin's car, with an explosive crash that shook the earth. A split second before it had crashed Griffin had slammed the brakes to the floor, filling the air with a shrill screeching sound as the tires protested to the sudden stop. He was able to come to a halt a few inches from where the light was landing. As it crashed, chunks of asphalt and dirt flew up into the air and rained down on his car, sounding like he was in the middle of a severe hailstorm.

His heart pounding and his hands shaking, Griffin struggled to put the car in park and remove the keys from the ignition. He sat back in his seat, leaning his head against the headrest, and simply breathed. His ears were ringing from the explosion, and he again stared blankly at the expanse of road—or what was left of it—in front of him. There wasn't much to see, though, because the spot where the light had crashed was engulfed in flames, blocking everything behind it. The flames licked up at the night sky hungrily, blocking out the stars once more, but to Griffin's surprise they made no attempt to spread to the forest that lay only a foot away on either side of the road.

What just happened? Griffin tried unsuccessfully to calm himself down by thinking of any sane explanation to this event. A satellite fell out of orbit maybe? Or even a space shuttle, perhaps? Deciding it would be better to find out what it was for himself, Griffin numbly opened the car door and heaved himself up out of the seat. When he stood he felt dizzy, and he had to grasp the door a moment longer to steady himself before slamming it shut. He walked unsteadily past chunks of asphalt over to the still unmoving flames, beginning to sweat once more, both from nervousness and the increasing heat.

As he approached the fire, for some reason, the flames receded slightly. The fire grew small enough to where he was taller than it, and he could see past the exterior wall of flames into the center. What he saw shocked him, more than the crash and the explosion.

There, in the heart of the flames, lay a woman.