Vernon Hampshire was a simple, older, jovial man, who lived on a farm in rural North Carolina. He lived alone; his wife having died some years back. They had no children between them. The farm fell somewhat into disrepair after her death. He didn't feel the need to venture into certain areas of his house, or to the parts of his farm that didn't need venturing. He only needed half the amount of livestock to go on about his life, and he only accomplished half of the chores he would normally if someone were around to scold him. These days all he had were his two horses, his cows, his goats, and his chickens. He had lost weight due to lack of eating as heartily, but he didn't mind. His clothes accumulated more and more crust and grime since he was not motivated to wash them as often.
He was generally tired and often thought "I'll just run on the legs of what I got, and then that's it."
One night as he was closing up the barn doors he paused to look up in the sky. He took a deep breath, raised his arms straight up in the air, and chuckled to himself. "A chicken for these doors to close themselves. A whole chicken. Why did they make these like that?" He let his body rest back to his normal standing posture and rubbed his lower back with his left hand. He went inside to wash up, prepare dinner, and go to bed.
The next morning he went about his daily chores: feed the animals, gather some straw, milk the cows, milk the goats, get the eggs, check the food he had in storage, water the crops that needed watering, gather firewood to place under a dry roof, check the mailbox (empty again), fix a hinge, bale the hay, oil the tractor, and so on. He thought to himself during these tasks about the last time he could remember that his schedule truly deviated from this routine.
An afternoon rainshower put him inside on this day though, which he appreciated for breaking up the monotony. He sat on his couch in his sleeping clothes while letting his normal clothes dry out in front of the fireplace. He laid back to rest his eyes and planned to put the animals in their pens just before dusk would fall, rain or not.
After resting his eyes and feeling the temperature change outside as the sun was setting, he knew it was time to have to head back out. The rain was barely a drizzle at this point so he was glad for it. He set outside to corral the animals and put them back in their respective pens. Most of them had already gone back inside except for one of his horses that was walking on the edge of the property.
"Alabaster! Come on! Come here!" he yelled, waiting for a response from the horse. He whistled loudly for him to come. The horse did not respond; he just stood and grazed away without a care in the world. Vernon had to walk all the way to him and the horse pulled away when Vernon went to grab his bride. Alabaster did eventually comply and he began to walk back with Vernon.
As they were walking back Vernon was surveying the horizon to see if there were any more storms in the distance. He didn't see any unusual atmospheric activity; however, there was something new. There was a light in the distance. In the far distance. It was very faint and located what appeared to be on the top of Armon Hill in the next county. Nobody had been on that hill for ages, let alone go camping on it. Yet, the light was there. It was the first piece of humanity he had seen with his own eyes in days. He muttered, "I hope those kids have fun" to himself while leading Alabaster back to his stable.
Closing everything up for the second night while noting his routine, he glanced again towards the hill. He then went inside, washed up, ate dinner, and headed to bed yet again.
Vernon woke well before the sunrise the next day, mostly due to him having taken a nap the previous day. He got an early start on letting the animals out and went about the rest of his tasks. He looked over at the hill and saw that the light was still there, visible even during the first fingers of light crept over the land to bring about the dawn. It even almost looked like there were two lights now, but he couldn't tell for sure.
Same chores, same animals, same land, same grass. Vernon thought about getting a dog to keep him company. His wife was afraid of dogs so the option to get one while she was alive was never available. But now, he thought to himself, "it might be a good idea."
The day passed by with nearly each of the same actions that he had taken the day before.
On this day, as the sun was setting again, he looked over at the hill once more. There were definitely two lights this time. He was able to see it much clearer. What was also strange though, is that the lights did not seem to flicker like a normal campfire. As far as he could tell they just sort of sat static; unmoving. In fact, they appeared to be located just above the top of the hill. It was a strange enough occurrence that he went to call his friend Olson in the next county on the phone.
"You see that light, Olson?"
"Yep, I think it's some kids from the city gone camping."
"D'you notice anything weird about the light though? It isn't flickerin' like a campfire. Like you'd normally see."
"I guess, but it could just be some fancy thing the kids brought in. Who knows what they have now. Prob'ly just a big lan'ern or summin'."
"I guess. You don't know who they are though?"
"Okay Olson, you take care." Vernon ended, and hung up the phone. That night, it rained again.
Vernon fed the animals and let them out, went to milk the- "Wait." he thought. "I should go check out that light. It looks like it's still there."
He could barely see it as the sun was coming up. It was also more difficult ti see due to the slight haze left over from the rain, but the light was still there. It even seemed to be brighter than before. There also did not appear to be any tents or anything like that on this hill. People could have been on the other side of it of course, and if so, they were probably from out of town. And if so, he should warn them about the bears because they probably weren't aware, what with all the lights and attracting attention.
In a snap decision he made up his mind to go check out the light. It rained, so the crops got their water, the animals could be stocked with feed to last them a day or two without him, and the grass never stops growing. The farm could manage for a couple days.
"Alabaster, ol' buddy, we are gonna go see what's what." he said to the horse. Alabaster again barely acknowledged Vernon's existence while he ate.
Vernon made his way around the farm and put the animals in their respective pens. He set up the feeders with a couple days' supply. He went in the house and gathered a couple changes of clothes in case it rained again, got some food, and got materials to camp. He hadn't camped in a very long time.
He gathered everything he needed and packed it up onto Alabaster, who was out in front of the porch. Vernon figured he would take Tanner's Road about a third of the way, camp at the lakeside, and then the next morning make his way to the top of the hill. He'd camp with the kids, then make his way back home. An easy enough trip. He locked up his house's doors and walked over towards the horse with a smile. Alabaster was too busy eating what grass was growing around the foundation of the house. Vernon took him by the bride and did a mental check to make sure everything was in order.
They left the farm and walked at a leisurely pace down the road.
When they arrived at the path to the lakeside, Vernon noted that he got there just in time. When they got to the lake, he set up a blanket, taken out of Alabaster's pack, and put together his crude grill. He attached a feedbag to Alabaster's face while he rifled through his things to get the rest of his camp set up. Eventually everything was all set and he sat down on the blanket after having eaten a small grilled meal of venison and bread.
The top of the hill was visible from his campground and he noted that indeed, the light was bigger. This time it looked like there were four lights instead of just two. He could also see clearer now that they were flickering, but at a very slow pace. He wasn't familiar with any kind of light like that. "Must be those city kids like Olson was saying" he thought to himself.
After looking at the light for a while and smoking out of his pipe, he went to bed.
The next morning brought with it birds chirping more than usual; he spied fish swimming and jumping around in the lake. The wind was picking up slightly, although there were no clouds in sight. "Better get a move on" he thought, and packed everything up to continue their trek. They wouldn't be taking the road any more, but there was a hiking path that went through the woods and up to the top of the hill. It wasn't used that often but was reliable enough to navigate it. Vernon was concerned about his horse's ankles.
They began their journey at a sturdier pace, so as to get ahead of any bad weather that might arise.
The path through the woods was windier and curvier than Vernon remembered, but still reliable. The grass had grown into the path quite a bit since he was last there so he would definitely be checking for ticks afterward. But again, the path was reliable.
Later in the afternoon, the path straightened out a bit. They would be able to walk quicker, although the hill seemed farther away than the last time he hiked it. He wouldn't get there until about dusk, but it was good enough.
He walked further with his horse, fighting with him to continue since all Alabaster wanted to do was eat along the way. Vernon ended up putting the feed bag on him as they walked just so he could continue at a decent pace. The top of the hill, and the light, was visible in between the remaining foliage of the forest. He could only get glimpses here and there. He thought his eyes must have been playing tricks on him through all those trees. It almost looked like the lights were located above the top of the hill with nothing holding them up, not even rope. "Must be some weird thing" he thought, again, blaming kids from the city. But as he kept getting more and more looks at it, that seemed less and less probable. He wasn't sure what was going on. And now there were eight lights, arranged in a two-by-two cube. They looked like balloons.
"Must be some REALLY weird thing," he thought, "some stuff I ain't even heard of."
He and Alabaster kept walking. At this point, even the horse noticed the lights and seemed to be somewhat hesitant toward walking in that direction. Either that, or he just kept wanting to graze on the way.
The sun began its journey over the horizon when Vernon and Alabaster arrived at the crest of the hill. There were no campers present. There wasn't even a sign of a campsite at all.
The lights were indeed floating above the ground as Vernon observed from a distance. They were stuck together, bound by some force. The lights were too bright to make out exactly what they were at first, but Vernon's eyes adjusted.
Alabaster squinted at the lights, but after they arrived and Vernon tied him up to an old fencepost, he turned away and was content to graze and pay no more attention to the lights.
Vernon left the horse to observe the phenomenon. He put his hand in front of his face to block out the lights, which at this point were near blinding. The sun had crept well past the horizon with each passing second, and the lights appeared to get brighter and brighter.
He approached the lights and crouched down to confirm that they were free floating. It was the strangest thing he'd ever seen.
"What in the world?" he said out loud, trying to understand the situation. "What is this thing?"
He glanced back at his horse to make sure that he was still there and wasn't frightened, and was pleased to see his ever-stoic horse looking in the other direction doing what horses do.
Vernon's eyes having adjusted to looking directly into the lights at this point, he debated on getting close enough to touch them. He was about 15 feet from them at this point. He could see that the lights were not fire, nor lanterns. They just appeared to be… orbs. Just near perfectly round orbs, with almost a fluid appearance. No, they WERE like balloons similar to how he thought earlier. They had a clear casing and it looked like there was liquid inside, glowing brilliantly. But it wasn't just that. There was… movement inside of the orbs. Some things were floating inside of them. They looked almost like frog eggs to Vernon, but obviously much bigger. Each one was the volume of two large watermelons. The liquid and objects swirled inside, undulating the outer casing. Vernon was intrigued.
He took some steps forward, worried that they could be made of fire or molten metal, but there was no heat coming from the light source. He reached his hand out in front of him, now only a few feet away, and felt… nothing. No heat, no cold, no moisture. It was as if nothing was there at all. He stepped closer.
He was now within arm's reach. His eyes had begun to hurt from his pupils shrinking from the intense light but he knew that if he looked away it would only hurt more. He just had to touch one of the things to see if it was hot. As he reached out to touch one of the orbs, they all began to quiver. He recoiled and stepped back, thinking that maybe he had startled it, whatever it was. It continued quivering, each orb together and independently, until with a deep vacuum sound, they each split into two apiece. There were sixteen of them now with each new orb about half as bright as before. They stopped quivering shortly after, and slowly each one regained its luminosity.
Having felt comfortable with them now that they stopped moving and resumed their idle floating, he approached them again. Again, while he kept his hand close, he felt no heat. He stretched out his right hand and lightly tapped his finger on one of the orbs. Its casing felt rubbery from what he could tell, and it responded like some kind of jelly.
"Huh." he thought. "What in the world is this? Are they some kind of eggs?"
He reached his right hand out again and tapped another one of the orbs lightly. Again, the same kind of liquid response you would expect. He put his whole palm on one of them and noted about how, again, it wasn't hot. He was sure that anything as bright as this had to be hot. Feeling bold, he squee- "oh no."
Pop! Swish! Splash! The orb exploded, spraying its contents out of the puncture hole, all over his arm, and all around the area below it. Vernon jumped back, startled by the reaction. It was as if an entire pail of water was upturned, with bright gel-like pieces strewn about on the ground. They were jiggling and wriggling slightly, but Vernon was unable to make out what they were. Glowing liquid was everywhere now. The rest of the orbs remained in their positions: unmoving, yet floating still. Some of the exploded liquid landed on two of the other orbs, although Vernon could barely tell since the liquid was still as bright open to air as it was contained.
"What is this?! What is this?!" He went to rub the liquid off of him as quickly as he could. He took off his shirt and tried to use the fabric to wipe the liquid off of his arm but it wouldn't come off. His right arm glowed as brilliantly as the orbs. Vernon shook with anxiety as he tried to figure out what was happening. Then the liquid began to lose its shine.
As the liquid dimmed, it began floating upward like luminescent steam. Vernon watched as it floated off of him, and where it splashed on the ground, began to float up from there as well. As it appeared to evaporate, it flickered in such a way to almost mimic flecks of ashes as they flew into the sky, only more numerous. Vernon watched the flickers as they rose up above him. It was a captivating sight.
Then he looked down and saw his arm. It was red, but still glowing brightly. A shock ran through him. "No!" he yelled, realizing that something bad was happening. "No! No No!" he yelled again. His arm evaporated more and more liquid, but the liquid did not reduce in volume from his arm. Instead, the vapor was taking his arm with it. The glow sank deeper into his flesh. More and more floated off of him and he frantically attempted to wipe the liquid from his arm. He only managed to scrape layer after layer off before his skin evaporated from his flesh. He screamed in terror and looked at his other hand that he used to wipe off the liquid, now luminescent itself. "What is happening?! Alabaster! Run!" he shouted at the horse, who was already gone.
He collapsed in shock as his arm and hand were floating away from him, layer by layer, atom by atom. Intense pain ran through his body. He was on his knees now, tears streaming down from his eyes. He wondered how much longer it would last; trying to scrape it off only made it seep deeper. He looked at the ground underneath him, now barren from plants and rocks and looked to be just an ever flattening area of glowing dust, lifting off into the air.
"Why! Why is this happening!" he cried, his voice carrying to nobody. He fell over on his side, the remains of his arm unable to hold his body weight. It collapsed and shattered beneath him as he cried out in pain again. As he began to lose consciousness from the pain, he noticed that the casing on the two orbs which had been splashed were eroding as well.