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The Night the World Ended

 

We had been planning the dinner party for months. It was to be an extravagant affair complete with catering from Don Vic's and a trendy local jazz band. The guest list had grown from twenty-five or so to around sixty. Word gets around about an event like this and people start making polite inquiries. The extra invitations go out and next thing you know, you're wondering how much of your retirement savings will be left. Turns out that was the least of our problems.

We live in a contemporary home off a sleepy state road on the outskirts of Seattle. There is a beautiful ocean view from twelve of our thirty-six rooms. The main room is a sprawling space in the middle of our home, lit by an octagonal skylight three stories up during the day and by numerous ornate wall fixtures at night. On either side of the room are enormous fireplaces. Often they alone light the room. On the ocean-facing side of the room, large double doors open to a vast, partially covered deck. From the deck one can descend a flight of steps to a walkway that leads to the Pacific. From our section of beach, you can see up and down the coast for miles.

I am a publishing agent for a large firm in Seattle. Among my clients are some of the most profitable authors in the world. I have been doing this for just over ten years and by rights I am very successful. On the night the world ended most of my clients were present with their spouses. Other guests included colleagues, friends and neighbors. My wife had invited a dozen or so of her real-estate friends and their spouses, one of whom was the mayor of Seattle. The cause for celebration was the publishing of my own first novel. At age thirty-five, my childhood dream had come true in the form of a three hundred-fifty page thriller about a soviet spy who infiltrates the CIA. The reviews were in and the book was a hit and my career as a publisher was probably over. I intended to write full time now that I had gotten a taste for it.

 

The guests began arriving around six-thirty. Cocktails were passed out among the early arrivals and much discussion was made about the unusually dry weather we'd had of late. The guests that had never been to our home were given a brief tour that drew the expected oohs and aahs. The band began setting up around seven o'clock and the food half an hour later. By then, most of our guests had arrived and were getting comfortable.

After everyone had eaten of salmon and lobster and most were well into their third drink, there was a loud dinging sound that slowed then stopped conversation. All eyes turned to the small stage that had been constructed for the band. Standing there with a glass and spoon next to a stand-up microphone was Lawrence Fillmore, the president of my publishing firm. He gave the glass one more stroke and smiling, addressed the crowd.

"Good ladies and gentlemen, how nice to see all of you here this evening. I know it's typical for the host and hostess to make the first speech in their own home, but I felt compelled to give you all a bit of history first. You see, it is not every day that we celebrate someone's leaving our firm. Wade has been ours for ten years and we hoped for many more. But alas, the bug has struck and struck well and it looks as if he will be a client now!"

"If you're so lucky!" It was Thomas Washington, one of my best clients. This drew a bout of laughter from the gathered crowd.

"Yes, of course!" Larry said, still smiling. "We certainly hope so." He drew in a breath and seemed to become pensive.

"Wade first came to our firm in 1990, having graduated from Yale with a degree in Business and Literature. A strange combination I thought at the time. I remember our first conversation as if it were yesterday. He told me of his plans to be a writer then, but said he would like to learn the business first. In less then five years, he was among our top ten agents. I think we all forgot about Wade's desire to be on the other side of the business, but apparently he did not. So here we stand today celebrating the publishing of The Private War, authored by our very own Wade Closter! Congratulations, friend!" At this he held up his glass in a toast. There were "Here, here's" from the crowd and everyone toasted.

Feeling a little embarrassed and perhaps a little tipsy from my two cocktails, I bowed a little unsteadily. I could feel the flush in my face.

"Speech, speech!" someone cried. And it was followed by more of the same. My wife nudged me a little toward the stage and feeling a little more embarrassed now, walked toward the mic. That was when the strange things started to happen. Before I got to the stage, I heard gasps of surprise and shock from the guests gathered behind me. I turned around to see that a number of them were looking up throught the skylight. There was a hush then as everyone began to stare up. I looked up myself and saw with wonder seemingly hundreds of twinkling pink and green stars. They would appear then flare, and then shoot off to another part of the sky. It looked like some sort of fireworks display, but there was no sound.

Some of the guests had made their way to the deck. Shouts of wonder came from that direction and I found my way outside to have a look. The sky was filled with the lights now. Pink and green dots springing up at random and then shooting away. I had never seen anything like it before.

to be continued...

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