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Fiction series
Chapter 12 recap
An F-16 pilot tangles with two craft flying over Fox Island County Park. One strikes a wing of the plane and falls to the ground, near where a crowd of people has gathered. Video of the encounter shows up that night on a website and local TV newscasts.

Chapter 13

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Photo by Samuel Hoffman
Illustration by Lara Neel
Summit City Lights

Chapter 13

Cars and trucks jammed Interstate 69, heading north and south out of town in a steady rain. Traffic was heavy on east-west routes, too.

Many stores, offices and factories had not opened, even though the mayor had pleaded for people to go about their usual business. It was like a snow day in the middle of summer. The mayor's televised presence apparently wasn't as convincing as video snippets showing a flying saucer colliding with a fighter jet.

City streets were largely deserted, but cars filled the parking lots of churches, and worshippers filled their pews.

Jake sat inside the downtown Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. He wasn't Catholic. In fact, this was the first time he'd been inside any church since just before his wife filed for divorce years earlier. Jake had gone to the couple's church and prayed hard for God to fix his marriage; God didn't.

Jake had asked his daughter to join him at the Cathedral. Her mother overruled him, ordering Chelsea to stay home. Cindy said people were in a panic – there was no telling whether things might turn violent.

Jake wasn't the type to panic. He preferred to sulk.

He took measure of the gathering at the Cathedral. Some people prayed. Some wept. Others sang. Jake sensed faith, fear, hope and dread converging in the sanctuary.

During the singing of "Amazing Grace," Jake mouthed the lyrics "was blind but now I see," and his thoughts turned to Marian's dream about him, the silver sky and the ground covered in worms.

Sitting near the back, he bowed his head for a long time, his hands clasped on his lap. When he rose up, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around to see the Journal Gazette reporter who had told the city that Jake had witnessed a flying saucer.

The reporter asked Jake what he was praying for.

Jake smiled.

"I was asking God to give me the strength to quit talking to reporters," he said.

"C'mon," she whispered, grabbing a pen and notebook out of her Vera Bradley handbag, "you didn't have to talk to me that night. Are you sorry you did?"

"No," Jake said. "I think I've been pretty much vindicated by now, don't you? Although I never said I saw a UFO or flying saucer."

"That's not what I wrote," the reporter said. "What were you praying for?"

"That's pretty personal," Jake said. "Anyway, who's going to be left to read your next story? Everyone seems to be in a hurry to get out of town."

"Not everybody," she said. "This is the third church I've been to today; the first two were packed."

"Well," Jake said, "this is the City of Churches, after all."

"The bars and strip clubs are packed, too," the reporter said.

"Maybe that's where I should be," Jake said.

"But you came here instead," the reporter reminded him. "What were you praying for?"

Jake relented.

"To see the lights again," he responded. "Up close. I want to know what they are, where they come from, what they're doing here. I don't believe in aliens or government conspiracies. There's got to be a logical explanation. I want to know what it is."

The reporter scribbled in her notebook.

"Between you and me," Jake added, "I was also saying a prayer of thanks."

"Thanks? Thanks for what?" the reporter asked.

"The lights," Jake said. "Whatever they are, I'm thankful for them, because they sort of brought my family back together. My daughter, my ex-wife and me – about all we've got left are the lights, but that's something."

bfrancisco@jg.net

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