The FBI headquarters burned down while we were passing notes in math class. Meteor shower tonight, you wrote. Or so They say, I wrote back. Perfect cover for the landing. The principal came and got you and when I saw you after gym. Your eyes were red. I see your dad's car just beyond the glass doors and then you were gone, mini Maglite slapping hard against your black canvas backpack.
An electrical short in your mother's fridge, They tell us, but we know what's real. We got too close to the truth. From your bedroom window we could see the satellites spelling out messages from beyond the stars. They had to destroy our vantage point.
In the ash you find part of a baby blanket, Monopoly homes, a G.I. Joe melted into a salute. You hold wooden nails in your hand, remarking at their survival. But the notes you scribbled on yellow tablets are gone. Not burned, you tell me. Just gone. I steal for you one of my dad's striped ties, make you a new badge in MS Paint. We can still recover this mission.
These days you wouldn't know the grave of what was buried there. New owners put up a fucking modular, pod people, I swear to God. But the lights from their TV can't erase the impossible dark of the stars.
Our names are still etched in the willow tree. The porch light illuminates my trespassing face and a scrap of yellow paper I snatch from the branches when someone yells that they'll call the police. I unroll the note as I drive from spotlights, ash smeared over loopy blue handwriting, edges charred with time.
The Truth, you wrote from somewhere in the past, is still out there.
Libby Cudmore's work has been published in Big Lucks, The Big Click, Pank, The Vestal Review, Chamber Four and the American Fiction anthology from New Rivers Press.
Illustration by Meher Khan.