Last to Die
them out of the car! Help me.” Claire crawled to the driver’s side and yanked open the door.
Bob Buckley tumbled out onto the pavement, his eyes open and sightless. Claire stared at the bullet hole punched into his temple. “Bob,” she moaned. “Bob!”
“You can’t help him now.”
“Barbara—what about Barbara?”
“It’s too late.” The woman grabbed her by the shoulders and gave her a hard shake. “They’re dead, do you understand? They’re both dead.”
Claire shook her head, her gaze still on Bob. On the pool of blood now spreading like a dark halo around his head. “This can’t be happening,” she whispered. “Not again.”
“Come, Claire.” The woman grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet. “Come with me. If you want to live.”
ON THE NIGHT fourteen-year-old Will Yablonski should have died, he stood in a dark New Hampshire field, searching for aliens.
He had assembled all the necessary equipment for the hunt. There was his ten-inch Dobsonian mirror, which he’d ground by hand three years ago, when he was only eleven years old. It had taken him two months, starting with coarse eighty-grit sandpaper, and progressing to finer and finer grits to shape and smooth and polish the glass. With his dad’s help, he’d built his own alt-azimuth mount. The twenty-five-millimeter Plössl eyepiece was a gift from his uncle Brian, who helped Will haul all this equipment out into the field after dinner whenever the sky was clear. But Uncle Brian was a lark, not an owl, and by ten PM he always called it a night and went to bed.
So Will stood alone in the field behind his aunt and uncle’s farmhouse, as he did most nights when the sky was clear and the moon wasn’t shining, and searched the sky for alien fuzzyballs, otherwise known as comets. If he ever discovered a new comet, he knew exactly what he would name it:
Comet Neil Yablonski
, in honor of his dead father. New comets were spotted all the time by amateur astronomers; why couldn’t a fourteen-year-old kid be the next to find one? His dad once told him that all it took was dedication, a trained eye, and a lot of luck.
It’s a treasure hunt, Will. The universe is like a beach, and the stars are grains of sand, hiding what you’re looking for
For Will, the treasure hunt never got old. He still felt the same excitement whenever he and Uncle Brian hauled the equipment out of the house and set it up under the darkening sky, the same sense of anticipation that this could be the night he discovered Comet Neil Yablonski. And then the effort would be worth it, worth the countless nocturnal vigils fueled by hot chocolate and candy bars. Even worth the insults flung at him by his former classmates in Maryland:
Fat boy. Stay Puft Marshmallow
Comet hunting was not a hobby that made you tan and trim.
Tonight, as usual, he’d begun his search soon after dusk, because comets were most visible just after sunset or before sunrise. But the sun had set hours ago, and he still hadn’t spotted any fuzzyballs. He’d seen a few passing satellites and a briefly flaring meteor, but nothing else that he hadn’t seen before in this sector of the sky. He turned the telescope to a different sector, and the bottom star of Canes Venatici came into view. The hunting dogs. He remembered the night his father had told him the name of that constellation. A cold night when they’d both stayed up till dawn, sipping from a thermos and snacking on …
He suddenly jerked straight and turned to look behind him. What was that noise? An animal, or merely the wind in the trees? He stood still, listening for any sounds, but the night had turned unnaturally silent, so silent that it magnified his own breathing. Uncle Brian had assured him there was nothing dangerous in those woods, but alone here in the dark, Will could imagine all sorts of things with teeth. Black bears. Wolves. Cougars.
Uneasy, he turned back to his telescope and shifted the field of vision. A fuzzyball suddenly appeared smack in the eyepiece.
I found it! Comet Neil Yablonski!
No. No, stupid, that wasn’t a comet
. He sighed in disappointment as he realized he was looking at M3, a globular cluster. Something that any decent astronomer would recognize. Thank God he hadn’t woken up Uncle Brian to see it; that would have been embarrassing.
The snap of a twig made him spin around again. Something was moving in the woods. Something was definitely there.
The explosion threw him forward. He
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