Author : Rick Tobin

“See, the smoke goes straight up. Nice day tomorrow, if we could go outside.”

“Meter still reads dangerous. Maybe the Van Allen will come back.”

“Out of our control. It’s the Sun. No wonder cultures worshiped it.”

The elder, Lester Simpson, rested on flat stones near the fire pit. He poked embers, making waterfalls of sparks spin above them in ascending gray clouds.

“You have sticks, Karen?”
“Yes, cleaned them before we left. Oh, here’s last of the marshmallows.”

“Like everything. Wished my boys had made it. We used to cook on the beach by the bathhouse in Frisco. Had to guard for itinerants at night, but campfires warmed us from summer fog and cold”

“Can’t imagine. Never made it to the ocean, but we did campfires in the Rockies—skies like a planetarium show. Best to leave all those memories back there.”

As they stuffed their giant white confectionery on the thin branches a rustling from the dying brush to their left made them turn. A tall stranger in a black jumpsuit moved toward the fire. His thin hands were up as he approached. His gate was hesitant. They could see his white hair and large, dark eyes, with a thin, expressionless mouth.

“May I join you,” he asked, stopping for permission.

“I guess,” Lester responded, holding his prize back from the fire momentarily.

“I don’t remember you from the caves,” Karen commented. Dim firelight cast harsh shadows across her teenage face as she shook her ponytail back over her shoulder.

“No, I’m not from this group. I’m a little lost, but I saw the light. Really cold tonight. I left my gear back there, in the brush, in case you were part of the gangs about.”

“We just finished cleaning them all out, “Lester interjected. “No need to fear. It’s safe for a hundred miles around. We’re preparing a little snack. C’mon. Sit.” Lester pointed at a nearby ledge.

The intruder turned his head slightly as he reeled back, but then moved to the designated seat.

“Remember, Karen, you let it get brown all the way around, and let it burn a little. You’ll see a blue flame. Then pull it out quickly.” Lester gave his instructions as he pushed a plump package deep into the waiting heat.

“I remember…but it has been a long time.”

In a few seconds the puffs expanded and bubbled. Karen’s were too close to the fire and began to drip off the stick. She yanked them away. She flicked some of the melting contents on the suit of the visitor. He rose quickly, squealing, running back into the darkness. They could hear a flurry in the bushes drawing away from their roasting.

“Gee, Les, I didn’t mean to mess up his clothes. Who acts like that?”

“Can’t say. Did you see how big his eyes got? That was weird. Definitely not part of the Carlsbad Caverns Tribe. Don’t worry about it. Let’s just get our crackers and chocolate bars ready. I remember how good these taste.”

Tashan Dustaro stood shaking before the telescreen, yelling to the command ship. “The stories are true. I met two. The adult taught his child to eat flesh from criminals they had just killed, after setting it on fire. Then they splashed it on me as if it were nothing. We can’t settle here. They crawl from caves at night like cannibal insects. Let’s move on to another planet that has the radiation we need. This is more than we bargained for when we disrupted their magnetic field. Don’t land. That is my report.”

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