Amal was a witness to the first apparition, in which a heavenly woman had appeared in the skies on the outskirts of the Tri-Cities with a message of peace. It came at a time of significant social turmoil as the city was playing host currently to an elevated influx of refugees from the towns and villages farther north which were beginning to see massive flooding.
It was a pattern that was playing out, largely unbeknownst to Amal, across the world. The reasons for the migrations of peoples from place to place varied according to local climate and social conditions, but the outlines were roughly the same everywhere. Either you were someone who lived in a place, or you were someone who was leaving a place.
Amal’s family had settled here themselves a generation earlier from across the sea. But since their own migration, they had mostly kept their heads down and minded their own business in an effort to blend into their adopted society.
Amal was Tri-Cities through and through, though. Born and bred. He had finished school and gone to work in the fulfillment center, picking and packing boxes which were shipped by drone all around the greater Tri-Cities area. With everything that was happening now, he knew he was lucky to have this job.
He’d just finished a shift the night of the event, and was heading out to meet friends at Gilligan’s Pirate Tavern for drinks. He got in his car and punched in the destination. The seat’s harness auto-locked around him and the vehicle powered up, slipping quietly out the gates around the facility and onto the back roads he preferred to travel on. He could get there faster on the highway, but this way he had time to think and unwind while he caught up on his series as the car found its way along without any additional intervention on his part.
There was a place in a slight valley where the back way passed under the highway, and he crossed through it while the popular character Max Fox blew the brains out of a captured enemy on screen. Amal grinned, feeling the cares of the day start to release their grip on his mind.
Night by now had fallen in earnest. What stars could be seen on the edges of the cities’ glare were beginning to twinkle awake, and he glanced up at them with a cool regard. Tomorrow he would pull a double shift, but tonight was tonight. He had twelve hours to drink, sleep, and shower before he was back at the mill to feed the gaping maw of the drones, hungry for products to regurgitate out to the masses.
As Max Fox popped around a dingy alleyway, pistol drawn, Amal’s gaze was drawn suddenly to the horizon off to his left – south. He thought he’d seen a flash from the corner of his eye, somewhere near the trailer parks and makeshift encampments being used by the refugees.
Another flash. What was it? Fireworks? An explosion? Maybe somewhere out there a drug lab was going up in flames, he reasoned, as Max Fox took a drag on his cigarette, booted heel grinding the face of his now captured quarry into black pavement.
The flash reappeared in the sky, this time rising and seeming to grow in size. A missile launch?
“Vehicle,” Amal queried, suddenly nervous. “What’s that light?”
The familiar voice of his car responded, “What light?”
“Um, in the sky? It looks like a missile or explosion or something…”
And as he said it, the flare went hazy, spreading out, and then gathering. Into the shape of an enormous glowing woman.
“Stop! Vehicle, stop!” Amal shouted, and the car ground to a halt.
“Pull over to the shoulder,” the car instantly obeyed.
“Emergency lights, on.” Amal’s fingers worked to unbuckle his harness and pry open the handle. He stumbled out into the night air.
The woman in flowing robes, seemed to be both far off and close at the same time. Exotic, and also utterly familiar. She held up a flower in front of her smiliing face, the puffball of a dandelion, and blew on it, dispersing its seeds to the astral winds.
“Love my children,” Amal could hear her voice. Soft and gentle on the night. Who was she? What was she doing there. He almost cried out, stumbling forward, and catching himself on the hood of the car.
And all at once, her clear form returned to haze, and the haze gradually dispersed. And Amal had no more answers nor explanations than when the whole thing had started.
He popped back into the seat of his car, punching buttons on screen and called up the dash cam recording, played it back.
There she was, clear as day. Or night, rather. Holy shit. He immediately shared the file of the recording through to his circle.
Claudia was the first to respond.
“What am I looking at?” her voice piped into the cabin.
“No idea!” Amal nearly shouted. “Did anybody else see that?” He was alone on the dark road, and no other cars had passed.
He set the car’s computer to scan the networks in an estimated radius based on his location.
Confirming video recordings were coming in. “Mysterious woman appears in night sky,” Newschan was now reporting. Videos from different perspectives started popping up on screen. Whatever it was, Amal wasn’t alone. It wasn’t some figment of his imagination after a long day. Though no one seemed to know what it all meant yet, it was decidedly, deliciously, real. He pulled the door shut, harnessed himself back in and ordered the car back into motion.