The Field

In a field strewn with rocks at the corner of two streets, a single drop of impossibly bright white descended from the moonlit sky.

An old man walking by stopped to hold his leg, which had just begun to cramp. “This is it, this is the big one,” he thought, rubbing the back of his thigh. He saw the white droplet out of the corner of his eye and turned to watch it with mouth agape. The shimmering pearl, lowered slowly as if at the end of a great fishing line, grew piercingly bright as it approached the ground. The early morning was quiet but for an occasional dog bark and the fuzzy rumble of far-off traffic, and into the quiet the brightness sang a single pure glassine note. Warmth enveloped the old man as he watched.

The droplet was within feet of the ground now, directly in the center of the shaggy field. The old man wanted to run toward it but felt a command to stand still and watch. It reached the long grasses and shone through the blades, making them thin and black with its brightness. Then it settled on the earth and, as the man strained to see, pierced the surface and pushed soft dirt up around itself and burrowed down until the last brilliant beams shot into the sky and were extinguished, and it was safely planted in the belly of the land.

The old man waited, his hand frozen on his thigh. He wanted to walk to where the light had disappeared but a hand held him back and so he just stood and watched, and didn’t notice as the sky grew first gray and then deep blue and then pale blue and yellow as the sun crept up. Two women walking by looked at the old man strangely, standing there watching the empty field, and murmured to each other. Later a police cruiser pulled over and woke him, and he tried to explain but the officer kindly guided him into the back seat and returned him home, the old man still muttering and rubbing his thigh and remembering the warmth of the light.

At first, the changes were too small for anyone to notice. Dogs and cats stopped walking through the field, and no birds landed there. If the people had been more attentive, they would have noticed that when you walked that block at night, there were no crickets chirping in the field. Indeed it seemed that all of the dumb living things held their breath around it. And too, the houses on its edges began to lean imperceptibly inward. Had you measured the water in your glass—and no one ever did—you would have found that it bunched up against whatever side was nearest the field, sloped impossibly down away from it. People making fires and lighting grills found that matches didn’t want to stay lit, and if they did finally succeed in getting a fire burning, they had to tend it incessantly and seemingly against its will to stay alive. At night, especially when the moon shone full and white in the sky, the people heard a ringing in their ears, a murmured note they each dismissed as an oncoming headache or the echo of a long day, and didn’t think to associate with the soft warmth that always accompanied it.

The first real sign was the pregnancy of a young couple who lived at the far edge of the field. They had been married for four years and trying for a baby the whole time, and had been told six months ago that it was impossible. They had cried and gone on many walks where the wife tried not to touch the strollers passing by and the husband tried not to hate them. And so when she failed to bleed they did not think to hope, but when other signs showed themselves she took a test to quiet her mind. Then she took another, and another, and finally presented them all to him. They marveled and called the skeptical doctor who tested and then also marveled. But of course, none knew of the seed in the field, and none would have thought of it if they did.

The second sign was felt much farther off, at a university where seismologists read bouncing lines and discussed their meaning. Here one morning a scientist with a tight ponytail noticed a regular irregularity, a repeated pattern like a heartbeat rather than the syncopated groaning of the earth. She deduced reasonably that the sensors were faulty and scheduled a diagnostic. But when the machinery passed all tests while the pattern remained, the department grew frantically alive. Meetings were held. Data were exported and emailed High Priority to specialists around the world. Incredulous experts flew in to debunk the results and were unable to do so. The earth, it seemed, had awoken.

The old man walked often past the field in the early mornings, hoping to see another pearl drop from the sky. The disappointment of not seeing one nearly overpowered the warm stillness he felt standing at the field’s edge. Each time, he told himself that he would walk into the grass and find the spot where the light had disappeared and dig to find it, but each time he stopped at the curb and took no further steps, and felt it would be wrong to do so, and simply watched and listened. His leg did not cramp, and he forgot to notice.

In the little house at the edge of the field the young man lay with his head on the young woman’s stomach, and he sang to them all a new song he had never heard before but that seemed to hang ringing in the air and he harmonized with it. And as he sang, the world outside went quiet and listened hard to every word and the woman breathed as gently as she could to not miss a note, and inside her the baby’s heart beat and the beat was drawn as a bouncing line on a scrolling paper miles away in front of marveling scientists.