If you’re lowkey glaring at Netflix for taking so long to give us the next season of Stranger Things, you aren’t the only one. And we have a book for that. AND IT COMES OUT IN FOUR DAYS!
Scroll down for a special excerpt of When the Sky Fell on Splendor!
THE NIGHT OF THE crash started like most had that summer: with the six of us, and one mouth-breathing border collie, crammed into Remy’s clunky Geo Metro, rumbling down Old Crow Station Lane.
The mist was so thick it swallowed the headlights before they could reach the wall of corn on our right or the woods leaning close on our left, and the moisture was hissing off the asphalt like oil in a pan.
Handsome Remy was driving—he was the only one with a car—and Levi rode shotgun, scribbling notes on the script in his lap.
Side by side, the two of them looked more like an oddball pairing from a John Hughes movie than cousins.
Levi was a six-foot-three online shopping addict and wannabe director with a style aesthetic we’d affectionately dubbed “Technicolor Beach Boy” and a coif of reddish hair. He was also brave enough to own a lot of hats.
Remy, meanwhile, was on the shorter side of average with dark, wavy hair and a slim build he kept outfitted in three (seasonal) variations of a Canadian Tuxedo he’d pieced together from thrift stores, then blown out skateboarding. Because the first colors of fall had sneaked into the leaves, he’d swapped out his basic denim jacket for the one with the wool collar, and as if to spite him, Splendor Township was hotter than it had been all summer.
“What does everyone think of the ghost fart joke?” Levi asked, looking up from the script.
Sofía leaned around me to answer. “I vote we cut it.”
“Oh, do you?” Nick teased from the far side of the back seat. “Do you vote that, Supreme Court Justice Perez?”
Teasing was Nick’s primary love language, but Sofía was an essentially perfect human—beautiful, athletic, next year’s likely valedictorian—so the only thing we had to tease her about was that when we’d met her in the seventh grade, she’d announced her intention to study law at Boston University.
She rolled her eyes. “Yes, Nicholas. That’s my vote. Would you care to give yours, or are you part of the forty-three percent of Americans who don’t exercise their political voices?”
Nick shrugged and waved one of his thoroughly tattooed hands.“Fine. The joke’s garbage.” Droog, my family’s near-geriatric dog, sat up in Nick’s lap and licked his cheek, as if to agree. Then she turned and stuck her head out the window, effectively putting her speckled butt in the center of the car and our conversation.
Levi frowned.“Really? I thought it was solid comedy. Franny? What about you?”
“One of the rare situations where your bottomless fount of optimism doesn’t pay off,” I said.
Levi adjusted his bright orange porkpie hat and looked to his cousin.“What about you, Handsome Remy?”
“I’d like to go on the record as still not a fan of that nickname,” Remy said.
The nickname had arisen when a girl in my art class stopped me in the hallway to say, You’re friends with Handsome Remy, right? Could you give him my phone number?
Every couple of months, someone brought it back into popular use. Usually Nick.
“Maybe you should’ve thought of that before you grew out those gorgeous dark locks.” Nick reached forward and flicked Remy’s wool-lined collar. “You’re aware it’s nine hundred degrees, right, dude?”
“Are you aware this isn’t an ICP concert inside a Hot Topic?” Remy said.
“Ohhhhhhhh,” Levi crowed.“Roasted.”
“Roasted?” Nick crossed his tattooed arms over the metal band displayed on his black T-shirt, as if to lean into Remy’s jab.“Sort of like what this weather’s doing to Handsome Remy’s flesh under all that wool.”
“Lovely, Nicholas,” Sofía said, and shuddered.
“When you shudder, something twinges in my spine,” I told her. “Because of the empathic bond of womanhood?” she asked. “Because your knee is digging into a part of my butt I think is connected to my spine,” I said.
“Oh! Sorry!” Sofía tried to make more room for me, but it was no use. She, Arthur, Nick, and I were packed like sardines. I was basically riding on her knees, with my top half hanging out the window where the sticky wind was working to fully tease my already tangled blond hair.
“Take this turn,” Arthur said, leaning forward between Remy and Levi.“It’s faster.”
Despite not knowing how to drive himself, Arthur was pretty confident he knew the fastest way to get anywhere. Of all of us, my brother was the most confident about the most things, and since he was right about 50 percent of the time, he’d become the de facto leader of our group.
Remy nodded and turned down the narrow road that curved through the forest.The car thunked over a pothole, and Sofía and I winced in unison as my tailbone jolted against her thigh.
Remy’s dark eyes flicked toward the rearview mirror, and his dimples surfaced as he grimaced.“Sorry.”
Through the dark, the headlights flashed over the green now leaving splendor sign, and Nick whooped and thumped the roof of the car, so that the birds inked on his fingers looked like they’d just flown into it. “Yeah, buddy!” he cried, thumping it again. “So long, assholes!”
It was a running joke.
Our township was so small that the now entering splendor sign sprang up on the two-lane road a minute or two before you reached my house, and the now leaving sign came another five minutes down the road, when the corn dropped away and the dark woods rose to cup the lane like greedy hands.
That the town was called Splendor also seemed like a running joke—one that had long outlived whoever named our plot of dead- brown fields and rangy forest and the single Taco Bell between the high school and the tractor warehouse.
“Don’t care if I ever see it again,”Arthur agreed, though it took me a few seconds to translate because he had a hand-rolled cigarette tucked between his lips and was using both his hands to try to light it.
Remy tugged on his wool collar and glanced in the rearview mirror. “Could you not smoke in my car?”
“No,” Arthur mumbled around the cigarette. “I’m addicted, Remy. That’s the point.”
Levi spun in the passenger seat, training his video camera onto me. “And, Franny, how does it feel to watch your older brother fight the uphill battle of being addicted to novelty cigarettes?”
“I mean, it’s terrifying,” I said, twisting so my face was smashed against the roof of the car. “One second you’re carefree youths, riding bikes and throwing Frisbees, and the next, your brother’s under a bridge, wearing fingerless gloves and playing bad Dylan covers just to feed his habit.”
“And you, Nicholas Raymond Colasanti Jr.?” Levi turned. “I understand you’re as close with Frances and Arthur Schmidt as a goth can be with anyone?”
Nick’s skeletal face scrunched up, and he palmed the camera. “I’m metal, not goth. Now get that thing out of my face, dude.” His Southern-skewing accent thickened, like it always did when the camera was on.“I’m doing my pre-shoot meditation!”
“Maybe we should buy ads,” Arthur said suddenly, like he was part of an entirely different conversation. He leaned over Nick and flicked his cigarette ash out of the car.
“Ads?” Sofía said.“For . . . ?”
“The Ordinary!”Arthur snapped, like it should have been obvi- ous. Like we had all just been sitting in a circle around him, hands extended, absorbing his thoughts.
“We should totally do ads,” Levi said, immediately excited.
Levi was often immediately excited. His optimism wasn’t reserved for bad jokes about flatulence and boldly colored fedoras. It was more wide reaching than that, with a special surplus set aside for The Ordinary.
Sofía’s brow furrowed. “You want to buy ads for our failing YouTube channel?”
“For our mockumentary webisodes,” Levi corrected. “With what money, Spielberg?” Nick said.
“You’ve got to stay positive,” Levi said, and put on a Talking Heads song.
“Ads. Now that’s a good idea,” Arthur mumbled around his cigarette. As usual he seemed only dimly aware of what was going on with the rest of us. My brother had a kind of laser focus that kept us moving whenever we were working on The Ordinary.
Our YouTube mockumentary series was Levi’s baby, but when it came to actually filming, he seemed just as content to have us over for movie nights and elaborately themed “parties” (only the six members of The Ordinary were ever present, be it for the Quentin Tarantino–themed birthday, the Spielberg birthday, the Wes Anderson birthday, etc.).
When we managed to finish episodes it was usually because they fit nicely with whatever lofty aspiration Arthur was fixated on at the time.
We’d made our“Kite Chasers”episode back when he’d thought he wanted to be an actor (it turned out he was no better at emoting on film than in real life), the “Rock Gods” episode when he decided we should form a band (none of us played instruments), and “The Recluse,” our episode about a J. D. Salinger–esque author living in the woods with a bunch of blow-up dolls he believed to be his relatives, when Art was casually toying with the idea of being the next great American novelist (how this was going to prepare him for that career path remains unclear).
What my brother really wanted, I thought, was to be a superhero. But for his last summer before he left for the lone liberal arts college that had accepted him, he’d settled for World’s Best Special Effects Creator, and thus the “Ghost Hunters” episode we were on our way to film had been born.
Arthur let out another puff of smoke. “We could get some investors.”
Remy smirked at me in the rearview mirror. We could absolutely not get investors.
Remy pulled onto the narrow bridge that ran over the train tracks, and Nick gasped so loud I hit my head on the car roof twisting to see him.
“Guys,” he said, voice low and panicky. He was turned to the window on his side of the back seat, his tattooed fingers braced against the glass. “Did you see that? There was something hanging from the bridge . . .”
I tugged at my nautilus shell necklace, like it was a talisman handcrafted to ward off bridge ghosts.
“Stop it, Nick,” Sofía said.
“I swear to Gah,” Nick said, laughing. He was always swearing to Gah. Allegedly his mom got on him for Using the Lord’s Name in Vain, but Nick had a tendency to exaggerate (sometimes called “a lying problem”), and it was possible he felt guilty swearing to the veracity of something he knew was ludicrous. Still, he forged on: “Something’s out there!”
“Oh yeah?” I said. I was ninety-nine percent sure he was messing with me, but that last one percent was tightening around my chest. “Like how you swore to Gah Katelyn Marsh’s mom chased you out an upstairs window onto the roof?”
“Franny, I’m not kidding.” Nick slipped deeper into his accent. “There was something—or someone—hanging from the bridge.”
“I saw it too!” Levi joined in.
Sofía rolled her eyes.“You guys are dicks.” “Yeah, but we’re your dicks,” Nick said. “Ew,” I said.
Nick threw his head back and laughed, and Remy’s dimple deepened as he turned off the bridge and sped away from that claustrophobic stretch of wooded road. Levi turned up “Monster Mash,” and my anxiety ebbed away.
Everything was right once more, or as right as things got for the six of us.
In a couple of weeks, Arthur would leave for college in Indiana, and Remy would be two hours north at Ohio State. Nick would bump up his hours at Walmart to full-time, and Levi, Sofía, and I would be back in the halls of Splendor High School for our senior year, being occasionally mocked and often ignored.
Things would be different, I knew, but if there were two subjects I did my best not to think about, they were: a) the past and b) the future.
We turned down Jenkins Lane and followed the gravel road to its dead end.There was nothing but a small electrical substation on one side of the street and the run-down wreck everyone called the Jenkins House on the other, our destination.
Years and weather had stripped the house’s whitewashed veneer to a drab gray, and a few small fires started by trespassers had charred the left side of the second floor. The porch had col- lapsed in the center, brush snaking through the holes, and the black shutters hung askew, like someone had tried to pry them off the house’s face, while the blood-red door looked like its center had been smashed to bits by an ax.
Remy cut the engine as a breeze rolled past, rattling the house. “It’s perfect,” Levi said brightly, and got out of the car with the camera.
The wind blew a tuft of golden hair into my face, and I pushed it behind my ear, then wiped the sweat from my hairline.
Levi was already shooting B-roll of a loose shutter clapping against the house.
His voice dropped into the nasally, faux-British narrator impression he prized so much: “The travelers arrive to the alleged hotbed of paranormal activity, skeptical and unscathed.”
Arthur doled out the equipment we’d brought at the trunk. We didn’t have much. The Ordinary shoots were casual, the edit- ing afterward practically nonexistent.Within a couple of days, Levi would have slapped tonight’s episode online so it could garner our feed’s traditional five to seven comments, ranging between “lol some people have too much free time” and “KILLYRSELF.”
To be fair, they were right on that first count.The six of us had a lot of free time (minus Sofía, who squeezed us in around a full schedule of Achieving Things).
We never talked about it, never said it aloud, but if things were different, if the accident hadn’t happened, the six of us wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t be the Ordinary; we probably wouldn’t even be casual friends.
Arthur and Nick raced up the porch steps, Droog bounding after them. Sofía and Levi were close behind them when Remy fell into step beside me halfway across the dark yard and grinned. “You’re not spooked, are you, Fran?”
I looked between him and the crumbling house. The rumor was that the man who’d lived there had murdered an entire birthday party’s worth of people.
More likely, the house looked like shit for the same reason the rest of the town did: because we all felt like shit. Half the town lost their jobs when the mill closed down. Foreclosed houses with busted porches and graffitied walls were a dime a dozen here. A birthday party massacre was hardly a prerequisite.
Still, I never would’ve agreed to come here if it weren’t specifically for an episode.
“I’m not thrilled,” I finally answered.
Remy flicked on his flashlight, and the beam bounced along the thirsty grass ahead of us.“It’s gonna be fine. Ghosts aren’t real.”
“What about demons?” I said. “Certainly not.”
Remy smirked and shook his head. “What kind of monster doesn’t want unicorns to exist, Franny?”
Sofía had stopped on the porch to wait for us, her five feet and eleven inches towering over us even more than usual.
“You absolutely don’t have to go in,” she reminded me. “I don’t mind,” I said, which was mostly true.
Inside, the wallpaper was tattered and peeling. Dust and grime covered the wooden floors, and torn-up books lay scattered across the overturned coffee table, the slashed drapes ruffling with the breeze from the door.
“Look!” Levi lifted his flashlight to a happy birthday banner on a red-splattered wall. Droog’s ears perked, like Levi had been specifically speaking to her.
Sofía’s flashlight lit up her face.“That’s not real. Police wouldn’t just leave blood all over the wall.”
“Care to weigh in, Handsome Remy?” Nick asked. “What would the sheriff do?” He reached for Remy’s hair, and Remy swatted his hand away.
“Get your digits out of my mane, Goth Grandpa.”
“Metal Grandpa,” Nick said. He was the oldest of us, a super senior who’d just graduated with Arthur and Remy’s class, which put him at nineteenish—though he wouldn’t tell us when his birth- day was—and he did look a bit like a grandpa, with his shaved head and bulgey blue eyes.“Who do I get to be in this episode, Levi?”
“Who do you think you get to be?” Sofía said. “The hillbilly. You’re always the hillbilly.”
“Give the people what they want,” Nick said, and shrugged. “You’re just so good at it!” Levi said.
“I call Nicky Jr.’s wife!” I said, before anyone else could. Nick gave me a high five that left my whole arm ringing.
He was, technically speaking, the best at improvisation (years of practice making shit up), so I loved partnering with him.
When we’d made “Kite Chasers,” he and I had worn matching windbreakers I’d found in a box of Mom’s old stuff and spent the whole day chewing gum with our mouths open and gasping, “Baaaabe! Did ya see that? That’s what freedom looks like, babe.” It had been one of the best days of my life, until Arthur and I got home and Dad saw me carrying the jackets through the hall.
It wasn’t like there’d been a big fight. Dad had just shuffled upstairs with a bottle of beer and the calendar he was always scrib- bling odd jobs into, leaving us to wonder when we’d see him next. Since that day, I’d become more cautious. The past had settled over our house like a layer of dust, and I picked my way through our halls careful not to disturb any of it, so Dad and Arthur wouldn’t have to remember. I didn’t touch the stuff Mom had left behind in the downstairs closet again, and I’d switched the nautilus shell necklace I’d found in my brother Mark’s room onto a longer chain so the memory of him could sit over my heart without Dad or Arthur seeing it.
The less we remembered, the happier we all were.
“I say we just do this,” Levi said, and turned on his camera, the white light spearing out to catch the sharp angles of Nick’s pale face and bulging eyes.
“I,” Nick hissed, hamming up his accent, “feel spirits here.What about you, baby doll?”
Levi swung the camera toward me, its light momentarily blind- ing me.“Oh, sugar, I feel ’em too.”
And then we were off.Sofía became a two-bit medium who only heard the ghosts in the house calling out various Billy Ray Cyrus lyrics, and Arthur became a skeptical scientist who first discovered he was a ghost and then found out he was specifically the ghost of Colonel Sanders, of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. Remy always had a hard time doing anything but giggling onscreen, which he usually tried to channel as a stoner character who was high, but since none of us except Arthur had ever been high, we had no idea how accurate Remy’s representation was.
As we moved from room to room, we sank deeper into our roles, and Arthur killed off his character so he could focus on special effects, running ahead to trigger them as we went.
Upstairs, he set up the fake fire he’d been perfecting all week (three clamp lights covered in orange gel, hooked up to dimmers so that he could make the light leap and dim at random, just like flames), and Levi started up the stairs, backward so he could get footage of us moving in a wide-eyed pack to the second floor through the fake fire. From there, we made our way into one of the front bedrooms, where the windows faced the electrical substation across the street. “Um, Remy?” Levi said. “Could you make your face look less like you’re watching a dozen golden retriever puppies bound toward you? Just one line:‘The spirits are awake.’”
“The . . .” Remy’s stony expression twitched.“The spirits . . .”
Droog was getting impatient. She started to pace. Sofía grabbed her collar, but Droog kept whining, straining against her.
Remy settled his face into a serious expression.“The spirits are—” Droog gave an anxious bark, and Remy’s voice dropped off as a gust of wind ripped through the open window, scattering the trash on the floor. Droog’s barking amped up, and I threw my free arm in front of my face to block the flurry of dirt and empty Big Gulp cups rolling toward me. With one final bark, Droog broke free and tore from the room.
I looked to Remy for help, but he’d turned to the window, his dark hair ruffling in the wind.Arthur and I exchanged a glance then went to see what he was looking at.
In the light from the electrical plant across the street, we could see Droog running out across the yard, her barks getting lost in the wind. She barreled to the center of the lawn then stopped, spine rigid and tail erect, and I followed her gaze upward.
Silver light was streaking across the black sky, once every handful of seconds.
“Well, gah-damn,” Nick mumbled.
“Meteor shower,” Sofía shouted as the wind ratcheted up a few notches, sending waves through the grass.
Droog was barking so forcefully now that her front paws kept lunging off the ground. She was raging at the falling stars, or at the sky for dropping them.
Across the street, the low hum coming off the metal towers mounted. The lampposts around the electrical substation brightened, the bulbs glowing white against the black night.
The air buzzed. My hair had gone staticky, strands of blond floating out around me. Arthur’s own dark-blond hair lifted in a halo around his head, and his hazel eyes, a mirror of mine, narrowed. Someone—Nick, maybe—yelped, and I looked back to the window in time to see the row of lights beyond the chain-link fence suddenly spark and go out, blanketing the street in darkness,
complete except for our flashlights and the light atop the camera.
The wind stopped.The humming cut out.
Droog stilled in the yard. Everything fell silent except us, our breaths.
All six of us had started leaning toward the window, waiting. Like we expected something to happen.Time went sticky as molasses.
And then, a sudden shriek of metal tore down the length of one of the towers across the street, something exploding into sparking shards.
Then everything went quiet again.
For a beat, we just looked at each other, stunned by the sudden silence.
Arthur broke for the stairs first. The rest of us took off after him.
When we hit the porch, Droog leapt up and bounded after us across the road.
“Wait—” I shouted as I noticed the yellow danger:high voltage sign on the substation’s fence, but Arthur was already halfway up it.
The power surge must’ve knocked out the charge.
“That’s private property!” Sofía warned, but Nick and I were on the fence now, and Remy and Levi were close behind. I heard Sofía groan then start up behind me.
We landed one by one on the far side, and I threw a glance back at Droog, who was whining anxiously. I stuck my finger through and touched her nose.“Stay here,” I told her, then chased the others across the dark lot.
“Are falling stars worth anything?”Arthur asked.
“Like money?” Sofía whispered.“They’re basically rocks.” Arthur’s near-unibrow crinkled.“Why are you whispering? “Only neighbors this place has are corn and cows,” Nick said.
“Feel free to shout.”
“Besides.” Arthur grabbed Remy’s shoulder. “We’re here with the sheriff ’s son.What can they do?”
Remy shook Arthur loose.“Ground us.”
We crept toward the metal tower where we’d seen the rain of sparks.The top looked like it had been bitten off, the metal twisted and torn like it was nothing but a giant Twizzler chomped in half. The beheaded part was caught between the base of the tower it had come from and the one next to it, forming a twisted bridge between the two structures.The metal groaned as it slid lower along them.
“Look,” Sofía whispered.
White sparks were still leaping off the loose piece of the tower, darting out and back in along a set path like a strike of lightning being played, then rewound, then played again.
Arthur led us closer.
The metal shrieked, and we all lurched backward as the broken piece came loose and crashed to the ground.
The light was still there, as if it were growing out of the metal then withering into it. But it wasn’t coming off the metal at all. It was coming from the disc-shaped object balanced atop it, the thing that must’ve hit the tower in the first place.
“What is it?” I breathed as we circled around it.
Levi lifted the camera, shining light on the plate-like object.We hadn’t seen the disc from farther back because it was transparent, a little cloudy, like a rounded-out block of ice.The light came from within it, streaking back and forth along the same veins every time. “It must be heavy to have done this kind of damage,” Sofía whispered.
“Do you think it’s like . . . part of the comet?” I asked.
Arthur stepped closer. I could already see where this was going. My brother might be the type to obsessively remind me to drink water or take my Mace when I rode my bike to work, but he was also the type to try LSD alone and give himself stick-and-poke tattoos during math class.
He did not have good impulse control.
“Arthur,” I whispered. He ignored me, reaching, slowly, as if in a trance. His fingers spread, the blue-tinted light diffusing between them. “Art!” I hissed, lunging to grab his shoulder. “Don’t––”
He thrust his hand toward the cloudy light.
The last thing I felt was his worn-thin sleeve in my hand. The last thing I heard was an earth-shattering CRACK! Like the world splitting open. Like my eardrums bursting, my sense of balance and direction coming apart like a piece of fabric being unwound in every direction.
Everything—every sound, smell, taste, and sight––was lost in a blinding white.
And then I was lost in it too.