Luminesce by Jake Troxell
No one remembered it snowing that night, and yet everything in Emeryville had disappeared beneath a veil of bright white powder. September was too early for weather like this. Pennsylvanians could usually witness a flurry or two leading up to Halloween, but fourteen inches of accumulation before Christmas? It was a strange occurrence, made stranger by the fact that the evening’s low temperature was a comfortable 52º F.
Ken Stanley, who was working third-shift security at the mill on Walnut Street, was one of the few people awake when the snow arrived. By his account, he punched out for a break at 3:07 a.m. and exited the building to grab a smoke. Upon realizing that he’d forgotten his lighter, Ken reentered the building. No more than sixty seconds later, he walked out again to discover a gleaming winter scape in the parking lot; the only thing missing were snowflakes falling from the crystal-clear sky.
The mill manager discounted the old man’s account. “There’s a reason he works at night,” he assured them, tipping back an invisible wine bottle.
Though it seemed ridiculous, the three snow-covered cars left abandoned in the middle of Spruce Street served as confirmation to Ken’s account. Cheryl Campbell, who was on her way back from Harrisburg, claimed the vehicle suddenly stopped, and the world outside disappeared.
It was the deepest snow Emeryville had ever seen. Schools closed for two weeks, most roadways were impassable, and even the grocery market closed its doors after five days. Nearly everything was sold out and, with the roads swollen with snow and discarded cars, trucks were unable to bring in replenishments. To the outside world, it seemed silly that just fourteen inches of snow could cripple a community for two weeks. After all, they had plow trucks and salt, snow blowers and shovels, just like every other town in Pennsylvania. This wasn’t snow though, it was something much denser; it didn’t melt, no matter how hard the sun’s rays beat upon it.
Martha Jackson and her teenage son spent two weeks clearing their tiny driveway on Church Street. They were now free to move from the top of their driveway all the way to the bottom, but where else could they go? The streets were still covered and public works already broke two plow trucks trying to move the snow in bulk. Martha’s son complained throughout the excavation that a single spade-full felt like a cinderblock.
Many older buildings, including Saint Matthew’s Protestant Church, were temporarily closed for fear that the snow would be too heavy and cause the roof to collapse. Father Brian and a few passionate churchgoers took to the A-frame roof with shovels to lessen the burden. Their brave effort may very well have saved the church, but the Father’s car paid the price when the snow came roaring down in an avalanche right onto the hood. The only business not struggling was the Post Office. Carlton Shaw, the postman, found the snow was so incredibly thick and flat that he could ride his bicycle to the neighboring village of Gladysburg, pick up the day’s deliveries, and then distribute them via bicycle. Sarah Miller from the grocery store attempted to drive her car across the snow but ended up four-tires deep in something like white quicksand.
On the night the Jacksons finished clearing their driveway, things in Emeryville got even stranger. The snow began to give off a mild glow. Though it’s not uncommon for the night to seem a little brighter after a snowstorm due to the moon’s reflection, this was no ordinary glow. The orange light shined through the snow like a flashlight through a finger.
In all, it took the better part of four days for the snow to fully melt, although melt isn’t exactly the right word for it. It didn’t puddle or slosh or turn a dirty grey color; it just disintegrated gradually. Every night the glow emanating from the ground grew brighter and brighter until finally, the source of the light revealed itself. Tiny translucent orange orbs that stretched as far as the eye could see and brought with themselves their own difficulties. Evenly spaced about one foot apart in all directions like a grid over all of Emeryville, the orbs could not be moved by machines or shovels. Not even an intense rainstorm or a gust of wind would make the balls move a centimeter. It was as if they were all cemented to the ground until a person or animal made contact. Though the snow had been terribly heavy, the vibrant little spheres felt lighter than air.
It was all anybody would talk about. Stories began circulating about how the orange balls had arrived in Emeryville. Everything from outlandish tales of an alien spaceship dropping them in the dead of night to the idea that they had come from beneath the ground, which many felt had no credence as the balls were found far above the ground on roofs and structures all over town. The strangest theory of all was that the balls had always been there and the townspeople just never noticed them before. Glenn Marshall claimed he’d been aware of the balls since he’d come back from World War II and his questions about orbs had gone unanswered by the close-minded fools around town. The mayor called for a town hall meeting to develop a solution for ridding the town of the balls.
“Well, we could use the children,” suggested Maureen Hopper from the donut shop. “Treat it like an Easter egg hunt and reward them for how many they bring back.” The imaginative idea resonated with the townsfolk and many believed it would have made for an exceptionally fun activity until it was brought up that the luminous orbs could be radioactive. Scientists were then brought in from around the world to examine the balls. Biologists, chemists, physicists, geologists, and even a few sociologists, wanting to understand the orbs and their effects on the surrounding community. They found very little, aside from the sociologists, in terms of scientific understanding, but they were able to determine there was no radiation being emitted.
After finding out the town wasn’t bustling with cancer, many attempts were made crack open an orb to find out what was inside. Car tires, hammers, a jackhammer—all efforts were in vain, as the spheres seemed to be some sort of impenetrable material. Burning the balls did nothing. Freezing the orbs ended in the same results. Peeing on the orbs or strapping them to an M80 were extremely entertaining activities for teenagers.
After several months, the conversation died down. The orbs became old news. After all, the balls didn’t seem dangerous and, if anything, they made evening strolls much more enjoyable. As long as the roads stayed clear, which months to accomplish with daily clean-ups, the balls weren’t really harming anyone. One of the scientists did the math. If there was one ball roughly every square foot and the town was approximately two square miles, it came out to around 55 million orbs scattered throughout Emeryville.
People tried all sorts of things with the orbs. Some planted them in the ground to see if anything would grow. Others gathered them into mason jars and used them as flameless lanterns. Dwight Cassidy proposed to Melissa Scott by spelling out Marry Me? in Bedford Park. He never bothered to clean up the orbs which led to at least two accidental proposals.
After a night of heavy drinking, Dale Garber swallowed one whole sphere. He insisted the orb asked him to do it. When he took his shirt off, his skin glowed orange and the outlines of his ribs were visible. Similar incidents occurred with school-age children and, every so often, a deer or fox would scuttle across the highway with its bones perfectly silhouetted by orange. They were all brought to Dr. Drexler for observation and able to pass the orb naturally without incident.
Cal Shelby had made a small fortune in the early days of the orbs running a mail-order business from his garage. He placed ads in the back of several magazines like National Geographic, LIFE, and Popular Mechanics.
Emeryville Mystery Orbs
Alien Artifacts? Rejuvenating Rocks? Bring home your very own!
Send $6 per ball to:
952 Walnut St
Emeryville, PA 17017
On cloudy nights, the sky above Emeryville glowed orange as the orbs reflected against the clouds. From outside the town limit, it appeared that the whole of Main Street was ablaze; this mistake had been made several times by those traveling on the nearby highway. Photographers were obsessed with capturing the powerful images, and Emeryville now occupies a spot on the most photographed places of all times list.
It would be years before the orange orbs were found all over the world. Mostly in remote locations – all in different climates and elevations like Antarctica, Louisiana, even the ocean floor. By human calculations, it appeared that the balls had all arrived on the same day as the Emeryville snowstorm. Seven sites were discovered in total. None offered any more clues into the origin of the orange spheres and, after a few years, people simply didn’t care. They just accepted the orbs into their lives and carried on as if nothing had changed.
That was the point of it all, was it not? To leave the native population undisturbed so they could be better studied. A long-term scientific mission like this was to observe and report. Surely, it would have been more practical to send agents to the surface to examine them, but that had proven extremely disruptive to the habitants of the planets in the past. The orbs turned out to be a much better solution.
Whenever they themselves visited civilized planets, they were typically hailed as gods or treated as warring demons. How many of their simple research missions ended in bloodshed? After that continued to happen, the researchers were forced to work in secret, abducting beings in the middle of night so they could be studied in peace. Occasionally, religious cults would spring up. This always worked in the researchers’ favor as some worshippers were fully willing to submit themselves.
For whatever reason though, intelligent creatures never got too hung up the orbs. Sure, for a little while, they’d obsess with the origins of the data collectors, but interest always dwindled over time.
The ingenious inventions were designed only to move when touched by organic materials. Over time, as the orbs learned the language and syntax of the species, they’d beckon the subjects to ingest them. This further allowed them to better catalog the planet and its creatures. The glowing bands of orange that danced across Emeryville’s night sky were an accident. The researchers were unaware their orbs were orange, or even emitted radiant light, because the researchers themselves processed light from an entirely different spectrum than humans. But why research, if not to learn?