Written by Blake Kimzey
On the appointed date in late June we—to a man, woman, and child in a small township in northern Michigan—stand in a field and wait and telescope our necks at the oncoming nighttide. We dress for a wedding or a baptism but this is neither. No one knows who will be selected and not a word about the flares is spoken. One doesn’t dare put word to myth even if it is certainty. Superstition is something real here. Our parents and grandparents have never known a year without the flares, have never known a year without a catching.
For days we can see the flares glowing in the dark hours, a phenomena that only those within the township can discern. As one day turns to the next the flares settle against the rmament closer to us and fall like stars in no hurry to fall at all. At daylight they burn as watermarks against the bright sky.
People stop on the sidewalk and visor their palms, look skyward, lost in thought. Entire families stand on front lawns drawn to the sky. At night the flares look like a chain of paper lanterns strung across the bending blackness all the way to the horizon, bringing depth and wonder to the middle distance, making the caps of Lake Michigan glow as if infected from below with bioluminescence.
After a month in transit the flares hover over the common, each of them floating no higher than a telephone pole, effulgent and filled with what we don’t know, casting incandescent light across the public green and treetops ringing the grounds. Our faces glow with them.
There is no ceremony to what happens on the common, just the choreography of an unknown master at work. We—the town—are arranged on the green according to family tree, groupings of ten or more, babies to grandparents. The ink of midnight is something we can’t see above the flares, now a brilliant clot fuzzed in pulsing light. The trees at attention, the wind at bay, the hum of life white noise against all else.
After midnight the flares break apart and descend steadily on a predestined line. Our arms go up and we wait until the flares are within reach, radiant and warm. The chosen catch them against their chests and we wait, for how long we can’t say. Time is reduced to a darkly pricked scroll above us pushing east to west and east and west again until light overtakes the chosen and they are no more and we remain. The catching has occurred.
At dawn we walk through the common and back to our homes and remember those that were chosen, those that have gone before, giving thanks that the flares come to us. Seasons change and we wait for the night sky to brighten again, for all of us that remain to find ourselves standing with our families again, arms outstretched. MM