Thunder rolled and cracked and rumbled. Rain spattered down on the magnolia tree. The air was dark gray and depressed. Agnes surveyed her her backyard from the safety of the enclosed veranda with a forced bitter grin. She brushed a lock of white hair from her forehead. The radio crackled and hissed from the other room. She was waiting for a tornado. She always waited for tornados each spring. She was hoping one of them would take her away someday. She detested the idea of dying in her bed, and then having some embalmer poke and prod and drain her body then dress her in some horrible uncomfortable fabric and paint her up like a hussy. Being sucked up into the air was a far more dramatic and tragic way to exit. She also often thought of taking a cruise and jumping over the side in the middle of the night and being enveloped in cold salty water, entangled in seaweed and stray fishing nets if at all possible. But that cost money, and she didn't like spending money.
"Tck!" she clicked her tongue. "The roses are getting too much rain!" She looked down at her drowsy persian cat, who was idly nuzzling her loosely besocked ankle. "I wish it would either rain harder or not at all Ferdinand." She looked back out at the yard. "I don't like storms that can't make up their minds what to do."
She bent down, with some effort, and picked up Ferdinand. He went limp in her arms. She went to one of her wicker chairs and sat down, with Ferdinand on her lap. She dutifully stroked his coat and and he purred and stretched, and rolled over onto his back. He reached to the arm of the chair and started scratching at the wicker weave. Ferdinand was in heaven.
Then the lights flickered and went out. The radio continued on. Agnes sighed, and wondered where she had last put the flashlight. She continued to stroke Ferdinand. There was a flash of white light in the sky, and Agnes braced for a loud crack and Ferdinand tensed up, but no thunderclap came. Then an object dropped from the sky and landed behind the magnolia with a thud.
Agnes got back up and let Ferdinand slump to the floor, where he immediately fell into a nap. She crossed to the broad screen window. Another object fell with a thud. Then there was another, and another. Then something hit the veranda roof with a sickening crunch, then a series of thuds as the object rolled down the roof. It dropped to the ground in an uneven heap. It started to move. Agnes screamed.
She ran into the kitchen, frantically opening drawers, looking for the flashlight. There were more crunches and thuds on the roof. She felt like she was in a bag of popcorn in a microwave oven. Finally she found the flashlight, and then she opened a cabinet door and took out a metal box with a combination lock. Her fingers were shaking as she dialed the correct combination, Ferdinand's birthday. She opened the box and retrieved her gun. She checked the clip, then took a deep breath.
Agnes slowly crept back out onto the veranda. The thuds had slowed down. In the gloom, she saw forms moving around her yard. She switched on the flashlight, and held it up with one hand and the gun in the other. She swept the beam of light across the yard, and in landed on naked human bodies. She screamed again.
The people were both men and women, all adults in their early twenties, skin gleaming from the rain. They were in perfect shape although they varied greatly in height. And they were all completely hairless. They started to walk towards her slowly.
"Don't you move!" screamed Agnes. "Get back!" The people stopped and froze.
"Agnes?" asked a young woman. "Is that you?"
"What--how do you know my name?" said Agnes.
"Oh sweety, I'm your auntie Millicent," said the young woman.
"The hell you are! You've got thirty seconds to get off my lawn or I shoot!"
"She doesn't understand," said one young man.
"Why would she?" said another. "It would be an awful shock."
"Please lower the gun dear," said the woman claiming to be aunt Millicent. "There's no need to get into hysterics."
"I'm going to start counting down--"
"Agnes dear, do you remember the summer you spent up in the cabin, when you were ten?" said Millicent, "when it did nothing but drizzle for a whole week, and we were all so bored to death and we got sick of playing cards?"
"So I taught you how to smoke. And I told you not to tell your father."
"How could you know--" said Agnes, lowering the gun a few millimeters.
"Because I was there dear. Don't you remember my face?" The woman stepped closer, and Agnes crossed the veranda to look at her closely through the screen. She was young and hairless and free of wrinkles. But the eyes were there, exactly the same as she remembered. Agnes straightened her posture and smiled slightly. She let the arm with the gun fall to her side.
"Have I died?" she asked hopefully.
"No dear, you haven't," said Millicent.
"I don't understand." Agnes's smile faded. "Am I having a stroke?"
"No," laughed Millicent. "There's nothing at all the matter with you. In fact you're going to live another twenty or so years, and in reasonably good health."
"Millicent, you shouldn't tell her that!" said a shorter woman.
"How could you possibly know how long I'm going to live?" asked Agnes.
"We just do. I can't really explain it. It's just like remembering the past, only we can remember the future, but only down here," said Millicent.
"Down here?" asked Agnes.
"On Earth," said Millicent with a smile.
"Can we come in?" said one of the men. "It's really cold out here."
"Oh, well, I don't know," Agnes bit her lip and raised her gun to her waist level.
"Please Agnes, let us in," said Millicent. "We're all your family."
"What?! All of you?"
"Yes dear. We were in what you call heaven, and we decided to fall to Earth. And we were--"
"Don't interrupt, dear. We were thinking that maybe we could live with you for awhile. You have this great big house all to yourself and there would be room if some of us slept on the floors. I promise we'll all go out and find employment as soon as we can so we won't be a burden on you." Millicent smiled broadly. "And dear, you do have some obligation because we are after all, family, and many of them are your direct ancestors."
"I don't understand that. I don't have anymore family. You died forty years ago in a skiing accident in Biarritz."
"Ooh, don't remind me of that. But like I said, we were all in heaven, bored stiff--"
"Yes I know, and I'm bad when I'm bored, so I figured out how to escape and come back to Earth, fresh as daisies."
"Yes dear! My goodness, don't you understand?" Millicent opened the screen door and stepped, dripping wet onto the veranda. She put her hand on Agnes's shoulder. "We've come back."
"So you're all back from the dead. In new bodies?"
"Yes!" said Millicent clapping her hands.
"But where are mother and father?"
"Oh, they didn't want to come," said Millicent.
"We didn't ask them," said one of the men. "My son was always so pious. He would have had a fit if he'd know what we were planning to do."
"Grandfather?!" exclaimed Agnes.
"Yes," said the man, matter-of-factly. "And just because I'm back, don't expect me to spoil you."
"You never spoiled me to begin with!"
"You're right," said the man. "I wanted to make sure you were tough enough for all the rough spots in life. Now, can we please come in?"
"Well, I guess I don't know what else I can do with you," said Agnes.
"Oh thank you Agnes dear," said Millicent. She slid past Agnes and padded barefoot in the kitchen. Agnes's grandfather came through next.
"Put that thing away!" he said, pointing grumpily to the gun. "You're going to hurt someone."
Then another man opened the screen door, shivering.
"And who are you?"
"I'm you're baby brother," said the man.
"Fred? But you died the day you were born..."
"That's why I'm happy to be here now," he said. "And it's nice to meet you." He quickly kissed her on the cheek and ran into the kitchen. A woman followed.
"You don't know me either dear," said the woman. "But I'm your great aunt Caroline. And aren't you just a peach!" She pinched Agnes's nose, to Agnes's chagrin. Then there was another man.
"I'm your great-great-grandfather Sylvester," he said gruffly. "I fought and died in the war. I took a minie ball right here." He pointed to his sternum with his thumb. "Died instantly. Glad to be back." He bowed slightly. "I hope I won't trespass on your hospitality for too long."
"Uh--" Agnes stood speechless as the parade continued. In this time the electricity came back on. There were seventy or so family members and ancestors that arranged themselves in her kitchen and living room, all naked, soaking the carpets with rainwater. Some stood chatting, and some, to Agnes's horror, lounged on the furniture without any obvious care that they weren't clothed. Ferdinand was making his way through the ankles, hustling for hands eager to pet him. Millicent quickly went to work and made tea. She fawned over the glasstop range and the microwave oven. An early ancestor from the days of the revolution was absorbed with turning the water taps on the sink on and off. Another one was remarking on the strange shape of the compact fluorescent lightbulbs. Agnes took in the ridiculous tableaux.
"Stop!" she yelled, her voice crackling. Everyone stopped talking and turned her way. "You can't all possibly stay here!"
"There's six bedrooms," said Millicent. "Plus there's the barn. I don't think some of the senior men would much mind sleeping there."
"No, we wouldn't mind," said Sylvester. "I like fresh air."
"I'm on a fixed income!" shouted Agnes. "I can't feed or clothe all of you!" Some of the people looked down at their bodies and suddenly looked ashamed. "I can barely afford all my prescription medication as it is!"
"Well, dear, I told you we would find jobs just as soon as we can--"
"There's a recession! This town's unemployment rate is astronomical!" Agnes threw up her hands for emphasis. "Plus I don't think a single one of you has a college degree. How are you going to find jobs with skills that when out of usefulness decades or more ago? And you don't have any identification! You can't get jobs without identification!"
"Agnes, don't get upset," said Fred. "We can learn things. I really want to learn things."
"He's right, Agnes," said Millicent. "You have to be reasonable. It's not like we can go back."
"Reasonable?!" screamed Agnes. "You just come out of nowhere, and barge into MY house, and start making yourself comfortable, as if you still owned the place! If there were one or two of you, maybe I could be reasonable, but this is outrageous! How dare you impose on my time and space! I'm going to have no choice but to call the police and have you all removed as trespassers."
"But...we're family?" said great aunt Caroline, on the verge of tears. "Doesn't that count for anything any more?" Agnes stared blackly at her.
"Don't you want people around?" asked Fred.
"Not really," said Agnes. "I have Ferdinand."
"What if we promised to stay only a week?" asked Millicent. "We'll get clothes, and sort out the identification problem, and then we'll move out."
"I don't think you could all do it in a week," said Agnes.
"Well, ten days then. And if we're not gone in ten days, you can report us to the police," said Millicent. "How does that sound?" Agnes felt suddenly hollow inside. She took in a deep breath, then sighed deeply.
"You don't all have to go..." she said quietly. "But you can't all stay! And you have to pay for your own food."
"Thank you sister," said Fred. Millicent hugged her. A cheer went through the living room.
"And no one touches my bathroom or goes into my bedroom!"
"Okay," said Millicent, nodding gravely.
"And no rearranging the pots and pans and silverware while you're here."
"Got it," said Millicent. "Oh, I knew we could soften you up!"
"Don't push it," said Agnes, before stalking up the stairs to her bedroom.