Chandra Lal peers through his telescope at the deep, ebony sky. It’s a clear night, his favorite kind of night for star gazing. Although he’s in an attic and not outside like he would prefer, he’s pushed open the window to get a clearer view above him. He focuses the lens to get a better look at two of the four Jovian moons which rotate around Jupitar. As he turns the tube towards Saturn to see if he can get a glimpse at any of its visible moons, he hears a couple dogs barking below him. He checks his watch to see how much time he has left before his mom may start to worry that he’s been gone too long: he has about fifteen minutes left. Five years ago, he found this telescope in the attic when his family bought the kennel near their house. As soon as he saw it, regally posed by the window, he was intrigued by it. Not knowing anything about space, he purchased the book, Astronomy for Dummies, to learn the basics. He had replaced the lens on the telescope since the original one was badly scratched and gave it a good cleaning. After that, he was hooked. Every night since then, when he’s on duty to let the dogs out to relieve themselves, he sneaks up to the attic to get a glimpse at the world above him.
“I’ll be down soon!” he shouts to the dogs as if they can understand what he’s saying. Tonight, they have nine dogs boarded in their kennel, which is a slow night for them. But it’s winter; not as many people go on vacations this season or need help with their pets. When they first moved here, his mother had been worried that they wouldn’t bring in enough money with the kennel, but his dad had persisted that businesses take time to build themselves up. They had started out with only a few dogs a week and now during the busy season, sometimes they had up to twenty dogs a night! In five more years, who knows what could happen; maybe they would have to open a second kennel! Chandra Lal is in school during the day, so his only chore is to let the dogs out once before he goes to bed. His parents pay him so it’s more than worth it since he gets a chance to sneak up and use the telescope whenever it’s a clear night out. He craves the peace and quiet up in his observatory, away from his crowded house and crowded school.
As Chandra Lal focuses the lens on the vastness of Saturn, he spies a sphere-shaped object zip past his viewpoint. Quickly, he pulls his head away from the telescope and shakes his head. Was that a plane? he wonders. No, it was too close. He puts his face back up to the eyepiece and peers through it, trying to see if he can determine what it was that flew by. He moves the tube from side to side slowly, and as he does, he sees the object hovering about a mile or so away above the bean fields. He focuses his lens to get a better look at it and before he can make out a clear picture, the object quickly drops to the ground and as if in unison, the lens on his telescope cracks. Startled by the breaking glass, he steps back quickly and assesses the cracked pieces of glass on the ground below him. Instantly, he begins to hear even more dogs barking below the wooden floorboards.
“Okay, Okay!” he shouts down to the dogs, “I’m coming!” He bends down and picks up the pieces of shattered glass. As he walks them over to the trash bin in the corner of the attic, a few dogs sound like they’re starting to whimper. He wonders if that dang chihuahua, Taiko, got the other dogs all riled up. He knew Taiko was bad news as soon as its owner dropped it off yesterday. It yaps and yaps and makes even the calmer dogs on edge. His Aunt, Kalinda Gill, had told him she just let the dogs out a few hours ago after she fed them dinner, so he’s not sure why the dogs are all going nuts. As he steps down the attic stairs, he can’t get that object out of his head. What could it have been? A kid’s drone? No, it was too big for that. And why did his lens break right when it dropped? Through all his studies of the galaxy, he believes there is life somewhere else out there. But right in his back yard? And right while he was looking through his telescope? That, he can’t believe. The barking grows louder as Chandra Lal walks closer to the room where the dogs are kept in their crates. He crosses through the play area, picking up some stray toys and tossing them into the toy bin as he nears the howling dogs.
“I’m here, I’m here!” he hollers as he takes the keys out of his pocket and jiggles the key with the red band around it into the keyhole. “Potty time!” he declares as he opens the door with a wide swing. Suddenly, the barking stops. It’s so quiet, he could hear a sui drop if he had one. “Hello?” he shouts as he feels along the wall for the light switch. He finds the lever and turns on the overhead lights, the zinging sound of neon lightbulbs buzzing on in the ceiling above him. He looks around the room and his jaw drops open.
The crates are all there like they have been every day for the past five years. But inside, there are no dogs. Chandra Lal rubs his eyes and looks again, not sure if he can believe what he’s seeing. Or really, what he’s not seeing. He knows there were nine dogs in here. His aunt told him they were here. He had heard them barking only seconds ago. But now, there are zero. Had they escaped? But their crates are all latched shut. He feels for his phone in his back pocket, but remembers he left it on the kitchen table before he left. He curses to himself since he can’t call his mom or dad to ask where the dogs could be. He walks around the large, cement room searching for any evidence of the canines, but sees nothing. There are no doors for them to get out of; the only way out would be the door he came through. He walks back out to the playroom. “Hello?” he shouts, wondering if he forgot that someone else was going to take the dogs for a walk. No, they wouldn’t at this hour. Night duty was his job. He runs outside to see if he can find any clues to where the dogs could be. As soon as he walks outside, a bright light in the shape of a pentagon shines from across the bean field where he saw the object fall earlier. He covers his eyes to protect them from the bright light and squints as the light beam glows. He wishes he had his phone more than ever. He hears barking towards the light. Or is he making it up in his head? Did the dogs get out somehow and run towards the light? He debates if he should run towards the light or run and get his parents. He turns and runs as fast as he can towards his house which is about a quarter mile away. As he approaches his house, he sees his mom in the window, washing dishes. He breathes a sigh of relief as he runs inside, panting furiously.
“Mam!” he yells as he bends over, resting his hands on his knees. “The dogs...there’s some sort of UFO. I think they got them…,” he tries to get the words out.
“What in the world are you talking about, Beta?” his mother asks as she dries her hands off onto the towel hanging from her shoulder.
“I was looking through the telescope and saw a flying object land in the field…” he gasps.
“Telescope?” his mom interrupts him. “You know you’re not supposed to be playing with that when you’re on dog duty, Putra,” she scolds.
Chandra Lal shakes his head at her reprimand. “You aren’t understanding me! The dogs are all missing! I heard them barking and they’re gone now!” he tries to make his message clearer to her.
“Gone?” she snaps. “What do you mean gone? Where did they go?” she shouts as she walks towards the other room where his dad is watching TV.
“Sitara, get in here! Your son is saying the dogs have vanished!” Chandra Lal has almost caught his breath as his father walks into the room hastily with the news of the vanished dogs.
“Missing, you say?” his father asks with trepidation.
“Yes, come see for yourself!” Chandra Lal yells as he grabs his parents’ hands and pulls them towards their car. His parents follow him quickly to their car and they all pile inside.
“What is this talk of a flying object? Did someone break into the kennel?” his mother asks as his father speeds the car towards the kennel.
“I saw a flying object land over there by the fields,” Chandra Lal says as he points towards the bean field in the distance. He notices there are no lights coming from the field anymore. It’s pitch black.
“Over there?” his father points to where the object landed.
“Yes,” Chandra Lal points again, “Right there.” As they near the kennel, he hears silence. “See?” he says as they park the car and step outside. “No barking. They’re gone!” His parents hastily rush inside, and he follows them anxiously. It’s eerily quiet. They step into the kennel, walk through the play area, and go to the back room where the dogs are kept. The lights are off. Didn’t he leave them on? He was certain he did. His mom flicks on the switch.
“No dogs you say?” his mom asks mockingly as the three of them look at all nine dogs sound asleep in their crates. They are so quiet, Chandra Lal almost thinks they may be dead until he sees the beagle in crate number three roll over. He scratches his head in confusion.
“No, they weren’t here earlier, I swear!” he urges as he walks deeper into the room to inspect the dogs.
“Beta, I’ve had enough of your sapanas for the week,” his father says as he turns and walks towards the car. “I need to go to sleep.”
“Did you at least walk them?” his mother asks, looking concerned.
“Mam, how could I have walked them if they weren’t here?” Chandra Lal asks her.
His mom rests her hand on his shoulder and closes her eyes. “No more stargazing until the dogs are let out from now on, understand?” she informs him.
He nods his head and watches as his mom follows his father towards the car. He walks over to the dogs, all asleep in their crates.
“Hey, Taiko,” he says to the little Chihuahua. “Where’d you go earlier?” he asks it as he reaches his fingers in the crate and rubs its nose. Taiko stirs and turns over, exposing its tan belly. And that’s when Chandra Lal sees it. A small pentagon shaped mark, exactly the same shape as what he saw coming from the field, etched into Taiko’s skin. It still looks raw. “They won’t believe me even if I told them,” he whispers to Taiko as he gives it one last rub and walks towards the car. He still has homework to do before bed.