We’re excited to share an excerpt from Chelsea Sedoti’s It Came From the Sky, the story of the one small town’s biggest hoax and the two brothers who started it all. Told in a report format and comprised of interviews, blog posts, text conversations, found documents, and so much more, It Came from the Sky is a novel about what it means to be human in the face of the unknown—publishing August 4th with Sourcebooks Fire.
This is the absolutely true account of how Lansburg, Pennsylvania was invaded by aliens and the weeks of chaos that followed. There were sightings of UFOs, close encounters, and even abductions. There were believers, Truth Seekers, and, above all, people who looked to the sky and hoped for more.
Only…there were no aliens.
Gideon Hofstadt knows what really happened. When one of his science experiments went wrong, he and his older brother blamed the resulting explosion on extraterrestrial activity. And their lie was not only believed by their town―it was embraced. As the brothers go to increasingly greater lengths to keep up the ruse and avoid getting caught, the hoax flourishes. But Gideon’s obsession with their tale threatened his whole world. Can he find a way to banish the aliens before Lansburg, and his life, are changed forever?
To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Gideon P. Hofstadt and this is the 100 percent authentic, truthful, nothing-held-back account of what happened this past autumn. It’s the story of how extraterrestrials came to Lansburg, Pennsylvania, and the chaos that followed.
There were sightings of unidentified flying objects.
There were close encounters of the fourth kind.
And, of course, there was The Incident, which you may have already heard about.
It’s only right to begin this manuscript by clarifying one significant detail: there were never really aliens.
In the beginning— before the Seekers, before the media circus, before the promise of an extraterrestrial fountain of youth— there was only me and my brother.
Gideon and Ishmael Hofstadt, ages sixteen and seventeen, respectively.
Just us and an abandoned field.
And a mishap that became a lie.
And a lie that became the greatest hoax the world has ever seen.
* * *
DATE: SEPT. 7 (THURS.)
It began with an explosion.
The explosion was intentional. The events that followed were not.
On the evening in question, I was in my lab—a converted outbuilding in a field on my parents’ farm.
I’d been given permission to use it two years earlier, when I was a freshman in high school. I could’ve taken over the spacious barn instead but was deterred by its proximity to the house. Besides, even though animals hadn’t been kept there for decades, the smell of horses lingered.
I didn’t enjoy the smell of horses. I didn’t enjoy horses in general. The only animal I routinely tolerated was my cat, Kepler. Unlike most four-legged creatures, Kepler wasn’t loud or dirty, and he shared my distrust of most people.
But I digress.
To prepare for that evening’s experiment, I’d calculated the expected force of the explosion versus the distance from the blast site to the house, where my parents were engrossed in Pitch, Please, a reality show where contestants pitched ideas for America’s next reality show. From their spot in the living room, they’d be oblivious to the blast. While Mother and Father were usually lenient about my science experiments, I imagined their tolerance didn’t extend to bombs.
I gazed lovingly at my newly built seismograph, which was inspired by the online geodynamics course I was taking. Tonight’s explosion would allow me to test the seismograph’s sensitivity. As an added bonus, the blast might be large enough to register on other, nearby seismographs as well. Some of those seismographs, like the one at The Ohio State University, had publicly available data.
After doing my own reading, I could compare data from OSU’s seismograph and…
Well, I didn’t know, exactly. I supposed it would seem like an achievement to look at professional data and see a registered quake event I’d designed.
I opened a document on my laptop, noted the time, and observed that the seismograph seemed to be running properly. The explosion would be the final test, proof that my build was successful. And as soon as Ishmael returned, the detonation would commence.
But where was he? I’d sent my brother to double-check the explosives we’d set up in a field at the edge of the farm. It should have only taken a minute, but he still hadn’t come back. It would be typical of him to lose interest in the experiment at the most pivotal moment.
I now realize I shouldn’t have let him get involved in the first place. I should’ve wondered why he even wanted to be involved. But I ignored the warning signs, because I enjoyed having an assistant. And yes, I also enjoyed having someone to lecture about science, even if he wasn’t paying attention 82 percent of the time.
I paced back and forth—as much as one can pace in a twelve-by-fifteen-foot shed—getting increasingly anxious. I cleaned the lens of my telescope. I straightened bins of electronic components and checked the soldering I’d recently done on my Arduino. For a long moment, I gazed at my poster of the Andromeda galaxy.
I’d just decided to go looking for Ishmael when the door flew open and he waltzed in, as if time was not, and had never been, of the essence.
He was eating an ice cream cone.
“You got ice cream? I told you to hurry, and you got ice cream?”
“Chill,” Ishmael said. “It’s from the house. It’s not like I drove to Super Scoop or something.”
“You know the rule about food and drink in the lab.”
“Oh, come on,” he said.
In my lifetime of being Ishmael’s brother, I’d learned to pick and choose my battles. Food in the lab was a battle I always chose. I crossed my arms and waited.
“Seriously?” he whined. I watched strawberry ice cream drip down the side of the cone and threaten to fall on the clean floor.
Finally, he sighed. “Okay, fine.”
He turned back to the open door and tossed his ice cream cone into the field. I watched its trajectory with a scowl. “Was that necessary?”
“What?” Ishmael asked. “It’s degradable, right?”
“You mean biodegradable.”
My blood pressure was rising. I just wanted to test my seismograph. “Can we get started now?”
Ishmael grinned, the ice cream already forgotten. “Let’s do this.”
I moved toward my equipment.
“Oh, wait!” Ishmael said. I turned back to him. With a dramatic flourish, he fastened the topmost button on his Hawaiian shirt— even in the chill of the September evening, Ishmael’s personal style trended toward ’80s beach movie. “All right. I feel professional now.”
I ignored my brother’s theatrics, because the moment had finally arrived. I forgot about him showing up late, with ice cream. I forgot about the questions he’d asked in the past two weeks, an eager glint in his eyes: How big will this explosion be? Are you sure a bigger explosion wouldn’t be better for your research? But, if you did want to make it bigger, could you? I forgot everything except the task at hand.
I walked to the table where the equipment was set up and picked up the detonator.
“Dude,” Ishmael said, “this is just like a movie.”
It was not like a movie.
It was science.
“Are you sure I can’t go outside to watch the explosion?” Ishmael asked.
“My answer is the same as the other twelve times you asked.”
I wasn’t expecting a large blast, and the explosives were set up decently far from us, but safety came first in all scientific pursuits.
“Can I press the button at least?”
“Shut up, Ishmael,” I said.
I licked my lips. I took a deep breath. I looked affectionately at my seismograph, a machine I’d poured so much energy into.
Then I pressed the detonator.
The explosion rocked my lab. Shelves shook. A book fell off the table. Dust flew into the air.
And the sound.
It was loud.
Even after the noise subsided, my ears rang. A burnt smell filled my nostrils and dread twisted my stomach in knots. The explosion was larger than I’d anticipated. Much, much larger. How had my calculations been so inaccurate?
I looked at Ishmael. His eyes were wide, his face ashen.
“Shit,” he said.
We turned and jetted for the door.
Ishmael beat me outside. I followed, racing across the field, choking on dust and smoke. When Ishmael stopped short, we collided. I moved around him to see what had caused his sudden halt.
There was a crater. The explosion caused a crater.
My brother and I stood side by side, gazing at the new geological feature of our parents’ farm.
“Ishmael?” I said in an even tone that didn’t betray my rising panic.
“Can you explain this to me?”
He hesitated. “I… Well, I thought the explosion should be a little bigger. You know. To help with the sizeograph or whatever.”
In front of us, a patch of dry grass burst into flame. Ishmael and I rushed over and frantically stomped the fire out. I was so focused, I didn’t see my parents running through the field toward us. It wasn’t until I heard their shouts that I looked up and saw their horrified expressions.
My father immediately joined the fire stomp. My mother gaped at the hole, one hand pressed to her chest. Across the field, I saw my sister, Maggie, also making her way over to us.
By the time the fire—and the smaller fires it spawned—were extinguished, I was panting from exertion. My brother and father were hardly winded.
As I watched, Father’s expression shifted from concern to rage. “What the hell happened here?”
“Vic—” Mother began.
“No,” Father stopped her. “I want to hear what the boys have to say.”
My heart sank. I was going to get my lab taken away. After the mishap last May, I was warned I was on my last chance before losing all out-of-school science privileges.
“Let me see if they’re okay first,” Mother replied.
“They look fine to me,” Maggie said, joining the rest of us. She nonchalantly pulled her brown ponytail through the back of her baseball cap, but there was no denying the gleam in her eyes. She was enjoying the spectacle.
Mother fussed over me, grabbing my chin and moving my face from side to side, as if making sure everything was still in place.
“Mother, really. I’m okay,” I said, ducking away.
“Someone better start talking,” Father ordered.
I opened my mouth to plead my case, but my brother beat me to it.
“We don’t know what happened!”
Father crossed his arms, covering the Pittsburgh Pirates logo stretched across his chest. “You don’t know?”
“Right,” Ishmael confirmed.
“There’s a hole the size of a pickup truck in our field, and you don’t know how it got here?”
“Well, see, we were in Gideon’s lab doing, you know, science. And then there was this sound. Out of nowhere, boom! So we ran outside and…” Ishmael gestured toward the crater. “I think it came from the sky.”
Mother gasped. Father narrowed his eyes. I silently pleaded for my brother to stop talking because I doubted there was even a 5 percent chance my parents would believe a mystery object had fallen from the sky.
“It came from the sky,” Father repeated evenly.
“Right,” Ishmael agreed.
“What came from the sky? I don’t see anything here but a hole.”
“Maybe it was, you know…” Ishmael floundered.
I wanted to make the situation go away. I needed to make the situation go away. Which meant, unfortunately, assisting my brother. I looked at my parents and said, “A meteor. It could have been a meteor.”
“Yeah, a meteor! It must have, like, fallen from the sky and exploded itself or something. That can happen with meteors, right?”
But before I could share that information, I saw a sight even more alarming than the crater: the chief of police walking across the field toward us.
ISHMAEL: When I saw Chief Kaufman I totally freaked, because, like, how did she even get there so fast? And I kept looking at you for—
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember what we talked about? About pretending I wasn’t there?
ISHMAEL: But you were there, dude. It’s super weird to pretend you weren’t.
INTERVIEWER: Ishmael. This is supposed to be impartial. If the readers of this account know the person conducting interviews was intimately involved in the situation, they’ll think the data is compromised.
ISHMAEL: But isn’t it compromised?
INTERVIEWER: Please just do this my way.
ISHMAEL: Also, can you not use the word “intimate”? It sounds sexual, which is pretty awkward.
INTERVIEWER: It has nothing to do with sex. Intimate means close. I was closely involved with the situation.
ISHMAEL: Then why can’t you just say closely? Why do you have to make it weird?
ISHMAEL: Okay, fine. Whatever. Should I start over?
INTERVIEWER: Just pick up where you left off.
ISHMAEL: There’s no reason to get upset, dude. Anyway, as I was saying… What was I saying? Oh yeah, I saw Chief Kaufman and was like, “Whoa, did you teleport here?” Then I realized she’d come over to see Dad and it was just, like, majorly bad timing that she got there during the explosion. I guess I wouldn’t have said something fell from the sky if I’d known the police were gonna get involved, but by that time it was too late to take it back. But, I mean… it wasn’t that bad of an excuse, was it?
Excerpted from It Came From the Sky, copyright 2020 by Chelsea Sedoti