A jolt from the black sky, a zag of lightning that hit the metal tip of the broken weather-vane on the toilet door. Gem’s hand wasn’t quite on the handle. Almost, but not quite. Risa squealed when Gem looked up and tried to move away, as she took her hand off the door. Stepped back.
It didn’t stop the bolt of lightning as it pounded through the ironwork that held the old door together – and blasted out to meet the skin of her rapidly withdrawing hand.
The flash of energetic light from metal to skin felt like … like … Risa didn’t know a word for it, but the sense of power in the air, the smell of singed flesh and ozone, the scream of agony that cut off into the silence of the raging black thunderstorm as Gem disappeared into the darkness in a tumble of chaotic movement.
It was Risa’s fault of course, because she always needed to go to the toilet after dark. The toilet was outside and had monsters and she held on and held on and held on – until she was ready to burst. Like tonight.
Sharing a bed with Gem was better than sharing with the others. At least Gem would wake up when the wriggles started. She’d wait a while to see if the wriggles stopped.
“You’re like a wild mouse,” she’d say when she grabbed the hand and escorted the cross-legged wriggler to the outback, long-drop dunny. And then she’d check to make sure no monsters were hiding, and hang onto the door to keep it open so nothing could sneak up from any direction. Gem kept Risa safe outside, not like the others, the tormentors.
Another flash, followed by the boom. The ground shook. Risa shook on the timber seat, trembling so hard her teeth clattered louder than the hail on the tin roof. She should get up to help Gem, but her hands wouldn’t work; her feet were up around her waist as she sat like a toad on the hard seat.
Lightning didn’t touch wood, did it? She thought she remember someone said it didn’t, but the trees she’d seen blasted to splinters gave the lie to it being safe. She wasn’t safe, and Gem was lying on the ground. Dead.
Was that a groan? Yes! She leapt off the seat, pulled up her pants, leaned her head out into the roar of wind and rain and hail. Looked left and right-
Another crack. Risa ducked back inside. The pound in her chest was so loud she couldn’t tell if the boom came straight after or …
Her left hand reached for the door to pull it closed, to be safe, but she stopped herself just in time. Huddled into the corner behind the door.
Boom. The toilet seat crashed down. Risa jumped forward, stared at the blackness behind the seat – monsters! – and leapt outside. She leaned down and grabbed Gem by the arms and dragged, grunted and dragged and dropped. Wiped her face and hands, gripped the arms – don’t touch the burned one! – gripped harder, pulled backwards – get to the veranda – pulled and dragged and felt the stones as they dug into her feet and Gem’s pyjama bottoms.
They were gonna come off – didn’t matter. Pull, drag, grunt. Again. Dropped the arms to get a breath. Crack. Boom. Crunch. Lift, pull, drag, grunt. One step, one lunge, don’t look, just pull. Pull. Groan. Grunt.
Wait! That wasn’t Risa who groaned. That was Gem. She was alive! Get her out of the rain. Out of the lightning. Get help.
Risa tried to scream, tried to yell, but she didn’t have the breath for it. Nothing could stop her if she wanted to keep Gem alive. She had to, had to, had to get her to the safe place.
Pull, drag, grunt.
Fiction, based on a childhood memory. Copyright Cage Dunn 2017