The distant darkening signaled its presence. The swampy, humid summer air threatened to break all day, and the sun sweltered the Morgans like a heavy coat. The field was ready, and they got few days like this to harvest in peace. Perhaps no surprise, then, when the clouds gathered from the distant, impassable mountains. When Ivy’s mother pointed to those giant, dim hills in the distance, she spoke of a land of huge cities and great creatures. Forces pulled and pushed, and the Earth took their shape. She’d told Ivy that the summer was a giant bird flying on the clouds of rain and warming other lands with its eyes, which were hot as suns.
So, when Ivy saw the dark clouds, she called out its name: “Wendyl!” Her parents and her brother looked up when she spoke. They followed her gaze to the unfurling storm incoming.
Her mother shouldered her bag of carrots and ushered the children toward the Secure Area. Other groups began running as well. In the times of the giants, it was rarely cleared to harvest. Even the calmest days were suspect. And people said Wendyl was the quickest and could vaporize with a look. Ivy thought she was too old for such silly stories, however. They were all afraid and stupid; she was neither of those things.
And neither was Reggie, the boy she’d talk to in the dark, each through the vents near their beds. You weren’t supposed to talk during lights out—that’s when the Grumble might hear. But she and Reggie could hear each other even at a whisper. She’d found one of the red beets. He’d said that, even if Wendyl were real, it wouldn’t hurt anyone with the correct root.
She gazed back at the onrushing clouds. Giant lightning strikes burrowed into the ground, racing closer. The blue-white electric veins struck, and she remembered her father. He was having trouble keeping pace with the rest of them, carrying his prized invention—the Potato Finder Extraordinaire, Mach III, which could easily pull spuds from the ground with its powerful claws. Now, he seemed to be tripping over it. They had wandered farther than most single families were advised to go. They had to make up that ground quickly. Most of the other foragers had already made it back inside the fence.
Ivy sprinted back toward the oncoming cloud, back to where her dad struggled. She held up the trouble end, and the two of them ran at a full spring. Giant cracks of thunder sieged her ears, and the oncoming electricity made her arm hair stand on end.
Only a brief patch of grass separated the security fence and the protection bunkers. Her mother and brother disappeared behind the door safely. As they neared, Ivy heard a crack of thunder just behind her. The wind was a constant, high whistle. Old folks said it was what trains used to sound like. The abrupt blast knocked her down. Her dad, racing toward the door himself, didn’t notice for a second. In that time, Ivy remembered the beet she held. She stood and turned around, wanting to see the cloud.
The rolling, gray mass raced toward her. Some of the crops looked to have caught fire after being struck by lightning—little midnight flames against a blackened sky. She gripped the beet and watched the cloud. The dark rolls moved overhead, and then a bright, electric blue fin unfurled from inside. The cloud seemed to part for its girth. She saw the crackling fin connected to an immense body coursing with electricity. The camp had old posters of cityscapes shot at night from above—coursing electric beams in the dark that looked similar to the lightning moving through the cloud-sized creature’s flank. Then, right above her, the giant, beaked head poked through the storm. Its mouth crackled with lightning, and its eyes seemed to light up the whole area. She felt their heat right on her; she clutched the beet in her hand; she stood her ground.
Another blast of thunder appeared to come right from the beast’s mouth, and quick as the howling wind it stirred, the Wendyl was over the shelter and away. Trails of crackling lightning flowed in its wake. She thought she saw a blue, swishing tail—the color and speckled pattern of the milky way on a clear night—before she was yanked backward by her father, wrapping her in his arms and racing toward the door. She saw the door approaching, but in her mind, she pictured those giant eyes, staring. Knowing. She looked down at her hand and saw it covered in beet pulp. Her hair didn’t need electricity to stand on end.