Debatable Reunion

A myriad of familiar faces crisscrossed Derek as he tried to cross the party. Everyone had a phone to put in someone’s face. Everyone had something they were looking to hide behind. If you look at this, you won’t have to look at me.

Derek realized he was being judgmental. But there was nothing to be done about that. It was who he was. It encapsulated his gait, his tight clothes, and his closely trimmed hair and beard. He knew he could tell what everyone was thinking. That hadn’t atrophied in the time away. While they had been separated, everyone was an echo across technological chasms. He’d remained in contact with some of them via phones and chats. But he couldn’t get as sharp a bead on them. Not seeing them offset his natural leg-up. Without it, he felt exposed. All interaction was a contest in their group, and with his chief weapon down, Derek had taken too many L’s for his liking.

It twisted his mind, seeing Barry speaking, knowing how Barry spun his words around when they spoke via Skype. Lena had dragged him with a master’s use of logical fallacies. She could turn any yes into a no. Karen only believed things she learned firsthand from primary sources. So she could never be debated on anything but her own terms. None of them could say anything without offending the other, so they drank and sat in front of the TV playing trivia games on it.

Lewis didn’t get drunk, so he was back at the corner of the room, typing his answers without saying much. Lewis’s sobriety was his weapon. If Derek was going to score points against him, it would have to be before he got too drunk. Back when he was in middle school, Lewis sent notes to each class member asking them to go out with him. That brute, cold, capitalist numbers game continued to instruct his social interactions. Not drinking tilted the room in his favor in the contest of discussion.

Natasha was the easiest comedian and dominated any game revolving around cleverness. Even if she often had a shallow point, or no point at all, it was hard to argue while laughing.

Lena and Barry finally entered the ring first. In what began as a statement regarding the free speech of alt-right protesters, Barry found himself with bad allies, and Lena beat him into a pulp, until he had to concede that not only should they not be allowed to speak, but that the mandatory minimum for punishment should be 15 years. Natasha briefly asked if we were verging on fascism, but she said it in a funny anecdote so as not to throw all of them into despair. A true jester. Lewis watched the debate but said nothing. People weren’t drunk enough yet. Derek could tell what he was thinking. He tried to pounce on Lewis early—to score some points before it was too late—but Karen swooped in to save him, bouncing back to a comment Barry had just made without citing a primary source. When Barry couldn’t remember where he’d heard it, he was finished. Technical knockout.

After another round of games, Derek headed outside. The driveway was empty. All of the cars were parked on the street. The wet ground and overcast sky belied a rainstorm that had passed. He lit up a joint and smoked it on the stoop. The highway was near enough for the cars going by the to sound like ocean waves. Halfway down his smoke, Natasha sat down near him. He offered it to her.

“If Lewis sees this, we’re done,” she said while taking a drag.

“He’ll already come at me for earlier,” Derek said.

They smoked in silence for a moment. More waves crested.

“Do you think we should give it another try?” Derek asked.

“You’ve just been lonely.”

“Aren’t we all?”

“We all were. Now we’re here.”

“Is that any better?”

“Does it feel better?”

“Is that one of your jokes?”

“Shouldn’t you already know what I’m thinking?”

“I think my own head is too loud for that right now. I can’t hear anyone else.”

“What’s it saying so loudly?”

“That trip we took to Salem. To see all the witch stuff.”

“Hm. What a hokey place.”

“Yeah. But it was autumn. It was chilly. The drive was long. The mixes were good.”

“The ‘Getting a Little Blue” list especially.”


“Well…what about it?”

“It was, I think, when I’ve been the happiest I’ve ever been. That’s what’s been so loud.”

Natasha nodded, and they both stared down the driveway.

“You ever think that?” Derek asked.

Natasha shook her head. “You ask me, none of us like each other. We’re trapped together like a black hole. So much time, so much familiarity, so much resentment. We’ve all become a singularity. It’s all part of the same thing.”

“All of it?”

“All of it. I think I might move to Santa Fe. It sounds like a place with a lot of space.”

“I can’t imagine wanting more space.”

“I didn’t know I wanted it until I got it.”

“Ah.” More waves crashed on the cement just beyond the line of pines. The rain began to drizzle again. “That one of your jokes? Santa Fe?”

“Read my mind and tell me.”

The Scream Room

“Welcome to your Scream Room. You have paid for a three-minute session. When the session is about to end, the lights will flicker, and the door will open. Before then, all your words and actions are sound proofed and completely anonymous. Once the door opens, we will be able to hear you. Your session begins now.”

The lights turned red, and Loretta began to scream. She pulled at her hair; she punched the cushioned walls. She kicked at the ground with her feet. She called out the names of everyone she wanted to call a motherfucker. Her conscious brain sank away, and a swell, a wave filled her. Her body disappeared; her words ceased to be words. The padding in the room ate up her sound, but she felt her vocal cords shredding against her cries, the foam gathering at the corners of her mouth, and the burns and abrasions building on her hands. Her arms and legs ached as they continued to thrash. She ceased being Loretta. She ceased being angry at a person. The screaming became for and about the room. It was prayer. The only way to speak to God was to curse It.

Then the red lights blinked Loretta ceased moving. She stopped screaming and sobbed silently on the floor for a few seconds before the door popped open.  General office bustle from the complex filled her ears. She got up; her head vibrated with a halo of adrenaline.

“Thank you for choosing the Scream Room. Please be sure to like and share your experience. Have a great and pleasant day.”

Loretta picked up her phone from the doorway. She began to check it as she stepped into the hallway. As she passed another of the complex’s open doors, and someone was walking out. A man—tall, balding, and heavy around the middle—paused mid-stride as he saw Loretta walking by. He was Kenny from accounting. They both looked away before their recognition was too obvious to not make conversation. Kenny waited in the hallway for Loretta to get out the door before heading toward the exit himself. She sped up to increase the distance between them. Loretta passed a closed door with a slight defect in the soundproofing, and she could hear faint screams from the other side. The light, soothing new age muzak drowned most of it out.

A smiling door woman at the front desk told Loretta to have a nice day. She smiled back and stepped outside. The Autumn chill brought a sting to her flushed cheeks. The pain of beginning bruises began to blossom over her hands. Hopefully, the traffic would be light enough to get her back to the office before her lunch break ended.

Car Crash, Relatively

I could feel the space in between the sound and the action. There was a brief glimpse to the future. It showed us something we don’t always see—space. It was the dying light of a star from light years away. It was the laws of the universe showing themselves: what we see and what we hear are not fixed, not true. I didn’t hear the slam when it happened—I heard the ghost of it. I didn’t even see the car accident, really, just reflections from my cornea processing protons moving at the speed of light. Put that way, what is there to any of this? What is looking out from behind those eyes? Upon seeing the crushed cars together and feeling so little, a dissociation descended—a comparison between what I’d just seen in real life and what I’d seen on TV. When the sound hit, it was dull, plastic. The Foley artist did a poor job capturing the drama of the situation. Or maybe my ears were not in Dolby. Maybe it was a bad reception.

A couple people ran into the street. They were closer than I was; they would have seen and heard it all at once. The spell wasn’t broken for them. Their shouting drifted up to the hill to me like gentle whispers. Distance can turn bombast into intimacy.

There’s an instinctive pull that says I should go. That I should insert myself down there and get out my phone. We should be calling someone. Something terrible has happened. But the drivers and passengers in the cars were outside and walking around. They were angry at each other, not hurt or dead. Bystanders were on the phone. It was a scene in which I had no place. I could only be an extra body, a rubbernecking onlooker for the eventual police and ambulance to push out of the way in order to perform concussion and sobriety tests.

The string of consequences that would follow would be long. Maybe one of them was drunk. Maybe the other had just gotten out of prison. Maybe one didn’t have a license. Maybe one was going to a hospital for the birth of a child while the other rushed to a dying relative. Maybe they’re each obstacles in the other’s emergency. Maybe the one who could be drunk will hit rock bottom now. Maybe he will turn things around. Maybe he ends up on the streets. Are they headed for an uncaring system that will drive them down, or do they have a support system to get them through?

I was seeing a moment of creation and destruction in several lives. A big bang that already echoed in their future, travelling in that relative space between the sight of the accident and the sound of the crash. But it wasn’t my life. I was only seeing it by chance. Would I remember it later? Was I supposed to?

The Kinds of Things We Remember as Divine

Penny was setting paper on fire in the living room. Thom found an old phonebook outside, and the only way to work through this archeological discovery was to burn pages and place them in a ritual urn. I think this irked Cali, who was an on-again-off-again Wiccan, but she put on a brave face for the rest of us. The couple next door liked to smoke outside, so maybe they could take the heat if somebody upstairs smelled anything burning.

None of our names were real, but we all chose them. None turned into Darth Optimus or anything. We’re all kind of humble when it comes down to it. Humble enough to know that if you’re going to destroy a phone book, you had to make it kinda religious.

Thom told a long story about his brother, Mock. Mock shacked up with a widow on vacation and drove her car back to Virginia only to discover she wasn’t a widow. He received a decent beating and still managed to hitchhike his way to Denver. Penny said that was due to his being white. Anyone else thumbing while freshly beaten was more likely to be taken to jail than on a road trip.

One of the two smoking neighbors—the man—knocked on our door and told us to shut up. Gus, who almost changed his name to Darth Gus (but chickened out), shouted at him to not smoke around their kid. The man then threatened to call the cops. So we turned off the Franz Ferdinand and played Twister. I wrapped an arm underneath Thom in such a way as to warm the entire inside of my body. But Gus said he wanted a drink, and the game ended before we all fell all over each other.

Penny remembered that she’d seen Planes, Trains, and Automobiles as a kid and needed to watch it again immediately. We all fell asleep during it, and I woke up to watch the Netflix preview loop over and over again. Looking back, I said maybe three words that entire night. But my brother wasn’t on a clandestine trip with a widow, and I’d found no relics of a former civilization to burn.

Cali was smoking out the window. Maybe she’d woken up. Maybe she’d never fallen asleep. I never asked her. But I thought of her watching the yellow light of the snow-covered driveway for a long time. I’d try to draw it, but it wasn’t a cartoon image. It was a silent movie. When she dropped the cigarette out the window and went to the bathroom, I closed my eyes and pretended to be still asleep.

An Accountant on the Astral Plane

When I began to lose my corporeal form, first it manifested by dropping things—pens, cups, staplers. An object would be in my hand, then suddenly find itself on the floor. The explanations were obvious for a time—clumsiness. I hadn’t been particularly clumsy as a child, so a sudden descent into it was frustrating. As more objects would seem to slip from my grasp, I became agitated. A coworker’s eyes widened in concern as I cursed at a notepad lying inert on the floor.

The first time I stepped out of my shoe, it tripped me, and I nearly fell between two cubicles. It being a Monday, cries of “must be Monday” erupted with a chorus of laughter. The laughter seemed like it would never end. Faces reddened, people choked, Darrell was taken to the hospital due to an exacerbated cardiac condition.

Not being a meditative person, the thought of transcending planes of existence wasn’t an obvious thesis to me. I tried to concentrate on work. Losing myself in the swirl of spreadsheets and numbers, my mind could live in the timelines of claims: 2015 was forever ago. The world turned in seconds, one name, one balance replaced by another. Each year, hundreds of new names, new claims entered the system. Everything new became old in a moment. Everything ephemeral.

When I reached through my car’s door handle, I knew something was wrong. At first, I thought I had just missed it. So I concentrated. I stared at the chrome handle attached to my red sedan. Slowly, carefully, feeling like an old man trying to balance a cup of water, I reached for the handle. When I did, I watched my hand pass directly through the chrome, emerging whole on the other side. After a panicked moment of glancing around the parking lot (which entailed switching to a bland “have a nice day” smile whenever catching eyes with a coworker walking toward their vehicle), I tried again. This time, concentrating as hard as I could, I reached. And grabbed the handle. The door opened regularly.

Great concentration worked briefly. For a few days I could carefully determine when I needed to reach something, focus on it, and manage to grab it. But when all of my clothing fell off while at the urinal, I didn’t know how I could go on. The other man at the urinal stared, shocked, and the urinal began to flush on its own—no longer reading me there. I tried to gather up my clothing as fast as I could—clothing that kept slipping through my fingers. That night, I received an email saying I was going to have to speak to HR about the “indecent exposure” incident in the morning.

That next morning, concentration stopped working. I could slip between my sheets, couldn’t grab my clothes, couldn’t grab my door handle (but could step right through it). I heard a scream from downstairs when one of my feet casually slipped through the floor by accident. I found I could position myself in space, hang levitated in the room, and move through all of my furniture.

Later that day, however, my retinas stopped catching reflected light, and my sight blinked out. Sound could no longer ring in my eardrums, and everything was silent. I can only think of things that I knew before—all those names, dates, and repeated motions.  Though now I think, minus my job, my sight, my touch, and my hearing, I might be able to finally finish that screenplay. I never seemed to make time for it after work. I’m still working on the last act.

Mornings, Generally

I have a 23-minute walk from my house to my office. Naturally, I leave with 21 minutes to spare. During the school year, I must part a sea of children headed toward the elementary school. Often, a single kid will have a train of relatives—an entire branch of a family tree—escorting the royal offspring. I have to vote in this school (just so you know that I am responsible after my confession about the walk), and I’ve seen big, giant posters proclaiming “we’re all going to collage!” with cartoon animals in graduation gowns and diplomas in hand. I wonder why they are already programming them for crippling debt for jobs that won’t pay their rent. But then again, I already know.

Luckily, it’s the summer, so all I encounter instead is an onslaught of leaf blowers. Sticks, rocks, and dust all whip against the face, because apparently everyone has the expense for landscaping. Does this contrast uncomfortably with the many, many tents posted up along the sidewalk? Yes, it does.

There are two people who, if I am not careful, will match me stride for stride for several blocks—both always going in the same direction. So I have to adjust, alter my route, depending on if I run into them. I’m sure they’re fine. But I hope they appreciate my two-block detour to avoid our awkward matching pace.

Two different lights have poor traffic flow crossing north to south. Because only one button for the crosswalk will begin the light sequence, I must approach from one side, hit the button, then cross to the other side of the street to catch the lights in the correct order (note: if you try to explain this process to another person, they will, in fact, think you are insane).

These trips are soundtracked by whatever I happen to have on my headphones that day. This allows time for daydreaming, attempts to forget about any whack arguments I’m still playing in my head from last night’s band practice, and imagining a way of playing that is as free, fun, and fulfilling as we think it should always be. It’s easy to imagine coming up with similar ideas to what I’m hearing, of being able to share that with other people, of having the fantastical imagination be acted out in real life.

Until I take off the headphones to enter a coffee shop, further biting into my walk time. There, on this particular day, a tall, slightly pudgy white guy, wearing black shorts, a black t-shirt, and short, gelled black hair, orders a cold brew and gives his name as Lance. And, as far as I can tell, I’ve never seen a more “Lance” Lance in my life.

After the coffee shop, I have another 5 minutes of daydreaming left. One particular spot on the sidewalk, without any particular cause, smells rotten. Whatever was there has left, but the ghost of the scent remained. This small little window in which to imagine better futures runs out, and for the next nine hours, I pretend to be someone else.

As Pompeii Exploded

As Pompeii exploded, the elders told everyone that it was not that big of a deal. They claimed all they needed was faith. They claimed it was Crete’s problem. And moving cost too much. Moving was a hassle. How could anyone possibly move? Besides, Pompeii didn’t have exploding earth events; that happened in other places.

Other people saw the smoke; they heard the great, thunderous clashes and watched the sky darken into a great, premature night and pleaded with them to leave. They were dismissed as radicals. They were slandered as not loving Pompeii. If they loved Pompeii, why would they be trying to get people to leave? If they didn’t like the perfect, never-before-exploded-by-volcano community, they could take their own boats away.

The sky darkened. The fires from the approaching lava lit up the low hanging clouds. But the elders said that the righteous would be spared. Pompeii didn’t get consumed by lava. It had never happened before. Any danger was the work of dissidents. Some from the foothills came running; they told tales of desolation: mountainsides on fire, skeletons of livestock and family members melting away, howling in pain. Nothing had been spared. Those survivors were thrown in jail.

Cassandra tried to get her father to go. She pleaded with him. She saw the smoke. She believed. Her father forbade her, so she left him, sneaking out a window.

The streets she entered were a jumble of bodies bumbling and bouncing together. Some were heading for the beaches, and others shouted obscenities at those trying to escape, hurled objects at them, spit at them, and grabbed at the clothes of those running by, stripping them down to their underwear. Ash began to fall from the sky.

The escapees tried to protect each other from the jeering mob, but some were lost, wrenched back by their friends, family members, and lovers who claimed that only the elders could be correct. They were always correct. They said it was nothing serious. Explosions never happened here. Everyone else was just being too sensitive. It was disrespectful to the history of Pompeii to suspect it could be consumed by fire and ash. It wasn’t one of those places to the east that occasionally got hit with fire and brimstone.

The beach was a confusion of rushing. Cassandra ended up in a boat with strangers herding together, all pressed in desperation, the boat nearly buckling under the excessive weight. The ones who stayed behind continued to shout and curse at the leaving boats. They told them never to come back. They told them they weren’t welcome. Then they turned around to look at their great town, bereft of all its bad elements. They took deep breaths of the sulfurous air,  basking in the shade of the smoke cloud. They were consumed in their rightness.

From the boats, Cassandra could see some of the destruction. The houses fell, the smoke swept quickly, super hot, down onto the town. Most of the people she knew were gone. Whole beings were shattered, leaving only shadowy imprints or ash ghosts. She could see the lava striking the water, throwing a giant geyser of steam into the air. She watched as the town that never burned burned.

Trash Man

I didn’t expect seeing all of my belongings out on the street to be so weird. It’s only a studio apartment, so I figured it would be smaller. But after they busted down my bookshelves, scattered their contents on the sidewalk, tossed my futon over them, broke my instruments into several pieces (which, that was just spiteful), it was easy to see all that I had, everything I had ever owned and considered somewhat part of my being, as just a giant mound of trash. I had thought more of myself. Then again, I was also being forcibly removed from my apartment, so maybe the trash analogy was accurate.

The sun was bright and oppressive, a scorching L.A. summer day. I sat down on the uneven futon balanced on mounds of books and found no solace in the skinny palm trees. There was an aggressive lack of shade. The potential tasks overwhelmed my brain—how would I gather everything up? Should I? Should I welcome my forced new beginning, leave my phone right there on the cushion, and wander off down the busy streets? If everything around me was trash, perhaps I should just shed all of it. I began to make myself believe the ultimate freedom was freedom from possessions. You can’t throw away—you can’t waste—what isn’t there.

Wiping increasing sweat from my forehead, I caught the eye of some other tenants leaving the building. I could see it in their eyes. They wanted me gone. It appeared I had been unwelcome in my own building for some time. How can you be disliked by people who don’t know you? But I suppose that is the whole history of the world. Many of these books thrown onto the grimy streets would tell me the same. Maybe they see the result and assume it was because I had a drug problem, or I was a freeloader, or I was disrupting the neighbors. They bought into the adage that destitution in material equals decrepitude of the soul. The eviction is proof that the eviction is just. So, too, will be my shirt when it is stained with sweat, my socks when they gather too much dirt, and my face when it is burned and thirsty.

As I watched another couple from my building walk away after stopping for a quick moment to leer at me, another person sat down on the futon. He had a giant backpack stuffed to bursting. I could smell him, and he could smell me, I’m sure. He reached down and picked up a copy of Death on the Installment Plan, which I’d bought but never read, and opened it. After thumbing through a few pages, he turned to me. That sunburned face I was just imaging, wrinkled from squinting and cringing for years, nodded and asked if I wanted some water. He removed a beaten-up plastic bottle form the side of his bag. I took a long sip, ashamed of using so much of his supply.

“This your stuff?” He asked.

“Used to be,” I said as a police SUV pulled up next to the two of us.

W.A.S.P. Colony

The yellowjackets’ nest began with three workers placed directly above the front door of a one-story house. It was a small pile right above the frame, and the three sets of sharp wings created a triad of triangles moving about the small cone, developing the colony. The few, empty tube spaces would be filled in, and at night the three would stand guard—nestled around their tiny abode.

As the nest slowly expanded, they flew about more. Others joined in at the new subdivision. Empty spaces filled up, and more paste was added. The sides slowly spread out, and more triangles appeared. As more came, the work continued later and later into the evening.

They became more aggressive once they received wi-fi. They flew around furiously, ready to threaten anything that came too close. After installation, the internet technician was run off the porch. They would gather around to watch Call the Midwife on the queen’s entertainment center. Drones didn’t have control of the mouse. They expanded the nest to cover the giant flatscreen, and still more began to join.

The increased materials needed for the growing mass of the colony made them more litigious towards some of the other insects. They harassed a bumblebee hive out on an adjacent awning until eventually that hive packed up and moved down the block. There was only enough material for one plugged-in community.

As they bought cars for the queen (who had a taste for big, expensive luxury SUVs), they became increasingly NIMBYish about the trash pickup trucks and decrepit wooden structures the termites had. They flew over the other colonies, ogling the massive mounds of dirt they could use for their own location while at the same time drawing up civil complaints and code violations against the standalone colonies—their claim was that every insect colony needed to be attached to a house. In this way, they could remove the termites without resorting to stinging.

The queen decided there should be an addition to the porch. Some other insects, including the ants, began to protest because the extension covered up their own colonies. The wasps’ position was held up in district court, which stated that since the wasps owned the house, they owned the property. The judge, an elderly praying mantis, was accused of bias for spending too much time around the house with the wasps’ nest.

On a particularly hot summer day, there were protests from the other insects surrounding the belligerent behavior of the wasps. The queen decided that the answer was to have each insect also pay tribute to her as well as their own queen. Others protested, but the wasps promised to enforce the decisions of the court regarding ownership of the property in the event the others did not fall in line. So for the next two months, on each day, a lone drone from each colony would bring a piece over to the wasp nest, which now covered the majority of the porch. Some became enamored by the bright lights of the flatscreen television and never made it back to their homes. Once again, the other colonies protested, but the wasps claimed that standing around the television was something insects did on their own free will. They could leave anytime they wanted.

As fall neared, none of them noticed the significance of the large, red pickup truck pulling into the house’s driveway. Men and women began unloading large equipment, and the air began to fill with smoke. The rest of the insects, safe on the ground, watched as all of the wasps slowed down, crawling around their sprawling mansion, unable to muster up a defense as the massive structures were taken down. The television was loaded into a truck, the SUVs were driven away, and the rest of the bugs cheered as cleaning crews dismantled the large structure across the front façade of the house and danced on the corpses of the wasps who fell to them. The celebration spawned tales and legends still passed down in those colonies. When a couple moved into the newly renovated subdivision a couple months later, there was no evidence of the wars that had been fought—nothing but the tales the other colonies would tell themselves.

Wendyl’s Flight

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.