The flashing red lights were sleek as candy apples in the rain. I could see the reflection on the white metal ceiling of the ambulance as it raced down the hills towards town. Everything seemed sleek, crisp—the beeps from the heart monitor, the clipped voice of the EMT, the knife-edged white sheet covering the leads which snaked out from beneath my running bra, Mom’s taut face hanging in the air above me.
“Say something, Mira, please!” she begged, refusing to release my hand and get out of the EMT’s way.
“Mira, can you tell me what year it is?” the heavyset woman asked, checking the monitor again. “Who’s the president?”
“Why doesn’t she say something?” Mom demanded, as if my inability to answer was a personal affront.
“It’s probably just temporary, ma’am,” the EMT tried to reassure her. She turned and shouted to the driver, “What’s our ETA?”
“Two minutes,” he yelled back over the revolving wail of the siren. “There’s a team ready to go!”
“We’re lucky this storm died out so quickly,” the EMT muttered under her breath. She glanced up at Mom. “It was a supercell, ya’ know. They were expecting it throw out a mean big ol’ twister. Lucky…”
Dad met us at the entrance to the ER, where he and Mom were quickly shuffled off into a waiting area. The nurses swiftly sliced through my scorched jeans, prying my melted sneakers off and throwing everything in a corner. A doctor in blue scrubs and a white coat kept barking vital signs to an intern with an iPad, flashing a penlight in my eyes, checking the leads to the heart monitor, bending my elbows and knees to see if everything still worked.
“Open,” he ordered, penlight held steady as he waited for me to open my mouth.
I shook my head.
I would not open my mouth. I couldn’t.
“We’re going to keep her overnight,” the doctor said from his station at the end of my hospital bed. “We just want to make sure her heart keeps working like it should. All her vitals are good, but there’s always the chance of an arrhythmia, or the possibility of convulsions. If everything goes all right tonight, we should be able to release Mira in the morning.”
I fought to control the tension in my legs, working to keep them from shaking with excess energy beneath the pink cotton blanket. The power was building, and I didn’t know if I had the strength to contain it.
“Thank you, doctor,” Mom said. Dad stopped stroking my hair and patted me on the shoulder. Could he feel the energy blazing beneath his hand?
Mom kept pushing for answers. “But why hasn’t she spoken? She hasn’t said a word since we found her.”
“It’s probably just the shock of the accident. We’ll let her rest, and see how things look in the morning.”
He flicked off the overhead light as they left the room, leaving just a small lamp burning beside the bed. I tried to sleep, but the energy jolted me awake every time I came close to dropping off. By three a.m. I knew that I could do it, had to do it. It was just too much for me.
Slipping out of bed I slid through the half-open door and into the hallway. The tiled floor was chill against my feet, thankfully; anything that cooled the fire raging inside me was a relief. I made my way down the hall, avoiding the nurse’s station, and found a supply closet with a stack of freshly washed blue cotton scrubs. Dropping my hospital gown behind a set of steel shelves I pulled on a pair of loose-fitting pants and a floppy top, then grabbed a couple of papery slippers from an open box. Not the nicest outfit, but it was better than the open-backed hospital gown. Maybe I looked enough like staff that no one would notice my escape.
I made my way downstairs and slipped out a side door into the rain-soaked parking lot. There was lightning dancing far away across the sky, a new storm moving in across the nearby hills. My feet slapped loudly against the wet sidewalk in the soggy paper slippers; I wouldn’t get far like this. And I didn’t have much time—
About half a mile from the hospital, down a quiet residential street, I spotted a pair of bicycles propped up on the front porch of a small house. The front light was on, but the windows were dark. Getting busted for grand theft bike didn’t worry me—if I didn’t get out of town in a hurry this night wasn’t going to end well, for me or anyone else nearby. I’d return the stolen bike later, if I lived long enough. If not, they could put “Mira Bascomb: Beloved Daughter and Bike Thief” on my tombstone.
It didn’t take long to get out of town and up into the hills, not with all that energy racing through me. I headed for the big rock outcropping on the west side of Derecho Hill, dropping the stolen bicycle on the shoulder of the road and scrambling up the scree slope. My hands were burning, and the paper slippers had dissolved in the rain and heat from my flesh. But I didn’t notice anything beyond the slippery rocks in front of me, illuminated by the near-constant lightning now flashing above.
I made it to the flat top of the rock shield and stretched out, breathing heavily through my nose. I didn’t dare open my mouth yet. It wouldn’t be long, though.
When the storm blew up earlier that afternoon I had been in my favorite hiding place, at the top of the old live oak tree in the backyard, concealed by the foliage. Mom had insisted that I go shopping with her, for designer lightbulbs, or diamond-encrusted pie tins, or limited edition cat toys—I can’t remember what exactly. I was hiding out to avoid another miserable afternoon. I had lived in that old tree since I was big enough to climb the wooden crosspieces Dad hammered in for steps. The tree had grown with me, its limbs expanding to support my dreams of faraway places and the cache of fantasy novels I stored in a five-pound butter cookie box and dangling strands of seashells, rocks with holes, glass beads, and origami animals. It was my home, far more than the Frank Lloyd Wright-wannabe we lived in.
The sky had been brooding for hours while Mom called for me; she’d given up when it started to rain. Huge gray clouds shaggy as mastodons blundered across the sky, lighting up from within with the power of the gods, coming closer to my hiding place. I climbed down out of the cover of the leaves to stand with my sneakers spread wide on a thick limb. As the wind started to blow the storm closer I grabbed onto a branch above my head and tight roped out towards the end of the limb.
I don’t have a death wish, honestly, but the power of the storm was flooding through me and I wouldn’t flee to safety like a scared kid. I had never felt such power. The storm wanted me, and I wanted it!
Balanced near the end of the limb, T-shirt and shorts plastered against my skin by the icy rain, my long hair hanging in wet strings, I laughed, crowed, screamed with joy as the storm descended from the hills and swept over me. Opening my mouth wide enough to fit a whole summer-ripe watermelon inside—
I swallowed the storm.
They found me lying beneath the lightning-splintered tree, called the rescue squad, and the rest you know. But not all the rest…
That storm was still inside me, and if I opened my mouth it would come blasting out, destroying everything in its path. I’d held it in as long as I could, trying to figure out what to do with it. There weren’t a lot of options. If I’d opened my mouth in the ambulance, or in the hospital, it would have torn everything apart, or at least leveled a couple of streets. I couldn’t keep it inside me much longer—I wasn’t that strong. I’d begun to realize what a mess I’d created, lying there in that hospital bed long after midnight.
Then I remembered a story I’d read about a Chinese guy who was trying to sell a spear and a shield. He’d claimed the spear was sharp enough to pierce any shield, and the shield was strong enough to stop any spear. The old “unstoppable force meets an immovable object” paradox. There was only one thing I could do with the tempest I’d swallowed, the wind, the lightning, the pounding rain. And the time had come—
I stood atop the granite shield on the side of Derecho Hill in the face of the new storm racing towards me. Inside the lightning flowed through my veins, the rain lashed my blood, the wind forced my lips apart and I opened my mouth—
The twin storms blasted into each other, one trying to pull my insides out while the other tried to fight through it and shred me into memories. It was a force stronger than any tornado could ever have produced according to the laws of physics. It was forever; it was never; it was no time at all before the furor died away into distant rumbles and fairy lights flashing behind the dissolving clouds. I dragged my tattered body upright, each bruised muscle screaming with ecstasy. It was too far down in the rain-dark night, too far back to the road, too far to go home again.
I slumped down, back against a boulder slick with my storm’s gift, and laughed myself into sleep.
Hillora Lang grew up in New York State’s Hudson Valley. Born with Asperger Syndrome, her developmental disability was undiagnosed until adulthood. As a result of the social deficiencies caused by her condition, her most trusted friends were always the books she read and the dreams she wove out of spidersilk and moonbeams. After years spent reading the books of others, she decided it was time to give back to the world by writing down her own stories. She is currently at work on a series of magical dystopian novels about the crystalline Chaelli race and their human symbionts, as well as a series of novels set in ancient Scotland, loosely based on James MacPherson’s 1700s publication of the Ossian Cycle of poems.
With a BFA in Creative Writing and a BA in English Literature from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Hillora is currently working on her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. During her career as an undergraduate she produced the English Departmental Honors thesis From Ancient Myth to Modern Fiction: How Humanity’s Stories Live On, and the Directed Individual Study thesis Dark Futures: The Lure of Dystopian Young Adult Fiction. Her short story “Paradox Tempestuous” has been published in the online literary magazine Forever Onwards! Review.
Hillora lives in southeastern North Carolina with her tribe of rescued feral cats, and at times goes a little feral herself.
Interesting fact about the author: I have collected so many books that I had to give them their own place (no more room in my home!) called “The Place Where Books Live;” my library now resides in a 10′ x 20′ white shed in the backyard, lined with 14 floor-to-ceiling bookcases. I visit often.