Michael saw it first. The bolt of lightning cracked the sky in the west, and for an instant made the otherwise dusk-hazy silhouette of Snake Range clear and sharp as if it was day.
“Look, Em!” Michael cried. “Did you see that?!”
“It’s just lightning,” his big sister said and tried to suppress a shudder. She was 10 years old and the eldest by two whole years, so there was no question of the indifference in her voice, as she awaited what she knew must follow lightning.
The thunder rolled over the desert and reached them after several long heartbeats.
“Oh – wooow!!” Michael blurted and pulled a shadow-punch with his fist, as if he was cheering the thunderstorm to pull an even bigger punch next time.
The storm obliged. Only minutes after the first rift had been torn in the sky, new ones opened up over the mountains. It was odd, though, Emma thought, that they could be sitting here, under the big truck and there was still no rain out on the parking lot or anywhere near the Border Inn. But she knew it must be pouring over the mountains now, like a flood.
“Thunder is cool,” Michael said, a big grin on his 8-year old face.
“It’s very natural,” Emma said. “There’s el-electricity in the sky. It comes out when the clouds clash together, like sparks.” She tried hard to remember what Ms. Peregrine had said in class and at the same time not to think about how loud the next rumble of thunder would be.
Or when it would reach the Inn.
It was already late and the desert was a carpet of shadows, the occasional bump of a stone or bush no longer visible; it was all slowly being absorbed in the grey, chilly dusk. Emma strained and tried to see more, but she knew it would only be possible when the next bolt of lightning shot through the distant sky, and then only for a little while, near the mountains.
Where they were, everything would soon be shadows.
“I’m hungry,” Michael suddenly said. “Do you still have the Snickers?”
“Yes,” Emma said and fished the chocolate bar from her small rucksack. “There’s only one, so we have to share.”
Normally she would have insisted they eat dinner first, as she knew mom would say. But right now Emma Sawyer Reese felt okay about letting her little brother eat that chocolate bar. Then at least they wouldn’t just sit – and wait for … something.
They would be doing something. She wondered what else they could do, aside from going back into the motel before mom, or maybe dad, would come out after them.
Mom had given strict orders that she was to look out for Michael, and they were not to go near the high way. The occasional truck still rushed by, lights quickly fading into the oncoming night.
Emma didn’t think the lonely road out there looked particularly dangerous. The one near her school had much more traffic, and she didn’t really want to look after Michael now – until they could all have dinner. But she did not want to make mom angry either. Not again.
“One thousand twenty … one thousand twenty one … “
“What are you doing?” she asked him.
“Counting the distance to the lightning,” Michael explained, looking wholly absorbed.
“You always count.”
“I like counting.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” Emma said sourly.
She wondered what took mom and dad so long. Why couldn’t they just go over to the motel’s restaurant and have that dinner now, instead of having to kill time playing on this boring parking lot with almost no cars or people while mom and dad … did something.
Fought with each other, she supposed … it wouldn’t be the first time. Why else would mom had told them to go outside and play at dinner time instead of just going over to the motel’s restaurant? Mom had been tense the whole drive. As had dad. As usual …
Emma was getting really hungry now, despite the chocolate. It was as if it had just made the whole she felt in her stomach larger somehow … and then, when she thought about the hunger, the wind from the oncoming storm made her shiver visibly now.
“Maybe we should go back to the room?” she suggested to Michael. “Maybe mom is looking for us and can’t find us?”
“Mom would be calling. She is not looking,” Michael said. “Dad, too.”
“Dad ‘too’ what?”
“Isn’t looking.” Michael hated it when she corrected him – or implied she had to. Em wasn’t his teacher, like right?!
“Look,” Emma said. “But either we sit here and wait for her to call, and make her mad if she can’t find us, or … if we’re not supposed to sit here … ” She looked up at the bottom of the huge dark truck.
“Or what?” Michael asked, suspicion in his voice.
“Or we just go in now and avoid a fuss.”
“You mean, they’ll yell at us? But why?”
“Because they couldn’t find us.”
“They haven’t been looking! And we have done nothing wrong!” Michael protested.
“I think we should go in now. Look – the storm will be here soon, with rain and lightning. We will be and wet – and we’ll catch a cold.”
“You’re just afraid of the lightning,” Michael said, and Emma froze.
“Yes, you are. I heard you say so to dad that night back home when it was all thunder and …”
“Will you shut up, Michael?!”
“I knew it – you’re afraid.”
“And you still wet your bed!”
Michael’s face turned red and dark now, all at the same time.
“You lie! You lie!” He suddenly lashed out and began hitting her and although he had done it before, this time it caught Emma by complete surprise. He had never gotten angry so quickly. She usually could see it coming. She usually knew how much she …
Emma took her hand away from her nose, which was burning and …
“Blood!” she cried. “You gave me nose-blood, stupid! You little stupid stupid bed-wetter!”
Tears stung in her eyes and she felt a rising panic whilst trying to control the blood-flow and breathe at the same time. She had had nose-blood before but somehow never this strong. Emma scrambled to get out from under the truck, while protecting her nose with one hand.
Michael just looked on in shock.
“I didn’t mean … ” he tried to say.
Emma said nothing. It was as it had always been with her little brother. As it had always been in the family. You thought you saw the storm coming and had time then suddenly … it was all there. And you thought you saw it coming. You thought you knew what it was all about. But you didn’t. You were just … caught.
Another whiplash of lightning cracked the darkening sky over the desert.
Last updated: 2 May 2021