Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | February 24, 2011

Lightning Strike

Lightning by Axel Rouvin

Photo by Axel Rouvin, Wikimedia Commons

The whole time we’ve been walking, we followed the Long River. Today, we turned south, away from the water, walking until we could no longer hear the rushing water. It is night now, and I can’t sleep without that familiar sound. Rolph is fast asleep next to me, his chest rising and falling, his breath clouding in the chilly night air.

I turn over and look at Wes, just a lumpy shape wrapped in sleeping blankets on the other side of the fire. I feel like we’re even now after the incident with Akula. Maybe tomorrow I’ll try talking to him again, get him to smile at me so his dark eyes light up.

My chest is starting to warm inside and I’m wondering if I’m really finally crazy—it’s clear he doesn’t like me and never will—when Akula’s voice swishes in my ears.

“Hill cats! From the south!”

I sit straight up, peering through the darkness. Which way is south?

“Past Wes—behind Y’nessa’s cart!”

Enid is awake and tending the fire, her back to the cart. I get up and shuffle sideways away from the fire, trying to get a good look at what’s back there. I should just scream and wake up Kelton. He’s got scars from numerous hill cat fights. But I want to see for myself, to be sure.

I freeze, my breath coming in quick gasps—two yellow eyes stare back at me from the darkness behind the cart.

I open my mouth to shout, and the cat jumps.

Somehow, I manage to roll to one side, and the claws rake my calf. The sting and the gush of blood rips my voice from my chest. “Ahhhhhhh!” I scream. “Hill cats!”

Wes is up right away – he leaps past the fire and I see his bare chest sillhouetted against red and yellow flame. My hero come to rescue me.

The cat slinks back, and I see another pair of eyes. No, two more. Three cats at least, versus one kid. This will not end well. Where’s Kelton?

Wes is next to me know, his chest heaving up and down. “You hurt?”

I shake my head and point. “Too many! Run!”

But I can’t run. My leg hurts too much. I manage to stand up, then lean heavily against the cart. I hear a yowl behind me, a grunt and then a scream from Wes. He’s hurt, too!

Then I remember. The stones!

They are under my shirt where I always keep them—nestled together in a special pouch.

I rip them out, chanting, “Yellow for dust and desert storm; white for ice and driving rain; black for smoke and fire burning;” I cough. My throat is too dry! “Storm, rain, fire, come, lightning strike and strike again!”

I’ve never tried this spell before. We only read about it once, and our teacher wouldn’t even demonstrate it. Too dangerous.

I glance up at the sky. It didn’t work. The cats will rip Wes’ throat out and it’ll be my fault, I should’ve screamed the second Akula warned me!

I hear Kelton’s voice, then. The twang of a crossbow, and one of the cats goes down with a thunk and a high-pitched yowwwwl. The second cat is crouched in the shadows, our of Kelton’s view. It’s ready to pounce—and Wes is just lying on the ground, not moving, covered in blood.

Am I too late? I stare right into the cat’s eyes and scream at the top of my lungs. “Yellow for dust and desert storm; white for ice and driving rain; black for smoke and fire burning; storm, rain, fire, come, lightning strike and strike again!” I open my hand and lift the stones toward the sky. My breath feels tingly in my throat. I want to close my eyes, but I can’t.

The cat jumps.

CRACK!

Lightning splits the sky in a single white tear, catching the hill cat in midair. My eyes finally close, but the afterimage burns on my eyelids, a hill cat with electric, flashing wings.

Where’s the third cat?

I finally see it, below Wes. He’s covered with blood, but most of it isn’t his own. He killed the third cat with his small hunting knife.

He moans, and I rush to his side, limping from my own cuts. Kelton and Enid are already there, checking him all over for wounds. He has one bad gash on his side, but that seems to be all. He looks up at me, his dark eyes squinted in pain.

“I didn’t know you could do that. With the lightning.”

Neither did I, I think. “I didn’t know you could kill one of those with a little knife,” I say instead. The knife is still clutched in his hand, dripping blood. It’s repulsive and fascinating at the same time.

I imagine myself as a Guardian. Wes and I are patrolling together, taking out hill cats and calling lightning. The dream plays out in my head while Enid wraps my leg in gauze and walks me in to Y’nessa for healing.

Rolph is in the cart, crying and sniffling against Trill’s chest. He jumps up and clings to me when I enter. “I thought it killed you! I thought you were dead!” He sobs and sobs.

Maybe it’s not so great being a Guardian.

This scene is part of a longer story I’m working on – I was labeling each scene with “Part 1, Part 2,” etc., but I think this scene goes in between Part 7 and 8, and I don’t want to keep renumbering everything!

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