by Michail Velichansky
During a thunderstorm and a heavy downpour of rain, a young woman went out into her yard to take the dog inside. It was a large yard, and empty except for the plastic toys. Within seconds, she was soaked. Her clothes stuck to her body. The dog wasn’t outside.
She wiped at her eyes. Lightning flashed in the distance, then closer, and closer. She felt the hairs on her hands stand up, and on the back of her neck; the breath caught in her lungs, wet and humid. Lightning flashed in the distance.
“Hound! Where are you, boy?”
The sky flickered. Thunder rolled. And she smelled ozone. The shock ran up her spine and in her head. She felt it behind her eyes and deep in her chest.
She remembered how in monsoon country, people drown in the rain. This worried her a little bit, because it was really pouring down. Where had the dog got off to? She hoped that the thunder wouldn’t scare her little brother and sister too badly, she could feel it about to break. So it did: crashing against the ground and the buildings and the trees, beating against her with rain and wind.
Then she was back in the house, standing in the doorway, breathing heavily and dripping on the floor.
“The Hound’s not out there,” she said, shivering. She sneezed. Leaving coat, shoes, and socks on the floor, she went upstairs, and in the bathroom stripped off the rest of her clothes and dried herself.
The little ones were asleep; she found Hound wrapped up in the three-year-old’s sheets, only his nose sticking out. He looked warm, and she was jealous. Her parents watched television in the living room, while her brother played on the computer. It was supposed to be off during the storm.
In bed, the thunder wasn’t so bad, and the drum of rain on the roof relaxed her. But she was bothered by the wind, because it didn’t stop. After a while she fell asleep, and dreamed of blue light.
From then on, she only dreamed blue light—a neon sliver flickering in the darkness when she closed her eyes. Other things changed, too: she had trouble remembering things. She would find herself standing around, staring, and when someone asked her what she was thinking she couldn’t remember. Her schoolwork suffered, and she found that she couldn’t bring herself to care.
She went to all the college meetings that her mother took her to, but it all felt empty. When they talked, she just stared away, and thought of her dreams.
College, you know. A year away. Forever and eternity. Time enough for storms.
Her little brother David said, “It’s your turn,” and she found that she couldn’t remember what it was they were playing. Scrabble, the board said. Verb; to scratch or scrape, as with the claws or hands. To grapple or struggle with or as if with the claws or hands.
That didn’t make any sense.
“Come on, it’s your turn, I got triple word score.”
“You gonna go?”
She didn’t have any claws, and that made her sad. She wandered to the kitchen and stared at the fridge.
“You’re no fun anymore,” David said, pouting.
“I’m sorry,” she said, fumbling with a box of crackers. She took out a few and set them on the counter. Then she walked away, leaving the crackers behind.
David was still pouting, spelling out dirty words on the board.
“That’s you,” he said, and stuck his tongue out. “Triple word score again, that’s how big a that you are.”
“Okay,” she said.
She went outside, and stood in the yard with her eyes closed, waiting for the blue light. It seemed so far away, yet it flickered less now.
“It’s getting dark,” her mother said.
“Is it?” It was hard to tell.
“How long have you been standing out here?”
“Have I been standing out here?”
“Stop being a smart-ass.”
She wondered what it would be like to be a smart ass. Not too much fun, she decided; after all, they only carry things and pull things. The smart ass would know what it was missing. She felt sorry for them, the smart asses.
“Well?” her mother asked. The young woman said nothing, but tried to smile reassuringly, because her mother looked so tired.
“Did you put the little ones to bed like I asked you to?”
“Really? Were you here this morning?”
“Just get inside,” her mother said, sighing.
So she went inside. She tried to remember if her mother had been there that morning, but really, it seemed to her that she had only come about that evening, to tell her it was getting dark. As she brushed her teeth, very slowly, a tiny voice told her that made no sense, that of course her mother had been there that morning, and every morning before. She was her mother! But it was a tiny voice, and sleepy.
She went to sleep, and tried to name the shades of blue. She started from the beginning, using words that had no meaning:
Her parents decided to talk to her, in her room upstairs in the attic.
“You haven’t been yourself lately,” her father said.
“It’s drugs, isn’t it?” her mother said.
“We just want to know what’s wrong…”
“If it’s drugs, you better tell us now. They’ve got those new tests out now, if it’s drugs, we’ll find out.”
“Your teacher called… you don’t pay attention anymore…”
“It’s drugs. All the kids these days, they’re all taking drugs.”
It went on like that. Her mother got angrier, and looked even more tired, while her father looked like a piece of paper flapping in the wind.
She didn’t say much. She felt kind of sorry for them. “I think it’s going to rain,” she said, and stared out the window.
After a while, they got tired of yelling and pleading and threatening her, so they did it to each other for a while. Then they got tired of that, too, and went downstairs.
It did rain, later, and she almost went out into the rain. But the little voice in her head, desperately rubbing the crust out of its eyes, told her to stay inside. It was quite insistent, in its own way, so she patted it on the head and humored it. The thunder was warm, the wind quiet and soothing. Blue light burned on her closed lids.
She was sick the next day. Everything spun about, and she felt nauseous. She couldn’t remember ever being sick like that, regardless of what the little voice told her. It was more awake now. She decided that once she felt better she would feel happy for it.
Remember, the little voice urged.
So she lay in her bed and stared up at the ceiling. In a vague way, she knew that her life had become different somehow. The little voice insisted that they had. But what could you do? Once your life changed, it changed; there was no going back. If the little voice kept on trying to live that way, it would be a very unhappy little voice, she thought. When she closed her eyes, it was aardvark blue she saw. It probably wasn’t going to rain for a little while still.
The little voice was happy with this, in a desperate sort of way. The blue light wasn’t—in its huge and patient, building-up and rumbling sort of way. She wished they’d make up and be friends. She didn’t like being sick.
The days went by, slow and soporific. Almost summer days, now. Until one day the young woman woke up and saw—with a bit of difficulty, because the sun was in her eyes—a young man.
“Um,” the young man said. “Are you all right?”
She had sprawled out in the front lawn, and didn’t remember how she’d gotten there, and wearing her jacket, of all things.
“I’m all right,” she said, blinking. The little voice told her she was hot and uncomfortable. She hoped the little voice could find some shade.
“But… why are you lying out in the dirt? With your coat on?”
“I think I’m supposed to be dead,” she said.
“Um. You look alive to me.”
“Oh. Well. Maybe I was dreaming, then?” He was an odd-looking young man, not really attractive at all.
“Dreaming about what?” he asked.
For once she really thought about it, and realized that what she’d been dreaming about was the time she walked out into the storm and felt lightning running up her spine. And the blue light, of course, that was in her dream too, even though she was certain she hadn’t seen anything like that at the time.
“Nothing much,” is what she told the odd-looking young man. He had smiled at her. “Just about, you know, not being dead.”
“Ah.” He fidgeted for a moment, then asked, “What’s your name?”
“Alice,” she said, giving the first name that came to her. He smiled at her again, and the young woman who had named herself Alice smiled back. Then she sat up and took off the coat, because it really was quite hot.
“That sounds like a last name, not a first name.”
The young man named Crawford shrugged.
“Crawford…” she said, tasting the name and the odd-looking young man with the sun-lit smile it was attached to. “Crawford… Cawford… It’s like the sound crows make when you write it out—caw! caw!” She giggled. “Do you mind if I call you Caw?”
“I guess not. I’ll just call you Alice, though, okay?”
And that was fine, because Alice was a nice name, right out of one of the books that sat untouched in her room. She decided she would try to remember it. Keep talking, the little voice said. Hormones. The power of hormones!
The blue light, which had made itself rather abalone, said, Wait.
“Come on,” the young woman who had named herself Alice said. “It’s a nice day, and we should go for a walk.” She even believed that, a little. It tingled, believing.
Caw shrugged, and smiled again, and they went for a walk.
They had so little to say, yet she remembered the conversation, later—especially the parts where Crawford got nervous and fumbled his words, and then kind of laughed in a half-embarrassed way. She liked that laugh. It was a nice laugh.
Really, not only was he not especially attractive, but there wasn’t anything interesting about him. His family had two cats. Sometimes his mother took too many sleeping pills. His father was over-educated, a college drop-out, and a construction worker. He’d read a book about the Japanese tea ceremony once, and thought it was pretty neat. But he didn’t like tea.
Not interesting at all, she thought, and her chest tingled as though she might laugh. It felt nice, but it made her feel sick, too. She told herself it was probably okay, but wasn’t so sure now.
“I’ll, um, see you later. I guess.”
“Sure,” she said.
Then they stood around for a second too long, staring at the spaces around shoes and sky.
Then they did go off, he down the street, she into her house. Had she been in that house before? Everything felt new, so neat and dirty and sparkling-wonderful; the way something familiar looks new and delicious when you see it again after a long time. It’s fantastic, thought the little voice inside her head.
The blue light was still abalone, but that didn’t make any sense, because an abalone was a kind of mollusk, and she couldn’t see any blue light. Only she thought it must be everywhere around her, too. She felt sick again, and this time it was worse. Still, she went around the house, exploring, trying to ignore the dizzyness. She played with the Hound of the Baskervilles, who had been laying half-asleep under the couch. Happy, he growled at her and tried to tear her shirt. She growled back, then gave him a treat. He could never resist a treat, so he let go of her shirt.
Then she read a story to Clare, who was only three, but it was never too early to get them hooked. So she kept her up late reading the Grimms.
She played a game of Scrabble with David, and lost.
She played video games with Gary, who asked her what kind of drugs she’d been on. He got mad when she wouldn’t tell him, then remembered that he was too cool to care.
Then she went up to go to bed, and stopped to tell her parents, “Good night.”
She loved them all, she thought, and so did the little voice. Lying in bed, happiness fought the spinning sadness in her skull.
Burned on her lids, the blue light was the color of abandon. She was out in the rain, looking for the black hellhound howling in the distance, the Hound of the Baskervilles. The full moon burned through the clouds with its terrible light. The wind beat against her.
The Hound—he howled for her, lamenting.
The odd-looking young man flew down and smiled, and his smile was calm breeze and sunlight as he took a walk with a young woman named Alice.
And Alice decided she didn’t like the rain, and the thunder, and the blue light. She stared at Crawford and imagined a beach, with pretty blue waters and a palm tree. She imagined laughing and running and playing on the beach, beneath their palm tree beside the pretty blue water.
In her head, the little voice laughed, and it wasn’t little anymore. The way it filled her head, she hardly heard it at all.
The blue light said nothing, but she felt it waiting.
Another storm. She could smell it in the air, could feel it on the hairs along her arm. Blue filled the sky, but the wind blew hard, and clouds rolled towards her in the distance. Not a proper wind, smelling of the sea, but a local one smelling of smog, and ozone.
The trees swayed ominously, as trees tend to do. The Hound was inside sleeping in the manner of safe dogs on a nasty day. So were her brothers, sprawled on the couch and on the floor. Her parents were at work. Outside, clouds covered the sun, and the world darkened.
The phone rang, a sharp sound in the gray silence that had fallen.
“It’s Crawford.” He breathed heavily.
“Hi,” Alice said, trying to remember when she’d given him her number.
“You want to get together and hang out maybe? It was fun, yesterday.”
Yeah. It had been kind of fun.
You should go, the little voice said. The storm won’t hit for a while yet—if you get in when you hear thunder or it starts to drizzle, you’ll be fine.
And the blue light said: It doesn’t matter.
It didn’t. She could feel the storms coming, and all the storms after it, pushing down on her. She could just sit, and the water would run down her hair and face and neck, and she’d melt away. Abandon: the blue light no longer flickering, but steady and deep and very old.
But it had been fun. It had. Alice said, “Sure! Meet me in front of my house?”
Abandon. The storm was coming, and storms, and storms upon storms. For now, though, Alice ran upstairs to put on something that matched and forced her hair into a pony tail so it wouldn’t get in her eyes.
They went out again, laughing into the wind, laughing at the gray sky. Giggly laughs set off by small things, followed by long silences.
Two-headed bunnies in the clouds.
The mailbox held up by a huge purple dolphin.
The time when he was six, and they went to Vienna, and he fell into a fountain.
The time she skipped class in third grade and spent the whole time crouched in a toilet stall, and vowed never to skip class again.
They were all funny, in that tingly way things had when Caw was around. And it was kind of fun.
Then it began to rain, and they laughed at that too as they ran for a tree. They were soaked and giddy, her hair out of the ponytail and stuck to her face, his own hair thin and ropy, hanging down the side of his head like noodles. The rain fell so thick it seemed a wall in front of them. They gasped for air in the humid air, and sometimes they would start to laugh again.
She thought there was something she had to do. Something about storms. She remembered being outside, and calling for the Hound. The sky lit up, and thunder struck, rolling over them both, echoing inside her head and heart. What had been there dropped out, and she was left with terror.
“I gotta get back home!” Alice called with the little voice, struggling to be heard above the storm.
“All right!” the young man cried. “We’ll run for it” He smiled and waved a rain-soaked hand as though commanding troops into battle. “Forward!” So Alice and Crawford ran. Thunder boomed behind them, only a few mississippis away. It seemed to her that they ran for a very long time, water beating at their faces, the houses sailing by, uneven and old. Trees swaying in the wind, bowing to the storm. Cold water ran down her face and neck, soaking into the collar of her shirt.
They should have held hands, as they ran. But they only touched with sidelong glances.
“Thanks,” Alice said when they reached her house.
“No problem, love getting soaked… I’ll, see you again, yeah?”
Caw’s hand twisted his shirt as he said, “See you then.”
Whatever that was, she felt it too, but she just waved and said, “Bye…”
He smiled again, then stuck his hands into his pockets and ran home. Watching him, she felt herself come down from the place she had been. She felt the storm above.
Stay now, the blue light said. It burned deeper, past blue and into something else. Ancient blue, present at the start of days. Old blue. Storm blue. The blue of lightning searing purple sky, fire in the woods and the wrath of gods.
Then there was only the beating of her heart in her ears, loud and frightened.
As though tearing herself from her place in a great painting, pieces of paint and canvas trailing behind her, Alice ran inside.
Her parents looked up at her from the living room couch, then turned back to the flickering television.
It was David who asked, “Where’ve you been?”
She looked down at him in her big-sister way. “Out with a friend,” she said, little hot-and-cold starbursts exploding in her chest.
“Uh huh. Friend. I saw you kissing by the tree and he’s funny looking.” He stuck out his tongue at her. The moment hung in the air, and then with a jerk David made a break for it. She chased him up the stairs, into his room.
Light flashed through the windows. She stopped, and the world swam around her. She stared at the floor, trying to figure out how her hands could hold on to it the way it spun…
“He’s so thin I bet the wind could knock him down. Or maybe it can’t even touch him he’s so thin!”
…within seconds, she was soaked. Her clothes stuck to her body. The dog wasn’t outside…
Her brother looked at her from the doorway into his room, ready to run. “Hey, are you all right?”
“Sure…” she said. “Just fine.” Very slowly, very carefully, pushing against the spin of the room and the weight of the storm outside, she crawled to the second staircase and up to her room in the attic. The little voice screamed in her skull like a swarm of bees.
“Are you all right?” her father asked.
“I’m fine. Just need to sleep.”
They walked out, and it was her mother who glanced back, blinking rapidly. Outside her window, the storm raged.
She was out on the lawn again, looking for the dog howling somewhere in the distance. The rain fell hard, but it didn’t touch her anymore. She stared up at the black and gray sky, waiting for the blue light to come through her feet and take her into the sky.
Abandon, said the blue light, pulsing like a heartbeat. Come.
Meanings fell away. She was losing herself in the storm, hardly aware of what herself was being lost.
Then she saw a yellow light flicker in the attic window. She could see through it: Alice lay there on the bed, twisting and turning in fever.
“Stay,” Alice moaned with a little voice inside her head. “Don’t leave me.”
She couldn’t leave Alice. She wouldn’t. She reached through the glass and hung on. The wind picked up. Thunder rolled over the land and didn’t stop. The blue light brightened until she couldn’t see.
In the hallway, the Hound of the Baskervilles growled. She scratched him behind his ears. He whined and nudged her with his head, red eyes glowing.
Wind and lightning swirled about her, but she held on to Alice, held on to the young man that Alice thought of so often, to her older brother who wasn’t nice to her, to David, to Clare, to Mom and Dad.
It was pouring down rain, and she was outside, looking for her dog, eternally lost. Around her the lightning rose up to the sky like pillars. They pulsed, gentle and terrible like the ocean. All around the houses fell, and she could see storms stretching out in all directions. The slow pulse of the lightning held up the sky, just as the storms hands caressed the ground.
Storms are forever, the blue lights said. But still she held on.
Alice woke up with the Hound curled up in her lap. He looked up at her, and she could feel the tenseness leave his muscles. He closed his eyes and went to sleep. Alice looked around, and saw that she had passed out past the second bathroom. She lay against her parent’s door. She could hear them through the door.
“I just don’t know what to do,” her mother said. “I know I’m not helping any, I’m not getting through, I… I just don’t know.”
She didn’t want to leave them. None of them. As quietly as she could, Alice started to cry. In her head, the little voice spoke in her own voice, had always been her own voice. Then it disappeared, leaving only Alice—and she didn’t want to leave.
There were crows outside her window, screeching: caw! caw! Alice wondered where they’d come from. She tried to sit up, but as soon as she moved, the world did somersaults. So she could only lie in her bed, trying to keep her eyes open so that she wouldn’t fall asleep.
Outside her window, a clear, epic blue spanned across the sky. The trees seemed to glow, green and satisfied. Bits of water sparkled on the window sill. But there was another storm coming. There was always another storm coming.
The blue light glowed in her head. The mark of the storm.
She turned away from the window and vomited over the side of her bed. She heaved for a long time, even when there was nothing left. Then she lay, sucking in air, unable to stop the room from spinning, unable to bring things into focus. She felt so tired, and she couldn’t stop shaking. As though she was a wet towel that had been wrung out again and again—Alice was stretched thin, fraying at the edges.
At some point, her parents came in and told her they were sorry they’d thought it was drugs, sorry they took the test. She couldn’t remember them taking any test. Night had fallen outside, and her sheets had been changed. A bucket stood next to her bed. The thermometer in her mouth beeped, and the sound floated around the room, at first sharp, then breaking into quiet waves. Then the thermometer beeped again.
“You’ve got a bad fever,” her mother said. Something cool and wet touched her lips, and she drank weakly. Her brain noticed the pill only as an afterthought. Her heart beat erratically, fast one minute and slow the next. Yet the blue light beat steady in the darkness when she closed her eyes.
Days passed, or hours stretched out on a rack. Time felt long and thin. She kept down half a bowl of plain white rice. She drank tea with lemon and honey. Night became day and day became night.
More than anything, Alice wanted to feel better. There wasn’t much time. Not much time at all—she could feel another storm coming.
“Some guy came by here asking for an ‘Alice’,” her mother said. “He seemed to know you though, described you and everything. He said his name was Crawford. Davy says you know him.”
“Why does he call you Alice?”
“It’s a game,” Alice said. “Tell him I’ll be all right in a few days… I will be, right?”
“Well, your fever’s gone down, and you’re talking again… Doctor Sherman thinks it was the summer flu that’s been going around.”
“So… so I’ll tell that boy you’ll probably be able to talk to him again in a little while.” Her mother smiled, and kissed her very gently on her forehead—still too warm, still pale and covered with sweat.
She played Scrabble with David, the board sitting on a stack of books next to her bed. She placed each piece very slowly to make sure her shaking hands didn’t knock over the board. She looked carefully at each word, and each possible word, and somehow, knowing they meant something made her feel better.
David stared at the board, then built “better” off a horizontal “feel”. He smiled at her: “Triple word score.”
Later, when she could walk, she sat on the couch and watched Gary play his games. He looked at her for a second, then turned back to his flashing lights without a word. Then, as he stared and pressed the buttons, intent on his task, he started to talk; he explained what the games were about, what the stories were, what he was doing. He spoke slowly, stopping often as though nervous. Alice sat and listened to every word.
She read fairy tales to Clare, then she helped Clare write one herself—with lots of blood and violence and a happy ending. The last line was: They lived together forever and ever and ever and read to each other and were very happy.
Then she called Crawford and told him that she could see him.
“Finally better?” he asked.
She answered, “I’ll see you soon.” Then she hung up, and stared at the off-white plastic of her phone and the LED display gone dark.
“Hey,” he said as she closed the door. She walked quickly, and he sprinted to catch up with her. “I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
“Come on,” she said, glancing at him.
“Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know yet. I want to be going until I do.”
“Sure,” he said, smiling.
So they walked in silence, and sometimes in laughter, until they got to the little park at the end of town: a few trees, and a tiny puddle of a lake too close to the highway. Alice kept walking, off the path and into the woods.
“Here,” Alice said. “This is nice.” She sat down facing the water, her back against a tree.
“All right,” Caw said. He sat down opposite her, cross-legged.
Alice stared at the water in silence.
“What’s up?” he said.
She could see the words in her mind, but had to fight to get her tongue to say them: “I’m… I’m going away. Soon.”
“Well, that’s all right, we can—”
“For good, Caw. Forever.”
Tiny emotions played on the muscles of his face like dust devils. “What?”
“I’m sick, Caw. It’s bad, and I can’t fight anymore. There’s a… there’s… It’s not going to go away, Caw. Not ever.”
“I like you,” he said. He tried to smile.
“I like you too.”
In the silence Alice could hear the cars whooshing down the highway.
“Is it something contagious?” he asked in a dead voice. And then he kissed her. An eager, nervous kiss. A desperate kiss. She put her arms around him, she could feel his heart pounding against hers. It was a world of darkness and hot breath, full of life and warmth.
He moved closer, and his body rubbed against hers. He kissed her again. He put a shaking hand on her chest, ran it down to her leg. For a second they moved closer, their bodies fitting together, clothes getting in the way. Then Alice pulled away. Heavy breath touched only air. His hand fell down to the moist earth. She wrapped her arms about herself as though to stay warm.
Crawford moved as though to touch her again, but stopped and slumped back. He stared at the ground, glancing up at her occasionally. His ragged breathing slowed.
“I just thought we could… I’m going to miss you… I thought…” He started to cry. He seemed now more like a boy than a young man. Alice put her arms around him, and he held her tight.
“I’ll miss you too,” she whispered.
They sat in silence, and after a while he stopped sniffling, and her own meager tears dried up.
“I have to go,” she said.
Alice thought she would have fucked him, eventually. When her parents were away, or his, or maybe hiding in the forest, laughing nervously. She held on to the thought, because she could feel it in her body, even as everything began to fall apart around her. Because it still had meaning, simple and old, while other meanings fluttered on the breeze and flew away.
In the end, there was no way to say goodbye.
She stood outside as the clouds gathered. As the rain began to fall. As the distant sky lit up, and the ancient thunder rolled to greet her. Rainwater ran into her eyes. The sky frothed above her. The house slept, and the Hound of the Baskervilles whined and scratched at the screen door.
Crawford watched her across the street, drenched and shivering.
Alice waved. Goodbye, said her little voice.
She looked up at the sky, and waited for the blue light to take her away.