“Bobby! Look! There he is,” Laura yelled, smacking Bobby on his sunburned shoulder. “He’s pulling out. Cut him off! Get in front of it! Get in front of it!”
Bobby grunted and wrenched the steering wheel. The Channel 7 News van flattened a shrub, jumped a gravel packed curb, and came to a spasmodic halt, nose to nose with the colossal RV. The engine blocks of both big vehicles hissed at each other like cornered snakes.
“Nice drivin, Bobby!”
The RV driver leaned on the horn, shattering the early morning stillness of Kluane National Park, scattering a murder of crows, sending a family of skittish elk bounding for the tree line. As Bobby killed the engine, Laura immediately began scrutinizing her surgically tightened face in the rear view mirror.
“Get the camera,” she commanded, applying blood clot red lipstick for the fourth time that morning. She wiped a smudge off her front teeth, yellow and worn from too much smoking and grinding. Her dark hair was fringed with white. It suited her newsroom nickname. Cruella Deville.
Bobby grabbed the camera, a portable light, and a snake’s nest of cables from the console next to him. He groaned, climbing out of the van like a saddle sore cowboy. They had been driving all night to get there. He tried not to think about breakfast, or sleep, or breakfast, as he bumbled through diagnostic checks of his equipment.
“Here. Get a shot of me in front of this,” Laura barked. Her thousand dollar high heel shoes clicked loudly in the gravel as she marched over to the sun bleached sign.
“Big Fish Campground”
Big Fish Campground had seen better days. It was deserted–save the two giant vehicles–with only the sign, a few broken picnic tables, and an overturned, overgrown outhouse to prove it was a campground at all.
“Bobby! Come on. Move your ass!” she yelled as he trudged over, camera at the ready. She liberated a few blouse buttons, hinting at the frilly black bra beneath. “And be sure to get the sky in the shot.”
The sky was cloudless, flawless blue, with just a hint of fading sunrise pink lingering over the distant mountains. It looked like it was going to be a gorgeous day.
Bobby focused. He shot Laura a thumbs up, clicked a button, and a tiny red eye opened up on the camera face. He pointed at her.
“This is Laura Lather, reporting for Channel 7 Live Action News,” she over-enunciated, smiling widely. “Continuing with my “Where are they now?” segment, I am coming to you this morning from beautiful Kluane National Park, where I have the tremendous pleasure of interviewing the one and only Kid Lightning, Christopher Reynolds.”
She lost the smile as if a switch had been flipped.
“Okay Bobby, let’s cut there.”
Bobby followed in the wake of Laura’s no nonsense wiggle as she marched over to the side of the RV. She banged at the door, loudly, with all the patience of a sleep deprived cop with a search warrant.
“Go away!” Came a muffled voice from within. “Get outta here!”
“Boss, you want me to get this?” Bobby asked, raising the camera.
“No,” Laura huffed.
“Mr. Reynolds?” She called out. “Mr. Reynolds, its Laura Lather. I’m a reporter for Channel Seven News.”
“Mr. Reynolds? Your brother told us where to find you.”
A long moment passed.
Somewhere amongst the infinite pine trees, something wild death rattled as something wilder ate it.
“Jim?” the muffled voice asked through the RV door. “He shouldn’t have done that.”
“Well he did.”
“How….How is he?”
A smile spread across her blood red lips.
“He’s sick, Mr. Reynolds.” She winked at Bobby. “Really sick. But you already know that don’t you?”
“Emphysema” she said, softening her voice. “Poor guy. Helluva thing. Never smoked a day in his life, but he gets struck by lightning one little time.” She sighed dramatically. Her voice perked up. “He gave me a message for you.”
Bobby frowned at her, opened his mouth to object. She waved him off.
“I’ll give it to you if you open the door.”
The door clicked. Laura’s smile morphed from hungry to sympathetic. The door creaked open barely an inch, just enough to reveal a bloodshot, purple-rimmed, grey eye. Grey like a storm cloud. The escaping air that accompanied it was sour and hot.
“Give me the message,” Chris said. His voice was raspy, dry, like he’d spent the morning gargling sand.
“I will,” Laura said. “I promise. In exchange for five minutes of your time.”
Chris considered it.
“Alright,” he said finally, nudging open the door. “You got five minutes.”
Laura snapped her fingers at Bobby. He readied the camera. They climbed inside.
The RV interior was dark, deceptively cramped, hot like a sauna. Chris moved a stack of science textbooks off what passed for the dining room table, and motioned for them to sit down. Laura sat, as did Chris. Bobby remained standing, panning his camera slowly around the space that had all the hominess and charm of a coffins guts.
“What’s this stuff on the walls?” Bobby asked.
The walls, ceiling, and floor were covered in a patch work of shiny black sheets. They squeaked beneath Bobby’s Air Jordan’s.
“Neoprene,” Chris mumbled.
“Neoprene rubber,” Chris said irritably. “It’s an insulator. You know? Helps keep me warm in the winter.”
“Bobby, let’s get some light over here,” Laura barked.
Within seconds, Bobby had his camera light shining in Chris’ face. Portable sunshine. It was the first time they really got a good look at him.
Chris looked like a man stuck somewhere between life and death. His sunken face was framed above by patchy hair like goose down, below, by a disheveled, greying beard. A bloated, purple scar earth wormed its way from his hairline, through his missing right ear, and down his neck, disappearing into the collar of his ratty bathrobe.
“So whattayou want?” Chris asked, squinting against the light.
“Christopher Reynolds,” Laura began in her sweetest reporting voice. “Kid Lightning.”
“Don’t call me that.”
Laura ignored him.
“It’s been ten years since that fateful summer of 2004. The summer you became a media darling. A nationwide sensation.”
Chris snorted, absently rubbing his scar. “Freak show,” he whispered.
“You were only sixteen years old when it happened. Struck by lightning. Seven times in seven months. Unbelievable. Miraculously, somehow you survived. You were in all the newspapers. Remember? On all the talk shows. They had so many names for you, didn’t they? Kid Lightning. The teenage lightning rod. Lil’ Zeus. You were famous. Or infamous, at least. Then one day, poof, you just up and disappeared. What happened? Where have you been for the past ten years? What have you been doing? Our viewers would like to know.”
Chris didn’t answer. He rubbed his scar harder.
“I don’t know,” he said nervously.
“You don’t know?” Laura pressed. “You don’t know where you’ve been?”
“I don’t know,” Chris echoed. “I’ve been around, I guess. Mostly up North. Traveling. Doing odd jobs here and there.”
“Does Kid Lightning have anyone special in his life?” She giggled. “Is there a Missus Lightning?”
Chris stared at her. Cold. Ominous.
“I told you not to call me that.”
“No pitter-patter of little lightning feet around the RV?” She continued, ignoring him.
Bobby laughed. The camera jiggled.
“Can you tell me my brother’s message now please?” Chris asked impatiently.
“Why do you move around so much Mr. Reynolds? Hmm?” Laura asked. “Why have you never settled down?”
She leaned in, motioning at Bobby for a close up.
“Does the lightning follow you?”
The words were barely passed her blood red lips before she burst with laughter. Chris shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He was rubbing his scar so hard it looked poised to bleed. Outside, over the distant northern mountains, storm clouds began to gather.
“Tell me the message.” Chris said. “Please.”
“Okay, okay,” she sighed. “Just one more thing.” Her interviewing tone turned interrogator. “You haven’t actually been struck by lightning seven times, have you Mr. Reynolds? I mean, come on? Only two occurrences were actually witnessed, after all.” She materialized a small notebook and began rifling through the pages, squinting at it in the gloom. “Let’s see. The lightning strike at the carnival that killed four, including one Joshua Smithfield—your cousin and best friend if I understand correctly—and the one at the dance recital that killed your sisters.”
Chris’ lip trembled. His breath hitched. His eyes welled up.
“That was all, wasn’t it?” Laura asked confidently. “Two lightning strikes. There was never seven. Was there, Mr. Reynolds? You lied, didn’t you? Seven in seven months? That’s impossible. Isn’t it?”
“Laura?” Bobby said softly. He reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. “I think he’s had enough, don’t you?”
“Shut it Bobby,” Laura barked, shrugging him off. “I didn’t come all this way for nothing. If I can’t get enough for a fluff piece, then I’m leaving with an expose`.”
“So what do you say, Kid Lightning?” She turned her wrath back on Chris. “This was all some publicity stunt, wasn’t it? Some kind of cash grab. You’re a fraud aren’t you? A liar.”
Chris cupped his face in his hands. Tears softened his callused palms. Somewhere, muffled thunder boomed.
“I wish,” he finally whispered.
“Sorry?” Laura said. “What’s that?”
Chris’ hands fell away from his face. His eyes were glazed, foggy, pools of rotten milk. The vein in his forehead writhed like an angry snake.
“I wish it was only seven.”
Laura sighed, whispered “Pathetic,” loud enough to hear. She stood up.
“Kill it, Bobby,” she said. “I think we’ve bled this stone dry.”
Bobby turned off the camera.
“Come on,” she reached the door in two steps. “I heard about a kid in Whitehorse who was born with a third eye.” She opened the door. Outside the birds were fleeing in all directions. The sky was the color of a bad bruise and darkening by the second. “Maybe he’ll talk to us.”
“Wait,” Chris pled. He stood up, wiped his eyes and his runny nose on the back of his hand. “The message from Jim? Please? What was it?”
“Oh right,” Laura said. “I nearly forgot.” She stepped outside. Bobby shoved past her, heading for the van. He felt filthy. He wanted no more part of this.
Almost imperceptibly, dozens of the long hairs hanging down Laura’s back and shoulders began to tremble and float. She looked Chris right in the eyes.
“Technically speaking, the message isn’t so much from your brother,” she said softly. “As it is about your brother.” She paused long enough to make things painful, plastered on a phony, sympathetic face. “The emphysema finally got him. I’m afraid he’s dead.”
She slammed the door, smirking, spun towards the van. “My condolen–.”
Thunder exploded overhead like a Gods roar.
The sky turned black, opened up, releasing monster raindrops that alternated hot and cold, drenching everything within a two mile radius. Outside that radius, birds chirped and wildlife grazed; the calm, bright day remained unblemished.
Laura gasped, cursed. Her expensive make-up ran. Cat scratch wind raked across her face, yanking her clothes, spinning her, nearly bowling her over. In the news van, Bobby yelled at the ignition. It wouldn’t start. Laura dashed for shelter. The heels of her thousand dollar shoes caught in the muck, snapping like dry twigs. She fell, screaming, gargling rain water. Behind her, the RV door ripped open, tore away, spiraled off into the trees.
Chris stood in the threshold, blue-white tendrils of snapping electricity arcing between his hands, his legs, his eyes. His robe was on fire.
“I’m so tired,” he yelled over the storm.
Chris gazed skyward. “I think I’m ready now.”
Lightning rained down like hellfire.
“I’m coming to you live from Kluane National Park,” announced the three piece suit with the microphone. “Where only yesterday, the largest recorded lightning storm in North American history rocked this sleepy mountain community.”
Behind the reporter, for miles, the forest was devastated. A charred, smoking crater. Nagasaki. Hiroshima. The sky was wet slate. Ash fell gently like snowflakes.
A soot streaked man in a charred, checkered shirt stood next to him. He wore the blank expression of a man under deep hypnosis. He looked like a ghost.
“William Dowdy,” the reporter motioned to the dirty man. “A local prospector who was in the area yesterday morning, claims to have witnessed this ferocity of nature firsthand. Mr. Dowdy, can you please describe to us what you saw?”
He held the microphone in front of William Dowdy’s glassy eyed face. A tear fell onto it.
“He….He was made of lightning,” William babbled softly. He stared unblinkingly through the camera man, through the trees, through everything, not seeing any of it. “He walked right past me. Into the sky. The man. He was made of lightning.”