<start of excerpt>
David became a father with mature clarity. Anneke frequently comments on how lucky she is to have him. She told us two visits ago that they were planning to have another child. It wasn’t news to me. Sam knew this ahead of our visit and I became aware just before we arrived.
“Don’t say anything,” she said. “She wants it to be a surprise.”
With Jack on Anneke’s knee and the discussion about pregnancy circling the table once again, it was inevitable the conversation would come our way. “How about you two guys? How’s that all going?”
It’s always an interesting question no matter who asks. It’s not about the answer because that’s already known. It’s about how to avoid saying it.
Sam’s eyes immediately popped. She’d just taken a bite of chocolate slice and couldn’t get an answer out. What timing! What a predicament! What a gag reflex…
She coughed and spat up chunks of slice back into her hands.
“Are you okay?” asked a concerned Anneke.
Sam flapped her free hand about and coughed incessantly. “Get her some water David. I think she’s choking!”
He rushed a jug of water to the table, poured it into a glass and handed it to Sam. She coughed, sipped, coughed again and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. With a raspy, barely audible voice she said, “I’m okay. I’m alright. Thank you, I’m not choking. It’s okay now. I just swallowed too much. I’ll have a drink of this. I’ll be fine.” She took another sip and swallowed. “No, really, I’m okay. This’ll do just fine.”
“Are you sure?” asked David, offering her a table napkin.
Taking it from him she rasped, “Yes, thank you, David. I’m… I’m sure. I’m okay now. I just… I can’t believe that chocolate would do that to me. It’s never done that before. I wonder what they put in it.”
Chocolate? The chocolate didn’t do anything my dear. It was the indigestible answer you had problems with.
My little actress wife had invented yet another clever distraction. I understand why. What else could she do? All the truthful answers are ridiculous. I’ve thought of them too:
• We’re not having fertility problems Anneke.
• Sperm count? Yes, but…umm, I suppose we could check that but those suckers need to be inside her, right? Counting them won’t improve our chances. Having sex does that.
• I know about the timing method but I need to know the right timing, right? That’s her job. She has to tell me. We’re not hitting the wrong days. We’re just not hitting any days. We’re not having sex, at all.
• No David, I can get it up… and I’m not shy. I’m all for it. I can get hard and I have no problem whipping her off to bed. I’ll do it right now. I can do it any place, any time. All she has to do is name it and I’m there.
• Sure Dave, I know something’s strange. We’ve had counselling. All I know is I can’t do anything until she’s ready… and she’s… not ready.
• I didn’t do anything to her Anneke. She’s never been any different. I can’t get her to go to bed.
• Not since last year.
• Dunno. Sam?
Sam never answered Anneke. The distraction worked beautifully and no one was wiser to it except me.
David took Jack from Anneke and sat him upon his own knee. “Yeah, you know what it’s like Mitchell! You get a call at work to come home and get the business done. It’s like we’re just sperm donors, right?”
Really? Is that what happens?
Anneke looked at him and laughed. “Oh David, stop complaining. You love it. You know you do.”
She smiled and laughed again. I’ve always appreciated her openness. It’s something I’ve envied. We never talked like they did, not even in private. I always wished some of Anneke’s candidness could’ve rubbed off on Sam.
David smiled. “Romance! I want romance. I’m not just a piece of meat you take out of the freezer and thaw out whenever you want. I want you to talk to me, make me feel loved.”
They laughed and Anneke reached out to him, touched the back of his hand and smiled. “But you’re always romantic to me dear.”
“I know but it’s not romantic for me when I get woken at one in the morning and hear, c’mon baby I’m ready for it now.”
He smiled at me and I smiled back. You lucky man David. I’m always told to go away.
“I thought all men enjoyed sex-on-tap?” Anneke commented, winking at me.
“We do,” David replied, “but it should be when we want it, right Mitchell?”
What was I to say? I nodded… knowing it’d create a problem with Sam. I looked at her and saw her folding her arms, looking out into space. It was embarrassing, for both of us. I was stuck in a conversation I had no right participating in and she was pissed that I’d become part of some secret boys mating club.
David winked. “Oh come on Mitchell. How many times have you knocked back Sam this cycle? I lost count in the first week. Ha ha!”
Christ! Knock backs? It was torture. I don’t knock Sam back. It’s the other way around. “Well, I was saying to Sam—”
“Okay okay,” snapped Sam, disengaging from her trance. “You don’t have to tell them everything dear. A little bit of mystery never goes astray.”
Mystery? It’s a mystery alright, from cover to cover. And tell them everything? Jesus Christ! I’ve told them nothing!
Anneke smiled. “See David? Sam knows what it’s like. You shouldn’t knock Sam back Mitchell. Take all you can get. By the time the baby comes along you might not know when you’re going to get it again.”
They laughed, Sam along with them. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Why was Sam laughing? If only our friends knew how absurd this looked. I couldn’t stand to stay and watch the lie thrive anymore.
Rising to my feet in disgust I said, “I’ll be back shortly. Please excuse me.”
“Everything okay?” Sam asked.
Of course not. “Yeah… I gotta stretch my legs a bit. This one’s gone to sleep.” I slapped a thigh and pretended to limp. They continued to laugh as I disappeared along the deck. Their voices faded as I turned the corner and descended down the front stairs onto the lawn.
What a load of shit. How could she find it funny? She knows nothing of sex. She does nothing for pregnancy. This humour is best understood by lovers and parents-to-be. She is neither of these.
The humid afternoon air served only to inflate my anger. In the distance the skies towards the south grew heavy—an atmosphere readying itself for release once again. “God I hope it storms tonight. I could bloody-well do with one.”
I looked up at an addressed one of the giant ancient gumtrees on the ridge’s edge, “How can I not go mad over this? Please tell me this is not normal!”
Gumtrees never replied before. This one didn’t either. Oh but how I have asked them questions before. I have asked rocks, oceans, valleys and all kinds of animals but none have ever produced an answer. What would one of them say to that strange, hairless, upright creature anyway? Nature is wise to keep silent on the bizarre affairs of humans.
A tree has but one thing to do; to grow. This one on the ridge has done just that and it has done it well. Judging by its size and shape I’d guess it’s coming to the end of its life-cycle too. Many of the trees on David’s property are like this.
The region’s original settlers cleared only what they needed for their homes and left the rest of the trees alone. As a consequence, there are a couple of aged giants along the ridge and they’d be a problem if they were ever to let go of the rocky ground and fall towards Belvedere. She’d easily be crushed by any one of them.
As I passed beneath another I could see why he’s chosen to not fell them. It’d take at least another seventy years to give Belvedere its grand surroundings. Money can’t buy this kind of garden. David’s rural lifestyle certainly makes mine look tame.
“I have a hedge and a small lawn. How does he look after all this and still make time for babies?”
Once again, the tree had no reply. I stopped along the sloping driveway to rub the tightness from my legs.
“Knock backs? Why would Sam laugh at that? She’s never heard one much less felt what it’s like!”
A rush of fury came out. “There’s no reason for this!”
The words echoed across the valley and came right back through the trees. “You’ve got that fucking well right!” I replied. Nature had a good answer to give after all!
I reached the end of the long drive, slumped onto a boulder beside the letter-box and wept into my hands. “What have I done to deserve this? I did everything right. I thought I did everything right. Things shouldn’t be like this.” I leant forward and looked at the ground and stared at the dry dirt that surrounded my shoes. A tear fell between my knees and landed into the fine powder below, forming a small crater near my heels. Several more small craters formed around it.
“We aren’t in heaven. We’re in a living hell. I waited for Sam. I did what she wanted. I gave her time. I treated her with respect. I did everything right. What the hell happened?”
“I don’t know Mitchell. I don’t know what to say.”
“I knew what’d happened but I just didn’t want to admit it. I was the reason she was this way. I’d set down an example that turned into a habit. I let it happen. I became Mr Dependable, the male who’d wait and wait. Yes, I waited. Waiting is what I did and she thought it was okay.”
“Did you tell her how you felt, I mean truly, without the anger attached?”
“Let’s get two things straight. Never let it be said that I didn’t try everything in my power to let my wife know how I felt—and I wasn’t always angry about this. When we were dating we wrote each other letters. We wrote about all kinds of sweet things—and we talked about sex, often. She knew what was going on. She knew how difficult celibacy was. Yes, I’ve brought it up with her many times. I’ve tried the subtle way, the not-so-subtle way, and the I’m-pulling-rank-on-you way.”
“Pulling-rank, you know, the man is head of the household? I figured I’d use her faith to get her to engage. Good christian wives are expected to keep their husbands happy, right?”
“Did it work?”
“You’ve got to be kidding? How does Catholicism negotiate with feminism? She believes in ‘obey’ but only in theory. Have Sam obey her husband? I spent a few more nights in the spare room doing penance for that one.”
“Perhaps the words you chose were too strong.”
“Right, and that’s where you come into it. You’re the professional. You should know how to say it right. Unfortunately you don’t know how to deal with her either. We just let her speak until she runs out of things to say and then agree with her at the end. She likes it like that. Unfortunately I’m a man and I have skills and needs that go beyond listening and nodding all the time. I have absolutely no idea how she thinks she’s going to get pregnant, none at all. I honestly don’t know what’s going on inside that head of hers.”
“Have you asked?”
“I’ll get conflicting responses but no real answer. One time Sam will be logical and precise when it comes to discussing sex. She’ll speak as though she’s recalling passages from a textbook. She’ll smile, hold my arm and then deliver some postcard snippets of the life we’ll have with the future baby. We’ll talk about where we’ll live and where the child will go to school… but when it comes to having sex she stops all of that. She’s turns silent, lets go of my arm and moves away. It’s as if her body and her head can’t agree on what to do.”
“What about the baby you want to make? Hasn’t that changed her?”
“Sam’s a rigid person Tony. Not even baby-making is enough to change her routines.”
“Not at all. I’m completely convinced that she’s expecting to fall pregnant by magic.”
“Now that’s ridiculous. She’s much more intelligent than you give her credit for Mitchell. She’d know that this isn’t possible.”
“Not true. It’s completely possible. When she was a young girl she read it in a book. She believes it can happen.”
“Nonsense! She holds a degree Mitchell. She knows the difference between adult and youth literature. I don’t believe a word of this.”
“It wasn’t a child’s book she read it in.”
“Obviously the book was fiction.”
“The book was the Bible.”
“The Bible? Oh… I see…oh… oh!”
I kicked the dust over those craters and rose to my feet. Thank god there was someone else waiting in the wings. Visiting Nina was not as honourable as remaining true to one woman but at least it had some dignity… more than needlessly waiting for an end that never comes.
I’d reached the top of the driveway and glanced left to check the sky as the atmosphere was still growing heavy.
“Why do you keep looking at the sky Mitchell? Are you expecting something?”
“I’m always expecting something from the sky Tony.”
“Yes. Did you know that storms led me to photography? As a child I used to stand at the window with my nose pressed against the glass and watch them intently. My mother had to pull me away from it all the time, fearful that I’d be struck by lightning. I had to watch them but I didn’t know why. I wasn’t scared, I was comforted by them.”
“Comforted? What do you mean?”
“They soothed me. I was relaxed and at ease staring into the flashing abyss. I wanted to feel like that all the time, hold that magical sensation somehow for a while longer—and I thought I could capture it with a camera. So when I became older I learned to use one and passed it off as an interest of mine and left it at that.”
“No, it meant more. The need to watch storms went deeper, right to my soul. I’ve got plenty of great shots. I’ve no need to photograph them anymore. I know I can’t get what I want by taking pictures. I have to see storms up close, breathe their breath as they make love to the land. I need to hear and smell their sex. Sam was right. It’s an orgasm to me. That’s what keeps me visiting them over and over again. The storms release me. They save me. That’s why the sky is so important. I can’t help but wait for the next heavenly fuck to take place so I can get my rocks off alongside it!”
On my right, David, Sam and Jack were wandering across the lawn. They were making their way towards the wooden platform that overhangs the northern slope. David was pointing things out to Sam. Jack was busy collecting sticks and twigs from the ground to show his dad. Anneke came out and walked to the edge of the verandah with a cool drink in her hand. “Looks like it could storm David! Look there!” she called, pointing across the driveway.
He looked over his shoulder and replied, “Yes, you’re right. It’s humid enough. We could do with rain.” Catching sight of me he called, “How’s your leg Mitchell?”
I joined the group as they made their way onto the platform. “Yeah, much better thanks.”
Anneke walked down the stairs and came across to us. “Look at that Bougainvillea. Beautiful, isn’t it? It’s been blooming like that almost all year. They only do that when water is scarce.”
“And I haven’t mown in ages,” said David. “Those hedges were done nine months ago. Can you believe it? I’ve got four dead trees to get rid of down there and if we don’t get some rain soon we might lose even more.”
“I’ve never seen it so dry,” Anneke said.
“How are the water tanks going?” I asked.
“Not good. We’re down to less than a quarter again. We had to get water in two weeks ago and that might last us a little over a week. It depends on whether we use the toilets or not.”
I nodded just as Samantha interrupted. “Excuse me? What do you mean if you use the toilets or not?”
Anneke laughed. “Well, we don’t always… how can I say this? Flush.”
She looked at David and giggled. He smiled a knowing smile and turned towards us. “Yes, we don’t flush every time. We just can’t afford to waste the water.”
Sam was shocked. “Excuse me? Eww! What do you—”
Anneke stopped her. “Oh but we made sure we flushed before you guys came.”
“You mean you don’t—?”
We all laughed.
“I don’t know how you do it.”
“It has its moments but we manage. It’s Jack you see. We wash his clothes everyday and it uses up our water.”
“Manage? How do you… then you… oh, I don’t want to know.”
David, “Yes Sam, it’s like that. What we really need is solid soaking rain, not these storms we’ve been having. The downpipes can’t handle storm water. Most of it goes over the side of the gutters. We’re lucky if we get a few thousand litres into the tanks. If it just rained steadily for an hour or so then we’d be right and we could flush all the time.”
I examined the roofline and noticed the long run of guttering. “Perhaps a few more downpipes would do the job David.”
“Yep—on my to-do list. So is cleaning out the leaves, sealing up the joints, and laying out some leaf guards. I just didn’t expect this drought to continue.”
I was surprised to hear that their life wasn’t as smooth as it appeared to be. “Oh, I see. So I guess we were the excuse you needed to take a shower this week?”
David and Anneke gave each other another knowing smile and then broke into fits of laughter. Apparently there were a few more secrets being revealed under those smiles.
“This is better than TV,” Anneke said, returning from the kitchen. “We just love sitting out here on the verandah and watching the lightning come across the valley,” she said as she placed coffee cups onto the table. “It’s too bad Jack can’t see it. He loves lightning. The poor boy was asleep on his feet. I think you wore him out Mitchell. He nodded off straight away.” She pulled out her chair and sat down.
“I don’t know who is more exhausted Anneke, I pushed him around on that toy car of his for hours.”
Samantha arrived with a jug of milk in one hand and plates in the other. “It wasn’t hours dear, it was ten minutes. You’re just getting old.”
“I haven’t run around like that in a long time.”
“You’re too old for that. I told you already. You’ll sleep well tonight too I would think.”
David interrupted, “Jack certainly keeps us active.”
“He just goes and goes, doesn’t he dear? But I think today he had everyone else keeping him going. He just put his head on the pillow and closed his eyes.”
Another dazzling spray of lightning arced across the horizon and we paused to watch in awe. “Wow! That was a great one!” Sam said. “You should get your camera Mitchell.”
“Yes but not yet. This might not even come our way.”
“Don’t you think it’s funny when it flashes but you don’t hear the thunder right away?” Anneke asked.
“Yes,” Sam replied, “You’re right. You can’t work out which bit of thunder goes with what bit of lightning.”
Anneke turned to me. “Oh Mitchell, you can get some great shots up here. We’ve seen some fantastic storms.”
“Coffee anyone?” David asked as he rose to his feet.
Anneke asked, “Honey? While you’re up can you turn the porch lights off so we can see this a bit better?”
“Sure sweetie, anything for you.” He stepped inside the house and the lights went out.
“That’s much better. Thanks.”
The sky lit up again. It turned the darkened valley below us into day. We gasped in unison. “It’s getting closer,” I remarked. “You can see it so well now. Just look at that! You can even see even the small ones.”
Another flash of lightening lit up the valley and we gasped again. “You can see every little house down there when it’s bright enough,” Anneke said. “I bet we could count every rooftop if the lightning stayed on. I just never get bored with this.”
“Me neither. I love watching the Beast grow.”
“The what?” she asked curiously as she handed out portions of cheesecake.
“The Beast,” I replied, taking a small plate from her.
“Sorry, I don’t understand.”
“Well, it’s like an animal. It’s got a head… a pulsating heart.”
“Yes but… but a beast? I’ve never heard it called that before.”
“Don’t mind him. That’s what he always says,” Sam said mockingly.
“It’s true,” I said, pointing to the flashes of light. “Take a look at it. There it is… it’s pulsating… a living, breathing organism.”
Anneke was silent. She stared at the flashes of light with new intrigue. “Sure, I guess so. Yes. I suppose it could be like that… it could be an organism.”
David arrived with the coffeepot. “What’s like an organism?”
Samantha replied, “It’s Mitchell.”
“Mitchell’s like an organism?” He asked, pouring coffee into cups.
“No. I mean, that’s what he calls a storm. He goes on a bit at times.”
David looked at me and then at the approaching storm. “Like an organism eh? Yeah. I see that. I get that.”
“See? David knows what I’m talking about.”
Samantha, “Go on. You just like saying that word, don’t you!”
“The word? What word?”
“You know what I’m talking about.”
“Yes. I mean, no. It’s like another word.”
“Another word? What word are you talking about?”
Anneke shouted, “I know, orgasm!”
She punched her lady-fist into the air and laughter broke over the table. While it subsided I wondered. Could if it could be true? Was I saying organism but really thinking orgasm? It’d make sense—and I’d certainly know why.
The girls bantered, repeating the word over and over. “I truly think you are both more fascinated with the word than I am,” I said. “These girls here David, they’re so fascinated by it they’re having multiple organisms!”
Laughter rose again just as lightning struck valley below us. “Oh wow!” Samantha shouted. “That one hit the ground down there! Did you see it?”
“Someone just got fried,” David said.
A few seconds later thunder rumbled across the valley and rattled the cups on the table. “That storm has made itself known,” I said.
“It certainly has,” David replied.
“Look, the wind’s picking up,” Anneke said, pointing to the swaying trees on the ridge.
“It’s about time. Maybe it’ll put a drop or two into the tanks.”
The storm grew over the next half an hour and it became obvious that it was headed our way. The trees bent over and their leaves roared. At times the sound was so loud we couldn’t hear ourselves over it. “Let’s go inside!” Anneke yelled, rising from her chair. There was another flash, brighter than all those that came before it, followed by an instantaneous crack of thunder. “Yep! That’s it! Time to go,” David replied. “I’m not hanging around to see how this turns out. It’s time to take these things inside!”
Sam and I rose to our feet and collected what Anneke couldn’t take. David went around the deck and collected Jack’s toys. Sam turned to me and said, “Are the car windows up Mitchell? I think mine’s down.”
“I’ll check. I’ll get my camera while I’m there.”
I passed David and descended the stairs. This time I couldn’t see much at all. Only the brief pulses of light coming from the lightning provided light to show the way. Shapes formed and then vanished. None appeared long enough to focus on. Images were shouted into my eyes only to be withdrawn and sucked back by the blackness after. Shadows streaked across the lawn in one direction in a flash of light and then streaked another way at the very next. I stood still, mesmerized by these ghostly snapshots. It was all so surreal. The strange light was hypnotizing… and comforting. It was as if the storm was emulating my feelings—of a world terribly distorted by opposites and the ever changing perspectives of light and dark, anger and calm.
One bright light turned that world into a whiteout. I couldn’t see anything but felt the walloping thump of thunder pushing my organs about my body. It pushed me against my car. I loved it and wanted more. Excited by the notion of capturing this on film I reached into the car and grabbed my camera bag off the back seat. I hurriedly closed the Sam’s window and just as I turned to shut the door I heard a sound. That’s when I first heard Him. I never saw him… but I sensed him. He was there.
“Mitchell? Who was there?”
“Him… the Beast. It was him. I know it was. He was beside the car with me.”
“How do you know? Did you see him?”
“Did he say something?”
“No, not a word.”
“Well, what makes you think someone was there?”
“It’s that feeling you get when someone’s watching you. Someone was there. I knew there was. He was there. I should’ve paid more attention to him instead going for my camera.”
My skin prickled and goose bumps formed on my neck. I turned but there was no one there. I rubbed my earlobe and looked the other way but there was no one there either. I was certain it was David playing tricks. “David, is that you? Come on boofhead, I know you’re here somewhere.”
I climbed the stairs and searched the deck and the darkness. Samantha peered out of the kitchen and asked, “What are you doing? What took you so long? The lightning’s getting closer. It just struck something over there.”
“I know. Is David with you?”
“Yes. He’s inside doing dishes. Why?”
“It’s just that… has he been doing that for long?”
“For as long as you’ve been messing about out there with that camera.”
“It’s just… I thought… never mind.”
“What? What’s the matter?”
I looked over her shoulder and saw David working at the sink. “It’s nothing. I’m just going to set up my camera and take some pictures now.”
“Are you sure you want to do that? The rain’s about to come over the ridge. You’ll get wet. I wouldn’t be out there… not with all that lightning about.”
“I know. It’ll be okay.”
“Don’t be long. It’s getting bad.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be fine Sam. Stay inside. I’ll set up and start taking photos… just a few. I’ll be okay. I’m under the roof anyway.”
She looked at me and shook her head. “If it gets any worse than this, you’ll come inside, won’t you?”
“Yes. Yes. If it gets dangerous I’ll come in.”
“No Mitchell! Not if it gets dangerous! If it gets worse! It’s already dangerous. I don’t want you struck by lightning!”
“Alright alright! Look, l know what I’m doing. I have done this before.”
“I don’t care. Most sane people would be inside by now.”
She turned and went across to Anneke in the kitchen. Lightning zapped its way across the hillside. David shouted through the open door, “You know what? I think we’re going to get it this time!”
I looked up and saw lightning flash-freeze airborne twigs, leaves and branches. “I think you’re right! Let’s hope your tanks get filled tonight!”
“Yeah, we’ll see!”
He joined me on the verandah as twigs and branches started hitting his tin roof. The sound around us grew and it didn’t take long before it became hard for us to hear each other speak. The energy had become intense, phenomenal. It’d become beautifully dangerous. The moments between flashes had shortened and so too did the time for its thunder to arrive. As I was lining up the camera to take a shot, a dazzling brightness obliterated everything before us. “Fuck! What was that? Did you hear that weird sound?”
I heard David’s voice but couldn’t see him due to the blinding whiteout. I knew what he was referring to. I had heard it too. He was talking about the zipping noise which comes just before the lightning. It’s a very different sound to the rest. Not many people know of it as you have to be very close to lightning to hear it.
“Weird eh? It struck close! We’re at the head of it now!”
That sound is more than just some highly charged electrons exciting the air. It’s about love. It’s about making love. Contrary to Sam’s thoughts, it’s not about the orgasm. Orgasm is the thunder and that’s something that ends lovemaking. The moment I’m talking about is a moment before moments. It’s the time when two lovers decide to act on pure instinct. They reach a point where nothing more needs to be said. Two bodies move towards each other and spark together as one. This is the part that makes me harder than the sun baked outback.
I don’t care about thunder so much. Who cares about seeing the end of something joyful, so life enriching? Thunder is sad closure.
My eyes hadn’t yet adjusted to the dark when I heard David’s voice again. “Shit man! Come and see this!”
I turned and saw his darkened silhouette on the edge of the deck, his arm extended, pointing to something across the driveway. “What?” I asked, crossing to him. “Are you okay?”
Lightning froze his white face against the blackness of night. “Take a look at that! Look at what the lightning did to my tree!”
I followed his finger and saw a faint red glow in the dark. David left and returned with a battery operated torch. Its light revealed a gaping, hissing injury in the side of the giant gumtree on the other side of his driveway. “Christ!” I yelled in astonishment. “It’s got a great big bloody hole in it!”
“And it’s steaming! Listen!”
Between flashes of lightning, howling wind and thunder clashes, I could hear it and saw several more embers scattered about, glowing at the base of the tree. “Hey! What’s that over there?”
“Holy shit Mitchell! It’s everywhere! There’s another bit here… over there… there’s another one just there!” David waved his torch around and its beam picked up bits of steaming timber strewn across the driveway and yard. As our eyes continued to adjust to the darkness, I noticed many more spots of red and orange in the garden and on the front lawn. “Here David! Turn that torch off for a bit. You can them without it. Look! It’s everywhere!”
There were many embers… and some had scattered right up to the house. “That’s fantastic! They look like red glow worms!” I shouted.
Three consecutive flashes of light allowed us to see the extent of the tree’s wound. “Fuck!” I yelled, “Where’s the rest of it? Did it vaporise?”
Thunder crashed and the rain fell hard. The steel roof above us howled. “My god! Down here Mitchell! Look!”
David flicked his torch on again, pointed it at his feet and then took a step back from the handrail. Two timber slats had been snapped inwards. “That’s half an inch thick. It broke my damn verandah!”
“Fuck!” I yelled, with the rain increasing. “But where’s the bit that went through it?”
David traced a line with his torch beam and groaned when he saw the damage to his timber wall. “Look! It broke my damn house too!”
“Shit! It almost punched through it! That was a close one! We were standing just there!” I said.
“Yeah, another foot backwards and it woulda got us. I wonder how big it was?”
The wind shifted and the rain came under the end of the roof in waves. I got up and started for the door. David turned and went the other way. “What are you doing?” I asked, “It’s pissing down mate, let’s go inside!”
“Hang on! It’s gotta be here somewhere! I’ve gotta show Anneke!”
The wind turned yet again and I received a good spray in the face. “What are you doin’ Dave? C’mon!” Another burst of lightning illuminated the porch and a gust of wind blew in a sluice that drenched me. “Get it later!”
Anneke called from the kitchen just as I opened the door, “Where’s David? Tell him to come inside now!”
Before I could reply David pushed his way inside. “Look! I’ve found it! It’s still hot! Feel it!”
Anneke wasn’t impressed and stared at the puddles of water he was leaving on the floor. “That’s nice but what about that?”
Another bolt of lightning shook the hillside property and the lights dimmed. “Don’t worry about that dear, I’ll mop it up in a minute. Look at this!” He waved the chunk of wood at her. “This came off our gum. Look! Lightning blew it off and knocked a hole in our wall!”
Her faced turned to horror. “Oh my God David! What is that thing?”
Samantha, entering from the second storey, noticed it too. “What the hell’s that David?”
“It came off the tree across the drive. Lightning blew it off! It literally exploded and hit the—”
“I don’t mean that… I mean that!”
She jabbed her index finger at him twice. “That there… sticking out of your shirt.”
Anneke screamed, “David! Oh my God David! She’s right! There’s a piece of wood in you!”
David’s eyes dropped to his chest and scanned its surface. “Huh?”
“There,” she said, “near your armpit!” He looked to the left and saw the wooden sliver jutting out.
“Well I’ll be—”
Lightning flashed, shorting out all the electrical circuits. Thunder thumped the darkened house and the girls screamed as the vibrations rattled the windows.
David’s calm voice reached out from the dark, “It’s okay, grab this torch Anneke.”
Her frightened cry came back, “What torch?”
“This one!” His light popped on and the room lit up dimly as the spot of light bounced across the pale floor. She came over to him, took the torch and examined the wound the piece of wood had made. “You’re bleeding David. It’s gone in a long way. It must be hurting you!”
“I didn’t even know. Don’t worry. This storm is turning out to be a bit more than expected. Keep away from the windows and don’t touch the phones, okay?” And with that he pulled the object out of his flesh. Anneke and Sam cringed as three reddened inches of stick appeared in the shaft of horizontal light. Fresh blood leaked from the wound and Anneke quickly covered it with a tea-towel from the kitchen.
Another heave of wind pushed against the southern walls of their home, shaking it, knocking pictures from their wall hangers. A torrent of water flooded the verandah and crept under the door. “What about Jack?” David asked.
Anneke shoved the tea-towel into David’s chest and screamed, “Oh my God! Jack!” The room suddenly went dark as the torch’s light disappeared up the stairs and into the hallway on the right. I heard David fumbling around on the stairs behind her and assumed he had followed her. The sound outside then changed again.
“What’s that?” screamed Sam.
“Yes, but isn’t that also glass smashing? I can hear glass breaking. Someone’s trying to get inside the house Mitchell! Someone’s trying to get us!”
“No Sam! It’s the windows upstairs. The hail’s coming in sideways and breaking them! It’s just the hail!”
“Are you sure?”
Every time lightning struck, or the howling winds shook the house, Sam screamed and dropped to the floor. She wasn’t handling it well at all. I tried to remain calm but it wasn’t easy.
“It’s okay Sam! Once we get to the cellar we’ll be fine.”
It was turning out to be one of the worst storms we’d ever known. We had to shout. It was hard to hear ourselves over the howling iron roof and rage of thunder. “Let’s go!”
She pulled back on my hand. “Where? I don’t want to leave, not without Anneke and David! We don’t know where to go!”
“I do! The stairs down to it are beside Jack’s bedroom. I know the way.”
“Are you sure? What about—”
“They’re probably there!”
“Why didn’t they come back for us?”
“They needed to get Jack there first! Don’t worry, we’ll cross paths. Here, take my hand!”
She reached out just as the steel roof groaned and peeled away from the top of Belvedere. I’ve never known such a hideous, ominous sound before. We speedily climbed the stairs to the upper storey using the brief flashes of light provided by the lightning.
“I don’t get it. You went up to go down?”
“The house is split-levelled right?
“It’s on the side of a hill.”
“Well, at some point an excavator carved a huge piece out of it. The lower level is on the ground but the second level steps up another eight feet or so and follows the natural rise of the hill. The space underneath it is where the garage went. The cellar was installed under that. When David bought Belvedere the only access to them was to go out the front door and walk around the entire house, almost. He wanted a shorter route so he built an internal staircase in the upper level. That’s why we had to go up one set of stairs Tony. It was the only way to get down another.”
We paused at the landing at the top and waited for next burst of lightning to show us the way to the stairwell. Water dripped down from the light fittings above. We must’ve been about halfway into the hallway when the ceiling collapsed. Pieces of plaster board, wood and a rush of water covered us, sending us to the floor. We were sodden, bruised and bleeding but conscious enough to get to our feet. “We’ll have to go the other way!” I yelled.
“This is the hallway that goes to the cellar Mitchell!”
“I know but the ceiling’s falling down that way! We’ve got to go around the other way!”
I pulled her backwards, returning us to the top of the stairs. “Sam, doesn’t the hall on the left meet up with this one?”
“I don’t know, maybe! Yes! Yes! You’re right! Anneke took me around it when Jack’s train room went in! It connects!”
“Right then! Let’s go that way!”
As we ran along the hallway water poured down from everywhere. The house continued to shake and light flashed through broken windows and gaps in the ceiling. Chips of wind driven glass and ice skittered through open doorways. Sam slipped over twice. Then I heard a deep cracking sound coming from outside and suspected the worst. “Get down!” I yelled, diving to the floor.
There was an almighty thump on the lower level and the whole house jerked to one side. Crunching noises followed and hard objects rained down on us from above. The walls collapsed and I was struck on the head by something and momentarily lost consciousness. The floor gave out and I felt I was falling forever. I was knocked and jostled until I came to a stop somewhere between the floor and the ground. Samantha was screaming at first but I couldn’t see her. I was face down and pinned by the legs. I tried to turn around but it was no use. “Sam!” This time there was no response. My legs began to ache terribly. “Sam! Can you hear me?”
How could anyone hear anything? The storm’s orchestra had moved inside the house. A million hailstones drummed out their beat while the rain spurred it on. The wind rattled pieces of loose metal out of time with the lightning and the thunder added crescendos to an entirely different piece. It was mayhem and chaos at once.
“Why was I shouting? Clearly it was a pointless thing to do. Once that roof came off she wouldn’t have been able to hear a thing. I couldn’t hear me.”
“You wanted to know if Sam was alive and okay. It’s a normal thing to do.”
“Well I’m not so sure. I think it can look like that but be something else entirely.”
“I think you’re being harsh on yourself and over-thinking it.”
“No, not at all. Think about it. I felt the pain of hail on the back of my head and hands. I knew the house was falling apart. I knew I was stuck fast and more danger was to come. Was I calling out to her or for her? Was I thinking about preserving her life or my own?”
“Does it really matter now? You survived it. You both survived. You should be thankful for that.”
“I am but it does matter. Trust me, it matters.”
The smaller hail stung like stirred-up hornets. The larger, jagged ones made me wince. I covered the back of my head with my arms and hands hoping it’d help but the skin opened up on them instead. I tried not to flinch but it was hard not to. When I did a stone would get through a gap and connect with my skull. I’d see stars and then force myself to snap back into a position to stop it from happening again. It was torture. The pain and torment was mine to endure for as long as I fought it. “Sam!”
I began to freeze in the growing blanket of cold surrounding me. The day had been such a stinker and here I was freezing to death an hour later! Was this the way it was meant to end? Was I destined to die at the hands of the organism I admired so much? It seemed befitting at the time. I even considered shutting my eyes and just letting go.
“Did you really consider doing that?”
“I couldn’t take the torment. I had given my all for Sam. I had little energy left to give.”
“But you didn’t give up?”
“It wasn’t my choice.”
Some warm air blew softly on the back of my neck, like it did earlier that night.
“Who’s there?” I asked.
Before passing out I felt an intense wave of heat come over me. The rubble and ice melted and the dark disappeared into light. It was as though I were a baby being picked up by its loving mother; those arms where smooth and soft, her body warm and safe. I remember everything up to the point where it got snugly and quiet. It’s all blank after that.
The doctors said it was a miracle we’d survived. The house had been reduced to rubble. The only place left untouched was where the rescue team had found us, in the cellar.
“In the cellar? How did we get there?” I asked, finding myself in a hospital bed.
“You,” replied a smiling Sam. “Don’t you remember? You got us there.”
Sam grinned. “Come on, you know what happened. You saved us. None of us would’ve made it if it wasn’t for you.”
“Stop being silly… like you don’t know what happened. Stop it. We’re all here… all safe and sound. A little scratched and sore, but—”
Confused, “What did you say? I did what? I couldn’t have… what about… how about Jack? Is he okay? Did Anneke and David get to Jack in time?”
“Yes yes, he’s okay. Don’t you remember? You got him out—Anneke and David too. Jack’s got some small cuts but he’ll be fine. David’s in casualty now having his wound stitched. He’ll be fine too.”
“She got a nasty knock to her head. She’ll have a bruise for a while. It’s you we were worried about. That tree landed right on top of you. The whole floor was crushed by it. You climbed out of it like it was nothing. You found us in the dark and carried us into the cellar… it was just amazing.”
“I… I don’t remember.”
“Really? You should. You carried me down the stairs. I asked you if you were okay. You nodded, turned and headed back up the stairs to get the others.”
“Yes. Surely you remember. Once the tree came down—”
A doctor interrupted. “Ahh. Awake I see. Feeling better Mr Felding? Looks like you’ll recover well. Now let me check that blood pressure one more time.”
After gazing into my pupils with a small light he wrapped a strap around my upper arm and took a reading from the machine. “Fine, excellent, much better. Back to normal.”
“What about his hands doctor?”
“Yes, well, only superficial injuries there. We’ve cleaned them up nicely and now it’s a matter of time… to heal that is. The bruises on his legs will also fade over the next month. He’s got no broken bones, no dislocations, quite remarkable really. It sounds like you’ve been lucky Mr Felding… and quite a hero as I hear it.”
A nurse came into the room. “Excuse me Doctor, we need you in casualty seven.”
The doctor nodded to her and then turned back to us. “This storm’s been keeping us on our toes. I have to leave but I’ll send someone in for you to sign some release forms. You can go after that.” He stood up, removed the strap from my arm and left.
I still felt very confused… and alone. How could I have done all that Sam had said? I didn’t remember any of it.
Perhaps there was a stranger there, someone lurking in the shadows who rescued us. It was dark. I know I was soaked, cut and bloodied from the storm. Sam and the others could’ve easily mistaken a bedraggled stalker for me.
I didn’t tell Anneke and David about my stalker theory. I had no proof… and I didn’t want them to worry over it.
I was hailed as a hero but I just wanted to forget the incident. I felt ill each time someone brought it up. How could I forget something as big as this? They told me I rescued five people. They said I lifted a giant tree and tossed it to one side. I don’t remember doing any of this. I remembered being trapped and giving up!
When stories of the adventure come up in conversation today I say very little. I let those who tell them do so without my input. Sam thinks I’m being modest. I’m not. Modesty is far from my mind. I don’t like not knowing, not remembering. Besides, I feel like a fraud with the title of hero. I don’t think I did it. I bet he knows what happened. If only I could wake him up and ask….
<end of excerpt> …more excerpts
Now you’ll want to read M.Forman’s novel, SEETHINGS, right? Good. It’s where our unborn serial killer begins their story. Just click on the link below
Five women’s bodies are discovered after the nights of thunderstorms. Their spouses are suspected of the crimes, but it becomes clear that someone else is responsible. There’s no blood and few clues. A storm photographer specialising in taking lightning pictures may be the only witness.
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