New Flash Fiction: Advice for Lightning
Advice for Lightning
The yellow fog was half smoke, and a breaking sun’s rays cast through this glittered on cinders. Being late to take advice, thinking no one had come to the door, she’d gone out at last.
Someone had. A flyer of emergency numbers hung from the knob.
Leandrew supposed the steel cage of a car must be no shelter. If fire flashed across the highway, and you were lodged in place there by everyone else’s. That was advice for lightning.
She’d read people died in their basements because the oxygen was sucked from the air. Then maybe a mistake…trying on foot to make it out. The other way might be quicker.
She heard a loud burst of music, a product pitcher’s cadence, a male voice say, “Cool.” Then a murmur of voices, not recorded…and another, wind-whipped, cutting in and out, also live.
“This is the scene this morning at Clewer’s Lake State Park, where new evacuations have been ordered. The fire that’s been spreading since Tuesday, thought to have got its start at an illegal campsite…”
She hoped she did not, in some way, give a lead. She could see herself, like the others, too scared and under-informed to stay put, prisoned by the long row of cars stalled in the downhill lane. If another person had been picking her way down first, Leandrew would follow, assume she must be going somewhere. No one spoke. Their phones broadcast news and ads…for people out there, who could think of hamburgers and auto insurance; she counted maybe a peripheral ten, scudding with her the slippy descent of Clewe’s Lake Road.
The lights of a pickup, the pickup itself, came through the pall. Leandrew tested her palm against the guardrail, backing. One foot twisted…after a millisecond, panic ended with the crunch of an aluminum can, her foot in a shallow ditch.
She heard a shriek, then a cluster of shrieks. She dragged herself up, and felt a flash of anger. A hand gripped her elbow.
She told him, “Oh, thanks.”
When he had her standing at his side, he pointed down the slope from the ridgeline into the lake’s bowl. It all gusted into visibility. She could see the wake of a swimming deer. A line of flame crept, as though the drought had cracked open the hillside, exposing lava. Smoke poured in layers, brown and yellow, pale grey.
But not far off, on their hillside, a lone pine whistled and billowed orange heat. That was why the screaming. The noise had coincided with her fall.
“We have nothing to worry about.”
In a second or two, after he’d said this, he laughed. Not that she’d supposed he meant anything. Not in the grand scheme of things, not for present safety. He was entertained, that was all, over the house. Nothing to worry about. Soon resolved.
He had come with the volunteers. Unless he’d come trying to reach her.
You made your stand. You lose. She could get inside his head, hear Miles say this to himself. She guessed she had, since it was an act of God, and too much to fight.
“No, seriously,” she told him. “I don’t think the fire’ll get as far as the ridgetop.”
“Well, it might not. But life’s gonna be rough without electricity. Without neighbors.” Another little laugh. “They’ve been chucking up the road pretty badly.” He kicked at the loose asphalt, breaking off from the uphill lane.
“You don’t really think I’d sit up there griping.”
“No, Leandrew, I’m thinking about the future.”
“Then maybe I’ll come back.”
The words were a sort of check-mate, insincere, as his had been.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)