The forecast said "cloudy, with a chance of rain." Forecasters deal with chances. But not Samuel.
"It's gonna rain today, dad."
Josh Thorst peered at his son over the top of the morning paper. "Rain?"
Samuel nodded. He was sitting at the other side of the dining room table, swallowed by a high-backed mahogany chair, crayons and a notebook before him. He picked up a crayon and drew a swath of gray across the paper. The bangs of his dark hair fell across one eye. His mouth curved into a frown of concentration.
Josh glanced out the dining room window. The sky was a clear, crystalline blue, and cloudless. Even Mount Rainier, visible above the trees to the east, stood without its customary cap of mist. It was a beautiful August day, full of the promise of warmth and sun. "Are you sure?" Josh flipped to the weather forecast; it teemed with graphics of smiling suns and cloudless skies.
"I'm sure, Dad." Samuel's voice carried a tone of impatience.
"But the weather report..."
Samuel stopped coloring. "Dad," he sighed.
"I know. I'm sorry." Josh went to the closet and hunted for an umbrella. Another glance out the window left him feeling like a figure in a "what's wrong with this picture?" page in a children's activity book. But there was no reason to question his son. If Samuel said it was going to rain, it was damned sure going to rain.
"Gonna be a storm tonight, too," Samuel said.
"Yep. A big one." Samuel smiled.
Josh suppressed a frown. Samuel was only six years old, but he loved a good storm. Although children his age were usually frightened by violent weather, Samuel welcomed howling wind with the excitement most children reserve for snow on a school day. During the last big storm, back in June, Samuel had sat at the front window, kneeling with his palms pressed against the glass. He had seemed in awe, reverent.
"Can I stay up for it?" Samuel asked.
Lizbeth stepped into the room, cradling a basket of laundry. "Stay up for what?" she said, doing a double-take as she glanced at Josh. "What are you doing with the umbrella?"
"Samuel says it's going to rain."
Josh nodded. "And a storm... tonight."
"Really." She clicked her tongue. "Well, I guess we're due for a bit of rain."
"Yep," Samuel said, then went back to his coloring. He was drawing dark clouds -- gloomy and ominous -- hanging above a house made from a triangle and square. The building seemed small and vulnerable, and jagged blades of lightning, outlined in yellow, lanced through the sky.
"See ya, Samuel," Josh said. "Be good."
"Dad? Are you gonna be late again?"
Josh looked back. "I don't know -- I might. I have lots of work."
Samuel scowled. "You're always at work."
"I know it seems that way, kiddo," Josh said, "but it's important."
Samuel's frown looked as solid as fired clay. It hadn't been an easy year for him, with the move, a new school, and a summer without his friends. The house was the first to be built in the new development, so Samuel didn't even have a neighborhood to explore.
"Your father's doing a lot for us," Lizbeth added. "We should be proud of him."
Josh winked at his wife. His heightened workload had been hard on her as well, but she still managed to support him. It couldn't be easy. She smiled back, but there was a hesitation.
"I'll see you tonight, Samuel," Josh said.
"There's nothing I can do about it. I'll see you tonight."
"Okay." Samuel's frown transformed into a pout. "Bye."
Sighing, Josh took his wife's hand and headed for the front door. Outside, the sun seemed to shine with extra enthusiasm, as if to deny the rumors of impending clouds and rain. Cupping his hand over his eyes, Josh looked up. "This is unbelievable," he said.
It was a gorgeous morning. Their house sat at the crest of a hill, above a sprawl of newly paved roads and vacant lots. The lots were just parcels of stark, leveled earth, but as always the sight filled Josh with satisfaction. They were the framework of his dream. To the south, a gap in the trees provided a view of the arching span of the Narrows Bridge. The water was strung with the white sails of distant boats, like a thin sky speckled with drifting stars.
They didn't actually own the land, but Josh felt like it belonged to him. The development had been his idea: he'd found the site, rounded up the investors, handled the purchase, managed the licensing process, and supervised the contractors and realtors. Now, every lot was sold, the seeds of the project were planted, and homes would soon rise like flowers unfolding in the rains of spring. It was the culmination of all he'd ever wanted for himself and his family.
"Hard to believe we're in for some bad weather."
"You know our little shaman." Lizbeth wrapped her arm around his waist.
"Yeah." Josh didn't care for that term. Lizbeth's father was one-half Salish Indian, a heritage that revealed itself in her dark complexion and hair. Lizbeth had passed those traits to their son, though one feature defied both of his parent's attributes: eyes that were a deep, indigo blue. Lizbeth's father had once referred to Samuel as a shaman, half-jokingly mentioning his blue eyes as proof, and Lizbeth adopted the nickname after they knew Samuel's ability -- his talent -- could not be explained as a string of coincidences. The title made Josh uncomfortable. He liked to think Samuel merely had some strange physical quirk that gave him an aptitude for forecasting the weather, like old men whose arthritis acted up when humidity dropped. Calling Samuel a shaman carried a sense of mysticism... magic. Josh didn't believe in magic anymore.
"You seem down this morning," Lizbeth said.
"No, I'm fine."
She pursed her lips. "Sure?"
"Yeah." Turning back to his wife, he tried to dispel the dark shadows in his thoughts. His son's capability did not seem to carry any ill effects. Josh should probably consider himself lucky -- how many other people were gifted with a child who could out-forecast every meteorologist on the planet? If nothing else, the kid had a guaranteed career in a few years. But at the back of his consciousness, Josh felt a nagging uneasiness, as if he were surrounded by malicious phantoms, only vaguely aware of their presence.
"Things are going to be okay," he said, almost to himself.
Lizbeth looked back at him, her head cocked. "What?"
"I mean Samuel... us. We're going to be okay."
"Sure. Things have been going great. Your work'll settle down pretty soon."
"It's just that Samuel seems so..."
"Yeah, I guess so."
Lizbeth paused. "He misses you."
"I miss him too." Josh looked toward the front of the house. "I really need to spend more time with him."
"You'll have your chance -- soon."
"We've had this conversation before. Soon never comes."
"It will." Lizbeth gave him a gentle shove. "C'mon -- snap out of it. Are you trying to get me depressed, too?"
Josh shook his head and forced a laugh. "You're right -- I'm just being paranoid, I guess. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop."
She hugged him, nuzzling against his neck. Despite the day's warmth, Josh felt goose bumps rise along his arms as her breath caressed him. "Don't worry," she said. "You've done great. You deserve the success."
He tilted her chin upwards and kissed her. "I don't deserve you."
Playfully, he slapped her backside. "Modest, to the last. You'd better go see what your son is up to."
"Aye, sir." She performed a mock salute, stepping back. "Love you." She stood, watching, as he climbed into the car and backed out of the driveway. Josh waved at her and honked as he spun around and pulled away.
At the bottom of the road, Josh glanced back at his home in the rear-view mirror. A sense of trepidation crawled through him, raising the hairs on the back of his neck. He saw his home like the one in his son's drawing, perched beneath swelling storm clouds, small and inconsequential against the forces at work in a darkening sky.
It was nearly seven o'clock when Josh emerged from his downtown office. He was leaving work late again, but not so late that he missed the dawning of Samuel's storm. A cold wind buffeted the street, sending papers skittering across the pavement. Leaves swirled and spun within invisible vortexes and, above, a shroud of dark clouds spit a fitful rain.
Bracing his umbrella against the wind, Josh began to cross the street. As if on cue, the rain began to fall with vigor as he made his way to his car. Once there, he spent several awkward moments trying to find his keys, digging through each of his pockets while struggling to balance the umbrella. Finally, he was able to open the door. He climbed in, flipped the heater controls on high, and rubbed his chilled hands together.
This was August? It felt like the middle of November. Why couldn't Samuel have been wrong just this once?
As he drove home, the storm intensified. Rain, relentless and brutal, pounded against the windshield like a barrage of stone pellets. The clouds thickened and the day became prematurely dark; night was descending two hours early. Josh drove hunched forward, straining to see, every muscle tense. His car shuddered in the stiffening winds as he turned into the development and guided the vehicle up the hill toward his home.
The house was well lit, shining like a lighthouse perched at the edge of a rugged shore. At least the power was still on. To him, the building was more than a home; like a soldier's medal, it was the symbol of all he had accomplished. It was his achievements solidified into wood and glass.
Bracing himself, he slid out of the car. The wind tore at him and the rain battered his face. He stumbled, then charged toward the door with his head held low. He didn't bother with the umbrella, thinking the short distance to the house would leave him relatively unscathed. He was wrong. In a matter of seconds, he was soaked from head to toe.
The door opened before him. He leapt through the entrance. Lizbeth jumped aside and closed the door. "God, honey, you look like a drowned rat."
"I feel worse." He shrugged off his dripping jacket. "I need a shower -- a hot one." He turned toward Lizbeth. She was wearing a green silk robe and her hair was tied back, accentuating her face and neck. She smelled faintly of scented soap and perfume. "Wow," Josh said, gawking.
Hands on her hips, she tried to frown at him. "Get going. Don't leave too many puddles."
"How long to dinner?"
"Sam's already eaten." Her forced frown drifted into a mischievous smile. "I thought we might have a late dinner. Just the two of us."
She glanced up the stairs. "Sam's in his room... I don't think he's feeling too well. Probably picked up a cold."
"Crap. That's too bad." Josh stepped forward to hug her, but she backed off, hands held up in defense.
"Forget about it. Save it for later."
Samuel was sitting on his bed, staring out the window. Beyond the glass, dark clouds coursed through an ashen sky.
Josh finished tying the belt of his bathrobe. He had allowed himself the luxury of a long, very hot shower. He felt better, energized. The storm outside was only a distant concern. "Hey Samuel," he said, stepping into the room.
His son cried out and nearly jumped off the bed.
Josh rushed forward. "Hey, it's just me, buddy. Are you okay?"
Samuel stared at him. His face was pale, like the visage of a skull. In the shadows of the room, his eyes were hollow sockets. He was trembling.
The boy blinked. "Hi, Dad," he said, his voice a whisper. "I'm scared."
"Scared?" Josh sat beside him on the bed and put his hand on his son's shoulder. "Since when do storms scare you?"
Samuel turned toward the window again. "It's different. They're coming."
Josh pulled his son closer. "What do you mean? Who's coming?"
"I called them. I didn't mean to."
"Them who? Come on, Samuel... you aren't making any sense."
"Did you fall asleep? Did you have a bad dream?"
Samuel thought for a moment, biting his lip. "I don't know -- maybe."
Josh rubbed the boy's back. "That's probably it. You're okay. You know Dad and Mom would never let anything hurt you. We'll always keep you safe."
"They want me. They say I'm supposed to go with them."
"Who's they? Something in your dream?"
"I guess so."
"Dreams can't hurt you," Josh said.
"There's no such thing as monsters, or ghosts, or any of that made-up stuff. Right?"
Samuel nodded. "Right."
"Right. Let's see a smile."
He managed a grin.
"That's better." Josh pulled the bed covers back. "Climb in, bud."
Samuel crawled beneath the blankets, his gaze drifting back to the window. Josh pulled the covers up around his son and kissed him on the cheek. "G'night, kiddo," he said. "Everything will be okay. I promise."
Josh stepped out of the room, leaving it slightly ajar, and peered back through the opening. A fragment of light from the hall, a yellow oasis of illumination, stretched across the floor and up the side of the bed. Samuel clutched his blankets with small, delicate hands and stared at the window.
Beyond the glass, the storm raged.
"How's Sam doing?" Lizbeth asked as Josh marched down the stairs. She was sitting on the couch in the living room, sleek legs extending from the hem of her robe.
Josh dropped down beside her. "The storm is scaring him."
"You're kidding! He loves a good storm."
"Nope. Not this time."
"Is he okay?"
"I think so... I don't know. He had a bad dream. Hell, he was probably still dreaming while I was talking to him. He wasn't making much sense."
"Kids do that sometimes," she said. "Waking dreams."
"I suppose that was it. I feel sorry for him. At that age, I had a bedroom full of monsters. They were under the bed, in the closet..."
"And the boogeyman was in your underwear drawer, right?"
Josh smiled weakly. "I don't know. I never checked." He sat forward, head resting in his palms. "It was strange, Liz. I spent so many nights being... terrified."
"Lots of kids go through that."
"No. Not really. What were you scared of?"
"The dark... monsters... I don't know."
"How'd you get over it?"
He shrugged. "I just finally forced myself to quit being scared. Planted my feet in reality." He wondered if that decision had brought other changes in his outlook. Despite being raised in a devoutly religious family, he liked to think of himself as the consummate skeptic. Religion was a mythology, and the same went for paranormal phenomena, UFOs, astrology, and Bigfoot.
"Well, I'm proud of you," she said.
"Thanks." Josh grinned. "At least I was finally able to open my underwear drawer."
Laughing, Liz wrapped her arms around him and looked back toward the large front window. "The storm's picking up." Josh followed her gaze. Water fell against the glass in sheets, and gusts of wind buffeted the house. "Cozy, don't you think?" she said. "Brings back memories."
He leaned back on the sofa, settling into her arm. "What year was that... eighty-five?"
"Eighty-six. Sam was born in eighty-seven."
Josh nodded, thinking back to another storm. He and Lizbeth had celebrated their anniversary in a cabin on the coast. That night, a storm swept in, knocking out the cabin's power, and for a few hours they sat at the window, marveling at the beauty of reflected lightning upon a dark slab of sea. Then they made love, their passion accompanied -- and enhanced -- by the cry of the wind, the drumming of the rain, and a sense of seclusion. It was as if the entire world consisted of three things: him, her, and the howling darkness. They seemed a part of the storm, an element of primal energy. He could remember looking into her eyes, sparkling with the reflected light of candles, realizing he wanted nothing more than her for the rest of his life.
Nine months and two weeks after that storm, Lizbeth gave birth to their son. It was raining heavily that day; the streets were flooded and traffic was hopelessly clogged. The drive to the hospital was a nightmare, navigating through lines of cars, sliding through standing water, his gaze snapping between the rain-shrouded roads and the pained, urgent expression on his wife's face. A block from the hospital, Lizbeth gave birth in the car, bathed in rain that swept through the open door, assisted by a physician who was driving into work at the right moment. The final stage of the labor was brief and intense; their child came into the world heralded by a rolling blast of thunder.
"I hope Sam is okay," Lizbeth said.
"Samuel is fine."
"Sam," she said, through gritted teeth.
Josh laughed. Wrapping his arms around her waist, he pulled her closer. "Samuel," he growled.
She kissed him, her soft lips wavering at his mouth, then gliding to his neck. A warm, tingly feeling crept across him.
"You win," he said, and reached for the belt of her robe.
"Wow," Lizbeth said, sitting up. "that was a big one."
"Thank you." Josh tugged her close. He felt like he was about to float off of the couch. It had been an intense experience.
Lizbeth smirked at him.
"Oh -- you mean the thunder."
She giggled. "Maybe." She looked out the window. "Jeez, it's really getting bad out there."
Josh stared out into the night. Now a sheet of water poured down from the eaves, creating a glistening veil. Josh thought he could see the distant outline of trees whipping back and forth like the tentacles of some great beast. Lightning flashed, and a second later, thunder cracked.
"Close," Josh said.
"Thank God we still have power." Lizbeth grabbed her robe. Throwing it over her shoulder, she padded toward the bathroom.
Another burst of lightning. The house seemed to tremble against the blast of thunder. He put the palm of his hand against the window. The cold glass was shuddering as the wind lashed against it. How much could it take? He backed off the couch, eyeing the window uneasily.
Lightning again. Thunder.
Josh wrapped himself in his bathrobe and tied the belt. The light in the hall flickered.
Something moved in the darkness beyond the window: a quick shifting, shadows detaching from deeper shadows. He moved forward a step, straining to see through the torrential rain. What could be out in a storm like this? An animal perhaps, driven from the woods? Or was it merely a trick of his imagination?
There was a crackling sound, very loud. An instant later, a deafening crash shook the floor. The bulb in the hall light exploded with a pop, and the living room was plunged into darkness.
"What the hell--?" The air was thick with a sharp, acrid smell.
"Josh!" his wife called.
He stumbled into the bathroom. Lizbeth stood at the sink, holding a flashlight she had managed to recover from the cabinet, directing its beam toward the vanity mirror. Tendrils of smoke drifted from the broken remnants of the bulbs along the frame. Tiny shards of glass covered the counter and floor.
"I think the house got hit by lightning. Are you okay?"
Her voice shook, "Sam--!"
Running, following the dancing illumination from the flashlight, they charged up the stairs and down the hall to their son's bedroom.
A shrieking wind tore at them as Josh flung open the door. The bedroom window was open. Lizbeth aimed the light at the bed, but Samuel wasn't there. The impact of that empty bed made Josh's head spin. A cold certainty held him in a fist of ice -- he would never see his son again. Then Lizbeth swung the light across the room and the glow settled on the boy, kneeling before the window. He was sitting still, hands held up, face raised to the storm.
"Sam!" Lizbeth cried. "Get away from there!"
Samuel did not respond. Josh rushed into the room and scooped up his son, carrying him toward the doorway. Once away from the window, he took a quick survey -- Samuel appeared unhurt, but his eyes seemed empty and distant. His pajamas, clinging to his cold skin, were soaked. "Are you okay?"
Samuel stared at the window.
Josh grabbed the boy by his shoulders and gave him a gentle shake. "Samuel! Are you okay?"
"I called them," Samuel said faintly. "I didn't mean to."
"Them." Samuel pointed at the window.
Nudging Samuel into Lizbeth's arms, Josh crept toward the window. He moved with cautious, pensive steps, as if he were a hunter sneaking up on dangerous prey. Outside, the rain fell in swirling darkness. The clouds overhead were a deep black, suffused with a disturbing green and yellow; they seemed fetid, diseased. Trees along the ridge line were swaying; several were toppled, and others were stripped of their greenery. The plots of land were a mess: rivers of mud flowed across the soil, and the streets were covered by water and debris -- the drainage system had failed to keep pace with the rain. Josh hadn't realized the storm was doing so much damage. All his work washing away. Come morning, there would be one hell of a disaster to deal with.
"Josh?" his wife called out.
"There's nothing," he said, turning back. "It's just the storm. Everything's okay." He tried to keep the tension out of his voice. The storm was going to cost him a ton of money and set construction back several weeks. "It's okay, Samuel."
"You don't see them?" Samuel asked, his voice trembling. "The people in the storm?"
Josh sighed. "No one's there. It's just a bad dream."
Samuel shook his head. "No, Dad -- they're there. I saw them! They said I have to go with them... go outside." He turned to his mother, his eyes wide and desperate. "I called them. They're out there."
Lizbeth hugged him. Her hair drifted in the wind, moving about her face. "It's okay, Sam. Just a dream."
"A dream," Josh said, for emphasis. He put both hands on the window and tried to pull it closed. It wouldn't budge. Cursing under his breath, he tried again. The window refused to move. The house was only a few months old and it was already falling apart. "C'mon, let's get downstairs." He would worry about fixing it after his family was out of the cold. "I'll carry Samuel."
Lizbeth relinquished her hold on their son and shut the door behind them as they entered the hall. The piercing cry of the wind was muffled.
"I called them. They say I belong with them." Samuel raised his head. "Don't you hear them?"
"It's just the wind."
His son was scared -- more frightened than Josh had ever seen him. What was wrong? Reaching up, he felt Samuel's forehead. Perhaps he had a fever. He pressed the palm, then the back, of his hand against his son's brow. No. The skin was cool -- too cool.
He took a heavy wool blanket out of the closet and wrapped it around Samuel. "There you go, bud," he said, patting him on the back. "Better?"
"Yes," Samuel responded in a tone that was hushed, detached. "Thank you."
They made their way toward the first-floor landing. Lightning flashed, and, in the moment of clarity between two heartbeats, Josh saw forms outside on the porch: several of them, with vague, nebulous faces of gray, eyes black as night -- and hands pressing against the glass.
He stared at the window, his breath catching in his throat. The lightning flash was gone, and all was darkness.
Lizbeth touched his arm. He jumped.
"Josh? What's wrong, honey?"
"Nothing." A salvo of lightning burned through the night. The porch was empty. "Nothing," he said again. But he couldn't move. He waited, staring at the window, his son held tight.
"Josh?" Lizbeth pleaded.
He heard a sound within the chorus of rain and wind -- movement, rustling -- from behind him. He grabbed the flashlight from his wife, and, supporting his son within the crook of one arm, he moved upward one step, then another. The hall was dark and empty.
Samuel's door rattled. He swung the light toward it. Slowly, methodically, the knob was turning.
"Jesus," he breathed, stumbling back a pace. The light fell from his grasp. With a series of muffled thuds, it tumbled down the stairs to his wife's feet. Josh turned. His hands were trembling, and he breathed in short, ragged gasps. It was just a storm -- nothing more. There were no such things as monsters. No ghosts.
Lizbeth picked up the errant light. "What's wrong?" she said.
Josh reached the landing and made an effort to compose himself. The doorknob hadn't been moving; the forms on the porch were just tricks of light and shadow caused by the lightning. "I'm okay," he said, taking a deep breath. He clutched his son firmly, looking down at him. "Everything's all right, bud."
Samuel nodded fractionally.
"Uh-huh," the boy responded.
There was a knock at the front door.
Samuel yelped. "It's them!"
"Who the hell would be--?" Lizbeth began.
Josh stepped back toward the hall. His son's words resounded through his thoughts. It's them. For many moments, the three of them simply stared at the door.
Another knock, louder, more urgent. Then another.
Lizbeth headed for the door.
"Don't open it!" Josh hissed.
She turned toward him, eyes narrowed, unspoken questions evident in her expression.
What would he tell her? Don't open the door 'cause the boogeyman will come in? He was being irrational. He could picture himself, white as fog, shaking, staring at the door as if he expected it to sprout fangs and pounce on him. What if someone out there needed help?
Did boogeymen knock? He didn't think so. "I mean," he stammered, "look before you open it."
"Sure." She peered through the peephole, one eye pressed against the door, for several moments. The flashlight was pointed at the floor, its glow fragmenting into motes of reflected light upon the polished wood.
Josh held his breath.
Samuel whispered something, too soft to hear. His voice was like the sigh of a summer breeze.
Lightning shimmered, stark and lustrous.
Lizbeth turned back to Josh. Her mouth was bent into a curve, half-smile and half-grimace. With a flourish, she swung open the door.
The porch light was dangling from its mounting above the door, broken loose and suspended by a long length of wire. A cold gust of wind made the light swung toward the open door. The rain, falling steady and hard, was a liquid haze, illuminated by pulses of lightning leaping from cloud to cloud.
"There's our suspicious knocker."
Josh remembered to breathe again. He felt like an idiot. Looking down at Samuel, he said, "See? Nothing to be afraid of."
Straining against the wind, Lizbeth shut the door. "What now?"
"Maybe we should find someplace to stay for the night."
"I'll try the phone."
Josh followed her into the kitchen and deposited Samuel on the edge of the breakfast bar. Lizbeth grabbed the receiver from the wall, listened, then tried to dial. Finally, with a scowl, she slammed the phone down. "It's dead."
A cold draft stirred around them. Samuel's drawings on the refrigerator, most of them depicting storm clouds and lightning, rustled beneath their magnet anchors. Thunder rolled, low and threatening, like the growl of a dog. Where was the wind coming from? Upstairs, perhaps, through the stuck window in Samuel's room? No... that couldn't be. The bedroom door was closed. Or was it? Josh spun around, peering into the hall.
There was a knock at the door, and another, heavy and hollow. Josh swore under his breath. He should have secured the damned porch light.
Samuel sat with his hands on his knees, looking around with nervous, furtive glances. "They're calling," he said.
Lizbeth aimed the light at the kitchen window. "What are we going to do?" she asked. "Should we just stay here?"
"I don't know.... I don't think so."
She looked toward the front of the house. "Would the car be safe?"
"I've heard a car is safe in a lightning storm. The rubber tires ground it." He stepped forward and leaned against the counter. "But this doesn't seem like just any storm."
"I know... it's pretty bad."
"No, it's more than that."
"It's just a storm. We'll be fine, hon."
He looked back at her, not answering.
"Yeah, I know. Lightning is always hitting things -- people, houses. It's not unusual." He said the words to convince himself, not her. The storm seemed purposeful, malevolent. But that was just his fears, distorting events, conferring malicious intent upon a thing incapable of deliberate action. It was just a storm. "I'll need to get my tools," he said. "See if I can get Samuel's window fixed. Then we'll get dressed and head out." Making the decision, dealing with the situation as a rational adult, gave him some confidence. He marched toward the utility room, looking back. "We'll find a hotel that still has power."
Lizbeth lifted Samuel down from the counter. Taking the boy's hand, she guided him into the dining room and patted one of the chairs. It was a spot shielded from the threat of breaking windows. "Wait here, Sam."
He climbed onto the chair. Lizbeth adjusted the blanket until only his round face was visible among the folds of dark fabric. "Your daddy will take care of everything," she said.
Samuel seemed to be looking past her, at some distant point. "Okay."
Lizbeth followed Josh into the utility room. "I'm worried about him," she whispered, standing in the doorway.
Josh pulled his toolbox down from the shelf. He flipped it open and sifted through a jumble of equipment and fittings. "Me too. But he'll be okay. The storm spooked him. It was bound to happen sooner or later."
"I hope that's all it is. He's just acting so... strange."
"He'll be better once we get him somewhere warm and well-lit." Josh pulled out a hammer, a screwdriver, some fasteners, and another flashlight. He hoped it would be enough.
She tried her best to smile. "Some night, huh?"
She put her arm around his waist as he emerged from the utility room with his hands full of supplies. "I'm proud of you."
"Taking care of things."
"Thanks." Obviously, she hadn't seen through his pretense of composure. Or had she? Perhaps she was trying to instill a bit of confidence. "Why don't you stay with Samuel. I'll see what I can do with that window."
"Aye, sir." She kissed him on the cheek. "Good luck."
Josh strode toward the front of the house. Three steps into the hall, he heard his wife's voice, loud and frantic. "Josh!"
He raced into the dining room. Lizbeth was standing near the table, probing her surroundings with the flashlight, searching.
The blanket lay on the floor. Samuel was gone.
Josh's heart seemed to stop. He flipped on his own light, sending the shaft of illumination into the kitchen. Lurking shadows slid away from the radiance, revealing nothing. "Samuel!" he shouted.
Only a peal of thunder responded.
Lizbeth looked toward him, then ran through the kitchen, into the dining room, and down the hall, circling the first floor of the house. Josh followed her. The glow of their flashlights carved through the darkness. They called his name. They opened closets, searched behind and beneath furniture, each time hoping to sight the blue pajamas, the small, delicate face.
There was no sign of him.
Josh stopped at the front door. It was still closed. He grabbed the knob, his hand shaking with tremors charged by worry and adrenaline, and pulled the door open.
Hushed darkness stood before him. The wind had fallen silent. The rain was nothing more than a gentle mist. It was as if the storm were an animal that had been fed and was now satisfied.
Could Samuel have gone outside? Why would he do that? Images sprang into his thoughts: the forms on the porch, incorporeal hands pressed against the window pane; and his son, kneeling before an open window, like a supplicant at an alter.
He had to be sure. "Check upstairs, Liz."
Her gaze swept across the open door, to him, then back. "Do you think--?"
"He's probably upstairs. I want to check outside, just in case."
"Okay." She gave the door one last, panicked glance and dashed up the steps.
Josh turned to face the night.
He found a footprint in the mud just beyond the driveway. And another, a yard or so further on, filling with rainwater and seeping mire. The tracks were small, shoeless. Samuel's.
He tried to shout his son's name, but his voice caught in his throat.
Josh was dizzy with dread. He was wearing only his robe, but he was barely aware of the rain, or the cold water and muck at his bare feet. Lightning sliced across the sky. The development was like a wasteland of puddles and gouged earth; the newly paved roads showed cracks and dips, undermined by rivulets of murky water. It made for difficult footing, but he plodded in the path of his son's trail, eyes searching ahead, squinting against the misty rain.
The tracks led along the flank of the development. He wiped the rain from his eyes and spotted a small figure perched near the ridge. Beyond the form, dwarfing it, the Narrows Bridge stood within a haze of drizzle, its support wires rising like the ribs of a long-dead behemoth. The emerald lights of the bridge glimmered dully, accompanied by the glint of distant headlights as a car passed above the black water.
"Samuel!" Josh called, forcing his voice through a throat tight with tension. The sound seemed weak, ineffectual.
The figure began to walk, moving away. It was a smudge of shadow, silhouetted in the bridge's lights.
Josh ran, slogging through the mud. Time dilated, each moment becoming forever. He could see his son's dark hair, the blue pajamas, the wet hair curling at the nape of his neck, the pale hands. It felt like an eternity before he was coming up behind the boy, reaching for him.
Samuel did not turn; he seemed unaware of his father's presence.
Suddenly, with violent force, the wind rose again. Like a massive, invisible fist, the gust smashed into Josh, sending him reeling backwards into the mud.
"Samuel!" he yelled, but the wind devoured his voice.
He tried to stand. The gale tore at him, churned around him. He felt as though he'd been plunged into turbulent waters, gasping for breath, reaching for the surface, drowning. He managed to get to his knees, scrambling forward a few feet, hands sinking into the cold mire. But the storm was pushing him back, and Samuel -- seemingly unaffected -- was still walking, moving with the methodical determination of a machine. Each step carried him further away.
Josh was losing him.
"No -- dear God, no!" He had no strength. His arms collapsed, and he fell flat. He raised his head, narrowing his eyes as the wind slashed against them, watching his son move away.
The panic boiled and crashed within him. His thoughts were a haze of mounting fear. He struggled to reject the terror, but it burned bright, a fire that would not be doused by logic. There was no logic to this storm, only madness. He remembered the nights of his childhood, when the shadows became wraiths, the darkness itself whispered his name, and the world was filled with endless mysteries. Monsters were real; magic was real.
He dug his fists into the mud, crying out, closing his eyes against a burst of lightning, then opening them again.
He drew in a breath, and held it. He could see them now.
They were forms of indistinct shadow, gray mist gathered into shapes vaguely human, with coal-black eyes and bodies of flowing vapor. They drifted on the wind, spinning and twisting, battering him with indefinite hands, holding him to the ground. Their whispers were the wind itself.
They encircled Samuel, but they did not restrain or hinder him. They wafted around the boy, touching him gently but eagerly, leading him away.
Josh shut his eyes, trying to will the creatures away. He had once wrapped himself with the blankets of his boyhood bed, muffling the voices, warding away shadows. Those blankets had been a stronghold, walls of fabric protecting him until morning light crept in ochre shadows along the surface of his keep. He wanted to do that now: deny the darkness until dawn made it only a memory. As the night gave way to daybreak, the chaos would surrender to calm, unreason to logic. But Samuel would be gone, and that thought spurred him to action.
Straining against the hold of the mist-forms, Josh stood. He planted his feet in the muck and took a step. Then another. And another. The beings lashed against him with unwavering force. With each footfall he grunted, but he was barely aware of the sound. His consciousness was focused on three things: the gaze of the beings, their cold whispers, and his son.
A step. Another. With agonizing slowness, he was moving toward Samuel.
The wind-voice of the things formed into words. Stop.
"No! Leave him alone!"
He belongs with us. He is one of us.
"Why? What are you?"
We are as we have always been.
"He's my son!"
He is one of us. He has called us.
"No!" Josh yelled. "Samuel!"
The boy stopped and turned around, facing Josh. The beings pressed against him, trying to compel him back into movement, but Samuel stood firm. His wet pajamas stirred in the rising wind. He said nothing. He stared at Josh, his small features as rigid as chiseled ice.
He is one of us.
"I don't understand," Josh said, still straining toward his son. "How? When?"
Always? Josh remembered the night of Samuel's conception: the storm, the howling wind. He and Lizbeth had seemed a part of the elements that night. Perhaps they were. And Samuel, linked to the things within the storm, had unknowingly summoned them in a time of loneliness. I called them, he had said. Don't you see them?
Straining harder, Josh lurched forward. His son stood before him, still and quiet, surrounded by the things flowing in a diaphanous haze. He was looking toward Josh, but his expression did not waver. The beings around him were frenzied, forming a barrier of churning, chaotic mist. Within that maelstrom, Samuel's form was fading, transforming, melding with the darkness.
"Samuel!" Josh cried. He leapt toward his son, reaching for him, but his hands did not make contact, and he fell through him, landing in the mud.
"No!" he screamed, turning back, clambering to his feet. Samuel was a shadow. Josh could see only his son's eyes, peering from an ashen mist. They were eyes of indigo blue: the shade of a thundercloud at twilight. Beautiful eyes.
"No, Samuel. Can't you hear me? Don't you see me?" He reached out again. "I love you. Please... don't go!"
The eyes of indigo seemed to meet his own. Their stares locked. Recognition. Knowing. "That's it, Samuel. I'm here, bud. C'mon." Josh reached out, and his hands touched something solid: Samuel's shoulders, the soaked material of his pajamas. He gripped the cloth and tugged.
Samuel fell into his arms. Josh, kneeling in the mud, wrapped his arms tight around the boy. He looked up.
The mist-forms circled around them, examining, touching. Their movements slowed, until they flowed like ink through the depths of a calm sea. A thousand orbs of pure blackness looked down upon him, but their gaze was not threatening, not evil. The wind was soft now, and it seemed to whisper of understanding.
"Please go," Samuel whispered, looking up at the creatures. His voice was detached, distant, as if he were talking in his sleep.
Like shadows submitting to light, the things faded, scattering in all directions. Above, the dark clouds broke apart, revealing patches of sky strung with shimmering stars. The rain stopped. The pearl-white radiance of the moon swept across the landscape.
In a moment, they were gone -- but not completely.
"Daddy?" Samuel said, sleepily. He rubbed his eyes. "What are we doing out here?"
Josh picked him up and stood. "It's okay. You're safe."
Lizbeth was running towards them, stumbling through the mud. Josh waved at her, then looked down at his son. "Let's go home."
Josh sipped from a cup of coffee and glanced toward the window. A bulldozer swung into view, pushing dirt, its throaty growl joining the sounds of the other heavy equipment. It had been a month since the storm, but repairs still continued. He wasn't overly concerned. The lots would be ready soon.
The sun was bright and warm. They were well into September, with no end in sight for an Indian summer that refused to give way to autumn. The weather matched his mood: the day after the storm, he had called the office and announced he was going to use some of his accrued vacation time. He hadn't been to work in a month -- and he didn't miss it.
"Hey, honey." Lizbeth was standing at the end of the hall, smiling. With an exaggerated sweep of her arm, she raised a small object into the air.
Josh narrowed his eyes. It looked like a vial of some sort, full of blue liquid.
"It's positive," she said.
"I'm pregnant, you dope."
"Pregnant?" They had been trying to have a baby for nearly a year, but the announcement caught him off guard. Was he ready for another child? He hadn't told Lizbeth what happened the night of the storm -- he didn't even know if he could define the experience. The line between reality and fantasy had once been sharp; now that line was blurred to the point of invisibility. It terrified him -- and filled him with wonder.
Don't do it, he told himself. Don't spoil it. This is important. It's right. "You're pregnant?"
Her eyes seemed to sparkle. "Yep."
"Catch on quick, don't you?" She rushed forward and hugged him. "It's going to be terrific."
Her enthusiasm was contagious. He spun her around, while she yelped and tried to keep the vial from spilling. Then he thought of something and set her back on her feet. "Honey?"
"Yeah?" Her face was flushed. Her eyes sparkled.
"Do you think it could have been... I mean, could it have happened on the night of the storm?"
"Sure. The timing would work out."
He nodded. For some reason, the prospect of that did not trouble him. Another child with indigo eyes -- a girl, perhaps -- would be wonderful.
"You all right?" she asked.
Samuel pounded into the room and joined their hug, wrapping his arms around their legs, giggling. "Can we drive down to the park?"
"I don't know, kiddo," Josh said.
"It's going to be warm and sunny for the rest of the day," Samuel added, smiling.
And Josh knew that it would be.
Shawn Click (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a father of two and husband of one. When he isn't watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, he is hard at work on a suspense novel.
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 5, Number 6 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1995 Shawn Click.