Stan stalked forward, his footsteps against the concrete muffled by the howling wind. He took a hurried glance at the sky, saw dark thunderclouds, and broke into a jog. The clouds crackled ominously, blinding arcs of lightning dancing across the sky. Suddenly, a flash touched down in the distance, and then a couple of seconds later, a thunderous boom. It rumbled deep into his bones, shaking him to his very core.
His heartbeat pounded loudly in his chest, whether from fear or from his faster pace, he didn’t really want to admit. The wind tugged at his hair and clothes, its strength steadily growing stronger.
If that morning someone had asked him what could go wrong during the day, the weather would not have been high on his list. He could maybe see his fake scar falling off at the grocery store, or Montano's gang finally tracking him down, or hell, even a shootout happening, down here in the armpit of New Mexico. But not the weather. It hadn't even crossed his mind. That morning, there had been clear blue skies, with a hint of a cool, stiff wind, the mountains on the eastern horizon dotted with a few sporadic clouds. Harmless, maybe even cute.
There was a reason he wasn't a meteorologist. But what he lacked in brains he tried making up with his athleticism. There was a slim chance that he could make it back to his motel before he was completely soaked. After all, tt was only a two or so blocks away.
And just as he thought that, a few stray raindrops began to drip from above, but feebly, periodically, as though they trickled from a leaky tap. They sunk into his clothing, patterning him in darker colors, and he thought, that maybe, just maybe, he could still outrun the worst of the storm. He remembered Montano saying once (before things had turned sour between them), that desert storms were like a flash of lightning. There and gone before you could really appreciate it.
(Then Montano had laughed and slapped him on the shoulder, his glasses glittering under the sun's glare. "That is, only if you're inside.")
Another blinding flash of lightning, a crash of thunder following it. His heart skipped. The air was full of pent up tension. He could feel it in his body, as if the entire world was holding its breath, and he just couldn't help but go along with it.
Then the world sighed. The rain cascaded down from the sky, descending on him like a curtain falling over a stage at the end of a play. A sudden quietness overcame him, the drops cold and almost refreshing. The moment quickly passed, and he picked up his pace, instinctively knowing that the cold would do him no good. He squinted through the water, pushing aside his hair, cursing, his breath puffing out in little, crystalline clouds.
The wind picked up, throwing the rain diagonally through the air. Loud cracking sounds echoed up and down the sidewalk, and he felt little hard pellets hitting his body. Holy Moses, was that hail?
A thunder-hail storm? Sounded like something that would happen to him; it was just his luck.
Stan couldn’t see very far, the rain turning everything into a gray haze. Concrete and water, and the distant flashing of a car's headlights.
Then the air seemed to whisper against his skin, raising the hairs on his arms. Something buzzed across his shoulder blades, leaving him jittery. Cursing louder, he froze. The sensation continued, amplified by the sporadic drops of rain that were blown into his face. His heartbeat thundered in his ears, pulse points beating frantically under his skin.
He was in deep shit. He was going to die, struck by lightning, in some mediocre little town in the middle of nowhere.
A little voice broke through his frantic state, telling him to get it together. You've survived crazier things, and besides, you should know what to do.
You have to crouch down.
Self-preservation instinct (or maybe it was the voice) made him crouch down, covering his ears with his hands.
That voice whispered, reassuring him that the most dangerous thing to do in a thunderstorm was to stand up or sit under a tree. Take your heels off the ground and touch them together, to form a smaller circuit. Hearing loss could also be a side effect from being so close to a lightning strike, so you have got to cover your ears, Stanley. If you're carrying anything metallic, you have got to throw it away, for your own sake. You can’t die because of something avoidable. We have to make it to all the gold and treasure before we die off."
He scoffed, rolling his eyes and shoving his brother. Ford fell over with a satisfying thump against the floor, the flashlight knocked over by his feet. A moment of bated silence, as they waited to see if their parents had woken up, but thankfully, nothing.
"Be careful," Ford hissed, pushing himself off the ground and adjusting the flashlight to be upright again.
"Sorry," he whispered. "But, come on, Sixer. I think you're taking this too seriously. I ain't blind or deaf, you know. I'd see a storm coming from miles away."
Ford frowned, pushing his glasses up his nose. “You never know. It could come out of nowhere. We both heard about the kid down the street. A beautiful, sunny day, and then BAM," he smashed his fist into his palm for emphasis. " I don’t want you to fry from the inside out.”
"…Like an egg?”
"More like that time Ma boiled the potatoes for too long.”
Stan shuddered, hugging the pillow closer to his body. His bro nodded in agreement, running his fingers through his hair. They stared at the wall of their dark bedroom.
"The best thing is to just not get caught in a storm," Ford said with finality. "So don't get caught, okay Stan?"
The heavens cracked open, and a bright flash of lightning struck down in front of him. The memory shattered like a glass bauble, his brain abuzz with the sensation of electricity against his skin. He felt his heart do a somersault in his chest, and suddenly he was all too aware of his pulse, feeling his body uncontrollably shiver. The boom was so loud that it swallowed all his other thoughts, making him deaf to the world for a few precious seconds.
When that passed, he opened his eyes, and the world flashed in bright yellow spots. He stood up and tried rubbing them away, swallowing thickly against the lump that had formed in his throat. What a dazzling and resounding death that would have been.
And then, as he stumbled forward still half blind, his thoughts on a nice, hot shower, he tripped. Throwing out his hands to catch himself, he landed with a splash, his palms and knees scraping against the concrete. He gritted his teeth and stood up, turning to glare at what had made him fall.
There, sprawled on the ground, was a kid. Brown hair plastered to his face, backpack unstably perched on his back. He was knocked out. A few feet away a sodden fur hat lay on the ground.
Blood roared in his ears and his stomach dropped. Stan rushed forward and crouched down next to him. "Hey, hey! Wake up!"
No response. The kid was unconscious. He was warm, but quickly cooling underneath the rain. Stan gently turned him over and felt for a pulse, pressing his hand against the boy's chest. For a frantic moment, he held his breath, trying to silence his own heartbeat. And then he found it, beating a bit fast, but steadily enough. A sigh escaped his mouth, the tension draining from his body. He checked him over, taking careful note of his scraped palms, scuffed up tennis shoes, and the dark scorch mark staining the hat. Fading bruises dotted his kneecaps along with an angry, red scratch, and his clothing was stained in a few places. He scrutinized the kid's face, coming to realize that he looked strangely familiar, like a distant relative. But Stan couldn’t place him.
What to do? He couldn’t just leave the kid out here in the rain and lightning, especially since it looked like he had just ran through hell and back. If he took him to safety though, would that be considered kidnapping? He didn’t need that on his record…
"Hello?" he yelled into the rainy street, squinting to see if anybody else was around. "Is this anyone's kid?"
Nothing but the rain.
He gathered the kid up in his arms, grabbed the hat, and jogged the rest of the way to the motel. Just as he reached the door to his room, the boy started to wake up, mumbling something incoherent.
“It’s alright, kiddo,” he said softly, shifting the kid onto his other arm as he searched for his motel key.
The wind had died down, as well as the rain. Like lightning, huh. Stan would've flipped Montano off if he could've. Bastard.
He whipped out the key, slid it into the slot, and turned it. The door unlocked with a click.