I got a comment from Russel Ray that pointed out the unseasonal character of my last story excerpt post, ‘One Bright Snow-Day’. (He doesn’t live down under.) My apologies for making you shiver with cold on a sunny afternoon, Russel! So in his honor, I pulled a short-story from my archives, which I will post in its entirety, that’s all about heat…though it might give you a chill of another nature.
Harlan and Lyndie stepped out of the smoothie shop, infinitely calmer than on the hot drive over. Lyndie’s nose nearly buried itself in the blueberry delight she sipped. Harlan pushed his little sister along the sidewalk, waiting to taste his strawberry treat until he delivered the blueberry-banana one to their mother. Martha sprawled in the car trying to expose more skin to the air. She wasn’t used to this muggy heat. She hoped a treat would lift their moods. Cranky and sweaty were getting old.
“Here, Mom,” Harlan pushed a drink through the window.
“Thanks, Sweetie,” Martha said tipping in a gulp of the frosty liquid. “Ohh, that’s sooo good.”
“Hurry up, Lyndie,” Harlan called as he got in the car. She stood by the blue Galaxy 500 engulfed in her icy heaven.
“Come on, Girlio,” Martha encouraged.
The eight-year-old smiled a closed-lip grin at her mom as she hopped into the back seat.
For the first time all day, a contented vibe surrounded the family. The relentless heat had not subsided, but at least their thoughts and tongues were on something cool. Martha pondered the strange weather. Maybe there was something to this global warming thing. Although this winter had been anything but warm. At the moment it was hard to imagine the blanket of white that had snowed them in for an intimate Christmas. Harlan had played in the yard with Lyndie, even giggling while making snow angels. What a contrast this weather brought. The heat left him slumped in his seat, eyes looking dim. It was as if the snow had never been. Even Mount Si had forgotten its white crown and seemed to radiate heat.
“Hey, look at that, you guys. There’re clouds gathering!” Martha noticed.
“I hope it cools off,” Harlan grunted around his straw.
“Oh, shoot!” Martha shouted. Neither child jumped at their mom’s drama. “I forgot to go to KoKo Beans for my CD. I want to tell Felix what I think of his song tomorrow. We’ll have to turn back.”
Harlan heaved a sigh. Lyndie was oblivious—head tipped back getting the last of her drink.
The car grew loud with speed induced wind as they traveled the highway to Snoqualmie. The increasing clouds hung between them and the beating sun. But rather than bringing relief, the spreading layer was a barrier pushing the heat down against their bodies. The hot wind quieted as they slowed at the funky little coffee shop. Martha opened the car door against the pressure of the atmosphere.
“I’ll be right back,” she assured the unconcerned youngsters.
Harlan slurped his final taste of strawberry. Lyndie’s eyes fastened on the sky, her heels absently kicking the seat. As Harlan abandoned his cup, he too watched the rising storm. The speeding clouds—the color of bruised gold—mesmerized the siblings. The growing veil and oppressive humidity crushed their breath and squeezed their minds.
Both children jumped as their mom walked up interrupting their view. She jogged into the street and sat into the car just before a truck passed hiding the eerie sky and snapping the kids back into the moment.
“Whew, it’s so muggy!” Martha gasped.
The little town held its breath as they passed to its edge. And as if on cue, when they hit highway speed, a huge gust of wind buffeted their car.
Moments later another blast hit, and Martha shouted, “Roll up the windows, quick!”
Harlan and Lyndie jumped into action cranking the handles on the old Ford, eyes wide at what their mother saw. Dust scratched at their eyes as their windows covered the last bit of space just seconds too late to keep out the swirl of debris. Martha held the steering wheel hard against the unstable flurry. The wind died, and they sat drenched in sweat in the closed car.
“Can I roll it back down, Mom?” Harlan asked. “I’m dying.”
“Yeah, but only part way. Look at the thrashing trees ahead. Be ready to roll.”
“ ‘Kay,” he cranked it open a few inches and leaned into the breeze. “Whoa!” Harlan wound frantically, mirrored by Lyndie, closing up just in time as the car was blasted by dirt, leaves and random particles. The assault whirled around them sounding like radio static with an oddly organic edge.
They had the pattern down now—relishing the air wafting in until they saw a dust cloud ahead, then sealing themselves in, dripping in otherworldly fascination through the next siege. The dirt devils subsided as they entered North Bend, but the windows remained raised. There was no trusting these conditions.
Harlan’s eyes were no longer dim. They were sharp—intent on the uncanny clouds. Martha’s glance in the mirror saw Lyndie absorbed in the kingdom of the storm—mouth hanging open, eyes on the tumultuous sky.
“Well, you guys. I guess we got our change of mood,” Martha got no response as she drove into Riverbend and pulled into their carport. “The wind is a bit cooler. Though I can’t say I feel exactly comfortable.” She cocked her brow as a new trickle of sweat found its way down her cleavage. “At least we got out of the house for awhile.” She and the kids entered their sweltering home.
The wind was still coming in wild waves, but the open windows didn’t carry it into the stuffy house. Or maybe the weight of the atmosphere just held the torturous heat in place no matter what moved through the space.
Martha threw her smoothie cup away and plopped onto the couch. Lack of movement was the only hope for slowing the stream of perspiration. She looked out through the slider at the river reflecting the bronze-black sky. The branches on the trees whipped in the erratic wind as if dancing to the clattering wind chimes. Harlan slid the door open and the screen closed, accomplishing the only other task that might bring in moving air. Lyndie wandered over joining him in looking outward. She eased the screen open and slipped out onto the porch.
Martha sat up and called, “Lyndie, where’re you going? I don’t want you out in the storm.”
“It’s not raining,” Harlan answered.
“I wish it would!” his mom interjected.
“Can we go out on the porch if I go too and watch her?” he asked.
Martha lay back, wilted. “Okay. Just don’t go far, and come right back if the rain hits.”
“We will,” he promised.
Harlan stepped out, moving the screen door back into its protective place. Lyndie was atop the bench beside him, staring through the trees at an open view of the spooky clouds. He followed her gaze.
“Come on,” he murmured.
She lifted her hand, and he pulled her off the bench. He didn’t release her hand, but held it tightly as they stepped into the yard. They walked away from the river, along the side of the house to the front, and crossed the cul-de-sac toward the river path. Lyndie stopped, causing a tug at the end of Harlan’s arm. She gaped up at the wide opening in the trees above the end of the street.
“Come on!” he urged.
“But I don’t know if we should go in there,” she protested pulling him again to a halt.
“In where?” he humored, moving her forward. She always followed him, as long as he had her attention—or her hand.
She hesitated again as they entered the trees but continued toward the lake. They walked together to the narrow clearing where the culvert exited from the lake to the river. The gap revealed concentrated cloud banks shifting quickly. Dark wisps flowing across moody bronze-gold forms were reflected in the lake. The images flickered with a disturbance of ripples from winds hitting the lake’s surface. The effect was sinister and enthralling. An intense gust knocked them off balance and they caught themselves, deciding to go on.
They climbed to the top of the levee turning away from the lake to behold the rushing river below. This was one of Harlan’s favorite spots—serene lake on one side and fast flowing river on the other. He usually faced the oncoming river, and couldn’t hear or see the lake, but it was magical to feel that opposite force calm and unaltered behind him as the ever-changing river kept coming and being here and flowing away. Deep thoughts for a boy of twelve, but then he wasn’t especially average. Nor was his little sister whom he now looked to again. As she felt his notice, she looked back at him, silently agreeing to continue down the path.
They walked purposefully along the treed edge of the lake, no longer hand in hand but side by side. They came to the small park that sloped down to a wide beachfront. They headed to the water without hesitation. Alarmingly, they did not stop when they reached it, but walked forward just as before. An observer would’ve thought them unaware of the water. An observer would’ve been right.
The brother and sister walked into the storm’s reflection. They entered the distorted image weaving through the turbulence of the lake’s surface and into the roiling clouds themselves. They were called. Called by the unnaturally heavy air, the fevered wind, the ghostly clouds. They met the antithesis of Christmas snow, the spirit of dust and heat and dread.
Martha started out of her groggy drowse. The wind chimes clamored on the porch. She sat up shaking her head to clear it and straining to see her children on the bench outside. They weren’t there. Like a spoken word, she heard the cry of fear. She leaped into motion pushing her feet into her sandals. Throwing open the screen door, she half tossed it shut behind her—moving full speed into the yard. She hurried toward the river, but seeing they weren’t there, she followed their pathway unknowingly to the front. She gained the middle of the cul-de-sac before slowing to look back into the yard and down the street. She knew they had taken the river path. She just knew.
Rushing to the lake, she was disquieted by the reflection of the dense gloom. She glanced from the top of the levee at the river flying toward her. She went at an uneven jog, drawn to the park as surely as her children had been. But when she arrived, she didn’t run into the water or a vision within it. She stood by their footprints at the water’s edge and burst into tears as the disturbance broke into torrents of rain. She sobbed deeply, raising her hands to her face as her head bowed against the downpour. Giving in to despair, she dropped her hands, gasping to calm her breathing. She moved up the slope to the shelter of the trees, turning grimly to face the shore. There advancing toward her out of the water were Harlan and Lyndie. They came to her, soaked by the rain with expressions as dry as bone. She hugged their zombie-like forms, bawling for what seemed an eternity, rain washing away sweat and obliterating tears. The wind dropped. The air cooled slightly. Martha’s bleary eyes were zinged by a flash of lightning. A roaring clap of thunder rolled through the Valley, shaking her being and resonating through Harlan and Lyndie. The vibration of life and passion rushed back into the faces of her extraordinary children.