The night was alive. Not even a flicker of stars could be seen in the swirling abyss of the storm. Window panes trembled, and the entire house shook, echoing the power of the sky. It was a dark and stormy night, made even darker the moment the yellow ceiling lights flickered to black.
It felt so quiet in the few moments after the light died. It didn’t sound quiet, but it felt that way, a yawning gap of something missing, soon to be filled with something different; a new presence of normalcy.
I sat in the dark for a few moments or so, but only a few. I let the new presence surround me as I stared into the dark space before my eyes. It allowed enough time for me to adjust to the void, enough for me to comfortably go about extinguishing it.
I liked old fashioned candles, I had a few of them in the drawer at my hip. I liked matches too, I liked the hissing sound of their ignition, and the fluttering glow of their light. I planted the burning white wax in an iron candle holder on my desk. The flame illuminated the page I had been writing in an eerie amber glow.
A different kind of light suddenly flashed from behind. A harsh white flash, flickering in a different way from my candle, flickering like dying electricity. The sky growled menacingly. With a faint sigh I picked up the candle and moved to leave my room.
The house creaked and leaned incrementally to the will of the wind. The floorboards had a tendency to shift anyway, but now those creaks were barely noticeable against the protesting structure. Wood and stone didn’t like the feeling of being pushed around.
I held my hand up to protect the flame. Fire didn’t mind being pushed around, but the winds still affected a life so fragile. This candle didn’t have to be fragile. For its size, it was alarmingly ravenous, and if it were given its ever-desired fuel, it could grow into a monster big enough to swallow this house whole. I glanced up at the roof as I heard it being lashed with rain. Nothing like that would be possible in this tempest.
I had read stories of forest fires, but I hadn’t gotten as close to one myself. I had only ever imagined the sight they beheld. Licking flames that gashed the earth, swallowing mouthfuls of anything it touched, the grass, the trees, the air. The suffocating haze that would claim the woods, muddying the sky until it was closer to the shades of dust than the shades of the ocean. Fire always announced its presence with the gushing black smoke that engulfed the sun, choking it into a bloodied red orb. A storm had its own kind of introduction.
I heard their voices first. Sometimes they were louder, and others they were softer, as if they couldn’t decide whether to make their own point or to contradict the ones of their opponent.
Grandma was given her husband as a young brave woman but was left with little control over her own existence. Dad chose his wife, but she left us anyway. He without his wife, she without her husband, both with a long history between each other, like two returning cyclones of different winds.
Do you know what happens when two winds meet? I asked, turning discreetly to a phantom audience of my own design. Warm and cold winds don't mix well, and yet they mix anyway. One might think that they ought to cancel each other out, but air is much fiercer than that. No, when winds collide, they form a hurricane.
“I don’t care how bad the storm is outside, the authorities will get the power back on!”
“In this mess? We could barely count on them to manage it after the rain has blown over.”
Dad frowned aggressively. “We don’t need the emergency supplies! We get storms all the time, we’ll have electricity before the day is out.”
“You saw the forecast before this thing hit, it's not going away anytime soon.” Grandma snapped back.
I wasn’t the only spectator. I saw my sister Audrey, and little Robbie clinging to her like a duckling clings to the back of a hen, waiting for the rain to roll off her feathers. Audrey was usually the one to let Robbie come into her room during a storm. She would tell him stories, and sing songs with one of her pretty stringed instruments.
She glanced at me, checking for my presence. Her presence felt like an accusation. I was the eldest, and in that instance It was fate that pointed me out as the protector, the one to comfort them when a storm took away our light. And yet I only stood there as an overseer instead of a participant; I was a hawk, mantling my precious candle light behind the shelter of my palm.
Did you know that ducks will adopt another’s chick if they have been abandoned? Then again, ducks will abandon their own just as quickly.
Dad left, to do what I don’t know, I had probably stopped listening. Grandma stared at a space above the grand piano. Maybe she was looking at the black mirror of the television, but I wouldn’t know from where I stood.
She turned, scowling at the candle. “Put that light out, you’ll set something on fire.”
I blew it out, watching the weak smoke twirl upwards like an elegant white ribbon. I still held the candleholder level, I couldn't let the melted wax spill on the floor. I pulled out a tiny black cylinder from my pocket and clicked the penlight to life, aiming the glow at the floor with my line of eyesight.
We weren’t needed here. I saw Audrey and Robbie walk back to their room, knowing how impossible it was to fly in a storm. I went back up the stairs, my creaking footsteps virtually silent against the wailing storm throwing itself against the building.
I closed the door gently behind me and returned the cold candleholder to its perch on my desk. I took my perch too, on the chair I had been sitting in not so long ago. I liked writing with my hand, there was something nice about seeing the pages and pages of constant handwriting, sloppy in the places where my arm ached.
I removed the dead candle from its holder and put it away in the desk drawer with the matchbox. I clamped the flashlight between my teeth so I could still have my hands free to write. The illuminated circle only lit up the desk, leaving the rest of the room in shadows. The penlight was harsh and white, like a flash of lightning. I returned to my page, to my cities and people, the ones that I always knew what they were going to do next. To my poems, my stories, to my rhymes and prose.
Do you know why storms are named after people?