I’ve been away a lot lately, but thank you to those who have stuck with me.
My Fiction T’s promotion ended last Wednesday and the winners of the free t-shirts were Amy Reese and Sharmishtha Basu! Many thanks to each of them for sharing my post and many thanks to Mike, Miles, Alicia, Dale, and Raluca for sharing it as well. If I missed anyone, I am sincerely sorry.
Blue Lightning Express
It was a question that children asked and their parents lied about because they didn’t know: where does the blue lightning send things? Every day at midnight, a single bolt of blue lightning struck the weather vane of the municipal building and whatever was in the iron chamber beneath disappeared without a trace.
The chamber was known as the Celestial Chariot, because of a legend that said it was a pathway to Heaven. These days, however, the town used it to dispose of their garbage.
It wasn’t something you thought about after a while. I stayed up late once and snuck out with Pete just before midnight to see it hit. You could see a sapphire glow start to build high up in the sky for about a minute before and then, wham! A bolt of silent blue energy shot down to kiss the weather vane and a wriggling blue snake of afterglow danced in front of your eyes as the darkness returned.
After you’d seen it once, it was no big deal, just part of life in the small town. Didn’t every town have this? I didn’t know. I didn’t care either, not until the day it changed my life.
I was playing out in the field behind our house. I was the Indian with a little homemade bow of string and stick whose arrows couldn’t have killed a sick mosquito. I was sneaking up on Pete, who was the cowboy that day, when there was a gunshot from town and then another one. It sounded like adventure and to young boys, adventure had the attraction of a black hole. We were running towards the middle of town when my mother came running towards us. Her face was so white, I thought she was wearing powder. She grabbed me and propelled me, struggling, home.
“I want to see what’s going on,” I yelled. She didn’t say a word. Pete gave me a look of sympathy and kept running for the town center.
My mother pushed me inside and locked the door and for an hour I pressed my face to the window, trying to see what had happened while my mother sobbed at the kitchen table.
She never told me what had happened, but I found out soon enough anyway. They had caught my father. He had “been with Mrs. Larson”, the mayor’s wife. I didn’t see the harm in that: they’d been together lots of times at town picnics and whatnot, but apparently this time it was a terrible thing. They had dragged him to the municipal building and threw him into the iron chamber. All day he lay in there, screaming and banging on the inside. Then at midnight, while I lay sleeping and oblivious, the blue lightning had struck and disappeared him.
No one spoke of him again. Not my mother, not Pete, not the men who had pushed him into that terrible chamber and locked the door.
I played along, not speaking of him, even when I got older and came to understand what he had really done. I kept the memory of him alive in my heart, surrounded by a prickly layer of hate for everyone who had done that to him. They never knew and I never let on.
My mother wasted away and for a year before she died of fever, she was like a living ghost, flitting silently around the corners of town life. Mrs. Larson kept presiding over town socials and picnics, beaming the smile of the sublime hypocrite. And no one said a word.
I inherited my father’s slight physique as I grew up and they nicknamed me Slim. Slim was a good old boy, who loved to laugh and have a drink with the guys after work. He was good folk and no one talked about that thing his papa had done once. He was a guy you could trust, so much so that they made him the mayor one day. They made him mayor and gave him the key to the iron chamber, with a smile and a handshake.
We went out to celebrate that night and drank together, one of mine for every three of theirs. Then when they were all asleep, I took a wagon and rode out to the mining shed two miles south of town. I came back with it loaded high with dynamite and stacked it like cordwood in and around the iron chamber. I set a long fuse and locked the door.
I was going to ride away without a word, but at the last minute, I rang the town bell. It was after 11:30 pm. The people staggered out of their houses and I quelled their cheers for me.
“Twenty years ago, you dragged a man and locked him in the iron chamber,” I said. “You killed him without a trial. Now your judgment is here.” I told them about the dynamite. I had expected some bravado but not a one would risk his life to save their precious town. They scattered like cockroaches, riding hard to escape the blast.
I rode up to the bluffs and just as I arrived, an azure glow began to build. Suddenly, blue lightning arced down from the heavens, right into the municipal building, but this time there was an answer. The building erupted into a fireball that engulfed the town, wiping it from the earth. I camped the night up on the bluffs, planning to ride away the next day.
The next day the air reeked of garbage and I looked out over the town to see a massive mountain of refuse and broken odds and ends. One man staggered through the debris of a century, looking lost and dazed. I almost rode my horse to death getting down to him.
“Papa!” I said.
He looked up, squinting. “Who are you?”
“John, your son.”
He ran a hand over his face. “But you’re all grown! The last I remember, I was in that box.”
“That was twenty years ago, papa.”
He looked around. “There’s an awful lot of garbage around here.”
“Yes papa, but it’s all gone now,” I said. “I think it’s best we be moving on.”