On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.
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On the Lightning
The man came on the lightning, during the late summer of 1972.
Just a fine, single, jagged bolt; between yellow and blue, from a clear evening sky. It hit the ground like someone had clapped their hands. And then there he was.
My father was young then, and he saw it with his own eyes. He was in his car, parked just down the hill a little, watching the sunset and smoking a cigarette. There was a girl with him, and he’d been seeing her for a while, but when he tells the story he can never remember her name.
The man stood there in full view, all in black from head to toe, boots in the dust like he’d walked instead of coming down from above. He looked straight at my father, and my father looked at him too, because no-one had ever seen a man arrive that way before.
As he tells it, my father got out of his car, slowly, and threw the cigarette away without really noticing he was doing it. Turning the car around and getting out of there didn’t seem like much of an option. So he decided to talk instead. The girl got out too, and without a word or a backwards glance she ran away down the hill, purse flapping from her shoulder. The man didn’t even glance in her direction, and once she was out of sight my father turned to look at him again.
He asked the man where he’d come from, and the man didn’t answer except to briefly look up at the darkening sky. Under the circumstances it could have been a reply, or he might just have been annoyed at the question. Either way, my father took the hint, and his next question was about who the man was. Again, no real reply, but my father always said he could tell that the man was a little disappointed, as if he’d expected a better calibre of enquiry. Then he started to talk.
The first thing the man asked my father was what he wanted, and that struck my father as strange, because he’d just been minding his own business, having a smoke, talking, and waiting for the stars to come out to set the right mood. He said he didn’t know what the man meant, and the man just shook his head and told him he was a liar.
My father then got an idea in his head, and after a bit of thinking about it, he told the man that he’d like to live a long life, free of the worries and concerns he dealt with every day. The man replied that it was a fine desire, and then with another sound like someone clapped their hands, he was gone.
My father is eighty-seven years old now, and he still thinks and speaks as clearly as he did on that evening. That’s just about all he does, since the car accident he had on his way back down the hill. Never again able to move from the neck down. But the doctors always talk about his incredible good health, and the lack of deterioration in his heart and lungs, which they’d normally expect. They fully believe he’ll get to a hundred, or more. So do I. It’s no kind of a life, but he bears it well. It was the one he chose.
I don’t know who my mother was. My father never saw her again after she ran down the hill, but he did find the baby at his door eight months later, where he was being cared for by his own parents again. I can’t really say I blame her, but I do wonder sometimes. I’m almost fifty now myself, and I got used to having no mother long before I ever heard my father tell the story.
I believed it straight away, as sons do when their fathers tell them a story, but believing isn’t the same thing as knowing.
Time passed, as time does. My grandparents died, and there was money, and I was able to get my father the care that he’ll always need. I was still able to live my own life. I was lucky, and in a certain way, so was he.
I’m married, and I have a young son of my own, and today while my wife put him down to sleep for the night, I went out into the garden to gather up some of his toys and set things to rights before night came. I was tired, especially since it was one of the two days each week that I go to visit my father at the assisted living place. I always spend a couple of hours there after work. By the time I get home, I’m just about ready to fall asleep on my feet.
I gathered the laundry, and moved the red ride-on toy car over behind the shed, and I heard the birds singing their last song of the evening, and then I heard a sound like a pair of hands clapping. I was facing the other way, but I felt it, like a little static shock, and I knew. I think that even a caveman would have known it.
I think maybe he was dropping in even then, back before we were people.
I turned, and the man stood there, all in black from head to toe, like he’d walked in off the street to sell me a driveway, or new windows, or a new religion. He looked at me, and I looked at him, and he knew that I knew who he was.
“What is it you want?” he asked.
His voice was paper and smoke; already ancient when the world was young. It was a voice that made you feel thin, and weak, but it also made you feel like maybe things could change. Things could finally go your way.
His question wasn’t a surprise, and I’d been thinking about my answer for years.
“I want you to let him go,” I replied.
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