Introduction: it’s day three of my short story experiment and this is going alright so far. The hardest thing has been getting the length right. I’m aiming for around 500 words, but it’s easy to either spin a yarn that threatens to become an epic or struggles to get past two paragraphs. Anyway, today’s one-word prompt was weather, which for reasons known only to my brain, brought to mind that classic story set-up of two people meeting on a lonely road. Why? Fuck knows, but here’s where it brought me.
Night was starting to creep in and a storm could be seen brewing behind me when I fell in beside the old man, happy for the company after long days on the road alone. Even walking in silence is better when you’ve got someone to do it with.
‘Where you going, kid?’ His voice crackled as he didn’t even glance in my direction, instead staring grimily down at the road, determinedly putting one foot in front of the other.
‘The next big city, and then the one after that probably. I don’t have a goal in mind.’
We lapsed back into silence, as he returned barely a grunt of acknowledgement.
‘How about you, old-timer?’
He spat before he spoke, hacking up a glob of thick green phlegm as I began to wonder whether no company was better after all, ‘to the skies.’
That was it. He said it as if it was normal, a well-known city or town, not the thing above our head.
‘Sorry, did you say the skies?’
‘Aye, that’s what I said. Are you deaf?’
‘No, not deaf, I just, well, how do you plan on getting there?’
‘The usual way.’
Everything this man said was unexpected, and for the first time, I turned my head to look at him properly. He was squat, scowling and had a face like thunder, as I looked I could feel the air around him fizzing with barely contained anger. Then there were his clothes, somehow dripping wet and caked in mud at the same time. Now I was certain I’d made a mistake.
‘Is there a usual way?’
‘Everyone knows their way back home, kid.’
‘Do you get back often?’
It was a stupid question, but I couldn’t think of what else to say. Nothing this elderly traveller said to me made any sense.
‘Not since they cast me out.’
‘Why did they do that?’
‘Misbehaviour.’ For the first time, he turned to look at me, a twinkle in his eye. In another’s, it might have appeared roguish, the kind of twinkle you’d want to follow into a scheme that wouldn’t end well. In his, there was none of that charm. It spoke of storms and dangers, a world better witnessed from behind the safety of a thick pane of glass.
The wind around us had begun to pick up, bringing with it the first hints of rain. I looked to the sky and noted the darkening clouds with concern, it had caught up quickly.
‘There’s a storm coming,’ I pointed out unnecessarily, but I was desperate to move the conversation onto solid ground.
‘Aye, that there is.’
‘Where will you sleep tonight? I know of an inn nearby if you are looking for somewhere. If we’re quick, we can outrun it.’
‘No inn for me and I’m not outrunning any storm, I have to get home.’
I decided to ask one more question, one last attempt to understand this man before I picked up the pace and left him behind for good. ‘Where do you live up there? In the skies, I mean.’
He turned to me again, stopping suddenly and causing me to do the same, as much out of shock as a desire to hear his answer.
‘You want to know? I can show you, but I’d need your help.’
‘Well,’ did I want to know? I wanted to get as far away from this man as possible, but the skies? That was a place not many had travelled to, and I felt a familiar itch. ‘Yes, I suppose I do.’
He was grinning now, a wide smile that for a second I could swear had sparks of lightning flashing around it, before a distant rumble of thunder distracted me, causing me to look up, marvelling at how fast this storm had come in.
‘Don’t you worry about that, we’ll be dancing above it all soon.’ He held his hand out to me, ‘just take hold, and you’ll bring me home.’
As I reached out, I noticed that his clothes weren’t muddy. In fact, now I looked at them, they weren’t clothes at all. He was cloaked in clouds, grey and angry, and the sparks I’d witnessed dancing across his grin was lightning itself.
‘What are you?’
He never answered instead reaching across the gap to clasp my hand and wrench me off the ground. In one second I went from alive and solid to being ripped apart and tossed across the sky, thrown from cloud to cloud and smashed back to the ground in a bolt of lightning all accompanied by a roar of laughter. The storm had caught me.