She thought at first it was lightning. Green lightning, which struck her as odd. The flash was so bright it blinded her for a moment. Instinctively she cringed for the crack, and thought it also odd when there was none. No acrid ozone odor. Staring at the ground she counted, one one-thousand, two...and when, after reaching five seconds she heard no rumble, thought it even odder. Lightning with no sound? Heat lightning, maybe. But this seemed so close, not like the silent sheets that blink along the horizon, meaning nothing she ever knew. But it sure had been hot enough all day. Maybe this was heat lightning up close.
They had hoped to beat the storm forecast for around midnight. Figured they'd have a couple hours of dark before the rain at least to scan the place so they could leave a marker if they found anything. They brought the rods and shovels in case they got a good reading soon enough. And if Chip showed up in time. His text just said “rnng lat,” as usual.
She raised her head and peered at the distant sky. Dazzle lingering from the green flash crowded her vision as she swept her eyes across the expanse above the black treeline. She saw no obvious storm clouds but assumed there was something covering the moon and most of the stars. A whimsical breeze tickled the perspiration on her skin yet gave no sign of steadying to herald a change in weather. The air was hot, sodden and rank with gamy marsh smells.
A faint electronic sound brought her gaze back down. It must be the Fisher's, although they were supposed to keep the sound off and rely solely on the LCD screen. She had stopped when the green flash blinded her. Tyrone must have kept going. She saw his bulky form now nearing the center of the little island. He was crouching, a ghostlike sheen on his face from the screen.
She saw another green flash, not as bright as the first one. Definitely not atmospheric, unless it was some kind of ball lightning. But it wasn't bouncing. Like the first one it merely flashed and went out. It seemed to be near the ground, from beyond the creek bank. She heard Tyrone. One word, the odd way he always pronounced her name. Kit-tay. They weren't supposed to talk. At all. This worried her, and there was something in his voice that sounded different. Kind of sad. She moved toward him, cautiously, following the trail of flattened reeds and Johnson grass he'd made. She stifled a laugh as the words giant feet popped into her head. It's what she called them, and he always laughed then. Laughed in his deep Jamaican musical voice and shook his dreadlocks back and forth so his head looked like a hula dancer, his teeth flashing behind stretched lips, and he always said Kit-tay.
He was on his knees when she reached him, the palm of one hand on his forehead and his other arm draped over the coil bar. He'd laid the detector beside him on the ground. He was straining to breathe, and she saw his shoulders jump with each gasp. “Ty,” she said softly and reached toward him. The moon appeared briefly then, and she saw something glisten on the back of his head through the dreads, and then she saw it was on his neck, too. She touched his neck and felt something wet, and looked at her fingers and saw whatever it was was dark and smelled oddly familiar, and then she knew it was blood.
She heard what sounded like a splash behind her, and swiveled abruptly, thinking it must be Chip. She stared into the darkness, saw nothing moving. She waited for more sounds. Chip would be coming across on the surfboard he kept strapped to the top of his SUV. He'd be arriving in time to help get Ty back to the skiff. She waited, expecting Chip's tousled head to appear above the reeds. She focused her hearing for more splashes, but there was only the cacophony of frogs. Funny she hadn't noticed them until now. She remembered Ty talking about his tinnitus, like a constant chorus of locusts, he'd said. Drive him crazy, he said, if he couldn't ignore it. Heard it only when he remembered. She tried to ignore the frogs.
Her mind swirled with questions circling around what happened to Ty. They had come tonight for his sake. He was due back at M.I.T. on Monday. They'd been planning “the project” all summer, and with one thing or another holding them up it had come down to this weekend. Now or never, Chip had said, although Ty argued, in his easy way, they could always do it when he came home for semester break.
What happened to him? What caused the blood? Where the hell was Chip? She moved up and knelt beside Ty, leaning around so she could see his face. “Hey,” she whispered, reaching up and placing her fingers on his. “What's wrong, Ty?” His hand was still pressed against his face. His breathing was getting noisy, torso twitching. That's when she saw the third green flash. Much closer this time. Lit everything up. Blinding. Blinding. Terrible headache. Awful. Frogs laughing now. All around. Head hurts so. So bad. Never never anything this bad burning all over face all over what the fu...