There was a storm brewing outside. A cliché I know, but there really was a storm brewing, no other word for it. And even though I didn’t want to look, I was transfixed. A crack of thunder made me jump, and for a moment, I thought I saw the outline of a man in the clouds… I shivered, trying to reassure myself that it was nothing but a trick of the light, a random assortment of shadows highlighted by the lightning, forming an eerie silhouette.
Last week my sister had told me that she had met someone wonderful, someone… from another world. And not only that, he was a magical being with superhuman powers. Total bullshit of course, but my sister has always been a little wish-washy when it came to these kinds of things, so I had entertained her and nodded, watching as her face displayed surprise at my lack of concern.
‘You don’t believe me,’ she had said in her soft voice, ‘I really thought you might, I’m not lying, you know.’
‘I don’t think you’re lying. Tell me more about him.’ At this point I remember struggling not to laugh, watching as my sister leaned over the windowsill, staring at the swirling grey of an approaching storm.
She rolled her eyes. ‘Yes you do, but I’ll tell you regardless. He’s there, in that storm,’ she paused, her mouth lifting at the corner with a half-smile. I was once again blindsided by her beauty, her delicate features and glowing skin with its otherworldly translucent sheen. If anyone could be magical, it was her. The downside, she was a little crazy.
‘So, he can create storms?’
‘Come on Mont, don’t be stupid.’ And her head had tilted back, a gentle laugh fluttering from her throat. When she settled she turned to me, her expression urgent and… perplexing. ‘He’s waiting for me in the storm because that’s where the portal is to his world. He’s asked me to go with him, but I wasn’t sure. If I go, I’ll never be able to come back. But there will be other storms, so I can always make him wait.’
‘Ok… then how did he get here if you can’t return?’
My sister pursed her lips. ‘It was my fault.’
‘Yeah. You remember when we went to the lake and I got caught out in that storm when I was kayaking?’
‘I remember. You were almost hit by lightning.’ My memories of my sister’s close call were burned into my mind. The crack of thunder, her empty yellow kayak cresting high over a wave, the relief when she’d washed ashore, spluttering and spitting the dark lake water onto the pebbles of the beach.
‘I never told anyone, but when the lightning bolt hit, everything froze, the water droplets, my hair, the rain and the wind. I was in a bubble, the world shimmering and flexing around me, tendrils of lighting snaking left and right. And that’s when he found me. He told me he had heard me calling for help, crying out for him. I don’t remember that part though, I only remember drowning. He saved me and took me to shore, where you were waiting.’
My sister had finished her story, watching me with expectant eyes. All I had been thinking at that moment was my sister was crazy and I was the one who had been calling for help.
I’d coughed and nodded, scratching the right side of my head. ‘So I still don’t get why you can’t come back.’
My sister was exasperated, sighing theatrically. ‘I called for him during a storm, it was some kind of magical intersection. I mean I don’t know how it all works though OK? Its magic, it’s not supposed to be understandable. He just told me it would be highly unlikely I’d be able to come back. He told me… I was a conduit like him, the reason why he was able to hear me through the boundary between our two worlds. He said I was rare, special.’
I was exhausted by my sister’s strange story, my chest tight with embarrassment. ‘But, we went to the lake months ago, what’s he been doing all this time? Hanging out by your window?’
My sister hadn’t been impressed, and she’d squinted her eyes. ‘I’m not telling you any more, because you clearly think I’m crazy.’ And she’d stalked off in a funk, the last time I’d ever see her.
She had always been so peculiar that at the time I hadn’t seen the warning signs, couldn’t pick that she was possibly in danger. And she was. Because my sister went missing not long after and no one has seen her since.
It’s only now after the police have questioned my entire family that I understand how terrifyingly real this all is. My sister is missing, most likely murdered, her body dumped in a secluded wood or river. And the worst thing? I didn’t tell the police about my sister and how she had fallen in love with a ‘magical being’ from another world. I didn’t want them to think she was nuts. I wanted them to paint a perfect picture – how she was a beautiful, innocent and talented young lady cruelly snatched away from her loving family. It didn’t matter that I might be able to help them track down her murderer, I couldn’t let them destroy her memory or turn her into the villain of her own story. I could see the headline now: Crazy, mentally-ill girl abandons family, probably moved to Tasmania.
At night I often replay our last conversation, and when I do, I always add an ‘I love you’ to the end, hoping that wherever her soul is now resting, she knows how much I love her.
Is it possible that she was kidnapped by a maniac? Perhaps. But I knew he was more likely to have been a ghost, a figment of her imagination, my sister well and truly on her way to crazy. It’s also possible that she may have suffered a psychotic break and hit her head while walking along the river, her body sliding unheeded and unnoticed below the water. Or could she be wandering the streets right now, everyone passing her off as a homeless drug addict? Would she turn up in a few years time, unwashed and unrecognisable, nothing but skin and bones?
Where are you, Sybil? And why did you have to go and leave me here alone?
I do occasionally wonder if she was telling the truth. What if she did find a portal to a different world? What if magic is real? It’s my favourite scenario for her, that she is living right now in a brand new, exciting world filled with dragons, monsters and magic.
I sighed and looked up. The storm I was watching was angry, the clouds purple and green, a striking contrast to the blue sky overhead. It was a spectacular sight and I know for a fact people were taking photos of the building storm system, eager to send their artistic shots into the local news station so they can make the nightly news. I could see someone taking a photo across the road, a middle-aged man holding up a selfie stick. I almost giggled, it was the funniest thing I’d seen all day.
Watching the man fumble with his phone, I imagined myself doing the same thing, stepping out into the rain, waiting for the build-up of static electricity that would signal a lightning strike. Could the same strange event that happened to my sister happen to me? I shook my head and laughed. I’d have to be insane to do something like that. But still, the storm beckoned.
I’m here Monty, right here. My sister’s voice carried on the wind, my ears straining as I pretended to hear my sister calling to me. I knew she was most likely dead, her body under the ground, hidden for all time. But… she could be alive, waiting at the edge of the storm, waiting for me.
I grabbed my cap and slipped it over my ponytail, then tightened my hoodie around my neck. I didn’t really know what I was doing as I slipped down the stairs and gently pulled open the back door. The door screeched as a rumble of thunder shook the house. I waited, holding my breath. I could hear my mother chatting away on the phone in the kitchen, oblivious to my escape. I’d have to hurry, the storm was getting closer, I didn’t have much time.
A force I didn’t recognise compelled me forward and into the backyard, but I paused as I rested my hand on the back gate. It was cooler outside then I had expected, the flurries of wind brushing my hair too and fro across my face. I shrugged my shoulders against the chill and pressed on the latch of the back gate, stepping out into the laneway.
The sky grew darker as I continued forward, fat droplets of rain seeping through my thin, lightweight hoodie and onto my skin. If I’d been prepared I would have had my raincoat ready to go, but as it was, they were kept in a closet in full view of the kitchen – and therefore in view of my prying, suspicious mother.
I was almost at the park when I turned away. It was a ridiculous idea, running out into a thunderstorm with the imagined whispers of my sister’s voice lingering in my ears. What was wrong with me? Why would I put myself in harm’s way in the pursuit of an impossible reality? There was no such thing as magic and there would be no happy ending to my sister’s disappearance. Even if she had left me behind and slipped into another world, how would I ever know?
I glanced once more into the storm, my heart yearning for a sign, for anything to signal that my sister was alive. Before I could take another step a bright explosion of light blinded my eyes, a crack of thunder reverberating through my body. When I opened my eyes I was on the ground, my cap resting in a puddle a few meters away, the rain gliding freely through my hair and over my face. I was shaking as I stood up, wiping the grass and dirt from my clothes. I couldn’t see where the bolt of lightning had hit the ground. The trees were waving unharmed in the wind, the ground devoid of any strange markings. I took in a deep breath. What the hell had just happened? Was that a sign? Was my sister alive?
‘Holy shit are you OK?’
I jumped and turned around, laughing unevenly from the adrenaline when I caught sight of the middle-aged man holding the selfie stick running up toward me. He was sucking in short, gasping breaths, his eyes wide with shock.
‘Yeah.’ I smiled. ‘I think I’m OK.’ I checked over my body one more time, patting my arms and legs.
‘I thought you were a goner. I’m pretty sure you were directly under that bolt of lightning.’ He rubbed his chin, shaking his head. ‘So where’d your friend go? Did he run off?’
I blinked. ‘I’m sorry what?’
‘Your friend, where’d he go?’
‘Ah, there was no one here but me in the laneway.’ I looked around, wondering if I’d been followed. There was no one in sight.
The man shook his head. ‘I’m sure there was someone else here, standing next to you, reaching out over your head. I’m not sure I got it on camera as I was focusing on the clouds.’ The man was swiping furiously on his phone, frowning as he brought up a photo. ‘Here, look’.
I leaned over and had a look, not comprehending what I was seeing. It looked like the man had taken a photo mid-strike and it was overexposed and filled with white light. ‘I can’t really see anything.’
The man jabbed at the middle of the screen. ‘Look, you’re both right there.’
I peered closer and gasped. I hadn’t noticed it at first, but there was definitely a vague outline of two people in the middle of the photo, surrounded by a halo of white light. One was taller than the other, his arm outstretched over someone wearing a cap. Me. I stepped back and touched my hand to my heart. This was crazy, it couldn’t be real. A flurry of goose bumps rushed over my shoulders and down my arms. ‘That’s me. I think.’
The man was nodding, excited. ‘And your friend. I’ll have to send this photo in to the news outlets, it’s incredible. I’m surprised you’re not dead.’
But I couldn’t say anything more as I started to walk away. I had to get away from here, now.
‘Wait, what’s your name? They’re gonna want to know who you are, you just survived a lightning bolt!’
‘I’m sorry!’ I called back as I started running. ‘I don’t want anyone to know who I am!’
The man was saying something else but I couldn’t hear him, instead, I kept running until I could see the familiar sight of the back gate, and it was only then that I slowed down and took a few slow, deep breaths.
I went out into a storm, was almost hit by lighting, but then someone miraculously appeared, shielded me, then just as miraculously disappeared. What the hell was all that about?
My arms and legs were still tingling with adrenaline as my chest tightened with emotion. My sister hadn’t been lying. Magic was real, it had to be.
I was still leaning on the back gate, ignoring the rain trickling down my back, when I heard footsteps coming up the laneway behind me. They were slow and even, not at all like the man with the selfie stick. The sound stopped and then I heard a low, deep voice.
‘So you’re the one.’
I shivered and finally turned around, eyes widening as I caught a glimpse, of him.