My family think I have my head in the clouds. For years I have rebelled and protested against their assumptions, refusing to be painted into a box of their choosing. Funny thing is, they’re right, I do have my head in the clouds. It’s even possible that I might be crazy, or at least, fairly stupid.
I was never as sensible and down to earth as my younger sister, Monty. While she was studying algebra and science and getting into existential debates with our dad, I would be out hiking with my friends in the dark, racing to catch the sunrise over the valley. During those still and silent moments before the light broke out over the mountain, I would picture other worlds, places were fantasy and magic were intertwined with everyday life. I wanted magic to be real more than anything in the world but knew it could never be so.
Until I met him.
Everything started a few months ago when we were staying at our lake house. Our family prefers to visit in late spring when the lake water is still cold enough that most of the tourists stay away. We prefer it that way, to enjoy the lake and the surrounding forest in relative peace and quiet with the rest of the long-staying locals
It probably wasn’t a good idea, going out into the middle of the lake before a storm. But Monty and I thought we could kayak to the other side of the lake and back in under two hours. My sister had never been that athletic, but we both underestimated how difficult she would find the distance. She gave up on the way back, telling me that her arms were burning and that she couldn’t breathe. I pleaded with her to keep going, but she was stubborn, tears mixing with the rain splattering down her face.
I didn’t feel sorry for her as I screamed at her to keep going, the fear evident in both our faces when the lightning started streaking across the sky. Couldn’t she see that we were in danger? I’ve never seen the lake move and swell like it did that day. A boat careened past us at one point, far too close for comfort – probably couldn’t see us in the gloom and through the rain bouncing off the surface. The wake tipped my kayak over completely. I remember hanging submerged under the water, thinking wow, this is how I’m going to die. Then I reached up to tug my body from the stricken kayak, and I broke through the surface, sucking in a lungful of lake water. But I was struggling, I couldn’t keep myself afloat, not for long anyway.
I heard a crack of thunder, and one moment I could hear Monty screaming my name and the roar of the rain, and the next, silence. I looked up to see I was in a bubble, the world shimmering and flexing around me, tendrils of lightning snaking left and right. Everything moving in slow motion, as if frozen. Then I gave up and slipped beneath the surface, until I felt his hand grab my arm and yank me upwards, back into the world and into this new, extraordinary life.
One thing I knew was that it was impossible that he should be out there in the exact spot where I was drowning. I had seen no sight of a boat or kayak or paddleboard in our vicinity, we might have called for help otherwise. The only conclusion I could come to was that he was swimming in the lake, a suicidal idea considering the number of boats around.
My memory of his rescue is patchy at best. I don’t remember his face, only the colour of his hair and the majestic sight of his arms – enveloped in threads of electricity. I also remembered, like a dream, the words he had whispered to me… you’ll be safe now. I promise I’ll come back and find you one day.
And that one day came sooner than expected. I met him by the shore later that week when a group of young adults, friends I’d made over the years, were having a fire down by the shoreline, the flames flickering and drawing everyone out of their homes and down to the beach. My sister never joined the parties, even though she was only a couple of years younger than me. She thought drinking alcohol was ‘irresponsible and ‘frivolous.’ Got to give it to her, that girl has a way with words.
They introduced me to ‘the new guy’ and despite the shadowy light of the flames, I knew exactly who he was. He was the one I’d been searching for my entire life.
‘It’s you, isn’t it?’ I said, almost breathless as I sat down beside him. He nodded, just once, and my skin prickled in response. This was him, the one who had saved me out on the water. Even though I didn’t get a glimpse of his face while we were out on the lake, there was no denying the similarities. The midnight clothes, the black hair, the tall, strong body. His eyes were magnetic, drawing me in, and I pictured an electrical current running under his skin, the same one I’d seen dancing over his arms in the water. Could he really control electricity? Where was he from? Another world or from this one?
I remained tight-lipped in front of the others, not wanting to ruin the moment and force him to answer questions he might find impossible in such company. We didn’t speak much as we sat next to each other, the light from the fire dancing across our faces. But we didn’t need too. His hand reached across the distance between us and held mine with a warm, gentle grip, all the communication we needed.
Towards the end of the night, I mentioned that I lived in the city and he replied that he would come and find me. I whispered to him my address and he nodded, as if he already knew, his smile wide, teeth glowing in the darkness. At one point he leaned down to me and I felt his firm, perfect lips pressing against mine, my stomach muscles clenching with adrenaline – and a spark of desire. Then someone passed me a bottle of liquor and soon I was swooning in his arms, all the while knowing that I was safe there, with him.
I woke up early that morning wrapped in his arms by the dying fire, the sleeping bodies of my friends lying close by. I didn’t want to leave him, couldn’t imagine a world without him in it, not anymore.
‘I have to go.’ I said, watching him stir, inspecting his dark, foreign-looking face in the weak light of dawn. He was breathtaking.
‘Don’t worry, we’ll see each other again, in the city.’ He said, pulling me to him so he could kiss me.
And we did see each other, many times. He didn’t have a phone, said ‘he didn’t believe in them’, but then I didn’t expect a magical being to be in possession of one. Even though I couldn’t get in contact with him, he always seemed to know when I needed him. He would often come knocking when I was alone at home, daydreaming and pining for his warm kisses. Sometimes we arranged to meet in the hills behind my house, bonding as we witnessed sunset after spectacular sunset.
We didn’t talk about who or what he was, or where he was really from. We talked in metaphors and in shared feelings, laughing at each other as we took his converted kombi out into the wilderness, spending countless days hiking in the mountains or swimming in hidden waterholes, known only to the keenest of explorers. He told me a well-constructed cover story. His name was Theo and he was travelling around the country after being kicked out of home by his parents. Back in the day, he’d been a user, and was now trying to live a ‘better life’, one in tune with nature and filled with respect for other living things. His thoughts and ideas were so otherworldly, that I just knew who he was. Could tell he was not from this world. I mean, he was a vegan.
My parents didn’t notice my absences. I lied and told them I was hanging out with my friend Ashley, who was more than happy to cover for me, having been present at the lake when I’d met him for the second time. She too had swooned for the newcomer, and while she was jealous, she was kind enough to be happy for me. I was luckier than most. The only thing my parents really cared about was that I was passing college – which I was, with flying colours, thanks to Monty. That I was spending huge amounts of time away from home wasn’t really their concern.
One day, while sitting by a campfire, staring into the flames, Theo told me he wanted me to go with him, to head out-of-state and into the wilderness. He said there would probably be no coming back to my hometown… but that as long as we had each other, everything would work out okay. I’d known, even then, what he really meant. He wanted me to go with him, to his world, wherever it was. I was nervous at the thought of leaving my family behind, but then I had my huge fight with Monty and I came to the realisation of how small-minded they all were. And so I knew I would leave them behind forever, to forge a new life with the man I loved.
A large storm was gathering on the horizon, and I eagerly left my house to meet up with Theo, my heart bursting with happiness and my shoulder weighed down by the small bag I carried. He was waiting for me in his kombi, his smile so eager and genuine that I jumped into the front seat without a second thought.
We drove through the night, the wind and rain lashing the windscreen, but the inside of the van remained warm and serene. I wasn’t exactly sure where we were going, I could only hope that it was close by.
‘So, how do we get there?’
Theo laughed and pursed his lips. ‘Ah, by kombi?’
‘Really? Is this like a magical kombi by any chance?’
Theo was laughing harder at this stage, his eyes glittering. ‘God, you really crack me up sometimes.’
I tried to laugh with him, but my stomach gurgled, twisting with nerves. Something felt wrong, off. Theo was on edge, his knuckles clutching the steering wheel tighter than normal. I thought by now the trick would be up and he’d be confessing the truth, telling me about his powers and that we were going to his world. But if he could control storms, why wasn’t he telling this one to be quiet so we could get on our way quicker? Was there some mountain we had to climb in order to get better access to the electricity? A specific peak with special access to the portal?
We were passing through a border town when I asked him to pull over down a side street next to a gas station. A flash of lightning illuminated the space around us and he jumped, lines of concern pressed into his brow.
And that’s when I realised the truth.
‘You’re not him, are you? You’re not the guy who saved me at the lake.’
‘I saved you at the lake? That’s nice.’ His eyes brightened in the darkness of the van, yet my stomach did nothing but dive.
‘No, in the lake when I was drowning during that huge storm. You rescued me and dragged me to shore. Didn’t you?’ My voice was getting louder, and more high-pitched. I was nervous, skittish. Who was he, if not the one who had saved me that day?
He turned his head away and I could no longer see his eyes. He was looking up and down the street. Checking to see if there would be any witnesses to whatever it was he had planned for me?
He finally turned back to me and pulled me into his arms. ‘I met you at the bonfire by the lake. What the hell were you smoking that day?’
I shook my head, frowning. ‘But… don’t you remember the water? Don’t you remember when I was kayaking in the storm with my sister? You pulled me to shore. You were real, I know you were. There was electricity bouncing all over your skin, it was like… you were the storm.’
He blinked once, then twice more. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ He was tilting his head, his turn to frown. I could hear his concern; his voice was dripping with it.
‘Who are you?’ I said, my hands trembling as I pulled away from him.
‘What do you mean?’ He was shaking his head, a laugh catching in his throat as he wiped his mouth.
‘I don’t even know you, not really.’
‘Yes, you do. It’s just me, Theo. I know we’ve only been hanging out for a few months, but you probably know me better than anyone. You weren’t what I first thought… but still… somewhere along the line, I fell in love with you.’ He paused, looking at me as I blushed, ‘and if this whole interstate trip is freaking you out, we can turn back now, no harm done. But you’re not getting away from me, not ever.’
I swallowed, my tongue thick and heavy in my throat. ‘But you’re not him, you’re not the one who rescued me at the lake.’
Theo sighed. ‘Does it really matter so much? That I’m not this “mystery guy” who saved you?’
I pursed my lips, looking at the passenger side door. ‘No it doesn’t… I just…’ I took a deep breath, running my hand through my hair, ‘I’m sorry.’
Theo shrugged. ‘Don’t worry about it, we’re both tired. We’ll feel better once we get to our first camping spot, you’ll love it.’
I nodded in reply, dipping my head to hide my expression. ‘I just wanted to use the restroom at the station. Do you want any food?’
Theo was inspecting my face with a calculated look. Why had I never noticed this about him before? He was pretending to be relaxed, but I could see behind his eyes that he was watching me and that he was worried. After what felt like a long second, he leant back and smiled. ‘No, I’m good. Take your time.’
I attempted a smile and slipped through the passenger door, slamming it behind me. Now I just had to figure out how to get away. Theo could see the front door of the gas station from where he’d parked the kombi, but perhaps there was a back entrance I could sneak out of.
I was stepping through the front door of the station when I realised I’d left my phone in my bag. How was I going to call home for help without a phone? I could always plead to the gas station owner that I’d been kidnapped, but what if Theo turned dangerous? He could own a gun for all I knew. His love did seem genuine, but how was I to know?
The gas station owner only raised his eyes to briefly check me out as I placed a bottle of water on the counter and asked if I could use the bathroom. He passed me the key and turned back to his magazine, engrossed. That’s when I took my chance, heading for the red door I could see at the back of the room. I slipped through quietly, grateful to see that the door was open as if waiting for me.
The back entrance led through to a long corridor and back office, boxes and piles of merchandise leaning against the wall. Outside, the staff carpark was gloomy from the drizzling rain, lit by a solitary bulb blinking at the back door. I swivelled my head, catching sight of a side street. And that’s when I ran. I ran faster than I ever had before, ducking into a little alleyway and hiding behind a large metal recyclable, holding my breath as I waited.
It must have been 20 minutes later when I saw Theo moving down the street, calling my name into the blackness of the night, never to get an answer. My chest was heavy with shame and humiliation. I breathed in deeply, tears gathering in the corner of my eyes. What the hell was I doing running off into the night during a storm in an unknown town? On top of that, what the hell was I thinking running off with some guy I barely knew? I should have told my parents where I was going instead of leaving in the middle of the night. And what of Monty? Was she worried about me too?
I stepped back out into the street, trembling against the wind soaking my skin through my thin cardigan. Theo had done nothing to hurt me. He had only ever looked after me. I thought over all those quiet, special moments we’d shared, the way he would smile at me and pull me close. I was throwing it all away simply because I thought he wasn’t the one who’d saved me at the lake. But… he loved me, so what the hell was I doing!?
‘Theo? Are you there?’
I heard the scuff of a shoe and I swung around. Standing there, in the darkness, was a middle-aged man. He was wearing a long, dark coat and was holding a black umbrella. Everything about him screamed suburban dad.
‘Are you okay miss? Has something happened to you?’
My bottom lip trembled. ‘No, I think I’m fine… thank you though.’
The man’s eyes creased in thought. ‘Is there somewhere I can take you? The police station maybe?’
‘Actually… maybe you could point me in the direction of the gas station? I got a little turned around in the dark.’
He nodded. ‘If you want, you could just step into my car and I can drive you there, you don’t even have a coat on.’
I could hear a loud pounding in my ears, a trickle of sweat sliding down my back. ‘Actually, I’m OK thanks, I can probably find my own way there.’ I went to step away when he reached out and grabbed my arm.
‘I don’t think you’re going anywhere, miss.’ He said, clenching tighter.
‘Let me go or I’ll scream.’ But my voice was a whisper, and I didn’t even know if I could cry out for help.
‘If you do that, you’ll die. I can promise you that.’ As he spoke, a spark of brilliant blue light leapt through the air from his hand to mine. It danced there on the surface of my skin, so mesmerising I could only stare. When the blue spark sunk into my hand, I felt an explosion of pain in my skull so intense that I fell to the ground.
When I came too I was lying on the footpath, my face turned up to the heavens, the rain blurring my sight as I tried to scream. There were now two people standing over me. The middle-aged man had been joined by a woman, her black hair streaked with white. But they weren’t looking at me. They were glaring at someone standing in the shadows about twenty feet away. I squinted through the blur, my chest flooding with relief when I saw who it was. Theo! He was here!
‘Let her go.’ Theo’s voice was deep and low, his face radiating with a blue glow, thin white threads of light snapping against his face. He couldn’t possibly be…?
‘You know the rules as well as anyone. We’re taking her with us, but you my friend, aren’t going anywhere.’
‘She doesn’t know anything.’
‘Yes she does, we heard her talking about you to her sister. She knows exactly what you are, exactly what we are.’
‘You’re not taking her.’ Theo threw his arm up, his palm emitting a bolt of lightning so brilliant that it filled my sight and forced me to look away. When I looked back I could see that the woman and the middle-aged man also had their arms extended, their hands holding the light that Theo had tried to throw at them. Together they forced the bolt into the sky, where it exploded with a harmless crack.
‘You know you can’t beat us, not on your own.’ The man said, grabbing my arm and pulling me up to stand next to him, pressing one of his glowing blue hands to my neck.
‘Wait, don’t hurt her. Please.’ Theo was on the ground at this point, gasping for breath as he caught my eye. Never before in my life had I been filled with such regret. How could I have been so wrong about everything? How could I have made such a huge mistake? When I looked at Theo, all I could see was the pain in his eyes. He couldn’t save me, not this time.