It’s not quite as simple as that, of course. Nothing ever is. There’s an afternoon of mapmaking, a series of bizarre plans invented and discarded, and a bunch of texts to Brian. I don’t feel great about dragging him into danger, but he seems fine with it, and I’m pretty sure that when we find the storm guy, he’s gonna be focused on me. Besides which, my plan to find him calls for driving in an expanding spiral starting from roughly where I’ve figured the storm’s center to be, and there’s really no way I can do that without a driver. It would take way too long on foot, and I’m pretty sure there’s no “spiraling outward” bus route in the city. Convenient though it would be in this case, I think it would be a hard sell in general. “Do you need to get one block away in the least efficient manner possible? Is walking just too fast for you? Try the spiral route!”
Anyway, even if the storm guy does go after him, cars are basically big Faraday cages, plus I could probably catch the lightning if I were near enough. And it’s not like there’s likely to be enough water to flood the car, or enough wind to flip it, so it’s basically safe. I recognize that I’m rationalizing a decision that I’ve clearly already made in order to make myself feel better about it, but like I said: I really need a car for this.
When Brian shows up that evening, it’s pretty clear that I couldn’t have kept him away, even if I’d wanted to. His eyes practically sparkle when I answer the door, and he’s all but hopping from foot to foot.
“All right, man, you ready to go? Let’s go find this guy!”
I eye him skeptically. Brian is wearing a big yellow raincoat, orange rain boots, a floppy green rain hat and a pair of thick black elbow-length rubber gloves. “You look like a mad scientist who dressed up like his grandmother for Halloween,” I tell him.
Brian scoffs. “Sorry for my fashion sense, but we’re not all proof against lightning, you know? And this is what my roommates and I had in the house that was rubber.”
As I’m putting my crutches into the car, I say, “I’m not sure if I want a sidekick who looks like that.”
“Sidekick?” Brian exclaims. “No way! I’m like your handler, if anything. I get you where you need to go and point you at the target.”
“Sorry, not my sidekick, then. My chauffeur.”
“I’m gonna sidekick you right out of this car if you don’t start showing some respect.”
“Very sorry, oh floppy-hatted one.”
Downtown, our jokes fade away, and as we reach the point I’ve marked as the center, Brian asks, “So what are you gonna do when you find him?”
“I don’t know,” I admit, rolling down the window enough to put my hand out. “I’m gonna try to talk him down, I guess. Assuming he’s not hairy and roaring like the other guys.”
“And if he won’t listen?”
“Then I tackle him. I am a security guard, you know.”
“Yeah? When’s the last time you were in a fight?”
“I train! Sometimes. I have a gym membership. Hsst!”
That last noise is because the hairs on my arm have begun to stand up. I wave my hand frantically at Brian as I roll the window back up. “Stop, stop!”
He obligingly slides the car over to the curb, and I open the door into driving rain. “Stay in the car,” I tell him as I’m retrieving my crutches. “No heroics. I can do this. This guy can call lightning, and I don’t want you anywhere near that.”
Brian raises both hands. “I’m staying! Who wants to be out in that rain, anyway?”
I can still feel that electric charge in the air, stronger now that I’m out of the car. I look around, trying to pinpoint the source, but the rain is pelting me in the face, making it hard to see. I lean back into the car.
“Hey, can I borrow your hat?”
Brian grins widely, takes his floppy green hat off of his head and looks at me in mock surprise. “My grandmother’s hat?”
“Shut up. I can’t see out here.”
“I just don’t know if I want a minion who would wear a hat like that,” he says doubtfully.
“Give me the hat!” I growl, and he hands it over, laughing. I jam it onto my head, slam the door harder than is necessary, and make my way through the river that the sidewalk has become. The air around me is charged with potential, and I’m focusing hard on rubber thoughts to keep the lightning from targeting me.
I can feel it almost like a living thing, like something unseen watching me. The guy causing this has to be nearby, but it’s hard to pinpoint a direction. I wander maybe half a block away from the car, trying to feel for changes, but it’s surrounding me, and I can’t follow it to its source. I close my eyes to see if removing the distraction of one sense helps, and I immediately hear a “ding!”, as if I am a cartoon character who’s just had a good idea.
Confused, I open my eyes to see a woman emerging from a convenience store across the street, the automatic doors sliding shut behind her. She’s heading across the street towards me, so I step aside to let her get to her car. She moves her path to keep straight at me, though, and as she gets closer, I can see that she’s angry. Not just angry: furious.
“You!” she hisses. Her hands are clenched into fists at her sides, and there’s murder in her eyes. I attempt to back away, a maneuver not well suited to crutches.
“Sorry, do I know you?” I ask.
She ignores my question and continues to approach. My back hits a wall and I raise a crutch to keep her at bay, but she stops right at its tip and levels an accusatory finger at me. “You come here and infect me with your presence? Do you have any idea what you feel like, what it’s like to be near you? You’re a wound, an abscess, a pustulant hole oozing rot and maggots. You are wrong, you are filthy! It’s bad enough from half the city away, but you come here? To rub my face in your filth?”
She’s screaming now, pressing me back into the wall by the crutch, leaning into it like she’s forgotten it’s there and she’s just trying to walk through it to get her hands on me — and I still have no idea who she is or what she’s talking about. I can’t even get a good look at her face through the rain, which is coming down hard enough to hurt now, and the sense of energy is crawling all around me like a physical force.
Finally, it hits me, much later than it should have. “You’re the guy!” I say, interrupting her rant. “You’re the storm guy!”
She glares at me, the pure hatred clear even through the cascading rain. “You are FILTH!” she shouts. “And I am going to wash you away!”
Every hair on my body stands up, and abruptly I realize that no amount of rubber thinking is going to stop this bolt from finding me.