Instinctively, I try to back up, but the brick wall behind my back is unyielding. It’s unyielding when I push against it, anyway; when the lightning hits me a split second later, it yields just fine, shards of brick exploding outward in a stinging shrapnel cloud. The concrete under my feet crackles, too, and I’m briefly enveloped in a painful flash of steam, but despite all of this I feel triumphant. I did it! I conducted the lightning without being hurt by it!
Across from me, the storm lady is gaping. The rain mats the brick dust thickly onto her, giving her blonde hair the world’s shoddiest dye job. Rivulets of mud run down her face as she points her finger at me again. “Impossible!” she howls, and I shrug, grinning.
“Well, it’s only –”
My witty retort is drowned in a deafening crack of thunder as another bolt of lightning strikes me, and then another. I push myself off the wall, scowling.
“Would you just–”
Another bolt strikes me, and I’m starting to get scalded from the repeated steam clouds. She’s shouting incoherently at me, and I yell over her, “I’m trying to –”
I’m zapped again, and this time, instead of letting it course through me and into the ground, I thrust my hands out towards her and push the lightning forward. “KNOCK IT OFF!” I bellow, and the bolt knocks her off of her feet and sends her skidding on her back across the asphalt.
For a second, I’m horrified, but she’s already sitting up before I can take even a single hobbling step towards her. Relief washes over me, but it carries with it a foul taste of guilt. I just blasted a lethal amount of electricity at another human being. One who was trying to kill me, admittedly, but I didn’t do it out of desperation or because I was backed into a corner. She wasn’t in danger of harming me. I was just sort of annoyed. I lashed out like a toddler throwing a tantrum because she wouldn’t let me talk to her, except that I did it with deadly force. Not that it killed her, or even hurt her particularly, but I didn’t know that when I swatted her with it. I didn’t think about it at all. I just reacted, and I’m lucky she’s not dead.
I’m feeling repentant, but clearly, the feeling is not mutual. She’s sitting up in the street now, propped up on her elbows in the sluicing water, hurling invective at me as I limp over to see if she’s okay.
“Don’t you come near me, you canker! You pus-bucket!” She’s scrabbling backwards as I approach, keeping the distance steady between us. It’s not that hard to do, since I’ve lost my crutches somewhere in the crescendo of lightning strikes, so I’m not advancing with any particular speed.
“Would you please listen?” I ask her, exasperated. “Why do you have such a problem with me?”
She sneers up at me. “Don’t even talk to me, you unnatural freak.”
This surprises a laugh out of me. “Says the woman who’s calling down lightning!”
“You deserve to be struck down! Nasty festering sore on the city!”
I’ve never felt hate like this from anyone before. It’s clear that she’s got it in for me just as much as Caraway or Lovell did; the technique is different, but the goal is the same. She’s spitting her words like weapons, and they’re starting to hurt. It’s clear that I’m not going to get through to her by pleading my own case.
“What about everyone else around here? The people who are losing their cars? Their homes? Their lives in your storm?”
That one lands. She stops her tirade mid-word, stops scooting backwards and stares up at me — still with vicious hatred in her eyes, but at least we’ve opened a channel of discussion. I see a flicker of uncertainty, and I press my advantage as I continue walking towards her.
“If you have a problem with me, then let’s talk about it, but let go of the storm. Stop hurting everyone else.”
“Oh, don’t you dare. Don’t you dare turn this back on me. You don’t get to play the good guy here. You don’t get to make me the villain. I’ll end the storm when I end you. If you’re so worried about everyone else, then just lie down and take it.”
“Your lightning doesn’t work on me,” I point out. “What are you going to do, dampen me to death?”
Her leg shoots out, whisper-quick, and kicks me squarely in the shin of my good leg. Pain spikes up it and I instinctively pull my leg away, leaving me briefly balanced on my cast, before I topple heavily over into the street. I land on my right side, and she vaults over me, rams a knee into my back and shoves me onto my stomach. Clenching her fists in my hair, her nails dragging into my scalp, she kneels on my back and starts slamming my face into the asphalt over and over.
She’s probably half a foot shorter than me and might not even weigh half of what I do, but I’m totally helpless in the face of her onslaught. The stars exploding across my vision every time my forehead meets the ground are shattering any thoughts I try to assemble, my nose is a burning torch of pain in the center of my face, and I’m breathing in the running water in the street about as often as I’m breathing in air. I can’t coordinate my arms to lift myself up or roll myself over, and all I can think is, I’m going to die right now.
Suddenly, I’m dazzled with light, and it takes me a moment to realize that it’s external, and not just another blow to the head. I twist my head to see the twin beams of a car’s headlights bearing down on us, preparing to run us both over. It’s Brian behind the wheel, playing a game of chicken with the stormraiser to try to force her off of me.
Instead of jumping for safety, though, she just glares and a bolt of lightning slashes down from the sky, blasting the car. The headlights flare brightly and shut off, as does the car’s engine, but the car’s still rolling and I can see that she’s about to send another bolt.
In a wild effort to break her concentration, I summon up all the anger I can and attract every bit of ferrous metal I can reach. This has a dual effect; it calls a cloud of all the tiny bits of metal that litter a street towards me, all of the bits of disregarded detritus, pelting both me and the stormraiser with a stinging cloud of metal. She yelps and flails her arms, an automatic attempt to shake off whatever’s attacking her.
At the same time, my magnetic summons also attempts to pull Brian’s car to me. Since it outweighs me by an order of magnitude, what I actually do is haul myself harshly across the asphalt towards the car, with the stormraiser on my back coming along for the ride. I hear the brakes squeal as Brian stomps on them, and I magnetically pin myself to the car’s bumper as it skids to a stop.
The stormraiser rolls free and climbs to her feet, slightly unsteadily. She points a hand at me and opens her mouth, but before she can say anything, another set of headlights spears out of the darkness, traveling towards us, and this one is accompanied by the pulsing blue of police lights.
She narrows her eyes at me. “This isn’t over,” she hisses, and darts off down an alleyway. I know I should probably chase her, but the most I can manage right now is to roll onto my back and watch her go.
The blue lights of the police car wash over me as Brian gets out and hurries over to my side. “Are you all right, man?” he asks, but before I can answer, I’m interrupted by a familiar voice.
“What happened here?” asks Officer Peterson, stepping out of the police car and surveying the scene.
“It’s not what it looks like,” I say, levering myself painfully to my feet. “He didn’t hit me with the car.”
I see Peterson taking in the shattered brick wall and the scorch marks on top of Brian’s car, my discarded crutches on the sidewalk and the stupid floppy green hat lying ten feet away in the road. His gaze returns to me.
“How about you come back to the station with me and tell me what did happen?”
“Am I under arrest?”
“Don’t make me answer that right now, please. Just come back to the station and we’ll talk.”