Scars from the storm marred the valley. Wreckage littered fields, the lake, and the streets of the small town. Entire swaths of trees were felled, thick boughs ripped away and tossed hundreds of feet into the air. Gutters and shingles torn from rooftops scattered across neighborhoods. Shattered glass from storefront windows glittered like confetti. The flooding hardly retreated, still drowning the roads and overwhelming sewers.
Black streaks stained the sides of buildings. Several lodgepole pines were splintered and charred by lightning. Some estimated as many as sixty separate strikes hit the valley during the storm.
The townspeople never complained. They rolled up their sleeves and got to work. The hardware store passed out shovels and brooms. Every person with a truck loaned it to the town, where the beds were loaded with debris and hauled two hours to the nearest landfill. Volunteers from neighboring towns drove in to help with the cleanup.
The clinic was overwhelmed with injuries incurred during the storm. EMTs and paramedics assisted the doctor in bandaging cuts and scrapes, or splinting the few broken bones. Only one man sustained injuries severe enough warranting transportation to the hospital an hour and a half away in Rexburg. A piece of rebar had come dislodged during a violent surge of wind, and embedded itself in the man's thigh.
Zane watched the efforts to repair the damage from his perch on Chequa Peak. An outcrop of rock jutted out at an angle and ended at a point. Zane sat on the edge and let his feet dangle. The coordinated effort of hundreds of people was impressive. He'd never seen the town collaborate like this before. Despite the pain that such destruction could cause, it also managed to heal rifts and cure complacency.
For hours, Zane sat on the top of the mountain. He began his hike before the sun had risen, sneaking out before Cal woke up. It took him three hours to reach the top. Water trickled down the trail in thick ropes, run-off from the rainwater, slickening the path. The entire mountain smelled of petrichor, and the scent of pine was more pronounced. He filled his lungs with the aroma, emblazoning it in his memory. The smell of rain soothed his aching. His eyes turned skyward. The sky was bright blue, washed clean after a tumultuous squall. A few wisps of white clouds remained, like tufts of cotton.
All seemed calm. Peaceful.
"Quite the storm last night."
Zane jumped. He hadn't heard anyone approach. He turned to find an older man standing where the outcrop shot off from the mountainside. He had dark brown skin, short white hair, and small glasses pinched to the bridge of his nose. He seemed familiar somehow, but Zane was certain he wasn't from Lichten Hollow. Probably from one of the surrounding towns here to help. Zane turned back around, annoyed by the unexpected visitor interrupting the quiet.
"Yeah. Did some damage."
"You must have been pretty upset to cause a storm like that."
Zane once again turned to face the man, who was smiling pleasantly with his hands clasped behind his back. There was an odd feeling about the man, but Zane couldn't quite figure out why he was so familiar.
"To stir up such a powerful storm, you must have been very distraught."
"Do I know you?" Zane asked, eyes narrowing suspiciously.
The man's black and fathomless eyes reflected back at Zane. "You're out of practice, brother. To think it's taking you this long to recognize me."
Zane studied the man's face intently. A specter suddenly emerged from the man's body, cast over him like a soft sheet draping a corpse. Zane discerned a familiar presence from the phantom, like seeing an old friend again and recognizing the face behind the facade of age. "It's been too long since I've been on this side of the Veil. I'm sorry I didn't recognize you sooner."
The man shrugged. "It's been centuries I think since you were last here. I expected it would take you some adjustment."
"What are you calling yourself these days?"
"I go by Raja."
"Raja? That's a new one," Zane said.
"Well, the full name is Kalaraja, but it was easier to shorten it." Raja glanced past Zane and looked at the wrecked valley below. "You must have really loved her."
Zane's face turned away. "Yeah, I did."
"Everyone could feel your pain for hundreds of miles."
"It was a fleeting moment of emotion. It won't happen again."
Raja shook his head. "I am not chastising you, brother. We are allowed to feel emotions, despite what our siblings say."
"When we allow ourselves to feel emotions too deeply, Raja, it tends to change the landscape or cause catastrophes."
"Yes, but bottling it all up can make it worse. It's all about the balance."
"Is your old age making you wiser? Doesn't look like you have many years left," Zane mentioned while observing the wrinkles in Raja's face and the weathering of age cloaking his body.
"Yes, this old body won't last much longer. It's unfortunate. I rather liked this life."
The pair watched a golden eagle soar just overhead, gliding gracefully along a swift current of air. The silence between them deepened, filled by the sound of rustling leaves and pine needles. Faint echoes from the commotion in town reached them up on the top of the mountain. Zane stirred uncomfortably on his perch. He wasn't sure what to say. The void between them seemed as large as the gap in years betwen the time they last saw each other.
"Are you in contact with any of the others?" Zane asked after waiting for Raja to say something.
Raja shook his head solemnly. "No, sadly. Our siblings are very solitary creatures. I have, for the most part, kept track of them, but they made it clear they do not want communication." Zane could feel the sorrow in his voice and his pained expression.
"I wouldn't mind the occassional correspondence, or even meeting now and again," Zane responded truthfully. Despite the centuries that had passed since he last lived on the mortal side of the Veil, Zane knew how lonely this life could get. That pain for Raja could only be magnified tenfold.
Raja's face lit up. "I would like that." The old man dug into his pockets and pulled out a small slip of paper and a pen. He began scribbling on it and soon after walked it over to Zane on the edge of the rock without a care.
Zane turned the paper over in his hand. On it, Raja had written down a phone number and an address. Next, Raja pulled out an old flip phone, the kind that no one manufactured anymore and were used as throw-away phones. He handed it to Zane.
"What's this?" Zane asked, looking at the antiquated device.
"That would be a phone. They are wonderful devices that humans have invented since the last time you were here."
Zane rolled his eyes. "I know what a phone is, but why are you giving me one?"
"It's so you can call me. I have several. I noticed you don't have one of your own," Raja said.
It was true. Elmer and Marla never let Zane have a phone, telling him he had to wait until he was sixteen. Even though it was an old flip-phone, the kind you had to hit a button several times to get the letter you want if you were texting someone, Zane secretly got excited. He immediately flipped it open and entered Raja's number and address into his contacts.
"You live in Idaho?" Zane asked after shutting the phone and stuffing it in his pocket.
"A small town, not unlike Lichten Hollow. In the shade of the Tetons, massive peaks like the teeth of a shark. It is only a couple hours from here."
"That makes visits a lot easier. Especially when I can get my driver's license."
"If you need anything, let me know. I have to return home, but I will visit again."
Zane hopped to his feet and followed Raja back to the trail. "Leaving already? You just got here."
Raja smiled, the crinkles in the corners of his eyes deepening. "I have a cat at home that will begin ripping holes in my rugs if he's stuck indoors for too long."
"You got a cat? Times certainly have changed." Zane grinned.
Raja nodded and waved before turning and walking away. Zane watched the old man shuffle down the steep trail until it bent and Raja disappeared. The world no longer felt so hollow. A breeze swept over the mountain, filled with a slight electrical charge.
About the author
I love storytelling and the transformative process it brings for both readers and writers. I hope my stories have that same effect.
Check out my Instagram page- @vunderwrites.
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