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The Lightning Letter

The Lightning Letter

Riley

Sailing+ship+obscured+in+a+thick+fog.
JAMES P. BLAIR/ National Geograp
Sailing ship obscured in a thick fog.

“Wake up. Wake up, boy, wake up.” Riley groaned as he was shaken from his slumber. It was 11:34pm on a cool November night. 

Rain pattered against the window, a steady rhythm. Standing over him was a man dressed in a stone-blue raincoat, his face almost entirely hidden by the raised hood. 

“It’s time to go,” the man said. 

Riley rose, wiping his pale tear-stained cheeks. 

“Get dressed and be downstairs in five minutes,” the man ordered and left.

Alone, Riley gazed around his bedroom. Images and visions of the past danced in his head. His best memories were created in this room, in this house—the only home he’d ever known. He moved towards the bookshelf in the back corner of his room. The case was filled with stories his mother used to read to him. Ones about kings and knights. Towns being attacked by monsters. 

Tonight, he felt like one of those helpless townspeople.

He was seven years old when his parents died on Star Fall. Sometimes, he can still see those tiny balls of light shooting across the sky and falling to the earth. They blasted everything in their wake. The sound of wailing and screams of pure terror rang through the air like a sadistic symphony. He watched the great explosions from his bedroom window. Powerful buildings were reduced to ashes in the blink of his eye.

“Riley!” The little boy whipped his head at the call of his name. 

He was supposed to be downstairs minutes ago and he wasn’t even dressed yet. Riley hastily grabbed a book from the middle shelf and hurriedly threw a shirt and pants on. As he exited his room stopped and took one last look. 

“Goodbye.” 

Downstairs the man had the front door cracked as he peered into the silent night. 

“Captain Frank,” Riley called, bringing the man’s attention to him. 

The captain shut the door, whipped his head, and sat his dark, pressing gaze on Riley. 

“Are you packed?” He asked. 

Riley nodded his head and picked up a bag that leaned against the wall. 

“Put your coat on,” Captain Frank ordered. 

Riley did as he was told and grabbed a raincoat that was thrown over the couch in the small sitting room area. 

The man put his hand on the doorknob and said, “Remember what I told you? If we get caught…” 

“…we die.” Riley finished. The man gave him a grim nod and opened the door.

__________

It was like walking through a graveyard. The breeze performed a mocking ballad of sorrow and decay as it danced among the mountains of rubble. Dark crimson stained the exteriors of the once beautiful townhomes. 

They stepped carefully around the rubbles and shards of glass that littered the streets and sidewalks of Hunnington Bay. Riley noticed a familiar half-destroyed house to his right. It was the home of Mrs. Bauer. 

Every Sunday, he went with his mother and picked a freshly made cake for dessert. Sometimes, he left with a cookie that would magically appear in his jacket pocket. The edges of Riley’s lips lifted slightly at the memory and then quickly dipped. 

He would never get to visit Mrs. Bauer again. He would never get to taste her wonderful cakes again.  He would never eat a Sunday supper with his parents again. He might never return home again, not that he had anything to return to. 

As the pair neared the end of the street, the scent of liquor punched them both in the face. Riley winced and his nose crinkled as they approached three peacekeepers passed out by a storm drain. One of them held a beer bottle in each of his hands. The others were surrounded by shattered pieces of glass that used to hold the brown liquid. Captain Frank loosed a breath. 

“They’re blacked out,” he said in a low voice, ensuring only Riley would hear him. 

They continued out of the neighborhood and crossed the puddled cobblestone street. 

Of all the places in the country, Hunnington Bay was the only part left untouched. Moonlight danced atop the fishing hub’s water. Riley and Captain Frank approached its dock and stared into the foggy distance.  

“I put some matches in there,” Captain Frank pointed to the bag on Riley’s back. 

Riley took it off and reached inside pulling out a small box and handed it to him. The captain bent over, setting down a lantern Riley hadn’t realized he was carrying.  He lit it and swung his lantern three times, and slowly, the schooner appeared through the thick fog that blanketed the other side of the bay. 

____________

“Cold night, huh, Captain?” A lanky young man leaned from the cargo ship’s side and waved. “Shush, Lance,” The captain hissed. “You’ll wake the peacekeepers.” 

As the boat docked, Captain Frank grabbed Riley’s hand but the little boy yanked it back.

“I don’t want to go.” Riley hung his head. 

Captain Frank crouched and looked into his solemn dark brown eyes. His features softened as he said, “It’s not safe here. It hasn’t been for a while now Ri, you know that.” 

Riley’s eyes glossed. 

“When your parents died I promised I’d take care of you. That I’d protect you.” He pointed to the schooner. “This is me protecting you. When this is all over I promise we will come back and we will never leave again…come on.” Captain Frank led Riley up a ramp and onto the cargo boat. 

_________

Riley was sitting on the bed in his new sleeping quarters when he heard a boom followed by a flash of light shined through the window. He looked out and saw something he hadn’t seen since the day his parents were killed. It was like Star Fall all over again. 

Plumes of smoke filled the air as more balls of light came down. The shops that surrounded the bay area blew up in a chain of explosions. Bricks and glass shot into the sky. The boat and water shuddered at the impact. Flames spread among the docks. The most beautiful place in all of Hunnington was destroyed. As the boat inched farther away, Riley watched until the bay was nothing but a speck in the distance. Riley looked up into the sky, the stars sparkling and glistening. He could see them so clearly out in the ocean.

 “I’ll be back,” he vowed. “And I’ll destroy them all.”

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About the Contributor
Carla Williams, Staff Writer
Carla Williams is a senior at James Lawson High. When she is not acting with the Lawson Theatre troupe, you can find her passionately writing dark fantasy stories or avidly reading fantasy novels and manga. This is Carla's first year at The Lightning Letter, and she is excited to learn about journalism and to present her short stories to the school community.
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