The fickle wind lashed angrily around Lucy’s head, this way and now that. It whipped the loose locks of her ebony hair indiscriminately, the balance of them plastered to her cheeks and temples. The rain came down sideways, and hard, and she squinted to keep it from pelting her in the eyes. She raced into the darkness, Charley leashed at her side and panting heavily but effortlessly keeping pace in her beautiful loping gait. Each bolt of lightning lit up the landscape for an instant, revealing shadowy trees and shimmering rooftops with blackened windows looming under the eaves. The street lights were blackened, too, so that Lucy found it difficult to navigate the road, or to know with certainty where pavement met lawn. She ran with urgency, to find shelter from the storm to be sure, but something else drove her forward, a compulsion that eluded her this moment. Suddenly she glanced down, and where Charley should have been, there was only the leash attached to an empty collar. But this was a trick leash, the kind you might find in a novelty store, that stood out stiffly and comically as if to pantomime an invisible dog. Lucy’s heart filled with terror as she felt a scream bubbling up inside her chest, and yet no sound issued from her mouth when she opened it. Now she recognized the dream for what it was and fought hard against it to wake up.
Finally stirring into consciousness from her fitful sleep, she felt a cool, damp wind ebbing and flowing over her prone body, coming in waves like the rain was against the window glass. Charley was stretched out long next to her, with her head near Lucy’s, watching her intently; finally, Charley pawed Lucy’s shoulder clumsily and impatiently, as if to nudge her more fully into wakefulness. Lucy imagined she must have called out in distress in her dream and waked the dog.
She lifted herself onto her elbows and could see the open west-facing window near the bed had let in the windblown rain, already collecting on the floor beneath it. It occurred to Lucy the room was too dark, and the house too quiet; the white noise of her fan, and the refrigerator compressor down the hall…all the ambient and reassuring sounds of a breathing house had fallen silent. The power had gone out she surmised, but only just; somewhere in the distance a transformer arced explosively, twice.
Lucy sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed, and in two long strides reached the window and pushed down hard to close it, but it gave all at once and slammed shut with a bang! that startled Charley. Funny, she thought, how the crickets had also fallen silent outside, and the cicadas. Where did they tuck themselves away in a storm, she wondered, so they weren’t simply carried aloft on the wind to some distant and unknown territory.
Climbing back into bed, she drew the covers up to her chin and reached over to massage Charley’s cheek. Lucy felt cold, or was she hot? When she swallowed, an unpleasant scratchiness caught in her throat. She swallowed again, hoping it was a fluke, but no, her throat was definitely raw, and now she shivered and realized she was feverish. No power, dammit, and sickness coming on. Tomorrow would be a wash, with little she could do at home, and not much at the store if she was coming down with something sinister. She felt tears welling up in her eyes, of self-pity most assuredly she concluded. If Bran were here, she’d have fixed her a hot toddy the way only Bran could, and then tucked the covers tightly around her. A memory stirred in her, of Bran’s clean-scrubbed, wrinkled face that smelled of equal parts Ivory soap and Viceroy cigarette tobacco.
Maybe she ought to get up and go rummage through Bran’s medicine cabinet to see what might still be squirreled away in it, for what good stale meds would do her, she thought. But a bolt of blue-green lightning ripped through the clouds, setting the river down below alight as it had illuminated the fictional landscape in her dream. Now Charley was shaking and it dawned on Lucy this storm that had the audacity to insinuate itself into her sleep, might be more impressive than a garden-variety gully washer. She groped around on her nightstand until her fingers met the tiny, somewhat useless flashlight she kept there, and gathering a blanket around her shoulders, headed down into the basement with Charley behind her, aware of the wind growing fiercer, and watching the big picture windows bowing and flexing with the changing atmospheric pressure. This was no dream, but a real terror. And more dreadful still was a feeling of isolation Lucy yearned to mute, like she did the tumult outside this forlorn little house.