The Rainbow Gun

At last, the drought is over. Six summers of it. You just get used to it and then there's water again. You scale back your garden and start using dingy water from the washing machine to keep potted plants alive. You stop using the dishwasher. You take three-minute showers. You scrub your potatoes in the same water that you boil your pasta. Recycling is a word you hear every day, sometimes several times a day. The sky is a palette of desiccated blues. Clouds muster in the east, teasing you with the promise of precipitation, and then they keep moving, evaporating near the horizon. As they get closer to the earth, the air burns them and then they're gone. Night falls. It's crisp, what parchment paper would feel like if it was a gas instead of a solid. It wicks the sweat away from your forehead. You jealously wonder where that water went.

After six years of that, it rains. You wake up in the middle of the night and ponder the roaring wind. Or perhaps it's an earthquake in the next valley, where once there was a river. What is it? Why now? You're thirsty, as usual. And you don't wake up with much of a need to pee.

They say the right kind of rain sounds like someone's throwing dried rice against your window. When you hear that — feel that — day after day, night after night, the pelting of rice becomes a lullaby. No matter how hard, no matter how fierce, it always puts you to sleep.

When you hear that barrage for the first time in six years, it's a terrifying assault. Like waking up to your wife one morning and realizing that she's not 25. She's 45. It's that moment when twenty years compresses into a stunning blow. That is what the end of the drought is like.

Noisy dawn. Sheet water on the windows. Earth so packed and dry that the merest splash of water floods on top of it. Your kids race out of the house, dislodging dust on the covered porch before they land barefoot in that rarest of elements: mud. They lift their faces to the sky and feel something they haven't felt for more than half their lives — water spilling from something other than a faucet. They're not afraid of something so foreign because rain is as natural to the human condition as puppy love. When it comes, it feels right. When it washes over you, you shine.

Your oldest child, now wearing a soaked nightgown you launder once a month, drags you by the hand into the front yard and points in every direction, as if she can point out and name every rain drop. You follow her finger and revel in her joy, but you're thinking that you should drag out the cracked buckets you've been saving for such a day.

Droughts taunt you that way. You remember the drought from your own childhood, where, after four summers of nothing, you got ten days of brilliant deluge. Buckets. Your father always had them ready. He knew it wouldn't last. He collected gallons upon gallons of water and secreted them in the barn. When the deluge subsided, the drought returned. By sundown, the grassless earth was again bone brittle. Two more summers of that.

You let your kids splash around in this outrageous flirtation from nature. Your little boy has been saving a balsa-wood boat for just such a day. He follows it as it floats away from him on a miniature river. You want to tell him to stay away from the edge of the property, where it dips, where a flash flood is waiting to happen. But you have to collect water. The sun is rising, and all this beautiful wetness will fry right out of the air.

"Daddy?" your daughter says. Standing there with a cluster of bucket handles in your grip, you pause.

"Daddy? Look at the rainbow."

How can you miss a rainbow? With your head down, it arcs high above you. Unless you gather in the corner of your eye that soft prismatic ribbon, it's there, and then it's not. You have to be looking in the right direction, and not at how to pay for groceries or gasoline or the mortgage. When you're not looking at those things, rainbows are as obvious as a door frame.

At your daughter's request, you look at the rainbow. So does your young son. Your wife has now swept the sleep from her eyes. She covers her hair with a magazine. You all see what your daughter sees — quite possibly the largest rainbow anyone has ever seen.

You remember, as a kid, seeing a double rainbow over the lake at your family's vacation home. Double the brightness, with bands that glowed as if powered from within. That had been the most beautiful rainbow you had ever seen. Right up there among tricks of the light in the mists of Niagara and the scrawny bit of aurora borealis your Mom told you you'd seen when you were two.

But this.

You're not even sure whether to call it beautiful. Big? Wide? Tall? You wonder how such things are measured, anyway. Does a rainbow have height? You know it doesn't have mass — it just doesn't weigh anything. How about width? If you use your forefinger and thumb as calipers when looking at rainbows, the ribbon itself can vary in width from, say, half an inch to a fat full inch.

Your wife turns to look behind you. She's trying to figure out the direction of the sun, where it hits the rain, and then draws colors in translucent bands from horizon to horizon. There is no sun. You shield your eyes and check again. Just clouds, just long diagonal drapes of rain, wavering a thousand feet high.

After three days of rain, you fret about flooding. You and your son do something he's never done before. You fill flour sacks with sopping wet top soil from the compost flats behind the barn. You then line the driveway from the carport down to the road, a full twenty yards. Water has been rising to about an inch in newly formed gullies, and you're worried they could turn into gushing rivers while you sleep.

Your wife is hard at work on her slumgullion, stewing up onions, beef, carrots, and yesterday's waxy potatoes in a grand pot once seasoned to perfection by your father's first wife. Slumgullion wants heaps of water. You now have plenty of it, so she stews to her heart's content, knowing that she can freeze leftovers for over a month worth of hearty meals.

Your daughter has taken to drawing rainbows with crayons on large sheets of cream construction paper in the bay window that overlooks your property. She gives each rainbow a number and reports during dinner the results of her observations.

"Thirty-eight rainbows in three days, Dad," she says. But you're too tired to warm to her fascination. Home construction is a deadly chore in rain like this, but it has to be done. Schedules are relentlessly needy. The extra care when you're on a roof slick with rain is an extra day of worry heaped onto a normal day's work. While up there on someone else's roof, you've seen half the rainbows your daughter has enumerated, but it's hard to see them the way she does. They're just reminders of endlessly falling water tethered to the horizon.

Your son lost his balsa-wood boat in a sudden current and that's got him in a funk. You warned him this would happen, but it's hard to get mad. The boy hasn't toyed with flowing water in years, other than the streams and springs he marvels at on your undependable TV. Or that trip two years ago to the canyon up north.

You don't really understand why you say what you're about to say. You have a back on the brink of breaking. When you come home from work each day, you slouch on the front stoop, swipe off the rain, and then wriggle out of your wet stuff. You pray one of the kids won't crash into you with a hug and send your shoulders into spasms. But you say it anyway, because things have got to be built. There is always a construction job that needs to happen.

"Son?" you say. "Let's make a better boat."

He stares at you, mystified.

"Can I help?" your daughter asks. Your wife, knowing what work is doing to your back, volunteers to paint the hull and swab the deck. With a smile you hope does not appear ragged and insincere, you say hello to your new project.

It's now Sunday and you're eight days into the rain, three days into your son's new boat. You let the kids do most of the work because they're strong and nimble like you used to be. They haul pliable timber from behind the wood shed. You and your wife review each piece, looking for rot or imperfections that might cause a plank to snap under pressure. You will have to bend each piece because your son wants a lifeboat. His sister's reports of now a 46th rainbow have given him the willies. He thinks the world is going to end in a flood and he wants to make sure the family can get away. The house, he whispers, is going to drown. He says your truck and mom's car will float away, buoyed by airbags that live in their sideboards like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's pontoons.

You're too tired, too soggy, to argue sense into the boy. A lifeboat it is.

You build most of it together, in the carport, where the concrete foundation seems to hover an inch or two above the water that pools around it. There are six rainbows today, arcing simultaneously across the sky. They seem closer than the horizon, as if marching toward you on colored stilts, and brighter than normal, like bent neon bulbs weakened only barely by the dimness of a torrential murk.

Then there's a crash and a boom high in the sky, a moment of blind relief as the carport's roof shields you from two fat lightning bolts charging at each other like skeletal rams. Their collision stills everything. For a moment, the rain subsides and in seconds the rainbows dissipate. It's as if God clapped his hands.

Your daughter screams and your son lets out a low whine as if to say, "I told you so." Your wife grabs the children and hugs them against each hip. She doesn't frighten easily, but her lips are bloodless as she pinches them shut.

You step into the open and smell a vaguely familiar scent on the dry air. It's from childhood. Like electricity frying the atmosphere. You remember it from staying with your grandmother in Iowa. That smell hung in the air while Nanna yelled for everyone to head for the tornado shelter.

But you live six states away from Iowa, well outside the tornado belt, and have never smelled anything like this in your own front yard.

"Let's get inside," you say. Your wife adds, "Maybe there's something about the weather on TV."

The lot of you head for the house, looking over your shoulders as if expecting some twisted funnel to drop from the sky and scribble a path of destruction in the earth.

The TV doesn't work. It won't turn on. There's no little red light on the satellite box. You check the refrigerator and the kitchen light. They work, which means the generator has kicked in.

"Hmmmm," you mutter, and grab your cell phone from your pocket. It indicates a strong signal, but when you dial Dave, your business partner, the phone does nothing.

"Here you go, Dad," your son says. You turn to find him proffering his hand-cranked shortwave radio. He cranks the lever three times and flicks on the power. The speaker crackles. You take the radio and try to tune to a couple of frequencies reserved for emergency broadcasts. One of them is an unbroken hiss. The other offers a broken message. You can make out just enough of it to recognize that it's the automated message used when nothing is wrong with the world.

"Damn odd," you say to your wife. "Maybe," she says, "the storms have produced some electromagnetic interference." She would know. She gave up a life of science for the solace of the farm.

Town is a fifty-minute drive. You stare through the screen on the front door and mull your options. The air is very still. No rain. A featureless dome of white clouds yields none of its secrets. You wonder what your father would do, which feels odd since you spent most of your life attempting not to do many of the things your father would do. His voice fills your head: "You always have to think, think, think instead of do, do, do."

The smell of re-heating slumgullion is strong behind you. Town might offer some weather bits, some updates on what was going on, what to expect. But here is where you are needed. Despite your father's gravelly reprobation echoing in your head, you plan to be busy, doing Dad things.

"Honey?" you shout from the front of the house. Your wife emerges from the kitchen. The kids stand behind her, peering around her hips. You smile.

"Look, I can't predict the weather, but I know it's not raining right now. Let's finish up that boat or it will never get done."

"Yay!" the kids cry, all thoughts of the inexplicable lightning display well behind them.

It takes all four of you another three hours to do it, but the boat is finished, and the fast-drying sealant you often use in your work will become water impregnable in another two.

While the boat has been setting, the omnipresent dome of cloud has not moved. When you're a kid, or you're on vacation, and you lie on your back in the grass and watch clouds do cloudy things, you marvel at their slow trek, the even slower metamorphosis, as they turn from a puff ball into a streamer. These clouds do not move and they haven't moved for three days. It's hotter, and muggy. Sleep isn't easy. You wake up at night and wander, sweating and feverish, into the front yard, praying for a breeze. But all you see in the lightless night is a dim, throbbing ring of orange on the horizon, wrapping around you like a collar of fire.

The phones still don't work. Neither of the cars will start. You've got only two days of fuel for the generator and you've got to make a decision.

The streams that formed in the gullies around your property during the deluge are long and deep and the water hasn't stopped flowing. You know where roads lead, but you don't know where these newly scrawled water paths lead. Walking to town could take hours — if the roads are even passable when you get to the gorge about 15 miles east. You suppose that the decision is not yours to make because it's been made for you. You're going to have to use the boat to get out of here.

By the following morning, your wife has packed a small bag of essentials, tins of tuna, mackerel, and stewed beans. She's sealed candles, lighters, and kindling in a water-tight pouch. Where that pouch came from, you don't know. Water-tight and drought don't usually meet.

Your son is sheet white and listless. He clings to a teddy bear he hasn't touched in three years as his mother guides him like you would an old man into the middle of the boat. Your daughter has slipped a pink plastic backpack over her shoulders and she seems braver than the lot of you. From the cracked lip of that bag poke rolls of construction paper, her rainbow scrolls, and you can hear the rattling of loose crayons in the pack as she hops into the boat behind her brother. Her shoes are untied, but instead of tying them, she pulls out the strings and stuffs them in your jeans pocket, then tucks the tongue of each sneaker into the shoe to ensure they're snug on her feet. Your little survivor, the junior reflection of your equally brave wife.

"OK," you say, when everyone is aboard. The boat is a bit small; it was not meant to carry you all. It was meant to fulfill your son's dream of escape. But it is well crafted without a sign of a leak. It will do because it has to.

"OK," you say again. "We're going to get out of here. I don't know where the streams will take us, or even if they go anywhere. Hopefully, we'll end up a few miles east on Mr. Fampton's farm, or further south, where the Poplins keep their mill."

Your wife nods as if ticking off the plain points of a well considered plan. She squeezes your kids' shoulders to pass on that manufactured confidence. The slightest curl of soft flesh at the corners of her eyes reminds you that you don't know where you're going.

Your house recedes pretty quickly as you paddle downstream. Well beyond your property, where the hills start to rise and the valleys become more extreme, you see what the deluge has done.

Although drenched, these hills where your kids sometimes play are still the color of hay bales, their grasses drowned, their roots shocked beyond any ability to absorb moisture. As if cleaved by dull axes, half the hills have peeled away leaving huge shavings of earth at odd and precarious angles: the walls of new canyons. The stream is thick and murky and earth that hasn't been wet in a long time forms sinkholes and whirlpools. Navigating it is terror on your back and your muscles seem ready to tear.

"My God." Your wife has leaned forward so that only you can hear her. She doesn't have to say anything else because you know what she knows. Rain didn't do this. Not even a Biblical flood could do this.

You reach the point where you can't paddle anymore. You use the oars simply to correct your course as the stream takes you where it will. At the first major fork, you went right. At the next one, you go left, and now you wonder why you brought a dead mobile phone, but no compass. It isn't a mistake your father would have made.

It's late afternoon and the color of the sky has not changed. The clouds have not moved. You're starting to feel that you've left the real world and entered some void where the hands of the clock are stuck and the wind holds its breath.

You are well past the point where you might have crossed the Fampton farm, but you soon see an escarpment that signals the edge of the Poplin's property, where they keep their grain mill.

You decide to steer the boat to the lumber-wracked shore and proceed on foot. The boat has been hitting shallow mud reefs, so you're not sure you could have gone much further by water.

After an hour slogging through muddy grass, you reach a coal black road as wide as a Texan highway. Its surface is pocked as if scorched under the world's largest magnifying lens. Originating from the side of a ruined hill, it sprawls toward you and then sharply bends to the west, where it ends abruptly near the base of a tall burning cylinder.

Harry Poplin's grain mill.

"Lightning?" your wife says. You imagine you can hear how quickly her heart is beating in her short breaths.

"I don't know," you say, shaking your head. You suppose a controlled burn could cause this sort of damage, but nobody burns this time of year, and certainly not in this kind of weather.

None of it looks right. There are hills and gorges near the mill that were not there before. Great stones bent skyward as if newly shoved from the earth.

"Let's check it out," you say. "Harry might still be here."

You turn to check the kids. Your son is poking at the black road's charred edge with a stick. He hasn't said anything since you left the boat behind. You wonder if he's in shock. It would be hard to tell; the boy is sensitive and quiet like you used to be. That always made your father uncomfortable, and you sometimes wondered if he thought you were retarded.

Your daughter is kneeling in the grass, butt planted on her heels, with a sheet of construction paper spread across her thighs. She clutches a crayon in her dirty hand and draws sweeping arcs from the left edge of the paper to the right and back again.

Bending beside her, you say, "We have to go, sweetie. What are you drawing?"

"Number sixty-one," she says without looking up.

"Sixty-one?"

She sighs, unhappy that her concentration has been broken. With her crayon, she points at the dim grey horizon. "It's the sixty-first rainbow I saw since they started."

You squint at the whitened horizon and see the remains of number sixty-one. Its blues and greens have faded, leaving only remnants of red and yellow. These ghost colors slide across the sky and disappear like airplane contrails.

"This one moved," your daughter says. "See?"

She shows you her drawing. The rainbow is solid and bright on the left side of the page. But she repeats its pattern, decreasing in solidity and brightness as the rainbow travels east, to the position where you just watched it dissipate.

"Wow," you say because you're not sure what else to say.

"Honey?" you say to your wife as the lot of you follow the charred road's edge up the hill toward the smoldering grain mill. "Have you ever seen a rainbow move?"

"I don't think so," she says wearily. "What do you mean move?"

"Well, like start in one place and then, you know, move to a completely different place...not the place where it started."

She stops and slowly rolls her shoulders back. She does that when she's about to be really practical. She sweeps her hands at the barely familiar landscape. "You mean like hills that used to be over there, but are now over here?" A wet breeze blows her hair across her face. With a thumb, she flicks it back to where it was. "Or boulders that weren't here two weeks ago, but are here now?" The light of her nimble intellect dances in those steel blue eyes. You hope it arrives at a conclusion yours cannot.

"No," she says, "I've never seen a rainbow move."

This close to it, the grain mill towers over you like a bombed ruin. Its dome top has popped or blown off and lays shattered several yards away. Thick twisters of grey black smoke billow from its crown as Harry Poplin's grains fly away like volcanic ash. You've seen lightning do sinister things, but never anything this mighty. You don't want to be in the open for very long.

From atop the hill, you have a clear view of the direction you came from. The boat bobs like a toy several hundred yards away. Some of the landscape looks familiar. You see a thicket of weeping willows so heavy from rains that their sinewy branches lay flat against their sides. When it was searing hot, the Poplins' Herefords used to gather under those trees while willow branches swept them clean of shade flies. No cows now, no birds, none of the sheep that used to dot the crowns of what used to be hills, but are now crater-like depressions filled with muddy water and rent trees.

Harry and Maddie Poplin's house lay a hundred yards beyond the smoking remains of their mill. You're surprised to see it. Everything else has moved, disrupted like a broken puzzle of vaguely familiar images. It sits on a small island once surrounded by a crescent pond fringed with marsh grasses that Maddie was very proud of pruning so that they forever formed a soft, low wall that caught the afternoon breeze and rustled in the hours before dinner. A complete moat of mud now surrounded the island. If you were to see the house for the first time, you'd wonder how Harry and Maddie travelled from it to the world beyond the moat without a bridge.

You and your wife exchange half hopeful looks. Maybe they are still inside?

It starts to rain again as you make your way toward the house. The wind cuts hard from the east, forcing the rain to fall in diagonal lines made up of fat, sloppy drops. Only soggy before, you're drenched by the time you reach the moat.

From here, the house seems intact. Shutters, doors, the many-gabled roof, the bay window where your son sometimes sat and commanded the crew of the Nautilus in his land-locked version of Nemo's submarine.

"Dad!" your daughter cries out. She's clutching her pink backpack hard against her chest. "I don't want to get it more wet."

The rain is falling harder. You pry the pack free and hurl it with all your might across the moat. It lands safely on the other side and rolls underneath the Poplin's front steps.

Your son doesn't cry out, but he calmly hands you his teddy bear and nods in the direction of his sister's backpack. You throw it hard, but it is much lighter and the wind is so strong. It bounces on the moat's edge and slips into the muddy water until only one beady black eye and one ear remain visible.

The boy doesn't cry out, he doesn't seem agitated at all. You're not certain he's even here with you. For the briefest moment, you feel like your father must have felt and want your son to snap out of it.

"Come on!" you shout, trying not to frighten anyone, and flip your daughter onto your shoulders. Your wife does the same with your son and you start stepping through the water. It's not terribly deep, but there is no purchase on the bottom. It's like walking across a gigantic sponge.

Crossing those eight or nine yards of water feels like crossing the mighty Mississippi, but eventually you make it. After retrieving your daughter's pack, your wife hustles the kids onto the front porch.

They seem so safe there, sheltered from the rain, under the green and white awning of the Poplin's great old house. You turn back to the moat.

"What are you doing?" your wife yells. She hasn't yelled in years.

You look for that beady black eye and that one ear amid the swirling branches and uprooted marsh grasses. Along the moat's edge, you scan back and forth, trying not to slide in.

And then you see the bear. A thick branch has snagged it. The branch seems trapped by something under the water and moves more slowly than the rest of the floating debris. You think to go in after it, but the rain is a torrent and the water's surface fills with horrible eddies that suggest a strong current.

For a moment, you freeze. You're not sure if your daughter is cheering you on or bawling like a baby. It's hard to hear beyond the cymbal crash of rain. Should you go to your family or get the bear? You're trying to do some sort of calculation, the sort you do when you realize that one of your suppliers has not provided the right timber. Finish the job? Return the timber and delay construction? How do you tell the client somebody screwed up?

"All you do is think, boy." It's your dad standing on the other side of the moat. He's dry as an August rock, tall and gnarled like an oak. "Standing there in your wet pants and wet shoes, thinking about what to do next. It's just a pile of fur and plastic."

The next part happens very slowly. Your limbs release, then they're under your control again. You fall into the kind of crouch you used to adopt before thwarting the visiting team's offense during your senior year as a linebacker. Your wife, just a girl then, was watching in the stand that day. She said later that your success was the only thing she talked about for days. She told your best friend's sister she was going to marry you, whether you knew it or not.

You push forward and spring into the air. The rain stops and the sky parts, allowing a flood of hot, bright sunlight to bathe the Poplin house like a desert oasis.

You're going to make it. You know this to be true. Just a few feet above the water, as you dive toward the bear, the blinding light reveals what has prevented the bear and the branch it's snagged on from floating away.

The last thing you remember before blacking out is the massive rock inches below the surface.

"You did it, Dad!"

It's a sound you've been hearing in your dreams for...how long?

It's your son's voice. Blinking slowly hurts your face, so you stop doing it.

"Just sleep, honey." Ah, that voice. The high-school sweetheart who made it a mission to marry you. She went to college and completed her physics degree in three years. You couldn't get into that school and thought you'd die waiting to be near her again. But you can't be dead because she's here and she wants you to sleep...

"Look, Dad, I fixed Felix."

Again, your son's voice. Dancing bears, black eyes, fluffed up tufts of combed bear hair. Blinking doesn't hurt so much now, but you have to shield your eyes as you sit up. Pain tears through your lower back.

"What are you doing?" your wife says. You smell fresh fruit.

"What...happened?" you say. "It's...bright."

Your wife laughs. She sits at the edge of the bed you're lying on. "It's called the sun. Feels good, doesn't it?"

You try to create a slit between your eyelids so you can take in the brilliant light. You're in a bedroom with five large windows. Sun streams through all of them. You feel your cheek and it's dry. You were wet for a long time.

"Where are we?" you ask.

"Harry and Maddie's place."

"Oh."

"We've been here for two days. Since the weather broke."

"I see."

"I thought for sure you'd broken some ribs in your rescue of Felix, but you somehow twisted out of the way and managed only to konk your head on a big branch. One considerably softer than your thick skull, thank goodness."

"Where are..."

"The kids are fine. We're good." She grips your hand and squeezes very hard. "Henry," she says. She rarely uses your birth name and when she does, she means it. "You're going to be OK. Saving Felix really helped Hank Junior with the shock. Mary has run out of construction paper, but she found a sheaf of typing paper and is halfway through it."

Junior and Mary. The kids are fine.

"June," you say, gripping your wife's hand with both of yours. "I smell...berries? Sort of hungry."

June pries her hand free and stands up. She claps her hands and backs away from the bed. She's silhouetted by shafts of light.

"Well, then you're going to have to get up, aren't you? Food's downstairs."

You take an eternal thirty seconds to right yourself. Your head is a bit fuzzy and the brightness doesn't help.

In the hallway, at the top of the stairs, you hear the kids playing downstairs. June is at the bottom of the steps, beckoning you.

"All right, I'm coming," you say.

While you eat, June and Junior and Mary assault you with details of the last two days. The rain has stopped. The flood rivers are draining away. They saw some sheep and birds early in the morning, but nothing since. Still no radio or cell service. The Poplins' investment in solar and a massive generator had kept the deep fridge going. These are thawed berries you're eating, not like fresh off the vine, but oh, so delicious.

"Harry and Maddie?" you ask. No sign of them, your wife says. No cars or trucks. No planes overhead, no helicopters.

"But the rain has stopped and the sun is back," she says. That seems to satisfy her requirements for stability. "Bacon and eggs?"

Minutes later, you dig into your eggs. Hank Junior studies you the way you used to study your father when you were seven. His hands are still on the table top and he seems to be paying attention to your shirt. But his bare feet are whacking like puppy tails against the table legs. There is no hiding his desire to ask you questions. To understand you better.

Without looking at him, you gently toss a piece of bacon at his forehead and continue with your meal as if nothing has happened. He giggles and scrambles for the bacon, thrusting it into his mouth. Crunch, crunch with his mouth wide open. Your father would have glared you down for doing that.

"Want the rest of my eggs?" you ask.

"Nah," he says. "Already had some."

"Want to help me go find the boat?" you ask.

Junior's feet stop abusing the table's underside. "Yeah!" he says. "You think it's still there?"

"I'm sure it's there, somewhere. We may have to look around." You try not to show, through your headache, that you and your family will now have to try to figure out what's happened and get back to your own home. If it's still there.

June leaves behind some of her tinned goods, exchanging them for others you might need on the trek home. You watch her compose a letter to Harry and Maddie. It says, "Thanks for the refuge, I hope you are safe, maybe you are at our house...wouldn't that be a pleasant bit of providence?"

The small land bridge that separated the Poplin house from the main property has resurfaced. You and your family cross it, carefully avoiding its slippery edges, and then head in the direction of the boat.

June has tied her hair in a pony tail high on the back of her head. It's hot and the sun has a welcome bake setting to it, more oppressive than the rain, but far less depressing. Mary has her thumbs tucked under the straps of her pink backpack and is mumbling a tune from one of her TV shows. Hank Junior is leading you all, whacking with a stick at tall grasses that are trying to regain their loft after a week of drooping and drowning.

You pass the still-smoldering grain mill and begin your descent into the small valley you have to cross before you'll be back at your boat. There won't be any using that boat if all the water is clearing out, but at least your boy can lay his hands on it and say he's reclaimed it for retrieving at a later time.

As you near the boat, your daughter's song stops and you turn to check on her.

Your heart feels heavy and your stomach bottoms out. She's squatting on the wet grass, scribbling furiously on a piece of paper she got back at Harry and Maddie's. Impatiently, your wife calls for her to get up and come on, but you ignore June's voice and walk slowly toward the girl. You're afraid to turn around again. You're afraid of what you might see.

You hear Junior, that very low whine he emits when he is unhappy or afraid, and then your wife racing across the savannah to retrieve him. The sound of timber creaking and splintering, the pop and crackle of spontaneous fire, the groan of gears and the oily machinery of sky-borne pistons, clack clack clack, like the reloading of a great and impossible gun.

The colors are impossible, so close and hot. Blazing blue, ironsmith red, the green and yellow that only a giant emerald prism can produce.

The foot of the rainbow lands hard and fast further down the hill, atomizing the boat. Its other foot lands on the Poplin house. You've never heard something unalive shriek as furiously as that house splintering and exploding in the intense blast.

June and Hank Junior collide against you as you hunch over Mary, covering her with your body.

"Number sixty-two," your daughter screams. "It's...so...pretty..."


H. Andrew Lynch was born in Washington, D.C., and now resides in New Zealand. His short fiction has appeared in several periodicals and anthologies, including The Year's Best Horror Stories. He's published two novels, The Superhero's Closet and the children's mystery, The Adventures of Darwin & Dr Watson: The Beagle Knows. His preoccupation with surrealism, classic supernatural literature, and magic realism have informed his work for over twenty years. His new collection of bizarre tales, A Flower Fell, is now available in print and for Kindle.