Every Storm Rains Fire
By Abby Nopoulos
Illustrations by Matilda Mel
I remember the utter confusion that washed over me when I saw the red ball of light detonate a short distance ahead. My feet slamming on the breaks, leaving me wide-eyed, while the flames burned through what was left. My ears still ringing with the high-pitched scream of my mother behind me in the distance. I still remember the feeling of my lungs swelling with smoke.
Although the night began as a simple task of picking up my sister-in-law, it was unusual how many obstacles were preventing me from completing a smooth trip. My car broke down, forcing me to call my sleeping mother. When she arrived, we sat silently in the car as we drove to the nearest gas station for fuel. Her face radiated with defeat when we realized we had filled up a gas can with the wrong sized nozzle, making it impossible to fill my car. Avoiding the incoming storm was what really kept us moving.
My sister-in-law was leaning against the door of her friend’s house when we arrived, her body most likely drained from a night of drinking. She flew in from Texas that day, which confirmed the fact that she was in desperate need of sleep. She asked me to drive her car back to our place for her, and I gladly obliged. What can I say, solidarity is a strong suit of mine.
As I started to drive back home I impulsively began to race the storm. My mother hates getting caught up in those. She was still driving close behind me when I decided to take the route she coined “the death trap.” Weird how mothers always know that kind of stuff.
I was rarely phased by the dangers of the narrow highway, my concern was really only my blaring music. At 3 A.M, you need something really loud to keep your eyes open, even if your brain isn’t on. I really wished mine had still on. When I turned off the highway, I didn’t think my song would even finish before we arrived home.
The entirety of my vision was abruptly lit with bright red, and my feet reacted fast enough to slam on the breaks before I drove directly into a field of light. My tired mind didn’t register the inherent danger that resided within the explosion that I had just witnessed, let alone understand the origin.
I stepped out of my car with my eyes locked on where the ball of light dissipated, a billowing mountain of black smoke remained in its place. Underneath, the charred physique of a car. Thunder echoed behind the boundless fields that surrounded us.
My shaky fingers entered a million different accidental combinations before definitively entering ‘911.’ My mother, out of her car as well, was fighting the idea that a person could be trapped inside. My phone call was interrupted every 20 seconds by my vicious screams in attempt to get her away from the dense, black smoke. She persisted. My sister-in-law was keeping her distance from the spectacle, as was I. Strangely enough that didn’t prevent the smoke from infecting our lungs. It was like watching a train wreck, we just couldn’t peel our eyes away.
A passing truck driver stopped on the road with an interest in the alarming scenery. The thin, plaid-wearing driver slid out of his towering seat, only to be ambushed by three women begging for a soul brave enough to peer inside the scorching debris. With a lit cigarette in his mouth, he stuck his head into the car and peered around for any sign of life. My modern-day hero. “No sign of a body,” he said.
It took about 20 minutes before the cops told us to go home. They didn’t ask for much, but we lingered in hopes of finding answers to the inexplicable story we had unwillingly waltzed into. The police seemed to have a concrete idea of what was going on, despite the fact that not one officer was willing to ease our curiosity. Eavesdropping lead us to believe we witnessed the end of a suicidal mission. A man a few towns over had it all planned out. Burn his house down. Blow up his car. End it. I watched flashlight beams sink into the enclosing ditch in my rear-view mirror as I left for home. We beat the storm. I don’t know how.
A dark desire of knowledge led me to drive by the same spot a few days later. The daylight bolstered the never-ending view of field surrounding that strip of road. I had to reduce my speed to even catch a glimpse of the cross peeping out over the tall ditch grass. A pit in my stomach formed from the morbid thought of police flashlights shining over what laid in that spot a few nights prior. A man’s name was painted onto the horizontal beam of the cross. Around it lay remembrances left by the grieving. Hubcaps, tires, tools.
The man must have really loved cars.