Julia Benally is a wild Apache lurking in Arizona with her trusty nunchucks, Harley Quinn, at her side. Besides writing and killing zombies, she enjoys playing the piano, dancing and loves to sing. You can find more of her work at sparrowincarnate.blogspot.com, and you can follow her on twitter @SparrowCove.
Trumpets played the football theme that always made Eliza think of sleepy hot Sunday afternoons when time seemed to stand still. Cheering voices, shouting football players, and a broadcaster’s play-by-play buzzed out of the massive flat-screen T.V. mounted on the wall. The glow surrounded Terry’s head, sticking out of his favorite couch. Nobody was allowed to sit on it but him.
When would it be a good time to announce dinner? When it came to football, there was never a good time. The living room no longer existed to Terry. Calling him back to reality would be like jerking a worm out of the earth and tossing it to hungry fish. She’d have to risk it. He didn’t like it when dinner came late.
“Terry, time to eat.”
“Make me a plate and be quiet,” said Terry. “Don’t get in the way when you give it to me.”
“It’s soup, so it’ll be in a bowl.”
Terry groaned. “I don’t want soup. Make me something else.”
Eliza twisted her fingers. “I-it’s all there is.”
“What, Eliza? You’re stuttering.”
Eliza gazed at the cracked floor. “I’m going to make you a bowl.”
Eliza pressed her still-healing lips together. Next time she wouldn’t tell him what she had made. Pouring soup into a bowl, she crept to his side and inched the bowl towards his hand. Hopefully he wouldn’t throw it in her face. She had made sure that it was cooled off, so if he did explode, the soup wouldn’t burn.
One of the football players missed a pass. Cursing like a madman, Terry leaped to his feet. His arm knocked the bowl from Eliza’s hand. Soup splashed his arm and face. Pale chunky liquid poured into the beloved leather couch. Terry stared at the mess in stunned silence. As the full import of what had happened leeched into him, his narrow eyes flashed. A vein popped out of his crimson forehead. His lips curled back over coffee-stained teeth and red gums.
Eliza’s hazel eyes ran down Terry’s veined arm to his crackling knuckles. Those things had smashed her jaw like one of those rubber hammers that mechanics owned. The dark bruises had just faded from her light brown skin. She backed towards the door.
“Eliza,” Terry snarled, “come here.” He pointed at the spot in front of him.
Eliza twisted her suddenly cold fingers, staring at the spot—the death spot. “Terry…”
“Eliza, shut up and come here!” His voice knocked her eardrums.
“I-it wasn’t my fault.”
“Eliza, Eliza, shut up!” He thrust his thick finger at the floor. “Kneel right here! Now!”
She inched forward. “I-I’m sorry. I didn’t…”
Terry roared. His eyes widened like two pieces of ice in a crimson inferno. His teeth shone in the yellow lamplight like fangs.
Eliza screamed and bolted out the door. Her friend Trina’s house wasn’t far. She could make it.
Terry bellowed like a wild bull. “Get back here!” Sprinting after her, he sprang over the chain-linked fence without touching it. His massive legs propelled him across the sidewalk. Eliza could feel more than hear his every footfall. They pounded against her ribs. Her heart raced just ahead of its rumbling rhythm.
Thunder rumbled across the sky. Freezing raindrops pricked Eliza’s head and shoulders. His hard hand seemed to hover over her shoulder, reach for her dark brown curls, or bite into her cold skin. Somehow, her trembling legs sped up. The cold needle drops of rain morphed into a blinding torrent in a matter of seconds.
Reaching Trina’s gate, she slapped the metal latch up, sped across the wet lawn, and pounded on the door. “Let me in! He’s coming!”
Terry bounded over the fence. His foot landed on Trina’s metal garden pig. The rain had slicked the already slippery back. He lurched forward and slammed on his elbow. No words left his howling mouth. It was as if he’d become a furious animal and could only roar and snarl. Clawing at the grass, he lunged for the terrified woman on the porch.
The door opened in a flood of golden lamplight. Eliza staggered into the house, and a prim-looking woman shut Terry out. No sooner had she locked the door than the wild man banged on the unyielding wood like it was Eliza’s face.
“Get out here!” He kicked the bottom of the door. “ELIZA!” The metal pig shattered through the window. Both women screamed.
“You scared, Eliza?” Terry snarled through the broken glass. “You crying?” He howled with laughter.
“I called the cops,” Trina shouted. “I’ll blast your head off if you stay around here!”
“You need a gun against me?” He laughed harder, as if she was a coward and he was harmless. “I’ll bring my buddies around here. You better watch your back!” Obscenities poured from his mouth, but they grew farther down the street. The distant slam of a door cut off his vile tirade.
Eliza shuddered. He was probably tearing her things apart right now. She had hidden her mother’s picture, but he might find it. Tears blurred her vision. How had she come to this? Her cousin hadn’t approved of the match, but Eliza had grown defiant when she had voiced her concerns. Why hadn’t she listened? She sank into a rocking chair, squeezing her shaking hands together. She couldn’t still them anymore than she could slow her racing heart.
Trina tossed red and blue basketball shorts and a white t-shirt into Eliza’s lap. “Put these on. I got spaghetti in the kitchen if you’re hungry.” Trina glanced at the couch. “You can sleep on the couch…uh…I need to get you some blankets and a pillow.” She sighed. “I have to call Fred and see if he’ll fix my window.”
“I’m sorry, Trina.”
“It’s not your fault.” It didn’t sound like Trina meant it, though.
The clock clicked 12:00, and still Eliza couldn’t sleep. Howling wind shook the branches. Their shadows danced with the yellow streetlights against the windows. Several drops of rain pricked the roof. The storm had abated, but the seconds between the thunder and lightning were shortening. Lightning lit the backyard in electric blue. The thick trees leading into the forest seemed stark naked in its glare.
“One one-thousand,” said Eliza, “two one-thousand, three…”
“Eliza.” The low voice echoed out of the thunder.
A chill ran up Eliza’s spine. Maybe she was hearing things because it was midnight. Weird things happened at midnight. Pulling the covers up, she closed her eyes. The wind whispered, thunder rumbled, and rain pelted the house like a million rocks.
Sleep clasped Eliza in its gentle hands. Pounding rain became a lullaby, the thunder a soothing song. She had always loved the monsoon season, when the storms would perform their wild dances across the sky. She hadn’t been able to enjoy them since she had married Terry. This night was different, though. She wasn’t in his bed, and she wasn’t bleeding. Eliza’s limbs relaxed deep into the couch and soft blankets.
The back window burst inward. Icy wind dashed the curtains apart, and rain splashed the wooden floor. A big man jumped through the broken window and landed in a crouch. Eliza gasped, clutching the blanket in her fists. She opened her mouth to scream, but nothing came out. There was nothing she could do but survive the onslaught.
The man rushed her. Eliza stared, like the time on the freeway when that truck had careened towards her and she could do nothing about it. Jerking her up, he swept her out the window. He darted through the swaying trees. Lightning covered the forest floor in blinding light, and she saw him. It wasn’t Terry.
This apparition was made of rain. His hair was as dark as the roiling clouds, his eyes as bright as lightning. Electricity darted through his body like miniature storms. Putting her gently on the ground, he turned her to him, hooked one arm around her middle, and gripped her hand. He swung her through the torrent. The thunder, rain, and wind were their music. Their feet stepped on lightning and glided on wind.
Clouds and lightning swirled from his body. The ground and small community misted into nothing. Rain filled Eliza’s eyes. She tried to blink the drops away, but her vision swam.
Swiping at the water, she opened her eyes to see the storm, but she lay on the couch. The rushing wind, webs of lightning, and wild rain were just gone. Sunlight shone in through the partly opened curtain. The window was closed and in one piece. Her baggy shirt and basketball shorts were dry as a bone. She’d never had such a vivid dream before.
As she stood up, every muscle screamed. It certainly felt like she’d been dancing all night. She flexed her fingers. The memory of his arm around her middle, and his powerful hand clasping hers, still lingered on her body.
Trina came in from the kitchen. “Afternoon, Lizzy. You slept a long time.”
Eliza glanced at the clock: 3:06. “I had weird dreams.” She rubbed her head. “I need aspirin.”
“It’s in the cupboard.”
As Eliza downed the aspirin, Trina’s phone chimed. “Hello?”
Eliza rubbed her forehead. Dark strands of hair fell around her face. What did Trina have to eat in her kitchen? She hadn’t explored it when she had come for the spaghetti.
“I think she’ll talk to you.”
Eliza frowned. Who was Trina talking to? The prim woman walked in and held the phone out to her. “It’s Terry.”
Eliza’s heart went cold, as if Terry could reach through the phone and slap her. Trina shoved the phone into her hand. Eliza struggled to drop it, but Trina motioned to her to talk. The gesture possessed Eliza’s arm, and it bent the phone to her ear. “Hello?”
Terry’s deep derisive laugh curdled her blood.
Eliza’s hand quivered. “S-stop it, Terry.”
“Eliza, shut up.” His voice had gone lower, even guttural. “Shut up and listen to me.”
Eliza’s cold fingers froze around the phone. She would have hung up if she’d the power.
“Do you know how much that couch cost? I bring in the money while you’re upstairs coloring. I pay the bills. I put a roof over your head. I even endure your abominable singing in the shower. The least you can do is come to me when I command. What is it to you if I bust your whining face, or I demand that you be energetic at night? You’ve been like a dead rag lately. A mutt would rather eat what drops out of its butt than what you cook, and now you’ve ruined what I love most.”
Sobs broke Eliza’s agonized silence.
“I’m going to bring you home if you don’t come yourself.”
Eliza forced the phone away from her ear as if she were ripping it from its moorings. She turned the screen to the ceiling. Terry’s rumbling voice still batted at her ears. She pressed the red icon, and cold silence reigned.
Trina looked confused. “Why did you hang up on him?”
“I don’t want to be with him anymore,” said Eliza.
Trina checked her powdered face in a handheld mirror. “That’s what you said the last fifty times.” She closed the mirror. “You did this to yourself. Live with it.”
Eliza had heard that from everybody. They had written her off. She had gone back to Terry so many times that she had written herself off. Would it be easier to go back to him? A quick beating, and then Terry would be friends again. It was just his way, wasn’t it? People didn’t have to change if they didn’t want to. They had to be accepted for themselves. She was being judgmental, wasn’t she? Terry could stay an abusive demon, because that’s who he was. She could be his stupid punching bag, because that’s who she was.
“My storm doesn’t think so,” Eliza whispered.
Trina cocked an eyebrow. “What?”
“Nothing.” Eliza took a breath. “I’m…I’m…”
Thunder rumbled in the distance. Tree shadows swung across the wall in the wild wind. Rain prickled on the roof and clicked against the windows. The chimes on the porch jingled. Eliza wanted to be chimes, too. She gazed at the ceiling as the storm soothed her senses. Pointless guilt rose to her heart that Terry was alone. Still, she hadn’t been able to properly enjoy a storm in that house.
She stared out the back window. She had left the curtains slightly ajar so that she could see the tempest when the lightning lit the world in neon blue. Her stormy dream was out there somewhere, making the winds roar. Who was he dancing with tonight? A dart of jealousy shot through her heart.
“Oh, don’t be silly. You were dreaming.” She turned indignantly from the window and closed her eyes. She fell asleep, but she could still hear the gale. Cool air blew in under the curtains and the scent of rain filled the room. Eliza’s eyes snapped open.
A figure pushed through the curtains and came to her side. Bright lightning jerked through his frame. This time she could tell that he wore something, like pants made of the glimmering light seen in the clouds when lightning flashed behind them. Would he force her up like he had done the last time? Instead, he held a callused hand out to her. A thrill raced through Eliza’s being, and she caught hold of it. His hand throbbed like an electrical field.
Leading her out into the storm, he lifted his hand to the sky. A whip of lightning jerked into his palm. It sizzled and sparked, as bright as his wild eyes. The dark clouds surging across his breast glowed. Eliza stared in spellbound silence. Her own thoughts were unknown to her.
“Would you like to have it?” he said. His voice soothed, but somehow was nowhere near docile.
Eliza twisted the hem of her shirt. “I-I’d like to, but I can’t even touch lightning, let alone hold it.” The back of her throat ached for some reason.
“What do you think you were dancing on all night?” He smiled. “Open your mouth. Don’t be afraid.” He tilted her chin upward.
As Eliza gazed into his almost blinding eyes, any fear of the lightning vanished. She opened her mouth as if it were the most natural thing in the world. He placed the lightning on her tongue. It popped and danced in her mouth. Sparks filled her vision and crackled through her veins. Her muscles quaked with electricity and her legs gave out. The man caught her up before she hit the ground.
Mists swept beneath them, lifting them above the storm to where the moon glowed in peaceful cadences on the clouds. Lightning lit here and there. Thunder rumbled far below, like a lumbering giant’s steps.
As the man set her down, the clouds cushioned her feet in silky water and the softest down feathers. Cool air breathed over and under her bare toes. It fluffed her hair and kissed her face. Clouds towered towards the moon. Mysterious caves bowed over low valleys. Mists cascaded from deep depressions like waterfalls.
Eliza squealed in delight. “It’s so beautiful!”
“Come!” The storm grasped her hand and raced among the puffy leviathans. They climbed to the highest tower of clouds, and the storm leaped from its top. Eliza screamed as she watched him plummet to the sea of white and blue. He landed in a misty puff and beckoned her to follow.
Eliza’s soul expanded like a gale. Taking several steps back, she sprinted to the edge and sprang off the edge. Her screams turned to laughter. Puff! She landed in untouchable softness. Laughing, she poked her head out. Little clouds rolled off her hair and bounced on her shoulders.
The storm pulled her up. Taking both her hands, he held her at arm’s length. “Now hop!” He pranced in a circle. His strides were so long that Eliza’s skipping feet didn’t touch the clouds half the time. It was like she was flying.
Blankets of blue mist flowed from her shoulders, swallowing the shirt and basketball shorts. A flowing knee-length dress took their place. Not a single part of it felt uncomfortable or precarious. She was as safe and free in it as she had been in her t-shirt and shorts.
The storm slowed, and Eliza’s feet touched cloud once more. Clasping her to his chest, he danced in a slow circle. The moon dipped behind a billowing column of cloud. Stars opened their bright eyes and gazed at the blissful pair. The distant thunder quieted. It was just Eliza and her storm. She rested her head against him. Sleepiness settled on her eyes.
“I don’t want to go back,” whispered Eliza.
“But you’re not free,” said the storm.
“I’ve left Terry.”
“If you had, then you could stay.”
Eliza looked at him in confusion. “What do you mean?” Her heart pattered in her throat. “I left him.”
“He’s coming for you, Eliza.” He took her face in his hands. “He has your soul. You gave it to him. You have to take it back. You must be brave. You must break away. Only those who are free in here and here…” He touched her head and heart. “…can stay.”
“Help me,” Eliza pleaded.
“Nobody can free you but yourself. Break free, my darling. Break free.” He crushed his mouth against hers. Electric sparks shot through her frame. All drowsiness exploded into oblivion. Eliza’s chest heaved against his. The strength drained from her body in his passionate embrace, and she collapsed. He eased her onto her back. The clouds grew firm, and she lay on the couch once again.
Eliza stared at the ceiling, heart still pounding. In her mind’s eye, she saw him standing in the storm, a half-lit cloud beneath his feet. Distant thunder rumbled, as if he still called to her to break free. She touched her lips. Was she going insane?
As she sat up, her muscles ached as if she had been weight training all night. Making her dazed way to the kitchen, she made scrambled eggs the way she liked them: salt, pepper, and rosemary. Terry always insisted on plain eggs mixed with milk. Why? It was disgusting like the rest of him.
The smell of the eggs brought Trina into the kitchen. Her hair done up in an elegant bun, she wore a bright red jacket and pencil skirt. She had a high-end job somewhere, but she never seemed to be at work. “Feeling better?”
Eliza rubbed the back of her neck. “Yeah.”
Trina smiled. “I’ll talk to Terry, and then you can go home. How’s that sound?”
Eliza almost choked. “I don’t want to.”
Trina laughed. “You love him, you know you do. He has his reasons, you know, and it’s okay. He’ll get better. You chose him, didn’t you? He needs you. Don’t deny that. He really does. He’s probably crying and drinking, but no matter what he does, he’s not going to forget you.” Trina smoothed her skirt and went out the door.
Eliza tapped her toes nervously on the floor. She was going back to Terry. There was nothing she could do about it, because everyone had decided for her. It was like she had no will of her own. No soul of her own. That phantom land of clouds under a bright moon passed through her mind. Why couldn’t it have been more than a midnight dream? A faint hope flickered in her breast. She touched her lips where the storm’s had been.
Thunder rumbled outside. Eliza’s ears pricked, but nothing called her name. Instead, Trina and Terry’s voices mingled on the sidewalk. Eliza twisted her fingers. He owned her soul. He was coming for her, just as the storm had said. Was he real, or was he not? If she could know, she might be able to break away.
“She’s waiting for you inside,” said Trina.
They were at the door. The shiny knob turned, and Terry strode into the house. Eliza felt the chains screwed into her spirit coil back to Terry’s clenched fist.
“Terry’s here,” said Trina, like she had brought a gift.
Terry stepped towards Eliza. Seizing her face, he yanked her up and sucked at her mouth and cheeks. Rancid alcohol and old sweat stung her nose. He tangled his fingers into Eliza’s hair.
“I told you I would come get you myself,” he said through grinning teeth. He clamped his hand over hers and pulled her outside. The chain-linked gate loomed like a prison door. Maybe Eliza could make this work. Maybe this time they could be happy. A dull ache in her stomach whispered that it could never be. A chill whispered of the horrors to come as soon as Terry closed her up in the house. It had happened before. There was no reason for it not to happen again. If Eliza stepped onto the sidewalk, that would be the end.
Break free. The words struck like a hammer on a gong.
“Break free,” Eliza whispered.
“What?” said Terry.
At the edge of the grass, Eliza popped her hand out of his grasp.
Terry glared at her. “What are you doing now?”
Eliza lifted her chin. “I’m not going back with you.”
“Eliza, shut up.” He seized her arm and yanked her towards the gate. “I’ve had enough out of you. When we get back—”
“No!” Eliza bit his hand. Terry swore as he released her, and she sped back to the house. Knocking Trina aside, she skidded through the door and slammed it shut. She locked it just as the knob jiggled. The door vibrated under Terry’s fists.
“Open this door!”
She almost obeyed, like all the other times, but she set her jaw. “No!” Her voice grew stronger. “I’m never going back to you!”
Rain drummed on the roof.
“Open the door or I’ll kick it down!” Terry’s words had become guttural shrieks.
Terry shrieked and roared, his nails dragging down the wood.
Thunder growled. “Eliza.”
Eliza’s heart leaped. Could it be? Rushing into the kitchen, she yanked open the back door. Rain-drenched wind washed inside. The trees beckoned with swaying limbs.
“Eliza,” said the thunder.
The front door cracked open and slammed the wall. Terry roared like a wild beast. Something shattered in the living room. The monster’s feet pounded the floor.
“Eliza, stop!” Trina shouted.
Eliza dashed barefoot into the wet grass. Cool rain dribbled into her hair and down her neck. Pushing open the back gate, she sprinted into the forest. Terry bolted after her. His icy eyes had become demonic slits in a wrinkled, scowling visage. His thin lips had curled over his red gums.
He had resisted beating her rebellious body to a pulp in public, but now he had become a full beast. He didn’t care who heard her scream. He didn’t care if she made it out of the hospital, if she made it there in time at all. How dare she run from him, how dare she disobey! Nobody risked that tone she had with him when she had shouted “No!”
Catching her by the hair, he jerked her backward. He clenched the collar of her shirt in his fist. Somehow her soul had broken free of his clutches. He would have it back even if he had to beat it out of her.
“I can’t believe you, Eliza,” Trina growled. “After all I did for you, this is what you do?”
“I’ll make sure you never walk again,” Terry barked into Eliza’s face. Like a falling hammer, he swung down at her nose. A fingernail’s breadth from impact, a hand with a storm raging in it clenched Terry’s wrist. It snapped the bones with a jerk.
An inhuman screech cracked through Terry’s throat. His eyes bulged, his head swam. He lost his grip on Eliza. She didn’t exist anymore. Nothing existed but the pain. His jaw shattered beneath a powerful fist. Before Terry hit the ground, the stormy hand dug its fingers into his neck and slammed him against a pine tree. Pain crackled through Terry’s spine. Blood dribbled from his neck and mouth.
He slumped to the ground, mouth wide, lungs burning for air that refused to come. A man with electrical eyes cracked Terry’s chest in with his foot and held his hand to the sky. Lightning darted to his fingers. A contemptuous sneer curled the storm’s lips, and he blasted the cur through the head. Flesh, blood, and bone disintegrated, leaving a twitching, broken body behind.
The storm glanced at the water-logged woman who had come running with Terry. She had frozen in terror. Now she shrieked like a wounded hound. Stumbling backward, she tripped on a rock and sat down.
As if she were nothing but a pile of refuse, the storm took one last look at his headless handiwork. Not good enough, but he had lost control when that creature had seized his Eliza.
Turning from the corpse in disdain, the storm held his hand out to Eliza. She threw herself into his arms. “You’re real, you’re real!”
Kissing her tenderly on the lips, he swept her up into the rain and wind, thunder and lightning.
Trina never again moved from her house during a storm. She wouldn’t even look at the sky. When her grandchildren came home from school to tell her how storms were formed, she would shake her snowy head and say, “Your teachers don’t know anything. If you look closely at the clouds when the lightning strikes, you’ll see who makes the storms. They’re dancing in the clouds.”