Something compelled her, that’s what she would tell the world later, when she was interviewed mere days before it all went to hell. But that was months later. And this is today. An ordinary, though stormy day.
AnnaMaria stepped out from under the protection of the stone archway, not really noticing the warm drops of rain that freckled her blouse. Thunder crackled faintly, far enough away it sounded more like someone crinkling wrapping paper. Within seconds her dark hair was streaming wet and sticking to her face and neck, but she couldn’t bring herself to seek shelter.
I’m so glad I came out. This is so beautiful, she thought, admiring the dark cotton puffs of the storm. A CRAAAAA-AAAACK made her flinch. And getting closer.
Brilliant white sparked directly above her.
Words, whispered in a thunder tender growl, touched her ears. She crumpled to the ground, graceful as a dry fall leaf, a smile frozen on her face, one that would have been beatific but was instead made grotesque by the blood dripping over her lips to the sidewalk.
Colors danced, stunning her with pink arabesques and yellow grand jetés. AnnaMaria reached out, wanting nothing more than to join the rainbow jubilee. She extended an arm, intending to grab hold of the next pulse before it could disappear. Instead of connecting with the brilliant blue, her fingers slammed into something unyielding and cold. Her mind jolted awake, and she became aware of a steady beeping. Then an alarm. Muffled, hurried footsteps that grew louder. A door swinging open. The footsteps stopping beside her.
She sensed someone hovering nearby, checking … something. A monitor, her brain told her, as it put all the sounds together. You’re in a hospital.
AnnaMaria blinked, trying to bring the someone – probably a doctor or nurse – into focus.
Yet the joyful colors remained.
She raised a hand, touching her face, expecting soft skin, but encountering gauze. She blinked more furiously, frantically, until tears ran down her cheeks. The beeps became more rapid, as did her breath, until she couldn’t catch up with it.
“Slow breaths,” the someone ordered. He her mind filled in, automatically creating a face to go with the kind voice. “That’s it, easy does it. Now, Ms. Sanchez, do you know where you are?”
AnnaMaria tried to speak, but her voice caught and rasped, until she finally choked out, “The hospital?”
A smile touched his voice. She heard a faint scrabbling sound. Pen on paper? “That’s correct. I’m Dr. Holloway. Now, I know this is cliché, but what’s the last thing you remember?”
She paused, the dancing colors slowing as she pieced together the last moments on her feet. “The storm? There was thunder and …”
“You are very lucky,” Dr. Holloway said, after scratching a few more notes. “Not many people survive a lightning strike.”
“Lightning? I didn’t see any …” AnnaMaria squeezed her eyes, only inciting the colors into a merry jig. “I can’t see,” she whispered. She raised a hand, touching her face, hoping for a thick swath of cloth, but her fingers found only skin. “I can’t see. I can’t see. I can’t see!” Her voice grew shrill as a hungry baby bird.
A warm hand gripped her shoulder, interrupting her frantic cries. “It may be temporary,” Dr. Holloway said. “We need to do more tests …”
But the truth clogged her ears to the rest of his reassurances. For somehow she knew it wasn’t temporary, and that no test would show anything. No reason for her sightlessness. No hope for curing it.
The chill of reality stripped her of all warmth and she shivered, pulling the thin hospital blanket to her breast. As far as she was concerned, it was a death sentence. How could she make a living reporting on the latest fuck-ups and fashion faux-pas of the wealthy and the famous if she couldn’t see them? And it wasn’t like she’d made any friends along the way; her stilettos had left a punctured trail of betrayal and lies as she’d clawed her way to the top. Now the vultures would all get their turns at her flesh and bones.
She rolled away from the doctor, not caring whether he stayed or left, the sting of tears along her cheeks the only company she wanted. When she finally drifted into an uneasy sleep, it was to the murmur of thunder rolling in the distance.
Weeks of counseling, both for her in-the-crapper mental health and to teach her how to cope with her new “situation,” did nothing to improve either. She couldn’t stop stewing and chewing over the shithole of her life. Not only was she … she couldn’t even think the word … Her boss had called the day after her accident to offer his well wishes, and for her to take all the time she needed to heal and adjust. And then, just before he hung up, he off-handedly mentioned that Marla Fucking Newton would be taking over her column for the foreseeable future.
AnnaMaria cringed. See. With only the company of the now-dead phone line, she realized she’d all-but been fired. Fired! Her. Something that fucker had been wanting to do since he squeezed his Twinkie-loving lardass into the manager’s chair last year. She could see – flinch – the corners of his greying pornstache fold into the pockmarked skin of his cheeks as he delivered the news, hanging up before she could react. And to double D Marla no less. The ass-kisser had been after her job for months. All those simpering compliments hadn’t fooled her. She’d accepted the busty bottle-blonde into her circle though; better to keep the competition as close as her black silk panties.
It had been all over the news, of course, with her show at the forefront. Marla had taken the lead to “break the big news to all you stunned viewers out there.” Stunned by her too-tight blouse, maybe. Though she couldn’t actually see it, AnnaMaria had experienced enough of the bitch’s wardrobe to know exactly what she’d worn to tell the world the good news.
Tears stung her eyes again. Dark pools of poison men around the country had claimed to drown in, to plunge into, to see eternity … the analogies were as endless and clichéd as the men giving them.
Once the gauze came off, Dr. Holloway promised her eyes were perfectly normal, at least on the outside. As for the insides … he ran test after test until she was numb from the crushing waves of hope he kept offering and told him to stick it.
Yet she was still blind. The word coated her tongue with lemon-rind bitterness. But at least she could say it now.
Out of habit, she reached for the lamp beside her bed to turn the light off. She caught herself this time. Last night she’d knocked a fucking pile of magazines to the floor; they were still there. Not that it made a difference, but she closed her eyes and took several long, slow breaths. Thunder rumbled, sending her heart into a wild tango.
She gripped the blankets until her knuckles hurt, hating the fear. Even as a child, she’d never feared the huge storms of her Floridan home, counting the seconds between lightning and thunder well into adulthood. Will I ever not be afraid?
Though she couldn’t see the flashes, her ears told her the storm was drawing closer as the sound of thunder became the roar of a dragon.
But the thunder wasn’t traveling alone. A soft sigh broke through the chaos, caressing her ears with velvet, wrapping her in the warmth of something she could only identify as love. It ran tendrils of honey-sweet words along her skin until she moaned in climax.
Blinking through the haze of intoxicating pleasure and belonging and unity, she bolted upright in bed. “Whoa! What the fuck?!” she whispered, clinging to the wispy fragments of the unexpected erotic dream.
She wasn’t expecting an answer. Let alone a full-on conversation.
“Something’s different,” Dr. Holloway muttered, tipping her chin from side to side as he performed the usually routine part of their weekly appointments. “How odd …”
AnnaMaria shrugged. “If you say so. Not like I can tell.” A total line of bullshit, but he didn’t need to know that.
The light he shone in her eyes flared through the veil of blindness. Yet it wasn’t the first hint of sight she’d experienced since the accident. It started after the – visit? Encounter? Molestation? – three nights ago from, well, from something, someone, she’d never thought possible.
His sigh was not subtle. “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me.”
She shrugged again. “Not like you’d believe me anyway.” Especially since she didn’t believe it herself. To come to her, an ice queen, a happy-to-backstab bitch who took advantage of other people’s most embarrassing moments. Went looking for them. Created a few incidents, even. Just to get the “scoop.” So for – it? – to come to her was ludicrous. To claim that she, AnnaMaria Corvalis, was special? Chosen? Maybe she should check herself into the Psych ward while she was here.
Her mind sprung into a life of its own, creating sparks of thought faster than sand in an hourglass. She squeezed her eyes shut and dug fingernails into her scalp, desperate to gain control. Dr. Holloway was at her side as she slumped over, his cologne warm and comforting. Focusing on that, breathing it in as if it was more precious than oxygen, AnnaMaria opened her eyes and screamed.
He glowed. Ribbons of blue, green, and silver bathed the doctor in soft light. “Please let me help you.”
Trust him …
The thought was effortless, a drop of water sliding from a leaf. So she did. Without hesitation. She took his arm and let him guide her out of the small room to a table in the cafeteria. She let him bring her a cup of weak coffee. And when he hesitated taking the seat next to her, she smiled, but not the false smile she’d used to get a story or trick some fluff-brained celeb into sharing too much. No, this smile was genuine, demure, and for the first time in more than ten years AnnaMaria felt comfortable in her own skin.
With coffee-warmed fingers, she took one of his hands in hers. “Everything is different,” she said, seeing, sensing, his surprise; understanding it was at her sudden change in attitude, at her frankness. “A few nights ago, something … no, someone. Someone came to me. At night. It was personal. Close. Erotic …” She paused and raised an eyebrow. The colors dancing around him pulsed faster now, and were ever so slightly tinged with reds and oranges. Partly from concern, but mostly, and she couldn’t help the suggestive lick along her teeth. The reds flared briefly. Definitely aroused.
Ego-boosted, she straightened in her chair. Much as she was now curious to pursue this, him, thanks in no small part to the memory of that visit, there would be time for that later.
She sensed his curiosity, saw the blues darken as he waited for her to go on. “God came to me,” she said.
“Yes. And don’t look at me that way. Trust me, I’m no religious fanatic. The only time I ever believed was during a damn good orgasm. But yes, it was God.”
Dr. Holloway toyed with his coffee. She could hear the paper cup shifting on the cheap plastic table, saw the colors – his aura? – shifting with his movements.
“How do I know?” she interrupted. “I just do. And no, I wasn’t drunk, or on anything else. I wasn’t hallucinating. I wasn’t dreaming.”
“Ms. Corvalis …”
“AnnaMaria. Or Anna. Please.”
“Fine. Anna, it’s just … damn if I don’t believe you. Your eyes. They’re different.” He paused, and took her hand. “They’re iridescent now. Not much, but they almost shimmer …”
Her hand reached for her eyes. “And they weren’t like that before?”
The strong blues and greens around his head shimmied subtly. “No, and I had plenty of time to study them. Your eyes, I mean.” His coffee cup shifted around again. But AnnaMaria didn’t say anything, giving him time. She almost chuckled out loud. How unlike her, giving someone time to think. The old her would’ve stuck a microphone in his face and all-but beaten him with it until he gave her something worth taking to air.
“Did he say anything?”
This time she did laugh, not cruelly, but she couldn’t help it. “She had plenty say, but only one thing that’s for everyone.”
“Don’t even get me started. The woman bitch-sessioned for two fucking hours about how Her mate had ended up with all the credit. Not that She really minds, since they got it all wrong anyway. Men …” AnnaMaria couldn’t keep the smile from her face as the swirls around him shifted colors, the blues and greens deepening, threads of curious yellow changed into deep violets of understanding. And acceptance. Before he could ask, she said, “The message, one She wants everyone to know is that, well, They’re coming back.”
“Yes, They. God. Well, all gods. They left awhile ago. For reasons the human mind is not capable of understanding. Trust me, I tried.”
His colors changed suddenly, sharply, with worry. “All of them?”
AnnaMaria grabbed both of his hands. “Yes, but … She says it will be glorious.”
The message spread, slowly at first, for most chose not to believe. At first. Until They arrived. Then everyone believed. It was hard not to when every god ever prayed to returned. They didn’t appear all at once; it started as more of a slow trickle. One here, three there. The slow trickle quickly became a deluge, with major and minor deities popping up every few hours.
It was as if no time had passed, at least not to Them. Except They were no longer content to keep to their old territories. Apollo and Artemis were seen hunting in Canada. Anubis and Thor were spotted sunbathing on the beaches of Los Angeles. Loki, Puck, and Sun Wukong traipsed about the world creating blizzards in the jungles and hurricanes in the deserts. Zeus seduced his way around the world and back again.
Something had compelled her to go outside, she claimed, in an interview mere days before the world went to hell. More precisely, before it returned to the gods. Some mortals cowered in their basements, in denial of the war waging on their front lawns. Some joined in, swilling wine at bacchanals; orgies reigned supreme in newly erected shrines; the war gods took great delight in “games” involving nuclear warheads.
The humans, though kindly tolerated by some of Them, were really not needed in this brave new world. After years of being largely ignored and unloved until the humans needed something, the gods had decided to take back the earth. Bombs exploded overhead, accompanied by storms the like of which hadn’t ever been seen by human eyes. Towering mountain ranges erupted in the middle of New York City, Rio de Janeiro, and Paris, while a large lakes occupied the Sahara and Gobi deserts. The gods reorganized the world’s geological features on whims as fleeting as whispers, often in competition or argument.
AnnaMaria’s last thought, as the thunder gods tossed lightening bolts over them, was that she wished she’d asked thought to ask who it would be glorious for.
Jill Corddry started telling stories at an early age, and her parents get credit as the first to recognize her writing ability (and encouraged her accordingly). She even managed to use her BA in English for many years as a content writer for a few dot coms in Seattle. These days Jill finds a few spare minutes to write in between taking care of twin toddlers and soaking up the California sunshine. She has stories published in Lakeside Circus, Bewildering Stories, in the Demonic Possession anthology by James Ward Kirk Fiction, and an upcoming anthology by World Weaver Press. She is a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and the California Writers Club.