The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
Riders on the Storm
by Loren Rhoads
When she looked up from the book she’d been immersed in, something in the air felt wrong. Alondra put the book down open over the arm of her chair as she stood. Then she drifted from room to spacious room in the borrowed mansion, trying to get a fix on what had gotten her hackles up.
She stopped in one of the second-floor bedrooms to stare out at the view. The Rockies rose in the near distance, their snowy peaks usually brilliant white in the sunshine at this hour. Today, they stood against a sky as blue as a bruise.
Alondra opened the window and drew a deep breath. The pines surrounding the house had a stronger aroma today, heavy and resinous. A blustery wind brought her the scent of dust. Things were so incredibly dry now.
She circled the house’s central atrium to check the view in the East. In anything, things were worse. The Eastern sky had gone dark as wet concrete. The clouds flared with sheet lightning. Thunder rumbled across the valley. She tasted ozone.
Colorado needed rain, was desperate for it. Unfortunately, if the lightning preceded the raindrops – if even a single bolt found a tree – the tinder all around her would explode into flames.
Alondra closed the window and hurried down the stairs. She swung through the kitchen to grab the fossilized bone Rene had purchased at the gift shop in Estes Park, a hunk of petrified wood that served as a bookend, and the turkey vulture feather she’d picked up beneath the trees yesterday. From there she opened the doorwall onto the back patio.
The wind moaned through the pines as the storm clouds drew nearer.
Alondra hurried outside. She set the rocks down, pinning the feather safely in place, and cranked the cover from the hot tub.
A small lizard stared up at her as the cover peeled back. Alondra paused to give the lizard time to run, but it only tilted its head to look up at her.
She tried to remember all that Rene had told her about the native lizards. This one was long and thin, striped, its tail three times the length of its body. Alondra thought it was a checkered whiptail. Rene said they were all female, reproducing parthenogenetically, the egg-hatched infants exact clones of their mothers.
“Hello,” Alondra said. “I’d be glad for your help.” She continued to open the hot tub’s cover, but her thoughts were racing.
Water wasn’t Alondra’s element and she didn’t have any favors she could call in from them. She didn’t have anything she was willing to sacrifice beyond the items from Rene’s collection. She knew that if she pulled moisture from the sky, somewhere else was going to suffer. But if she let the lightning fall, she – and every living thing in the valley – had no way to escape the firestorm.
A second lizard had joined the first. While Alondra watched, a third raced up the side of the hot tub to join the others.
Alondra took that as inspiration. She scooped water from the hot tub and sprinkled it in a circle around them all. She washed the fossil, then the petrified wood, setting them in the cardinal corners. She dipped the vulture feather and flicked the water from it in the four directions. Some of it blew back into her face.
Another lizard joined the others.
Alondra discovered a forgotten pottery cup beside the hot tub’s base. She rinsed it in the tub, then filled it from the tap nearby. She set it near the lizards – there were a dozen of them now – and stepped away so that they could drink.
Then she watched the sky between the pines. Something enormous lifted off from one of the mountain peaks. Stirred by its wings, the clouds swirled, trailing it as it approached the patio where Alondra stood.
Winds cooled by snow shivered over Alondra’s skin, driving back the humidity of the onrushing storm. A moment later, hail bulleted down around her. It stung where it struck her bare arms, but Alondra stood her ground.
It was a race now: would the rain fall before the lightning struck? Alondra couldn’t tear her gaze from the massive creatures swooping overhead, one with wings like fire, one with wings like leather. One of them crowed with a screech louder than thunder. The other answered as it slammed into the first, talons outstretched…and the rain flooded down, warm after the hail. Lightning exploded overhead.
Something sharp stabbed the top of Alondra’s foot. She looked down to find herself surrounded by the lizards, two dozen or more of them. One had fastened herself onto Alondra’s bare foot.
The others rushed at her. Without thinking, Alondra scrambled over the lip into the unheated hot tub, carrying some of the boldest lizards into the cool water with her.
She sucked in a deep breath and settled to the floor of the tub. The unprepared lizards, forced to choose between biting or breathing, released their holds on her. Ribbons of her blood followed them as they floated upward.
Alondra surfaced long enough to splash the lizards from the tub on waves of water. The overflow washed the waiting lizards from lip surrounding the pool.
Another sheet of lightning exploded nearby, already moving off toward the plains.
Alondra felt grateful her sacrifice had been enough today. Next time, though, she wasn’t inclined to be so generous to the lizards. Next time, she was wearing her boots.
Fiction © Copyright Loren Rhoads
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Author Loren Rhoads:
Alondra DeCourval travels from San Francisco to Prague to Olso, encountering magical creatures and searching for the limits she will go to for love.
Such an enjoyable read – loved all the detail of the ritual and the heavy atmosphere of the impending storm.
Thanks so much! It was really fun to write.