Liz Wyckoff

The Only Glowing Thing

We weren’t nothing before the storm. Our noses pressed into windows on opposite sides of the field. We were watching rain fall and harden into ice. Ten-year-old girls, we’d done as we’d been told: filled sinks, checked cans, put candles and flashlights in a pile. We didn’t know what, but we were readying for something. Some sort of disaster.

That night, the boughs broke. We heard the sugar maple arms crack and thunder down around us. When we looked, the houses and trailers on the field had slipped into darkness, silent as wolves.

Come morning, I saw you—a bright bundle across the way. You wore your granddad’s too-big boots and some old hat with a pom. I felt the force pulling. You skimmed the meadow’s shell like a waterbug.

I’m like Jesus!, you yelled to me.

School’s closed!, I yelled back. Our words puffed out, see-through, like clouds of exhaust.

When you got up beside me, you opened your mitten and showed me a mouse froze in a teardrop of ice. Cat killed it before the rain, you said and looked into my eyes. Your tiny teeth sparkled whiter than any bulb I’d seen, and that’s when I knew. The power was out, but us two had turned on.

If they’d looked closer, they could have seen our charge. But no one did. No one saw how sparks flew from our fingertips. How strands of our hair danced up toward the heavens. How when we rubbed our arms with mittened hands, we attracted things like magnets.

Silver thaw, your granddad called it. Worst one he’d ever seen. My folks said we should stay indoors, but our motors were humming. We ran on the icy, empty road and flew two-footed, at the speed of light, past strands of dark bulbs and yards of glazed Santas. We knocked down fingers of ice that hung from the double-wides’ busted gutters. We kicked holes in the crust at the edge of the woods and peed in the soft snow underneath. We melted all we touched.

We were not like the superheroes in my brothers’ comic books—what we had was real. You pointed at that glassy oak and split it in half, got it to groan open like a jaw. I pointed at a transformer and it shorted out in a spray of blue sparks. We closed our mittens over downed phone lines and swung them like jump ropes. Nothing could hurt us—our veins were live wires.

For days we stayed bonded. Come sunset, my folks would shout and we’d separate while dusk settled. From across the field, I’d look for the small spark of a candle in your window—the only glowing thing for as far as I could see. Your granddad slept with you for warmth, you said, but we were too filled with fire to feel cold.

Our power made us dizzy and we laughed till we dropped. We giggled at a pitch too high for human ears, and we talked without speaking, passed signals skin to skin. Inside our neighbor’s barn full of stale-smelling hay, we pressed our tongues like batteries and felt the flow. We dropped our mittens to the floor and found each other’s electric parts. We laughed until we thought we’d die.

But after the storm, we went back to nothing. Workers righted the poles, microwaves beeped on, our bright sea of ice changed back to brown snow. Our magnets had turned and we stayed far from each other. Weeks later, when your granddad’s heart stopped thumping, no one knew till your neighbor reported a smell. You hadn’t said a word.

Poor thing, my folks said.

She ain’t a thing, I said back.

My dreams are still filled with you. That hat with the pom. Those tiny teeth all lit up and shimmering. Your granddad is covered in ice, sometimes, and propped in his yard in a plastic sleigh. Other times, we find him on the bales in the barn, resting with closed eyes like a sleeping heifer. Always, you point at him. You concentrate. You try to summon the power we had, like it could save him or do something else. And in the dreams when he’s alive, you are pointing at him still.

We thought we were electric. But when we saw him at the barn’s edge, squinting to see us, we weren’t filled with the stuff that powers toasters and bulbs. We were more. We were of the heavens. We were otherworldly. We were two bolts of lightning, two molten hot meteors, two bright, blinding stars crashing into the earth. We were bending the laws of nature, burning everything in sight. We were more than just girls. We were like nothing you’ve seen.

Wyckoff_AuthorPhotoLiz Wyckoff was born and raised in northern New York. Her short fiction has been published in Annalemma, The Collagist, and fwriction : review, among other journals. Her essays, reviews, and interviews can be found in Slice magazine, the Tin House blog, and The Outlet: The blog of Electric Literature. She works in book publicity for Barrelhouse and Penn State Press, and does marketing for A Strange Object.