Chapter 1
The lightning struck, light beading down a chain of plasma. With a sizzle, the man fell to the ground. His head lolled to the side, his eyes open and glassy. A few moments passed, and then out of the silence came a low, quiet chuckle. --She woke in the cold morning dimness and checked her clock. 6:15AM Nodding with satisfaction, Ari slipped out of bed and began to dress. She had been training herself to wake without an alarm clock, and she now was regularly waking at the same time. Sometimes she would use her extra waking hours to do some more reading. This morning, she was heading out early. Once dressed, Ari padded lightly to the kitchen to grab a container of last night's leftover chicken and dumplings from the fridge. She packed the container, along with an apple and a frozen water bottle in the lunch pocket of her backpack. Ari set her pack on the floor, and quickly tied her shoes before listening for any sound from the upstairs bedroom. Nothing. Slinging on her backpack and grabbing her book from the counter, Ari headed out the door, locking it quietly behind her. Bustling down the street, Ari squinted to avoid hitting or tripping over anything in the dense morning mist. It was pretty early to be running around town, but Grammy wouldn't notice since they never ate breakfast together. Ari wanted to get her book in the library return bin before opening hours so it would be counted in yesterday's returns. After dropping off her book, she figured she'd still have over an hour to make it to school on time. There was a crackle from above, and Ari paused for a second. It sounded like it could have been a raccoon rummaging through someone's trash, or, more ominously, an exposed wire sparking. The acoustics must have been strange in the fog, though, because the sound had been startlingly loud and brief. Ari strained her ears, but the morning was now silent. Wrapping her arms more tightly around Storm Center, Ari resumed her walk to the library. The library had an outdoor drop box by the road for motorists. Ari dropped her book in there since it was the only book drop outside of the library. As Ari crossed the empty parking lot to head toward school, she considered what classes she had today. Social Studies, Geometry, Health, and English. Social Studies wasn't too bad, but she was already looking forward to the end of the school day when she could head back to the library. Once she arrived in the schoolyard, Ari stood by the flagpole to wait for the school to unlock and let students in for breakfast and classes. The mist was finally beginning to clear, and the birds were already twittering from their hidden perches in the trees. She noticed one of the quiet guys from her English class sitting against the wall by the main doors reading a book with some sort of space vessel on the cover. Ari hoped she wasn't supposed to have been reading some fiction book for English class. If so, she had forgotten.

Finally, the early bell rang, and the few children who had arrived to school early filed inside the building. Most headed to their lockers, but a few kids including Ari headed to the cafeteria. She bought a milk and drank it so she wouldn't completely miss out on breakfast. Then, she went by her locker to pick up her books for the first half of the day. The school day dragged by slowly, but uneventfully. Thankfully, they were just dealing with grammar in English class, so Ari hadn't forgotten any homework. She noticed the quiet kid from that morning reading his book under his desk, but the teacher didn't see. He was at his desk grading papers from another class while the class was supposed to be doing grammar worksheets. When the final bell rang, Ari and the other students stampeded out of school, heading their separate ways for the day. When she got back to the library, Ari was surprised by the buzz of conversation. Usually, the library was pretty quiet. She asked the librarian what the hubbub was about. The librarian smiled at Ari worriedly, "Apparently Ms. Dekauvski had been struck by lightning as she was watering her rooftop garden. The grocery delivery boy found her this afternoon when he had stopped by to deliver her weekly food order. But, can you believe it, Ms. Dekauvski was still alive, and just laying there on her roof. She was rushed to the hospital because there appeared to be pretty bad brain damage. That was the last anyone has heard, as far as I know." Ari thanked the librarian and wandered toward the Political Science section. She hoped Ms. Dekauvski was okay. She was really nice, often bringing delicious baked goods to community events like the library discard sale. Ari considered that she could stick around the house for awhile in the morning to see if there was a story on the lightning strike in the morning newspaper. In the meantime, it was her new book day since she had returned Storm Center. Time to pick out an interesting read. --Wendell woke to the sound of the telephone ringing. His dad groaned, fumbling at the phone. Sighing tiredly, his mom grabbed the receiver and listened for a second. "Thanks for the wakeup call," she mumbled. Waking in a hotel was still startling. It was taking forever for the contractors to replace their roof since this winter's freeze led to a tree falling on their home. It was even stranger for Wendell than it was for his parents since he had to wake just as early as they did. There wasn't a bus that ran near their hotel, so his parents had started dropping him off at school on their way to work. As Wendell got ready for school, he considered what to do during the hour he would have to wait before the school opened today. Usually he listened to music, played a video game, or read a book. He'd been really into Rendezvous with Rama lately, so he decided to grab that. One nice thing about staying in a hotel was the continental breakfast. Wendell grabbed a bagel, mini cream cheese tub, and jelly packet to eat together in the car while his parents grabbed some coffee to go. Drifting through the day, Wendell sneaked a few chapters of his book when classes got dull. He was pretty near the end, and wanted to finish before school was over. If he finished it soon enough, he could return it to the library and get another book before his parents picked him up at

6:00PM. Maybe he would choose a more fantasy-heavy book this time. He had heard good things about The Song of Ice and Fire series, and considered checking that out. When school let out, Wendell avoided the crush of students by dawdling at his locker, and then walking slowly outside and toward the library. If he walked slowly and devoted a portion of his mind to staying aware of his surroundings, he was able to walk and read at the same time. By the time he got to the library, he had just finished Rendezvous with Rama. There seemed to be more noise than usual when he dropped off his book in the front desk's book slot. Shrugging it off, Wendell headed toward the Fantasy and Science Fiction section. He passed a younger kid pawing through the magazines. Rethinking his plan, Wendell browsed Asimov's Science Fiction for about an hour before heading back toward the Fantasy and Science Fiction section. No sense in picking out a book and reading through most of it before he even left the library. Absently, Wendell wondered what his family would do for dinner tonight. Maybe they would have Thai food tonight. It was unlikely. Since they had to eat out for nearly every meal while their house was being repaired, they usually went with less expensive options like deli sandwiches or fast food. Wendell reflected that pizza wouldn't be too bad, but it was kind of depressing to eat it in the hotel room. Hopefully their roof would be complete soon. --Darrett Sanasin rifled through the stack of magazines he had compiled; several issues of National Geographic Explorer, Sports Illustrated for Kids, and Odyssey Magazine. Deciding on National Geographic Explorer, Darrett picked an armchair in the stacks and settled in to shut out the world for a few hours. Well, Darrett hoped it would be a few hours. Darrett wasn't sure how long they would be at the library. His brother would probably get antsy soon. Then, they'd probably head home and spend time in the garage tinkering with the car or some new project that grabbed Bert's interest. Either way, at least they wouldn't have to go into the house until much later that night. Staying out of the house was preferred. Inside, the boys would either find shouting as their bickering parents disagreed over what belonged to whom, or empty, echoing silence. Ever since they agreed to have a divorce, Darrett's parents alternated between claiming belongings and avoiding one another. Either situation was upsetting, and it was easiest to just avoid the house for the most part. The library was a good distraction after school, but Darrett's brother Bert was too action-oriented to sit reading for long. In fact, Bert's thoughts were on a similar track to Darrett's. He had glanced through a couple DIY home repair books and one car maintenance book. Now Bert was itching to put some of that information to practical use. He always figured it was most effective to learn by doing, but he didn't completely dismiss books.

Bert figured that even if he couldn't focus on the library's content for long, it was pretty good for his little brother. Darrett was pretty bright for an eight-year-old. He needed some sort of nurturing, and he definitely wasn't getting it at home. Maybe learning at the library would help nurture Darrett in ways Bert could not; that's what he hoped, at least. Sighing, Bert set out to find where Darrett had squirreled himself away. He had been fidgeting for awhile now, and figured Darrett could check out what he wanted to continue to read. That way he could keep reading, and Bert could get his hands dirty with the car or some furniture. Working with his hands helped Bert clear his mind and relax a bit. So long as they couldn't hear argument overspill from the garage, he might be able to forget anything was changing. After looking around a bit, Bert found Darrett. "Hey, buddy," he said, tussling Darrett's hair, "are you ready to head home?" Darrett restacked his magazines. "Sure, Bert. Can I check out these magazines first? I'd like something to read while you tinker around." Bert nodded with a grin. They headed to the front desk, then brought their haul to Bert's car so they could drive home. Getting his driver's license at 16 had been a relief for Bert. A way to get out of the house was wonderful in itself, but it also allowed him to take Darrett to school on mornings after neither of their parents came home. "Lorelei" came on the radio. Bert turned it up and leaned back, trying to relax into forgetfulness. --Stewart and Myna finished putting away all the supplies in the science lab. Cleaning up for extra credit was great, especially when it meant they got to spend time together. Stewart grinned at Myna as they left the school building. "Alright, where to now? It's still a few hours before we have to go home for dinner, so we can hang out!" Myna smirked. "Oh yeah, and why would I want to hang out with you?" Winking and giggling, she ran ahead. "Why don't we head to the library? I don't have any money, or I'd treat you to some ice cream on the way." "I could treat us to ice cream." Stewart blushed a little. He'd been best friends with Myna since they were 5, so nearly 10 years now. She was so much fun to be around, but lately she'd been making him feel awkward and bumbling. Hopefully she'd want to have ice cream anyway. "You are so sweet! I'll race you to the Baskin Robbins on the corner!" With that, she was off, her long auburn hair streaming behind her. Stewart took off after her, only catching up when they got to the store. Inside, Stewart ordered butter pecan in a waffle cone, while Myna got a chocolate in a bowl. "You'd better hurry to wherever you're headed," the cashier said as she handed Stewart his change. "It looks like it's about to rain."

Eating their ice cream quickly so they could finish before they went into the library, Myna and Stewart hurried down the sidewalk. Suddenly, a bolt of light erupted, blinding Stewart. When he could see again, a horrible image filled his vision. Myna lay on the ground, her beautiful hair marred by fallen ice cream. Her eyes were open and glazed, and she was utterly motionless. Deep, rolling thunder reverberated through the shop windows to Stewart's left, and rain began to fall. It was several straight minutes before Stewart realized he was screaming.

Related Interests