The wind had picked up in the last hour. What was once a friendly ruffling of the boy’s sandy, blonde hair quickly became an insistent tugging at his clothes, almost shoving him forward as he hiked back to camp, as if the gusts were imploring him to seek shelter. As he walked, he looked up through the bare branches of the Spring trees, and noted how the billowy, white clouds that had adorned the sky not long ago, were now piling up, and darkening into an irritable grey.
“Come on, son,” his father urged, his tone upbeat but strained. “We’re almost there. We’ll bug out and ride out the storm in the car.”
The boy didn’t respond. His breath came in noisy, short, bursts from exertion and anxiety. He adjusted the heavy pack to more evenly distribute the weight on his shoulders, his wide, hazel eyes never straying far from the darkness gathering on the horizon.
“Dad?” he panted. “Are we… Are we gonna be okay?”
The man abruptly stopped. He spun around, crouched down, and held his child’s shoulders reassuringly. Blue eyes locked with hazel. “Yes, son. I would never let anything happen to you. I promise.” He patted the 9-year-old on the head. “We’ll be warm and dry in the car before you know it. Now, get a move on. We don’t have all day.”
The boy’s stomach tightened with panic in spite of the comforting words. As he followed his father along the trail, a flash abruptly split the black, roiling clouds marching relentlessly toward them, making him jump. He bit back his scream, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to contain it forever.
As far back as he could remember, lightning had sparked an uncontrollable fear within him. He had spent many a storm hunkered in the dark recesses of his bedroom closet, cocooned within his soft “woobie,” rocking and crying as white-hot lighting arced across the sky. Now, there was nowhere for him to hide. No blanket with which he could block out the deadly zigzags parading across the heavens. Nothing that could stop the lightning from taking him.
The storm clouds had almost reached the pair by the time their campsite came into view. With a concerned glance at the sky, his father instructed the boy to go wait in the car. “Oh, and James? Your woobie is under the back seat. I’ll be right there.”
Relief, gratitude and love flooded through James, forcing the fear to retreat just a little. He threw his arms around his father’s waist in a rare show of emotion just as chilly, fat, drops of rain began to pepper the dirt around them.
His father returned the hug only long enough to wordlessly remind James of his promise. He would be safe.