Once In a Blue Moon

This short piece is based on a word prompt (blue) from the WriYe DreamWidth.  It was fun writing something where Erik acts like a typical younger brother towards Gretchen – siblings don’t always get along, after all.  Gilbert appreciates his son’s sense of humor enough that it’s tough for him to scold Erik, even though he knows he should.

**

Erik frowned up at the sky.  Then, he looked over at his father.  “Papa,” he said, “the moon is white.”

Papa blinked and tilted his head to one side.  His expression was one of confusion and Erik felt his cheeks warm.  “It’s usually white,” Papa said, nodding.  “Well… during a complete lunar eclipse it can look red, but… what color did you expect it to be?”

Stepping over to his father, Erik shrugged.  “Greta said it was going to be blue,” he said.  His cheeks burned hotter when Papa began chuckling.  “It’s not funny, Papa!”

“I’m sorry,” Papa said, as he struggled to keep laughing.  He sighed and hugged Erik.  “You misunderstood, Erik.  A blue moon isn’t actually blue.  It’s the second full moon in a solar month – the third full moon of four in a season.”

“Oh,” Erik said.  He stepped back and frowned up at the moon.  It would have been really neat for it to actually have been blue.  “Why do they call it a blue moon?”

“Language is a funny thing,” Papa said, shrugging.  “The word didn’t used to be ‘blue’ – but a word that sounded similar and actually meant ‘betrayer’, because it was usually the full moon that fell in the spring and the fasting season would be over, but… it’s not.  Right?”

“There’s another month yet,” Erik said.  Then, he nodded understanding.  “So… people felt betrayed by the full moon?”

Papa nodded.  Then, he looked up at the moon.  “It can, actually, look blue sometimes,” he said.  “That can happen when there’s a lot of dust in the air, like from a volcano.”

For a moment, Erik just stared at him.  Then, he smiled.  “That,” he said, “would be even more rare than a second one in a solar month.”  He chuckled softly and said, “That’s how often Gretchen’s right.”

Papa bit off a chuckle and ruffled his hair.  “Be nice, Erik,” he said, but there wasn’t any real anger in his tone.

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At the Intersection of Hopes and Dreams

This story was inspired by a picture prompt from the WriYe DreamWidth.  It took me a while to figure out what to do with it, but… when I wrote the title, I knew exactly what to write.

Lessons-about-Learning-and-Self-Motivation-from-Five-Inspirational-Greats-300x199

Natalia looked at the newspaper with wide eyes.  She could hardly believe what she was seeing.  She’d known the day would come.  After all, that had been the entire point of starting a class newspaper.  Hadn’t it?

At the same time, seeing the words written on the page was thrilling somehow.  It wasn’t even just that she had an article.  She had expected that.  Her excitement and joy came from the fact that Peter, Lily and Ellie hadn’t made it simply an article.

“I have my own column,” she breathed, as she looked across the table at Gretchen.  She could tell from the look on Gretchen’s face that her friend didn’t understand what was so special about that.  She needed to have it terms she was familiar with.  “It’s like… if the teacher told you it was your job to give morning announcements each day,” she said.

That did it.  Gretchen’s face lit up.  “Natalia,” she squealed.  “I am so happy for you!”

Erik hurried over to them as Gretchen hugged her.  “Congratulations, Natalia,” he said, waving his copy of the newspaper at her.  “Your own regular column!  It’ll be a lot of work, but I’m sure you’ll do just great!”

“Thanks, Erik,” Natalia said, grinning.  She looked down at the newspaper again.  She gave into the temptation to run her fingers over the words.  “Reviews by Natalia,” it read.  In smaller print, underneath, was her name: Natalia Dziedzic.  “They even spelled it correctly,” she said, her voice soft.

A Restful Pastime

I wrote this story yesterday, but it was late enough that I couldn’t get online to post it.  This was another tough one… I stared at this picture and struggled to figure out what to write about it.

Prompt 42

Gretchen was busily knitting while her brother spent time with his friend, Henryk.  The two boys spent a great deal of time together, especially now that they were all in the same class.  She heard them chuckling and laughing and looked up from her work.

They were kneeling on the floor with an open box of crayons and a large piece of cardboard.  She watched as Erik and Henryk piled the crayons carefully, like they were building one of those cabins out of the log toys.  The thing was, they were using plain old, regular crayons.  Somehow, though, they were getting them to stay together.  Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore.

“How are you doing that?” she asked, waving at the tower of crayons.

The two boys blinked at her and then Erik began chuckling.  “We put glue on them, Greta,” he said, showing her the side of the crayon.  Now that he’d said it, she could see the dish with a pool of glue that was sitting between them.

“Why are you building a log cabin out of crayons?” she asked, shaking her head.  “I mean… you won’t be able to use those crayons for anything else, you know?”

Henryk shrugged.  “It’s for a school project,” he said.  Then, he began dipping the flat ends of the crayons into the glue and standing them up in rows going away from the cabin.  “We’re building a model as part of a project in history class.”

Erik nodded.  “We were going to use the log blocks, but then… Henryk said there were more crayons in the box than block in the package,” he said.  He smiled.  “It’s also pretty cool, because the crayons are smaller.  It changes the scale of the model.”

“We’re going to paint them when we’re done,” Henryk added, as he continued standing crayons on end.  “This is the forest, in case you were going to ask.”

“I knew that,” Gretchen said, as she turned her attention back to her knitting.  She shook her head slightly and then frowned at her brother.  “Whose crayons are those, Erik?” she asked.

Erik blinked at her and then smiled.  “We bought them for the project, Sister,” he said, his tone sweet.  Then, he chuckled softly.  “You didn’t think we’d use your crayons, did you?  We wouldn’t do that without asking your permission.”

“Right,” she said.  Then she shook her head and looked back at her knitting.  For some reason, it was very hard to focus on her knitting.  Why did her brother have to be working in the living room with his friend?  Couldn’t they go in the kitchen?  When they began painting – laughing the entire time to each other – she took her knitting and stomped out of the room.

“Jealous?”

Gretchen frowned at her father.  “Of Erik?” she said, frowning.  “Why should I be jealous of him?”

“I didn’t say you were jealous of your brother, Greta,” Papa said.  He crouched down slightly and leaned in close to meet her eyes.  “I figured that it was Henryk you were jealous of.  Until this year, Erik has always partnered with you, right?”

Gretchen opened her mouth to protest and then stopped.  She blinked and flushed as she realized the truth.  As much as it annoyed her that Erik always came to her for these things, it had made her feel… important.  Now, she felt like he didn’t need her anymore.  He had Henryk.

“I want him to have friends,” she said, scowling.

Papa nodded and patted her shoulder lightly.  “You will always be his sister, Gretchen,” he said, his voice gentle.  “Always remember that.”

Crystal Visions

This story came from the prompt of “Snow” from NaNoWriYe’s DreamWidth.  It was… interesting.  I wasn’t sure where I’d go with it until after I’d begun writing it.

Henryk trudged through the snow, dragging the sled behind him.  He was going to be meeting his friends, Leonas and Erik.  Leonas had just moved into the area and Henryk knew things had been difficult for him.  Besides being in a strange country and attending a new school, which were challenging enough, he was from Veligrad.  Too many people in Berlyn were immediately distrusting of anyone from that land.  It didn’t seem to matter to them where in Veligrad he was from or why his family had left.  They heard that he was from there and assumed that he was trouble.

He heard someone call his name and looked up.  Immediately, a smile touched his lips.  “Hey, Leo,” he called, waving to the other boys.  He broke into a run, his sled whispering over the snow behind him.  As he drew near, he skidded to a stop and smiled.  “Hey, Erik!”

“Hello, Henryk,” Erik said.  He tugged his hat down lower and then pointed towards the park.  “We can sled right from here, I guess.”

“I don’t have a sled,” Leonas said, sounding a little embarrassed.  He sighed and then shrugged.  “We left so quickly… I didn’t…” he trailed off and ducked his head.

“Don’t worry about it,” Henryk said.  He waved at the sled on the snowy sidewalk behind him.  “Zofia and I can fit together on this one.  I figured that we could ride together.”

Leonas smiled warmly and nodded.  “All right,” he said, his voice soft.

“Front or back?” Henryk said, as he dragged the sled up on top of the snowbank.  He smiled as Erik positioned his own, smaller sled next to Henryk’s larger one.

“You should steer,” Leonas said, shaking his head vigorously.

Henryk nodded and settled on the snow.  Once Leonas was settled behind him, he lifted his feet and they started down the slope. Erik followed in their wake.  Henryk smiled as they flew down the hillside.  The light reflected off the snow, making it sparkle like diamonds.  By the time they reached the base, he was cheering excitedly.

They slid to a stop and Leonas tumbled off and climbed to his feet.  “That was great,” he said, rubbing at his cheeks with his hands.

“Where are your mittens?” Erik asked, looking back up the way they’d come.  “Did you drop them?”

“I just have these,” Leonas said, shrugging.  He held up his hands, to show the thin gloves he was wearing.  “Mama’s making me a pair of mittens, but she hasn’t finished them yet.”

Henryk nodded and then, as they started up the hill, he said, “It must have been scary, having to leave in the middle of the night and everything.”

Leonas shrugged and then nodded.  “Yeah,” he said.  “Papa hasn’t said what happened – at least, not to us kids.  He might have told Mama.”

“Parents think it’s less scary if we don’t know stuff,” Henryk said, shrugging.  He thought about how he’d felt when he’d learned what Mama did for a living and chuckled.  “Sometimes, it is.”  He glanced over at Erik .  “I know I worry a lot more about Mama, now that I know she’s not just some typist in an office.”

“Me too,” Erik said, nodding.  His brows furrowed as they reached the top of the hill once again.  “What are your parents doing for work, Leonas?”

“Mama’s been working as a maid in this really nice house,” Leonas said, frowning thoughtfully.  Then, he shrugged.  “Papa works in a factory.  They’re the only ones that would hire him.”

“A lot of the kids at school… their Mamas don’t work at all,” Henryk said, shaking his head.  “I think they don’t realize how lucky they are.”

“We do,” Erik said.  Then, he shook his head.  “Enough with this gloomy talk.  We came out here to enjoy the snow.  Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Leonas said.  He grinned at Henryk.  “Can I try steering this time?”

Henryk grinned and then nodded.  “Sure, Leo,” he said.  Soon, they were zooming down the hill once more.  For a while, they were all able to forget about their fears and just be children.  Snow seemed to have that effect, sometimes.

Only in Daydreams

I had such fun answering this prompt from the NaNoWriYe DreamWidth.  I’m really pleased with how it turned out and I’ve gotten away from the dark stuff I’ve been writing the last few days.

Prompt: Strangers

“My goodness,” Mama said, her voice soft. “Don’t you look like the fine young gentleman?”

Erik heaved a sigh and pushed a lock of hair behind his ear. “Are you going to take pictures of us before we head out?” he asked. She always had. He didn’t know why this year would be any different, except that it was in so many other ways. They would be starting secondary school – a new school, with kids they didn’t know – and Papa was home.

“Of course,” Mama said. She waved him towards Gretchen and said, “Stand with your sister.”

Gretchen was wearing one of her new skirts and Papa had a look on his face that made Erik wonder if she’d make it out the door. However, Papa surprised him by finally sighing and kissing her on her brow.

“Papa,” she said, barely stopping herself from rolling her eyes. “We’ll be back not too long after you get home. We’re just day students.”

“I know,” he said. He smiled and then looked over at Erik. “I’m just… you both look so grown up!” He stepped back, so that Mama could take several pictures of them from different angles.

Then, Gretchen was hurrying out the door. She paused on the front steps just long enough to put her skates on. Then, she was leaving Erik behind. He didn’t bother yelling after her. She wouldn’t have listened anyway.

“Worried?” Papa said, his voice soft.

Erik heaved a sigh and shrugged. “I won’t know anyone,” he said. He bit his lip and dropped his gaze to his shoes. Gretchen would make friends within moments of entering the school. It wasn’t so easy for him. He was too shy of strangers to talk to them.

“Henryk will be there,” Papa said.

That was unexpected. Erik looked up at him sharply and smiled. “Really?” he said, his voice faint. When Papa nodded, he laughed softly. “I better get going or I’ll be late.”

“Try and have fun, Erik ,” Papa said, waving to him. As Erik hurried out the door, he said, “Before you know it, you’ll be graduating. These days go by quicker than you think.”

Erik blinked at his father’s words. Then, he nodded. “I’ll remember that, Papa,” he said, his voice soft. He put on his own skates and then he hurried off towards the school. He would do his best not to let his shyness get the better of him. In seven years, he would be graduating.

Papa had been gone for seven years and Erik had heard his father say, more than once, that he hadn’t realized how much he’d missed. “I’m not going to miss a moment,” Erik breathed. He’d take each person as they came. A stranger was just a friend he hadn’t made yet.

Dreamers – part 9

Today, I had a bit of a challenge in using the prompt from NaNoWriYe’s DreamWidth in the story.  However, I remembered a throwaway line in an earlier section and that cleared things up nicely.

Prompt: Ballgown

By the time Gilbert and Madeline were able to come together once again, it was the day of the annual awards ceremony for the IIA.  Gilbert fussed with the collar of his dress shirt.  He knew how Erik felt about having to dress up for these things.  He felt the same way, in fact.  However, it was part of the job.  He heaved a sigh as his fingers tangled in the bow tie once again.  “Maddie?” he called.

There was a rustle of fabric and then she was at his side.  After she got his fingers untangled from the fabric, it was a simple matter for her to tie it herself.  Then, she kissed his cheek.  “Charmingly awkward,” she said.

As she stepped back, Gilbert got a good look at her gown.  The soft peach color accented her fair complexion perfectly.  It was sleeveless, but she had long gloves that covered most of her arms.  “Well,” he said, blinking.

Madeline stifled a laugh and said, “I’ve got to finish helping Gretchen get ready.  Can you handle Erik’s tie?”

“I can help him with his,” Gilbert said, grinning.  “It’s my own that I have trouble with.”  He heaved a sigh as she headed for the door once again.  “We need to talk about that thing still.”

“Felicja and Taurys will be at the ceremony,” Madeline said, heading out the door.  “We’ll talk there.”

“Yes, dear,” Gilbert replied.  She was avoiding the subject.  He shook his head and headed off to help his son get finished dressing for the ceremony.  Normally, they wouldn’t bring the children to events like this.  However, Director Williams had insisted that they be there.  After all, their parents were among those being honored.

He tapped on the door of Erik’s room and then peered inside. Erik was already dressed and, to Gilbert’s surprise, he’d managed to tie the formal bowtie without any help.  “Good job,” he said, smiling.

Erik shrugged.  “It’s not hard,” he said.  Then, he stepped up to Gilbert and tilted his head.  “Why are you getting an award, Papa?”

“Well,” Gilbert said, as he struggled for a moment to find the words.  Finally, he sighed and shrugged.  “My boss feels like what we did was special enough that we need to be congratulated in a special way.”

“Don’t you want to get an award?” a new voice said.

Gilbert turned around to find Madeline and Gretchen coming down the corridor.  He smiled at the gown that Madeline had found for their daughter.  It was blue and white with just enough frills to show that she was still quite young, but there was enough formality to it that Gretchen wouldn’t feel like “a baby”.

Shrugging again, Gilbert said, “I just did my job.”

“Arthur feels we went above and beyond the expectations of our jobs,” Madeline added, her voice soft.  She waved at Erik and said, “Get your sister’s shawl, Erik.”

“Yes, Mama,” Erik said, as he hurried off.

Gretchen looked at each of her parents and frowned.  “Are you two fighting?” she asked, her voice faint.

“No,” Gilbert said.  He gave her a weak smile and then shrugged.  “I need to ask your mama to do something that she doesn’t really want to do.”  He turned to Madeline and, still talking to Gretchen, added, “I know that and I understand why, but I have to ask anyway.”

“If she doesn’t want to do it, then she shouldn’t have to,” Gretchen said, sounding a bit annoyed.

Madeline chuckled.  “We all have to do things that we don’t want to do, sometimes, Greta,” she said.  “Papa didn’t want to be in Veligrad for seven years.  You didn’t want to go to summer camp.”

For a moment, Gretchen frowned.  Finally, she nodded and said, “Papa doesn’t want to get an award.”  Then, she headed down the corridor and took her shawl from Erik.  “Let’s go outside, Erik.”

“All right, Sister,” Erik said, as he followed her through the door.

Gilbert offered Madeline his arm.  As she looped her arm in his, he said, “I wouldn’t be asking this of you if it weren’t important, Maddie.  You know that, right?”

“I do,” Madeline murmured.  She kissed his cheek and then nodded.  “I’ll do what I can, but I can’t make any promises.  Their spirits might have moved on or they simply might not want to talk.”

“I just want you to try,” Gilbert murmured.  He sighed as he looked down at their formal attire.  “After the awards ceremony.”

“After the awards ceremony,” Madeline repeated.

Dreamers – Part 7

Here we are with another section of this story.  I used a word prompt from the NaNoWriYe DreamWidth for this one.  It’s been a fun challenge to get these to fit with where the story needs to go.

**

Prompt: Downtown

Madeline was watching Gretchen as she scanned the racks of clothing. She knew her daughter wanted to look at the short skater skirts and tank tops with their plunging necklines that were on the racks not far away. However, she couldn’t help but smile as the girl ground her teeth and perused the floral a-lines and smock blouses that were closer at hand.

Erik was keeping himself amused by playing with a puzzle he’d found in the toy section. If he managed to solve it before they were done, Madeline knew they wouldn’t be buying it. However, she also wasn’t about to make him wait for them to finish shopping without doing anything.

“Mama,” Gretchen said, holding up a pretty skirt that had flowers embroidered at the hem. “Is this one all right?” From her tone, Madeline knew her daughter was frustrated by her limitations, both due to the selection and her parents’ rules.

“You really don’t care much for flowers, do you?” Madeline said. When Gretchen shrugged, Madeline stepped closer to her. Taking the skirt, she looked it over for a moment before holding it up against her daughter’s slender frame. It fell to just above Gretchen’s knee. Her friends wore their skirts much shorter, but Madeline knew Gilbert would prefer something longer. This seemed like a fair compromise.

“No shorter,” she said, as she set the garment in her shopping basket. When Gretchen sighed, she smiled. “You’re twelve, Gretchen. Enjoy being young while you can. Worry about dressing like a grown woman when you are one.”

“Yes, Mama,” Gretchen said, rolling her eyes and turning back to the rack where she’d found the only acceptable skirt so far.

“Mama,” Erik called, holding up the communication device she’d given him to keep an eye on. “It’s vibrating.”

Madeline stepped over to her son and took the device. Keying a button, she said, “Go for Dreamer.”

Gilbert’s voice came through the speaker in response. “Hey, Dreamer,” he said. “Sleeper, here. We’re heading for the Mushroom, but… Can you meet us at the Mall later? We have something we need your help with.”

“I’ll be there around fourteen hundred,” she said, glancing at her watch. “I’m shopping with the kids at the moment.”

“Hey, cool,” Gilbert replied. “The boy needs a suit for that thing at the end of the month – at least a new waistcoat and matching tie, maybe a shirt.”

“Got it,” Madeline said. As she ended the conversation, she smiled at Erik. His expression was like a prisoner who’d just learned it was time for his execution. “It’s not that bad,” she said, shaking her head.

“It’s torture,” he said, looking back down at his puzzle. He sighed as he popped a piece off and the rest of the pieces came apart. “Solved it,” he said, as he put it back together.

“How do you do that?” Gretchen said, as she added two more skirts and three blouses to Madeline’s shopping basket. “You picked that up… like, twenty minutes ago and it has a tag on it that says, ‘hours of play’.”

“It wasn’t that hard,” Erik said, shrugging.

Shaking her head, Gretchen tapped the skirts. “Same design, different embroidery,” she said. “The blouses have… like sweetheart necklines that go to here.” She set her hand at her chest, just below her neck.

“That should be fine,” Madeline said, smiling. She took the puzzle toy from Erik and set it down on a shelf. One of the workers would put it back where it belonged later. “Time for more shopping, Erik.”

“Why doesn’t Papa use our names?” Gretchen said, shaking her head. “I’m always the girl and Erik is the boy.”

“Protocol,” Madeline said, shrugging. “You don’t have codenames, so he uses something else that works to identify you without speaking your name.”

“A codename would be cool,” Erik said. He looked thoughtful and said, “I could be… like, solver or something.”

“I’ll give the suggestion to the Boss,” she said, smiling. Then, she ushered the children towards the shopkeeper, so they could make their purchases. This shop had some boys’ clothing, but there was a better selection of formal wear in the shops downtown.

Dreams of Fireflies

Today’s prompt from the NaNoWriYe DreamWidth is another picture prompt.  I couldn’t figure out how to connect it to my other story, so it’s a little vignette set while my kids are at camp (like the octopus picture prompt was).

prompt-16

Gilbert looked over at Erik and Gretchen and frowned slightly.  They were staring out the cabin window, watching something.  After a few moments, some of the other campers joined them.

“What’s going on?” he asked, as he joined the children at the window.

Gretchen looked over her shoulder and pointed out the window.  “There’re lights in the trees, Papa,” she said, her voice filled with wonder.  “Like the ones that were in the cave!”

Smiling faintly, Gilbert nodded.  Madeline had told him about catching fireflies in jars when she was young.  Having grown up in Berlyn, his own children wouldn’t have had that opportunity.  He didn’t doubt that they hadn’t seen such things until that moment.  For a moment, he considered letting the children catch the fireflies.  Then, he had a better idea.

“Science,” he said.  When the children looked at him in surprise, he chuckled.  “Erik and Gretchen’s mama used to catch those flies in jars when she was your age.”

“That wouldn’t be very nice to the flies, Papa,” Erik said, frowning.

“I agree,” Gilbert said, ruffling his hair.  “How would kids like to make firefly jars that don’t entail catching the flies?”

“Yes, please,” Camellia said, bouncing up and down.  The other campers were nearly as eager.

Gilbert chuckled softly and looked over at Tim and Madeline.  “I’ll get the supplies we need and you can get them settled,” he said.  Then, he hurried out of the cabin and headed off to the building where they kept their art supplies.  He found the jars and paints he would need.  Then, he made a quick stop at his vehicle for the most important ingredient.  He was glad that he had some of the powder with him.

When he returned, he set out the supplies and held up the jar he’d gotten from his vehicle.  “Zinc sulfide glow powder,” he said.  “I’m going to mix this with the glue.  Then, you can paint the inside of the jars with the glue – like there are flies inside it.”

“Will they glow forever?” Natalia asked, leaning closer to him.

He chuckled and then shrugged.  “You’ll have to charge them with regular light to activate the phosphorescence, but… yeah, the glow will last for hours and be rechargeable,” he said.  “So, that means they’ll last a really long time.”

He finished mixing the glue and powder and then sat back while the campers got to work.  Some of them put scattered dots in their jars, as if the fireflies were resting in them.  Others put dots and streaks, as if the fireflies were zooming around in the jars.

When the glue had dried, Madeline sent the campers outside with their jars, so that they could enjoy the glowing inside them. Erik laughed as he compared the light from his jar to the fireflies that were flying around in the trees.  “It looks the same, Papa,” he said, looking over at Gilbert.

“Fireflies use bioluminescence, like the glow worms in the cave,” Gilbert said, his voice soft.  He shrugged.  “The greenish color is what they find most attractive, so that’s the color they make.”  He didn’t get into the details of the females glowing and the males not glowing.  That could wait until the children were older.

Shining Dreams

Today’s prompt is a picture prompt (by the way, these prompts aren’t actually daily.  I’m trying to catch up).  This story is set not long after the picture prompt with the sun shining behind the palm tree.  It just seemed to fit.

prompt-10

Erik woke with a start and looked around as thunder seemed to split the air. He blinked as flowers filled the sky. Then, he realized that the flowers were made of sparkling things. “Sparkle flowers?” he said. He looked over at Mama and blinked. “Sparkle flowers, Mama?”

“Fireworks,” Mama said, smiling. She chuckled when he startled again as more of the flowers bloomed in the air. “Are they pretty, Erik?”

“Pretty,” Erik said, grinning at her. He giggled and then ran to the edge of the water. Gretchen was already standing near the water, watching the flowers bloom. “Pretty sparkle flowers,” he said. Then, he laughed and covered his ears. “Loud.”

Behind him, Alfred said, “They’re not flowers, kid. They’re fireworks.” When Erik looked at him, he said, “Fireworks.”

“Flowers,” Erik said. He nodded and grinned. “Sparkling sky flowers.” Then, he turned around to watch more of them bloom.

Mama laughed and said, “Are you actually arguing with a three year old, Alfred?”

Night Travelers

Today was very productive.  I have a bunch of stories to be posted.  This one is from the DreamWidth Prompts from NaNoWriYe.

Prompt: Thunder

Erik  woke with a start as a terrible sound seemed to shake the room. His heart was pounding in his ears as he looked around. “Papa?” he said, his voice hardly more than a breath. He slipped off the small cot, intending to go to his father’s side. The sleeper car wasn’t very large, so he’d be there in two or three steps.

Light flashed across the walls and then there was the crash of thunder. Erik threw himself across the gap, hugging his father’s sleeping form and startling the man awake. That, of course, woke Mama and Gretchen as well.

“Hanske,” Papa said, hugging him gently. “What’s wrong?” There was another flash of light, followed closely by a deafening crash.

“He’s scared of thunder,” Gretchen said, sleepily. She sighed and then flopped back down against her own cot. “Now, he’s going to keep us all awake.”

“I’m sorry,” Erik said. He was sorry, but he couldn’t help being afraid. He blinked away tears and rubbed his eyes. “It’s so loud. It’s like the sky is ripping itself apart.”

Papa blinked and then nodded. “The lightning is very close and the thunder is the noise the lightning makes,” he said.

“It is?”

Nodding again, Papa said, “The lightning is a release of electricity, like… static. The clouds have a charge and the ground has a charge and, sometimes, that charge is released and that’s the lightning.”

Erik sat up, settling himself between his parents. He cringed when there was another flash of lightning, covering his ears in anticipation of the thunder. “But… static isn’t loud,” he said. Although, now that he’d said that, sometimes he did hear a tiny sound from it. “Because it’s small and lightning is big?”

“That’s right,” Mama said. She kissed Erik’s brow and said, “Now, can a sound hurt you?” When he shook his head, she smiled. “Then, what is there to fear?”

“I wish it were quieter,” Erik said, his tone a bit sulky. However, he kissed each of his parents and then returned to his own cot.

Papa smiled. “If you count between the lightning and the thunder, every five seconds is a mile that the sound traveled to reach you,” he said. “So… if you can count to five, then you know that the lightning was a whole mile away.”

“Thanks, Papa,” Erik said, his voice soft. He settled down against the bedding and between counting the moment lightning flashed across the wall of the sleeper car. Soon, he was drifting back to sleep. Counting seconds was too much like counting sheep for him to stay awake doing it. Perhaps that was why Papa had told him the trick.

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