“Come on, Jenny, you might beat me this time,” David teases trying to coax me into running with him after work. Yeah right, I couldn’t beat him even if he was missing a leg. It’s not like I am slow or anything, it’s just that David is a hell of a lot faster. “You know I don’t care about winning,” I say as I duck into his car and shut the door behind me. David and I work at Botticelli’s (a high class and very expensive restaurant), and since I don’t have a car I hitch a ride from him. I watch as he gets in and starts the car. “I don’t think we should go because it’s supposed to thunderstorm tonight,” I explain, as I glance out the window at the threatening clouds above. “Well, well, well, the almighty captain is afraid to run in the rain,” he teases. David and I are the senior captains of the Green Oaken High School track team, which by the way, is the number one ranked team in the state of Illinois. “Fine,” I sigh, “but if I get sick and die I will haunt you.” Smiling he turns the car out the parking lot and heads towards my house.
I change and give my mom an edited version of my plans for the night. “I am going to David Mulky’s house, so we can work on conditioning and go over ideas for the track season.” I wouldn’t dare tell her we are planning to do our conditioning outside while there is a 95% chance of severe thunderstorms. Gosh, I’m stupid. I climb back into David’s car. “So, where are we going?” I ask while he drives out of my neighborhood. “Let’s go to Ant Hill Trails,” he replies, “the woods are thick, so they should keep us dry if it starts to rain.” Ant Hill Trails is a private wooded area about twenty minutes away from my house. When Mr. Ulner died last winter, Mrs. Ulner decided to allow the public access to the Trails. She must get very lonely because very few people visit due to all the ghost stories that kids made up when Mr. Ulner passed away. “Sounds good to me,” I respond more worried about the storm than the stories.
David turns down a dirt road and parks the car just outside the entrance of the Trails. I get out and look around as an uncanny feeling comes upon me. I shake it off and start to stretch while David changes in the car. I put my feet together and grab the cold grass with my hands feeling the familiar stretch of my muscles. Still touching the ground I spread my legs shoulder length apart. I grab my ankles and pull myself towards my legs. I look under them and see David leaning up against his car watching me. I blush as I realize what he’s seeing. “Like what you see?” I ask almost seductively trying to make him feel at least a little embarrassed for being caught. He shifts his focus downwards finding my eyes, “Yes, but as much as I would love to stand here and watch you stretch, we really should get going before it rains.” He glances at the clouds above and starts walking towards the woods. I let out a little yelp as I fall on my face struck dumb by his blunt response. I stand rubbing my face where it hit the ground and run to catch up with him.
Thunder booms above us as trees sway with the wind. We run side by side at a steady pace avoiding tree limbs and random dips in the dirt trail. As the sun begins to set we reach the middle of the Trail where the trees are less dense. We keep running using the sporadic lightning as our guide. It starts pouring rain and the wind seems to be ripping the trees from the ground. For a startling second the whistling of the wind, the roar of the thunder, the patter of the rain, the sound of our feet slapping against mud; all seem to symphonize with the beating of my heart. I feel tears prickling my eyes as a wave of sorrow and grief slams into me. In that brief moment if feels as if the storm is singing a song. I want to stop running. I want to listen to the sad song of the storm. I try to understand it as a burst of lightning blinds me causing my heart to leap in my chest and the melody to fade away.
We can no longer run as the storm gets fiercer. “What now?” I shout over the noise. “We have to find shelter,” I scarcely hear David respond as thunder explodes shaking the ground. A flash of lightning allows me to see his face and I understand what he was implying. I nod my head and he grabs my hand and pulls me along through the ferocious storm. We turn onto a narrower trail, and I can barely make out a clearing ahead. A tree falls to the ground behind me. I turn to see the damage rolling my ankle as my foot slides into an unseen dip in the ground. David helps me up, and I attempt to keep going. I take one step then cry out in pain as my ankle protests. Before I know it I am in David’s arms, and he is carrying me the rest of the way towards the clearing.
We break through the last of the trees and come upon a house. I laugh in relief at the sight of shelter. I am still in David’s arms as he bangs his fist upon the big red door. It swings open revealing an elderly lady that I recognize as Mrs. Ulner beckoning us inside. The door slams shut behind us just as another roar of thunder shakes the ground. Mrs. Ulner leads us into a well lit room full of bright hues and outdated furniture. This is odd. How can the house still have electricity? It’s a pretty bad storm and with all the thunder and lightning, a tree is sure to have fallen on the power lines. I shove my thoughts away and focus on what’s happening around me. “Leave the girl here,” Mrs. Ulner says while pointing to the couch facing an unlit fireplace. David obeys and gently places me on the couch. “Down the hall and to the left you will find a closet full of towels and blankets,” she tells David, “I suggest you dry yourselves off and stay the night here.” He thanks her and walks down the hallway towards the closet. “Now dear,” she turns to me, “You are welcome to anything in the house, but I must tell you to stay away from the attic.” I feel the energy draining from my body as a hint of the sadness from before settles over me. “Tell your friend there is a first aid kit in the bathroom, and he can find an ice pack in the freezer,” her voice gets softer as I get even weaker. My eyes shut and I hear her voice somewhere off in the distance say, “Take care dear, I have to go now,” before I drift into unconsciousness.
I wake up to find my ankle wrapped, and David watching me with a worried look on his face. “How is your ankle?” he asks. “Better,” I reply. “Where is Mrs. Ulner,” I ask as I make room on the couch for David. “I don’t know,” he says with a shrug, “When I came back into the room, you were asleep, and she was gone.” Chills prickle my skull as I recall the last words she said to me. I can’t help feeling something is wrong. I get up and hop around on my good foot looking for Mrs. Ulner. She has to be here. We can’t find her, and I start to wonder if she left before we woke up.
As we are about to leave I remember the attic. “Let’s check the attic,” I say as my heart pounds against my chest. We find the entrance to the attic in the closet of the master bedroom. David opens the hatch, and the most putrid smell assaults our noses. Oh no! I think I’m going to faint, my heart is racing, and my mind doesn’t want to accept what I already know is true. I climb up the ladder as my soul is racing. I climb up the another step; my soul wincing with each step. And then--I feel nothing; I am numb to all feeling as I step into the attic and see the decaying body swinging from the rafters. I hear the storm’s song in my head as I understand the sorrow it sung.