‘Struck by lightning! Struck by lightning!’ —J.R.R. Tolkien
When she awoke a funny looking man was kneeling by her side. Her head hurt. She looked around, blurred vision struggling to focus on a bejewelled Madonna and child, standing by her side. She was in a church? No! How? Fast forward, dimwit! It’s Christmas, don’t you get it? Four dimensions of view rushed in rapid-switch between two misaligned eyes, looking like Rudolph the misfit reindeer was having a jack-in-the-box moment. Holly-Jolly Ho! Ho! Ho! Whiffs of sub-illuminated movements! Rip-cording? Some state of cortical screw up to land in! Once, some extremely silly person reading a paper at a seminar was elaborating the precise reasons why Providence had limited the number of dimensions in the eye to two. Two?
She had been scurrying home, when intense winds had picked up speeds, the microburst exploding over her head like the divine wrath of God, or so it seemed. Santa in a psychedelic hurry, pouring it on?! Born of a speculative indifference to death, given her prairie wildfire-like instability, given that both her parents long ago had died in a fire on Christmas Eve, leaving just her brother and her to survive the blaze, she remembered screaming in a particularly high-pitched horsey manner of a four-legged creature that has been suddenly startled. Fractured skull is fatal to three-ring equine goose-stepping, you numbskull. Talking to herself? How often then, knocked out with sedatives she had screamed and kept on screaming at the top of her lungs. Recovery was too painful to remember. She sat up with a jolt, and almost passed out flat a second time, the abruptness of movement causing her to suffer another momentary bout of wooziness. Her neck hurt.
“Am I dead?!” she squeaked, staring unblinking at the beatific vision of the gently smiling iconoclastic lady, clothed in a brilliant flowing blue, the color of a summer sky.
“No, Madam, you are lucky. A prayerful place turned up close by,” replied a timid reedy voice, coming from afar, but sounding near. It was the funny looking man.
“Where am I? Who’s she? Who are you? Help! Didn’t you see that lightning bolt? Zigzagged right at me!” she shrieked again like a mountain lion caught in a freeze-frame slow motion sneezing attack that goes horribly wrong. Her severity of agitation had her clutching her temples, shielding her eyes, snatching at her purse, and lunging in short jabbing motions for a brown lumpy shape that could have been her shopping bags, burnt to a crisp. Her strength was returning. A-Ha! A little color showed on her cheeks.
“Madam, you are in a church. Struck by kismet’s flaming spear,” was his somber, unhurried response. A church? Yikes! Super-pack-like? With brown bandanas? When had she ever been to a church? Not since childhood and the fire that had claimed her kith and kin. Melancholia overtook her. Artlessly, her trembling fingers poked around, searching for her bag of peppermints.
A church! That’s what she thought! No mistake! Shouldn’t she have been in a hospital, instead? The woman gasped, incomprehension lining her face with anguish and astonishment, grabbing at whatever she could of apples and banana, canned tuna, a box of Cheerios, ravaged remnants of what looked like her weekly shopping, littering the place of worship. Where were the mints? The holiday gifts? What gifts, coward? She had stopped for a selfie! A whaaat? Never mind! She blinked rapidly, she wished she could remember, gazing at the funny looking man for several long seconds, as if he had the answers. She wished her eyes the shade of the polished wood of the pews, would focus. What flaming weapon?! Had she heard right? Under attack? Impaled on a fricking spear? What was the loon babbling about? Glittering rivers? Flaming spears? What? Where? She WAS dead! Had to be!!
DEAD! Dead. And laying in a sarcophagus. No more blood left to ooze out! She knew it! Holy Mother of God! She clutched at her sides in a pantomime of agony. It explained the mystery woman in blue. She was at heaven’s gate. Cowering! Oh, spiritual singers and heavenly saints!! This was no XMas holiday! Quickly fagged out with the exertion of her despair, moaning and rolling this way and that, she fell back against the pew panting. Eventually, elegiac rhythms or not, even her overworked mandibles needed a rest. A composure and calm descended, till she heard a bell jingle, no doubt from a sleigh’s harness, hit it into shape, baby, when she did, took off, unable to contain her impassioned lament, wantonly kicking, punching the air, contorting, spitting, tearing at her hair and screeching enchantingly like a maniacal Siren of Canosa singing off Sicilian coasts—that the Grim Reaper was out to get her. Help!
Interestingly, after that performance, were it not for the fact she was ensconced in a little church, one must surely have concluded that she had indeed been granted some form of extra-terrestrial communication either directly with a psycho-pompous creature of the Byzantine tales accompanying the dead to a burial, or with Santa Claus himself fresh from his Lapland office, or better still, plain and simple, even with the hammer of God, or that other Holy Mother Sarada Devi, if not the Angel of God! Hallelujah! The divine intervention, oh so narrow an opening, lasted but seconds.
“Get me out of here! Quick! Am I dead?! I’ve been hit, you maniac! Attacked! Don’t you see?” she groaned in louder lament, hyperventilating at such a rate of hydrogen power, depending on what historian or scientist you have read, that had the CO2 pressure to continue, continued, it would surely have required paper-bag intervention at that point, which problematically was burnt to a crisp, ruined beyond repair, floating around in brown bits, as brown as the pews. Fortunately for all present the critical moment passed, she did not barf.
“A-hem . . . steady does it, Ma’am, you’re alive, guaranteed . . . was it silver tipped when it struck?”
“Was what silver-tipped? You mean the strike? Why yes, I should think so, it was traveling so fast . . .”
“Lunging at you like an army of swarming black tassels?”
“Yes! Yes!! How odd! But, how did you . . .”
“Spinning like crackling super-sharp disks out of space?”
“Come to think of it . . . Oh, those evil Yamadutas, I should have known! They invade, only during Christmas. At a religious discourse once, I had the misfortune of . . .”
“Smoking like fiery suns with a blinding long tail?” The funny looking man was carrying on, unstoppable, TEDx-trainer-like, having his conference speaker moment.
“Without a doubt! Trapped! There was no escape. None!”
“Ricocheting wildly like a laser bolt with a dangerous large leak?”
“What funny questions! Oh, tell me!! What was it? Quick!”
“I am too well understanding, Madam, what ultimately ails you. It is as I thought, human malaise in the face of the spear of destiny! Kismet!” he replied, a twinkle in his eyes. “Some people call it spear of Mars, some other people who are into fanciful names, Ulysses spear, or Neanderthal blade. Whatever its name, it unshackles the raw power of nature. Multi-faceted problem when this occurs, since every year God of Light, solar deity, Ra, Hyperion, Tonatiuh, Helios, Apollo, Sol, or Surya Rama whatever you want to call is cosmic-spinning, visiting all heavenly bodies. Order of planetary march some are saying, to complete procession of life. He is hunting down sky dragons up to no good. Theory is, to keep us all safe. But how to cover time and distance? For that he is accomplishing impossible feat. He is carrying many burning spears. Good punch-line, no? So what peoples like your own good self are doing? They are coming out in droves when this is happening. They are watching sky spectacles. Spears up there, peoples down here, get it? Of course, some are getting swiped. One spear strike is all it takes to reach nirvana, for good. You know, holy abode, up there?” The funny looking man pointed upwards with a long wiry finger that seemed to sway, stretch and dissipate into the church’s igloo-like white dome.
“Wha—? What on earth are you blabbering about?” The woman looked about her wildly, as if planning to escape. Was this hard-data, formula-reciting ideologue for real? Or was he an elf on an acid trip? Pseudoscience, crackpot! . . . run of the mill wack-job . . . sugar-coated frosted flake! It was the rocket-ship helmet he wore. Like a Viking. Could that be how they dressed in Lapland? Helsinki? That structure was a memory trap. It’s why he looked funny. Apocalypse, indeed!
“Every year Sphere of Space is happening, Ma’am. People turning into protoplasm jelly. It’s natural outcome. Some are calling it holiday disease. What can I say? Putting themselves in danger for selfies, how did he know? you know own-photos clickety-click blitzkrieg digital effects? same like star-wars games? But peoples are they listening? No! They are bicycling to hilltops, dancing in electrical storm, standing under tall trees, crowding sidewalks in epic gusting weather, celebrating their lives, in pictures. No care. All they want is to capture the moment for all eternity. Critical moment. No care for reckoning that will soon come. Near misses are constantly happening, in shark’s mouth, speeding trains, mountain edge, tsunamis. Unheard of photo-cracking mania. Holiday time much worse. Even golfers are flocking in droves to get electrocuted, sheltering under metal-tip umbrellas. For what? Selfies! Photo memories. All meaningless. This obsession with star-struck self-destruction for imminent stardom. While from above parallel spears are zapping, smoking, flying. A spent spear’s reach is limitless. No remedy. Not even in season of Christmas. But, have no fear, all is well, Madam is now safe! I got here in time.”
The woman gave a visible shudder, too freaked out to not be immeasurably alarmed, for she considered the visions of the lady in blue and the funny looking man either as an omen of her death, or worse, as the fore-runner of an attack of . . . what had the man called it? Spear mania! The disease!” Hadn’t she stepped out in a thunderstorm? Stopped for a selfie? Diced with kismet? And hadn’t the thunder burst resembling the streaking spears of wrath found her?
“All I was doing was hurrying home, after groceries, gift-shopping . . . oh my goodness! my children, I have to get back to my babies! Can I go? Is it safe? Are you sure a hospital is not where I ought to be? It’s my eyes. They don’t feel right. I’m seeing things . . . a lady in blue . . . femme fatales, that’s what it is!”
“On the contrary . . . femme belles Madam, because it’s Christmas, and this is a common side effect of being struck. But you are fine. Not to worry. My work is done. Surya’s mantle of goodness and divine miracles delivered me to you, to this exact spot, at the appropriate moment Santa’s sleigh went swooshing by, to bring you to this small church.”
Bewildered, she looked around at her surroundings, taking it all in for the first time since she arrived. So much of it she had not noticed before. The statues. Chimeras. A golden glow suffused the heavenly lady in blue. It may have been the sun peering through stained glass. She heard a distant rumble—the parting acoustic effects of a vanishing thundershower. She felt the ether’s super-charged atmosphere heave. A trail of smoky blue, like the magic of morning mists, curled skywards.
She fell off the pew she had been half sitting, half lying, half leaning on, breathing a lung-full of fresh smelling rain-washed air, kneeling in prayer. She shuddered, the movement involuntary. There was something so strange all around her, the mystic mystery disorientating. She had been struck senseless for a fraction of a second. She cringed to think how close she had come to what ifs. Call it kismet? Call it the magic of the holidays, which could be bizarre and cruel. She thought of her parents long ago. Of the fire that had devastated their lives. She shivered as the dim memory of fire trucks’ air horns fell in terrible alarm upon her trembling ears. Her thoughts turned to her children, the oldest not yet twelve, all grownup-like wishing for perfume to spritz all over herself, the younger two twin muggles, unable to outgrow Harry Potter or Hogwarts or get enough of the magical sorting hats and wizard wands, crying in chorus, is mummy in heaven? Of course not silly, Mummy will be home soon! She had been spared her nirvana moment this Christmas. The woman burst into tears.
“All spear-struck peoples are recovering, not in hospitals, Madam, but in religious shrines. It’s why I faster rushed you here, and not to hospital, or Madam would surely be reaching heavenly gates today,” the funny looking man was pleasantly mumbling, in smoking bursts, in a voice that sounded from afar. She had forgotten all about him. Who was he? Her saviour of the moment. What had he dematerialized from?
“Wait!” she said, “I haven’t thanked you—”
In moments, puff , and he was gone—disappearing in a wispy draft, like a drop of dew trembling on a maple leaf. If only this small white sunlit church could talk.
But she was alone.
Rekha Valliappan's prize winning short story 'The Copper Amulet and The Ginger Cat' won the Accent Prize. One short fiction 'Written in The Stars' was published in Ouen Press (UK) prize winners' anthology 'Tasting Notes & Other Short Stories'. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee for her poem 'Sakura'. A former college lecturer her work is published in many international magazines including Five 2 One Magazine, Lackington's Magazine, Green Hills Literary Lantern, ColdNoon Journal, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Thrice Fiction Magazine, Coffin Bell Journal, Rabid Oak, and elsewhere.