Picnic, Lightning

Elliott Holt

Flash Fridays

After the concert, when the band had left the stage, and the lawn was littered with paper plates and beer cans, the rains came. But we had no umbrellas. Charlie said, “I should have checked the forecast,” but planning has never been his strong suit. Down the hill, the crowd clogged the gate. Everyone was rushing, trying to get out of the park. “Fuck,” I said, because my sandals were filling with water and the ground was dissolving to mud. Galoshes, I thought, and wished I were wearing them. How quickly the evening’s mood had shifted, from the magic of twilight picnicking—watermelon cubes, baguettes torn by hand—to downpour-fueled panic. I squeezed my tote bag against my chest—trying to keep my phone from getting wet and trying to stay close to Charlie. Jabbing from strange elbows as we all pushed toward the exit. Kindness evaporated; the storm had made people tense. Lovers were quarreling—“I told you we should have left before the encore!” My shoes kept sliding and squishing in the muck. No one was prepared for that crack of thunder or that sky-shattering bolt; a storm so close, it seemed to surround us. “Owen!” I heard, alarming in pitch. Police sirens before I understood what had happened. Quickening pulses. Ravenous fear, we were all swallowed up. Sky looming black, screams coming loose. “The lightning—I saw it strike,” someone said. Under a tree, a boy, fallen still. “Vital signs,” someone said, but there weren’t any. “Where’s the ambulance?” we cried. “Xavier, stay away from that tree!” a mother wailed. “You’re not supposed to stand under trees during thunderstorms,” she said, but wasn’t it too soon for a teaching moment, when that other boy, a boy who looked about twelve or thirteen, a boy who still had acne on his chin, a boy who would never go to prom, or to college, was being carried away under a sheet? Zealous caution, I’ve learned, can’t always save us.


Elliott Holts first novel, You Are One of Them, was published by the Penguin Press in 2013. Her short fiction has appeared in various publications, including The Pushcart Prize XXXV (2011 anthology).