Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #13

Suggested by: Kelly Blanchard

The List:
Lightning Harvesters
Fields of Rhedan
Before the End of Eldkim
An hourglass
*Image included

The Result:
"Help Wanted"

It was quite possibly the most straightforward ad I had ever seen.
"HARVESTERS NEEDED" it read. "Report to the Fields of Rhedan before the End of Eldkim."

Not that I knew where the thing was, or when the deadline actually occurred. This was Montana, after all, not some high-fantasy construct!
Being a poor college student in a town with more poor college students than employment opportunities, I decided to take it. I snapped a photo of the QR code in the corner of the poster. Instantly, my Maps app booted up, showing me a blue pathway following the road out of the city. Siri's bland voice informed me, "Starting route to the Fields of Rhedan", though she pronounced it to rhyme with "ridden." The heck? I glanced around, but nobody on the sidewalk paused to give me or the help-wanted poster a second glance. I sighed and headed for my beat-up, hand-me-down Jetta.
"Head north on 12th Avenue," the digital voice instructed, "then turn left."
I followed the directions robotically.
"In a quarter mile, turn left."
"In three-point-six miles, take a slight right."
"Continue on this road."

At this point I had no idea where I was anymore. Clouds gathered overhead, darkening the sky. Still, the app had no intention of indicating my proximity to the destination. At the top of the screen, where it usually listed an arrival time, there was only a small symbol. I was in the middle of nowhere by now, lights shining uselessly in the darkness, so I did not think twice about just pulling off to get a better look at just what I was attempting to follow. I peered at the screen.

The symbol was shaped like a tiny hourglass. I tapped it.
I jumped as my engine revved—and my car started to roll forward on its own! The steering wheel turned back toward the road and the possessed vehicle glided onward, while I frantically pulled knobs and flipped switches to find out what the heck was going on. I tried everything short of pulling the keys out of the ignition. There wasn't a map on my phone anymore, just the hourglass taking up the whole screen, its contents trickling down as the car drove itself. I finally gave in and sat stiffly in the seat, watching the wide Montana plains (what I could see of them in this light) coast by my windows.
My car climbed and plunged over rolling hills, gathering speed until I could see something like an ethereal dust flickering by the roadside. The dust gathered, thickened and swirled till I could see a great big mass of it, piled in the middle of the road just in front of me. My car didn't even slow down a little as I careened right toward it. I threw up my hands on instinct as the very fabric of reality seemed to split down the middle and the poor Jetta skidded right through the tear.

Just like that, it was daylight and the land was flat enough to see from one edge to the other. As the last grains of digital sand landed in the bottom of the hourglass, my car rolled to a stop. I just about jumped out of my skin as Siri's voice announced, "You have arrived at your destination."

The only structures for miles around were a large barn of some sort, and a quaint little farmhouse, complete with a white picket railing around the porch. The doors of my car unlocked by themselves, and I could finally exit the vehicle, something I had never been so desperate to do before.

As soon as I closed the door behind me, an elderly man and woman appeared on the porch. They smiled at me and waved. The old man wore a red plaid shirt and well-worn jeans. The woman wore a plain white apron over her floral-print dress. In other words, they looked relatively normal. Well, except for the twenty-foot metal poles they carried.

The man approached me first. His wrinkles shifted as he smiled.
"You're just in time," he said. "Eldkim is almost over." He thrust a pole into my hand. "Come with me!"
The woman nodded at me pleasantly as we fell into step behind the man.

We headed for an open field at some distance from the house. This field had a tall bank of storm clouds gathered over it, looking strangely deliberate and out-of-place in this sunny, calm environment. The cloud fairly growled with thunder. I could see pulses of lightning flashing within it. I suddenly recalled the metal pole in my hand.
"Um, excuse me, sir?" I called over the roar of the thunder.
"The name's Devon!" He called back.
"Devon!" I yelled as we were now standing under the cloud bank with tall metal lightning rods. "What exactly is this job?"
Devon whirled around at me in surprise. "You don't know?"

There was a crack behind me like a gunshot, and I flinched and turned to see.
The old woman had her rod extended toward the sky—and a lightning bolt very securely attached at the end! Still smiling pleasantly, she pulled and tugged like a fisherman reeling a large bass, until I saw the bolt actually detach from the cloud. She then thrust the end of the lightning rod into a glass jar resting on the ground, and the bolt skittered inside, where she trapped it with the lid of the jar.

I turned to where Devon held three such jars, all full of flickering, dancing lightning. He carefully set them in a wheelbarrow with others like them.
"We harvest the lightning," he said. "It's what gives electricity to the rest of the city! Now hurry," he nodded to the rod in my hand. "We don't have much time."

He pointed over my head, where a billow pulsed with a gentle glow. Following his lead, I raised the rod toward the cloud. The tip pierced the fluffy, grey section, and I felt the snapping crackle of a lightning bolt at the end.
"Pull!" Devon roared, and I jerked back on the rod.

The flaring crackle of light securely trapped the end of my rod, and I had to hold on tight as the jagged bolt nearly twisted the rod out of my hands!

"Don't let go!" Devon called, setting a jar on the ground at my feet.

As I had seen Devon's wife do, I tugged the end of the rod far enough to reach into the jar. The minute it touched down, I yelped as I watched the lightning bolt shimmy over my hands and into the jar. Devon clapped the lid on and looked up at my stunned expression. The flash of lightning seemed to spark in his eyes as he winked.

"Not bad for your first day on the job," he said. "Congratulations, you're hired."

Previously in This Series: