Michael Paige has had work included in literary magazines such as The Furious Gazelle, The Scarlet Leaf Review, and MetaStellar. He has also appeared in several printed anthologies from Savage Realms Press, Crimson Pinnacle Press, Ill-Advised Records, Gravelight Press, October Nights Press, Media Macabre, Little Red Bird Publishing, Chilling Tales for Dark Nights, and also a charity anthology from Great Lakes Horror (GLAHW).  


by Michael Paige


On cold, cloudy days, I still think of what happened.

It was January 24, 1989. George H. W. Bush was president of the United States, Theodore Bundy had been given the electric chair, and the entire western Nebraska region was being pummeled by the worst thunderstorms I’d ever seen.

Ben and I watched as the next of the storms beat toward us, the winds rustling with whispers of despair. It was the next half of a storm that hit just a day earlier, leaving trees with their tops stripped off and patches of our crops all twisted up in the fields. It was vicious, and Act Two was well on its way. We were thirteen back then.

The farm was twenty miles from the nearest city, overlooking up to twenty acres of plowed prairie. We were maize farmers, pure-breeding strains of corn for cents on the dollar—great big stalks that shivered in the half-light breeze.

Living in a tornado country, our family was always prepared for the worst weather conditions: a storm shelter in the basement, weeks’ worth of supplies, and a lightning rod on the roof to prevent a house fire.

We ate a hot supper at five, picking silently at our plates while our mother was asking who between us was responsible for leaving the shed door open to flap and swing in the wind. She’d known one of us had used it but couldn’t tell who—one of the many benefits of being twins.

After supper, Dad had us out in the field with him to harvest the damaged crops before the next onslaught. We grew stalks in clusters of three, running down the center of thirty-inch-wide beds. Most of the battered stalks had a chance of straightening themselves up again, but the brittle, broken stems were dead, with no prospect of bouncing back. Dad called it a green snap.

The black exhaust of clouds rolled closer and was nearly on top of us by the time it finished eating up the rest of the sky. Wind was kicking up with angry gusto.

We headed for the house. My father was the first one inside, and Ben was just a few paces in front of me.

That’s when it came—a sudden prickly feeling that fell over the air like an invisible net, tingling the back of my neck and vibrating my molars. Something covered my tongue—an acrid, sharp taste, like rolling a penny around your mouth. A sort of fuzziness.

In a fraction of a second, I saw movement, like a bright spiderweb igniting from nothing and arcing downward in front of me, right where Ben was walking.

Everything went white.

A rapid series of snaps and bangs slapped the air, and then, all at once, BANG—a gunshot of pure pressure. My vision shut off, taking ten seconds to return.

Ben was flat on his back, as if he’d been socked in the face, his right hand clutching at nothing whatsoever.

“Ben!” I shouted, ears still ringing as I stumbled toward him.

His face was pale, and wisps of smoke were drifting off him. I could smell a burned, sulphury smell in the air, which I prayed was just his clothes, not his skin.

Hearing the crack, my father raced out of the house and shoved me aside much harder than I’m sure he realized.

 He slapped Ben’s cheeks lightly, planted an ear firmly on his chest, and then began pumping it for CPR.

Rain started to fall.

Ben wasn’t moving. His mouth was open, his eyes were fixed on the weeping sky, and his lips were as white as a mackerel.

Dad kept pumping. Ten. Twenty. Thirty chest compressions.

I was sobbing. “Dont go, Ben! Please, please don’t go!”I begged, wishing it with every particle and fiber of my being as I stared at my twin. “You cant go! You can’t!

My heart went cold.

I looked up at the gray blotch of sky and then at the weather vane atop our roof—handcrafted from iron with a walking cat motif, its spindle squeaking in the airy swoosh as the gray cat spun atop its bar, twirling mindlessly.


Ben survived that day and, despite the storm, made it to the hospital, where he’d spend the next several days in the trauma center. Parts of his clothes had completely melted, clinging to his skin like hot candle wax. Surface-level burns marked his back, starting from his left shoulder and streaking across his spine all the way down his right leg—a twisted grid showing the exact path the lightning took through his body. The bottom of his right shoe and sock even had a dark, round hole through them.

Dr. Sullivan called the marks lightning flowers. He said he’d seen them before—but not quite like this—from an electrician who once got zapped from a high-voltage switchgear. He said it was nothing short of a miracle that Ben survived, considering the tens or hundreds of thousands of volts he’d been shot with.

“He’s okay, though, right? Our son will be okay?” My mother asked with bleak, pleading eyes that wished none of this had happened, while my father held a silent white-knuckled clasp over his own legs.

“Yes, I believe so,” Doctor Sullivan replied, smiling through his white bushy beard, as mall Santas do during the holidays. “But he isn’t out of the woods yet. Shocks like this tend to harm the nervous system, attacking the brain and peripheral nerves even after the burns heal. The injury, however subtle, will continue to show itself neurologically and could lead anywhere from chronic pain to short-term memory loss. But whatever may pop up for him in the future, we’ll be ready for it.”

After the trauma center, they transferred him to the burn ICU and, after that, to the acute rehabilitation unit. He needed a walker to get anywhere, and the second-degree burns running down his back needed to be scrubbed and redressed daily.

Before long, Ben’s name started making rounds in the newspapers as word of the incident spread. Several articles read Farm Boy Survives Lightning Strike. Ben even had an interview with one reporter: a gray-stubbled man who asked to see Ben while his stalky partner was filming. His hair looked neither washed nor combed. “So, I guess the big question right now is how you’re feeling?”

“Good, I guess,” Ben replied.

“Do you remember the first thing that was on your mind after it happened?”

“Waking up in a white room and staring at the ceiling, like—Where am I?”

“Do you have any way of describing how it felt to be…struck?”

He thought about it and said, “Like I’d been smote.”

“Smote?” the reporter asked, confused.

“Yeah, like from the Bible—the Biblical passage said that God chose to smite the city.”

That got a laugh around the room.

Two weeks later, Ben came back home.

We had cake that day, with friends and relatives, and a big colorful sign outside that read “WELCOME HOME!” There was not a single cloud in the sky. Everyone was happy to have Ben back, but I’d wager I was happiest of them all. People all over the world get lonesome, but I think twins feel a special sort—a bone-deep loneliness that infests their insides when the other isn’t there.

The doctor suggested that Ben still use the walker to get around, and although he hated the thing, Mom wasn’t taking any chances.

While Ben was recuperating, I covered the slack for chores around the house and the work needed on the fields. Despite what life threw at us, there was always something that needed lifting, scooping, and pushing. The storms had flattened more than half of our crops, so we had to pull double-duty to replenish the stock and keep the family’s income afloat. As Dad used to put it, farmers always bounce back.

I remember spotting him on the house during those days as he was replacing the lightning rod on the roof with a new one. Why the bolt had targeted Ben instead of the pole, we’d never know, but I know that it kept Dad up at night. He sometimes talked to Mom about it and other times just muttered frustrations to himself.

As the rest of the month went by, Ben slowly got his strength back and eventually ditched the walker. Although the burns on his back had healed, you could still see the vague fernlike patterns all fanned out on his skin, left behind by a hungry current.

Ben sometimes complained about a biting pain in his toes, as if his shoes and socks were filling up with hot sand—one of those neurological things Dr. Sullivan talked about. Even though the electricity had long passed, the nerves were still misfiring their signals to the brain, still screaming.

Despite the discomfort, Ben still found a way to joke about it, letting static run off in his hair until it fluffed up, and shouting at the dinner table, “My powers have awakened!”


On warm, cloudless days, we loved to go for a dip in one of the sandpits off the North Platte River. Most other streams around were tainted by runoff or polluted from fertilizers and pesticides, but our lake was the cleanest. Best to avoid the bad brews.

We walked the interstate, hiking through crisscrossing paths and different cattle farms that reeked of livestock ammonia. In fifteen minutes, we were at the lake, encircled by tall cottonwoods. After the trek, it was always a glorious sight.

I was the first one in, along with one of our buddies, John. We splashed at and wrangled with each other as we crashed through the sun-warmed surface. John then looked over at Ben and hollered at him, “Ben! What the hell’s on your back?”

I looked over too as Ben was tugging his shirt off and over his head, his bareback facing us—those same haggard trails, the ones that had faded a month ago, had reappeared, spreading even more jagged branches down his spine. The lightning flowers had returned. Back from the dead.

Keloids—that was Dr. Sullivan’s diagnosis. Thickly raised scars that can sometimes form in the tissue while the body is healing itself, especially after a severe burn. He talked about how they weren’t cancerous and how some bodies were more prone to them than others but assured that it was not a cause for alarm, unless they became painful. However, what did confuse him was how the scars differed from the original path they first left. The branching feathered endings had become more numerous now, spreading out much more than they had before. They still started at his left shoulder, but had now somehow crawled upward and sprouted an entirely new mesh over his right shoulder blade.

“Well, Ben, at least we know one thing for sure—you’re just full of surprises!” Dr. Sullivan chuckled, flashing that mall Santa grin.

I’d give anything to say that was where it ended—that Dr. Sullivan was right about the keloids and nothing further came from them, but that’s just wishful thinking, and wishes, as Dad put them, weren’t worth a warm bucket of spit.

I awoke in the middle of the night, disoriented, my room utterly silent. It was three, maybe four a.m., give or take, and my brain was still swimming with sleep. There was something coming from the hallway—the sound of someone retching their guts out.

I opened the door to the hall bathroom and saw Ben hunched over the toilet. The scars on his back were even darker than the last time I’d seen them.

It smelled like vomit.

“You alive?” I asked.

“Maybe,” he answered bleakly, spitting into the bowl and making something like a hiccup sound. “Can you grab me some water, please?”

I brought a glass and left it on the counter for him. When he said he needed nothing else, I headed back to bed, hearing every so often another gag from the bathroom.

The sickness stuck to him for the next few days. Mom said it was either from school or from swimming around that “filthy” sands pit. Ben had perhaps caught some kind of bug.

To make matters worse, Ben started to complain more about the prickly pain in his toes and how it had moved all the way up his left calf, like a tight sock choking the veins. Of all the tormenters in the world, nerve damage must be one of the worst.

The muscles in Ben’s legs were getting weaker, and the fever his body was fighting off wasn’t letting him keep anything down.

Then, on a cloudy Sunday afternoon, we heard the thump-thump-thump of someone plummeting down the stairs. Two steps from the top, Ben’s leg had completely given out on him. No broken bones, but it scared us all to death.

Trips to the hospital were becoming the norm for us, and despite the CT scans, MRIs, and different tests they ran on him, the results were inconclusive. Whatever was happening to Ben’s nervous system was evading them, and the medical bills were stacking higher.

When your household income was as volatile as ours, every penny counted.

I remember listening to my mother’s voice from her bed room one evening. The door was slightly open. “…we have credit. Take out a loan!”

“…Gonna need to refinance the farm.” my father sighed, sounding exhausted.“…working with what we have.”

“It’s not enough!” my mother shouted. I heard a few steps toward the door, and it was shut the rest of the way. The crying continued on the other side.

I was crying too.

Any social activity for Ben was confined indoors for the most part, and just so he wouldn’t lose his mind, we learned how to play cards. Beggar-my-neighbor, Slap Jack, Rummy. I was lousy at remembering them, but he caught on pretty quickly. Ben was always a faster learner than I was.

Sometimes, though, Ben’s attention would blank out, and he would stare in front of him with his mouth hanging open, as if a signal had just been cut. Then, just like that, he’d blink and come back, wiping away the drool dribbling down his lip.

One night, we were watching TV together—some game show where kids won prizes and adults (usually their parents) carried out ridiculous tasks. Mom made soup that night as it was easier on Ben’s stomach.

During one of the bonus rounds, Ben’s bowl clattered onto the floor. He’d dropped it from his lap, spilling broth all over the place. His face was drooping, and he seemed tired. “Why did God do that?” his voice came out, shaking. “What did he smite me?”

I grabbed his wrist, forcing myself to keep it together. “He didn’t! God smites only the wicked, remember? Besides, He probably just mixed us up and smote the wrong one.” That got a smile out of him, but I could tell those heavy eyes didn’t believe me.

It wasn’t long when storm clouds in the west started forming again, swelling up and bruising over like fumes from a great blaze. Winds were on the rise, and as the temperature began to drop, radio stations issued out their dire warnings.


On a dreary day, I was slogging up the driveway after school. Rain was coming down in buckets, heavily pounding the umbrella Mom had given me.

To my shock, Ben was just outside the house, clothes sagging with rainfall and feet buried in the soil. He was looking up at the sky, letting the droplets pelt him with his mouth hanging open, standing at the exact spot he’d been struck.

At that moment, Mom came running out of the house, shouting and dragging him back inside. But as she grabbed him, I saw something strange.

From the back of Ben’s soaked collar, the lightning flowers had moved all the way up his neck, a place they’d never been before. When she put her hands near them, they shifted, shying away from her touch completely. Before I could get a better look at them, Mom and he were already back inside. When I checked there again, the ferny patterns had retreated to their spots. Mom didn’t believe me when I told her and said the last thing we needed right now was tall tales. But I know what I saw.

Ben never told us why he’d chosen to stand out there in the storm or how he’d gone out without his walker, giving little else but a confused look at Mom’s hollering, as if his thoughts were all blurred out, beamed away by some far-off satellite.

It was Saturday when the storm reached peak intensity, roaring across the plains with shrilling gales and heavy torrential rain. It wreaked havoc on the county, kicking up dust storms over the roads, pelting towns with hail, and toppling power lines, with furious winds climbing to sixty-five. A real shitshow.

It rattled our windows, making the whole house groan as the drafts howled and cranked up another notch.

I paced the kitchen, frequently checking the driveway to see if the family pickup had pulled in yet, but there was still no sign of it.

We had only one truck, and earlier that day, Dad had taken the old Ford to town for a new rear axle. Mom joined him to get some badly needed groceries for the house as neither expected the storm to hit today.

I went upstairs to check on Ben. His door was shut, so I thumped it a few times. “You still alive in there?”

A groggy mumble sounded on the other side, as if I’d just awakened him. There was no further response.

The phone rang downstairs. I felt nervous answering it, but I didn’t waste time. It was Dad, telling us to stay safe while they made their way back home. They’d ended up stranded as the road got closed and they had to wait for the squall to subside. “If the storm persists, take Ben and wait in the basement. We’ll be home soon,” he assured me before ending the call.

As I hung the phone up, I heard a strange noise from outside, the squeal of something being swung around repeatedly. The shed door.

Shit, I cussed. I remembered closing it earlier but found a chunk of warped wood at its base, which was making it hard to keep it shut. I rushed outside on impulse to close it.

The air outside slapped me and was churning everything up in a mad frenzy. The stocks in the field writhed like fans at a concert while the trees nearby were all doing a jig. Thunder bellowed in the distance.

I made a mad dash for the shed’s swinging door before the gales could swipe it away. Slamming it shut, I turned toward the house, set on sprinting back.

Rain was starting to fall.

Then I saw it—an image that made my brain feel as though it had detached and been taken in the squall. Ben was climbing out of his second-story window and onto the roof, slipping a bit in the process.

“Ben!” I shouted, my voice nothing but a murmur to the wailing breeze. “The hell are you doing?”

He didn’t answer or even look in my direction, even as another gust nearly swept him off his feet. He started a slow climb up the shingles and toward the peak of the house.

I broke for the door with panic-fueled nitro, racing through the kitchen and then up the stairs.His door wouldn’t budge, and after a few useless tugs at the handle, I slipped into my room and forced my own window open.

 Cold air fired into the room and spattered rain onto the windowsill. My whole body was shaking. I had no real plan, not even thinking to grab Dad’s ladder from the garage. All that mattered at that moment was getting Ben down from the roof and back inside.

I hopped up, stepping out and onto the wet shingles. What started as mild rain was now a full-on downpour. Moving cautiously, I climbed up the roof, using my hands and knees as anchors as it steepened.

The wind howled, the sound of rain hitting the tiles like a roaring applause in my ears. I bent low and held on as an especially fierce gust ripped through me. Everything was wet and cold. I wiped the drizzle from my eyes and called out for Ben. Nothing but rainfall answered. I couldn’t see him anywhere.

The sky rumbled above through a deathly shade of gray. Every instinct inside me screamed to get off the roof and get to safety, but I wasn’t about to turn back now. Not without my twin brother.

I reached the top of the ridge and hoisted myself over. Ben was just ahead of me, curled over at the very edge of the house. He was clutching the lightning rod, practically folded against it. Idiot, I seethed, you God damn idiot!

I shuffled toward him, staying as low to the roofing as I could, the grey cat on the weathervane spinning faster than ever. Everything flashed—a stray bolt, like a barbed, silvery vein, streaked across the clouds, followed by the loudest CRRRACK I’d ever heard.

My ears buzzed. I thought for a moment I’d gone deaf. Still, I kept moving, hell-bent on getting to him right away. Nothing else mattered.

“Ben!” I screamed at him, forcing it out of my throat with an agonizing throb. He remained curled there, unmoving even as the wind grabbed at his clothes. I was nearly on him, and just as I pulled a bit closer, I stopped.

It was true, after all. My brain had really gone away, yanked right out of my skull by the hissing gales. Even now, it’s difficult for me to piece everything together. My dribbled eyes pulled wide, my world filling with things it shouldn’t.

There were creatures all tangled together in long, ropey strands. They were pale-bodied shapes as skinny as centipedes that snaked out of his mouth, his ears, even his eyes, smothering his face in its mesh. The part of Ben I could see, the single eye within its clusters, stared out with blank indifference, vomit still dripping from his chin.

The things that were coiled and branched and shifted under his skin—the lightning flowers—had come out to taste the wet air, gleaming with sky water and dark veins that pulsed actively. They extended from him, straddling the lightning rod in gray, wormy knots until their larger, Y-shaped tips stretched even higher, reaching toward the sky like white, knobby fingers begging to be struck.

A familiar sensation fell over me, the prickliness shaking the air, a mounting pressure drawing up breath to silence the world. My tongue felt frizzy. The hairs on my arm went rigid.

The bolt struck, firing down in a brilliant arc of chaos. My vision went negative. The metal pole flashed white and then bright blue. I slipped. Thunder punched my skull and battered my ears. Shingles rolled beneath me. I reached for the rain gutter, but it was too late for me to grab it.

When I finally stopped falling, everything went away.


The world came back in brief fragments. Car doors closing. Voices speaking in hurried gibberish. Lights meshing together like gelatin. Ears ringing.

I woke to an awful clamminess. The walls were white, and at first, all I could make out was the white sheet sprawled over me. A hospital room. I could tell that time had passed, but I had no idea how much. Blurry silhouettes that had turned out to be my parents were in the room as well, thanking God I was waking up.

I’d fallen from the roof, breaking my leg in several places, and shattering the wrist I fell on. They didn’t want to pelt me with too many questions at once, but I could tell they needed to know exactly what had happened.

“Where is Ben?” I asked. “Is he okay?”

Mom stood up and left the room, unable to keep herself together. That was enough to tell me what had happened. He hadn’t survived this time around. Gone. For the first time in my life, I felt very much alone.

The miraculous story of the farmer boy who survived a lightning strike had just as quickly become a tragedy, dulled down to two stupid boys playing on the roof during a thunderstorm. But that was not what had happened. Not at all.

I remember the faces at Ben’s funeral, all ashen and saggy with grief as they hugged me and shared their condolences. Flowers everywhere. Nothing on that day felt real, even as I watched the casket disappear into the earth, taking my reflection with it into the hollow cavity.

My wrist and legs healed up just fine, but the ringing in my ears hadn’t gone away. Dr. Sullivan called it tinnitus and said that it should go away on its own. Maybe it would, but I no longer trust his conclusions. To this day, I can still hear that lingering hum.

John and the others checked on me often, trying everything they could to help, but I wasn’t ready to let them. Even now, I’m still lost. A twin only half dead, amputated like a lost limb. Greensnapped. What I would give to have been the one in Ben’s spot that day, the one who was smote. But it was not God who did the smiting. It was something else. Something I can’t stop seeing in dark corners.

I hold the responsibility to live for both of us, to carry on my brother’s presence before the brightest light I’d ever seen took him away from me. Pain continues to live in my chest, sometimes intense, sometimes subtle. That wild, crippling loneliness that infests all severed twins—I keep thinking about that word.

I’ve been doing some reading lately, more than I ever have before. There are these things called Leucochloridium paradoxum. Small worms that hide in bird droppings for a snail to gobble up their eggs. Once inside Mr. Snail, the worm hatches and claims its new home inside him, eating up all the nutrients it needs.

The worm matures. When the time is right, they take control of Mr. Snail’s brain, manipulating him to leave the shade and wander up to the treetops. The worm then pushes up into his eyestalks, pulsating brightly in green, yellow, and red, practically screaming, “Eat me! Eat me!” to any hungry bird nearby. The bird, mistaking Mr. Snail for a caterpillar, either gobbles him up or plucks out his eyes. Neither matters to the worm, as long as its cycle continues. The parasite lives, and the host is left behind. Evil things, aren’t they?

I don’t want to keep seeing them, but I can’t stop it. They’re still there, squirming and digging and writhing around my thoughts. They came down from the sky, rode the lightning like a railway to their next host, and when they finished feeding, reached back up to the clouds with white, milky hands, pleading for the lightning mother to bring them back home. To continue the cycle.

What would have happened if the first bolt killed Ben? Would they have just dried up and died with him that day? A failed landing—something I’m sure happens a lot. But Ben had survived, and so did they.

Where they go, I’ll never know, but I’d wager on how they’ll be back, and I’ve been waiting for another of those articles to appear, for another person out there to survive a strike. Maybe just an incident the person will recover and walk away from, or maybe something far worse, something as horrible as what happened to our family.

I can never bring my brother back, but I will do whatever it takes to show the world what really happened.

That is my promise to him, one that I repeat to myself on cold, cloudy days.