CHAPTER 1 – Cassie and Greg
‘No, daddy no!’ Cassie screams with delight as her father tickles her mercilessly.
Trying to breathe in-between, Cassie kicks and wiggles until her father stops, also out of breath. Tenderly Greg holds her face and smiles, kissing her nose.
‘How much do I love you?’
‘To the stars and back.’
‘Come, time for bed little tot.’ Cassie hangs onto her dad’s neck on the way, hoping to slow him down. ‘I’m not tired’
‘Yes, you are. Besides if you don’t go to sleep now, the tickle monster will come back.’ He wiggles his fingers and Cassie screams again. Kisses and hugs over, Greg reads her a story, by the end of which she’s fast asleep.
Greg stares into his daughter’s face, wondering what his life was like before she came along. Quietly he goes, leaving the door open a crack so he can check on her.
‘Hi honey.’ It’s his wife calling to let him know she has taken an extra shift. Greg’s photography business is in a slump. He hates that Nadine has to take on more shifts but until the busy season starts, they have no choice. His usual clients haven’t sent him any business and weddings have been slow. It scares him. Sighing he makes coffee watching the horizon, if only the summer storms would kick in, spectacular storm shots always sell.
‘Let’s hope the weatherman is right about the storm moving in and that it’s a zinger.’ He lifts his cup to the horizon.
He should be careful what he wishes for.
3am and crackling lightening wakes him up, he dives out of bed. More streaks across the sky quicken his heart and relief overflows. With Nadine still at the hospital, he must take Cassie with but she’s safe in the car. Gear packed, he makes coffee and quickly packs juice and biscuits in a basket. Waking Cassie, he dresses her warmly, her and teddy are wrapped up tight and ready to go in 15 minutes.
Their home backs onto a green belt and he picks the path that takes them to the lookout. The storm is a way away so Greg knows he has time to get set up before it hits. Cassie sleeps so sound even the bumpy roads don’t wake her. Pondering over his approach to the shots, they get to the lookout before 4am. Stretching as he gets out, he relishes in the smell of approaching rain.
CHAPTER 2 – The Storm
Greg sets up his cameras under a tarp, alien-like tripods stand in a row ready to capture the show. He waits, sipping burning coffee and appreciates the beauty of the changing horizon. The purple clouds boil and roll, spitting out lightening at a crazy rate. He’s ready. Shot after stunning shot is saved onto the memory cards in his cameras and he knows he’s onto a winner. This will pay the back rent and more, Nadine can stop the extra shifts. He sends a silent prayer of thanks heavenward,
The lightening hits closer and he turns to check on Cassie, she’s sound asleep. Smiling he shakes his head and turns back to the light show.
When the lightening strikes him, he can’t quite place what happened. The burning sensation down his back and right arm are excruciating and clear fluid seeps through his clothes, then onto the sand as he collapses. He screams in shock and fear. He’s battling to breathe and the pain causes him to roll in and out of consciousness. His brain tries to tell him he’s in danger but the black vortex sucks him in. Spits him out and sucks him in again.
Finally, he wakes enough to see little Cassie standing over him.
‘Daddy? Why didn’t you come? I bin callin’ you. Did you get sore?’
He nods, trying to sit up. Waves of pain push him back down. All at once Greg realizes a few things. He is hurt. Badly. Cassie is in danger. Nadine doesn’t know where they are. And that he can’t drive or walk. Fear tickles at him and he sends another prayer skyward, this one asking for help.
‘Yes daddy?’ she is sitting as close to him as she can. Her touch causes pain but he can’t push her away.
‘Please get daddy’s phone.’ She obliges, proudly giving the phone to him. His heart sinks, there is no signal but at least the battery is full. Greg has an internal fight on what to do. He wants to keep his daughter close but he desperately needs medical attention. They can wait it out but what if he dies and his little girl is left all alone with his body? He can’t bear the thought of that. Cassie needs to get home safely to her mother.
He makes the decision to send her for help while struggling to stay conscious.
‘Cass honey? Do you know the emergency number?’ She nods.
‘Do you think you could walk a little way down the road and phone them to come to us hon?’ Cassie’s eyes get wide. She knows her father is hurt and in pain. She looks down the road, oh but that road is so dark and the wind is throwing sand around, she hesitates.
‘Take my phone. I will switch the light on and you can use it to show you the way. Tell them we are at the lookout in Ferris Park.’ Cassie nods scared but understanding that her father is badly hurt and cannot do it for her.
‘I want mommy’ tears fill her eyes. She longs for her mother childishly hoping she will appear, but those are babies dreams. Her big eyes turn from her father’s face to his wet, red arm it looks bad, luckily she can’t see his back.
‘If you can phone for help they will call mommy’ he encourages.
Something shifts in her eyes ‘Ok daddy. I’ll go. Can I take teddy?’ Greg almost weeps at the sight of her sweet face praying that this won’t be the last time he sees it.
‘Yes darling of course you can.’ Grunting in pain, he switches the torch on and hands his phone to his child giving her a quick hug. Pain radiates through his body. ‘Stay on the road and be careful my angel. Only go as far as you need to, to get a signal then phone. Ok?’ She nods and steps onto the road. Looking back she smiles. Cassie and Teddy step outside of the light, scared Greg tries to stay awake but cannot. He slips back into the vortex, his cheeks wet with tears.
CHAPTER 3 – Brave Cassie
Little Cassie’s shoes make a crunching noise on the stones and sand. It comforts her a little and hides the night noises. She stops at the turn knowing that in a few steps she can no longer see her father. She waves not knowing that her father is unconscious. Taking a deep breath she steels herself and steps out of his line of sight. Cassie feels more alone than at any other time in her short life. But she also feels brave and is happy to be helping her dad.
‘Teddy we are fine and going to help daddy.’ She regularly checks the phone for signal being careful to walk in the small circle of light. The road leads around another corner, she checks for signal. Nothing. Cassie walks on focused on the phone signal, when the first sting of rain hits her cheek. She shivers and pulls Teddy closer. She knows she mustn’t stop, she has to help daddy!
The phone rains wet. The light shines and Cassie continually checks it. Suddenly it flickers once, twice and dies. Cassie stops dead she didn’t think to put it in her pocket, she was too busy following the light. She is terrified and the darkness presses in against her, crying she crushes Teddy to her chest. He keeps her warm and she feels better but knows that she must get help fast.
The sand no longer crunches under her feet, it squelches. The lightening leads her way and she;’s too little to know the danger it represents. She puts one wet foot in front of the other, hugging Teddy. Her eyes peer into the darkness and the brave child keeps on walking. Suddenly she sees a flicker of light and stops. She stares shivering through the cold rain. The light flickers again. The light is off the road but Cassie can’t walk all the way home, she struggles to decide.
‘I know daddy said we must stay on the road, but the phone died. Come Teddy be brave. Let’s see what the light is.’ Cassie steps off the road. Unfortunately, in the dark, she doesn’t notice a driveway just a bit further down. Branches and bushes scratch her. drawing blood. Tears mix with the rain as the scratches burn. She hesitates wondering if she should have stayed on the road. The light flickers again and she keeps going.
CHAPTER 4 – Please help
Nadine’s shift ends and she is exhausted. Its raining and chilly. She can’t wait to get home, have a coffee and crawl into bed, its been a long day. She sings to keep awake on her short journey.
Cassie steps carefully but can’t see in the dark and falls, landing on sharp rocks that bruise her hip and forehead. She screams and cries but there is no-one to hear. Sniffling she sits up, everything hurts and the poor mite is so frightened all alone. The light is a little closer and she keeps on, one foot in front of the other. Shivering her feet slosh around in her soaked shoes, even Teddy is dripping. He’s no longer keeping her warm, she clutches him anyway. Cassie keeps going over rocks, through sucking sand and thorny bushes. Light is just starting to peep over the horizon.
Finally Cassie sees a wooden house through the trees. No more than a shack really, the light is coming from a lamp in the window. She sobs in relief pushing herself one step forward at a time. It never crosses her mind that whoever is inside may be worse than what she is going through. Stumbling over the driveway she knocks on the door, its barely audible over the storm. She knocks again crying harder, shivering uncontrollably now.
The man inside looks up from his book, wondering if its just the storm. He’s a loner. Losing a wife and child to violence does that to a man. Strong, tanned arms now marshmallow soft, freckled with age spots hold an old book. His once kind eyes are hard. Emotionless. He turns back to his book hoping it tires his mind enough that he can finally sleep. He wears his loneliness like a security blanket. No-one cares about him and he cares for no-one.
He hears it again and crosses the floor quickly. Wind and rain rush inside and he’s shocked to see a soaked child on his doorstep. Hesitating just a moment, he pulls her inside and heads to the fire. Whipping off her soaked gown, he wraps her in a rough, warm blanket and rubs her arms.
‘Child, what are you doing out in the storm?’ Blue lips try to form words but she is too cold. Her eyes are terrified and he wonders what brought this little one to his door. The cabin is miles from the closest homes which is how he likes it, but he’s confused. She couldn’t have walked all that way, and in this storm! He makes her sweet tea and rubs her hair with a towel. She’s starting to warm up finally. He gives her an old t-shirt its dry and warm, smells of pipe smoke and is thoughtfully knotted at the tummy so it’s not too long.
‘Its my daddy’ she finally shivers out, ‘he’s hurt, the lightnin’ hit him.’ Shock registers on the man’s face.
CHAPTER 5 – Rescue
Nadine sneaks in kicking off her shoes and puts the kettle on. The house is quiet and she watches the storm as she waits. Coffee in hand, she heads into the bedroom yawning. Its empty. That’s strange. She checks the bathroom then thinks maybe Greg fell asleep by Cassie. When Nadine sees her room is also empty, fear scratches at her gut. She tries Greg’s phone but it goes to voicemail. Now scared she runs outside, the garage is empty, she stops.
‘Greg where the hell are you? Where’s my child?’ Dialing him again she gets voicemail and her heart thunders in her ears.
‘Don’t panic Nadine, he’s probably photographing the storm, you know that.’ She berates herself. Nadine checks his equipment, its gone and she’s relieved. Its still confusing as to why his phones off but maybe there’s no signal. Now wide awake she sits watching the storm and waits. Her coffee gets cold on the counter.
‘OK sweetheart we need to find your daddy and I will help him.’ Fat tears slide from frightened eyes and he feels sick over what she must have gone through.
‘I’m Jimmy Caldwin. Call me Uncle Jim.’
‘I’m Cassie.’ He smiles and the little girl throws her arms around his neck and sobs. He’s taken aback and swallows a lump in his own throat, feeling how cold she is. Gently he pushes her away and asks about her father.
‘He’s at the lookout, the lightnin hit him. But I think he’s sleepin now.’ Fear tickles at Jim and he hopes he’s still alive. Filling a flask, he grabs a sheet, more blankets and his cell phone.
‘Come little one’ he holds out his hand marveling at how tiny her’s is as she takes it. His eyes flick heavenward asking for a miracle.
The truck bumps along the road, slipping as it goes, its steep and the rain makes it slick. Two beams of light lead the way and Jim keeps his eyes on the road, trying to make good time. Heaven only knows how long the man has been out in this.
Finally they make it to the lookout. Cassie fumbles for the door handle but Jim stops her.
‘Stay inside honey, you just got warm and dry.’ She nods and Jim notices how exhausted she is, he smiles and steps out into the rain. Its daybreak and the storm has lost its power. Light rain chills him as he runs to the man lying dead still in the wet. Jim sends up a quick prayer. He’s breathing! Jim starts dialing but of course, there’s no signal here. He makes a call and prays that his decision will not kill Cassie’s father. Turning Greg over he uses his underarms to pull him along, knowing that its unlikely that he has burns there. He’s not strong enough to lift him but he can drag him and manages to get him into the car. Greg’s soaked and shivering, his skin pale where its not burned from the lightening. Jim covers him with the clean sheet and then a blanket. Instinctively Jim knows that the blanket is necessary but could add to infection if the fibers get into the wound. Cassie hugs her daddy, cradling his wet head and crooning to him.
Jim quickly locks up Greg’s stuff, takes his keys and heads off. He knows it wont help to go off the road and takes it easy, frustration builds as Greg starts to moan. Little Cassie looks between her father and Jim, he feels the pressure to not let this man die in front of his child. He knows what happens to those left behind.
Finally he has signal and keeps his eyes on the road while dialing. The emergency center contacts the hospital, Jim will be there before an ambulance can get to him and they are waiting. The relief on his face is apparent as they gently put Greg onto a stretcher and rush him inside.
‘Daddy, daddy’ Cassie wails. Jim reassures her, parks the car and heads into the hospital.
‘Sir can you fill out… Cassie?’ the reception nurse stares at Cassie and Jim confused.
Looking down the passage she wonders if the burn victim is Greg. Slipping out of Jim’s arms Cassie runs to the nurse sobbing. ‘Cassie honey what happened?’ The child is crying hard and begging for her mommy. The nurse cuddles her, turning back to the man but he is gone. There is a set of car keys on the desk along with Cassie’s sodden gown.
‘Nadine?’ she answered the phone instantly now really starting to worry about Greg and Cassie.
‘You need to get down to the hospital love. Its Greg. He and Cassie are here, he’s hurt. Dr Baum… hello? Hello?’ But Nadine had dropped the phone and is already pulling her car out of the drive her eyes wet and wide. 7 agonizing minutes later she hugs her little girl to her chest, finally able to breathe again. Cassie is safe. She sobs so happy to see her mommy. Nadine waits until the sobs become sniffles then gently pushes her away to stares into her daughter’s pale face. She wonders where the t-shirt came from, it’s way too big for her.
Candy gently pulls her away from Cassie and squeezes her arm.
‘Greg’s hurt but we think he will be OK Nadine’ she says reassuringly. ‘He got struck by lightning…’ Nadine pales and Candy puts her hands up. ‘BUT he’s breathing and the burns aren’t too bad. The rain helped cool and moisten them. We are worried about pneumonia and infection but really it could have been much worse if he hadn’t made it here by now.’ Nadine hugs Candy fresh tears streaking her cheeks.
‘Can I see him?’
‘Not yet they are still cleaning the burns but soon.’ Nadine nods, turning back to her daughter she picks her up and flops onto the one comfy couch, holding her as if she could be absorbed.
Cassie looks up. ‘Mommy? Where’s Uncle Jim?’
‘Uncle Jim?’ Cassie nods.
‘Did he bring you and daddy here?’
‘Yes, I found his house in the trees.’
‘Wait. You went walking around in the storm?’
‘Yes.’ Cassie says beaming. ‘I went to get help for daddy but it started to rain and the light died.’ Nadine’s heart sank at what her daughter had had to do. She squeezes her tight.
‘Oh honey. What happened then?’
‘I tried not to be scared mommy. I saw a light and walked towards it. I fell…’ Cassie lifts her hair and Nadine sees that she got hurt. ‘And my hip.’
‘Ah come angel. Candy? Give me a hand, will you? Cassie needs to be checked out she’s got some bruises…’ They take her into a room and Cassie beams with pride telling Candy what she did. They check the little girl over, making a big show of bandaging her head and treating her hip.
‘Cas? Was Uncle Jim nice? He didn’t hurt you?’ Cassie shook her head fast, then slower when she realized it hurt.
‘No mommy he gave me his t-shirt and made me tea and we went to get daddy.’
Nadine hugged her ‘My brave little girl -I’m so proud of you.’ Cassie glows with the compliment then yawns as Nadine picks her up to go and see Greg.
A month later Greg’s healing well, Cassie’s over her shock, their car is back and it’s time to say thank you.
All 3 travel the path taken by Cassie and Greg and later in slippery mud by Uncle Jim. At first they miss the road to the cottage, slowly going back until they spot it.
‘Yay I’m gonna see Uncle Jim’ Cassie bounced around the back seat. Nadine drives carefully so the bumps don’t hurt Greg’s healing skin. The going is slow but they are all so grateful to be there that none of them mind.
‘There’s his truck. And his house!’
They pulled up next to it and Cassie jumps out. Uncle Jim hears them coming and frames the doorway, his surprise evident. The little girl runs full tilt towards him and he scoops her into his arms smiling. She giggles. Nadine helps Greg out of the car and they slowly walk up to the little cabin. Jim looks at the 3 faces before him and realizes that from now on his life may be a little less lonely.