High VoltageBy: Karen Marie Moning
HE WOULDN’T HAVE SEEN the shooting star if the woman in his bed hadn’t fallen asleep, overstaying her welcome, filling him with the restless desire for a solitary walk on the beach.
The ocean at night always made him glad to be alive, which was why he’d chosen to live so near it.
Alive was the one thing he’d always be.
Tonight, the sea was a shiver of dark glass, harboring secrets untold in her depths while on her tranquil surface stars glittered like diamonds. Life-giving, life-stealing, beautiful, a challenge to handle, worth learning to ride, full of fresh wonders every day—if he’d had a woman like the ocean in his bed, he’d still be there.
He wasn’t a man that believed in signs from the heavens. He’d lived too long for that and knew if he were to receive a sign of any kind, it would explode from below in a shower of sparks and brimstone, not descend from above, a wonder to behold.
For a few moments he watched the star scorch a path across a black velvet sky, leaving a streak of shimmering stardust in its wake.
Then he turned away and stripped off his clothes to go for a swim. He was nearly to the water when he realized the star appeared to be headed his way and was much closer than it initially appeared. In fact, it seemed—if it continued on its current path—it might land on his beach. What were the odds of that?
He arched a brow, considering its trajectory. Although he couldn’t gauge its velocity, the star certainly seemed to be on a direct collision course.
His laughter was deep, mocking; how rich that would be. After so many eons, was he to be felled by a shooting star? Had he finally managed to offend both those who resided in the heavens and those that dwelled beneath? Was his sentence finite after all?
He watched its approach, amused, daring it to find its mark. End his life. Obliterate him.
He growled, “Do your best,” and closed his eyes, waiting for the impact. He’d seen the end come too many times to care in what guise it appeared. He didn’t need to watch. He knew what death was.
Never final. Not for him.
Finally, he opened his eyes. The star had slowed to a crawl and was no longer speeding across the sky but tumbling slowly, lazily, directly overhead, perhaps a mile above him.
He didn’t move a muscle. Come on, you bitch. Do it.
The star plummeted abruptly, acquiring velocity as it fell.
When it crashed to the beach a dozen paces away, impact buried it in a soft explosion of sand.
One brow arched, he contemplated the indentation. The only other time the universe had singled him out for attention, it hadn’t gone well. He was intrigued in spite of himself; this was an unusual turn of events for a man to whom nothing was unusual anymore, and hadn’t been for a very long time.
Approaching the depression, he knelt and began to dig. When at last his fingers closed on the thing that had fallen from the sky, he muttered an oath and yanked his hands from the sand.
It was blisteringly hot. And now it was covered again.
He sat back, stretched his legs around the hollow, and excavated it more carefully, until a black chunk the size of his hand was revealed, with jagged, broken edges that glowed red as burning embers.
So much for signs.
So much for death.
It was only a flat chunk of molten rock that had coincidentally plummeted to his beach while he’d happened to be out walking.
He pushed up and began to lope toward the sea, but as he moved away from the fallen star a sudden breeze gusted a fragrance after him that stopped him in his tracks. The monster within growled and inhaled greedily.
Ah, the smell! What was that smell?
He glanced back, nostrils flaring. Returning to the object, he stood above it, eyes closed, breathing hungrily, tasting the aroma with his mind. His monster was pacing now, restless and alert.
The rock smelled of a woman: dark and vast, complex as the sea. She was life and death, mercy and ruthlessness, joy and grief. Complicated. Hard to handle. Worth learning to ride.
Where had it come from?
Consumed by the mystery, he opened his eyes. Although he healed with remarkable speed, he was in no mood to burn his hands again so he stalked to a nearby tumble of rock and selected a long narrow wedge.
Returning to the far-flung star, he nudged it with the stone, working it up the side of the sandy indentation so he could flip it over and examine it. Even with his hands a fair distance from the object, it cast enough heat to blister his skin.