by Khristian Smith

“What a sunset,” I coughed.

I do not know why I remember this, but I recollect my deplorable health. Nulling stress, little sleep, sparse food, and too much nicotine were at fault. By some means, I found myself lounging on a pleather sofa perched on a concrete balcony. Boone’s Farm helped little in this scenario. I recall the flavor: Snow Creek Berry. What the fuck is a snow creek berry, anyway?

“Right?” whispered a guy I didn’t know. Dark cyan sky lit his sunk eyes, defined jaw, uncombed mop. Thunder broke through the steel clouds. He smiled. “Sounds like storm season.”

I recognized his voice, but cigarettes and cheap wine kept me puzzled. I strained from asking more questions than necessary. The night was too beautiful to eat at with queries. A light breeze kissed my cheeks flushed from the wine and I breathed in mountain air.

“Petrichor,” I spat.


I laughed. “Petrichor. It smells like petrichor.”

“Is that some of your literature scholar bullshit?”

I snorted. It seemed he knew me. I hacked and spat over the edge, threw my legs up onto the railing — sank further into the tan pleather. It had to have been from the ‘80s. “Yeah,” I admitted. “It’s the scent of rain on dry earth. Grass and the like. Romantic shit.”

“A’ight. I dig.”

I heard him fight a Zippo. He won, for an orange flare opened my nose to the smell of cannabis burning in glass. The stranger coughed. I reached out for the lighter, tipped a cigarette into my mouth and sucked until I burned. Swing low, sweet chariot, I thought. Then, I knew the taste of cancer well.

Rain plashed. Gentle drops crashing against the veranda. The guy inhaled.

“Petrichor?” he asked.

“Yep.” I sucked until my cigarette seared my tongue. What use was it with few meals?

Churning storm turned a pallid dusk sable. Streaks of ozone-rich lightning flared verdant against the nimbus vortex. Devil’s fire — angels at war, as my grandmother explained weather phenomena. Strands of Christmas lights along the gutters flickered; a solar timer brought them life. Another strand of lightning. Distant. It broke violet. Violet and jade. A war of color in a black sea as rain crashed in sporadic, heavy sheets.

“It’s raining sideways,” the stranger cackled. Horizontal sweeps brushed my boots. I huddled deeper in my sweater, flicked my dead cigarette butt into the tempest, rubbed my numbing hands. Atypical cold seized April, but recurrent showers retained. The stranger sucked at his bowl, rolling French inhales and putrid smoke rings. “Fuck finals,” he spat.

The Throne and Parliament remove Catholics from London following Guy Fawkes’s Gunpowder Treason in 1605. Isolated to the suburbs, they relied on communal efforts to survive. As an example: Alexander Pope’s The Rape of Lock, a heroic-comical poem, attempted alleviating a growing feud when Arabella Fermor and Lord Petre’s scandal threatened dividing and conquering his Catholic community.

Bioluminescence — the production and emission of light by living organisms. Marine vertebrates and invertebrates (such as plankton), some fungi (such as foxfire), microorganisms, and terrestrial invertebrates (glowworms and fireflies) are common producers.

“Don’t remind me,” I hissed. I lit another cigarette. Flaming lightning split like spider’s legs across the void. A brief, effulgent ball branded the horizon. I coughed, closed my eyes, and thought.

St Elmo’s Fire — weather phenomenon where coronial discharge from objects in strong atmospheric electric fields forms a luminous plasma. Named after patron saint of sailors.

I drifted as thunder broke and the stranger lit his second round.

Khristian Smith is a senior at Bethany College in Bethany, West Virginia.