The thunder crackles unforgivingly throughout the atmosphere. I look to the ground, dry, it hasn’t started raining yet. The rain always held a kind of comfort for me. It was calming, relaxing, and somehow reassuring. The silver lining to the gray cloud that was the storm. The thunder, on the contrary, was always intimidating and terrifying, like the wakening growl of a cruel gargantuan lion emerging from an eternal slumber. As I stare out my window the weatherman assures that there will be rain, but he’s wrong.
That day, the day that has haunted me for so long. The day that had me waking up screaming in the middle of the night for months. The day that had me spiraling into depression. That day was just like this, no rain, no drizzle, just lightning and thunder.
It was my second year working as a camp counselor. The camp was open during Spring and of course Summer. During Spring we would get some kids from upstate, kids who came from wealthy families that funded the camp and its programs generously. During Summer we would get kids from group homes owned by a foster care program that worked closely with our camp. That particular Spring, the foster kids had to come to camp because the group homes were being renovated and they had nowhere else to go. Our superiors, fearing the possibility of bullying, tried to switch the other kids to Summer, but their parents wouldn’t have it. Their hands were tied, and they had no choice but to have both groups in camp at the same time.
I remember Travis, Susan, and I were in charge of taking the kids' names and welcoming them to camp. The foster kids arrived first. The sky was gray and dark, the trees swayed as an icy breeze combed through their leaves. “Looks like rain,” Travis warned.
“Yeah,” Susan agreed.
“Do you think we’ll have to cancel some of the activities?”
“Maybe,” I answered, “Gus will probably have an announcement about it later.” Then Ariana emerged from the bus. She was so pleasant and sweet. She could’ve engaged anyone in a riveting and enjoyable conversation. Ariana was a regular at the camp, I had met her the year before. She was a sweet kid, we all saw her as a little sister.
“Hey guys!” She greeted eagerly.
“Hey kiddo, welcome back!” I said happily. Susan and Ariana hugged as Susan kept exclaiming how much taller Ariana had gotten since the last time we saw her.
“Oh hey! Uh, you um. What's-your-face!” Travis exclaimed jokingly, “Lemme see, lemme see, Ana? No B-briana, there we go Briana!”
“Quit being a jerk!” Susan said as she swatted him on the arm.
“Oh haha, very funny Ferris!” Ariana retorted sarcastically.
“Still a rowdy little rascal, I see.”
“Oh yeah? Well you’re still a dork, haven’t change a bit!”
“Hey, never have, never will.” The two burst laughing, Susan and I couldn’t help but join them.
A split-second flash followed by a low crackling emanating from the sky tore us back to reality. “Uh-oh, drums in the sky. Storms coming and by the looks of it, it’s gonna be bad,” Ariana said.
“Yeah it’s probably not safe to be out too long, you should get inside,” Susan suggested.
“Alright, see you guys inside, oh and try not to get struck by lightning,” she said as she turned and walked away.
“No promises!” I called out jokingly.
As predicted there were various incidents of bullying. In particular were four kids; Brent, Crystal, Lawrence, and Alexis. The bullying didn’t elevate to anything more than name-calling and verbal abuse, thankfully, however it was still cruel. They had told some of the foster kids that they were unwanted because they had nothing to offer, that they were worthless, that they had no families because they didn’t deserve it and countless of other cruel things. We tried our best to stop it and keep it under control, but the kids fought back. They threatened to tell their parents on us, and said that they could do whatever they wanted to whomever because their parents had money. By the end of the day we were exhausted and the idea of dealing with those spoiled brats for the next couple of weeks only made it worse. The storm, as if mirroring our mood, had gotten progressively worse.
After the kids were sent to their cabins for the night, we all met up at the mess hall. There were seven of us, including Gus; the camp caretaker and head counselor. During the night, three of us would go out and patrol the campsite, making sure there weren't any kids wandering around after hours, then we'd switch with the other three. That night it was Susan, Liz, and I. "We should hurry, I don't like being out here when it's like this," Liz said.
"We're almost done," I assured. We were heading to the two bunkhouses our camp had. Suddenly I caught movement in the darkness. Liz and Susan noticed as well and we shined our flashlights to that spot to catch Brent and Lawrence heading to the boys' bunkhouse.
"What are you guys doing outside of the bunkhouse?!" Liz exclaimed, shocked.
"None of your business, bitch!" Brent said with a smirk. Susan and I took the boys by the arms and were going to take them to Gus for questioning, but then I noticed the legs of their pants were wet all the way up to the knees.
"You went to the lake!" I said, furious.
Before they could say anything Liz screamed, "Stop!" She was pointing the light into the brush of the forest, catching Crystal and Alexis trying to make a break for the girls' bunkhouse, their pants also wet.
"Anyone else decide to go for a midnight swim?" Susan asked. The girls snickered as Brent flipped her the bird in response. I figured we wouldn't get anything from the brats so the best option would be to check the bunkhouse. We found out Ariana was missing and eventually the kids told us they had carried her on her mattress out to the lake. I told Susan and Liz to get the others as I dashed to the lake.
Thunder grumbled above, I remember my first thought was that it sounded like how your stomach growls when you’re hungry, just more intense: it was primal, animalistic, and...eager. Finally, the lake came into view. I saw Ariana still asleep on the mattress as it floated peacefully farther and farther away from the shore. I was tempted to call out, but stopped, because calling out might’ve resulted in startling her awake which could lead to her falling off the mattress. I decided the best option would be to swim out and get her. I walked into the lake and began swimming as quietly as I could.
Suddenly lightning struck somewhere in the distance and a loud crash demolished the silence. Ariana shot up, the sudden movement causing her to lose balance and fall off the mattress. “Ariana!” I screamed as I began swimming as fast as I could. She thrashed hysterically, hitting the mattress as she did, causing it to drift away. Ariana would attempt to scream, only to be cut off by her splashing or her coughing. She sounded like she was choking. I willed my body to swim harder and faster but I was still too far. I heard yelling coming from the shore, but I couldn’t look. I had to focus on Ariana.
She went silent. I swam harder and harder. I was almost there. The mattress had drifted my way, I pushed it to where Ariana was and continued swimming. Finally, at the spot where she had been, I dove down. Air bubbles zoomed out of her mouth. I grabbed her and pushed to the surface, grabbed the nearby mattress and lifted her limp body onto it.
Some of the other counselors jumped in to help me guide Ariana to the shore as quickly as possible. Once we had arrived, Gus being the head counselor and therefore the most experienced, began to give Ariana mouth-to-mouth. We all looked on, feeling completely helpless.
After several fruitless minutes, minutes that felt like hours, Gus stopped. He stood up, and looked at us somberly, a grim expression on his haggard face. “Sh-she’s gone.” My heart sank. We were all in shock.
We tried to get an ambulance and the police, but the line was dead and our phones couldn’t get any signal. Suddenly I heard panicked screams. “Lawrence just ran into the woods!” I steeled myself and ran outside to help. Apparently, knowing that Ariana had died because of the prank he had taken a part in was too much, Lawrence ran into the woods, fearing the consequences.
The was another lightning strike, but unlike the others, this one sounded- no, this one felt close. The thunder that followed, was loud, so loud that it left a sharp ringing in my ears.
After about an hour of searching, someone nearby yelled, “Hey! Hey, you guys, I found hi-” He stopped. I thought it was weird but I shrugged it off. I ran to the direction of the voice. Some of the other counselors joined me along the way.
We found Travis staring at something vacantly. We questioned him, he didn’t respond. Some of us turned to see what he was staring at. “What the fuck‽” I heard someone yell.
“Oh my god!” Someone else gasped. I looked, and immediately turned away. I stumbled and my legs buckled, I fell to my knees as my stomach emptied its contents.
Just behind the bushes was Lawrence, laying on the forest floor. His abdomen missing, a look of terror and agony on his face. From the middle of his rib cage all the way down to below his waist, the edges of the gaping wound charred black as if burned. As if his abdomen had been cut out with a blowtorch.
Suddenly Travis broke from his stupor. “He-he was killed. He was killed! Someone’s out here! Everyone back to camp now!” Everyone ran back to camp. I was starting to lose it, I remember Travis and Bobby after trying to get me to get up, had to grab me and practically drag me back to camp. There was another lightning strike, before I hadn’t been sure if I had really felt that lightning strike, but this time I knew I did. The ground vibrated with the force of the lightning strike and the crackling thunder once again left a ringing in my ears. We arrived to camp only to find the same thing we running from.
When we arrived we were informed that Brent had been found dead outside one of the bunkhouses, his abdomen missing as well. We were all convinced the last two deaths were by the hand of a maniac wielding a blowtorch as a weapon. Gus decided since the phone lines were down and there was no signal, he would travel to the nearest town, which, unfortunately, two hours away to get help. He left armed with a rifle and accompanied by two counselors and drove off.
We awoke all the children and escorted them all to the mess hall per Gus’s orders. I knew there was something wrong with how Brent and Lawrence had died, but I couldn’t figure it out. Every time I tried to make a connection, my mind kept going to the thunder, to the lightning. No rain, just thunder, lightning. That’s when it hit me. Just before we found Lawrence there had been a powerful lightning strike that had felt close. The same went for the time we found Brent, but that had to be a coincidence. Lightning and thunder were extremely random. It didn’t make sense.
Suddenly, lightning struck the campsite. The shock-wave knocked many of us to the ground. Then the deafening thunder crashing through the sky. I felt warm liquid ooze out of my left ear as I stood back up. I wiped at it. Blood. “Oh my god!” Susan screamed. I looked and to my horror I saw Alexis on the ground. The same gaping wound, except it was still sizzling, smoke emanated from it.
"The lightning! It’s the fucking lightning!" I steeled myself after this new revelation. “To the mess hall now! Double-time! Go! Go! Go! It’s the lightning!”
Once everyone was inside, we began arguing over the insane and horrible spectacle that had just taken place. The whole time it was the lightning which had killed Lawrence, Brent, and had now Alexis. Eventually we couldn’t help but notice the connection between the victims. “It’s because they killed her! It; whatever it is wants them!” I don’t remember who had come up with the idea but someone suggested we kick Crystal out, offering her as sacrifice to the lightning. The most fucked up part was that most of the counselors were willing to do that. Though the majority of the counselors supported the idea, the rest of us managed to convince them against it.
Suddenly, powerful lightning began to strike all over the roof and all around the mess hall, convincing many that the lightning wanted Crystal. She ran to me, wrapping her arms around my waist. She looked up at me tearfully. I swore for a split-second I was looking into Ariana’s face. “Please don’t let it take me.”
We spent hours inside the mess hall with the furious lightning and thunder outside. Eventually the lightning and thunder began to die down. A silence fell upon the camp: some of us decided to check outside, believing the turn of events was too good to be true. We stepped outside and at first everything seemed quiet, almost peaceful. Then some of us began to notice a strange, metallic smell, like dirty pennies. There was a breeze and for some reason I looked up. What I saw left me speechless, high above in the sky, directly above the mess hall was an enormous spiral. We heard a buzzing. Parts of the spiral flashed with light. We screamed a warning. Some ran out, others tried to get as far away from Crystal as they could. We ran back inside.
A thick lightning bolt crashed through the roof, hitting the floor of the mess hall. The force shattered all the windows of the mess hall and the bunkhouses and the shock-wave that followed threw us back a couple feet. After that the thunder ceased and a wind began to blow, slowly pushing the clouds away. Most had only been injured, a couple of small burns and bruises, nothing serious. Only one death, Crystal. Gus had arrived with the police right when the lightning had struck and torn through the roof.
The camp closed after that. The police decided the cause of the deaths had been a freak natural anomaly. It took me some time, as it probably undoubtedly did for the other counselors, but eventually I moved on. I graduated from high school and began going to college.
It wouldn’t be until my second year of college that that horrible night would come back to haunt me. It was the beginning of the semester, and I had decided to take a mythology class and the first few months went nicely. I was doing well and genuinely enjoyed the class, I found the material extremely intriguing. Then we got to Japanese mythology, which was where I learned about Raijin.
Raijin was the god of thunder, lightning, and storms in Japanese mythology. Supposedly, the thunder was the sound of his drums. The part that horrified me the most was when my professor informed us that Raijin had an appetite for the stomachs and abdomens of children. My stomach dropped and my blood ran cold. He went on to narrate one of the last legends told of Raijin. Apparently, Raijin’s appetite had become so insatiable that he began eating countless of children’s stomachs. It got so out of hand that the other gods had to intervene. They stopped him, and put a curse on him, forbidding him from eating another child’s stomach.
There was, of course, a loophole, Raijin would only be able to eat the stomachs of children who had committed some kind of sin, such as murder of someone innocent.
I had a breakdown then and there, and my professor called an ambulance, I was given a kind of mandatory break from school. My parents started making me go to therapy sessions. The therapist, as well as everyone else, tried to convince me. Those deaths were all just coincidences, but there’s no way.
As I stare out my window I see a flash followed by a low booming and at that moment I remember the very last time I saw Ariana alive. One of the last things I heard her say. It was when she heard the thunder. She called it drums in the sky.