The Storm Hunter
Chapter 1: The Storm Rolls In
May 5th, 1998
Megan couldn’t help but think about Jake.
There was such a strong association between storms and Jake that she had even brought the topic up with her psychologist, Dr. Meyers. He would remind her that such associations were a remnant of living in the past. Go out, talk to a friend, make new associations, that was the doctor’s advice. Whatever Megan did, she had to actively choose anything that wouldn’t tie in to reminiscing about her dead husband.
Megan slammed the door shut, turning away from it. It was as though she were refusing the storm entry into her home. Yet, even as that occurred to her, she slumped into the door.
In her mind, Megan pictured Jake on the other side. All she had to do was turn around, open the door, and invite him in. She could see his smile, the one that lit up his eyes with her reflection, the gaze of someone absolutely and utterly in love. Was it truly so wrong to appreciate the memories?
Bitterness welled up in her like too much dark chocolate. The thought of Jake was a happy one, but the realization that she would never move on, never get her life back on track if she couldn’t stop thinking about him all the time... Megan could feel the bile in her throat. She also had the beginnings of a headache. Fighting tears, she made her way upstairs.
The house was so large. Megan hadn’t wanted a place so big to start out in, but, with so little to hope for, she had put everything she had saved into the downpayment, and reached. It was certainly the house she had one day dreamed of owning, but her dreams had included children, and Jake.
Megan and Jake had a small wedding. By that point, Jake wasn’t really feeling up to the demands of something larger and more traditional. They’d held the wedding in the hospital chapel. Just Megan, her parents, Jake’s parents, and a few friends. Jake’s happiness that day had almost managed to wipe away the tell-tale signs of chemotherapy treatment. Just a couple of years of battling had worn Jake out more than age ever could have. He was still young, still handsome, but that only made the lines on his features more haunting, the way he carried himself more desperate.
Once, Jake had been so strong that Megan could have imagined him picking her up when she was as tired as she was now. He’d carry her up the stairs into the master bedroom, their bedroom.
That had been the dream. Instead, Megan was leaning against the railing as her head pounded. The headaches had been a recurring, waking nightmare since Jake passed. Dr. Meyers had things to say about those too. But he wasn’t here, and neither was Jake. The headaches were her new companion.
The bedroom that opened up was so cold and lonely. The darkening skies had already swallowed most of the light out of the room, casting a chilling gray pallor that reminded Megan of a funeral home... No. She shook her head and closed her eyes.
Jake stood there, the rain pouring down on him. He was soaked, from head to toe, his white shirt sticking to his toned, well-muscled abdomen. Jake’s brown hair was plastered to his face too, he never cut it short. Megan liked it that way, falling down to his chin, thick enough for her to wrap her fingers in when he was filling her up...
The memory shook Megan. In more ways than one.
An empty room was all that greeted Megan as she walked in. The door wasn’t closed, why would it be? There was no one else there to see her. There were no babies to keep Megan awake all night, and no toddlers that couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. There was no Jake for her to put something special on and close the door so that he could open up his surprise.
The only surprise in the bedroom was the mess. It wasn’t exactly bachelor-pad level of messy, but the bed was unmade: sheets, blanket, and comforter were pushed back lazily against the foot of the bed. Instead of a hamper, there was a pile of laundry that its smell was beginning to become offensive. Megan glanced at the laundry, she had planned to do it a couple days ago, why hadn’t she?
Sighing, Megan shrugged out of her tank-top and jeans. She put on a fuzzy pink sweater that lay entangled in the ruffled bedding. It was the last thing that anyone who knew Megan would expect her to wear.
Initially, Megan kept it for the occasional laugh it inspired. However, as her relationship with Jake deepened and grew, it gained a sentimental value that elevated it beyond the gag gift it had started as. Her tastes had evolved too. As a teenager, she’d hated pink for the stereotypes it represented. Cheerleaders, artificial femininity, but, in the end, it was only a color, and the pastel pink of the sweater was actually a lovely shade. Plus, whatever the sweater was made of, it was a good-quality material. It was comfortable. Even then, Jake had known her.
Megan’s gaze panned out to the stormy world outside as she slipped beneath the covers. The wind had begun to pick up, and the trees in the yard were swaying in their obligatory dance to the storm.
Somewhere out there, she wondered if Jake was looking at the same storm she was. Whether as a ghost, a spirit, or perhaps an angel looking down from heaven. She couldn’t help but connect to his memory through the storm, for it brought up moments she could never forget.
“I love you... Jake...” Megan whispered, her eyelids sliding closed.
June 26th, 1994
“No! I won’t.” Megan folded her arms as she gazed out from the doorway to Jake’s house.
In response to Megan’s obstinance, Jake merely grinned. “Come on!”
It was the same thing he’d said before, just minus one word. Megan and Jake had been dating for over a year at this point. They had somehow turned into “that couple” at school, but found they didn’t mind it nearly as much as they had expected.
They had slipped into a rhythm. Jake was always there for Megan’s gymnastics meets, and she was there for all of his football games. She would stay after school and do homework while Jake’s team practiced, and he would come to her practice on Sundays. They studied together, and got invited to each others’ family vacations.
This was one of the first times they had been allowed to be together at home without supervision. They didn’t have chaperoned dates, but one of the few rules that had been put in place was that, if one of them was at the others’ house, at least one parent had to be there. The relationship between both families was cordial, and their parents seemed to agree on the few rules that did exist.
However, Jake’s parents were away for the weekend, and Megan’s parents had other plans. Given that neither Megan nor Jake were particularly troublesome, their parents had relaxed the rule. She and Jake were all alone until 8:00PM, when her parents would swing by to pick her up.
The plan had been to snuggle and watch a movie or two. The thunderstorm had ruined most other plans. However, only halfway through the first movie the storm spoiled that plan too, the power went out.
Jake, being Jake, decided that the only solution to the storm playing Grinch on their plans was to go out and enjoy the storm. He’d dragged Megan to the front door, thrust it open, and gallivanted out into the driving rain, falling from the sky like a million bullets. Jake didn’t seem to mind.
The infectious smile Jake wore began to melt Megan’s obstinance little by little. She couldn’t help but return the goofy smile, and her bare foot twisted as she stood on the threshold. Megan bit her bottom lip, soaked as he was, the outline of Jake’s muscled chest shown through his white t-shirt.
In Megan’s “expert” opinion, Jake was perfectly muscled. He didn’t pump iron constantly like some of his teammates. His focus was on staying fit through cardio and light muscle exercises. His body remained toned and trim, without the excessive bulk that could only be described as over-muscled.
Jake began to walk back to her. Megan took a step back so that she was fully inside, and gripped the inside door handle.
However, Jake didn’t try to pull her out like Megan had expected. He stood on the threshold, where she’d been but a few moments before. He was dripping, sopping wet, and was close enough that his wetness, like a slobbering dog, managed to share itself with her in spite of Megan’s best efforts.
As she looked up, Jake was at least a head taller than her, closer to a head and a half, the smile of jest and the playful look had disappeared from his face, transforming into a look of caring and concern. Megan may have just as well told him she wasn’t feeling well by the look he gave her, it was protective, sweet, but also gut-wrenching. Megan wasn’t sure why Jake’s concern often felt like a punch to the stomach. It wasn’t the same as disappointment, and yet, she felt she failed him all the same.
“Megan... " Jake began, reaching out for her, but not grabbing. Jake always respected Megan’s personal space, it was on a laundry list of qualities for why he was the best boyfriend ever. “I know you’re afraid. Will you trust me though?”
He gave Megan a meaningful look.
Underneath Jake’s brown-eyed gaze, Megan couldn’t help but melt a little. Her knees felt weak, but she remained firm as she stood there, returning Jake’s gaze with fiery emerald eyes.
“I’m not afraid!”
“I—” Jake began to smile again, but the concern didn’t leave his eyes. “—I didn’t mean it that way, only... ”
“Only what?” Megan sniffed. She had no desire to admit her fears, even to Jake. Megan hadn’t told anyone that thunderstorms scared her, not even her father.
Jake turned slightly red, “Well, we’ve been together awhile.” He was struggling, choosing his words carefully. It was adorable, but Megan wanted to know what he was thinking. “I’ve seen how you... are... when there’s thunder and lightning and... ”
Jake took another step closer, now inside the house. He was still dripping, but he did not touch her.
“...I noticed that you’re not you. You get... timid. You do things to ignore it. I just... know.” The way that Jake looked at Megan as he spoke kept her rooted, entranced.
Of course he would have noticed, “It doesn’t make me weak, you know.” Megan sighed, she felt stupid for saying it, it was more to herself than to Jake.
Jake’s smilder grew wider and, finally abandoning the pretense of waiting for permission, swept Megan into his arms to give her a soaking wet hug.
“Ack!” Megan squirmed a little, but she didn’t mind being wet. The hug made her feel warm. She pressed her cheek into Jake’s chest and whispered, “I love you."
May 6th, 1998
Megan woke up, but she was not where she expected to be.
As soon as the haze of waking had been dispelled, Megan looked around. She was in a white room, cleaner and purer than any hospital. She was naked. Instinctively, Megan drew up the crips linen sheets to her chin. There were no outlets, there was one door, with a thin strip of glass. The only non-white objects in the room were the stainless steel door handle, and a blinking red dot in the far corner toward the ceiling. Megan’s eyes adjusted and she realized the red dot belonged to a white camera, with a white lens. It blended into the surrounding wall like a chameleon. The only other objects were a white table, a white chair, both of them appeared bolted to the floor, and a white toilet off in the far corner with a sink beside it and a roll of toilet paper.
“Hello?” Megan called out. Her voice shook, but she couldn’t help it.
No one answered, at first.
Megan began to shout, first with cries of “help!", but those soon changed. Whoever had placed her here was unlikely to be benevolent. There was panic, but her stomach wrenched not only from the fear, there was also anger.
It was just when Megan decided to stand that she heard an audible clicking sound. In the dead silence of the room, the unlocking of the door was like a thundrous roar, echoing through the ruptured silence.
Adrenaline rushed through Megan’s veins, her muscles tensed as they prepared for fight or flight. She wasn’t sure who was on the other side of that door, perhaps a burly orderly, a doctor, or a mysterious man in a dark outfit. The door opened, and the woman that entered was not at all what Megan had expected.
High heels, a short, white, pleated mini-skirt, baring her long, full-figured legs. The hem of the skirt was ruffled, as though it had once belonged to some little girl’s princess dress. Her red halter top clung to an enormous chest, the straps protesting against the strain. The top ended early, exposing a flat tummy, with a butterfly tattoo to the right of the woman’s navel.
The woman moved with a fluid gait, her hips rolling as her hot-pink sandal heels delicately walked across the smooth floor, revealing pink-painted toenails.
Platinum blonde hair framed a pretty face. There were no blemishes or imperfections, a perfectly blended mask of foundation had been applied, giving her skin a natural, and yet seemingly artificial to it, as though she were some porcelain doll. There was a hint of pink blush to the cheeks, and glossy, pink lipstick covered her cupid’s bow lips.
“Hi!” The woman said, her lips parting to reveal pearly teeth as she smiled.
Her long lashes curled upward, her blue mascara complementing bright, baby blue eyes. Somehow, the woman’s eyes appeared larger than normal, wide and doll-like. There was something in those eyes that didn’t seem quite right, a slightly empty look. Combined with the airy nature of her voice, the word ‘stupid’ sounded in Megan’s head.
“I’m Juli!” The woman continued, still smiling and appearing cheerful, as though this singular moment had been the best of her entire life.
“Where am I?” Megan asked, staring at the woman. “Who the fuck are you?”
Juli tilted her head, blinking, momentarily confused by Megan. The reaction was clearly not what Juli had been expecting. Megan wondered if Juli really understood the concept of expecting anything at all.
“Yo-you’re in Master’s place.” Juli said, stumbling for a moment as she found the words to respond. “We’re going to help you be ready for your new Owner.”
The word sent off all sorts of alarms in Megan’s head. She sat as though glued to the bed, staring at the woman who had just walked in. She couldn’t help but picture a vision of herself, styled like Juli. Megan shuddered.