by Bruce Worden
3rd Place - Best Story - 2010
As a young girl I was terrified of thunderstorms. I experienced them as living,
malevolent creatures -- wild, unstoppable things that shook the house, wrought
havoc on my family's farm, flooded the town, and generally behaved in the manner
of demons. Even as recently as a few months ago, a thunderstorm still had the
power to raise within me feelings of visceral dread. But now, in my twenty-first
year, as I watch the storm clouds rolling in from the north, I do not feel the slightest
pang of trepidation.
"Petra!" I hear my mother calling from the house. "Petra, are you upstairs?"
"I'm here," I reply. "In the garden." I expect she will come out to me, and we will
have the talk I have been anticipating.
A mathematics instructor once told me that to make a hard thing seem easy, you
must move on to the next harder thing. I think the same applies to fear: facing your
old demons becomes easier when you are exposed to something much more
terrifying. The storm clouds are huge, black, and roiling, but they seem almost
comforting now as I plunge unstoppably into a much deeper darkness. The storm
only threatens to kill me; my fear now is what will happen if I continue to live.
It started simply enough.
"I saw an American today."
It was Danijel who said it. We had gathered for the evening meal, and during a
break in father's complaints about the local government, potato prices, the national
government, fuel prices, the European government, and the host of other issues that
conspired to make the Polish farmer's life miserable, Danijel just blurted it out.
Danijel was still at the age where fantasy and reality can blend together, so no one
took the statement seriously. Mother -- seemingly more out of habit than actual
curiosity -- said, "Did you? That must have been very exciting." She ladled stew
into grandfather's bowl and handed him the bread.
Danijel nodded. "It was scary. At first I thought it was a big deer, a stag, that
wandered away from the park, but then I saw the markings, like in Michal's book."
Our brother perked up at the mention of his book, "What markings?"
"Painted on his shoulder. An arrowhead patch with a sword and lightning."
Michal left the table and ran upstairs. A few moments later he returned, paging
through one of his many books on military history. He showed a page to Danijel,
"That's it! That's what I saw."
Michal held up the book for the rest of us to see. It showed a picture of an insignia:
a blue arrowhead-shaped patch with a vertical yellow sword and three yellow
lightning bolts across it. Michal seemed a little stunned. "Army special forces," he