A Different Kind of Shower
He could hear the whistling. The whizzing—like a swarm of bees, but louder. It moved the fluid in his inner ear and tickled the tiny hairs there. Rory Campbell was fourteen years old now, but he had been smiling at the familiar sensation as long as he could remember. He loved how everything went still around him when he noticed an unusual sound.
“Rory! Are you even list-e-ning to me?”
He continued to stare through the open space of the living room through the giant kitchen window while chaos ensued around him. His eyes narrowed and focused harder, trying to detect if the window had moved.
Emma Lou tugged on one of his fingers and pulled it into her warm grasp. Immediately, his palm tingled and he felt a surge of energy rush through his body. It felt electric. Everyone’s touch was different, he had come to realize, but six-year old Emma Lou’s magnetism made Rory’s hair stand on end. He bent down and looked at her, as she whooshed air from her lips to move the hair from her eyes. “Did you hear me or what, mister?”
Rory couldn’t keep himself from laughing. Of course he had heard her—that and all other thousands of sounds bombarding him.
“You always laugh at me and I dunno why.”
“We’ll make our flying leaf contraption as soon as we get some more leaves, Emma Lou.” He smiled at her, and wrapped her in a hug. It didn’t last long though cause he heard someone stampeding behind him. He spun and caught Corey as the frail boy tripped over a baggy pair of jeans loosely attached to him and fell into Rory’s outstretched arm. “Careful.” Holding Corey in one arm, Rory lunged. He heard the toy robot speeding through the air before catching it, disrupting its flight pattern from hitting Frank in the head. “Buddy! What did I tell you about throwing?”
Another boy came hurtling through the room in his underwear, his shirt pulled all the way over his head and then circling back into the kitchen. Rory felt all the sounds pulsating toward him. He could hear the scuffle getting ready to start upstairs, he could smell Fahren’s musty scent. He could hear the hesitation, the two bigger boys getting ready to make trouble, and Rory imagined Fahren’s balled-up fists, the storm brewing inside of him. Rory could hear the door to Cilas and Cassandra’s room creak open and Cilas’ measured footsteps down each step. It was almost becoming too much, and still . . . the buzzing sound in the distance.
“Hey get off me or I’m gonna tell Cilas!” Emma Lou roared.
There it was—the C-word. Every one of those orphans used it, no matter the time or place. Cilas would and could fix any problem. That is, if Rory hadn’t fixed it already.
Corey scrambled from Rory’s grasp and Rory pressed the toy car into Emma Lou’s hands. He rose, tried to block out all the other sounds. He had heard them all before—his ears that could hear pitches others couldn’t, all the sounds except for one. It was strange and new.
“Rory! What are you looking at?”
Quickly, he returned his gaze to Emma Lou and searched her face. She couldn’t hear it too, could she?
Rory grinned and nabbed a piece of Emma Lou’s cheek between his thumb and pointer finger. “Nothing to worry about little one.”
“Is it your ears again? You hear something, is that it?”
She stared at him perceptively, a little too perceptively for someone who was only 6 and still couldn’t tie her own shoes.
“Between you and me.” Rory paused and winked. “Yeah. My senses hear something.”
He knew sharing his so-called superhuman senses with Emma Lou was harmless. It wasn’t as if anyone in the orphanage believed him anyway. He wasn’t sure he believed himself, but Emma Lou always asked. Ears that could hear anything, eyes that could see miles further than they were supposed to, a nose that could smell what was cooking for dinner halfway home from school—it was all too fantastical for anyone to believe, especially in a house full of orphans with nothing particularly special about them.
It took Rory some time for him to believe in his own abilities, but when Fahren insisted, and showed Rory his unique talents, the boys decided that they were in fact different and special. It didn’t matter who believed them.
“Rory, no grown-ups are gonna pick us are they?”
Rory paused. The whizzing buzzed closer. “Well, no. I mean—I don’t know—”
“All the other kids at school have mommies and daddies and all I have is a bunch of stupid boys running around me trying to pull my hair out. Why can’t Cassandra and Cilas just be our parents?”
“They don’t want us either!” Frank said, sticking his tongue out. “Stupidhead.”
“Language, Frank.” Rory snapped, his heart sinking at such words.
Rory heard Cilas’ footsteps coming closer as the whizzing continued somewhere else.
“Nobody wants us,” Emma Lou said. She bit her lower lip, and tried to hold back tears.
“That’s not true, Emma Lou. Why do you think that?”
“That’s what they said to me at school. They said it to Buddy, too.”
“Who said it? Which kid?”
Emma Lou just shook her head as if ratting on someone was worse than not having parents.
“Emma Lou, sweet girl, listen to me. Our parents wanted—” Rory choked back something in his own throat. He knew the thought process. He knew the pain that was always there. He could prove to someone the bottom of his shoe was clean by taking it off and showing it to them, but he could never really be sure that what he said about his parents was true. And that made it all the more painful. Though he was determined not to let those thoughts make Emma Lou feel unworthy.
The buzzing was louder now. Rory’s ears could hear more rattling. Multiple things.
“Wanted what? Different kids?”
“No! Look, we don’t need any parents right now cause we have each other.” Rory took Emma Lou’s chin and tilted her face so that their eyes met. “Okay?”
“Do you promise? That you’ll always be here, Rory?”
Again, Rory took her in his embrace and hugged her. “Promise.” Holding her out in front of him, he said, “Now stop listening to those kids at school.”
Emma Lou nodded and ran off, while shirt-over-the-head boy chased her with catlike accuracy.
Rory walked to the kitchen. Something strange was happening. He thought about the Leaf Festival starting in a week and wondered if there would be construction for it. Maybe there were attractions from the capital to make Onist shine and bring in more tourists. It wasn’t the most exciting festival in the world, but Rory loved it, even if it was geared for kids half his age.
Rory stood taller than most boys his age. Five foot ten and broad shoulders to match. Behind him he heard more screaming. Cilas slowly making his way downstairs. The orphanage leader usually woke later on Saturdays, but by 7 am there wasn’t a chance anyone could sleep with all the younger orphans wanting to climb walls and go on adventures. Even the lugs Wes and Morrison couldn’t sleep through these sounds.
Someone had already made breakfast. Toast with fresh blueberries from the garden. Strawberries too. Rory wafted in the scents and felt hunger clutch at his stomach. There would be time to eat, time to get everyone to settle down. First, he needed to know what this was. And then, as if to respond to his unanswered questions, Rory felt something underneath his feet.
A vibration. He pressed his heels in deeper to try and feel it with more understanding.
He spun, looked back into the living room to see if anyone else had noticed. Then another. This time, a stronger vibration tickled the bottoms of his bare feet against the hardwood floor.
Rory considered going upstairs to help Fahren from Wes and Morisson likely stealing something important to him, but every time Rory helped it made things somehow harder for Fahren. The two other boys were tricky and vengeful and they hated Fahren for some reason. If Rory went upstairs to stop it, it would only be a matter of time before it happened again.
Before Rory could move, Cilas entered the living room from upstairs and handled the madness around him. Another vibration. Rory’s stomach tightened. He turned to look out the window again. His eyes grew. Something was different in Onist today and he finally knew what it was. He sprung into action and darted into the living room.
“Cilas! Something’s going on outside!”
The orphans stopped going wild to register the exchange between their orphanage leader and Rory, likely something important.
Alert and yet not panicked, Cilas met Rory’s gaze. There were questions behind his eyes but also knowingness. Rory had only briefly mentioned his senses to Cilas, but the words just seemed to bounce off. And now, what would he believe?
It happened fast. The whizzing had finally reached its height. Something was falling, hard and with purpose. Nearby. Something big that could destroy. All this registered in Rory’s ears as he went to protect his fellow orphans.
He gave the warning and dove for Emma Lou. “Everybody get down!”
Rory wrapped her close to him and allowed his knees and elbows to hit the ground. Nothing could have prepared them for it. Instead of whizzes and buzzes, the next sound that came was otherworldly—probably ear shattering for Emma Lou and the others—and much louder for Rory. The orphanage shook and swayed. Biting tremors ran through the marrow of all Rory’s bones as he clutched at the ground. Glass from every window, shattering into billions of pieces, showered onto them.
“Stay down!” Rory said, quickly trying to register what was happening. His heart pounded against his chest, against a whimpering Emma Lou.
“Rory!” She said, her voice in a quiet panic.
Were they under attack?
“Cilas! What’s happening?”
Rory couldn’t comprehend. The buzzing still went on. His ears rang. He shouted for Cilas, but it sounded barely above a whisper. He tried again.
“What is this?”
A silence hung in the air. Rory jumped up, Emma Lou still clutching him, and looked around. He hoped no one was hurt from the blast, the crash of whatever had landed. Some of the boys were huddled in the corner with a blanket pulled over them. Buddy and Frank peeked out from behind the couch like fearful meerkats. The cacophony of sound from earlier grew into an eerie quiet. Carefully, Rory brushed tiny slivers of glass off Emma Lou and himself.
“Ow!” Emma Lou said, holding her ears.
Rory felt it too, the dull ringing noise. Cilas regained his feet and took Rory firmly by the shoulder. “Are you all right? Where’s Fahren? Fahren!”
“He’s upstairs!” Rory didn’t know why they were screaming now but he saw how it was frightening the children. He lowered his voice and said, “I hear more coming. We need to get everyone into the cellar.”
Fahren flew into the room. “What was that?” he asked, his dirty-blonde hair tussled, his fair cheeks pink. “It nearly threw me out the window!” Behind his sleepy expression there was a piercing alertness that was unnerving. His eyes went to Rory for answers.
Cilas let out a great sigh as he saw Fahren and then Wes and Morrison lumber into the living room. “Let’s move quickly. Gather everyone and get them to the cellar.”
There was something unfamiliar in Cilas’ gaze—a look of despair and worry that Rory had never seen before. Why had his tone suddenly changed when he spoke about Fahren?
“Cilas, what’s going on?” Rory asked again, as though his answer would solve whatever mess this was.
“I don’t know. We may be experiencing a meteor shower.”
Rory repeated the words inside his head.
Fahren and Rory exchanged a meaningful glance before Fahren said, “It’s your senses, isn’t it?”
No one in the orphanage knew about Rory’s senses like Fahren did, and no one knew about what Fahren could do except for Rory. They were together, the same, and no matter what happened they would need to protect each other. Rory gave the slightest of nods as the children flocked to the side door leading to the cellar outside.
Rory and Fahren moved to the kitchen and looked out from where the window used to be. Ocean-silver pieces of glass stuck out of the frame at odd angles and littered the floor as well. Rory could hear the panic, the screams. Something had made contact with solid ground—something that definitely didn’t belong in Onist.
Behind them, Cassandra and Cilas called to them. “C’mon boys, lets get underground.” The orphanage leader’s wife stepped forward, the morning light glistening in her halo of soft blonde hair. “The rooms upstairs are empty. Let’s get inside before that happens again.” She wore a soft look that contrasted sharply with Cilas’ focused one.
Rory considered what Cassandra was saying and looked at Cilas for some reassurance. What was happening? And who in Onist was still in trouble? If they went into the cellar they would be safe, but who else would be?
Against his better judgment, Rory turned. Categorizing all of the sounds entering his ears was becoming impossible. “Oh no,” he said as he witnessed the scene outside. The landscape was still full of trees, their leaves a rainbow of ruby red, tangerine, banana, pink carnation and lavender. Onist was full of all the colors Rory loved so much. But now he could see smoke—lots and lots of smoke—and fire.
Rory threw the front door open and ran outside.
Fahren remained close on his heels, his breathing rattled, staccato. “The Lisles’,” he said, pointing to the house down the road.
“What?” Rory mouthed, barely making a sound. He knew what he was looking at, but it didn’t seem real. The Lisles’ house wasn’t there anymore. Or rather it was, but now it was covered, crushed by a giant rock—a meteor as Cilas had called it.
“Why?” Behind tear-streaked eyes Rory tried to focus on the town, a fire and meteor sprinkled landscape, while crimson and pumpkin-orange infernos began to spread. The air exploded with lights and screams, panicked voices, like a fireworks show gone horrifyingly wrong.
Sunlight slipped into Onist, illuminating people running, carrying their infants and dragging their other children behind them. In the sky, Rory saw the shape the buzzing sounds took—dozens more fireballs rained down, streaked through the air and left trails of lingering smoke and embers. Like the beating of a thousand drums, the meteors crashed and pierced Rory’s ears, leaving a callous reverberation. He stood there, mesmerized by the flames engulfing the Lisle’s tiny home. There had been no warning, no forecast of a dangerous phenomenon coming. His senses helped him, but could they save him from something like this?
“Rory! Fahren! Get inside!” Cilas’ voice came from the open hatch-like cellar door. It’s not safe out there!”
Rory sprinted up to him, looked down into the opening.
“Rory! Quick!” Emma Lou wailed.
“Fahren! Get inside!” came another voice.
Rory wanted to step inside, but something held him back. Cilas watched him warily, extended his hand. “Rory, c’mon!”
There was something abnormal in Cilas’ voice. It wasn’t fear or panic. It was something he couldn’t put his finger on—something his senses had never picked up on before. He could tell in the way that Cilas’ heart beat that something was off.
The dry scent of smoke filled Rory’s nostrils and he snapped out of his trance. He couldn’t enter the cellar because there were others out there who needed help. Others from school . . . Kairi. Like most mornings, she was on his mind, but now in a different way. Fahren and Kairi—Rory couldn’t imagine a life without either of them.
And now he wavered. He knew what he was about to do, and he saw the consequences play out in his head. If he went into the cellar, he would be able to protect the ones he loved the most, but he would also be leaving Kairi to fend for herself. Emma Lou’s eyes locked onto Rory’s. He smiled his best smile and winked at her, remembering the promise he made.
“I’ll be back everyone. There’s one person I need to help.”
“Rory! No! Get inside! You won’t survive out there!” Cilas begged.
They would be all right. It would only take a second, Kairi Brufire didn’t live far. She went to Haverford with Fahren and Rory and was an orphan herself, though she lived with foster parents instead of at the orphanage.
“Watch after them Cilas,” Rory said. “I’ll be back.”
Then he tore his eyes away from all of them and took off into town.
Fahren chased him. “Rory, wait!” And he followed.