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Residual Effects

by Nicholas Samuel Stember

A low roll of thunder announced the predicted storm had arrived. The office windows reverberated, causing John to save the computer file he was working on.

He mouthed a curse as he watched blackened clouds come in from the south. His iPhone showed the time—a quarter of five. John quietly cursed again, rubbing his cropped beard in frustration.  

With a crash, twin peaks of lightning arched across the darkened sky, sounding their thunder explosions. This time, John didn’t hesitate as he saved his document once more and shut down his computer. 

“Did you hear that?” Mara asked as she stuck her head into his office. “Boy, that was a loud one. Did you shut off your PC?”

“Yeah,” John said in a sullen tone. “And I still have a lot of work to do. That McPhearson project still isn’t calibrated, and the client wants the data tomorrow.”

“How much more do you have to do?” 

“Ten minutes at the most,” he grumbled. His eyes drifted back towards the outside sky, which grew almost dark as night; already the rain had fallen. With a sigh, he turned back on his computer.

“Not smart,” Mara warned with a concerned smile. “If your PC blows up, the IT Department will never forgive you. None of our surge protectors here are worth shit.”

“What they don’t know won’t hurt them,” John said with a grin. “It’ll only take ten minutes.”

“Good luck,” she said, flashing him a smile before she returned to her office.

John’s computer came to life as data flashed across the luminous screen. Then, a sudden bright spark shot before the lights went out; all power in the building died. John sat silently in the darkness for a moment, listening to his monitor crackle. His nose filled with whiffs of ozone as the room briefly lit with another lightning flash, which caused eerie images to shift across the walls.

“Crap,” he hissed.

The emergency lights came on, bathing the room in a soft glow coming from the open doorway and hall. John turned his back to the window and listened to the steady rain striking the glass behind him.

“Well, I guess that calls it a day,” Mara said as she poked her head back into his office, blocking what little light remained.

“I guess so,” John admitted.

“Oh, don’t be so sad,” she laughed. “You can finish it up tomorrow morning. The McPhearson rep never comes here before eleven.”

John nodded his head thoughtfully. His concentration faded to the noise of the rain and thunder.

“Can you believe that?” Mara asked, looking past him.

John turned around toward the window, astonished by a sheen of water drifting across the large pane.  

“The rain’s really coming down out there now,” he said. “It’s going to be hell driving home today.”

“I hate it when it gets dark like that,” Mara said. “It’s unnatural for it to be dark at five during August.”

John thought about the early morning weather forecasts. They reported on the hurricane that hit the south coast of Florida but predicted the northeast would get minor residual effects. 

“I’m sure it’ll blow over soon,” he tried to reassure Mara. “The weather report only predicted a few thunderstorms.”

“True,” Mara said, letting out a short laugh, “but they also forecasted this as one of those ‘stay at home’ days. Don’t you just love it when the pollution gets bad enough, they must warn you not to go out?” She shook her head, annoyed. “What are people with asthma supposed to do, not go to work?”

John sighed. “Hey, and we live in the suburbs; imagine what it’s like in the city.”

The window rattled as the wind picked up to a gale force. John’s eyes were drawn to the seal along the edges of the pane. He walked to the glass, bringing his hand up to the edge. He pulled his fingers back sharply, being in pain. For a moment, he stared at the water on his hand, then quickly wiped it off.

“What is it?” she asked.

“The window’s leaking at the seal.” He glared back at the window, then he glanced at his hand, which had become a little red.

They both turned their heads as a growing noise began to build down the hall. Giving each other a brief glance, they walked down the dimly lit hallway to the large lobby by the reception desk. A crowd of people were gathered by the vast glass doors as they stared out at a flooded parking lot.

“What’s going on?” Mara asked the receptionist Bethany.

“No one’s leaving,” she answered. “News is calling for over half a foot of rain, and the whole state is on a flood alert.”

“I’m going for it,” one of the computer programmers suddenly declared. “The roads can’t be that bad yet, and I have to get home to my kids.”

John was worried about his wife. He knew she would have left for home at four-thirty, but still wouldn’t be home yet. Pushing down his concern, he opened the inner set of two pairs of glass doors that led to the outside.  

“How far is it to your car, Alex?” he asked the programmer, being wary of the rain for no good reason he could think of.

“Around the corner,” the programmer said, stepping into the buffer zone between the vast sets of doors. “You going too?”

I’ll wait and see if you make it first,” John chuckled.

Alex returned the laugh. “Thanks a lot. You’re a real comfort.” 

The lanky programmer momentarily glanced up at the sky as he pulled his suit jacket over his head. He opened the glass door and made a break for his car.

John watched as each footfall caused eruptions of water around Alex’s feet. The programmer hadn’t gone a dozen feet before he was soaked to the bone.

John shook his head with a grimaced smile, realizing he would soon face the downpour, but his face changed to one of puzzlement. Alex, instead of running faster to cut down his time in the rain, seemed to slow down, stumbling blindly into the shallow lake that was once the parking lot.

What’s wrong with him?” Mara asked, watching the programmer stagger back and forth.

John recalled his honeymoon in Mexico last summer. He and his wife were caught in a terrible storm, touring the Mayan temples in the Yucatan Rain Forest. He was amazed at the rain’s ferocity, as if the sacred forest tried to cleanse itself of the touch of man.

“Do you think he needs help?” Bethany asked. Her anxious voice shook John back to the present.

He peered through the deluge towards the swaying programmer, who hadn’t moved from his last spot in thirty seconds. John glanced at Mara, reading the worry in her eyes, then nodded. He moved to the outer glass door and opened it halfway, feeling a light spray of water across his face. He glanced upward, grateful for the awning protecting the doorway. Taking a deep breath to prepare himself for the soaking, John stepped out of the doorway. He stopped when he saw Alex move again, reaching his hand out toward the building as if asking for help.

John sought out the programmer’s face but could only make out a wash of red. Alex suddenly fell forward onto the parking lot, sending a spray of water around his body. The programmer pushed himself up onto his arms once, as if trying to crawl back, then sank back into the water and stopped moving altogether.


IT technician Nicholas “Sam” Stember is the third-place winner of the 2024 Iridescence Award. He is a US citizen who now lives in the Faroe Islands. Stember enjoys writing science fiction, fantasy, and horror. In his spare time, Stember also enjoys gaming, music, and theater. 

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