The first time I met Trillium Comstock, she was just standing there in front of the stables, face to the sky. Her nimbus cloud of frizzy blonde hair was stretched by the rain, so it looked like a big yellow waterfall pouring off her head while she mooned up at the sky.
It was our first week at Camp Woodcock and everyone else had ducked into tents or barns to avoid the mud and the pungent scent that rose from the stables when they got wet.
I had recently made a pact with myself to walk in the rain whenever presented with the opportunity, because people in movies who walk in the rain always seem to be charming, mysterious, or excellent singers.
“Enjoying the beautiful weather, my lady?” I asked.
Trillium’s response was to ignore me and carry on looking at the sky.
Then she opened her mouth wide and called in a loud, round voice: “Where is it?”
Trillium and I met again a few days later in the art tent. I liked to go there to make figurines out of leftover clay, and she apparently liked to paint, throwing splashes of green, gold, and red on a canvas with no apparent goal. Her hair was dry but still wild, reaching heavenward in a golden pillar.
After that I saw Trillium pretty much daily. She had a tendency to wear dresses in primary colors that were hemmed at awkward, extreme lengths, either showing a lot of milk-white leg or spilling down well past her feet in pools of fabric on the floor. On those days, she’d pull her dress up and tromp around Camp Woodcock with the extra fabric clutched in her elbows.
I don’t recall Trillium ever calling me by name, and she would never look directly at me. But she would very occasionally speak and I knew, or hoped, that it was meant for me.
On one rainy afternoon in the art tent, an afternoon that found her in a blue dress that barely grazed the tops of her kneecaps, Trillium hissed, “Witches! Witches are in our bones! They are in them and eating them, an ouroboros!”
Then she spat on her canvas, stood up, and tromped out of the tent.
At the time, I didn’t know what an ouroboros was, but regardless of her meaning it was nice that Trillium seemed to have words that only my ears had caught.
The next time Trillium spoke, we were once again in the rain. The counselors had forgotten to pick me up from the aviary. I was worried that if I walked back to camp they would arrive at the aviary and not know where I was and I would get to camp and find them gone so I would go looking for them and we’d be trapped in an infinite spiral. And, suddenly, there was Trillium, staring up into the rain. Behind us, the birds in the aviary screamed and flapped. Trillium was wearing a red dress that cinched awkwardly at the shins then ballooned out into a sodden pile on the ground.
A few moments after I noticed her, she bellowed, “I am meant to rule the west. It’s in my bones but it can’t get out. I need their bones, too.”
Then she stumbled off into the rain.
None of the other campers ever mentioned hearing Trillium speak. They mentioned her; it was impossible not to notice her, with her hair that looked like the result of a very productive session with Rumpelstiltskin and her poorly sized dresses. But only I seemed to hear her when she talked, and it made me feel very special. It made me think that I should remember everything she said.
Trillium’s next words were stranger than any that had come before, which obviously made them very strange. It was right after a huge storm had hit camp; a tornado had even touched down in the next county. She was wearing a yellow sheath that was just a shade darker than her hair, making her look like a big piece of sweet corn with the corn silk still sticking to the top. She was standing outside the art tent as I sauntered up, trying to look like a character in an ‘80s movie who was too cool to be at summer camp but was there because no cool things happened during the summer so he might as well learn some new skills while school was out.
I said hello, and she nearly looked at me this time, her eyes pinned right over my left shoulder, and said, “When the tornado hit the ground I saw them. The other three. North, South, East. They’re real! And now they’re closer, they’re behind my eyes because they’ve always been there behind all of our eyes, stuck in the bones of our faces.”
Those were the last words I ever heard Trillium speak. The next day, another tornado struck. It sliced through Camp Woodcock, devouring entire cabins. The dining hall was obliterated, and a few days later they found all of the camp’s kayaks hanging like Christmas ornaments in a giant spruce ten miles up the road.
Oh, and everyone died. I heard their screams from my spot in the art tent, but I was so busy kicking myself for being in the flimsiest structure at camp during an actual tornado that I couldn’t really focus on the screams. I assumed that they, like me, were holding on for dear life. Maybe they were and simply hadn’t succeeded.
Only the horses and I had survived the tornado. And the horses had all changed color—they’d all turned bone white.
The only survivor other than myself and these horses of a different color was Trillium. Well, she was the only other possible survivor. Her body was never found.
But the really strange thing, which I never told anyone and no one ever asked me about, was that when I emerged from the tent and found the dozens of bodies strewn about the demolished Camp Woodcock, none of the bodies looked as if they’d been killed by a fallen tree, or broken glass, or drowned in the flooded lake.
They’d all been crushed by cabins, their feet sticking out in tidy rows around each crumpled structure.
Just because I don’t hear Trillium any more doesn’t mean that I don’t see her. When it rains really hard, or if there is a tornado warning, and especially that time Hurricane Mona blew up the coast, I see Trillium.
She is far more active there than she was here. And she’s always with some kind of animal or group of animals, commanding big swarms of insect-like monkeys or weird tiger-bears with vicious claws and gore-stained teeth. Usually when I see her, she is on or near a golden road. A few times she’s been sitting on a nest-like throne, or in a throne-like nest, high atop a tower in the west.
Once, when I was sitting in the basement waiting out a really big tornado, I saw her, so close, lounging in a field of blue and orange poppies.
For the first time, she was looking right at me.
Like Sharon Stone and the zipper, Mike McClelland (he/him) is originally from Meadville, Pennsylvania. He has lived on five different continents but now resides in Georgia with his husband, two sons, and a menagerie of rescue dogs. He is the author of the short fiction collection Gay Zoo Day, and his creative work has appeared in The New York Times, WIRED, Boston Review, Vox, The Baffler, and a number of literary magazines and anthologies. He’s a graduate of Allegheny College, The London School ofEconomics, and the MFA program at Georgia College, and is currently a PhD candidate in the University of Georgia’s Creative Writing program. Find him at magicmikewrites.com and on Twitter at @magicmikewrites.