A Short Story: Zeus’s Lightning

“Tomorrow, alone and bare handed, they would hunt the most illusive and dangerous  thing in the  Michigan woods.”


A jagged flash seared the evening sky and thunder shook our little cabin perched on the shore of Michigan’s Rush lake. Then the air was still as if nature were holding her breath in anticipation of the approaching storm. The lake mirrored images of newly leafed birch as a pair of resident loons glided into view. They slowly turned their heads as if to admire the subtle colors on their twilight cruise.

Bob looked up from the table and stared out across the water, his clear blue eyes fixed on the loons. Reflected in the window I saw the face of a robust man of sixty. His barrel chest filled an extra large tee shirt and his big rugged hands pushed back an empty dinner plate.

Just as the window reflected the face, the cabin reflected the man. Solid. Stable. Durable. Dependable. Confident but unpretentious. Dug in. At home amidst the birch and pine. Weathered wooden steps led down to an even more weathered wooden dock where water lapped against the hull of an aluminum boat. The boat strained gently at its mooring. The man seemed content with his.

Over the years both man and cabin had endured the vagaries of weather and life. They aged together, hosted family and friends together, and witnessed sorrow and celebration. Each survived in some part due to their construction and in some part due to their geography. Deep rooted, each stood on a solid foundation; the cabin on stone, the man on time honored unchanging values.

The loons slipped out of sight leaving their wake to melt into the lake.  Bob turned from the window and pushed back from the table. A smile crossed his face. “Hey, kid,” he said. “Maybe the lightning will make em pop up.” Bing, Bob’s three year old Brittany, crawled out from under the table, put his head on my knee, and looked up as if to say, “I’ve heard some dumb ideas but that one takes the cake. Speaking of cake…what’s for dessert?”

Widowed without warning, Bob had bought a gangly pup soon after his wife Eva’s funeral. Bob lavished the dog with attention and the dog lavished the man with love. Bing helped fill the empty space in Bob’s house and the lonely place in Bob’s heart.

I had hunted pheasants with Bob and Bing just last Fall. The weather was warm and the birds were scattered. But just before dusk Bing managed to track down and hold a bird. Bob walked in and a young rooster exploded from under his feet. The gun sounded. Seconds latter Bing returned and Bob tucked the rooster into his jacket. Patting Bing on the head Bob said, “I swear that dog could smell a rooster inside a ziplock bag buried in the bottom of the freezer.”

But I best forget about last Falls bird hunt and get back to this Springs thunderstorm. It was growing late. Early morning would find us in the woods in search of a prey as deadly as it was illusive. And because ground birds were nesting, state law forbid Bing from being in the woods. Bob and I would hunt barehanded and alone.

As Bob cleared the table I opened The Audubon Society Field Guide To North American Mushrooms and turned to the picture of the Black Morel. Easy enough to find in the book but hard indeed to find in the forest.  And, according to The Guide, eating the wrong variety could prove fatal. As Bob often said, “eat the wrong kind and you’ll wake up dead…or wish you were”.

Tomorrow would be my second day hunting the tasty Morel. Not so my companion. For over thirty years Bob had “picked” in the dense woods surrounding the cabin. And Bob was as good at Morels as Bing was at birds. This morning he had often reached down and plucked a Morel I was about to crush under foot. And although he moved quickly through the woods, Bob was a careful picker, his caution reinforced by annual newspaper accounts of people who had “picked poorly” and perished.

We had no desire to be next weeks news. So Bob insisted that each mushroom be carefully checked before being picked; black ribbed with a honeycombed cap–two to six inches high—whitish hollow stalk attached at the rim of the cap. All other varieties were ignored.

This afternoon as we left the woods I realized my bag contained fewer than a dozen mushrooms. I also guessed Bob’s held fifty or more. So I casually slipped a couple of scavenged ‘treasures’ into Bob’s bag and sat with a smug grin as we drove down the rutted dirt road back to the cabin. When Bob dumped his sack of Morels on the kitchen counter out tumbled a rusty beer can and two large pine cones. Bob looked at me with raised eyebrows as I politely suggested these “non fungal inclusions” were the result of Bob’s haste combined with his decreasing vision and his increasing senility. Ignoring my comment he simply replied, “wash em and slice em…and don’t cut your finger on the beer can.”

Dinner that night had consisted of Morels cooked in butter; New York strip steaks cooked medium, (rare for Bing), and baked potatoes piled high with sour cream. Even before we finished eating we talked about tomorrows feast—Morels cooked in butter, baked potatoes piled high with sour cream, and the pheasant which Bob had kept sealed in the freezer from last October. All that remained for tonight was the question of dessert.

“Hey kid,” Bob called from the kitchen. “How about some canned peaches?” I liked canned peaches. And at fifty I liked being called “kid”. This was as good as it gets. This was male bonding. This was men being men. This was the middle of the woods in the middle of a storm. This was why God had created Michigan, and rain, and mushrooms, and bird dogs.

Working together we made short work of the dirty dishes. Bing and I laid down on the old sofa across from the fireplace. Bob walked into the living room and put a log on the already blazing fire. Noting Bing’s choice of sleeping companions he muttered something about his dog being a slut, said good night, and retired to his bedroom.

Fighting Bing for a share of the sofa, I again took up The Field Guide and turned to the introduction. I read that, “Mushrooms are among the most mysterious life forms. The ancient Greeks believed they came from Zeus’s lightning because they appeared after rains and grew inexplicably.” There it was in black and white. Maybe the lightning would make em “pop up”.

I turned again to the picture of the black Morel, remembering how difficult it had been to spot among the leaves on the ground. I recalled Bob moving steadily along; his eyes focused about l5 feet ahead. I thought about how he paid close attention to the area around ash trees, and how he stopped every few yards and looked back over the ground he’d just covered. Morels, at first invisible, often appear when viewed from a different angle.

Bing glanced at The Guide, but realizing the plot lacked feathers he jumped down and walked into the kitchen. With a yawn he curled up on the cool linoleum floor, his nose pressed against the freezer door. I closed The Guide.

The fire was beginning to fade. I glanced over at the fireplace. The wind came up and sparks rose like fireflies escaping up the big stone chimney. I checked my watch—midnight. Time, like the storm outside, was rushing by. Just six months ago we’d put a pheasant in the cabin’s freezer. In a few short months it would again be October. I wondered…would the remaining years go by even faster?

In the fire light I looked around the cabin and studied it’s contents. Sitting on shelves or tacked to walls of knotty pine were the memorabilia of Bob’s life. And safe inside were two men slightly past their prime and a little Brittany just reaching his.

The rain came softly and  the air went still. Somehow, without a breeze, the curtain fluttered and parted slightly as though Eva’s ghost had entered seeking shelter from the storm. The cabin filled with the smell of pine and the sound of rain. Drifting off to sleep I was aware of a distant flash. Somewhere in the rain drenched woods, lightning had touched the earth. Thanks to Zeus, the morning light would find mysterious life forms peaking through the damp, leaf-strewn forest floor. Thanks to Bob, we would again fill our sacks with those Morels. And thanks to Bing, his nose still pressed against the freezer door, last years rooster wouldn’t sneak off into that “dark and stormy night.”



Six months after publishing  Zeus’s lightning, Bing, on opening day of pheasant season, was struck and killed by a pickup as the little Britany darted across a gravel road in pursuit of a rooster. After a few months of living alone, Bob decided to sell the cabin. The night before he was to sign the listing, a windstorm toppled a pine tree standing next to the cabin.  Crashing through the roof it ignited an electrical fire which burned the uninsured cabin to the ground.  Bob escaped the blaze clutching a picture of Eva in one hand and Bings collar in the other. All that remained was the big stone fireplace near which Bing had been buried.  The charred fireplace stands there to this day.

Bob never re-married and he never got another dog.  He moved back to Bay City and resumed his trade as a plumber. In 2021, no longer robust but in frail health, Bob contracted Covid and died.  He is buried in Bay City next to Eva.



Category: Essays

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