It

The day is dark.

Something’s wrong; the ominous silence almost screams it out. I watch my parents look warily at the sky. Time for school.

Fifteen years later, the sky is startlingly similar. Brushing aside a throng of briers, the view opens up. I’m nearly to the river.

I wave on my mother and join the other kids. Everyone’s craning their heads back, staring slack-jawed.

“It gonna come up here?” one of them murmurs.

“Dunno,” responds another.

I keep looking up, searching for an answer. The bell rings.

Walking the halls, there’s an electric vibe—palpable, uneasy excitement. We’re ushered into classrooms to learn about monarchs and prepositional phrases.

Wind blasts from the river and choreographs a whimsical burlesque of leaf litter around me. I fight to keep my footing. The ground vibrates. Then rumbles.

An announcement. Students surge through the hallways and cheer about early release. Teachers exchange knowing looks over our heads. Then grab their bags to leave.

I freeze.

The woods explode in front of me—branches and vines blow apart from the wind and something else. I stumble back and shield my face.

Two deer break their paths around me, their hooves pushing them full-tilt, away from the river.

Laura gets home. Dad drives up. We’re all together. We’ll be okay. But the living room looks like a refugee camp from my history book.

An eerie green glow melds with the growing darkness. Across the river, lightning streaks to the ground. Overhead, droves of squirrels jump down from limbs breaking beneath them, then make frenetic zigzags along the deer trail.

Rain sheets horizontally. Pecans pound the tin roof. Nature’s music is cacophonous.

Three armadillos wobble past: my cue to run–through the breaking forest, in the direction of where I remember the road to be.

Lightning illuminates the wind-tousled trees as they twist violently and succumb. Like strobe lights in a haunted house, the flashes show the fiend getting closer, closer.

Then, boom, in your face.

Thunder crashes overhead, and rain pounds my face. Branches break across my chest as I launch myself over downed trees. I fall out of the woods onto red clay: the road.

I fear light is gone forever. Radio announcers spew garbled reports over fractured airspace. I wish for algebra and seventh period.

I pull myself up with a resounding schwak from the saturated clay. Others run past. We hemorrhage loose equipment. No time to go back.

Trees are leafless. Yards are treeless. We bail water. We’re losing.

I jump into the driver’s seat. The sliding door slams shut. No need for directions.

We empty buckets into the blustery darkness. Branches crash down. Laura screams. Dad pulls her inside. Back to the wet.

I punch the accelerator to the floor. The van’s tires cut down through the clay. Forward.

Sleep evades us. A low, continuous creaking. Laura and I stare at the living room ceiling. Thwack, whoosh, KABOOM! Our feet barely touch the floor. Back to the basement.

“What the fuck is going on?!” someone yells.

“This is bad. HURRY!” screams another.

We barrel off sloppy clay onto asphalt. The van fishtails, its screeching tires blending with the raucous wind and rain.

I feel rain. Wind howls behind me: a hole where house used to be.

We crest a hill. Ahead, the funnel slowly twirls back up into the rumbling sky.

“HOLY SHIT!” My foot hovers over the brake.

GO!” Amanda points to a side road.

We careen away.

***

Morning: silence and stillness reign.

The house: hole-pocked, a shattered roof. Across the street: another roof smashed by another tree; a deck, a boat, a car—all flattened; a 500 year-old oak splintered across three yards.

It has passed.

I grip Laura’s hand—something familiar in this alien landscape.

Amanda puts her hand on my soaked shoulder. I exhale.

Ahead of us: sun and stillness, a quiet brightness.

Every storm must end.

3 thoughts on “It

  1. Wow, this story gave me chills. I’ve heard the story of the archeology dig tornado before of course (in fact, it’s the second thing I tell people about you – “He’s an archaeologist and one time he had to outrun a tornado”), but the two stories juxtaposed together are really powerful. Are you sure you don’t want to be a professional writer? At least you should be submitting some of these to publications as short stories or something.

  2. Seriously, Matt, you should start submitting your stories to a variety of magazines. Even if you don’t sell, you will get editing comments that will help your refine your work. You’ll never know till you try !

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