The Storm (first draft)

It started raining again. The northeaster started yesterday, periods of whipping wind alternating with lashing sideways rain. The tall pine tree outside the window waved its branches to and fro, and the sodden ceiling hung bellied out from the weight of the water leaking through the ancient roof. Right on cue, a drizzle started trickling through the weak point into the bucket that lived on the folding table by the fireplace. Home sweet home.

I was by myself, the rest of my family riding out the storm in more pleasant environs. My son was at a storm party at his girlfriend's house. His older sister was at her ex-husband's house with the kids. Hasn't learned her lesson yet, apparently. So it was just me, the couch, and Netflix.

The wind picked up and a distant siren started to howl. The lights flickered and the PS4 reset itself. Great. As I got up to press the reset button, allowing it cycle back up and scold me for turning it off incorrectly (hasn't Sony ever heard of a power outage?), the house fell into deep darkness. The neighborhood fell silent, except for the wow-wow of a car alarm. Somebody must have hit a pole. The lights should be back on in a few minutes. I'll just call my son on his cellphone and tell him to get his butt home. No, scratch that. I don't want him driving in this. He's better off where he is.

I stumbled to my room in the dark, hanging onto the walls, to where my phone was plugged into the charger. I followed the USB cable down to where the phone was. . .not plugged in. I turned it on anyway, to see if there was enough juice to call the electric company, but the device remained dark. This night just keeps getting better and better.

I tossed the useless phone down and grumbled my way back to the living room to light some candles. I like storms, I really do. I like to light candles, curl up under a blanket with a book, and enjoy the terrible power of the storm, the ozone smell of lightning, the tension in the air, the noise of wind and rain and thunder provide a feeling of existential terror that modern humans don't often get to feel. It's exhilarating, and all the better because you know the danger isn't real. The trucks will come around and reconnect the downed power lines, and the next morning we can all go out and marvel at the fallen branches and rolling trash cans, evidence of a crisis we emerged from unharmed. Evidence of our immortality.

I curled up in the recliner, set my candlestick on the side table and closed my eyes to listen to the storm. It was still completely dark inside and out, and several more sirens had joined the first one, a cacophonous symphony against the howling of the wind. Then a new sound broke through the chaos, a low rumbling, growing less distant as it rose in volume. A creaking, splitting sound ended in a crack and a crash, and the trunk of the tall pine tree exploded into the living room. Then everything went silent.

It can only have been a few seconds later that I awoke. Rain was pouring through a gaping hole in the roof. The tipped over candle was still burning, guttering out in a pool of water on the table. A quick glance around revealed that I was imprisoned in a small chamber, protected by the corpse of the fallen tree from a huge slanting pile of debris.

I realized my head was throbbing. I touched it and felt an egg sized tender lump. Not so bad. A blue light flickered on the other side of the debris pile. “Good, the cops are here,” my muzzy brain told me. I made sure my nightshirt was pulled down over my thighs, thankful that tonight I had chosen to add a pair of boxer shorts to my nighttime ensemble (never know if you might get into an accident!), and settled down to wait for rescue.

Minutes passed in relative silence. Where are the sirens, the megaphone voice telling me to relax, we're gonna get you out of there? The light was brighter now, and with the flickering blue was a wavering orange glow, and the smell of . . . smoke! Something in the debris pile was on fire!

Part of my addled, concussed mind started to giggle. How is it fair that you can be soaking wet and on fire at the same time? But when the black smoke started seeping into my shelter under the tree, my head cleared pretty fast. If I didn't find some way out from under this, I was going to die.

In movies at times like this, the plucky heroine gets a surge of adrenaline and lifts the tree, or car, or whatever, up and out of the way, saving everybody's lives. I made a test push on the trunk. Yea, not happening. I tried sliding a large piece of drywall that was slanting against the trunk to the floor. It didn't move, but the effort dislodged something on top of it, and a rush of water sluiced down, sizzling when it hit the burning debris. A billow of smoke and steam shot into my chamber, stinging my eyes and making me cough. But the slab of drywall felt lighter now. Carefully I pushed again, and was rewarded with an opening above me. It wasn't big enough to crawl through, but at least it would let the smoke out. I felt a brief surge of pride, which quickly turned to panic when I realized that smoke was flowing in under the debris faster than before. I hadn't made a breathing hole, I had made a chimney!

My chamber quickly filled up with black, greasy smoke. Heart pounding, eyes tearing up, I started punching and pulling wildly at the stacked wood and drywall. I didn't think, or maybe didn't care, that I might bring the whole pile down on top of me. I was like an animal caught in a steel-jaw trap, gnawing at my leg in a blind, fevered bid to survive.

I couldn't see anyway, so I squeezed my eyes tight shut against the stinging smoke, and took one last gulp of smoke filled air. I fought against the desperate urge to cough. I needed what little oxygen the air in my lungs contained to keep me alive for another minute, another second.

Blind, hot panic as my lungs fought to exhale. My belly spasmed in a dark frisson of fear. My terrified body curled and extended, throwing my ebbing life force against the walls of my prison. I felt something give way, then I flew forward and through. My face landed in a puddle of rainwater, while fragments of the ruined ceiling rained down on my back. I was free!

I pulled myself out from under the crumbled drywall. The living room was quickly filling up with the greasy black smoke from the burning sofa. I took a second to contemplate the many hazardous chemicals that were probably in that smoke, then pulled myself to my feet. Arms, legs, check. Was I bleeding? Didn't look like it. I headed to the back of the house. My bedroom was still intact. I closed the door, opened the window, and dove through it just as a billow of hot air and flame came behind me and pushed me out into the night.

I woke up with something on my face. I grabbed at it in panic. An oxygen mask. OK, that's a good thing. Sirens and engine sounds- I must be in an ambulance. Even better.

“Mom? Mom, are you awake?” My daughter's voice. I looked up and saw my daughter and son leaning over me with concerned faces.

I pulled the mask off. “Hi, kids.” Words. Two in a row. Brain works.

The two of them tried hugging me at the same time. “We were so worried!” my son said. “The firefighters couldn't find you in the wreckage. How did you get over by the neighbor's fence?”

“Um. . .” More words later. “Water?” I croaked.

Somebody passed me a sport bottle and I took a long sip. It hurt to breathe. “Fire out?”

“Mostly. The furnace exploded. There's nothing left of the house. How did you get out?”

I smiled. “Adrenaline.”


Please sign in or sign up to comment.