Friday, September 14, 2018


 Gladys peered out the window at the ominous clouds rolling and bubbling.  They had just appeared, menacing and dark.  Jim Cantore had been preaching for a solid week that the storm would be heading her way.  Get out he preached.  He showed the graph’s and the models of where the storm would make landfall.  He pointed right at her little town on the coast of North Carolina. 

It was almost time for school to be out, so she grabbed the dogs and they made their way down the street to meet her daughter.  The air hung heavy with foreboding and her shoulders hunched under the weight of the weather.  Living on a military base has it advantages, one of which is security.  At each crossing stood a marine, stalwart and unmovable as the winds started to blow.   A simple “afternoon ma’am” was all the greeting needed as they protected the rambunctious children exploding through the door after a long day of confinement. 
Tadpole ran up to Gladys bookbag bulging with papers.  “Momma!  Mrs. Warren gave us all our homework for the next week.  She says that the storm is gonna blow us into next week!  Does that mean we don’t get a weekend?”  She shoved the bookbag and lunch pail toward Gladys and took her hand. 
Together they bent their heads to the wind.  Living only a mile from the coast of the Atlantic Ocean they were used to winds and storms but this one felt different.  The weather channel was reporting it to be one of the largest storms in history.  It was coming from Africa and gathering force as it moved westward.  There was a buzz about the housing development.  Cars loaded with suitcases, men boarded windows while women grabbed clothes from clothes lines and threw baskets into waiting hatchbacks and sedans.  They were bugging out, all of them, except Gladys and Tadpole.  They had no-where to go.
Gladys’s neighbor, Trixie, with her Irish Setter riding shotgun headed out for her parents in Charlotte, while Vera her neighbor across the street loaded up her four kids and set out for Ashville.  They all had a place to go.  The made their way across the state to the mountains or the city, to welcoming homes of loved ones and friends.  Gladys had no place to go.  The thought of a shelter in Charlotte or even to Elizabethtown scared her more than staying and facing a bully of a storm.   After all, how bad could Hugo be?  Hugo sounded more like a big fluffy character.  All blow and no show.  With this thought the mother and daughter duo made it to the door of their bungalow. 
Gladys surveyed her yard.  She secured anything that could or would become a projectile and then set about taping her windows with large X’s like the newspaper had instructed.  She moved furniture and electronics away from windows.  She filled the bathtub with water and filled every single Ziplock bag, jar and bottle with water and put it in her freezer and refrigerator.  She took stock of her canned food and made sure she had plenty of charcoal in her store room for her grill.  She had powdered milk and lots of MRE’s, or for you non-military, Meals Ready To Eat.  All was good at least so far.
Saturday the weather channel preached to all who would listen to get out.  Leave the coast they yelled.   She was a little frightened but she was a native-born Texan.  She had tornadoes and hurricanes, droughts and floods, sand storms and blustering winds, heck she had survived all those things, she would be fine. 
Sunday, they started reporting the damages.  The storm surged and the rains started.  The winds blew and the sky grew dark.  Gladys watched through the masking tapped X on her kitchen window as branches broke and debris swirled in Hugo’s breath.  She was still strong in her conviction that she had made the right decision, not traveling to Charlotte. 
The wind howled as night fell, rain pounded like the beating of a drum.  Gladys settled down with her book, flashlight at the ready.  She dosed for a bit, waiting for the storm to pass, realizing it hadn’t even gotten started yet. 
A loud shrill trill woke her from sleep.  It screamed again causing her to jump and run for the kitchen.  She lifted the receiver and listened to the scream of the storm invaded her call. 
“Hello?   Is this Gladys?  Gladys Mc…” came the voice through the static.
“Yes.  Hello???  Hello?” she yelled over the screech of the connection.
“This is mmhmmm from NPR.  Can you hear me?” the voice yelled back.
Gladys shifted the receiver and peeked out the window “Yes.  If you hell I can hear you.  It must be the storm interrupting our call.”
“Mrs. McGuilicutty, I would like to get a statement from you on the storm” came the request.
“It’s really blowing.  We started having heavy rain a few hours ago.  It seems like it is hitting the south facing beaches the most.  So far, we have only lost some tree limbs” Gladys shouted into the phone.
The NPR correspondent shouted “That’s great.  Can you see outside or are your windows boarded up?”
“No, I can see.  I taped my windows.  What would you like to know?” Gladys hollered back.
“What do you see?  What does it look like in your neighborhood?”  Miss. NPR queried.
About that time a strong gust began and from somewhere down the street a large galvanized thirty-gallon trash receptacle flew past her window, then another.  A child’s bicycle went sailing down the street along with a large Play School playhouse.  Gladys waiting thinking maybe Elmira Gulch pedaling her bike would be next but just more debris.
“Well, Miss NPR, right now I see debris.  I see lots of debris.  A trash can, a playhouse and oh, look there goes a UFO.”  Gladys yelled excitedly exclaimed.
“UFO?” the correspondent asked incredulously.
“Well, maybe it was just a trash can lid, but it was big and round a silver.  Could have been sent by aliens.” Gladys chuckled.
The correspondent grew quiet.
“Hello?  Miss NPR?  Are you still there?” Gladys asked concerned.
“Um, yes.  Thank you for your statement.  Stay safe.” And with that the NPR correspondent was gone. 
Gladys waited for a few moments listening to the storm screech and whine through the phone lines.  NPR was gone.  Her neighbors were gone.  Now it was just Hugo pitching a fit outside, knocking on her windows and doors like a vampire wanting her to invite him in. 
She looked at the clock and it was getting close to midnight.  Then it went quiet.  Deathly quiet.  The electricity flickered then popped off.   She grabbed her flashlight and checked on Tadpole sleeping soundly on the couch, completely unaware of the danger that lurked in the night.  She grabbed her up and headed for the hallway closet.  No windows, reinforced, in the middle of the house.  She hunkered down her black Labrador Retriever and her Yorkshire Terrier instinctively crowding in with her.  They waited for the worst.   They held their breath and counted the minutes which felt like hours. 
In the distance they heard the rumble and felt the shift of the house on its foundation as the winds once again began their assault.  The eye had passed and they were on the backside of the storm.  Relieved they made their way back to the couch and waited in the dark for the first hint of morning. 
When the sun rose, the traces of Hugo lay all around.  Piles of toys mixed with shrubs and trash blocked the storm drains.  The ditches swelled with water swiftly fighting its way back to the ocean taking the paths of least resistance, cutting new streams through yards and over roads.  The world was bloated and dismal, but Gladys and Tadpole had withstood the storm.  They began gathering debris, depositing it into bags and errant cans that had made there way on the wings of the wind to yards and on top of carports. 
The electricity was restored within forty-eight hours and yet her neighbors were still abroad.   The television once again working, Gladys tuned to the weather channel.  She watched mortified at the destruction, not in her neck of the woods but to where her neighbors had fled.  Charlotte had been devastated.  Jim Cantore stood in the aftermath of multiple tornadoes and high winds. 
Hugo had saved his wrath for the inland communities.  Gladys’s neck of the woods had remained safe, a little worse for wear, but safe. 

1 comment:

Anastasia said...

Powerful story, and storm. I’m in Ohio so we only occasionally get tornadoes. I’ve never personally witnessed one in all my 42 years.