Rain, Rain, Go Away

Another rainy morning and I was getting weary of the gloom. It’s wasn’t normal for the area, and it was messing with my mood. I live in the desert for a reason–lots of sunshine and light.

“Feels like we’re back in Seattle,” I groaned.

Ben glanced at me, then looked back at the road. The windshield wipers were having a hard time of it–they’d been so old and dry that they split and after a few swipes they just flapped and smeared across the glass. “Yeah,” he agreed. “It’s been a while since we’ve had to drive in this crap. I’d rather have snow.”

“Bite your tongue!” I cried. “Don’t give it any ideas.”

“Give what?”

“I don’t know–the weather imp?”

Ben laughed good-naturedly, but didn’t look away from the road ahead. People in the desert don’t know how to drive in the rain, especially a rain coming down in sheets like this. “The hardpan won’t be able to suck this up,” he remarked. “Another few minutes, and we’re in for some flooding.”

I leaned closer to the glass, trying to make out the landscape through the water. “Are we going to make it home?”

“No.” He made an abrupt turn off the main street and headed uphill. We hadn’t gone far past the intersection when we heard the rush of water in the street behind us. He stopped in the middle of the road, and we looked back in time to see a pickup being washed down the street. It crashed into a power pole, and the car swimming through the steam behind it crashed into its back end.

“My God, Benny!” My heart was pounding, and I felt my eyes bulging. “We were just–“

Ben put the car in gear and kept driving for higher ground. We were both aware that water could swoop down on us at any second–there was nothing to stop it. Ben was banking on the sewer system–which had obviously overflowed behind us–not filling above us until we were past it.

He made another turn. Water was overflowing sewer drains now, and the street we had just pulled off quickly became a waterfall.

“The cars down there are going to be underwater,” I sobbed.

“So is the house,” Ben added.

“Still want to argue about climate change?”

Ben looked like he might get pissed, but then his features softened and he pulled me close for a quick hug. Then he patted my head and drove carefully down the road to the next intersection.

It, too, was a waterfall. The flood water roared past, pushing its way into the roads on either side and into the yards of the homes on each corner. Ben put the car in reverse and backed up a few hundred feet to avoid getting caught in the current.

We were under a canopy of tree branches, but they weren’t enough to keep us from being pounded by the deluge. I prayed they wouldn’t break off and crash down on us. Ben must have decided the risk was real, and he backed up a little more.

Now all I had to worry about was whether the whole tree might fall. “What’ll we do?” I asked.

“Wait.” Ben shrugged. “It can’t rain forever.”

“That’s what Noah said.”

Hidden Things (Part 12)

Mary called it a fairy circle. That doesn’t make me feel very good about fairies…

Penny didn’t want me to go with her dad, but there’s just something about the chance for a new adventure that pulled me into this situation. It’s why I went along with Penny in the first place, instead of talking her out of going out of bounds.

We thought—when we found the little town—that it could be a good thing. That’s why we got Da involved instead of just going exploring on our own. Well, that reason and the fact that if we’d stayed gone any longer the first day, someone would surely have come looking for us.

When we found the letters and paperwork that mentioned oil derricks and a refinery, we were so excited. Gasoline goes bad—did you know that? There are a couple of guys in the compound who know enough about refining that they’ve kept our vehicles running, but the chance to make our own fuel was an exciting prospect.

But when we found the derricks, it wasn’t as cool as we’d expected. The valley where they’re located feels creepy. Penny says it feels haunted, and that’s as good a word as any. Everything looks well kept and it appears the wells will be functional, but none of us liked being down there. I know I felt like we were being watched, and it was a most unpleasant sensation.

Da, Vance and Dale came early with a few others and Da and I made use of the little house while the rest of them went into the valley. We had coffee and breakfast ready when they all came back—all of them looking pale and shaken up, which was no more than we’d expected.

But George and Buck, our refinery guys, seemed excited in spite of that. “We could make this into a working resource if we can find the refining station,” Buck told Da. “Personally, I think we ought to head across the valley and take that road between the foothills. I don’t think it’s up here anywhere.”

“Mort? What do you think?” Dale asked.

“I think he’s probably right,” Da replied. “Lots of trees up behind that church—I don’t see anyone putting a refinery back there.”

Vance said, “Could be the road leads into another clear valley. It’s hard to say from here.”

Dale shrugged. “We’ve only got a few people with us today. Penny’s on her way with some kids to help Mort with any salvage at the warehouse—that looks promising. It’s quite a trek across the valley.”

“You want to go up behind the church, don’t you, Gramps?” I asked. Wherever we went, I had promised Penny I’d stick with Vance.

“I think we should start with that,” Dale replied. “If we’re going across the valley, we’re going to need a couple more ATVs and extra fuel. I don’t feel prepared for it today.”

“Doesn’t it seem a little crazy to anyone but me that the refinery isn’t right there with the rigs and stuff?” I asked.

“It was probably done separately as a safety precaution,” George replied.

I shrugged. I thought Buck was right—no one was going to build a refinery anywhere beyond the little church. I didn’t think the road was wide enough to accommodate a tank truck, for one thing, and now that we’ve been up there, I know I’m right about that much, at least.

We’d been in one group until the road forked, and then we split up, Dale with one group and Vance leading ours.

We dead-ended at the fairy circle, a circular copse of misshapen trees that looked like they were guarding something in the center.

The minute I saw it, I felt my skin pucker into gooseflesh all over my body, and the hairs on the back of my neck came to attention in a way I had only ever read about in books. “My hair stood on end” is how I’ve heard it, but I never knew it could be a real thing until now.

“Mr. Vance? What do you think this place is?”

Vance looked pale, which is saying something—his skin is a darker shade of tan, because he’s a Native American. Pale, he looks a little grey. I didn’t like it; he’s a tough guy, not afraid of much.

“Dangerous,” he answered in a strange, rumbling voice. I didn’t like that, either.

We agreed it was time to leave, and that’s when Mary called it a fairy circle, and I agreed with Zach that fairies shouldn’t scare the daylights out of us.

If it was a fairy circle, I’m going to have to re-think Tinkerbelle. Penny read the original Peter Pan books to Dawn—to all of us—when we were younger. It bothered Dawn that Tinkerbelle had a wicked side, but I think now…maybe her nice side wasn’t her dominant personality feature.

Okay, I’m getting a little crazy here. I’m still freaked out, I guess.

As we were leaving, Mary suddenly wanted to stay. More than that, she wanted to go into that circle of trees. It was like something was pulling at her; it scared Vance. He made us back up instead of facing away, and when we got back to our bikes we went back the way we’d come.

Where the road forks is where we stopped, and the plan was to meet up with Dale’s group when they came back. Since I had the time, I decided to use Dawn’s art materials to make a couple of “Keep Out” signs.

I had two up when Mary suddenly announced that she was going back. I grabbed her, but she was literally dragging me in her wake when Zach took her other arm. She yanked and thrashed and cried, “No! No! We have to go back and see them!”

Vance took action—thank goodness. He’s a big man, all muscle, and he just tossed Mary over his shoulder and told us to run.

We left the bikes. I don’t care; someone else can get mine—I am not going back up there, because just before we started running, I heard a voice call out, “Come to me. Come to me.”

I’m not insane. I heard it.

I don’t know how Vance kept hold of Mary. She kicked and thrashed and screamed until we were nearly back at the church. When she stopped, it was like she didn’t even remember what had happened.

Damn.

Well, I remember. And I told Vance and Zach, too, without even thinking about whether they’d think I’d lost my mind.

I left Vance, Zach and Mary sitting in the church. I went out the front and sat on the steps just in time to see Da and Barry coming on their bikes.

Penny. She sent them. I knew it even before they told me. I was thinking of her all the time we were running down the road. And when we were within sight of the church, I thought, “Oh, God, Penny, I am so scared! Please let me see you again!”

We’re connected. She feels things. I’ve always known it; this is just proof.

Vance heard the motors and came outside with Zach and Mary.

It was clear that she’d been crying hard; her eyes were red and puffy and her cheeks were blotchy. Zach’s skin looked like milk, he was so pale. They’ve been talking about leaving the compound for a while. This might be the final straw for them. They were two of the older children captured at the base, and everything about life in the compound reminds them of all they lost and suffered at the hands of their captors.

Zach’s grim eyes met mine, and I could see a truth in them. If the group pursued this venture, he and Mary were gone.

I looked out across the town and could see Penny, Ash and Danny hurrying up the road.

Vance whispered, “She knows things. But try to compose yourself, son.” He gave my shoulder a friendly pat.

“Yes, Mr. Vance.” In spite of wanting nothing more than to run to Penny, and maybe cry in her arms, it wasn’t lost on me that Vance had called me son. That hasn’t happened for a long time. It kind of warmed my heart.

Instead of running, I fast-walked down to meet my love.

No Ferry Today (Part 2)

They’d eaten surprisingly well, Margo thought, for people who were worried. And that they were worried was not in doubt.

Barnaby Jenkins and his wife Lou Ann had come in about the time the burgers had gone from raw to medium rare. Their twin toddlers, Pam and Paul, had gone straight to Junior and demanded to be way-yifted (weight-lifted, Lou Ann translated.) Margo tried to admire the sight without blatantly staring with her jaw agape, and notice Monique doing much the same.

She started preparing some macaroni and cheese, sure the twins wouldn’t be too interested in burgers. Just as the water started to boil, Bill Wray, Elvin Irwin and Jessica Barlow showed up. Bill’s usual scowl seemed three times as deep, and he growled “Afternoon,” to the assembly in a rumbling baritone.

Monique hurried to slap a few more burgers on the grill, then lowered a big basketful of potatoes into the fryer. She glanced at Jessica, who looked like she might burst into tears at any second, and wondered what she saw in Bill. To her, he resembled a heavily bearded Neanderthal, and when he spoke that imagery wasn’t dispelled. He was, in fact, a kindly soul, but his brutal appearance made Monique nervous.

She comforted herself by looking back at Junior, who was good-naturedly lifting the twins hanging off his forearms.

“Okay, Jess?” Margo asked. She stirred macaroni into the boiling water.

“Not really. What’s going on?”

“No idea. We can’t call out.”

Jessica glanced at the snow-filled television screen and tightened her lips, huffing out breath from her nose and blinking rapidly. “I can’t reach my mom,” she said. “She wanted me to come home last night, but I decided to…to miss the last ferry.”

Bill patted her shoulder. “Sorry, babe,” he growled.

Jessica snatched at the hand on her shoulder and squeezed. “No need, darling’. I’m just—”

“Worried. Course you are.”

Elvin sat at the bar. “Any coffee made?” he asked. “No worries if not—I can drink a soda.”

Margo grinned at him. “What?” she teased. “Me, not make coffee? You want cream and sugar today, or is it a straight black day for you?”

“It’s supposed to be, but I’m taking the cream and sugar. Thanks.”

Soon enough, they’d pushed tables together and sat facing one another as they ate—with gusto. Margo had been surprised by her appetite.

They agreed that they were only a sampling of those left on the island—there were over fifty year-round residents, and it was unheard of that so many might have gone to the mainland the last evening. It wasn’t even a weekend.

Vivian and Jessica decided they’d go around checking on people. Melvin and Junior would go out on the skiff with Devin. “I want to go with you,” Margo, said. “I have to check on Maggie. Jules is out of town; I shouldn’t have stayed last night…”

“Cats are very good at looking after themselves,” Monique told her. “I’m sure she’s fine.”

Margo sighed. “I’m not. I’m not sure anyone over there is fine.”

“Please don’t go—not yet. Let the men find out what’s happening first.”

“Jesus, Moe, listen to yourself!” Margo flapped a hand impatiently. “Let the men go first? What the hell?”

“You can go if you want,” Devin said. “Just remember, my boat, my rules, so don’t even think of arguing with me about your life jacket.”

Margo scoffed. “Are you still going on about that? It was ages ago! I promise—I’ll wear the jacket.”

“Too right, you will.” He and the others headed out the door.

Margo offered to stay long enough to clean up, but Monique brushed it off. “I’ve got this,” she said. “Sorry I was clingy—I’m scared green, Margo.”

“So am I,” Margo admitted. “But I have to go. It’s not just my cat—”

“I know.” Monique sighed. “I’m sure it’s just a power outage or something.”

We have power.”

“Yes, but our power line is underwater. They have—oh, what the hell do I know?”

Margo took her friend’s hand. “That sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Maybe someone ran into a power pole and put out the lines. It happens.”

“But why would that affect the Ferry?” Monique cried.

“Uh…” Margo wracked her brain. “Diesel pumps wouldn’t work?”

Monique blinked. “Hmm. Okay, I’ll grasp at straws. Why not?”

Why not, indeed? Margo wished she believed it herself. She heard her name being shouted and impulsively hugged Monique tightly. “Devin’s already on my ass, and I haven’t even boarded the skiff,” she laughed. “I’ll be back with my crazy cat.”

“You will,” Monique agreed. “Don’t try to take off your lifejacket!”

Margo called back over her shoulder, “Ancient history! I’ve seen sharks since then.”

She headed for the dock, already anticipating getting home to check on her cat.

She was also anticipating not getting home…the flutters in her stomach were threatening the nice lunch she’d just eaten.

She forced a smile when Devin held out her lifejacket. She put it on, held her tongue while he checked to make sure she’d fastened it securely, and allowed him to help her aboard.

She tried to see across the reach, but there seemed to be a fog over the water in the distance. She couldn’t remember ever feeling so nervous.

She took a seat. Devin started the outboard motor; the roar made her jump and she worried once more that she might lose her lunch.

Junior gave her an unconvincing smile. “Well,” he said, “here we go.”

“Here we go.”

The skiff pulled away from the dock.

Hidden Places Part 11

I dreamt about the dumpster.

When we first came here, I dreamt about it a lot. There were a variety of dreams, all horrible.

In one, Mae and I burst out the front door, see the legs of the high chair sticking up over the lip of the dumpster and know that our baby sister is head down in garbage. But, before we can do anything about it, one of the evil men grabs us and drags us away.

This one dream, at least, reunites us with Momma, however briefly. But Dawn is lost.

The dream I woke from that morning is the worst of them, though.

Mae and I burst through the front door, see the legs of the high chair sticking up over the lip of the dumpster and fling ourselves inside, just as we did in real life all those years ago. We work together to raise the chair enough to get Dawn’s face out of liquefied muck before she drowns—but we keep dropping her back in! She barely gets a chance to draw a breath, and then—splat! Down she goes; over and over, until we’re sobbing with exhaustion.

It may well be that this happened in life; I don’t remember all the details, but God knows, getting her out of the chair had been an ordeal. I don’t know how we did it.  

Anyway, in the dream, by the time we get her free of the damnable buckle device, we’re sure we’ve killed her. But she draws in a shaky breath, and we hug her and tell her we love her.

At last, we ready ourselves to climb out, using the high chair as a ladder, just as we did back then. But when we look up, there he is: the man who dragged Dawn’s chair through the door and threw her into the garbage. “Well, looky what we have here,” he says, smiling. There’s an evil gleam in his eyes. He raises his gun and looks over his shoulder. “At least we won’t have to take out the trash,” he says, and someone behind him laughs. Then, just before the gun goes off, Momma starts to scream.

“Tat-tat-tat-tat—!”

I sat up in bed, gasping. I was alone. We haven’t shared a bed, or even a space, for quite awhile now, but I found myself wishing we were all still small enough to be cuddled together. I needed a hug, no doubt about it.

The shower curtain that serves as my door was pushed aside then, and Dawn crept inside and crawled into bed with me, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. “How did you—?”

“Know?” Mae finished as she, too entered and squashed her way into bed with me. “Bad dreams.”

“Not me,” Dawn declared. “But, I could feel you…”

“Well, you weren’t down therein that valley with us, thank God,” Mae said.

“I’m glad you could feel me, though,” I added, and hugged my sisters tightly. “That was bad…”

We don’t fit in one bed anymore, but we made it work until morning. We slept without further dreams.

As I drifted off, I whispered, “I don’t want Sid to go…”

***

Sid and I might be too much alike.

He won’t listen to reason; you can’t tell him anything. He’s stubborn and won’t change his mind once he’s made a decision.

(You see? I’m self-aware and understand my worst inclinations! I recognize that I am not always the best judge of…anything.)

I tried to talk him out of it, but he insisted he had to know where the road behind the church goes.

“Vance will be there,” he said.

He’s wrong when he thinks going with Dad makes me feel any better about things. He’s always assuming that, and it’s annoying as hell.

I woke up angry with my father; I always wake up angry with him after having one of the dumpster dreams. I know it wasn’t his fault; nothing that happened was his fault. But he wasn’t there when we needed him, and I can’t seem to get over that.

I get angry with myself, too, especially on days like this, when I start the morning by being cold to the man. I wish I could bring myself to explain it to him; I’m a brat—I just can’t.

Since Sid wouldn’t be talked out of it, I decided to go along with the salvage crew and investigate the other trucks and the warehouse. I’m not up to going into the valley—I don’t even want to set eyes on it from above, honestly. But I knew I could be useful in the village, and at least I’d be nearby instead of at the compound.

Ash came along, too, and so did Danny, but Mae and Dawn were “over it”, in Mae’s words. They stayed home to clear a space for anything we might return with.

I can’t deny that I felt very nervous when I watched Sid, Dad, Zach and Mary head off to the church with Gramps and a few others. I wanted to throw my arms around him and beg him to stay with me.

Weak; I can’t stand to be weak. But it’s true. I didn’t want him to go. It felt…bad. Wrong.

Ash poked me in the side as I stood watching. “Stop it,” he commanded. “You’re giving yourself the whim-whams.”

“Whatever that means,” I retorted.

“You know exactly what it means. Just stop.”

I nodded and we turned our attention to the trucks.

We already knew that one truck had cases of toothbrushes and toothpaste that had been carefully packed—we’d helped ourselves to some, and had been delighted to find that the toothpaste had survived all this time without turning into solid chunks—the heavy plastic the cases had been wrapped in had done its job.

“Don’t unwrap the boxes,” Morty commanded. We unloaded the cases and stacked them on the small utility trailer he’d hauled down behind his ATV.

We had only hauled down three trailers on this trip. There was no road from the compound to the bridge and it didn’t make sense to try to do too much at one time. Whatever we might find, it had been here for quite some time and there was no rush moving it.

“Look here,” Danny said, pointing to the lettering we could barely see through the thick plastic wrap. “Shampoo!”

Oh, glory! We’ve been making our own soap for a long time now. It is strong-smelling and not at all pleasant to wash your hair with. I could hardly wait! I felt a genuine smile stretch across my face, temporarily wiping away the dread lingering in the pit of my belly.

Morty used his tools to open the warehouse doors and he and his friend Barry went inside to make sure the place wasn’t overrun with spiders and snakes.

There were plenty of spiders, as it turned out. I’d already had enough of them in the trucks, so I was happy to stay outside, taking boxes from Ash and Danny as they unloaded them. That first truck hadn’t been full, by any stretch of the imagination, but there were several cases of toothpaste and toothbrushes, shampoo and conditioner (wow!) bar soap and laundry detergent in big boxes.

At the very back, Danny found a crate of lotion. I had a feeling those would be a wash—most of the lotions we’ve found over the years had thickened into gummy paste. But, one can hope!

Jenson and Dean had gotten into one of the other trucks. “This one is a bust,” Dean declared. “Mice. They had a field day in there.” He pointed over his shoulder, and I came around the back to look inside.

The smell was horrific, and I took several steps back. “Get out of there, Jenson,” I ordered. “You’ll end up breathing that crap in!”

Jenson, who had his back to me, turned around. He had his face covered with a double layer of bandana, but I could see the grin in his eyes. He climbed out and he and Dean pulled the door closed. “It’s too bad,” he said. “Those were pretty nice blankets back in the day.”

“They’re garbage now,” Dean added. “I feel like jumping in a river.”

I shuddered. Mice were a plague on the land, in my opinion. Just glancing into the back, I knew there had been a nice load of sheets and blankets inside, but Dean was right—they were garbage now, full of droppings and urine and probably hundreds of mice of various ages. Ugh.

Danny had joined me. He wrinkled his nose in distaste. “They always manage to get in! Pee-yoo!”

“Yeah.”

“It’s too close to the rest to set fire to it,” Ash decided.

I rolled my eyes. Not that I couldn’t see his point, but fire was one thing we didn’t mess with. Dangerous. Our camp fires are closely guarded at all times.

Mort and Barry came out to us. They, too, had masked up, but their eyes were dancing with excitement. “We’re going to need a bug bomb,” Barry chuckled. “But there’s a good haul in there, once we get it cleaned up.”

I waited expectantly. Morty said, “There are four big generators, brand-spanking-new in the crates! A dozen full propane tanks, too.”

“Oh my God,” Ash cried, dashing away and into the warehouse. He was back quickly. “Big tanks, Penny.”

“It looks like they expected to use them to fill smaller tanks for the houses here,” Barry added.

“How’d this place not blow up or something?” I asked.

Mort pulled his bandana down, and with it wrapped around his neck, he almost looked like a cowboy. The blue cap on his head, with the words “How the hell did I get this old?” embroidered on it, ruined the image. “Good insulation,” he said.

“Too bad the blankets weren’t in there,” Dean remarked.

Morty, curious, took hold of the door handle on the truck. “Don’t do it,” I said. “It’s beyond nasty.”

Mort raised his eyebrows questioningly.

“Mice,” Ash explained.

Mort jerked his hand away and backed off a few steps. Yeah, he’s a cowboy, all right. I giggled.

“You shut it,” he growled. I giggled harder. He looked horrified and disgusted, and it struck me funny because I knew I must have made the same face just moments earlier.

Suddenly, all the laughter left me in a terrific “Whooo!” of air, and I sat down hard on the pavement.

“What is it?” Morty cried. “Is it your asthma? Do you have your inhaler?”

“No, no!” I cried. “Something is wrong. I’m fine. Something is wrong, Mort. Please, go get Sid!”

“He’s with your—”

“Go get them both! Go get them all! Something’s wrong!” I was starting to cry, and damn it, I hate that.

But I could feel it—Sid and my father were in some sort of danger. I struggled with my rising gorge, but in the end I bolted to my feet and ran off to the edge of the paved parking lot and vomited.

When I was able to stand up straight, Ash and Danny were there to steady me. We turned as one and watched as Morty and Barry rode into the village and up toward the little church. “God, I hate this place,” I groaned.

“What was it?” Danny asked.

“Evil.” I shook my head. There was no way to explain the feeling I’d had. I just knew Sid and Daddy had walked into the middle of… of evil.

I was shaking. Jensen and Dean joined us, staring at me like I had two heads or something. “It’s a cursed place,” Dean said. “Feel it?”

“I’m going to the church,” I said, and started walking. For a small village, the church seemed to be an unusually long way from us

Saturday

 

Another Saturday morning dawned in the city. 

Missy’s a stickler about the days–she won’t let it go; she keeps us on track. It’s Saturday, not that anyone gives a damn.

The city isn’t much now. Everyone’s gone. We’d snuck back in after, and set ourselves up in one of the still-standing buildings. We like being high; ground level can be scary. There are animals, sometimes.

This place isn’t bad. The furniture is still good. Blankets and clothes were left behind. There’s no power, though, and no glass in the windows. It’s not a problem–yet.

Food, though…that’s a problem every day. Missy found planters and seeds, and things are growing. There will be tomatoes, onions, potatoes, lettuce and cabbages. We won’t starve; she has a green thumb!   

There’s a working water pipe down there. Harvey made a fire pit nearby, and Mom always boils the water. It’s hard to carry upstairs in buckets, but I’m getting bigger muscles.

We got into the hardware store–that’s been dead useful. I wish the grocery store had fared as well–that place is flattened. Gordon and Mike are “making a plan” to get inside.

We found rolls of heavy plastic. We’ll be able to cover windows before it gets cold. Missy says keeping track of days helps her know when the seasons will change. I don’t get how knowing it’s a Saturday will tell her winter is coming, but she’s not letting it go.

I don’t care; she can do as she pleases. She likes to watch the sunrise. I think when we cover windows, we’ll fix one so she can see outside. Little things make people happy, even now; if that’s what she needs, we should to do it.

Missy does a lot more for us than knowing it is Saturday.

No Ferry Today

The bar was supposed to open at noon—where is Duncan?

Margo hadn’t gone back to the mainland the night before. The warm summer breezes had beckoned her throughout the workday until she decided to take blanket down to the beach and sleep on the sand. Her friend Monique had joined her at the last minute; she had a house further inland on the little isle, but she, too, had been tempted by the breeze coming in off the ocean.

When the bar closed at 2:00 a.m. they’d taken iced coffees and sandwiches, their beach blankets and their phones, and giggled together over Netflix shows until they’d fallen asleep. This morning they’d awakened late, rushed to Monique’s for showers and fresh clothes and wandered down to The Beach Bar to report for lunch duty.

After exchanging puzzled looks, the women unlocked the door and threw open the windows. This was so unlike Duncan, who usually arrived a good two hours before opening to fire up the grill and do early lunch prep. The bar was generally busy from the time the “Open” sign went up.

Not today. It was nearly one before Junior Samples sauntered in. “Where the hell is everyone?” he demanded.

Margo and Monique had been busy chopping vegetables and unstacking chairs, and so hadn’t taken much notice of things outside. “Dunno,” Monique said.

“What do you mean?” Margo asked.

“Look for yourself,” Junior said. He scratched his bare chest absently, drawing Margo’s eyes to his nearly perfect pecs. “Not at me!” Junior laughed good-naturedly. “Outside.”

They all went to the windows. The beach was nearly deserted. There were a couple of island folk walking near the shoreline, looking bemusedly across the reach.

“No wonder we slept in,” Margo remarked. “The ferry never came!”

This was unheard of. They ferry always came. The trio wandered outside and down to the shoreline, where there were joined by a few other people.

Melvin Samples, Junior’s uncle, shaded his eyes and stared out across the water, where the mainland was just visible in the early afternoon light. There was a blinding glare across the water, with the sun nearly directly overhead.

“What’s going on over there?” Vivian asked. Viv was Melvin’s wife, a tiny woman who wore glasses with thick lenses. Squint as she might, she was never going to be able to see the distant shoreline–even with her spectacles, her vision was terrible.

“Nothin’, honey,” Melvin replied. “Cain’t see a bloody thing.”

Margo pulled out her phone, freshly recharged while she’d showered and dressed, and placed a call to Duncan. After a few seconds, she frowned, stared at the screen and tried again.

“What?” Monique asked.

“It’s not ringing. Nothing is happening.”

Monique was trying to pull up the news. “I think my phone’s broken.”

Junior’s phone began blasting out an old ZZ Top song. “My playlist works,” he announced. “But nothing else does.”

The group turned as a unit without speaking and hastened back to the bar. Margo turned on the television. Every channel was playing the same thing: snow.

Devin Murdoch asked, “Should I take the skiff over? Check it out?”

The group was silent until Melvin said, “Maybe we should have some lunch and mull that idea over.”

Monique slap some burgers on the grill.

Grr…Rain!

Pete stared out the window, completely disgruntled.

He lived for Saturdays, the only day Maggie had the time to bring him to the dog park. She loved to bring him here, and he loved spending time with her, chasing his frisbee and dancing his fancy dances to make her laugh.

She didn’t laugh much these days. Since Zane had been gone, she mostly sat watching sad movies while Pete lay next to her with his head in her lap.

Pete wanted Zane to come home, but he overheard Maggie on her talk box, saying Zane was “gone forever, may he rest in peace.” Pete didn’t know what pieces Zane was resting in, but he suspected it meant Zane wasn’t coming home.

It made him sad. And Maggie was sad, except when they came to the dog park and Pete danced with his frisbee.

They’d finally arrived, both of them excited for some fresh air and exercise. But it started to rain. Not gentle sprinkles that Pete would be delighted to dance in, either–hard, cold splashing rain that would drench them both immediately if they set foot outside the car.

Maggie put down the window so Pete could look out. She sighed, her breath catching in her throat in a wavering half-sob. Pete whined. “Oh, Petey! I’m so sorry,” Maggie cried.

Pete crawled between the bucket seats and gave his Maggie a kiss on the cheek, and she hugged him. “Should we wait it out?” Maggie assessed the park; hollows in the ground had filled to overflowing with cold water, and areas without grass already looked treacherously slippery with slimy mud. Pete whined again. He didn’t mind the puddles so much, but he wasn’t fond of mud; he was oddly fastidious for a dog.

Maggie brightened, a smile lighting her face. “I know what!” she cried. “Lets go to the drive-through for a cheeseburger and an ice cream. No need to be gloomy, buddy.”

Pete cheered up immediately. Cheeseburgers and ice cream! Yes, yes, yes! His tail beat a happy rhythm against the seat.

Watching Pete eat ice cream always made Maggie laugh. It would be a good Saturday after all.

They drove off into the rain-soaked afternoon.

Next Year, Paris

When the fortieth anniversary snuck up on us ten years ago, we laughed off the fact that we hadn’t made any special plans to celebrate. It wasn’t that we’d forgotten the day; we forgot the milestone–another decade completed.

Luckily, the kids hadn’t forgotten. We had a lovely surprise party attended by friends and family. We danced and sang and ate wedding cake. It was lovely.

But that night, alone in bed, we vowed not to forget the milestone years again. We opened a savings account for our 50th Anniversary trip to the most romantic city in the world–Paris.

Enter the dread year 2020 and a global pandemic. As our anniversary and the prospect of a dream vacation grew closer, the chances of meeting our milestone began to diminish.

“Surely it will be over by that time,” Jordy mused. A new year was just over the horizon; 2021 was bound to be better.

January passed in a haze of horror and our Valentine anniversary day grew closer. It had, by now, become clear that we were not going to be able to take our trip. The airline had cancelled our reservations due to international travel restrictions and the hotel we’d booked had refunded our deposit.

“Well,” I told Jordy, “there’s always next year.”

“Next year, Paris!” Jordy tried hard to look happy and sound enthusiastic, but he was as despondent as I was. Ten years we’d been looking forward to this; ten years planning and trying to learn enough conversational French so we’d be able to order a meal, ask for the location of restrooms and tourist spots. We were sad; who wouldn’t be?

A week before the big day, our son Kim called. “We’re making dinner for you,” he announced. “We have a big basement, and we’ve got this social distance thing nailed.”

Jordy and I agreed that it would be nice to get out of the house for a change. If anyone could pull off a socially distanced dinner, it was Kim’s wife Nan. It would be family only, which was a grand total of nine people–our third child lived in England, and there was no way she and her family would be able to travel.

Our daughter Tara and her husband Lyle picked us up that Sunday evening–in a limo! “Kim’s got the baby,” Tara said. “And she’s over the moon about it.”

“We thought a little ride would be nice,” Lyle added.

Limos are the perfect “social distance” vehicle. The driver was separated from us by a plexiglass window. I don’t know if we were six feet away from Lyle and Tara, but we certainly weren’t close. I longed for hugs we didn’t feel free to give and receive, and so I tried to express my love with my eyes–the only part of my face not covered by a mask.

Lyle served us little glasses of champagne and we toasted our fifty year milestone, carefully lifting our masks to sip. The limo driver took us for a drive around town. Valentine decorations had gone up all over–I’d never known the town to go so all-out for the holiday before, which speaks to the level of desperation people have when they can’t get out much.

Still–hearts and flowers in gloomy February cheer things up a lot.

When we got to Kim and Nan’s, we walked up the driveway to go inside through the garage. Kim met us, along with our grandson, James. They were costumed like a Maître D and waiter. Jordy and I exchanged amused looks.

Kim gestured grandly. “Madame, Monsieur, follow me, please.”

The garage was decorated with photos that made it appear that we were walking along the Seine River in Paris at dusk. I gasped in delight, and heard Jordy chuckle. On the far wall was a huge photo of the Eiffel Tower. It was amazing, but I didn’t want to break out of the illusion by asking how Kim had pulled it off.

We went into the house and down the stairs. At the foot of the stairs, there was a sculpture of the Eiffel tower on an occasional table. On closer inspection, there was a placard that named it “Eyeful Tower”, and we could see that it had been constructed out of old eyeglasses. We burst out laughing.

James giggled. “Do you like it, Grandma?”

“It’s brilliant!”

“I thought we were donating those,” Jordy laughed.

“We are. I was really careful not to scratch the lenses,” James assured us.

“It’s amazing. It looks just like it!”

The basement was decorated to look like a Paris street front, featuring the Paris Beaubourg’s outdoor dining area. Tables were set up with plenty of space in between.

When we were seated, our granddaughter Janet appeared with a tray. She served us small cups of French onion soup and a plate of French fries. “French food is the best,” she informed us, winking.

You are the best,” Jordy told her.

Everyone sat at their separate tables and we ate our French appetizers. Tara brought baby Alex to us for cuddles and love after we finished our soup. I kissed his downy cheek through my mask, which I had replaced after eating.

Nan came to our table with the second course of our meal. She recited, “I’m very sorry, mon ami–I know we are in Gay Paris. But French food’s not my specialty, and so I offer–this!” She uncovered a platter of spaghetti and meatballs.

“Hey, it was good enough for Lady and the Tramp!” Kim laughed.

Janet appeared and put a plate of sliced bread and a tub of butter on the table. “We have French bread to go with it!”

You know, there’s just nothing better than hearing laughter from your family, especially in these trying times.

French music played in the background as we ate our meal and shared lively conversation and lots of laughs.

Dessert was French toast smothered in mixed fruit and whipped cream.

Later that evening, as Jordy and I sat side by side in the back of the limo enjoying another drive through town, we toasted our lovely evening. “Well,” Jordy sighed contentedly, “we’ll always have Paris!”

“I still want to go,” I informed him. “But I wouldn’t trade our family’s Paris dinner for anything!”

“Don’t worry, babe. Things will straighten out. And then–next year, Paris!”

“Next year, Paris for sure!” I agreed.

We drank our champagne, shared a most romantic kiss and enjoyed the ride home.

Once a month Writers Unite! presents us with a photo and invites us to write a story. This is my February offering, just in time for Valentine’s Day!

A Port in the Storm

At dusk, the lighthouse keeper lit the beacon.

She didn’t have an explanation for why she continued to do it. It had been nearly a year since she’d seen any sign of a ship.

Belle chattered happily to her stuffed pig, moving him by leaps and bounds around the interior of the playpen. She’d been confined to it while upstairs her entire life, and so felt no compulsion to complain or try to escape. Bonnie smiled at her child, taking a moment to enjoy her presence before finishing the adjustments to the light.

Belle was good company. Bonnie was looking forward to the day when she’d be a more active participant in conversation, but for now it was enough that she was a good listener. Bonnie liked to talk. She told stories of the days when ships were saved from certain destruction because of the beacon she’d lit nightly for the last ten years.

She talked now about her worry over the dwindling supplies in the lighthouse.

She and Belle had managed the last year because she’d always been obsessive about stocking up. Canned goods and dry goods had lined the many shelves of the pantry. The cellar had been well-stocked with potatoes, carrots and onions and dried fruits, and the freezer had been full of ground beef and chicken and stew meat as well as single-serve meals that had become staples for her after Joseph was lost at sea two years ago.

The generator had been her main source of power for a while now, and she thanked her foresight in having set aside so many barrels of gasoline. The only appliances kept running full time were the freezer and refrigerator. She allowed only short intervals for viewing television, which really consisted only of watching DVD recordings. Broadcast TV was a thing of the past.

Trips inland for grocery shopping had ended with her last foray: she’d discovered a village inhabited by corpses. Not every person was accounted for, certainly; clearly many had fled before the others had died.

With no idea what had caused their deaths, Bonnie had skirted the bodies and prayed it was not some disease. It would destroy her if Belle were to contract some lethal illness. The stores were mostly deserted, and she took food and supplies, as much as she could pack into the bed of her pickup, and drove back out to the coast, vowing not to return until someone showed up to deal with whatever had befallen the little town.

“We’re running out of things, Belle,” she said, using a cheerful tone while giving voice to her fears. “I can’t nurse you forever; but you need real milk, not that powdered stuff.”

She lifted the toddler out of the playpen and plucked up the stuffed pig. They started down the spiral staircase. Bonnie moved slowly and carefully. A fall would be the end of them.

“The lamp oil is nearly gone,” she continued.

Belle giggled.

“What will we do when we can’t light the lamp? Any port in a storm, my dad used to say. What happens when there’s no port?”

Belle shook her head and said, “No, no, no.”

Bonnie had recently taken up counting: ten cans of tomato soup left, half a dozen of chicken noodle, and only four of vegetable. But, hallelujah, almost two dozen of cream of mushroom–yum, yum! The last barrel of gasoline was more than half gone, and they hadn’t watched so much as a movie in months. The propane tank was nearly depleted as well.

Winter was upon them, and no one had delivered wood for the fireplace or coal for the stove.

No one was going to, either.

“We have to leave, baby Belle,” Bonnie sang. “We have to get somewhere else, and soon.”

“No, no, no!” Belle imitated the sing-a-song voice of her mother.

“No, no, no!” Bonnie agreed. “This is no port in the storm.”

***

The truck was packed with everything Bonnie could get into the bed. She had worked for the better half of a day using a rigged pulley system to lift and secure the old camper shell on the back to their supplies would stay covered and dry. Belle had watched from her playpen, set up in front of the lighthouse.

Bonnie had cooked all the remaining meat and put it up in canning jars to last them as long as possible. She’d spent a few days in a steam-filled kitchen, thanking the spirit of her mother for insisting she learn how to can and preserve. She remembered thinking it was a stupid waste of time, when all they had to do was run to the store.

“Mother knows best,” Bonnie sang to Belle. “Never forget it, Baby Belle. My mother was one smart cookie. Thanks, Mom!”

It was due to her mother that she owned canning jars at all. For years she’d received sets for Christmas and birthdays, along with other gifts. “I think my mom was a prophet or something,” Bonnie said. Belle giggled. “Grandma had the sight.”

Whatever the reason, Bonnie was grateful. There would be meat for a while, and if they were lucky, she’d find her father’s hunting rifle at the cabin.

“I hope no one has broken in,” Bonnie mused.

“Ma! Ma!” Belle giggled again. Bonnie’s face lit up with her smile of delight. “Oh, good baby!”

“Ma!”

Once the truck was packed with all the remaining food, Bonnie attached the small flatbed trailer and loaded the remaining gasoline, propane and the smaller generator, and tied everything down securely. Then she boxed Belle’s playpen and crib and her own bed and bedding. Last, she added the rocking chair Joseph had made for her.

Belle fell asleep in her car seat almost as soon as they started their trip, but Bonnie chattered  to her, anyway. “Pray the snows don’t come until we get to the cabin,” she said. “Pray the cabin is intact and empty. My dad left me the cabin when he died, but I haven’t been up there in years. I hope the gun is there. I hope it works.”

She stopped in town despite her fears. There was no one at the gas station; no bodies, either. She had to break a window to get inside, but was gratified to hear the roar of a generator when she switched the gas pumps on. Nearly everyone on the coast had generators; nor’easters hit and knocked out power frequently in winter.

She tossed out another prayer, this that the holding tanks would have enough gasoline for her to fill her truck’s main and auxiliary tanks and the barrel and gas cans, too.

While her big tank was filling, Bonnie grabbed all the snack foods and sodas and water she could and put them in the truck. She found bags of coffee and creamer packets and took those, too.

She left the cheese, eggs and milk. God alone knew how long those had been there, unrefrigerated.

She really would have liked to have those…

Oh, well.

Grateful for the gasoline, Bonnie began her travel in earnest and hoped for the best.

If only, she thought. If only the cabin is in good shape. If only the gun is there and usable. If only we can manage to get there without running into anyone.

If only we can make it to a port in the storm.

~~~

Even when I can’t get a short short story out of a prompt, I am always grateful to be prodded into a story idea. This was a nice fit into an ongoing theme of mine. Thanks for the prompt, Writers Unite!