The Eye of the Storm
The people who visit the town come to see the storm, but they never will.
“You know they make us do these drills ‘cause its comin’ back, right?”
“The storm. It’s been 50 years, so it’s comin’ back.”
We were huddled up against the walls of our cinderblock school, heads down and pressed against the painted walls.
“I don’t believe you. I don’t think it’s real. Just a normal tornado.”
“And the fact that it’s blood red?”
My friend scoffed, and I could practically hear him rolling his eyes.
“Oh yeah? What about the swirling hands? The eye?”
I could hear the sounds of a lanyard jingling and heels making their way towards us.
“Storms don’t have eyes,” I hissed. “Unless they’re hurricanes, and we’re landlocked.”
“What about the hands?”
“People hallucinate before they die.”
“The screaming? The smell of rotting flesh?”
“People. Hallucinate. When they. Die.” I said through gritted teeth.
How long was this drill going to last?
“You two, quiet.” The teacher said, directly behind us.
I could just kick her. Stretch out my leg, and kick her. No one has to know. Well, the school would know, and then Dad would know, then he’d be all, “What’s wrong with you,” and, “You’re gonna go to Hell.” Hope I see you there, Pops.
The house was dark and locked, as it usually was, and I sat on the porch. The wind chime, about as old as I was and with the delicate rolls of metal dangling from below a cross, jingled faintly in the gentle breeze that seemed omnipresent. The sky was overcast, as it usually was, and I could see for miles, the flat plains of the farm stretching off into the horizon. The dandelions in the driveway waved gently, growing with a perseverance I myself could not muster; when they began to shake from an approaching truck, I wished I could shake with them.
I kept myself from jumping at the slam of the door and the crunch of gravel.
“The hell’ve you been doing, boy? Get in the damn house, storm’s coming!”
“I don’t — ”
“I don’t care! Get inside and move some shit to the basement.”
As the door swung open, I sighed and went inside. The smell of smoke hung in the air, and I thought fondly of when that wasn’t the case. I walked towards my room, also missing when I was allowed to have a door.
But when I’m under his roof, privacy is a privilege I don’t have.
“No, none of your pansy shit, essentials only.”
“I’m gonna grab a book to read while we’re — ”
Of course, to him, liquor’s essential. What drink number is that, beloved father? Nine?
When I made it down to the basement, he was sitting in one of the beat-up lawn chairs we kept down there for when it was nice in the summertime, another cigarette in his mouth and his feet up on a cooler.
“Finally, something knocked some sense into ya. You can go grab some of your shit now — only the essentials.”
I made my way up the steps, wincing at the creaks of the ancient wood, and glanced back at my dad, framed against that disgusting wood paneling. I tried to ignore that stupid, familiar blazing red hat he wore to cover up his bald head. The spring-bound door swung shut as I pushed through it, and I trudged toward my room, trying to think of what I could save and what I could hide. The rumbling of the winds had grown louder by this point, and the roaring of rain pounded on the leaky metal roof.
When I made it back to the basement door, I tried to shoulder it open.
It didn’t budge.
“Dad?” I called. “Door’s jammed, and my arms are full.”
“Door’s not jammed, Son, it’s locked.”
I was speechless.
“You need to grow up and quit actin’ the way you do, and this is the quickest way. You can come back when you learn to quit bein’ a coward and be a man.”
My supplies — practically all of my possessions my dad knew about — dropped to the ground, and the power flickered off.
“What?” I was beginning to choke up. What kind of monster does this?
“I said — ”
“I heard you.” I replied, my voice even and quiet against the howling winds.
As the thunder shook the house, I went back to my room. I sat at my desk — built by my own hands so I could learn what a real job’s like — and held a shaky tube of mascara in my hands. By the flashes of lightning, I assembled something that felt more … me.
Clothes I wanted to wear.
A face I wanted to have.
Finishing up, I sighed and stepped outside. It was a bit of a Midwesternism to sit and watch storms go through, knowing that wherever it takes you will be better than here, but I did, anyway.
And then I saw it.
A blood-red funnel cutting against the grassy green and cloudy grays of the sky.
And it was heading towards me, some sort of light at the top beckoning me like a sick lighthouse to a dying sailor, a sickly yellow light like a false sun.
The grass around me rattled, the driveway dandelions shaking with a fear I shared. Dogs — or at least I hoped they were dogs — howled in the distance, harmonizing with the winds that blew my hair and watered my eyes.
Like Odysseus to the sirens, I headed for it.
Maybe it was the color dulling my senses, or maybe my adrenaline, but it felt like the howling gales were … gentler. My limbs felt heavy, like when you get off of a trampoline and feel like you’re still bouncing. I made it within 30 feet of the storm, a towering pillar of swirling crimson, and I felt calm.
I could see the hands, of course, swirling in the red, reaching towards me, like open arms offering a hug.
And I reached towards them.
A scarlet wash over everything in sight.
And no pain.
I felt like I was floating, flying even.
And in the center of the swirling carmine, a grand eye, yellow like the sun and blindingly bright.
I felt home.
The aftermath of the storm was the same as every other storm: swaths of destruction in paths, damage that wouldn’t be mended until it was necessary.
Everything was normal, and everyone was safe, their basements and shelters well-built for this occasion.
Save for one.
A man, a single father with his son nowhere to be found, found impaled on the wood paneling of his basement, cigarette in his mouth and beer bottle in his hand.
His daughter will be sorely missed.