The Storm

 

Bryan M. Otake

 

 

The Estevez family decided to retreat to the basement of their house, though they knew it would be useless against the coming storms. A harried televisions news anchorman urged citizens to take as many cans of food as they could carry. Juan, Maria's husband of twenty years, laughed bitterly. He brought only four decks of playing cards, a roll of scotch tape, and some candles with them.

"Can't we bring the television down as well?" asked Pablo, his voice filled with the earnestness that only ten-year-old boys possess. His hands moved back and forth in restless agitation. The basement was sparsely furnished with only a careworn couch and a long, mahogany-stained coffee table. "We could watch the news."

Juan glanced at his wife, his eyes brimming with tears. Maria shook her head, her raven-black tresses covering her face. Upstairs, a heavy wind buffeted their home, rattling the boarded up windows like a drunken bar patron trying to get into a locked bathroom. "No, my son, there's nothing on the television there that could help us now." He leaned forward and gently picked up Pablo, holding him close. "I thought we could make little card houses, just like we used to. How does that sound?"

Little Pablo looked strangely at his father. Nodding, he let himself be put down on the couch. Juan opened the playing card boxes. Gathered around the coffee table, the family began to construct a little town.

Maria built a church, a tall, stern structure that stood at the end of the town square. Carefully tearing a piece from the queen of hearts, she fashioned a small cross that she taped to the top of the steeple. Working her way back from the town's center, she installed a row of main street stores and shops like a boomtown developer.

Juan's hands, calloused by years of work as a plumber, moved in a deft dance. He constructed whole blocks of tract suburban housing, securing each little three-bedroom creation to the ground with a strip of scotch tape. Upending one card box, he pulled out the all the clubs, and began tearing out little tree-shaped pieces to plant as landscaping.

As he had done when he was just four years-old, it fell to Pablo to make the tiniest creations for their little diorama. Tiny bits of card paper were taped and folded into automobiles. A tiny queue of people lined up outside of a late-night diner. Curling a single card into a series of tight folds and creases, an origami-style dog appeared. Pablo leashed it to a small tree on the outskirts of town.

The walls above creaked ominously. The wind rose to a high, keening moan that could be heard even from their hideaway below. Maria sighed and looked up at the roof of the basement.

The lights went out without warning.

The dark was complete, a cloying, spiderweb-like curtain that choked off the light. Pablo heard his father curse. A match struck, flared, and then died out. A second try caught and ignited a candle wick. A wan light filled the room.

"Is everyone okay?" asked Juan. "The power lines must have been knocked out. I think— "

Somewhere above, wood splintered and a pane of glass shattered. A loud bang echoed through the house and sounded ominously in their tiny refuge. "The roof," said Maria grimly. "The storm is beginning to tear it apart."

Pablo stood up and acted as if to climb up the basement stairwell. "Papa, should we go up and check on…." His voice trailed off as he saw the expression on his father's face. "It doesn't matter anymore, does it?" His voice sounded small in the confined space.

"No, little one, it doesn't." Juan reached out and hugged his only child, brought him close again. His wife reached over and embraced them both. The candle flickered as a series of smaller booms sounded above, announcing the destruction of the outside paneling and the porch.

"No more loads of laundry to do," said Maria. She buried her face in Pablo's hair. "No more lunches to make."

"I'll never have to go to work again," said Juan. His words sounded thick, choked with emotion. "This wasn't exactly the kind of retirement I was looking forward to."

Pablo began to cry. "Why did they do it? They knew it was wrong. All that stuff in the air, the water. How could they think it wouldn't do anything to the atmosphere?"

"Hush," said his mother. "It doesn't matter now. There's nothing we could do about it. This storm—"

"—is unlike anything we've seen before," said Juan, breaking in with a mortician's finality. He sighed. They could hear rain begin to fall on the kitchen floor above, a place that had always been closed and protected from the elements. Until now.

"We should have listened…and acted…a long time ago," sobbed Maria.

Juan just shook his head. It was too late now. Paris. Mexico City. New York. All destroyed by the unending series of storms and cataclysms that had swept across the planet. San Francisco and Delhi had fallen into the sea. The formerly landlocked nation of Switzerland was now an island.

Pablo, peering above his mother's shoulder, suddenly cried out. "Look, Mama, the school. You put it in the wrong place. And it's too small. No one would want to learn in a place like that." He wriggled free and ran to the coffee table. Like a crazed demolition man, Pablo began to tear the little structure down, without regard for permits or ordinances.

"You see, the auditorium is too small," said Pablo, speaking in the tone of an expert. "And there is no room for the buses to come and drop people off."

"And the post office," said Maria, coming to join her son. "It's too far away from the highway. The townspeople would never get their letters and postcards on time." She quickly went to work, transplanting the mail depot and putting it on the main street.

Water began to gush down the stairwell. It quickly pooled on the floor and began to rise.

"Well," said Juan, rolling up his shirt sleeves. "I guess I could put in a few bus stops and build a park or two for the children." He bent his over the table, carefully clearing an area on the outskirts. A jungle gym and a slide rose from the coffee table surface. The water filled the basement and rose to their waists.

A three hundred mile-an-hour wind swept across the earth. It destroyed everything in its path. The upper floors of the Estevez home were picked up and swept away. The basement ceiling finally gave way in a cacophony of wood and metal. The rain began to pelt the three forlorn beings below. Bits of debris—chair legs, tree branches, car fenders—swirled about in the air and crashed down on the floor around them.

They ignored it all.

"Yes, yes," said Pablo. He had to yell to be heard above the howling wind and the rain. "It's finally coming together. Just put another bus stop here, Papa."

"Look," cried Maria. Even in the chaos that enveloped them, Juan could here the joy in his wife's voice. "Look at the people. They're moving! They've come alive!"

Juan squinted his eyes. It was difficult to see, the rain was coming down like a waterfall. They huddled together, shielding their tiny creation with their bodies. His son cupped his hands and yelled something in his ear. Juan shook his head. He could hear nothing. Pablo pointed excitedly. Dimly, Juan could see movement, tiny forms that bustled up and down the street. Figures hopping onto street cars. Parents walking their children to school. A large crowd packed a baseball stadium.

Pablo was tugging on his arm, trying to tell his father something again, when a terrible sound rose above the land and hurtled down upon them.

And then everything went dark.

 

 


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"The Storm" Copyright © 2003 Bryan M. Otake. All rights reserved.
Published by permission of the author.

 

This page last updated 10-29-03.

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