The storm door clacked against its frame without rhythm. Chickens scuttered through the dirt, clucking restlessly. The clouds had sunk low over the farmhouse. They smothered the earth, draining the red shutters and dirty white house of their color.
“Mama, there’s no time!“ Verna was walking Pa down the porch steps. His tattered shirt, once white and pressed, was now a milky gray. He hunched to navigate the uneven ground.
Annie was shooing the chickens into the house. She looked up and put her hands to her hips. “You keep your dress on, Vern. This ain’t nothin but a windspout!”
Pa’s crutch kicked up dust. “Annie,” he called. “Annie! Grab Boo outta the barn. I got er tied up in there.”
She had cornered the last chicken into the kitchen. She slammed the banging screen door and threw the copper hook into its place. “I tell you, news in this county ain’t worth a spread of shit! No warning, nothin!”
As she said it, the town siren’s wailing roared across the farm. “HA!” She threw her calloused hands up to the sky. “Not too soon, either!”
“Mama!“ Verna called. Her head poked out from the storm cellar. “Mama hurry up!”
Annie pointed at her. “Verna, you better ease up girl! What happens when a real one show up? What are you gonna do then?”
Verna didn’t seem to hear her over the howling wind. She was beckoning wildly. Annie gestured at the barn. “Boo!” she screamed. “Boo!”
Verna looked off at the horizon, her fingers on her lips. Annie strode to the barn.
“I’ve seen a hundred in my life and I’ll see a hundred more, getting in a fit hasn’t earned me a penny and I will not be startin now.“ She swung open the barn doors.
The tawny dog was roped to the tiller, whimpering and pawing the ground. “You too?” Annie said. “Lord on High!”
She found a pair of shears on the worktable, and, coming around behind the dog, cut the rope. Boo tore out of the barn.
“Hey! HEY! Boo you get your sorry ass over here!“
Annie followed her out, watching Boo vanish through the broken boards under the house. She made her way to the hole, the wind shrieking in her ears.
“BOO! YOU GET OUT HERE RIGHT NOW OR SO HELP ME–”
A tremor made its way up through her legs. The earth itself seemed to rumble. She looked down. The pebbles hopped amongst each other. Above her, the sky kept its white-gray hue, but Annie could now see the clouds, very clearly, curling, circling.
Annie was rooted to the ground. Her wispy hair whipped across her face, catching in her eyelashes. The wind screamed in her ears, its pitch rising to a whistle.
In her wide eyes was the reflection of the funnel, touching down as if by divine orchestration, just behind the barn. The barn walls swayed and heaved until, one by one, long crimson boards lifted themselves from it, and disappeared into the vortex. Railroad ties were ripped from the framework. She didn’t notice the gravel lashing her face hard enough to draw blood. She was watching her barn unbuild itself.
Annie didn’t think to move. She didn’t think anything. Only waited, waited for nature to make the next move, decide her fate, while she stood, awestruck.
A hand closed around her arm. She turned. His crutch was nowhere to be seen. He screamed at her. She heard nothing. She noticed the blood vessels around the tip of his nose. They looked like tiny lilacs, she thought.
With his hand gripped tightly around her, he led her to the storm cellar, gingerly putting weight on his bad leg, and moving it to his other when the leg gave out on him. The tears from his eyes sprayed her face as they went. Behind her she heard popping sounds that sounded like the bursting of little nebulas. She saw glass and dirt and roots and splintered wood soar past her in a soup of brown wind.
They reached the cellar. Annie could see Verna at the bottom. He thrust her down the steps before him.
Before Annie could reach the floor, her head exploded in pain. Verna’s face was frozen in terror before her. The light went gray, then black.
* * * * * *
There was whimpering when she woke. Verna was kneeling over her. Behind Verna’s head was darkness save for a square of bright blue. Clouds floated past.
Verna’s lips were pulled back in a silent sob. Tears collected at her chin, dripping onto her mother’s collar.
“Vern…“ she said. “Verna darlin…”
Verna coughed out a sob. She hugged Annie. “Oh Mama,” Verna mumbled. “Mama…”
They held each other. Behind the , a wooden crutch lay across the stairs, hidden in the darkness cast by the closed cellar door.
Credit: Colin’s Home for the Damned
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