This story is by Linda Myers and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
RUNNING SCARED _
Her heart began to race; the blood pounded in her temples. She couldn’t draw a deep breath. “Butch, did you hear the forecast? I have to go. Please call Susan, tell her I’m on my way, to please have Beth at the door.” Jill yelled to her boss. Grabbing her purse from the bottom drawer of her desk, she reached for the jacket hanging on the back of her chair. She slung it over her arm and hurried from the office, letting the door slam behind her, heedless of the resulting reverberation throughout the old building. Every cell in her body was attuned to only one thing . . . reaching her kids in time. Please . . . She prayed silently. Please . . .
Her car was parked behind the building. With a tentative glance upward, she ran down the alley. In this narrow lane, the old, brick buildings appeared to be leaning in, obscuring her view of the sky.
She scrunched her jacket, feeling for the keys, and came up empty. My keys . . . where are they? Her mind raced a few paces ahead of her body. Unlocked. At least the car was unlocked, she thought, as she yanked the door open, threw the offending jacket in the back seat, and dove behind the wheel. Unzipping her purse, she pawed through its overstuffed contents. Where are my keys? Impatient, she dumped her purse out onto the passenger seat. There they are!
Her ex-husband’s parking angel winked up at her, a placid smile pasted on its tiny face. The little figure possessed mystical powers when it came to finding close-in parking spaces on rainy days or the one empty spot in a full lot; she hoped the angel’s powers extended far beyond parking today. Her hand closed on the key ring.
Snatching it up, she struggled to push the key into the ignition. Her hand shook. Come on! she pleaded. After several attempts, it went in. The engine roared to life. She backed around and sped off toward the mouth of the alley with a screech of her tires, the sound barely registering in her consciousness.
The tornado was reported in the Warrenton area, not very far away. It had been following along Route 29. If it continued on its present course, it would hit Culpeper—her town. The safest place she knew was the church basement. She had to retrieve both children and bring them to St. Stephen’s. Once there, they would hunker down all together under the stairwell in the little hallway at the front of the building. That end of the building was underground, built into the hillside. They would be surrounded by concrete block walls embedded into the embankment, with heavy steel doors at the top and bottom of the steel staircase. Short of a vault, Jill knew of no safer place.
She wished she could round up everyone they knew and bring them to safety. But there wasn’t time. She had to protect her girls—that was her priority. The little girls had no one else. Their safety was solely up to her, the weight of that responsibility crushing as she drove out of town.
Her mind worked overtime, ticking off every move, pitting her agenda against the clock. Her youngest first, Beth, who was just three years old. She was at the babysitter’s, exactly two miles from downtown. Then her oldest, Miranda, who was eight. She was at the elementary school. Were they already on weather lockdown? She wondered, would it be best to leave Miranda at school? Safer? She had rehearsed the plan a hundred times in her head. Should the day ever come, she’d know exactly what to do. Yet, the day was here, and she still had no answer for those same questions that popped up each time. What was the best decision?
Traffic was light in this small town at mid-day. With the inclement weather, it was even lighter; the side streets all but deserted. It seemed to take forever to drive this short distance yet it was mere minutes since she left the office. There it was—Walnut Street, third house on the right. She pulled over to the curb, jumped out, leaving the car running, and started up the walk. Beth ran out the door to meet her, tightly clutching her teddy. Jill grabbed her up and carried her back to the car.
With her youngest child securely belted in the back seat–her small face a mask of confused concern, Jill headed for the school. She looked back at Beth in the rearview mirror. “It’s all right. We just have to hurry; we’re in a race. We’ll be okay,” she said with all the confidence she could muster. She leaned forward and peered up at the sky. Boiling, dark clouds had closed in, their undersides bearing an odd greenish hue. The rain pelted the windshield. She could smell the ozone in the air. Her stomach clenched. She had been over this route time and time again. Only a few more minutes.
She turned down Elm Street. The school lay at the end of it. She quickly parked next to the door. Running up the steps, she wrenched the door open and entered the main hallway. As she turned towards the office, she saw her daughter talking to her teacher in the doorway of the classroom. Reaching for Miranda’s hand, she threw a breathless “we have to hurry . . . the weather . . .” over her shoulder to the teacher and turned toward the front door. Sensing her mother’s urgency, Miranda climbed quickly into the back seat next to her sister and buckled herself in. She knew this wasn’t the time for questions.
Since Jill left the office, the skies had turned even darker. It looked like the end of the world. Hail began to pelt the car. But, she had both girls now. Just a few more minutes to the churchyard. Here it is . . . we’re here! A couple of cars were parked outside—the pastor and the secretary. The main doors were always locked but she knew the bottom doors would be open. “Miranda, unbuckle the seat belts, both of them,” she cried above the din of rain and hail.
She pulled up to the church, as close to it as she could get. Emerging into a deluge, she was soaked within seconds. She didn’t seem to notice as she opened the back door and the two girls tumbled from the back seat. She herded them toward the building. As they stumbled forward, fighting against a sudden onslaught of wind, she looked back and saw it . . . a sinister-looking cylinder, partially obscured by sheets of rain, swirling across the field up the road, headed their way. Bits of debris spilled from its sides as it spun. It was huge, hideous. More fiendish and frightening than she had imagined. It. Was. Monstrous. Malevolent. Menacingly alive.
She tore her gaze away . . . back to the door. One arm shielded her girls; the other hand wrestled with the door handle. Stuck. It was stuck . . . The wind was holding it closed. Nooo . . . she wailed inside. Summoning all her strength, she tugged once more and wresting it from the wind’s grasp, forced it open. Tears of terror and frustration
coursed down her cheeks as damp with sweat, heart racing, she sat bolt upright in bed. She gasped, eyes wide but unseeing, disoriented. Gradually she calmed, realizing where she was . . . safe. It had happened again. It was so real. But she was safe. The nightmare began about a year after the divorce was final. It occurred repeatedly over the years. Each time it left her panicky, limp, unable to breathe.
She forced herself to stand on wobbly legs, and crept down the hall to the girls’ room. She was weak, worn out, but she had to check on them. Her limbs felt oddly disconnected, like maybe she couldn’t trust them to obey. She gently pushed the bedroom door open. Her girls lay curled up, sleeping soundly and peacefully in their narrow beds. No nightmares disturbed their young minds.
Not wanting to wake them, she didn’t go in but blew air kisses from the doorway. Gazing at the tranquil scene, a wave of tenderness washed over her. A rush of gratitude filled her being like a prayer. The sight of them, safe, quelled her lingering fears; she sagged against the doorframe.
She had raced the tornado one more time and won . . . one more time. What would happen if it came one night and she couldn’t beat it? What if that door wouldn’t open?