This story is by Sharon Hetherington and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Old Albert Peterson stooped to scratch the ears of his little pal Chaser, a feisty border collie. Chaser dropped a ball at Albert’s feet, flicked his tail, and darted around stirring up dust like a whirling dervish!
“Well, maybe just one more,” chuckled Albert as he straightened his frame to throw the ball. “Annie sure got your name right, didn’t she boy?” Albert grunted as he sent the ball flying across the yard. His little dog never tired of the chase.
Albert gazed toward the postage stamp cemetery that sat atop a grassy knoll near the east pasture. An old brick well sat nearby; its water kept cool under the shade of a giant maple tree. The tiny plot was home to generations of Petersons long gone, and home to his Annie too, bless her soul. Annie was Albert’s late wife and the light of his life. When she passed last year, Albert’s light fizzled out too and he just about gave up on life. But even during her illness, Annie had taken care of everything. Albert smiled as he remembered finding the little bundle of fur tied to the porch railing the day after her funeral.
The card attached to the puppy’s collar read ‘My darling Albert, meet Chaser. He is an extension of my love for you. I am no longer here by your side, but little Chaser will be a loyal companion. I hope he will bring you comfort. Love and care for him the way you loved and cared for me all these years, and you will discover there is still joy in life. Until forever, Annie.‘ Albert pulled a rag from his overall pocket and wiped away a tear as it escaped the corner of his eye. He recalled those words often, and they did him in every time.
Rousing from his muse, Albert collected a coil of rope and a shovel from the barn. He’d heard a calf bawling earlier, and figured it strayed from the pasture and got mired in the mud down at the creek. The weather report was calling for a thunderstorm later, and that meant the creek would flood and the calf could be injured or even drown. Tools in hand, Albert whistled a call-out to Chaser who bounced happily through the long pasture grass after a bumblebee.
It was late afternoon when Albert, Chaser, and the calf emerged into the pasture from the shadows of the forest that led to the creek. Caked in mud, Albert stopped and pulled off his cap to swipe the now mucky rag across his sweaty, balding crown, leaving a brown streak behind. He was bone tired and getting too old for the farming life.
As he stood knee-deep in the long grass, Albert absently scratched his bald spot with the brim of his cap, puzzling over the sudden eerie stillness. It was like the grass had just stopped breathing! There was a humid weight to the air that held the long blades hostage against his calves, smothering them into silence. The atmosphere was turning dark, and when Albert looked up, he saw clouds to the west beginning to swirl. His eyes were magnetically drawn to the frenzied dance, and then his breath choked in his throat. TORNADO!
Albert froze, mesmerized as clouds spun to form a serpent-like funnel. In just seconds the funnel snaked its way to the earth, like a devil’s malevolent tongue. It licked at the ground and gained velocity, morphing into a magnificent beast! Swelling to a massive mile-wide stovepipe, the beast kept growing! Lightning bolts snapped at the dust spewing out from its core, charring the sky black. Albert’s body vibrated and the hairs on his arms bristled. Suddenly he was jolted from his daze by Chaser who was jumping into the air, barking wildly at the sky as though trying to scare away the monster that was bearing down directly toward them.
Albert looked around wildly. There was no time to get to his root cellar which also served as a storm shelter. Adrenalin pumping through his veins, he ran toward the only place where he might survive; the old well! It was either that or be dismembered by blades of debris spinning madly within the tornado’s funnel!
Every second counted and Albert cursed his fumbling fingers as he tied the muddy rope around the trunk of the big maple. He used his pocketknife to cut open the leg seams of his overalls, ripping them to the waist and then tying the front flaps of the leg denim to his shoulder straps to form a pouch. Glancing at the sky, he realized time was running out! The furious beast was pitching baseball-sized hail and one of them landed a direct hit to Albert’s nose. Bloodied and bruised, Albert steeled himself against the assault. His eyes watered from pain and the sting of debris as the Tornado picked up momentum, its insatiable hunger chewing structures and trees, and spitting out spears of kindling.
Albert tied the loose end of the rope around his chest as he screamed “CHASER, COME!” into the deafening roar. Projectiles of debris were impaling the ground around him! Swinging his legs over the well edge, he desperately scanned the now violently swaying pasture grass for Chaser. Albert was out of time!
He started lowering himself into the well, back and feet forming a bridge between the walls. When he was several feet down, a bark echoed above him and he looked up to see Chaser teetering on the cap, eyes blazing with fear. Albert opened his arms and Chaser jumped right into them, but then Albert lost his footing. They fell twenty feet down, jerking to a stop just as Albert’s feet splashed into the water. The rope gouged into Albert’s torso.
Securing Chaser into the denim pouch, Albert prayed the rope would hold them. Being chewed to a pulp in the jaws of a tornado would be an agonizing fate. But he would surely be a miserable specter if fate turned him into a moldy corpse haunting the bowels of a well! And he would never find peace if he lost Chaser forever!
The sky beast bore down on them, its ferocious roar careening down the well. Albert braced for the worst and hugged Chaser’s trembling body close, while his own limbs spasmed with fear. Chaser licked nervously at Alberts bloodied nose, trusting him to protect. Albert looked up, directly into the swirling abyss of the funnel. Bricks from the well cap started popping off and were inhaled into the vortex. Albert’s cap followed, soaring amid the streams of water that flowed upwards; a drink to wash down the beast’s dusty meal. Albert squeezed his eyes shut as he thought of Annie, resting in her grave just meters away. Certain he and Chaser would soon join her, he mumbled a prayer in preparation.
Albert’s body lost gravity and he felt himself being pulled upwards toward the gaping mouth of the beast. Fate was coming for him! Squinting through a sandblast of dirt, he looked up and saw the roots of the massive Maple hovering at the core of the funnel directly over the well opening.
The spinning beast stalled as though pausing for thought, then suddenly shifted sideways and wrathfully rejected the giant tree. The funnel lifted and spun away, off to devour something tastier. The tree slammed into the ground, half blocking the well opening. Albert and Chaser spiraled down again, ricocheting off the walls. Albert’s hands and bare knees were battered as he shielded Chaser from the impact. The rope jerked to a stop again, searing into Albert’s armpits. Cold water pooled at his waist. He held perfectly still, waiting for the rope to finally give, sending them to a watery grave.
After what felt like an eon, the well became quiet; just Albert’s thundering heartbeat and Chaser’s panting could be heard. Albert gathered his wits and his waning strength. He cooled his bloodied knuckles in the water, then gingerly began the painful climb up, willing the rope, and his strength to hold just a little longer. At the opening, a turquoise sky peeked through a tangle of roots. The well cap was gone, its bricks chewed to dust by the demonic sky monster. Albert grabbed a sturdy tree root and hoisted his exhausted body out of the hole.
He released Chaser, then crumpled to the ground drained, but grateful that fate had spared them. And then he heard it. A calf was bawling. Incredulous, Albert stood on quivering legs and looked toward the pasture. The terrified calf emerged from the shredded forest, calling for its mother. Chaser, recovering faster than old Albert, bounded into the pasture after it. Albert turned toward the cemetery and saw the tombstones were all destroyed, except for one; Annie’s. It stood tall amongst the rubble, and Albert smiled weakly. Annie was right. There was still joy to be found in life.
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