Inclement Weather, Large Animals, and Other Strange Happenings Inside a Gated Community in New Jersey
“Put the fucking phone down, gather the children, and shelter somewhere safe.”
My mother and I have lived through a lot together. Thirty plus years of tough discipline and ingrained Italian immigrant politeness leaves its mark. But she does not say fuck. Ever. Not once in my lifetime have I ever heard her utter the word. It’s simply not in her vocabulary. Certainly not in the same sentence as her grandchildren. This would be the first moment that morning in which I recognized that something could be seriously fucking wrong.
“Listen to me,” she barked into the receiver. “Now.”
The house shook a little bit. My blood pressure rose. I ran to the window, pulled back the curtains, and scanned the darkening sky. The backyard reflected a particularly pretty shade of purple. Ominous black clouds dotted the distance. Fat little raindrops slapped at the window and wind pulled our garbage cans down across the driveway.
A storm, sure, but a ‘get your kids in the fucking basement’ storm? I didn’t think so then.
“The forecast said it would miss…” I offered her absentmindedly. “10% chance…”
Lightning cracked in response to my stupid comment. A wrap of rumbling thunder followed. The rain transcended from a drizzle into a proper downpour. A tree in the distance slammed to the ground and the sound of it connecting with some distant concrete seemed a little too similar to a scream for my current comfort-ability. That moved me into action.
My daughters, Grace and Ellen, appeared out of their bedrooms with cell phones in hand. My wife, Evelyn, trailed behind them. The trio appeared completely unbothered by these latest developments. Maybe for the best.
“Basement,” I snapped. “Now.”
They nodded and went for the door without a fight.
“Mom, what are you doing?” I barked back into the receiver. “Are your windows boarded shut?”
Another crack of lightning lit up the backyard. The power flickered. The phone cut in and out. Static overwhelmed the line.
After a moment, it cleared. Mom took a deep breath.
I’ll never forget the panic in her voice. The way she repeated herself. The way her tone tried to sound calm but was doing everything it could from freaking the fuck out. As a parent, and her son, I knew it all too well. We were in deep shit.
“We’re fine. Stay inside. Don’t go outside. Don’t go near the windows. ”
“We’re fine. Stay inside. Don’t go outside. Don’t go near the windows.”
“We’re fine. Stay in-“
The line clicked. I drew the phone away from my ear to hang it up, but my finger thumbed the speaker button by accident. Somebody spoke, but it wasn’t my mother.
The call disconnected for good.
At the time, I chalked the voice up to interference. Not many kids may remember the days of crossed lines in storms, but in my mind, that had to be the cause. Plus there were bigger fish to fry. A screech drew my attention downstairs. Evelyn shouted something. I pocketed my cell and padded down the steps.
I wasn’t prepared for the shit-show that awaited.
The storm blanketed our basement in a torrent of mist and lightning. You couldn’t see outside until the sky lit up. The girls were panicking. Grace and Ellen ran back and forth with towels. They bunched them into every crevice and hole that led outside. But it was no use. The rain stacked up too fast.
“Oh my God.”
My wife looked on in dumbfounded awe. I knew we were sunk before she even had to say it.
“We’re going to flood.”
In seconds, the water was above the sliding glass door’s seal.
“Daddy, it’s not going to hold,” Grace whined.
My mind raced. The towels were getting wet. There was a leak. A crack widened in the corner of the door. Ellen desperately tried to stuff it.
“Daddy,” she chirped. “What do we do?”
In minutes, the outside staircase was completely underwater. The window wells were full as well. We looked like we lived in a submarine.
“The door won’t be able to hold the pressure…” I started.
I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. My backyard looked like a swimming pool. Three plus feet of water lumbered back and forth across a sea of grass. There was no escape for it on flat ground. It had to exit somewhere.
“…We need to get out of here…” I continued.
The hole widened. The weight of the water could only be denied for so long.
We were out of time.
The glass cracked just as my hand wrapped around Ellen’s arm.
The current moved into the basement in one smooth wave, taking everything in its wake before slamming up against the opposite wall. In a moment, we were all knocked underwater. It was the most terrifying moment of my life up to that point.
“Swim,” I spit out through filthy gulps. “Swim for the stairs.”
Ellen broke my grasp and went towards the kitchen. I grabbed a railing and scanned my surroundings. Two intertwined blonde heads popped up in between the carnage. They were only a few feet away.
“UPSTAIRS” I screamed. “Swim!”
The girls followed the sound of my voice. Debris kicked at them from all angles. A loosened clothing dresser threatened to block the path up the stairs. But they made it. Miraculously, somehow, we all made it out of that basement alive. I couldn’t believe our luck.
I thought then that it was over. I thought we survived.
But the storm wasn’t through yet.
Somewhere in between re-sealing the upstairs windows and finding some warmer clothes for my daughters, Evelyn called me out into the foyer. The sound of rain pounding the roof had subsided. Thunder no longer rumbled the shutters. It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes later, but somehow my mind was already drifting away from survival mode and towards an explanation for the insurance agent.
“What the fuck is happening?” she whispered worriedly once we were alone. “I mean seriously, Matt, what the fuck?”
“I don’t know,” I winced. “We got lucky. Maybe it’s my fault for not researching better ways to seal the basement. I didn’t think this could happen. I also should have brought us upstairs, instead of downstairs, but with the wind…”
“No,” she sighed. “No you don’t understand. Have you looked outside in the past few minutes?”
I picked myself up from the couch, water logged and exhausted, and joined her by the bay window.
“You’ve lived in Jersey your whole life.”
She peeled back the curtains. White flakes dotted the sky.
“Since when does it snow in July?”
Before something smart could spill across my stupid ass lips, the door opened. I turned to find Grace shaking and holding her younger sister. They looked terrified. When she spoke, her voice trembled, like she had done something wrong. I couldn’t figure out why.
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
“There’s a crocodile in our basement.”