The Last Storm to Hit Bradbury
The morning of August the third opened with a thin veil of fog over the exposed Appalachian mountains. I watched the rain in silence from the deck of our vacation cabin in the woods, with a cup of coffee, and a Camel Number 9 cigarette, just the way I always did. A gentle breeze caused the lazy lake water to ripple and stir a few hundred yards below. Faint wisps of precipitation drifted under our roof and in with the wind. Hawks and smaller fowl traced the gusts through the clouds. For that singular moment, nothing and nowhere felt more perfect in the world.
And then the siren sounded.
The jarring alarm shrieked from somewhere down the dirt road into town. The serenity of the early hour vanished with the neighbors who stomped out from their home and into the street. The father of the pack, Tom Miller’s nasally voice championed them all. His distinct, piercing tone slipped in from the front yard when my wife opened the screen door to join me in the back.
“What happened?” Emily asked. “They woke me up.”
I could only shake my head.
“Has to be because of the storm right?” she murmured with an untrusting eye to the sky. “Do you think Elly’s daycare will be cancelled?”
The rain picked up in tempo. Fat drops smacked onto the deck in rapidly increasing rhythm. The birds disappeared behind a thick line of trees in the distance. I stubbed out the cigarette and stood to give Emily a peck on the forehead.
“Don’t know, Bug. That kid could sleep through a bomb, though. Let me get her.”
The screen door clicked on my finger on my way inside. I looked down to see a small scratch which threatened to break the skin. I snatched a wad of paper towels in the kitchen, in the unlikely event it bled, as the aroma of breakfast infiltrated my nostrils like a good memory.
“Time to get up, El,” I shouted. “Got your favorite cereal…”
No response. Bribery usually worked.
I headed down the quiet hallway. The cold wood floor sent shivers through my bare feet. I rapped on my daughter’s door a few times. Nobody answered. After a moment’s hesitation, I turned the handle, crept into her room, and yelled,
“Wake up, little big kid!”
Because that was Elly’s favorite nickname, of many, back then.
But she didn’t move.
My daughter’s curly brown hair painted her pillow. The small shape of her body sat motionless underneath the sheets. I pulled back the covers in half-ashamed panic to reveal a perfectly healthy, albeit grumpy, five-year-old. Eloise turned and attempted to rub the sleep away.
“Daddy? What is that noise?”
The horrible blaring of the alarm faintly found its way inside as my pulse reset.
“That’s the police, honeybug,” I paused to sigh while her bright little blue eyes grew wide. “I think they heard somebody in here hasn’t been brushing their teeth.”
My daughter groaned.
“I brushed my teeth tree times, Daddy,” she sassed matter of factly. “You don’t do tree times.”
The kid carried the genetic gift of sass from her mother. I tickled her side for good measure. Elly giggled and hopped out of bed like a hyena. My job was done. I jetted back to my own closet to get changed as the town alarm continued to sound.
“Matt,” my wife called from the hall. “You’re not going to believe this. Come look at the TV.”
I grabbed yesterday’s pants from the floor and a fresh button-down from the closet. I searched for a belt and came up empty handed, instead settling to stumble into the kitchen half dressed and all the more hungry for the fresh bacon that crackled in the pan.
Emily greeted me with hands on her hips. She pointed at the screen. It was blank.
“Give it a second,” she mumbled. “They must be having trouble with the signal,”
THIS IS A BROADCAST OF THE LOCAL EMERGENCY NOTIFICATION SYSTEM.
IMMEDIATE DANGER TO THE AREA. THIS IS NOT A TEST.
REMAIN INDOORS UNTIL OTHERWISE NOTIFIED.
“Looks like you’re not going to work today,”
Eloise bounded into the room like a rolling bowling ball. My wife snatched the kid up and marched her over to the kitchen table. Cracks of thunder echoed as lightning forked behind the window. The heightened voices of the Millers soon turned into a panicked retreat of footsteps. The siren sounded through it all.
“Daddy,” Eloise chirped. “Why you bleeding?”
I looked down in confusion at the reddened paper towels wrapped around my hand. I clenched my fist and released. A warm wave of nausea rolled under my stomach as fresh blood leaked from the wound and dripped onto the floor. Emily gasped and rushed over to unravel the sticky makeshift bandaging. A thin red cut stood out underneath it all. The wound bled freely as soon as she took away the pressure of the sopping absorbent.
“It’s nothing,” I winced. “Cut it on the wiring from the screen door…”
“Looks worse than that,” she replied worriedly. “You need gauze.”
Emily disappeared from the room to find fresh bandages. I helped myself to some food on the stove. My daughter took her small bowl and sat down at the table.
“Snow day, snow day,” Elly hummed through cheerios. “Everybody gets a snow day.”
“That’s not snow, El, remember…” I corrected. “Lightning comes with the rain. Thunder comes with the lightning. You hear the thunder?”
Emily emerged with an old first aid kit and a worried expression. She carefully wrapped the gauze and bandage around my hand. The dressing felt tight, for a such a small scratch, but I didn’t protest. I landed another peck on my wife’s forehead when she was finished. The pitter patter of Elly’s little feet rapped behind me.
“No, daddy, it’s snow,” she protested. “Look.”
My daughter grabbed my good hand and led me over to the door. My wife followed. A white wall of fog and crystal flakes stood on the other side.
“But…” Emily whispered. “But it’s too warm. It’s August.”
The three of us just stared for a moment. We couldn’t even see the street. Several inches of the white stuff stacked up on the grass and pavement. Several more fell from the sky at an incredible clip. We would be buried if the pace kept up.
“Get away from the windows,” Em breathed nervously. “What if it’s ash? God, Matt, what if somebody attacked us?”
I laughed. I didn’t want to laugh. I wanted to leave the room and call the police. But I knew it would make them feel better. So I laughed.
“Terrorists coming to Bradbury? That’s snow, Bug. Look at it.”
Eloise nodded emphatically.
“Yep, mom, that’s snow.”
A thick bolt of lightning ricocheted in the sky and temporarily illuminated our darkened house.
“*Lightning in a snowstorm,” my wife muttered. “In August.”
A roll of thunder extolled so strongly it felt like an earthquake struck. A picture from fell the shelf fell and shattered on the floor. Glassware in the dining room vibrated uncontrollably. My daughter’s bowl of cereal fell from the table and scattered spilled milk all over the floor. I rushed over to clean it.
And then somebody screamed.
It wasn’t the scream of children playing. It wasn’t the scream of women gossiping or laughing. The vibration of that poor, hopeless voice reached into my chest like a needle and made my blood run cold.
I gestured wordlessly for my wife to take Elly to the basement. She looked ready to protest when I reached for the old Remington we used to scare off coyotes. But then a second scream sounded. And a third. And a fourth.
And then the siren stopped.
“Get in the basement,” I whispered. “Please. I’ll be right back.”
My daughter started to cry. Emily offered one last worried before she took off through the kitchen and down the stairs.
I approached the screen door. A fresh blanket of two feet of snow sat in the chair that opened my August morning. There were footprints. A thin line of tracks traced their way from the steps leading to our backyard and up towards the entrance itself. I slipped on my boots and pulled the jammed door to the best of my ability. I wedged my overweight butt through the gap. The cold hit my bare fingers the moment I went outside. “Shit,” I muttered.
I stumbled through the shifting drifts on my deck with the Remington aimed warily ahead. I must have looked like some sad excuse for an action movie character. I followed the footprints down the stairs and into the back by the lake. The tracks led to the front yard. I opened the gate to see a fresh mark matched mine exactly. Somebody had been here recently.
The street in front of our cabin sat behind a row of thick majestic Oaks. On the other side was the Millers’ bungalow. I passed by the final tree that blocked my vision and nearly collapsed at the sight of the horrible scene in the street.
Five bodies sat buried in the snow. None of them moved. Haphazard lines of blood criss-crossed their movements like a map. Bits and pieces of limbs lay scattered like stray toys. A child hung from the tree and swayed in the breeze.
I rushed up to help, foolishly, for I knew, it must be too late. But my foot caught in a drift, and I fell beside one of them. The cold blue eyes of Tom Miller stared back into mine. His blood leaked from his lips and mixed into my mouth. I screamed, that time, and I didn’t very much care if my family heard me.
All six were dead.
And then the snow turned back to rain.