For some time now I've been watching the Twilight Zone. OK. So it's a little outdated. This is kind of a take off off something that occurred to me.
“Damn!” I could see the flashing red and blue light in my rearview mirror. I’d even seen the cop as I went by him. “I don’t have time for this.”
I slowed the old Cavalier down and pulled off the road. Staring out the window I knew it was out there. It had to be just beyond the horizon. There was nowhere else it could be hiding.
“How do you explain this to the officer?” I asked myself.
There is no way, my brain answered.
No one would really understand what I was going through. No this cop. Not anyone who wasn’t going through what I was going through could possibly understand. If there was anyone else at all.
It’s only been two days, I reminded myself.
Two days of racing against all hope. Two days of not sleeping. Two days of constantly staring at the sky. I had crossed five state borders in that time, one of those three different times.
It was all so simple really. A passing cloud was all it had appeared to be. I’d stood staring at it, smoking a cigarette, and thinking about the shape the clouds were in. Cherubs. That’s what they were. Their little angelic faces with round cheeks gazing at the sky around them.
It was moving so quickly and the forms were changing. Then without warning drops fell from above. Heavy and cold they came in an unexpected torrent. I was forced to run for the cover of the building.
As quickly as it had started it was over. Looking back into the sky, there was a rainbow and the thing. The clouds had changed so much that they had formed the face of a monster. A demon with horns that protruded from its head, long fangs that jutted from its lower jaws, and a gaping mouth that appeared to be laughing at me. I don’t know why but I’d flipped it the bird and then glanced around to make sure no one had been watching.
It’s just a cloud, I thought, scolding myself.
“Come on, moron,” I muttered. “Back to work.”
The cloud and the strange storm were easily forgotten among the hundreds of tasks that filled my working life.
On my way home I half slept as most people do when driving a familiar route. My eyes were on the road but my mind was elsewhere until I saw the sign. It had never been there before. A bright, white hardware store sign off an exit that I always passed. I’d never seen them building anything up there. Maybe I’d just been too been too busy to notice, I thought blowing it off with ease.
The outside lights were off when I got home. She probably just forgot, I thought. Things like that happen.
However, when I opened the door with my key I found a stranger sitting in the rocker. I must have scared her as much as she surprised me because she started screaming. Her body curled up into a fetal position as she stared in hatred and terror at me.
“Get out,” she shrieked. “Get out of my house.”
“But this is my house,” I tried explaining. I wondered, though, where my wife was and who this woman was that she had let in the house.
I tried my best to calm her with my movements and words. When she reached for the phone and dialed the police, I wasn’t sure who was more terrified. This woman didn’t even live here. Yet she seemed to know my house intimately.
Looking around I realized that something was truly wrong. This wasn’t my furniture. Where was my wife? What about my children? I threw open the door to their room. In place of the bunk bed were a sewing table and a bookcase. No children. Not even a scribble on the wall to remind me of them.
“He’s just walking around like he owns the place,” the woman was saying into the phone. “He broke in here.”
I ran for it. My legs pumped hard as I scrambled for the car. Pressing on the gas I headed for my parents’ house. They would know where my family was.
That wasn’t right either. Their house was missing the addition they’d built on only the summer before. Their cars weren’t in the driveway. Movement in the field beyond the house caught my eye. My parents didn’t own horses.
I drove away.
For more than an hour the wheels turned as I tried to puzzle it out. I drove by my home twice more, but it still wasn’t my house. The police had come and gone in that time and they thought nothing of an entire family missing or that a stranger was in my home. I was too scared and confused to tell them. They might think I was crazy. I thought I was crazy.
There had to be an answer. I knew what it was. It was absurd. Maybe it even boarded on insanity but there couldn’t be any other answer. The storm had done this.
How could a storm have taken someone’s family? A storm was just clouds and rain, maybe a even a little lightning. But there was no other answer as much as searched for one. It had taken my family, my life. I had to get them back. I had to catch it. So I had pressed harder on the gas and made the wheels spin faster. I had spun the car in the direction of the clouds.
Behind me the police officer had just pulled up. His flashing lights were irritating.
“Hurry up,” I muttered. “I have to catch up with it. Stop taking your damned sweet time.”
I thought I had caught up with the storm last night. I had just crossed the Missouri border. There were lightning flashes coming down swift and dangerously. The wind was whipping the car around like a ping-pong ball. It was everything I could do just to keep the car on the road. The rain beat at the windows as large drops. At one point hail was pounding at the car and I was afraid I was going to have to stop.
Then it was over. The storm had moved on.
I came upon the town in complete darkness. There were no streetlights. Everywhere I looked there was destruction. The storm had been here. Branches littered the streets. There were rocks and pebbles all over the place, from where they had been thrown about by the hail.
I was forced to stop though as I came to the huge tree in the middle of the road. It was one of those trees that many little towns would be proud of. It looked as if it had been ripped away from the bottom part of its trunk. There was no way to get around.
“Damn it,” I yelled, banging on the steering wheel. This was going to cost me more time. I’d have to double back and find a different route. In the meantime that storm was getting away with my family.
I was startled by a banging on my window. Outside stood a man about my age. He was dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt. Both were completely wet.
“I need your help,” he said frantically.
I shook my head. I had other things to do.
“You don’t understand,” he pleaded. “They’re in the house. It fell when the tornado hit and they’re trapped inside.”
He knew. Somehow he knew that the storm had taken them. He even knew where they were.
I climbed out of the car as quick as I could. I hurried to follow him as he scrambled over piles of lumber, sheetrock, and who knew what all else. Everything was wet. I couldn’t believe the damage that I was seeing.
How could they have survived this, I thought.
At last he came to what looked to be the remains on a home. It was really just a pile of debris.
There’s nothing in there, I thought bitterly.
“Come on,” he was yelling. His hands were tugging at pieces of board, removing them and throwing them to the side. The man seemed so sure that my family was in that mess. I had to help. I had to get to them.
I dove in beside. Before long my hands were bleeding from cuts as bits of glass and nails dug into them. It was hard work. Some of the boards were still secured to the foundation. Others were heavy and required both of us to pull things aside. I looked up at one point and saw other people had joined in the removal so we could get to my wife and kids faster.
I don’t know how much time passed as we dug into the rubble. It seemed like no time at all, with all of my excitement poured into the project. I knew that at any moment I would see the faces of the ones I love.
Then it was there. Right in front of me. An arm. The arm of my little girl. Her fingers wiggled and I knew that she was alive. I gave a shout of excitement and before I knew it there were other people side by side with me. Each one gently pulling away the remains of the house. There was so much piled on top of her I wondered how she could be alive. But my heart was leaping knowing that at any moment I could hold her in my arms.
At last her face could be seen and I began to cry. It wasn’t her. This little girl had the wrong face. She wasn’t mine. But the people around me were celebrating. Couldn’t they see we had found the wrong child?
“It’s not her,” I muttered.
“What?” someone asked.
“They’re not here,” I said to myself. “He lied to me.”
I looked around, filled with anger. But the man was gone. I didn’t see him or the girl anywhere. People were staring at me like I was crazy or something.
I ran back to my car. The storm was getting farther away and it still had my family. I threw the car into reverse and turned around. I sped past the roadblock that had been set up to keep people out of town. There were officers waving at me, trying to get me to stop. But what did they care? My family wasn’t here.
Behind me the officer climbed out of his car. The gravel crunched under his feet as he adjusted his hat. I rolled down the window as he stepped to it.
“Do you know how fast you were going, sir?” he asked.
I mumbled, “Not fast enough.”
“What was that?” he demanded. His tanned hand reached for the handle to my door.
I shook my head and whispered, “I’m sorry.”
I pushed the door open and watched the officer crumple in a pile of surprise as I slammed the gas pedal to the floor. Gravel flew. Something thumped under the rear tire as I swung back on to the road.
The officer hadn’t gotten up when I looked back into the rearview. His lights faded as the distance between us lengthened.
“I knew you would understand,” I said to him. “I have to find the storm.”