David Niall Wilson

An Author's Virtual Home

The Mote in Andrea’s Eye

December 16th, 2019 / david

DEDICATION

I want to thank Win Wenger of Project Renaissance for the design of the pumps that might, or might not be able to stop hurricanes. Win consulted with me throughout the writing of the novel and was incredibly helpful. You can find more about Win and his work at www.winwenger.com.

I’d also like to thank Mr. Jack Williams, Weather Editor at USA Today for his work and for consultation on Operation Stormfury, and Hurricane fighting in general.

I’d like to thank my agent, Robert Fleck, and Janet Berliner for a good thorough going-over of the manuscript that revealed some flaws and fixed some holes. Normally, I’d say this was my agent’s job, but he didn’t rep this one, so thanks!

I would also like to thank the love of my life, Patricia Lee Macomber, for the off-the-cuff remark, “I wonder why no hurricane ever got lost in the Bermuda Triangle?” and for her undying support of my life, and my work. Without her, this wouldn’t be happening.

Included in the mix of those who contributed are my daughter Stephanie, who kept a diary through our own ordeal when Hurricane Isabel hit and for the image of “U Boats.” Her brother, Billy, is our resident storm expert and wants to study hurricanes and tornadoes. I hope he brings none of his work home! I’d also like to thank my sons, Zach and Zane, for letting me bore them during our long truck drives with the story of this book—and for still wanting to read it when I was done.

Last, but certainly not least, I’d like to thank the cast of characters whose names have been used to create this work. Most of them work with me every day, and they were good sports to let me make off with their names when I got home. Thanks to: Kathy O’Pezio, Matt Scharf, Jeff Gray, Randy Sherman, Lisa George, Pam Jones, Dan Satalino, Mike Pooler, Keith Foster, Linita Thompson, Jake Marriner, John Carlson, Seth Andre, John & Alicia Kotz, Vance Richards, Jamie Bradshaw, Arvis Purvis, Jack Howe, Terri Hill, Charles Lynch, Rick Johhndrow, Susie Stoots, Michael Penn, Leslie Clayton, Al Menard, and Jay Greenwood.

PART ONE

Outer Banks of North Carolina—1942

Chapter One

The sunrise was a deep, blood red that faded to orange, as its light grew more intense. Andrea sat on the top step of her back porch and watched, her morning orange juice forgotten and her eyes wide. She always watched the sun rise over the beach, its rays coloring the white-capped surf and drawing the long shadows back from rocks on the beach and the pier in the distance. This sunrise was different; she’d never seen the sky so red, and it bothered her. It was as if someone had drawn Mickey Mouse and made him green.

With a quick glance over her shoulder and up the wooden steps that led to the kitchen door, she rose and stepped down onto the wooden walk. It stretched toward the beach and she stared at it longingly. She wanted to feel the wet sand between her toes and to gather seashells from the shore, but she knew better than to wander off without permission.

The squawk of the radio broke the early morning silence as her father turned up the volume and twisted the tuning knob. The sound slipped past her in odd, disjointed bits of conversation and paused once to let a short snippet of music escape into the morning. Andrea closed her eyes and let the notes drift around her, soft saxophone and very faintly a woman’s voice, then there was the familiar squeal, and she heard a man’s voice. The volume was set too low for her to make out any words, but she knew that he would speak on into the morning, until her father left the kitchen and her mother took control. Then it would be “Kate Smith Speaks,” and more news.

Andrea knew there was a war. She didn’t really know what a war was, but she knew that it was more important than just about everything. Names like Churchill and Hitler rolled out of the radio’s speaker in a steady stream, but none of it made much sense to her. She remembered happier mornings when the radio had found the music and stayed there. On those mornings her mother would already have been out on the porch, sipping her coffee and smiling as Andrea wandered down to the beach to play in the damp sand.

A couple of years before, her daddy had retired from his job in the Navy. He’d been home ever since, working on the house, sitting late into the night with Andrea’s mother, the radio on low, the soft roar of the surf in the background. Before the war, the two best times in Andrea’s day were those just before sleep, and the hour after breakfast, when her parents smiled and held one another close, aware of her and loving her, but caught up in their own little world. She liked to wander in and out of their smiles, lost in her own thoughts.

Now there was tension in the air that had not been there before, and the radio, which had brought the soothing music and ushered in the best parts of the day, was a constant, droning backdrop. The crackle and pop of static through the speaker charged the air with something, making everyone nervous. Her father spent a lot of time staring into the ocean, sometimes alone, and sometimes with a few of their neighbors.

There weren’t many homes near theirs, but her father spoke often about growth and property values. There was talk of a ferry boat—Andrea had heard it as fairy boat, and had brought more laughter and smiles to her parents’ faces with questions about elves and Tinker Bell—that would take visitors out to Ocracoke Island. The war had stopped that, as well, but the war would pass.

That was what her parents said, and the radio said, but Andrea had grown so accustomed to the war’s presence that she doubted the truth. It was the pop and crackle static in the back of her life, and it didn’t seem like the kind of thing that, once it had come, would ever really go away.

She hoped the music would come back, but she feared that the radio had learned a new language, and it made her sad. She couldn’t understand half of what was said, but she knew from the expressions on her parents’ faces that it wasn’t good.

The sun had lifted from the waves by the time the door at the top of the stairs finally opened and her mother stepped through. Andrea saw the morning breeze catch her mother’s hair and lift it gently, as if trying to blow it back into the kitchen. In contrast, the open door sucked the voice from the radio into the world of the beach and the sunlight, and softened it. As the door closed once again, Andrea caught the word U-boat and wondered. Her mind conjured images of boats in the vague shape of a horseshoe, and then she quickly dismissed them.

Her mother took her usual seat in one of the white chairs flanking the small wicker table on the porch. She had a porcelain cup and her pink Thermos carafe with the glass handle on the lid. The morning sun winked off that handle, and Andrea smiled. Her mother caught the expression, and just for a moment, the war and the voices crackling away behind the kitchen door disappeared. The two smiled, and the morning sun’s warmth took on a reality that had been lacking only moments before.

Then Andrea turned and ran off down the walkway to the beach. The wood slats were buried in drifting sand, and had become a soaked amalgam of creosote and salt water. Andrea’s feet made dull slaps on the wood, and then she hit the beach, and slowed. The soft, drifting sand was hard to run through. Her ankles sank in and there was a soft crunch, like she was grinding something to dust every time she planted her foot. Ahead were the damp sand near the water, and the soft ripples of sunlight dancing across the waves.

She carried her mother’s smile with her down to the water’s edge and wiped away the red morning sky and the crackling radio voice with the wonder of sun and seashells. There were several rocky outcroppings on the small stretch of sand, and when the tide retreated she found tiny kingdoms in the pools of water they left behind, small caves and cuts in the rock that didn’t release all of the ocean’s life when the water swept back, but held them and kept them safe, sparkling in the brightening sun.

This was her time, and her world, and she entered it happily, safely guarded by her mother’s soft watchful presence.

On the porch, her father left the kitchen as well, bringing the radio with him. He set it on the wicker table and fussed with the cords that lay along the deck, looking for the end of the extension that would bring the news back to life.

Thomas Jamieson was a tall man, holding his almost fifty years with grace. Thirty years in the U.S. Navy had hardened his frame and chiseled salt-sharp lines into the features of his face, but his eyes were dark and expressive, and he still moved with the confidence and energy of a teenager.

His wife, Lilian, watched him with detached concentration. Her gaze drifted back to the beach, caught Andrea’s form in the sunlight and lingered protectively. Thomas could handle the recalcitrant electrical cords without her help; her eyes and her thoughts were never far from the safety of her daughter.

The times had beaten it into her. Every time she heard a report of the war, she cringed inside. It had seemed such a distant, meaningless part of her life. Thomas fought the wars, and he did so thousands of miles away. Then, when he was done and their world was safe, he returned.

She’d spent her mornings and evenings writing letters and gathered with huddles of other lonely wives, fighting their own battles against time and boredom. Some had fallen by the wayside, or failed under the pressure, but Lilian Jamieson had waited. This time together at the end of that wait was to have been their reward. This home on the beach, far enough from the military gray of the ships and the neon brilliance of the bars that had lured so many of Thomas’ friends away from their families, even when their days of fighting had ended. So many pitfalls and traps avoided to get to where she was, sitting in the sunlight, sipping coffee and watching the daughter that had come to her, heaven sent, in the later years of her life.

Now the voices that came to them through the radio warped it. The wars that had been so far away a year before had actually reached within sight of the U.S. shoreline, not many miles from where her daughter stared out over the waves. German submarines had torpedoed merchant ships, sending them flaming to the bottom of the sea, and when they did this those Nazi sailors were within miles—not thousands, or hundreds of miles—but tens. Ten was far too small a number for safety, and though the radio spoke of patriotic unity and the strength of Allied forces, the ships still sank, and the stability she clung to had grown uncertain.

The radio crackled to life, and Thomas grunted with satisfaction. He slid into the chair across from her and cupped his coffee mug between his hands. Lilian watched him for a moment as he furrowed his brow and cocked an ear to the newscaster’s nasal voice. Thomas’ expression was so serious and concentrated that she had to stifle a smile. He had spent so many years in the thick of it all, so many years in command, making things happen and setting things right, that it pained him to be removed from it. His retirement had limited his involvement to hunkering over this radio, or the neighbor’s radio, or the radio down at the barbershop in town. He was a spectator, part of the world he’d sworn to protect, and she saw by the way the veins rose on top of his hands that he ached to do more.

“Did you see that sunrise?” she asked him, trying to divert his attention.

He glanced up and paused as his thoughts rearranged, then he smiled quizzically. “No. That’s odd, I always used to watch it—like a ritual. Now it seems . . .”

His words trailed away and she nodded her understanding.

“It was red,” she said, turning to stare down at the beach. Andrea kicked up sand just shy of the water’s edge, and Lilian smiled. “It looked, just for a while, like the clouds were bleeding into the ocean.”

Thomas’ smile dipped to a frown. He shook his head, caught himself, and turned to follow his wife’s gaze.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Probably nothing,” he said, his voice, and his mind, suddenly very far away. “Just remembering something. On the ship we never wanted to see that red sky in the morning. You’ve heard the old rhyme, ‘sailor take warning.’ It’s hard to get things like that out of your system.”

Sensing some deep-rooted thing gripping a part of her husband that she couldn’t reach, Lilian rose and walked around the table. Without hesitation, she slipped into his lap, surprising him only for an instant. His strong arms wrapped her tightly, and they stared out across the water together.

“It will never really be gone,” she whispered into his ear. “It’s all part of you, and I—we,” she turned and tilted her chin toward Andrea, “love every bit of it.”

He hugged her tightly and leaned back, letting her head fall against his shoulder. She had always liked this—sitting in his lap and held close, and safe. The times it had been possible had been too few, and now that he was here, every day, she basked in it.

The radio crackled, and she listened; only half-interested.

“More reports of the hurricane that rocked the Bahamas are just in. There have been twelve deaths reported and untold damage to property and homes. There are reports of flooding, homes blown from their foundations, and at one point a tidal wave washed miles inland, crushing everything in its path. This storm is headed east-northeast. Initial reports indicate it might strike the eastern coast of Florida as early as this evening. Residents are being warned to evacuate the area, and tropical storm warnings have been issued up and down the coast.”

Thomas didn’t stop rocking her, but she felt him grow tense.

“They said it would hit Florida,” she said. “We should be fine.”

Thomas nodded, but he didn’t say anything. He stared out over the waves as if he could draw the storm’s intention from them and ease his mind.

“We’d better get Andrea in,” he said, lowering Lilian from his lap and standing slowly. “I’m going to run into town for some supplies. It never hurts to be ready, and it is storm season.”

Lilian sighed, but she nodded. “I’ll get her. I know she’ll want to go with you.”

The radio announcer rattled on to the close of his report, and then announced that “Kate Smith Speaks” would be up next.

Thomas entered the house and let the door slam behind him. Lilian started down the steps to the sand below, and her daughter. The wind, which had made her hair dance so gently when she first came outside, had picked up slightly, and the waves looked choppier, though it might have been her imagination.

Thomas was right. It never hurt to be prepared.

The truck wound its way back down the long road toward their home, passing the sparse neighboring houses and leaving the town lights behind. It was late afternoon, and the sun, which had come up so bright and red, dropped toward the horizon slowly in hues of magenta and lavender. It was beautiful, but the wind that whipped against the windows and buffeted them on the road, combined with the clouds of dust and sand devils dancing through the gloom gave that beauty a dark edge.

The radio in the truck crackled and faded in and out of tune. The announcer’s words seemed to stretch as he ran through the news. The Germans were still advancing, but that meant little to Andrea. She tuned him out, much as the jouncing of the truck tried to do, and waited for the bright, cheerful jingles and snatches of music that rose between news stories.

There were more reports on the storm. It had not struck Florida, and people there were returning to their homes. There was talk that it might hit somewhere further up the coast, even in North Carolina, but no one seemed to believe it. All day long Andrea had followed her father around in the grocery store, the hardware store, and on a quick stop at the diner, where she’d had an ice cream sundae, and her father had sipped black coffee and talked about the war with two men sitting at the counter. The storm had come up, but the answer was always the same.

“We haven’t had a storm here in a long time,” one young man had said. He didn’t seem old enough for the statement, to Andrea, but she kept her silence and ate her ice cream, letting the smooth chocolate slide down her throat, cooled by rich vanilla.

“We’ve been hit a few times,” another man said, “but we always ride it out. Best thing to do is just batten down the windows and take your yard furniture inside.”

“What about that storm back in ’33?” Andrea’s father asked. “I heard that out on the island they were up on their roofs.”

“That’s the island,” the first young man replied, grinning. “It’s always worse out there. Besides, this one may not hit here at all.”

It had gone back and forth like that all day long, but in the end, Andrea’s father loaded up their truck with plywood, planks, nails, groceries, candles, and a lot of other things—so many she’d lost track and begun to wish for home, and her beach.

Now the light on their porch was visible in the distance and drawing closer, and Andrea was exhausted. She leaned on her father’s shoulder and smelled the comforting odors of flannel and tobacco. He glanced down at her, then back to the road, and she knew he was smiling. It was a good moment, and the pleasant sensation only lessened slightly when they finally pulled up beside the house and saw that two other vehicles were there ahead of them.

The neighbors had gathered, and she knew that the only thing that remained was to find out if they were here to discuss the war, or to worry over the coming storm. It wouldn’t matter to Andrea. She would take her book and her crayons and slip off into a corner. Sometimes they called out to her and asked her questions, but when the grownups talked she got lost quickly, and she didn’t know anything about the war. The storm worried her more, but the supplies in the truck had calmed her. Her father was taking it seriously, and he would take care of her.

The wind whipped sand around their legs and the sky grew dark and black as they climbed the stairs and slipped into the warmth of the big kitchen.

On the beach, the waves crashed against the rocks. It was high tide, and the waterline was higher than usual, but no one noticed.

Chapter Two

The kitchen was brightly lit, and the aroma of coffee wafted out the door the moment her father opened it. Andrea slipped inside and ducked past her mother, who smiled down at her as she passed. There were three neighbors gathered around the table, Muriel O’Pezio, who was the nearest neighbor, sat on one side of the table, and across from her were Keith Foster and Jeff Thompson.

Muriel was older than Andrea’s parents. She was tall and slender with wispy gray hair that she kept feathered back from her face and very bright, blue eyes. Her dog, Jake, was curled in a big ball of lazy muscle at her feet. Jake was a bulldog, but not the kind you saw in the cartoons. He was white with a patch over one eye like the dog on the Little Rascals. He lifted his head off the floor when Andrea and her father entered, and he cocked his head, causing one ear to rise comically and his tongue to loll as he watched her skirt the edge of the table on her way to the next room.

Muriel’s home was the only one you could see from the porch out front, or from the beach, and it was built along the same lines as Andrea’s home. The structure was raised from the ground on heavy creosote-soaked supports in case of flooding, giving it the impression of a building built on stilts. Andrea waved at the woman often when she saw her on the beach, and liked to play with Jake down by the surf, though Andrea’s mother did not trust the dog.

Keith Foster and Jeff Thompson had driven out from nearer to town. They were friends of her father’s, and Andrea knew them pretty well. Mr. Foster had been in the Coast Guard, and Jeff Thompson was an army man. They stopped by once or twice a week to listen to the radio reports of the war, and discuss things with her daddy over beer, or coffee, or—if the evening dragged on long enough—both.

They all three liked to tell stories, late into the night, and sometimes Andrea would sit just apart from them and pretend to play with something, or to read her book while she listened. It was hard to imagine her daddy, or either of the other two men, with guns, fighting wars and sailing across the ocean on huge gray ships, but it was fun to think about it, filling in the details from her own active imagination.

Mr. Thompson reached down and ruffled her hair as she passed, and Andrea blushed, pulling away slightly. Mr. Thompson chuckled, and Andrea put on a short burst of speed, darted through the door into the next room and stopped there to catch her breath. Mr. Thompson was always messing up her hair, or calling her kiddo. He smiled a lot, and usually had a piece of chocolate or a dime ready if the hair ruffle didn’t bring a smile. Andrea liked him, but she didn’t want to be caught up in the adult conversation.

When that happened, her part was invariably to stand in the middle of the room, shuffling uncomfortably from one foot to the other while they all exclaimed over how tall she was, and how long her hair was getting, or asked her if she’d met any boys this summer. It was always the same, and they would forget any answers she gave almost as soon as the words were out of her mouth. She knew this because the next time she saw them they asked the same questions again. They never told her what they were talking about, or asked her opinion.

Her crayons were right where she’d left them, and she grabbed them and searched the floor until she found her notepad. With these in hand, she crawled up onto the couch, where she could look out the window toward the beach below, and settled in. There was something about sitting on the couch that made it possible to hear the radio clearly, even though it was in the next room. Her parent’s voices were muted, but she heard the broadcaster loud and clear.

It was hard to tell, but the announcer seemed to be a young man. He spoke quickly, giving things emphasis with raised tones and slowing his speech at the important points. He talked about someone named Rommel, and the name sounded vaguely familiar, but Andrea tuned it out. She stared out across the ocean and frowned.

She had sat in that same position more times than she could remember. Something was different. She flipped the pages of her notebook to the last picture she’d drawn. In the colorful image she saw the beach, the rocky outcropping halfway to the water line, and beyond that the white-capped waves. The picture had been drawn in the evening, and the sky was colored with the hues of sunset, a very pretty palette of lavender and orange with white fluffy strips of cloud overlaying it all. In her picture she’d made one of the clouds look a little like Jake, the dog.

Andrea glanced back at the beach. The water swirled around the base of the rocks, much closer than she’d ever seen it before. There was no moonlight. All she had to illuminate the beach were the two large electric lights her father had installed on the porch. In that dim, focused break in the shadows, the water was ominous, creeping up and over the rock and rolling around behind it in surges. The frothy white of the waves was thicker than usual, as if agitated.

Curling her legs up under her, she leaned over the back of the couch to watch more closely. She didn’t want to let it out of her sight, though she couldn’t have told anyone why. The water should not be up around the rocks; she knew that. She was about to turn away, to go to the kitchen door and find a way to get her mother’s attention so she could show her what was happening, but at that moment the sky lit with a brilliant light. It looked like a giant firefly blinking on out over the water, and Andrea watched, mesmerized.

Then the crash came, like thunder only louder. The windows in front of Andrea’s face shook with the impact of the sound and rattled in their frames like a line of skeletons. Andrea turned, leaped from the couch and ran toward the kitchen, but the adults already blocked the door, and then were through it. They rushed to the couch and stared out over the water. A flame burned where she’d seen the light, a candle floating in the inky darkness. It seemed very small and far away, but the strobed image of the huge flash still hovered before Andrea’s eyes.

At first, no one said a word. They lined up on the couch. Andrea’s mother scooped the girl into her arms and stood just behind the men, staring out the window toward the beach. Muriel came up beside them, but no one looked to her, or acknowledged her late arrival. Then, as suddenly as the silence preceding the huge crash of sound had begun, it ended. They all talked at once and pointed toward the window. The springs of the couch squeaked and complained.

“What the hell was it?” Mr. Thompson asked incredulously. “What is it?”

“Torpedo,” Thomas Jamieson said through gritted teeth. “A damn German torpedo. They must have gotten one of the ships trying to make it in ahead of the storm.”

There was another moment of silence, then Lilian spoke, very softly.

“So close,” she said. Her voice was little more than a whisper, but they all heard her. “Oh my god, they are so close.”

The men whirled and headed for the door, grabbing for hats and jackets as they went. Andrea’s mother spun slowly and watched them rush out into the darkness, but she said nothing. She, Muriel, and Andrea watched until the last of the men had exited and the door was closed tightly behind them, and then they spun back to the window and the flickering, dancing fire that burned—impossibly—on top of the water.

In the background, Andrea heard the radio. It was the same young man, but now he was talking about the storm. She heard the words “North Carolina,” and “evacuation,” but they meant little or nothing to her. She was worried about the light out on the water. She wondered where her father had gone, and for how long. She remembered the early years of her life, all spent alone with her mother for company—and her toys. She felt how tense her mother was now, how tightly she was being held—almost painfully.

Andrea pushed the announcer’s voice aside and stared out at the beach. She saw that her daddy and his friends had made their way onto the sand and were headed toward the water, where they might see better, or hear something else, if the attack hadn’t ended. Andrea burrowed her face into her mother’s neck and shivered.

She remembered the way the water licked and teased at the base of the rocks on the beach, and now, watching her daddy hurry onto the sand, she saw that the waves had drawn nearer still. The rocks had become a small island, their tip dripping with foam, and their base awash in a swirl of dark water. She watched that water creep up the stone, and she clutched her mother tightly.

None of the adults took any particular notice of the water. They gazed steadily out over the water at the fire, burning in the distance. Andrea understood that the fire had been an explosion, and that whatever they were, and however strange the names sounded ringing in her ear, the Nazis and the U-boats were responsible. She knew that this frightened her mother, and that, in some ways, it excited her father. He knew that the men were out on the beach, glaring at the fire as if they could put it out by blowing on it, or stamping whatever caused it under their feet. She knew, also, that they almost wished there would be Nazis on that beach, whoever the Nazis were, so that they could rush them and attack with their bare hands.

What seemed a very long time later, her mother dropped her gently back onto the couch, and the women returned to the kitchen. The scent of fresh coffee filled the air, and the bustle of pans and wash of sink water told Andrea her mother had retreated into things she was comfortable with and left the men to the fire on the beach—and Andrea herself to the rising, licking waves.

Muriel had turned the radio down low, not quite willing to give up the steady stream of voices and announcements, but not wanting—just for a short time—to be buried in the dire predictions and wild pronouncements of that young man so far away, flinging his words through the air.

Wind whipped against the windows, and the first spatter of rain rattled across the glass. The streaked view this gave of the beach distorted everything, and moments later, when the rain grew steadier, even the light from the fire disappeared from sight. Andrea still watched, though there was nothing to see, as if her silent vigil could fend off the encroaching waves and the strange threat of U-boats and Germans. She wanted to go to bed, close her eyes, and wake up to another morning on the beach.

The door crashed open and the men stamped inside, wet and scowling, dripping water onto the linoleum kitchen floor in large puddles. They gathered at the table, where Lilian had poured fresh, hot coffee. There was a bottle on the table, as well, Scotch, Andrea knew. She thought it was odd that the drink her daddy liked best had the same name as the tape she used to wrap Christmas presents—that was why she remembered what it was called. Now she wondered why every time something was wrong, that bottle became the centerpiece of the table.

Her mother never touched it to drink, but she would pour. There were special glasses, a little bit bigger than the ones Andrea used for orange juice, but glass, and very heavy. When someone dropped ice into them, they gave off a ringing clink! That was the sound that made the final separation between Andrea and the adults. She had come to learn that once the Scotch bottle was on the table, voices grew louder. The ruffling of her hair would be harder, sometimes even painful, and things that the grownups said to her became even more incomprehensible than usual.

She picked up her almost forgotten crayons and notebook and headed to her room to draw, and to sleep. The windows shook, buffeted by a powerful gust of wind, and she was grateful that her room was near the center of the house. She had no windows.

Behind her, she heard Mr. Thompson’s voice rise over the others, just for a moment.

“Well,” he said, “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m headed back to the place to pack. I’m going to get the family on the road before morning and head inland. I’ve got relatives in the mountains, and I guess maybe it’s about time I gave them a visit.”

Andrea paused in the hallway outside her door and listened.

“We’re going to ride it out,” her father’s voice boomed in response. “I’ll start battening things down tonight. I picked up everything we should need when I was in town.”

“I guess I should have had someone out from the city to help at my place,” Muriel said. Her voice was higher in pitch, and sounded somewhat frightened. “I haven’t done a thing to prepare, but I don’t have anywhere else to go. Nowhere that would take Jake . . .”

There were some mumbled responses. Andrea thought it was likely that her mother had invited the older woman to stay and sleep on the couch, but a few moments later she heard Muriel’s shaky goodbye, and the door closed. The others left one by one, Andrea knew by the sound of their car doors and engines, roaring off into the night. The rain fell in steady sheets, and she hoped that Muriel and Jake had made it home okay. The memory of that creeping, swirling water came back with chilling clarity.

When her mother finally came through the door to announce that it was bedtime, Andrea was coloring furiously. She’d placed the earlier picture of the beach on her bed beside her notebook, and now she was working on another. This picture was a warped version of the first. The sky, instead of the muted lavenders and purples of the other sunrise, was a wash of deep red, dripping down from dark clouds. The beach was half as wide as it had been in the earlier picture, and water surrounded the stones, wrapped around their base like great white-tipped fingers in a death grip.

Her mother glanced at the pictures, and when Andrea looked up, it was just in time to see a quick wash of something dark flashing behind the familiar brown eyes and swirling, shiny hair.

“Why is Mr. Thompson leaving?” Andrea asked, choosing her words carefully. She didn’t want a quick pat on the cheek, she wanted a real answer, but if her mother got upset, there would be no chance again until the following morning.

After a moment, her mother sat down on the bed and turned to her. Andrea was shocked at how tired her mother looked, how fragile.

“A lot has happened tonight,” she said at last. “Mr. Thompson thinks that the storm that’s coming in will be very bad. He’s taking his family away to a place that will be safer.”

“Why aren’t we going?” Andrea asked.

“Your daddy thinks we’ll be fine here, honey. There hasn’t been a big storm here since 1933, and this is a good, strong house. We’ll be fine.”

Andrea dropped her eyes to the picture she was working on, idly sliding the red crayon back and forth across the sky. Before she could form another question, her mother rose again, leaned close, and kissed her on her cheek.

“Get some sleep, baby,” she said. “It’ll all seem better tomorrow. I promise.”

Outside, the wind howled promises of its own, and Andrea heard the pounding of her father’s hammer as he placed the sheets of wood he’d bought over the windows of their home.

Andrea drifted off to sleep, still clutching the red crayon. As the world fell away to darkness, she dreamed of churning, rushing water, eating away at the sand beneath their home and washing like gripping talons around the foundation poles. The sky was a deep red, like the color of your eyelids if you closed them and stared into a bright light, veined with clouds and dancing with lightning.

In the distance, her father’s steady hammering became the firing of huge guns, and the wind faded to the whistle of shells through the air. Andrea slept fitfully as the wind rose in force and volume, and her father retreated inside to wait it out.

In her dream, she watched a boat shaped like the letter “U” swirling down and down into the black depths of the ocean, caught in the clutching, gripping fingers of the waves and drawn far, far away. As dawn approached, her features finally eased their tense, twitching battle with the unseen, and the dreams fell away to black.



Copyright © 2020 David Niall Wilson