For his girlfriend’s eighteenth birthday, her dad had given her six tickets to the music festival, and a limo with driver to take them to and from. She had chosen two friends and their boyfriends; they would go as three couples. Two days before the event, one of the friends broke up with her boyfriend. After some discussion, they decided to make it a ladies’ night out, invited three more female friends, and cut Chris and the other remaining boyfriend out of the plan.
The weather was calm, when they left home, but before they’d driven five miles, winds had begun to kick up, with a few fat raindrops riding the currents.
They’d been driving now for nearly an hour, with the last fifteen minutes spent on these two lanes of asphalt that were divided by a single yellow stripe. Trees across the shallow ditches from the county road waved their upper arms wildly about, and hissed choruses along with gusting winds. Scatters of heavy rain attacked the windshield in random patterns. The car was rocked by wind, every time they passed a gap in the forest on the right. This road snaked between small lakes and swamps, and small hillside farms in varying states of age and disrepair, these all being set in clearings and surrounded by the ever-present woods. On the rare straight stretches, he managed to get the car up to nearly sixty miles per hour, but some of the curves had him slowing to below forty.
His hands had begun to cramp a little bit, from a too-tight grip on the steering wheel. He forced himself to relax, opening first his left hand then his right, shaking each to release some of the tension. When the road stretched out straight ahead for a distance, he turned briefly toward his brother, and smiled. “Quite a day to be out and about, eh?”
Jordan smiled back. He’d always liked storms. For as long as he could remember, he would sit with their dad in front of the picture window, during stormy weather. The western-facing window gave them a fantastic view of approaching thunderheads and wicked lightning bolts on the horizon. He said, “Yah, I love this weather, and I like how you drive better than how Mom drives when it storms.” He smiled again. “She turns into a granny driver in weather like this.”
At that remark, their grins both stretched wide. Jordan went on. “Hey, the map shows that sometime in the next few miles we have to turn left on another county road, uh, county road sixteen. After that, it should only be six miles to the camp entrance.”
A few miles later, approaching the intersection of the expected left turn, Chris noted that the sky to their left was growing darker. As he negotiated the turn to the new road, Chris also noted there was less buffeting of the car. The wind now followed. Terrain around the intersection had been wide open, but now the car entered what felt like a tunnel of trees. Only a narrow strip of darkening sky was visible between tree canopies dancing and weaving on either side of the road. The lighting of the woods brightened and dimmed from time to time, followed by rumbles in the distance. This last stretch of road passed dense woods and undergrowth on both sides, except where it crossed the river that fed the lake by the campground.
They crossed the river bridge about a half-mile before the camp entrance, and as they reached the other side the wind began to accelerate and swirl. Lightning strikes appeared much closer, and were followed by louder grumbles. Rain started coming down in sheets, as green leaves began to pelt the car, sticking to the wet windshield, obstructing the wipers. Chris slowed, then stopped the car. Wind was now a constant howl, too loud to speak over. Lightning struck nearby, close enough to bring thunder immediately after. The car began to rock, side to side, and Chris pointed Jordan to slide from seat to floor, and then to lie his upper body flat on the seat. Leaves now completely blocked any forward vision through the windshield. After brief glances out the side windows, Chris turned and flattened himself across the center console, covering Jordan’s head with his outstretched arms.
The rocking of the car became more violent, at the same time the wind’s howls turned to guttural roars. Chris heard branches crashing on top of the car, and hoped there wouldn’t be a falling tree to follow. He lifted his head for another look out the passenger’s window, was stunned by a blinding flash and simultaneous horrific blast of noise and shock wave.
He was disconnected from his senses and time, and then he wasn’t. First, he heard muffled bird songs. When his eyes opened again, there was daylight and shade. Jordan began to stir beneath his arms, and they both sat up. The windshield was still plastered with leaves, but they could see out the side windows, and both sat staring for long seconds.
A branch, or branches, hung down on either side of the car, resting on the roof. However, it was the view through branches and leaves that left them speechless. Out the passenger side window was a view of their own front yard, as seen from the driveway. Out the driver side window was a view of the lot between their garage and the neighbors’ house on that side. Their eyes made contact together and locked. After a few seconds, they both sort of shrugged and opened their doors, exiting while ducking branches. Chris turned and found that a single large branch with many smaller branches lie draped across the car roof. He looked across to Jordan, standing on the border of driveway and lawn, and finally found his voice.
“Hey, are you alright?”
Jordan’s eyes were a bit distant when he looked at Chris. “I, uh, I think so. Maybe?”
Another car turned in to the driveway, as they both wondered if there was more to say about what had happened. It was Mom, arriving home from work. She looked relieved to see them, as she threw the car door open and stepped out. “I was so worried.” She spoke again. “The radio station reported tornadoes in the county where the campground is, but didn’t have any details. I’m so glad to see that you didn’t make the trip after all.”
She hugged them both, and turned to Chris as they headed toward the house, “So, why didn’t you guys go, and where did all of the leaves and branches on your car come from?”
Chris stopped just inside the front door, and made eye contact again with Jordan. He turned to their mom, said, “You might want to start your tea water heating before we tell you about it.”
He told Alexa to tune in a local radio station, the report emerged mid-sentence, “…the camp is a total loss, cabins and other structures all destroyed by fallen trees or scattered across the lake. Fortunately, no campers or counselors were yet on site for the season’s first session.”
Kevin R. Carr (2022)
About 1370 Words