Black clouds billowed angrily on the horizon as we made a dash for Grandpa’s truck. In my haste to get away from the weather I’d forgotten that I made an invite to Dagwood to meet up after school. Little did I think he’d remember. But low and behold, there he was, standing near the truck, talking to Grandpa. As we approached, he waved. “Hi, Jonah!”
“Hello, Dagwood.” I opened the front passenger’s door and deposited my backpack on the floorboards. Rory and Suz were clambering into the backseat.
“I know your Grandpa,” he said, pointing.
“Yeah, he helped my daddy with his crops last year.”
“Ah, I see.” There was little of that conversation I cared to hear. “So where do you live?”
Dagwood motioned over his shoulder. “The farm next to your Grandpa’s.”
Grandpa thumped the hood of the truck. “Come, children, let’s get home before the storm hits.”
“Gonna be a bad one too,” Dagwood said.
“Need a ride home, son?”
“Gosh, do I! I missed the bus waiting for Jonah.”
“How about we drop you off on the way home?”
Dagwood piled into the front seat. I was left to squeeze into the remaining space on the worn bench seat. Thankfully it wasn’t along ride. The clouds seemed to be chasing us along the road. As we got to Dagwood’s it almost appeared as if they’d overtake us and the heavens would open up.
Grandpa pulled over at the end of the long drive. “Can ya make it, son?”
Dagwood looked out the window. “Think so.”
I didn’t want to waste any more time. Opening the door, I hopped out, giving him room to make an escape. He did so with little prompting.
“Thanks, Mr. Cranwinkle! See ya, Jonah!” he said, darting down the quarter mile drive.
Above me, thunder rumbled. I scrambled into the truck and hoped we’d make it home before the rain came. The weather back home was fairly predictable. They would tell you the previous night on the news if it was going to rain. That way you could prepare for it the next day. In this place there was a definite level of uncertainty about the weather. It kind of frightened me.
Down the long dusty drive we went. Grandpa was actually going faster than usual. I was confident he didn’t want to be caught in this tempest any more than us. I saw a wicked flash of lightning. The bolt was highlighted against a backdrop of sinister clouds. And not more than a second later, the resounding crack and boom of thunder shook the truck. I could feel my insides rumbling.
“Oh, that was close!” Grandpa said, pulling up in front of the house. “Get on in, children!”
Doors flew open and we disembarked the truck like it was on fire. I barely remembered to grab my backpack and shut the door as I laid eyes on the house and safety. Big raindrops began to fall, creating puffs of dust as they landed. The three of us charged up the steps and to the door. Suz grabbed the knob and hit the door with her weight. It didn’t budge.
“Turn the knob, silly!” Rory said, giving her a shove.
“Shut up!” She grasped the knob firmly and turned. The door popped open.
Rory and I shoved our way past and stumbled into the entryway. Grandma was waiting for us.
“Ah, you got home just in time,” she said.
Another boom of thunder made the whole house shake. We winced in fear.
“Had to drop Dagwood at his house,” I replied, my breath coming short.
“He’s a nice young man.”
“Oh, uh, right.”
A moment later the whole house was lit by a brilliant pink flash, the accompanying thunder right behind it. The door opened and Grandpa hurried inside. “Might wanna make sure we have a lantern in the storm cellar.”
“Think it’ll be that bad?” asked Grandma.
“Could be.” He took off his coat and hung it on the bannister. “Haven’t seen a storm like this in years.”
The three of us unconsciously and instinctively huddled together. Outside we heard rain lashing against the old wood siding. Never before had I witnessed a storm of his magnitude. Two more flashes of lightning and deafening thunder. “Grandpa?” I said.
“Should we hide somewhere?”
He looked at Grandma and gestured. “Get that lantern going.”
Without a word, Grandma went to the side of the stairs and opened a small door. She disappeared and was gone several minutes. When she finally poked her head out, she waved to us. “Come, children.”
Rory and I made a move for the door, Suz stood firm. “Suz, you need to get in the cellar,” I said, offering my hand out for support and guidance.
“I don’t want to. There might be spiders down there.” She refused it, and we decided to get inside the staircase.
Grandpa got his hands behind her. “And there might be tornadoes up here!” He gave her a meaningful nudge, but Suz resisted.
“I’m not going down there!”
I don’t know if it was because Grandpa didn’t like Suz, or he was just trying to get the point across, but he left her where she stood, made his way under the staircase, and shut the door. Rory and I followed him into the dark depths under the house. Suz remained above. I wondered what would happen to her. As we descended the creaky steps, I saw a faint light glowing.
“Shouldn’t we go back for her?” Rory said over the thunder.
“She’s a big girl, she can make up her own mind,” Grandpa said, slowly navigating the last few stairs. “If she wants to stay up there, she can.”
Grandma Cranwinkle was sitting in a comfortable chair. She didn’t seem particularly fazed by what was going on above. On her lap was a knitting project; her fingers working the needles deftly. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I was impressed with her skill. An old sofa sat across from her. Rory, Grandpa, and I took a seat.
The whole cellar was momentarily lit by an intense flash. It was then I noticed there were small widows high up on the wall. Fierce rumbling shook the house and I swore I heard creaking and groaning of the ancient beams. Being buried alive wasn’t what I had in mind when it came to dying. I’d hoped that I’d go out quietly, peacefully, and painlessly. This seemed none of that.
Above, the door opened with a loud crash and Suz nearly fell down the steps in her haste to get to safety. I guess the last one was too close. She stopped when she found us sitting on an old sofa.
“Just sit down,” I said. There was no need to hear her excuse.
She immediately complied, wedging herself between me and Rory. Outside I heard the wind. It sounded like the roar of a jet engine. Things were hitting the side of the house; debris of some sort. Was this a tornado? I slouched deeper into the cushy sofa, feeling the nap of the red velvet. Looking over at Rory and Suz, it appeared they were trying to do the same. Grandma and Grandpa seemed oblivious to what was going on above. I had a feeling that if there was a basement below this basement that all three of us would be down there—spiders or not.
Grandpa lit another lantern and placed it on a little table next to the sofa. He’d picked up a book and was reading. Somewhere lightning flashed and I heard the rolling of thunder as it came our way. The sound always intrigued me. How a noise, produced by an act of nature could crackle, change, undulate, and seem to have a life of its own. And when it hit you, it slammed you with a force that shook you to the very core.
I think we spent several hours down in the cellar. On several occasions, the thunder hit the house so hard it shook dust from the rafters onto us. Grandpa still wasn’t bothered by it. He simply brushed it off the page he was reading and carried on. When things finally got quiet, we went upstairs, had a quick supper, and then it was off to bed.