Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Dark and Stormy Night

The wind howled around the corners of the house, rattling the windows and tugging at the doors. It was a scene straight out of a horror movie, but I was living it. I watched the candles guttering on the table, lighter at the ready should they blow out in the gust that forced their way around the old sash windows.

Bob, my rottweiler grunted and shifted his weight around to expose his other side to the fire. I shook my head. I wasn't sure what it would take to rile Bob, but storms were not his nemesis.

The candles settled down and I dropped back into my chair, lay the lighter on the table at my elbow, and picked up my cup of hot chocolate. I sipped; it was just the right temperature now. Earlier, I'd scalded my tongue. I hated when that happened.

I stuck out my foot and rubbed my bare toes against Bob's rump. He didn't move and I smiled and shook my head. I don't know why I'd bought the dog. He'd never proven useful, but I'd convinced myself it was for protection. Although he was a pup at the time, I  knew he'd grow to be a hulk that could put the fear of God into any would-be burglar. Of course, the burglar hadn't appeared and Bob was a more or less a teddy bear.

With a long sigh, I rested my head on the cushioned back of my chair and closed my eyes. The day had been long and arduous. Most of the morning I'd spent getting the storm shutters locked down and securing loose objects that could become UFOs in the storm. One did not want to be walking about in the dark during a hurricane for that reason. By the time I'd finished, the storm had arrived in all her fury. My aunt retired to her room upstairs soon after supper, leaving me to watch over the rambling Greek Revival handed down through five generations. As the last in the direct line, it was a heavy burden that wearied the guardian.

The sound of something exploding across the foyer jerked Bob and me from our repose. I darted out of the room and across the hall, skidding to a stop at the darkened door of the library. Candles glowed behind me, their light reaching only a few feet beyond the sitting room door. Bob ambled up next to me and stared into the room for a moment and looked up at me.

"Well, boy, why don't you go in and check it out?"

He yawned and looked back into the room. I didn't know how well dogs could see in the dark, but Bob didn't seem especially perturbed. With only slight trepidation that I'll admit to, I stuck one foot through the door and paused.

"Hello?" I said and immediately felt stupid. I reached to my right and felt until I found the light switch. I conquered the stupid feeling by remarking to Bob, "Well, they could have come back on, you know."

I took a deep breath and walked toward where I thought my grandfather's half-acre desk was located, clutching Bob's collar as I did so and dragging him along with me. I found the desk when I ran into it. Bob yelped. I stifled language that could have lit up the room and gasped as pain shot up from my knee through my thigh and into my brain.

When I recovered, I released my held breath and Bob's collar and reached out to pat the desk as I smiled into the darkness. "Now," I muttered as I leaned over and swiped searching hands to and fro. "I know there is a candle here with matches. Somewhere."

The desk was a prime piece of real estate, containing a surface you could park a van on and numerous drawers, some obvious and some no longer secret ones. Finding anything on or in it in the dark was probably going to be a challenge. I stood up, placing my hands on my hips and chewing my bottom lip. I never really liked challenges.

Just as I opened my mouth to tell Bob something, another explosive noise shook the room, nearly sending me into cardiac arrest. Bob's claws dug into the carpet and then I heard them skittering across the wood flooring in the hallway and sitting room.

I rolled my eyes. "Gee, thanks, Bob." Under my breath, I said, "Some watchdog."

The windows were only slightly lighter than the room because I'd not pulled the drapes closed, only closed and locked the shutters. As the lightning flashed, tiny glowing slashes revealed themselves between the louvers. It appeared that the shutter over the south window, behind the desk, had come loose. At the moment, it was closed but even as I watched, one of them flew open and slammed against the house, sending a reverberating explosion throughout the room. I jumped despite knowing it was coming.

In the brief moment the shutter opened, I caught a glimpse of a curtain of rain as it washed against the window. Lightning followed and then, the second explosion as the shutter slammed shut.

I hurried around the desk, collecting another injury as my bare feet contacted the desk chair. Fumbling with the window latch, I tried to get it open before the shutter blew open again. I'd be drenched in seconds if I opened it when the shutter was fully extended. I imagined myself crawling up the stairs on all fours, feeling along the carpet so I could find the next step, in soaking wet clothes, fumbling in my closet to find dry ones, and then, coming back down the stairs to the sitting room. If I didn't break my neck, I'd miss a good chance.

"Gotcha!" I snarled as the latch gave way and I opened the window. The shutter flew back and rain poured in faster than an oil tycoon's money. As expected I was doused with rain. I'd swear it penetrated to my bones, it was so wet. With no warning, the shutter flew back and slammed inches from my nose. I grabbed it and flipped the latch, locking it into place this time with the catches my grandfather has added to secure them.

For several minutes, I stood staring at the shutter, dripping all over the wet carpet. I blew water from the end of my nose and shook my head. I shut the door and latched it as well. Then I pulled the heavy drapes over it. I hoped to heaven I'd latched the other shutters securely.

Bob lay on the rug before the sitting room fire, now a memory in embers. I took several logs from the bin and stacked them carefully, then stood back and watched as the flames returned and began to lick at the dry bark. I started to shiver from my dousing.

"Blast." I had to get dry and my clothes were upstairs. I looked at the candelabra. Why Aunt Mary failed to get the lanterns out is beyond me. I'd asked her too but as usual, she forgot. The storm began while I was still battening down the hatches and by the time I realized all the lanterns were still in the basement, the power was out. We'd scrounged around in the kitchen looking a flashlights and matches when I remember the lighter used to light fires in the fireplace. Aunt Mary pulled the silver candlelabra from the dining room table and we had light.

"You know, dear, you could take that down to the basement and get some lantern."

I'd looked at her in shock. The stairs were steep and it was darker than a cave down there. "I think we'll be fine, Aunt Mary. These should get us through the night and I'll go down in the morning." Her reluctance was clear, but she agreed.

I looked down at Bob, snoring before the fire. "Bob, I have to go up and change clothes."

Bob's left ear twitched.

"Why don't you come with me, boy?" I leaned down and scratched behind that ear. "Huh? Come keep me company."

Bob shifted his weight, snuffled, and stretched out on his side.

I stood up. "Well, O.K." I moved to the table and picked up the candelabra. Pausing, I looked back toward Bob. "You know, you'll be alone down here. I won't be able to come rescue you if something tries to get you." Bob adjusted his head on the rug, sighed, and started to snore again. With a final scowl, I made my way upstairs.

My room was dark as the study but the shutters here has adjustable louvers and one of them were stuck to open. This created a strobe light effect with the lightning flashes. I sat the candles on the dresser, in front of the mirror to make use of the reflection. I stripped in my bathroom, tossing the wet clothes into the tub. I'd deal with laundry when the power returned. From my chest of drawers, I grabbed a old t-shirt and a pair of men's flannel pajama pants I'd bought to wear around the house and to sleep in and I pulled them on. My body stopped shivering in minutes. I rubbed my arms to generate a bit of heat in them.

Thunder clapped directly overhead and I jumped about three feet and squealed.

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Alas, I am forced to stop here as this is becoming very long and I see now it is something I need to work on offline. I don't know if it will be a short story or if it is shaping up for something else. I'll have to see.



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