Pig-Boy and The Insectorator - 28. An Ill Wind
Zhiv stood in the moonlight outside the entrance to his cave. At his side, the gray horse nosed his arm and shoulder. They looked down to the valley, shrouded in darkness except when lit by sudden flares of lightning within clouds gathering behind the mountains.
The prevailing emotion in the mara was worry; something bad was coming. Already, the cave had become a haven where many of the forest-dwellers sought shelter. Zhiv narrowed his mara vision and sensed David and Whem moving towards him. Another thread led him to River, also ascending the mountain. Both boys had been wounded, and his heart ached with theirs. A cool breeze chilled him for a moment, an unusual feeling after a month of hot, cloudless days and sultry nights. He moved closer to the gray’s warmth.
The bay mare came out of the cave and sniffed the air. Then she picked her way down into the forest. She sensed River was struggling through the darkness. She knew he needed to see her.
Hector pulled into the turn-around at the top of the logging road. The moon had set, and the sky was black, though studded with stars. “I’m gonna walk over to the park border and check where they usually leave their bikes. They might not have arrived yet. You might as well wait here. I’ll only be ten or fifteen minutes.”
He stumbled through the clear-cut in the direction of the park border. Despite using a powerful flashlight, he barked his shins several times. At the forest's edge, he found River’s bike chained to a tree, but no sign of the boy. By the time he made it back to his truck, faint colors of dawn tinted the horizon. “River’s come and gone. His bike’s there, but he’s not. David’s bike’s not there, so maybe he’s coming along soon. Let’s wait for a bit.”
Celia offered him her phone. “I’ve been watching Melissa’s edited version of the video you guys took yesterday. It’s fantastic, Hector. She’s done a beautiful job. You should read the comments. Thousands of people in dozens of different countries cried when they saw it. People are making subtitles in different languages so they can share it with friends who don’t speak English.”
Two black SUVs parked so they blocked access to the Jana Mountain logging road. Six of the eight men they carried spread out and went into the park. Dawn gave them light enough to see. They looked behind and beneath every bush and tree for anything that seemed out of place in the forest.
A half hour later, three of the men ran out of the trees towards the vehicles, chased and well stung by wasps. The remaining three continued their search until menaced by a large black bear. They, too, returned to their vehicles running.
Two other vehicles and eight agents had been deployed to the public campground at the base of the park. They also spread out and began a systematic search of the forest. Shortly afterwards, the agents retreated in disarray to the campground. One was the victim of a rattlesnake bite. Hornets had stung three agents, and a cougar had chased the other two searchers.
When the sun rose from behind the mountain, black clouds roiled over the sky as if to hold the darkness longer. Gusts of wind, sometimes hot, sometimes surprisingly cold, bent the trees.
The Homeland Security agents who required medical treatment left for the hospital. The remaining agents awaited further orders.
“Oh, Pete!” cried Doreen. She came into their bedroom and collapsed onto their bed. “He’s gone. I looked into his room to see if he was okay, but he’s not there. There’s just a rope hanging out his window.”
Pete got up and ran upstairs to David’s room. He saw the bed hadn’t been slept in. David’s clothes lay on top of the duvet. He noticed a piece of paper on the desk.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I’m sorry. I have to go. I’m not angry or mad at you. You guys are the best. But I can’t stay here and do nothing when Zhiv is in danger. I don’t know when I’ll be back.
Doreen had followed Pete into David’s room. He handed her the note. She burst into tears.
“Oh God, Pete. We’ve made a terrible mistake.”
“Don’t worry. He can’t have gone far. I locked his bike up. I’ll go look for him right away.” Pete leaned out the window as he pulled the rope inside. Doreen’s well-watered flower garden below had preserved a couple of hoof marks. “It may take longer than I thought. It looks like he’s not on foot.”
Doreen sat on David’s bed. Pete sat beside her. “Look, he’s only been gone a couple of hours. There’s probably nothing to worry about. He says he’s not angry with us. He’s just worried about Zhiv. He must have gone up the mountain. I’ll go talk to the Homeland Security guys and make sure they understand there’s a couple of innocent kids in the park.”
“Yeah. Okay.” Doreen took a big breath. “It’s just, oh Pete, if he disappeared, or something happened to him…”
David and Whem were first to arrive at the cave. Zhiv received David in his arms as he slid off the stallion’s back. They clung wordlessly to each other for a minute.
“We’ve got to hide, Zhiv. Homeland Security are gonna search the park today. You can’t let them find you.”
Zhiv looked at the sky, rapidly filling with threatening black clouds. An icy gust of wind ruffled the boys’ hair. “The animals say there’s a terrific storm coming. The best and safest place for us is in the cave. If the storm is as bad as the animals expect, nobody is gonna be searching this park today.”
“Yeah, the sky looks strange, those huge black clouds…”
“Let’s wait out here for River. The bay mare went to get him. They’ll be here in a few minutes. David?”
“My dad said I couldn’t come up here and warn you about Homeland Security. He said I had to stay home.” David sobbed. “How could he do that? He knows how I feel about you.”
Zhiv pulled him into another embrace. David panted as if he’d run a marathon. Zhiv stroked his back and gentled him.
“And my mom, too. She didn’t argue with him or anything.”
Zhiv held him and absorbed some of his sorrow. “They were only thinking about your safety, because they love you.”
“But when you’re in danger, so am I. I thought they’d understand. My dad even locked my bike up so I couldn’t come.”
Then Zhiv said, “Hey, here’s your sidekick!”
They pulled apart and went to greet River as the bay horse walked up to the cave. After they hugged and kissed River and the mare, the boys and horses went into the cave.
David’s and River’s eyes widened. In the dim light inside the vast cavern, hundreds of animals had gathered. The boys moved among them, trying to greet and comfort as many as possible.
Suddenly, a tremendous clap of thunder filled the cave. In the same instant, a bolt of lightning hit the ground near the cave entrance and bathed it in a harsh bluish light. The smell of burnt rock and ozone was in the air. The boys ran to the opening and looked outside. A wisp of smoke rose from the rock where they liked to sit.
The gusts of wind died, and the air became still. White flakes began to fall.
“It’s snowing!” They stepped outside and held their hands out to catch the snowflakes that floated down. In a quarter-hour, the fluffy flakes had laid a blanket of white two inches deep. Unable to resist, the boys ran back and forth in front of the cave firing snowballs at each other. The snowfall lessened, and stinging hailstones drove them back into the cavern’s shelter. At first, the hailstones were small, the size of marbles. Then they became much larger, as big as golf balls. The boys shivered in the cave entrance. It was almost as dark as night. The hailstones rattled when they bounced and thumped on the ground.
“Brrr,” said David. “Let’s go to bed and get under the covers.”
They raced to the ferny nest and cuddled under the blankets until they had warmed each other. Zhiv got up and built a fire from firewood he had stored earlier in the year.
The rains began then, a normal downpour. Then it grew heavier, until there were sheets of water lashing down, buckets at a time. The boys got out of bed. David dug some granola and juice boxes out of a food stash he’d stocked. The rain continued, heavier now, though it didn’t seem possible. It came with a wind so fierce it bent the trees near the cave entrance to the breaking point. Whenever the scream of the wind lulled, they heard the continuous rumble of thunder.
Jude had decided to ride over to River’s early because River was always gone when he arrived later. He thought it was a weird day. First the wind blew one way, and it was all he could do to stay on the road. Then it blew behind him, and he flew along faster than he could pedal. A minute later, he was fighting a headwind so strong he could hardly move forward. He struggled onward because the black clouds suggested rain was coming. He wanted to get to River’s house before he got wet. Just when the house came into view, hail began pelting down.
Jude was getting hit all over, and it hurt. He pedaled faster and dropped his bike near the covered porch. He rang the doorbell. Nobody answered. On the veranda, at least he was sheltered from the hailstones. He rang again and knocked. He beat on the door with his fist, but no one answered. He guessed there was nobody home except the vegetable.
It started to rain, huge blasts of water that blew sideways. Was he supposed to stand there and get wet? He tried the door and found it was unlocked. Inside, he walked first into the living room. He saw River’s father lying on the couch, unconscious.
“Hey, Mr. Jameson!”
Art lay as if dead.
Jude grabbed his shoulder and shook him.
Art made some noises and rolled away. Jude sniffed and wrinkled his nose in disgust. He decided to go upstairs and see if anyone was in the boys’ bedrooms. It was early. Maybe River was still in bed. Maybe the vegetable needed some treatment. There was nobody upstairs. Jude sat down on River’s bed and sniffed the pillow. Within a minute, he had his pants pushed down to his ankles and was thrusting his penis into the pillow. He knew he was going to make a mess, but he didn’t care. It wasn’t his pillow. It would be great to squirt all over everything without worrying about hiding it or cleaning it up. Let River explain why there was jizz all over his bed.
When he finished, he drifted into a short snooze. A loud bang of thunder woke him. He pulled his trousers up and went to the window. It was still raining, harder than he’d ever seen, and it was dark outside, almost like it was night. The yard was one big puddle. Lightning flashed from every direction, and thunder rumbled continuously.
Downstairs, Art slept through the noise of the storm. Jude tried again to wake him, without success. He wandered into the kitchen and looked into the fridge. He’d only had a pop tart for breakfast and was feeling hungry. While he was scanning the contents of the fridge, the light went out. He looked up. It wasn’t only the fridge light. The overhead lamp had gone out as well. The power was off. He walked over to the stove and turned a burner on. He was happy to see the gas flame. At least he could cook something.
Hector drove cautiously. The windshield wipers could not keep the windshield clear. He got only momentary glimpses of the road ahead before sheets of water blurred everything. The roadway had turned into a stream in some places, but the water wanted to go down faster than the twisting road allowed. It forced its way over the stumps into new channels. Hector kept his window rolled down so he could stick his head out from time to time to see what lay ahead.
“This is some storm,” he grunted.
“I’ve lived here my whole life,” said Celia. “I’ve never seen anything like this. Sure, it rains here, but nothing like this. I guess this is what they mean by an ‘extreme weather event.’”
The water level of the Jana River was steadily rising. The river began to creep into the bushes that lined its banks. Rain kept pouring down out of the sky. By mid-morning, the Jana had overflowed in several places. Though the river spread out, it continued to rise. The deluge ran off the treeless mountainsides without hindrance.
As they traveled down the mountain, Hector and Celia twice encountered runoff streams crossing the road. Hector had driven through these without difficulty. As they came nearer to the valley floor, another rushing stream barred their way. It had formerly flowed through a culvert, but it was so swollen by the rain it ran across the road.
“Hold on!” said Hector and accelerated towards the stream. The rushing water was deeper than it appeared. It had gashed a mini-canyon in the roadway, and the truck jerked to a halt in mid-stream. It blocked the water’s flow for a minute. Then the force of the water pushed the truck off the road. It was canted at a steep angle at one side of the stream, but its occupants were unhurt. They were not in any immediate danger, but Hector saw at a glance that his camper was not going anywhere. They would need a tow truck to winch it back onto the road.
“Well, at least we’re upright.” Hector grinned. “We’re gonna be here for a while. Why don’t we make a run for the back, get in the camper, and have some breakfast?”
After the boys had eaten and drunk, they squatted at the cave entrance and watched the storm. The wind constantly changed direction. It blew nearby trees first one way, then the other. One gnarled, ancient pine near the edge of the cliff seemed loose. With every blast of wind, it leaned further. Then, in an instant, it was gone, as if a giant hand had plucked it and thrown it into the air.
“Wow!” they breathed, as one.
“Uh, guys?” River looked uncomfortable.
“I need to poop. And pee, too.”
Zhiv laughed and pointed outside. “Ah, yes, the toilet area is just off the edge of the next cliff on your right.”
“No, seriously! I need to go!”
“Okay, sorry. I could go too. David, how about you?”
“Yeah, me too.”
Zhiv gestured to the right of the cave entrance. “There’s a place I sometimes go that’s a little away, so it doesn’t get smelly here. Maybe if we all go together and hold hands, we’ll be safe.”
“Now, please!” said River.
“I mean it, about holding hands,” said Zhiv. “It’s dangerous out there.” He grabbed River’s hand. River held tightly onto David’s hand. They ventured outside, crouching down to offer less resistance to the howling wind. Zhiv led them to a sheltered space behind some large boulders. The rain drenched them but there was less wind. They squatted in a row. After a minute, David looked at the other two boys. A giggle escaped him, then another.
“We look like drowned rats!” he crowed.
When they had finished, they grasped each other’s hands again and scuttled back to the cave. Away from the entrance, the air within was calm.
Doreen answered the phone. A few minutes later, she went into the bedroom where Pete was getting into his uniform. “The store’s not gonna open today. Apparently, there’s a tornado warning.”
“Must be a mistake. We don’t have tornadoes here.”
“Yeah. That’s what I said. But the boss said I should stay home. He said to make sure everything that’s not nailed down is put away, and I’ve got some candles and food in a safe place.”
They went into the living room and looked outside through the picture window. Torrential rain lashed the glass. They could feel the wind buffeting the house. It felt as if it were made from cardboard.
Pete called the sheriff’s office. There was no answer. He tried to call the sheriff’s cell phone. Again, there was no response. While they watched, another blast of wind blew a large tree branch across their driveway. A neighbor’s plastic trash bin followed it, fully air-borne. The lights went out.
“Oh God, Pete, David’s out there somewhere in all that.”
“He’s a smart kid, Doreen. He’s probably hunkered down in a safe place. I have to go to the office. We may have some emergency situations. I don’t think we need to worry about Homeland searching anything in weather like this.”
Jude found bacon and eggs in the fridge and laid a half-dozen strips of bacon in a skillet. The smell brought Art into the kitchen.
“Now that’s what I call a good morning smell,” he said. He squinted at Jude. “Who’re you?”
“It’s me, Jude — Jude Bedford, Mr. Jameson.”
“Oh, yeah, the kid who helped me painting the other day.”
“Yes sir, I came over this morning to see River, but he ain’t here, I was gonna go home, but that storm outside is too crazy.”
Art cocked his head to listen. “Yeah, sounds like one hell of a day out there. You gonna fry some eggs with that bacon?”
“Yes sir. I thought I’d fry some bread, too.”
“Do you know how to make coffee?”
“Well, make some. I gotta see a man about a dog.” Art went into the bathroom.
When they had eaten breakfast, Art held up a remaining piece of crisp bacon. “You know, I’ve probably made about a billion pieces of bacon. And you know what kind of thanks I’ve got for that?”
“None at all! I might as well been fuckin’ the dog. I’m tellin’ you, Jack — life is the shits.”
“It’s Jude, sir. My name is Jude.”
“Right! Jude! Excuse me, Jude, I need a drink.” Art staggered into the living room.
Jude heard a strangled yelp. He peeked through the doorway. Art sat with his head in his hands and his shoulders shaking with sobs. Jude sat down at the kitchen table, put his feet up on Art’s chair, and worried at a bit of bacon gristle stuck between his teeth. The wind howled around the corners of the house. Torrents of rain battered the walls and windowpanes.
In the pig barn at the Jameson Pork facility, there was no power. Inside the windowless shed, it was as dark as night. The automatic feed dispensers were silent and empty. The shrieking wind and the rain drumming on the metal roof had driven the pigs into panic. They screamed and cried helplessly.
At the Teemon feedlot, there was three feet of water on the ground and it was rising. The cattle milled around in confused groups, bawling in fear. The few staff members trapped there fled to the upper floor of the only building on the site that had a second floor.
The Bedford chicken barn had been built on higher ground, so it had yet to be flooded, but the rising waters made this inevitable. Jude’s father knew he could do nothing. If the water continued to climb higher, the chickens would drown. Insurance would cover part of the cost, but it meant a loss, and it was going to be one hell of a mess to clean up. He stared glumly out the kitchen window. A mighty blast of wind rammed into the side of the house. He saw his truck lifted and then flipped over onto its side. With his mouth open, he watched the roof of the garage start flapping, one corner lifting and then slamming down. The wind got under the roof, peeled it off, and threw it into the back yard.
Rain continued to hammer down, and the Jana River lost its banks. In the past, the valley had been a flood plain, and it returned to its original nature. Towards evening, the rain diminished, but the wind increased. Gale-force gusts lifted high brown waves in the murky floodwaters.
For the boys, the storm had initially been exciting and interesting. But as the day wore on and the hammering of the wind increased, Zhiv became sober. David made soup from packets he’d prepared at home. While they ate, he noticed a tear rolling down Zhiv’s cheek.
“This is a terrible storm,” said Zhiv. “It’s not so bad up here, but in the valley, many are suffering and dying, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The wind roared louder and faster, and it blew from all directions. Though the cave protected the boys, the savage violence of the storm exhausted them. They went to bed early and huddled together until they drifted into a fitful sleep.
As night fell on the valley floor, the twists and turns of the landscape spawned not one, but a family of tornadoes. The big daddy rammed its way down the center of the valley, flattening everything in its path. Smaller tornadoes spun off to the sides. They capriciously tore the roof from one dwelling while leaving its next-door neighbor untouched. They reduced well-built homes to kindling.
When the last little tornado had spun itself out of existence, the wind died, and the sky cleared. People whose homes were intact ventured outdoors and marveled that the glistening stars had not been blown into disarray like everything else. The night was loud with bawling animals. Many were stranded or injured. Many died in the darkness.
I write in order to be read, and I hunger for feedback - negative, positive, or indifferent. Please share your thoughts on this story in a review, a comment or send me a personal message. I will reply.
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