A pony-drawn hearse rolled up for my father. He was still alive but very sick and surely would not survive the storm.
There were murmurs of a great storm roaring our way over the hills and gaining power. The murmurs grew and spilled out into great worries and the worries turned to terror. We didn’t even board up the windows of our house because it was futile: this was the storm that would end my life and the lives of my parents.
At first there was a small rain shower and it blew over. But we could see clouds jelling up, inky on the horizon.
We sat down in unusual places about the shack—on jutting rocks and firewood stumps—and our stomachs grew tight and sour with worry. We wondered what death was going to feel like and how, exactly, each of us would die.
We decided that my father would die first. Probably as soon as the first winds hit. We commented on how well crafted his coffin was and how he would have loved the little horse that drew the hearse carriage. He was alive, but we spoke about him as if he were dead. We all would be soon, anyway. The frilly grey hearse-pulling pony fluffed at our compliments. I quietly wondered if she knew she was going to die in the storm.
As the day drew onward, we became more certain of our enclosing doom. The deep, primal fear of death was crippling. All we could do was sit facing the grayest horizon intensely watching for signs of the approaching storm. We didn’t eat, but we drank lots of water and felt the weight of eternal sadness. We talked about the things we’d never done but had always wanted to do. We talked about how silly all of our philosophies were because, after all, no one really knew what would happen after the storm came; after we died–who knew?
Then we fell silent and I tried with all of my might not to think about how it would happen to me. Would it be the beam supporting the gutter? Would it be that heavy stone bookend on the shelf or maybe a tree branch outside or the board on the swing rope? Maybe it would be one of the thin, sharp sheets of zinc that made up the roof? Would it be my head that was smashed first? Would I feel pain? If so, how much and for how long?
Suddenly there was a loud, piercing clap of thunder and we all heaved from our cores and looked again at the sky for signs of the storm. Clouds were moving in fast. At first they were just puffy gray rainclouds sprinting across the sky.
But I was the first to see it. The real beginning of the end. Clouds the color of coal that no one had ever seen before. The first ones were moving so fast they looked like foreboding inky tumbleweeds. I cried out when I saw them and we all huddled together in dread and awe. So this was the end of days. The storm about which no one would ever live to tell.
The black clouds kept flying in, some round; some thin and wispy like celestial spiders warning of the nearness of doom.
Then the rain began to fall. It rained very hard and all of us were so worried that we were getting sicker and weaker and we sat and watched the rain as we suffered fear of death. The suffering grew to a point where we agreed that the faster the storm came, the better.
Still, the frightening ink clouds kept coming, some bigger than others. The feeling I got from the sight of these clouds pricked at my skin. It dried up my mouth no matter how much water I drank and it shook every single joint in my body. Just looking at the sky and seeing the cloud-spiders jabbed at my bladder and slackened my sphincters so that I was terrorized, a horrifying type of pain beforehand unknown to me.
My head felt light and hollow. Thoughts started to echo. Death was breathing down my neck and would enter my body at any moment. Soon our house would be splintered into toothpicks. Our bodies, shredded waste on a floodplain.
I could endure the pain, I told myself. I had not choice, really. None of us did. None of us wanted to suffer, but it was too late. I secretly hoped it would be the beam supporting the gutter: one crack and it all would be over. How could I welcome the very thing we all dread the most? Death, the event we reject with an instinctual fierceness? This fierce will to live once radiated from an ancient place between our ears: survival at all costs. Survive and procreate so that the race will survive. That was the survivor’s creed.
But this storm. This storm to end all storms. It was different than a catastrophic hurricane. Rumor of its ultimate destruction came from the inside out and not the other way around. The storm itself was communicating with our bones. It was waking some primeval senses stored away for long ages of creation; a primal code lodged in our existence: long before we flopped out of the ocean we knew about this storm.
The black clouds started rolling out faster, a grim light blurred the lines of night and day. It washed over everything with a thick, sickening gloss. But the hearse looked peaceful. I lay on the kitchen’s earth floor. I could no longer stand. It had been so long since we first heard of the storm: One day running the expanse of my entire life and pinching me from all I that seemed to matter before.
It got to the point where my spine could barely support my body. More clouds. This was the end. None of us has any doubts. We stopped talking. We didn’t even say goodbye. We just knew it was time.
The sadness I felt was too profound to express, it ripped at my guts and my throat and far beyond my physical body it endured into my soul, into the far reaches of my psyche, it stuck like tar into unidentified places and planes of existence. We could not even moan or shout in agony because by now we were completely paralyzed in fear. Even the hearse-drawing pony drooped her head and fell to her forelegs and all of a sudden, a great wind whipped the jungle.
Outside, branches thrashed violently. Birds cried and rain rang and the sounds swirled together and comforting, and comforting, almost like a blanket, that which I had feared was draped over me. So I relaxed and let go and found relief even in the pain because it would end: just an infinitesimal flash like the rest of my life.
I was a limp heap, soaking in the energy of the storm and welcoming everything it brought.
Then after some time, I noticed that the wind was dying down. Now, just the sound of the rain pittter-patter on the zinc lulled me to a calmer place. The black clouds were not getting any bigger. In fact, most of the sky was gray again. Twitching and delirious, I turned my head slightly to the side, feeling my cheek grind into the sandy floor.
Suddenly, I remembered something. It was such a vivid recollection that I started at its appearance in my head. I could almost hear my father’s voice as he told me, detail by detail, how he had once survived a vicious storm as a child. How could I have forgotten this story!
“I was a child,” he had said as I sat on his knee listening, “So I didn’t notice anything unusual except the rain. There was so much rain! It rained for days and weeks. It never stopped once. That is the worst part about these storms: The never-ending rain. We had to cook eggs on a metal plate held with a dishcloth over the candle. But it was not so bad. It was so long ago that I cannot remember each detail, but I remember the rain, and that it was not so bad.”
Immediately, I regained strength to raise to my feet and walked over and looked outside and the black clouds and the terror had vanished. I looked at the rain and it was steadily falling. But the wind was not much harder than a seasonal storm. It was then that it occurred to me to look around and I realized I was not alone. We all were still there. We got off of the floor and looked outside and felt a bit ashamed. We felt tricked and informed all at once.
It was a wonderfully frightening moment of shock, and, while I cringe at this confession, disappointment. So there was no storm to end all storms? The worst thing would be the rain? And we were so embarrassed.
The first thing to do was change out of our soiled clothes. The fear had driven soft waste from out bodies.
And now it was me who had to gather firewood in the rain even though we knew it was never going to burn and we’d be splashing endless kerosene into a smoky fire into the deep recesses of the evening.
My father would complain of hunger and we all were so hungry and our clothing reeked and I shouted at the sky in a heated blast of anger. I hotly hoped the black clouds would reappear, big ones this time. I wanted the storm my primitive coding had promised.
Then, after wrestling with firewood and as the rain kept pouring forth the hours, I went to see if my father was awake. I wanted to tell him that I remembered. I remembered everything he told me, about the rain and the not-so-bad.
But when I looked for him he was gone and so were the enchanting pony and the beautiful, well-crafted coffin. They left just at the beginning of the rainstorm. When we were too struck with horror, the pony galloped away.
Still weak, I smiled.