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The Storm that Swallowed MAG
You could taste the storm, it's coming all apple cider and candy corn on your tongue. It was the way the air felt, the air that chills to the bone, that makes the heart quiver-beat in its bone cage. The way the world turned gray because the great clouds covered the sun like a cobweb veil. It was the way the wind, for the first time in so long, chilled rather than refreshed, as it had during the beating-sun summer months. It reminded me of trick-or-treating last year, in the dark all alone, clutching the cloth sack in my fist, my mouth filled with the taste of candy. It was just the way the whole world felt that twisted my stomach. There was a storm coming, all right, and it was coming soon.
The trailer was mostly empty 'cause everyone had gone to gym or art, or some other class. The civics trailer was mostly deserted when I snuck back in. We'd all been called out to the main building for health screenings, which was just a bunch of old ladies ushering us on and off scales and up against those measuring boards they have in doctor's offices. And me being me, I forgot my stuff in the civics trailer, and so I had to tell Ms. Arnold, the nicer gym teacher who I'd been lucky enough to get this year, sorry, but I was going to go fetch it and I wouldn't be a moment, and please don't count me tardy or anything but I don't trust that someone won't snatch my homework or my pencil pouch, which has a real expensive calculator for advanced math. And she, being the nice young teacher that she is, said sure and let me go.
My things, a binder, a black notebook written on with white-out, a denim pencil pouch full to bursting, and, most importantly, a thick hardback book missing a dust jacket and a copyright page, marked my place at the end of a table. I bundled the stuff into my arms, holding it tight against my hand-me-down gray sweatshirt and hurried outside into the gray old world, awaiting the storm's arrival.
We'd been joking for the longest time how this place is a prison. I mean, if they want us to enjoy it, why did they call the row of eight trailers a compound and why did they put barbed wire on the fence? Barbed wire, no joke, all curled up there and screaming “Threat!” I wouldn't have been surprised if men with machine guns and angry Rottweilers popped out of nowhere and chased us.
Well, on second thought, yes, I would have been, because they would have fixed the hole by now. Yes, there's a hole in the fence, and Charlie would swear on whatever you like that she'd squirmed through that hole and hitched a ride in one of the passing cars on the street below. But I bet she was just telling a tale; somebody would spot her running down that hill, and you bet she'd whoop and holler like she didn't have a care in the world. And no driver in their right mind would pick up a kid obviously playing hooky, and not a kid like Charlie. She's the poster girl for devil spawn.
So I scurried along the ground so dry it made dust clouds around your feet because it hadn't rained for weeks. Brown crinkly grass, dead as a doornail, reminded me of the crunch of autumn leaves. The autumn leaves there should have been if they hadn't cut down all the trees two months ago. Because I was nearly five minutes late and didn't want too many points taken off, I broke into a run, or the closest you can get when you're clutching books to your chest.
That's when the first drop hit me like a liquid bullet. It reminded me of the poison wine in Gail's beloved Gothic horrors. The drop hit my cheek and ran down like a tear, which I guess was appropriate, considering what that drop was going to bring.
I just turned my face to the heavens and stared at the sky. The sun was hidden, and the clouds, that just this morning looked like cotton balls, were starting to look like curly balls of rabbit fur from a rabbit that's been massacred and devoured by a wolf. The sun was doing its best to shine past them, but it just made them look blood-stained. The next drop was fat and warm, and hit my wrist almost playfully, a Mento in Mother Nature's diet coke.
The third drop hit my arm, right between my elbow and my shoulder. It felt like ice. A shudder went through me because the cold was spreading all down my arm. The entire limb went numb, and for a moment I was sure I was going to drop my stuff. I took off running to the main building to deposit my things in my locker. It took forever to get it open because I had to do it left handed; it felt as if my arm had been amputated. I ran in and out of the locker room so fast that for a moment I was sure that I had just put on my gym shoes. I ran into the gym only to be hit square in the nose with a ball. Nobody said sorry, not that I was expecting an apology, though one would have nice.
Dodge ball is the closest I will ever get to a bomb field. Hopefully the closest any of us will ever get, but you never know. The only difference is they're foam balls instead of bombs, and they don't explode and blow off vital parts of your body. Like your head. This isn't to say they don't try.
I didn't count the ball that hit me in the face as enough to get me out, and no one minded, so a picked up a small red weapon and heaved it with all my might at Cory, the annoying dude from science class. He dodged, much in the spirit of the game, and hurled a neon blue projectile back. It moved kind of slow through the air, and I leisurely strolled out of the way, thinking about heat-seeking missiles and how I hope they never become a gym class staple.
I stepped right in the path of a ball that can only be described as puce-colored. It bounced off my head, hit another kid in the arm, and tumbled to the floor. The other kid looked grateful and ran to the bleachers, while I practically dragged my knuckles, my still-limp arm hanging at my side. A bright red ball hit it, feeling like a heavy stone.
“I'm already out,” I grumbled as I sat down in the bleachers next to Charlie.
“You look tired,” she stated.
“No, duh. I ran all the way here. It started raining.”
She gave me a funny look, like I was sprouting ears out of my forehead. “Since when are you afraid of a little rain, Jess?”
“Don't want my stuff getting wet, s'all.”
Charlie's eyes widened suddenly. For a moment I was sure I was beginning to levitate out of my seat.
“Jess, what the heck happened to your arm?”
I glanced down and saw a spiral of bloody, oozing cuts decorating my arm like broken glass.
It didn't hurt until I touched it, and then it stung like crazy, like a million paper cuts with rubbing alcohol dumped on them. I nearly screamed, but put all my pain into a piercing shout instead. “Ms. Arnold!”
She turned slowly and lazily from talking to the other teacher, a great, burly man who scared the crap out of us. “Yeah, Jess?”
“My arm's got a cut on it,” I explained, trying my best to hide it from her view. “Can I go to the nurse?”
She walked over slowly, as if she was caught in a slow motion video. “Let me see.”
I stuck it out for her examination and her gray eyes nearly popped out of her skull.
“How did this happen?” she demanded.
“I dropped my book in a briar patch,” I explained feebly, and thankfully, in all her just-out-of-college naivety, she believed me.
“Yeah, that looks pretty nasty.” What was it with people stating the obvious? “Go on.”
With a quick “thank you,” I bounded out of there like an aggravated rabbit and made my way to the nurse's office, just wanting the bleeding to stop.
When the bell rang, nothing but the sudden destruction of the ground before us could have prevented us from getting out of that god-forsaken prison. By then it was absolutely pouring, and the students crammed inside the buses to prevent their precious papers from being turned into unrecognizable mush. And how we hurried onboard. Why, that's a sight that shall never be seen again. Friday, the Friday before Thanksgiving break, mind you, with rain coming down in buckets caused us to scramble for dear life onto those rotten yellow contraptions and beg the poor abused bus driver to, for goodness sake, step on it! I fell into my usual seat beside Gail, whose long blonde hair looked as if she'd just taken a shower. Wet didn't even begin to describe any of us. We were soaked.
The clouds blotted out the sky as if it were midnight. You could see the fear in Gail's eyes; she'd never been much for storms, poor dear, not dissimilar to a nervous dog who dives under the bed at the sound of thunder. She was practically shaking.
The roads were filled with puddles, making big splashes whenever the tires ran through one. When lightning struck, the sixth graders would scream and howl like eight-year-olds watching a horror movie. Gail would nearly jump out of her seat. She stared straight ahead at the bench in front of us, clutching my sleeve. I could nearly hear the beat of her heart.
In less than five minutes, we were driving through fog so thick we could hardly see out the windows. I heard one of the kids say it was like we'd driven into a cloud. Rain was tossed against the windows by unforgiving wind, thunder clapped like distant heavy metal music, and lightning was the only thing visible through the thick fog. The bus started rocking back and forth a bit, as if an earthquake was shaking the world. One baby-faced boy in a fedora started screaming. Then, the bus stopped. Just stopped. And the door opened.
The railroad tracks. We always stopped at the railroad tracks, and the bus door always opened, as if welcoming a phantom hobo on board. Except no ragtag, stowaway passenger awaited. Just fog, thick as bad oatmeal. And rain that splashed off the driver's face like tears. But it was the fog that attracted our attention. It forced its way inside like an angry beast, and I felt like screaming. Then the bus was rocking again, and I couldn't see the driver or the first row of seats, nor the second. Then the third, fourth, fifth were swallowed by the storm. We were row six.
A particularly strong tremor struck the bus, and despite Gail's tight hold on my arm, I toppled from the seat into the approaching fog.
“Jess!” I heard Gail scream, before the fog filled my ears with its rushing wind, and rainfall, and thunderclaps. I screamed as it blocked my vision, claustrophobia I wasn't aware of suddenly coming to light. I screamed until the fog filled my mouth, cutting off my fear, cutting off everything. The storm had come.
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