The Eye of the Storm
By Jeff McCrory
Thursday morning the big storm finally arrived. Martin sat down at his computer to check his Facebook. For the last two days, under pictures of the dry, gray sky, several people had posted, “Calm before the storm.” Ubiquity muffled the ominous ring of those words. The prevailing opinion on Facebook also had it that media were hyping the storm out of all proportion. Martin had commented on friend’s “Calm before the storm” post that people in other parts of the country were laughing at them. “I mean what’s the worst thing that could happen? We get real wet?” His comment had gotten several likes.
Nobody had anything to say about the storm at the moment. People were probably too busy trying to stay dry. Martin refilled his coffee mug and put his jacket on. It would be nice to have a rain slicker to wear today, but who in California owned a rain slicker?
He dashed out to his car parked on the road, glad he had decided against an umbrella, which would have gotten turned inside out the moment he stepped outside. It was trash day. The wind had flipped the lids of a few of the trash containers lined up on the curb. The lids dangled uselessly from their hinges. He wanted to close them. It would be quite a drag to come home to find your sodden garbage plastered on the pavement. But he would get soaked. He plopped into the driver’s seat and slammed the door. He was dripping as it was.
The roads were empty, but he still had to drive under the speed limit. The world in his windshield appeared without warning from out of the gray haze. We’re in it, he thought, imagining the satellite weather maps on TV. Like everybody else, he liked being above the storm, looking down on the god-sized mass of clouds rolling in off the Pacific. From that vantage, he could savor the anticipation its approach. But to be inside its belly was an entirely different experience. It was just ordinary life — drink coffee, check Facebook, drive to work — with some added danger. He had been looking forward to the storm as something that might entertain him, but now he saw that had been a mistake.
The traffic stopped at the top of the bridge that spanned the river, the muddy water already swelling its banks. He fiddled with the car radio, looking for some local news coverage. Static was all that came through. Sighing, he waited for the traffic to move, but nothing happened. He took up his phone and tapped the Facebook app. “Mom, dad, sis, I love you all. The storm has got me trapped. I hope you can get away. Goodbye.” Martin snickered, but the joke seemed less funny the more the thought about it. His friend had actually tagged his family members. What if they misunderstood the sarcasm?
The guy in the car ahead of him opened his door and stepped out onto the road.
“Dangerous,” Martin commented to himself.
The man came to Martin’s window. Martin rolled it down.
“There’s something going on.”
“Yeah? A wreck?”
“No, something else. My wife texted me. I’m going to try to turn around and drive off the bridge. Will you pull to the side so I can get by?”
“You’re going to drive down the street the wrong way?”
“I got to get off this bridge. Please, can you just pull to the side?”
“Sure.” Martin rolled his window up, and the man went to talk to the driver behind him. Martin’s left arm was drenched. Oddly, the rain had felt warm.
Martin pulled his car as far as he could to the side of the road. He watched the man in his rear view mirror. What did the man’s wife know? Martin imagined the debris choked current of brown water roaring through the streets of his neighborhood. He checked Facebook again. “Don’t go outside,” someone had posted. The post had three comments.
“It’s doesn’t matter.”
“What do you mean?”
Martin glanced up at the rear view. The man was gone from view.
Something smacked against the car. Martin torqued his body in his seat to see what it was. The man’s screaming mouth and horror-stricken eyes pressed against the water beaded glass. The door handled rattled. The man was trying to get into the backseat.
“Unlock it. Please.”
Martin hesitated before he reached over the seat and flicked the lock.
The man clambered into the backseat, filling the car with smell of wet ashes. Blotches of sunburn flesh marked his face.
“It’s hot. It’s boiling,” he said.
Terror grabbed Martin at the base of his spine with two cold hands. Needing to contradict it, he began rolling his window down.
“Don’t,” the man shouted.
Martin ignored him. Hot needles pricked his cheek. The wind blew scalding water into his eyes. Blinded, he cranked the window back up as fast as he could.
“Drive us off this bridge,” said the man. “Go.”
Martin scrubbed his eyes with one hand and groped for the gear shift with the other. Something pinged off his windshield.
“What was that?” cried the man.
Martin looked. I can see again, he thought, expelling a breath in a whoosh. But what he saw made him long for blindness again. Out of the gray murk, a dark cloud descended on the cars ahead of him. More dark projectiles thumped against his hood. A spider’s web burst onto his windshield. Then a fury rained down, smashing the glass out of its frame.
Martin rolled out of his car and slithered underneath it. He was bruised, burned and bleeding, but the pain that held his attention was unrelated to his physical injuries. He was going to die today.
Then it all stopped. He could hear it. People screaming. Cars up ahead and cars behind revving their engines. Tires squealing. Transmissions reversing. Metal smashing. He could hear these inconsequential sounds because the death rain had stopped. Projectiles ceased rolling under his car. He picked one up, rolled in around between his fingers and smelled it. It was a rock. For some reason, it had rain rocks.
He came out from under the car. The man in his back seat was standing in the road, his face bloodied. He stood next to him, and they both looked up at the sky.
“It’s green,” said the man.
A blister in the sky floated overhead.
The man pointed at it.
“I don’t know.”
The blister split down the center and parted to reveal a shiny black pupil encircled by a sickeningly yellow iris.
“It’s an eye,” the man moaned, clutching Martin’s arm.
Martin nodded, more stoically than he he really felt. Because if that’s an eye, he thought, can the jaws be far behind?