The teller at the window that Natalie stood at looked back at her like she was crazy. Natalie simply walked up and said she wanted to withdraw all of her funds. She shouldn’t have to explain herself, she shouldn’t have to justify it. They should just hand over her hard earned dollars because she asked!
“Look, I’ve been saving for a long time to take a trip. I leave in just minutes and I need my money. I do not want to use my card. It is my right to hold my money in my hands, is it not?” Natalie asked firmly.
“Uh, yes…yes, it definitely is, ma’am. It will just take a few moments to get this amount together, though,” the woman replied not taking her eyes off of the triple digit number on her screen.
“I just have a few minutes so let’s get this going,” Natalie said hoping the girl did not feel the panic in her voice as it bubbled out of her.
The woman disappeared and Natalie looked out the wall of glass windows at the clouds growing even darker, swirling in the sky. Rain was starting to fall again, she could see the drops rolling off the side of her car and onto the ground.
The woman returned with a paper in hand and asked Natalie to sign it. She handed over her identification and pressed her thumb to a plate of glass that scanned it. Then, she was handed her money in a bag of large bills. She had a feeling it had been difficult for the bank to pay her out without notice.
“I really appreciate this,” Natalie offered a small smile.
“We appreciate your business, Ms. Hunter,” the woman replied and beamed at her.
That, made Natalie feel better.
Walking outside, she looked around for anyone who looked like they would mug her. It was very odd to walk out with a bag of money. She felt like every eye was watching her, rubbing their hands together in anticipation the way a dog salivates over a steak.
She made it safely home, parked in the garage, and hurried about the business of packing her clothes for the trip home. She could hear the wind picking up in speed, the raindrops delicately pelting the window turned to sharp rapping noises. She looked through the blinds to find the hail coming down the size of her fist. She couldn’t see Stowe’s town in the valley anymore, it had become completely fogged in. Or perhaps it was just the clouds descending upon it. Quickly, she flung her bag over her shoulder and raced downstairs where she turned on the television. More news was blaring, catastrophes all over the world were happening along all of the coast lines from the huge earthquake in California. Tsunami waters were invading cities everywhere and more earthquakes were happening around the world. Japan, South America, parts of Africa and extending north and south. Tears welled in Natalie’s eyes as she saw the amount of destruction. And then, footage from Yellowstone showed more volcanic eruptions that had sent magma flowing through the cracks in the earth from further quakes in the Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming areas. Natalie’s hand flew to her mouth to stifle a cry. The ticker along the bottom was warning everyone to prepare for safety. Many tornados and hurricane weather had been reported along the east coast heading north at a fast pace and was growing in intensity.
A loud howl from somewhere outside made Natalie jerk away from the screen. She knew that sound. Her windows began rattling, her doors were being sucked in and then out but stayed secure in the jambs. The lights flickered and then went out and her entire house groaned under the pressure. Natalie ran to her front window but she could see nothing more than hail and mist. She ran to the back door that led onto a deck that faced the city below. That was where she saw it, the giant funnel cloud that was trying to decide whether or not to descend upon the inhabitants of Stowe.
“Oh, no!” she cried aloud and ran to grab her bag hastily making it down into the basement in the dark.
She unlocked her phone’s screen, the images of twisters and volcanic matter filling her mind. There was no signal. “Call Mom,” she spoke to it.
“I cannot complete your call, Natalie,” it replied to her and then a screen blinked at her. “No Signal Available”.
She let her head fall back against the cold wall and exhaled am abnormally huge sigh. “Please God, keep them safe. I may not be the most deserving of your grace, but I beg of you to protect the ones I love,” she whispered.
The ground began to shake and the rumbling above the ground became louder…and louder. It was deafening. She could hear windows breaking, thunder clapping, and the structure of her home was trying to fight back, not wanting to give in to the torment of Mother Nature. Yet, with a spectacular groan in protest and a scuffle within the walls, Natalie then heard the familiar smashing, crashing and wood splintering cries from the house and she could only imagine the extent of the damage. In the distance, she could hear her beautiful car crying for help as the panic alarm went off involuntarily. The door closing her into the room in the basement quivered like in the leaves of an autumn tree.
Natalie clapped her hands over her ears and screamed. It was almost too much to bear, the sounds, the images that had conjured in her head, the rumbling of the ground all around her.
It felt an eternity before the shaking stopped and the deep pounding ceased. Natalie was sweaty and shaking. That was worse than any tornado she had experienced before. She just sat there for some time before managing to climb to her feet and reach for the door knob.
The wind was still whipping outside when Natalie opened that door. She could feel it whistling down the stairwell. Dread filled her and a heaviness weighed in her heart. It was like time has slowed. It was difficult to walk forward, hard to see the pool table in the great room of the basement pushed against the far wall from her, one leg rocking back and forth, the table slumping lazily away from her. The light fixture lay in pieces on the carpeted, concrete floor. There was rain on the stairs and when she looked up the flight and where a door used to hang, there was only the elements exposed to her.
She just couldn’t walk up the steps to see her house gone. She wanted to throw up. Feeling weak and lightheaded, she just sat on the stairs, the water in the carpet soaking her behind. She just sat and cried until she felt sated, wishing she had someone to lean on at that point, a man to kiss and know that they could make it through this together. Instead, she was utterly alone, her parents were likely dead, and no one knew if she had lived or died. She had cut herself off from so many people, focused on making her way, defending people who lied, and obtaining material things that had just vanished beneath the scourge of Mother Nature. Now, she had been left to fend for herself, alone in this destroyed world.
Larger raindrops began to fall on Natalie’s head some time later, her brunette hair hung in wet clumps of disarray. Drops feel from her eyelashes like tears, like the ones she had cried out until she ran dry. Finally, as the light was fading and a chill was rising in the air, she wandered up the stairs and into the full force of the storm. She choked back a sob to see that there was little left behind.
What used to be her lovely, blue collar home was now strewn about as rubble. Bits of wood that used to be her walls lay in pieces as far as she could see through the rain. Shattered glass crunched beneath her feet. Her breathing became heavy as she struggled to keep calm after losing everything. Well, everything but her life. Broken dishes, pillows ripped apart, litter that was not even hers had been dropped there, and her car was upside down on the neighbor’s barely affected home two doors down. There was no going home to Wisconsin now. No way to find her parents. Barely any way for her to survive.
Natalie’s brain finally fired up the synapses in there and she began to think logically about her survival. She gathered up pieces of wood and found a random pan lying in the weather. She set it right side up to catch the moisture that she could use later for drinking. She threw as much of the wood down the stairs as she could before the light had all but vanished. Larger pieces, she drug over to the opening and stacked them over the hole in the ground to protect her from the elements. If the hurricane was still coming, she needed all the protection she could find. A large piece of black plastic sheeting flew by and slapped against a stud that was only halfway whole, ruffling wildly and noisily in the wind. She took it and spread it over the wood, keeping it down with some heavy rocks. The pan of water would be full by morning, she assessed and retreated back into the basement, securing the flap of plastic inside with rocks.
The light was gone, it was black as she felt her way down the stairs and into her room. She closed the door, regretting it not being a locked door. Never, had she thought it would become her front door. Opening the closet, she felt around for her flashlight and found it. Turning it on, it lit the room in a weak yellow light. Quickly, she stripped out of her wet clothes and pulled out her thermals from the pack and clean, dry clothes from the bag she had packed that contained her money. Using a towel, she wrapped her head to dry her hair and keep warm. Tempted by the hand warmer packets in the pack, she closed the door, telling herself it could get a lot worse before it gets any better. She may need them more on future days. Taking two blankets from the ottoman, she turned off the flashlight and flopped down on one of the couches. It had been almost 6:30 in the evening when she started fiddling with the tarp so she knew an hour had probably passed. There was little else to do but sleep and prepare for the next morning, so she snuggled down under the blankets and closed her eyes to the world that had forsaken her.