The Storm Watcher

A drop of rain sticks to the window and slowly cleaves a path downward; slightly obscuring my vision of the woods and a small rocky tributary that lays in what would be considered my backyard. The trails that the raindrops leave on the glass look almost like little dents or cuts, such as the ones found on an old window which has seen more than its share of storms similar to the one I’m currently enjoying.

I once heard on the news that  rain water is getting more and more acidic due to pollution and carbon emissions. Maybe that’s reason that I have to dry the basement after every one of these storms. The house foundation isn’t even three years old and it already has plenty of tiny cracks and holes formed by the monotonous march of these tiny, acidic rain drops into any small crevice they can find. The drops are like spec ops, parachuting from the sky and infiltrating the thick structure without making a sound. Dripping in and fanning out until you finally notice them and it’s already too late. Your basements flooded.

I can see just how heavy the rain is as it rips open the tributary, turning the fresh water into a frothing pot boiling over. I don’t have the keenest  eye and the tributary is a bit far from my kitchen window, but with the help of a large boulder as a backdrop I can see this fantastic development. I can also make out that the tributary is flowing faster than ever, northward toward Turtle Head lake. Turtle Head lake is a favorite spot of mine. When I’m not working at the post office I take walks there and explore some of my hobbies. Sometimes I fish and sit all day drinking, eating small snacks and waiting for a fish to bite. I even have an area set up on the edge of the lake, an alcove amongst the oak and pine, with two perfectly placed stumps  that I use as a chair and small table. Sometimes I swim or just enjoy nature. However, my favorite lakeside activity is making small homemade sugar rockets and firecrackers. In fact, every Sunday I raid the pantry, closets, and garage getting components from recesses of my old creaky cabin. I spend the whole day crafting them; some scrap PVC, two parts stump remover, one part powdered sugar, and a little baking soda.

I’m fascinated with rockets and fire and especially explosions. One small spark ignites a small bit of material which acts as catalyst for the rest of the material down the line. I like to light rockets, get to cover and watch them shoot to the sky. One second they’re safely on the ground and the next they’re hundreds of feet in the air leaving a thin trail of smoke in they’re wake. I also like setting off my homemade firecrackers, tying them to trees or just on the ground. Firecrackers are much easier to make than the rockets because all they are are rockets without fins and a nosecone. Of course they also go off quicker, but the power behind a rocket is really just a controlled explosion. The flames ignited and the rocket is chased by an explosion up into the sky unable to escape it until it finally dies out. I can’t remember exactly when I found my interest in explosions. As far back as I choose to remember I’ve been testing rockets and watching bits of bark and wood fibers turn into dust and shrapnel.

The tributary has begun to flood its banks now and water is creeping its way through the reeds and tall, messy grass towards the house. The storm is really picking up and I can see thick dark clouds shifting in from the east. I hear a small thud behind me and pivot on my left leg with my head over my shoulder to see a head of cabbage fallen on the ground. It’s only about noon and I was in the middle of making a sandwich before I glimpsed the rain from the counter and got distracted. A plastic lunch meat container is open next to a plate, a whole tomato, and a loaf of bread on the counter. I walk over to see if I can salvage my head of lettuce and finish my sandwich. The head’s smashed and broken into large green wedges covered in hair and freckles of dust from the ground. Only the top half of it is sandwich grade lettuce. I clean up the mess with a broom and pan, and finish my sandwich with whats left of the head of lettuce before putting the rest of my sandwich components back in the pantry and fridge and pulling a chair up to the kitchen window. That was my only head of lettuce so I’ll need to run to the store to get more after this awesome storm passes. The store nearest to my shack of a house is miles away and my ETA is forty-five minutes on an average, clear-sky day.

It’s like I live in the desert, somewhere unconquered by civilization, lacking any law or governing body. It doesn’t have the sand or blazing sun, but it’s locked and loaded with plainness and  isolation. I’ve delivered mail all round here for seventeen years and I still can’t recognize where I am without pulling out a map. I travel up the densely forested roads and see the same trees here and the same fallen branches there all organized in a pattern without any discernible beginning or end. Maybe if I could find a start I could identify the pattern and develop a plan to tackle it and actually know where exactly I am.

The wind is howling like some pack of savage wolves prowling in the darkness. All around me the floorboards and window sill are creaking intensely. Each barrage of air pushes on the glass causing it to bend ever so slightly. I really need to some remodeling. I can feel cold on my face seeping in through the window and a draft is always chilling the back of my neck. If I don’t fix up the place soon it will surely crumble. I’ll have no shelter and will be left to the elements. I’ve got no where else to go and I’m only ever at work, the lake, or here.

I wasn’t always a postman in an old country town. My first real job was with the military right after I graduated from high school with the 40 other in kids in my class. I wasn’t the smartest or richest kid in my class. So the military-college option was ideal for me and my family, and I wasn’t alone. Ten other students also made the same decision to give themselves over to the military. After twelve years of freedom-less monotony we were all ready for six more; Ted, Jerry, Tom, Jane, Meghan, Gary, John, Junior, Shawn, Seamus, and me. Seamus was my best friend all through high school. He was smart, funny, and a good tinkerer. I also liked tinkering, a lot more than Seamus though. I would work on things in my garage after school and if I ever needed help with something he was there to lend a hand. He was considering joining the air force to put him through college, but with a little bit of selective pressure and convincing I managed to get him to join the military’s engineering program with me. When the time came to leave, we said goodbye to our parents and got on a plane to head to training. We spent almost a year learning about military engineering, fighting, and getting in shape before we were both dispatched to Afghanistan.

The darkness is everywhere and I can no longer see the flooding tributary from the window. The heavy rain and thick darkness makes it so I can only see five or ten yards and I can just make out the silhouette of pine and oak trees twisting and swaying with the wind in a harmonious dance. The trees bend and shake but are held down by their roots, which delve deep into the earth and the layers of the past accumulated particle by particle. Without this strong base the trees would surely be uprooted. I hear thunder now; light, shrill, and crackly like my firecrackers. I see thin bolts of lightning leaving brief but bright trails of light across the black sky. The combination of the crackles of thunder, creaking wood, and flashes of light is calming and almost therapeutic. I count the time between bolts of lightning and thunder; the center of the storm is getting closer.

The sun was so hot during the day we could cook anything with a bit of aluminum foil in no time flat. Our outpost was a few miles from any small towns and we were surrounded by an ocean of dirt and rock; marooned. All of this loneliness built strong bonds between all twenty of us. Seamus and I were our group’s two certified engineers. Our job was to make sure that tech was in order and that our outpost maintained a high level of structural integrity.We spent the day sifting through all our gear over and over making a mental checklist of any malfunction or potential problem. The radio was the most vital piece of tech to keep in order. Every day we would report our activities back to our main command and every once in a while we’d get new information or orders from them. My life in the military was really uneventful. While Seamus and I worked the others of our group did their jobs keeping watch and going on patrols. When we first arrived at our little outpost these types of activities were nerve racking. Even though Seamus and I didn’t go on these patrols or keep watch, there was a looming fear of a sudden attack. The watchmen would make mind to keep there heads as low as possible, only poking their eyes over the top of sandbags and dirt mounds. If a patrol was taking too long everyone at camp would worry that they’d been ambushed or stepped on a stray IED. However, after a few weeks of going through this constant stress it all started to fade away and the only thing that was left was boredom and homesickness. Everyday I’d wake up and do the exact same things and see the exact same things without any real event to entertain me. Anything new at all would make me happy, so I asked to go on a patrol. Luckily for me, our sergeant sympathized with me and patrols were always uneventful. Seamus decided to come with me as well, since he was getting really claustrophobic from being in our tiny little outpost for weeks. So, early in the morning we went on patrol with four others under the blazing desert sun.

I’ve finished my sandwich and I wipe my white t-shirt and lap clean of crumbs. The storm is laying on water ferociously now. At this rate the banks of Turtle Lake will flood by morning and swallow any scraps I’ve left behind by my tree stumps. Good thing everything in the basement is off the ground or in a plastic bag to keep it dry. I was working on a rocket down there earlier today, and I wouldn’t want it to get ruined before I got a chance to test it out; see how far it went, or how quickly it took off. Or how far it went before failing; how quickly it veered off-course and smashed into a tree or exploded like a warhead. It’s about 2 yards long, with slender tail fins slanted downward for improved stability. It looks like a small missile, painted white, with stripes around the nose cone for style, like something that might be fired from a plane or maybe from some truck. Launching it tomorrow will be the highlight of my boring, repetitive week; to see and hear it take off, and return to earth leaving a plume of smoke behind it. Assuming it doesn’t fail, it will be a great time. With all this anticipation in mind and nothing left to do for the day, I might as well go to bed. I hear the floorboards creak as I get up and grab a hold of my chair. The chair scratches the floor making a screech-like noise and loud echoing thuds when hitting bumps. I reach my dining room table and right the chair so it sits opposite of the only other chair at the table. As I turn to head to bed, I hear thunder so loud and so close that my whole body shakes. This is instantly followed by a sharp crack, piercing my ears like a whip and a long groaning and creaking before all of a sudden I go deaf as the roof caves in and a window shatters under the weight of a massive pine. Where I was sitting just a moment ago is now a pile of rubble; broken glass, splintered wood, and shattered shingles.

I’ve never dwelt upon my past very much. It’s something that comes in small, inconsistent ripples that wash lightly over the shore. A soothing background tone like white noise that over time becomes imperceptible. But even though it was many, many years ago, I can still, today, remember every detail of my first patrol with Seamus and the rest of our squad in the scratchy desert sand under the orange-ish light of the early morning sun. The trek was long and tiring; no stopping and very little talking. It wasn’t more than fifteen minutes in when I got a sharp pebble in my right boot. Each step and it poked into the balls of my foot leaving an impression. Still better than just sitting around at camp. Besides, eventually I adjusted, the pain subsided, and I took in my new surroundings. Sure it was all rocks and sand, but some of the formations were quite beautiful. The dark black clouds on the horizon had an interesting contrast with the rising sun. A few tall, dull brown and tan spires looked over our little convoy with a stern but indecipherable judgement. After ages of walking the landscape became a blur and no one had anything left to talk about. Now even this fresh form of escape became boring and worn. Fortunately we had reached the end of our patrol and were making our way back to camp, marching in file. At least at camp we didn’t have to march so much. I’d never do this again if I was paid, although I guess I already am. Halfway back to camp we got a call over the radio. A storm was headed in and we needed to hurry. The western horizon was completely black now and the wind was rapidly picking up. Our march became a steady jog, still in file, but with intermittent gaps. A quarter of the way back to camp now with the wall of dust as sharp as nails gaining on us. All of sudden there was a boom and the whole file was thrown to the ground. The ground just a few yards ahead of me were Seamus had been was now a scorch marked crater. The smoke trail stretching from a nearby rock collection quickly disappeared into a cloud of dust. Shouts of “Take Cover!” and “Is anyone badly hit!?” were barely audible over the shrieking of the wind and the ringing in my ears. Every part of me hurt. I was almost too groggy to get to my feet. The sand storm burned my face as I looked around for Seamus. I couldn’t see more than a few feet because of the thick dust. I frantically looked around to find my squad mates. I stumbled through the dust towards the voices. My hears were still buzzing, but I could hear gun fire and see the muzzle flash lighting up the dust and smoke. I could finally see the rock my squad mates were taking cover behind. But before I could reach them I felt something grab at my ankle with a firm grasp, loose at first, and then tight as a vise. My head bounced inside my helmet as I hit the ground and my vision blurred to black.

My eyes are now rough and red, partially because of the sawdust cloud put up by the falling pine and partially because of the tears collecting at my chin. The gash left behind in the roof has now become a pure black rift. Looking up into it is like looking into a black hole, light cannot escape, only rain is able to find its way out of that void. Now a faint warm glow is growing and trying to fill the space engulfed in darkness. The lightning has set the tree ablaze, giving off a little bit of light so that I can just barely see around me. The fire is spreading as it feeds off the tree and broken bits of wood cabin, but no matter how big it gets it will never quench the black maw in the ceiling. Only flashes of lightning briefly illuminate the sky above. Besides, the continuous, heavy rain is killing the fire as it spreads, causing it to frantically wave and struggle as it’s put out by the bombardment. My house is destroyed and I can no longer look on in awe or simply ignore the storm outside. I’m all out of lettuce with nowhere to go and all I can think of is the scorched where Seamus stood last and feel my tendons tense as I feel the squeezing around my left ankle.

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