I am ecstatic to have my short story “Once in a Lifetime” published by Potato Soup Journal. Thank you, editor Julie Howard.
Once in a Lifetime
A storm was coming. Christian could sense it. He smelled it in the air. He could feel the electricity sparking on his skin. The hairs on his arms and the back of his neck stood up and danced. The waves became angry, whipping into a frenzy as they crashed on the shore. Everything felt wild. He knew he had to find shelter fast. The sky suddenly darkened and the temperature plummeted. It was going to be a big one.
Christian was out walking on the lonely beach, and there was no safe place nearby. He ran for the dunes and hunkered down behind them in the tall sea oats. If only he had left a few minutes earlier, he might have made it back to his bicycle. Now that would be a dangerous move, because the metal frame might attract lightning. He prepared for the worst as the sky opened up and the rains began to fall. This was not going to be any ordinary rain storm. There was a tropical storm on the way, and it was heading towards the island. Why didn’t he evacuate like the authorities recommended that all visitors do? Even many of the native islanders had packed up and left for the duration.
As the storm built in strength, it was obvious that it had the making of a full-blown hurricane. Christian knew he had to get back to the village and to someplace safe. All the houses were built high up on stilts because of the frequent possibility of ocean over-wash. If he could get back to his rental, at least he would be high and dry. The fierce winds would be a different story. Right now, the only thing on his mind was how fast could he run for the village. He would have to leave his bike behind in the dunes. The narrow road that ran the length of the island and through the village was already flooded. He would have to go two miles in ankle-deep water with torrential downpours blurring his vision.
Christian stooped down low to make a dash from the dunes to the roadway. He lost his flip-flops along the way. Running as fast as he could barefoot through the rising water, he cursed himself. Why didn’t he listen to the governor’s announcement to leave the island before the storm hit?
Panting and exhausted, Christian trudged on, feeling as if he was running a marathon. It took him over an hour, but he finally made it back to his rental house. Then he remembered that he left his keys in the bike pack. The cellphone in his back pocket was drenched. He tried calling the rental agency, but there was no answer. Of course, everyone would have left the office to go home and secure their own houses. Now what was he going to do? He felt like crying.
The storm was becoming so loud that he could not hear anything but its constant roar. The entire island was now under two feet of water. He climbed the steps to the deck of the house he was renting to be above the raging waters. He huddled close to the house under the overhang. He had to think quickly. He was becoming concerned about being blown away. His car that was down below in the driveway was already a total loss, with water seeping in up to the seats.
Suddenly Christian heard a voice. Someone was calling up to him from down below. Who would be crazy enough to be out in the streets in this storm? Crawling over to the edge of the deck, he looked down. There in a small motor boat was a woman maneuvering the flooded streets as if there were canals. He could not see much of her under her yellow hooded slicker. It reminded him of photos he had seen of fishermen out at sea in their yellow rain gear. He could tell it was a woman by her voice. He yelled down “Hello, I am locked out of my rental house. Can you help me?” She yelled up “Can you manage getting down to my boat?” Christian waved and started slowly creeping down the steps, holding on for dear life. The wind was much worse than he anticipated. The railing seemed to sway with each gust. It took his breath away. It felt like forever to make his way down.
When he finally got there, he tried to get into the boat, but lost his balance and went under. The water was now about three feet high and everything was slippery and moving fast from the current. The woman pulled out an oar, and reached for him. She pulled him in deftly as if she was experienced at this. When he finally managed to crawl into the boat, she asked “Why the hell didn’t you leave when you were told to?” He looked at her sheepishly, and just shrugged his shoulders, then replied, “I guess never thought that it could get this bad. And, besides I wanted one last walk on the beach before it hit. I wasn’t expecting it to come on so fast.”
She shook her head and said, “Dingbatters!” “What?” he replied. She continued, “Stupid Dingbatters, they do not know the island, but come here to vacation. That is what we call Off-islanders.” “Oh” was all he could mutter. “Well, this Dingbatter, as you call them, is named Christian, what may I ask is the name of my rescuer?” “Lynn,” she replied brusquely. “Hold on. I am going to start up the motor and go look for other lost souls.” The motor started with a jolt, and they were on their way.
They searched the island for another twenty minutes before Lynn decided that everyone else was safe at home or had left the island, like they should have. Then she turned the boat around and heading for the center of the village, where the highest ground was. The highest ground was only a foot or so above the rest of the island, but it did make a difference. Many of the islanders used to park their cars in this area during storms. Now almost every resident had a garage that was lifted up on pilings above ground. People live and learn, or lose everything if they don’t.
Maneuvering the small craft up to a store front, Lynn said, “This is my art & craft gallery. I have an office upstairs that can double as an efficiency apartment when needed.” Then she pulled around back and carefully brought the boat to a stop over a submerged boat trailer. “Just in case we get stuck here, I will have a way to get the boat back to the dock in Silver Lake,” she stated.
They got out and climbed the open slat wooden steps to the second floor of the shop. It was very small, but beautifully decorated, as expected belonging to an art shop owner. Everything was very colorful and tasteful. Lynn pointed to a wooden bench along the entranceway and told Christian to wait there. She went over to the back of the room and opened a large wall-to-wall closet to retrieve several towels and a blanket. “Here,” she said. “I don’t have any clothes here that would fit you, but these may help you keep dry and warm.” Lynn checked a few things around the room, then sat down at the desk chair looking at Christian. Just then, there was a strong gust of wind and a loud crack. Everything went dark. “Looks as if we will be without electricity for a while. Most of us on the island have generators, but no one will be going out to start them until this thing calms down a bit.” Christian cringed, he felt helpless and stupid. He shivered. He was cold from being dripping wet.
Lynn asked “Are you hungry?” He said “Yes, to quote an old saying, I am so hungry I could eat a horse.” Lynn just looked at him with a blank stare. Christian gulped, then continued “Oh, I guess that was inappropriate, considering the wild ponies that roam the upper island. Will they be okay in this storm?” Smiling, Lynn said “Yes. They have been here for generations and know where to go to higher ground and shelter. They are smarter than most humans.” “Especially dingbatters” Christian added. She laughed in reply, “Yes, especially dingbatters!” She went to the cabinets that lined the wall over what acted as a kitchen. There was a small refrigerator, hot plate, microwave, and sink along that same wall. Reaching in she pulled out 2 cans of sardines and a box of crackers. “I hope you can stomach sardines? I don’t keep very much food here, just a few things for emergencies.” “Right now, I could eat anything” he replied, then stopped short. Lynn finished his train of thought “I know, even a horse.” They both laughed. Before they sat down, Lynn reached in the small refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of white wine. “We might as well drink it before it gets warm. Who knows how long it will be before we get electricity back?”
After eating and washing off the few dishes and utensils, Lynn looked at her watch. “I need to get back to my house and check on my cats and dog. You may spend the night here” she added. “There is a pull-down cot in the wall across from the kitchenette.” “You are prepared for everything, aren’t you?” he stated. “You have to be if you want to live here” she replied.
It was a long tortuous night, and the storm raged on. The wind and downpour kept Christian awake most of the night. He hung his wet clothes over the sink in the small half-bathroom. He would have loved a warm shower, but there was no room in the tiny apartment. He longed for access to his rental house. Taking a deep breath, he decided to be grateful that he was alive and inside. He would worry about calling his insurance company to get a rental car, and have his car towed to a repair shop tomorrow.
It was about 6:30am when Christian heard the door open. He must have finally fallen asleep. Startled, it took him a few minutes to remember where he was. And then he remembered that he did not have any clothes on. “Hold on a minute, PLEASE!” he shouted. He wrapped the blanket around himself and rushed off to the bathroom to retrieve his still damp swim-shorts and tee shirt. “It’s a beautiful sunny day,” Lynn shouted back from outside the door. “The locals are all out cleaning up debris and repairing the damage.” I am leaving you some dry clothes that I brought from the tee-shirt shop next door, and a bagel & hot coffee for breakfast.” Christian called “Come in. How can I ever thank you enough?” Lynn smiled and said “Just don’t ever do anything as reckless as this again. You could have been injured, or worse washed out to sea.”
It was 8:00am when Christian waited outside the Rental agency’s office door. It was a beautiful day out, despite all the puddles of water, and objects like toys and yard furniture floating around. When he finally got a spare key from an agent, and got back to his house, he realized that he should pack up and go home. He would just be in the way while the islanders were busy cleaning up. Besides, none of the restaurants or shops would be open for several days.
Luckily the one lone road on the island was passable. It had sand over-wash, but was not completely buried. Many times in the past, the road would be closed for days, even weeks while crews removed sand, rebuilt the dunes, and repaired the blacktop. Christian did have to wait one more day since the ferries off the island were still not up and running. He would not be able to get a rental car from Nags Head until they were running again. He decided to walk into the village and see if he could help any of the locals with cleanup and repairs. He saw Lynn and waved. Walking over to him she said, “How long do you have to stay here?” He replied “Just another day or two.” She smiled and they walked off together towards the fire station where everyone was gathering to get their chores assigned. It was a long and exhausting day. Christian was happy to be able to lend a hand. He felt that it was a small payback for being saved and cared for.
Bright and early the next morning, Christian packed up his clothes and supplies. He waited for the rental car to come down by ferry. Once he was on his way, he stopped by the place where he had been walking on the beach when the storm hit. There, buried in the dunes, he saw one handlebar of his bike reaching up from under the deep pile of sand. It reminded him of movies where a drowning man would reach up above the surface of the water to yell “HELP,” before going under again. He decided to leave it there as a reminder to himself and others. Looking north toward the ferry landing, the sky was a beautiful bright blue with just a few fluffy white clouds. “Did the last three days really happen, or was it all a dream?” he wondered to himself as he drove home to his safe, dry, and boring life. He had enough excitement for one year. But who knows what next year will bring? Christian would definitely be back to the island, hopefully a little bit wiser next time!