by Sally Wheaton
Hannibal shrugged. “Don’t rightly know, Jed, never saw nothing like that before.”
The two boys stood up from where they’d been playing on the grass and stared into the distance.
“S’Bigger” declared Jed a few moments later, wide-eyed.
“It’s kinda strange,” replied Hannibal, intrigued as always by anything new.
“Ma!” called Jed, starting to feel uneasy.
“Ma!” Hannibal shouted more loudly when Jed received no answer and then quickly corrected himself. “Mother!”
“What is it Hannibal? We’re kind of busy right now,” his mother’s voice came from inside the Curry home.
“Mother! Come see this!”
“This, this … I don’t know what it is, but it’s kinda strange”
Inside the house, Sarah smiled and shook her head.
“You think it’s a cricket or a beetle this time?” asked Elizabeth as she spooned the boiling fruit mixture into the jar Sarah was holding.
“A cricket probably, at least a foot long.”
“That small?” laughed Elizabeth.
“I’ll be right out Hannibal,” Sarah called, crinkling up her nose to show her distaste at the thought of going outside and feigning interest in whatever creepy crawly Hannibal had uncovered today.
“Boys!” Elizabeth rolled her eyes.
“Oh boys are bad enough, but I have to get an inquisitive one,” replied Sarah, laughing.
Back outside Jed was pointing.
“It’s stopped,” he announced.
Hannibal watched it carefully and decided Jed was right. It did seem to be completely still now.
“What is it?” he asked out loud, without expecting anyone to answer him. He took a few tentative steps closer, but it seemed to make little difference and so he went a little further. He felt Jed take hold of his hand and together they trotted across the grass.
“S’big” said Jed, pointing at it as they reached the top of the rise a few moments later.
Hannibal nodded and as he did, a particularly strong gust of wind blew his hat off his head. He tried to grasp it, but missed and the two boys giggled and ran down the rise towards the hat. Hannibal had almost reached it when another gust took it just out of his grasp.
“Chase!” squealed Jed in excitement. Jed loved a game of Chase, whether it be one of his older brothers chasing him or him chasing a bird – or a hat. He tried to go faster, an enormous grin lighting up his face, but his little legs couldn’t keep up and he toppled forward and rolled down the slope. Hannibal threw himself onto the ground with a peel of laughter and joined in rolling down the slope.
At the bottom he rolled right on top of his hat. He rescued it and started to place it back on his head, but decided against it as the wind was really getting up now and would surely only blow it off again. Instead he stuffed it into his pocket as he climbed back to his feet.
Still lying on the ground, Jed pointed up at the sky.
“Gone black,” he stated.
“Sure has Jed.”
The kitchen door slammed shut behind Nathanial as he burst into the house, breathing heavily from the run across the field. Elizabeth and Sarah looked up, puzzled at his sudden entrance.
“The root cellar! NOW! Everyone!”
Elizabeth realised straight away what he meant and grabbed the baby in one arm whilst at the same time pushing the biscuits she’d baked into a tea towel with her other arm.
Sarah stood still, unsure for a moment what was happening.
“Beth! Esther! To the root cellar!” hollered Nathanial, ushering the two girls out of the door. “Sarah, get Hannibal and Jed.”
Sarah sprung herself into action, realisation setting in, and she darted out of the door to bring the two boys to the shelter of the root cellar. She came to a sudden halt. They weren’t there. Just a moment ago they’d been just outside the door, calling to them about a cricket. Where were they?
“Hannibal! Jed! Where are you?” she called frantically and then, receiving no answer, she shouted at the top of her voice “HANNIBAL! JED! COME HERE AT ONCE!”
She looked towards the rise but couldn’t see them. What she could see though, froze her to the core as her eyes widened in horror. It was twice the size of any she had ever seen, a black and swirling mass, cone-shaped, reaching down from the clouds right to the ground.
And it wasn’t moving. Which, she knew, meant it was. Straight towards her.
And Hannibal and Jed were nowhere to be seen.
She screamed their names once more and, hitching up her skirt, oblivious to everything else, she started running towards the rise. Hannibal loved anything new, always wanted to get closer, close enough to see, to touch, to experience. She knew, she just knew, that he would have gone towards it.
As Nathanial guided his family out of the door, he saw Sarah take off. He pushed the children towards the root cellar where Nate and Zach were already waiting. “Get everyone inside!” he told the two older boys.
Elizabeth pushed the baby into Beth’s arms, but Nathanial took her quickly by the shoulders. “No, Lizzie, I’ll be finding him, you’ll be staying with the young ‘uns.”
“No!” she cried back, “my little boy’s out there!”
“Lizzie, I’ll be getting him, I’ll bring him back, now you’ll be keeping the others safe.” There was no time to discuss it, but he couldn’t leave his other children on their own, if he shouldn’t make it back in time, then they’d need her. He pushed her none too gently into the root cellar and, with a promise of “I’ll get him,” he started after Sarah.
The wind was rising as Sarah staggered up the rise. It whipped into her face, smarting her cheeks and making it difficult to breathe, her skirt and apron were blowing up all around her, but she didn’t care, she had only one thing on her mind. She had to find him, had to. She was not, was not going to lose him now, she couldn’t, not after everything.
As she reached the top of the rise, she saw them not far off, both of them staring at the approaching twister. Tears of relief streamed down her face as she called to them.
“Mother, look!” Hannibal smiled up at her, pointing towards the tornado. “What is it?”
She gave thanks that she knew him so well and bent down to scoop Jed up into her arms.
“It’s dangerous that’s what it is, and it’s coming this way. We have to run Hannibal, come on, as fast as you can.”
She grabbed his hand and started back towards the house, running as fast as she could, with a two year old on one arm and a four year old hanging onto the other, half running, half being dragged along beside her. She was relieved when Nathanial caught up with them and she handed Jed across into his strong, safe grasp and whisked Hannibal up into her arms.
“Hold on tight Hannibal,” she commanded as he flung his arms around her neck, firmly but not so tightly that she couldn’t breathe.
Was it because he was her only son, or was it something to do with the way he held on she wondered, but suddenly he didn’t feel like any weight at all, it was as if she was running with no burden and she almost kept up with Nathanial as they raced towards the safety of the root cellar, with the tornado only moments behind them.
The noise of the wind was deafening now, making strange whistling sounds in her ears and not too far away she could hear the sounds of wood creaking and snapping. Her breathe was coming in short bursts and she was sure she couldn’t continue much further, but something kept her moving forward, on and on.
As they approached the root cellar, Elizabeth reached out and took Jed closely into her arms, relieved beyond measure to have him safe. Nathanial turned to help Sarah, who tumbled down onto the stone floor, Hannibal still in her arms. She held her son close to her and gave in to the tears. Hannibal was safe. He was alive. It was the only thing that mattered.
They huddled together in the middle of the cellar, holding onto each other tightly as the roar of the tornado increased all around. They could hear the deafening claps of thunder and the hailstones pounding the ground and then a loud screech followed by a huge crashing noise from the direction of the house. The adults all looked at each other. It was evidently right on top of them and Elizabeth squeezed everyone even closer. Whatever the damage outside, her family were safe. Everything else they could, they would, repair.
Though it had seemed to last forever, it was actually only a few moments later when the thunderous noise calmed and they heard only the rhythmic sound of the heavy rain. Nathanial opened the door of the cellar and climbed out, Elizabeth and his children close behind.
For a second, he could only stare at the scene of destruction, shocked to see half the contents of his house lying around him and a line across the field where his un-harvested crops, especially precious this year, had been completely flattened.
He felt Elizabeth’s hand on his arm as she stood beside him.
“It never rains but it pours as my father used to say.” She sounded dejected. “How will we ever pay for the repairs to this?” She pointed to the damage to the roof and parts of the wall of their log cabin.
“There’s money enough.” He patted her hand and gave her a small, but determined nod. “Take Jed and Ruth and check inside the house.”
She nodded resolutely back at him as he started to give the rest of the family instructions.
“Nate, Zach, check on the animals. Beth and Esther, start picking up what you can. I’ll be dealing with the dead chickens and then the three of us can pile the roof shingles over here.”
Sarah stood just outside the root cellar with Hannibal and took a moment to answer his previous question. “That, Hannibal, was a tornado”. They watched it continue on its way and Sarah breathed a sigh of relief that it hadn’t gone in the direction of their home.
“What’s a tornado?” her son asked, his natural curiosity none the worse for the experience. She smiled to herself and knelt down beside him, ignoring the rain and the mud, bracing herself for, and at the same time delighting in, the barrage of questions she knew would follow.