The Storm & the Monster by Olivia McCarthy-Stevens

Mississippi, 1928

Heat stuffed the old town. The roads were ever dusty, but they seemed to bring a miniature sandstorm when they were kicked. Grandpa Joe would bring us all in, during times like these. He would tell us not to worry, because he had seen the warnings early.

Warnings. Signs. The air was damp, humid. It was so stuffy, we could scarcely all breathe outside, never mind underground, where we would hide.

I remember, we ran straight home from school, ignoring the dark looks, and the occasional, boring insult from the whites; we raced to see who would be first to tell them of the coming danger. I was too old, really, to be racing – a girl of fourteen, racing against my sister Rosalie, ten, and my twelve-year-old brothers (yes, twins – they were called Kenny and Jackson) and my six-year-old brother, Darwin. As it were, my sister arrived first. Panting, she flung herself into the armchair by the fire, and retold the signs. Of course, the adults knew, and were already packing.

Mama checked we were all accounted for, while Papa gathered the rest of our supplies. You could never tell when it would stop, and it sometimes it lasted for days. We heard the first drum of thunder. Not long now – I loved storms; just not the things that follow them, not where we were, anyway. Lightning stuck, instantly igniting a tree somewhere. We hurried now, and arrived in our ‘safe house’. Rosalie and I nabbed the best spot, or the spot we loved. Making ourselves comfortable, we tried to remain cheerful.

Then, it started. Rain pounded down, soaking the ground; the last sign of what was to come.

I think it was night when I was woken. Outside, the monster raged, and we could hear it ripping apart houses, shredding fields of crops. It seemed the whole family was awake too, and we gathered together and prayed for the souls who were and would be taken tonight by the monster. I could see it in my mind’s eye, evil, dark, cruel and unjust. It growled, spit, whined and twisted. Groaning, it filled us with terror and alarm. I could feel Mama silently counting us, as if to make sure we were still there, safe with her. I confident she would feel as though it were her fault if we died through because of the monster.

After a day and a half, the moaning and whining stopped slowly. Just as well, because we were running low on food. Boredom had seized us, so in spite of the destruction and chaos there would be, we were desperate to leave. As we opened the door we gasped.