The Incognito Parallel -16-

Very, very frightening...

incognito.gifby Wanda Cunningham

Chapter 16
Thunder and Lightning

Chapter 16 - Thunder and Lightning

I felt a stab of fear, certain for a moment that Dad's uncles had caught up with us. I glanced at Mom who looked more puzzled than afraid.

"Tornado warning?" she muttered then shook her head. "I don't think they have tornadoes in New Mexico, not near the mountains." We heard thunder, too, a long roll that meant it was a long way off.

Back home, tornadoes had been rare near the city but sometimes hit some small nearby town pretty hard. I stopped thinking about uncles and got down off the chair I had climbed, not really relieved to think it might only be a bad storm.

Mom opened the door of our room and peered out. A chilly wet wind blew in with the noise of the sirens so loud they seemed to be right in the room with us. I tried to crowd in beside her to get a look, too, but she pushed the door closed, locked and latched it with the chain. She looked at me and she looked worried. "Get dressed," she said. "Wear your new clothes."

I could hear three distinct sorts of sirens. One was the electronic-sounding honk-honk-honk-braaap!-wee-oo-wee-oo used by police cars back home. The second was the high pitched owie-wowie-owie-wowieeee! that meant an ambulance to me. And the last was the deep-toned double oo-OO-oo-OO-oo that only fire and rescue trucks used in the midwest. I had a new and very scary thought. "They're across the street, aren't they?" I asked Mom.

She nodded "Get dressed. We're leaving before someone comes looking for the little girl in the Tinker Belle hat."

"I...." I didn't want to say what I had suddenly thought but Mom saw my face and pulled me into a hug.

"It's probably nothing, honey," she whispered. "Probably nothing at all." She patted me on the back. "We'll get dressed and leave and we'll be at Martha's in the morning. Okay?"

I nodded, my cheek against her side. We stood like that for a moment. I don't know what Mom thought about, it was all I could do not to think about the baseball in the sump-thing. We didn't let go all at once but only a little at a time.

Mom checked her hair in the mirror again, decided that she'd done enough. The multi-colored hairdo distracted you from looking at her face and it did make her look younger, somehow.

I found the gray jeans with the pink stitching and removed the labels, using a pair of manicure scissors. Mom bounced around the room, then slipped on the pair of black jeans she'd bought for herself. She changed her top, too.

I pulled on my new jeans and they fit just right, not too tight, not too loose. I thought they felt good, a better fit than any of my other pants.

"Looking good, honey," said Mom, smiling at me.

I tried to smile back but we both could still hear the sirens across the street.

"Wear your sneaks, hon," she said when I started to put my sandals back on. "It's still going to be raining when we leave."

"Okay," I said. Outside, I could sort of hear someone talking on a megaphone like cops and firemen sometimes do at the scene of an accident. Or at least, they do that in the movies.

I wore my new socks with my old boy-type sneakers. Probably no one would notice. They'd get wet but my leather boy shoes were still outside in the Jeep.

Mom collected things out of the bathroom, putting them back into our suitcases. She put her dirty clothes into a plastic bag and mine into another different bag.

"We've got to do more shopping for you," she said.

"I know." I found the new tops we had bought and decided to wear the green one with the baby animals. Just then I wanted to feel younger, back when I thought Mom --and Dad-- could keep anything bad from happening. I snipped the little plastic tags off and put the scissors back in the overnight bag. I got one of Mom's tissues and blew my nose. Then I changed shirts.

One of the sirens outside stopped, I think it was the firetruck with the deep, "OO - oo - OO - oo!" It had been so warm in the room earlier but my arms had goosebumps.

I went to look at myself in the mirror. A little red-headed girl I didn't know looked back at me. I found another tissue and wiped my eyes and blew my nose again.

The ambulance sound cut off suddenly, right in the middle, with a loud chirp. A roaring noise that had also been going on got louder, the rain coming down. It almost drowned out the sound of the cop car's noisy hooting and beeping. Maybe there were two cop cars, not quite sounding the same. There were gusts of wind out there, making the rain louder then not so loud. The little brown air conditioner on the wall rattled like a drum when the wind threw the rain against it.

Mom and I stopped in the middle of the room to hold each other again. We didn't say anything until Mom squeezed me and said, "Help me finish packing."

We had everything packed back up in about ten minutes, except Mom found our rain coats and left them out, laying mine across the bed. She put hers on. "I'll carry everything out to the car, honey. You stay here until we're about to go."

"You're still sick," I told her. "You shouldn't be carrying stuff in the rain." She hadn't coughed or sneezed once since we first heard the sirens, though.

"It's not far and all of our bags are light enough for me to carry alone," she said. "No use both of us getting wet." She smiled at me.

I tried to think. If I had something to say, maybe I wouldn't cry again. I sat on the bed and pulled the rain coat into my lap. It was blue with bright orange panels on the back and sides and sleeves. It had big orange plastic buttons, too. The orange was brighter than the new color of my hair but it would probably look better on me than it had when I was blonde.

Mom opened the door to carry out our biggest bag, and the roar of the rain sounded like an ocean. I saw the ocean once when we went to New Jersey on vacation. This was louder, more like the ocean sounds in a movie when someone is going to get in trouble on a boat. She laughed when she came back in. "So much for using the hair dryer, huh?"

I nodded, smiling at her. I could still hear the police sirens.

She grabbed two of our smaller bags and headed out again. We hadn't brought in everything from the Jeep, so there were only two suitcases left, one of them full of the two bags of dirty clothes. I stood up and pulled the rain coat on, turning the hood up and pulling it down over my head, it almost hid my face. Like a lot of my old clothes it seemed a bit big. I guess Mom and Dad kept hoping I'd grow into them.

I looked in the mirror and fussed with the hood a bit. Maybe I could get clothes that fit from now on, I thought -- before the sirens outside reminded me of why I wanted to cry.

Mom came back and walked around the motel room, looking on shelves and on the floor for anything we had forgotten. I knew we hadn't missed picking everything up, so I just watched her. I'd already checked. She handed me the overnight bag and took the last large suitcase herself. "Let's go, kiddo," she said. Her smile looked a little fake.

When she opened the door, the sirens across the street got loud enough to break through the sound of the rain again.

"Don't look," Mom said as she hurried to the Jeep through the wind.

The town that had been so dry and dusty looked like it might get washed away in all the rain. When I stepped out from under the arcade in front of our motel room, a wind hit me and I staggered. I hadn't expected that but now I saw that the rain wasn't coming straight down but at an angle.The drops were big thunderstorm drops and they stung when they hit my face.

Mom had opened the rear door on her side and put the suitcase in with the others. "C'mon, honey," she called to me. "Let's get out of the wet. I bet we can outrun this storm in less than an hour." She had to be yelling or I wouldn't have been able to hear her. She closed the back door and opened the driver's door.

I wagged the overnight bag over to my side while Mom climbed in and reached across to open the door for me. I put the overnight bag in the floor in front of the front seat then climbed up. I hadn't noticed before but Mom had pulled my old booster seat out of the back and put it into place. I looked up at her.

"For a while," she said, "we're going to pretend you're young enough to need that. 'Kay?"

I nodded. Only last year, Dad had to talk a Missouri Highway Patrol out of giving him a ticket for me not being in a booster seat. I'd had to prove to the cop that I was ten by doing long division in my head. He picked a hard one, too -- seven into forty -- so I had asked him how much was sixteen times nineteen. I learned a trick for problems like that one. Dad laughed until the cop told him I was a very smart little girl.

I pulled the door closed and threaded the car seat belt through the booster. I got it adjusted right while Mom started the car then I sat down and fastened it around me. I smiled over at Mom and she reached over to tug on the belt. "That's good, honey," she said, smiling back.

I stuck my tongue out at her and we both laughed like we thought it was funny.

"I'll get you a dolly next time we stop," she promised.

I rolled my eyes. I wanted to ask her what kind of dolly but I didn't say anything. I hadn't brought Timmy, my bear, with us and something to hold would have been nice.

Mom backed the car out of the space, turning so we didn't face the side street where the police cars and firetruck had blocked the street. I couldn't twist to look back in the booster seat but I got a glimpse in the big outside mirror.

Lightning behind the trucks and cars lit everything up. A crane or a derrick hung over the sump-thing and they looked like they were pulling something out. Guys in bright yellow and blue slickers stood around looking sad. I couldn't see their faces but just how they stood looked sad. The thunder boomed, close this time.

My stomach turned to ice and I couldn't breathe for a minute. We went left on the street, heading into the wind and rain toward the freeway entrance at the south end of town. After a few blocks, I couldn't hear the sirens any more. I gasped in a big breath and squeezed the arms of the booster, trying not to cry.

Mom turned on the radio and someone sang a sad song in Spanish. We didn't say anything at all.

I thought about Jimmy and Andrew, Julio and Mattress, Natcho and Tony, Luz and Luz Maria, and little Delia who kept insisting on everyone calling me Annie. I wondered if the crane on the firetruck had been pulling one of them out of the sump-thing.

We turned west at the end of the town and got onto the freeway. The rain stopped. I almost cried myself to sleep. Mom passed me a box of tissues. I blew my nose and wiped my eyes and put the tissue into the little plastic trash bag we kept in the thing between the seats.

Outside the car, the clouds hurried away to the north, letting the stars shine on the weird desert. When had it got late enough for the stars to come out, I wondered. What would happen to us when we got to Martha's? Would Daddy be able to find us by tracing the Jeep? I wondered a lot of things and the radio played more sad songs.

Behind us, the thunder rolled again, getting further away. Had someone I knew and liked drowned in the sump-thing? How would I ever know?

Then I wondered if I would ever play baseball again.

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