Sally left her cocoon of thick blankets on the rocking chair and peered through the wispy curtains. She gasped at what the loud storm left in its wake. In all of her sixteen years, she had never seen such a sight. She allowed the eerie amber clouds to draw her away from the safety of her house.
Her parents and little sister had been at the church all day, leaving her alone to do as she pleased once the chores were finished. It was the first time that she had ever been left alone to face thunder and lightning. Though she knew storms could not hurt her, a growing sense of unease made the hairs on her arms stand on end even as she stepped barefoot across the yard. It was gone, but it rattled her to the core.
The tempest had torn over the countryside and vanished as quickly as it came. Rather than a rainbow, God had gifted her with the most lovely, odd skies. She lifted her skirts and broke into a run for the open field. She twirled a few times and then collapsed into the soft, wet grass. Her mother would scold her for being so free with her movements, but the truth was that Sally daydreamed often. It was the moments when she was alone that she forgot she was a lady.
She rolled onto her side and inhaled the damp ground’s earthy aroma.
“Oh, how I long to paint this beautiful sky,” she breathed. “And I shall.”
She willed for the yellow-stained sky to stay as it was as she raced back for the house to gather her painting supplies. Surely it would not vanish as quickly as the storm had. When her hand reached the knob of the front door, she peered over her shoulder and screamed at what she saw.
A thick black funnel cloud reached from the skies to the ground. Frozen in terror, Sally watched as it touched down at the edge of the forest. It was too close. Hard pattering broke the silence as hail rained down.
“God, protect me.”
With a wail, she covered her head with her arms and ran for the root cellar as her daddy had instructed her to do. The strengthening wind caught on her skirts and she thought for a moment that it was going to carry her away, but she made it to the door. She looked back. The tears in her eyes blurred the tornado, making it seem bigger. It was moving closer to her as the devilishly strong winds howled over the land.
“Oh my God. Oh my God.”
She opened the door to the shelter with shaking hands, flinching as the frozen balls of rain slammed against her back.
“Sally!” called a familiar voice.
She spun around, holding the door for support. Jeremiah Scott, one of the younger farmers in the area that she saw every Sunday at church, was riding his horse toward her. Behind him, the monstrous spinning cone gained width as it tore the earth apart.
“Hurry!” she yelled.
Every fiber of her being longed to close the door, lock it, and hide away before it took her. Her pounding heart made her wonder if she would drop dead from the terror that filled her veins. She leaned against the wall of the cellar as Jeremiah leaped off his horse and ran inside of the cellar.
He slammed the door shut and locked it. The winds howled beyond their small refuge and Sally wondered if it was the tornado’s call to claim them. She couldn’t see Jeremiah in the darkness, but she was suddenly grateful that she would not have to face the living hell alone.
“I’ll hold it shut,” he said, panting. “You get back there and hold on.”
A chill ran down Sally’s spine.
“Do you think it will come this way?”
“It’s wind, not a monster! It might vanish as quickly as it came.”
“Please God, let that be so!”
Sally cowered against the far wall and sunk to the floor.
“Wh-what were you doing out this way?” she asked.
“I was on my way home until this thing happened. It will be okay, Sally. People survive this all the time.”
Her parents’ faces flashed across her mind and she shuddered.
“What about the people at the church?” she asked.
“There’s a root cellar next to the church and I never heard of a tornado ruining God’s house.”
Sally swallowed past the painful lump in her throat. She hoped it was true that anyone inside of a church would be protected from nature’s wrath.
The door rattled. The tornado was nearly upon them.
“Hold on tight, Sally!” yelled Jeremiah over the screaming gale.
Gritting her teeth, she silently pleaded with God to spare them both. She barely knew him, but he seemed like a good man. He was risking his life for her; she nearly shut him out of the cellar moments ago.
She braced herself for the door to be torn from its hinges. She could already taste death, while hours earlier the thought of it could not have been further from her mind. Life changed so quickly. She was not sure if she was ready to accept real life just yet and it occurred to her then what little power she held over her own life.
“Everything is changing,” she whispered. “These may be my last words.”
Just when the deafening noise became unbearable, the winds slowly died down and the hailing turned into rain until all that could be heard in the root cellar was Sally’s soft crying.
“It’s over,” breathed Jeremiah.
“Don’t open the door! Not yet,” begged Sally.
She had a terrifying vision of the tornado still hovering above them like an evil spirit, waiting to rip them apart in its violent depths. A wild sense of impending doom welled up in the pit of her stomach. It felt as though the storm changed everything and that she would not be stepping into the same world again.
“All right,” said Jeremiah quietly. “We’ll stay inside a bit longer.”