A family reunion becomes a nightmare....or was it?
Sleeping Through the Storm
By: Erin Elder
A lightening bolt speared the sky twice like a relentless warrior. Marcus flinched slightly; his hands gripped the steering wheel a little more tightly as the loud crack of thunder caused Bianca, his two-year old to yelp with fear. His wife, Marissa, though somewhat nervous herself, smiled as she turned to comfort her youngest child. “It’s okay, sweetie,” she said as she reached out to pat Bianca’s knee. “You’re safe here with Mommy and Daddy.”
“I’ll protect her, Mommy,” said a possessive older sister Chloe, as she stretched out her own hands to barely reach Bianca’s dark curls. “I’m sitting closer to her.” Marcus and Marissa looked at each other and barely stifled a laugh at their five-year old’s assumed adulthood. Marissa looked at Chloe with true sincerity. “Thank you so much, my dear. And remember, you can always ask me or Daddy for help.”
“Okay, Mommy,” replied Chloe airily.
As if waiting for that part of the conversation to end, the sky began to rain even harder, the deluge making it difficult for Marcus to see at all. The small family car began to crawl through the onslaught of water. Marcus turned the windshield wipers on full blast, but it hardly made a difference. “At least we’re almost there,” he said, hoping he sounded calm.
Indeed, they were almost at the long bridge that would take them into the charming coastal village of Beckley Island, North Carolina, where Marissa’a father lived. Marissa sighed inwardly, both excited and dreading the sight of her long estranged father, Earl Lindeman, Beckley Island’s former Mayor. Years of teenage rebellion and partying had taken its toll on her relationship with her father and he had banished her after she had flunked out of college. Pregnant, alone, and scared, she had run off with her then boyfriend and now husband, an aspiring chef named Marcus Whitaker. Marcus had been participating in an internship program at one of the local seafood restaurants, The Captain’s Grille, but lived near Raleigh with his family where he attended culinary school. Marcus, a kind man who had fallen deeply in love with his blond girlfriend introduced her to his family as his fiancé, and despite the racial differences, they accepted her right away.
Marissa smiled at her husband as he steered the car carefully, approaching the overpass to get on the Beckley Bridge. God, how I love him, she thought. As if he heard her thoughts, the handsome black man glanced over at her. “Whuh? This is the right way, isn’t it?”
Marissa laughed. “Yep, you got it.”
“A little….but excited and happy too. Dad sounded good on the phone. I mean lots of families go through this and come out great. I’m sure he missed me and wants to see his granddaughters.”
“I’m sure everything will be fine.” Marcus peered out across the car’s dashboard. “I only hope that this weather doesn’t put a damper on things.”
“Well, that’s okay,” Marissa responded. “It’s really too cold anymore to take the girls swimming with this already being November anyway. There’s lots of things to do indoors at Beckley Island anyway. There’s the art gallery, the old movie house, and a lot of really cool restaurants and gift shops. Plus, back at my Dad’s house….” Marissa said as she turned and grinned playfully at her nearly identical green-eyed daughters, “I bet he kept all of my toys, so you two should have a blast playing with them and seeing how Mommy grew up. Would you two like that?” she asked.
Chloe smiled and clapped her pretty little tan hands together. “Did you have cars, Mommy?”
“Did I ever!” Marissa laughed. “ I had the loop-de-loop race track. I’ll show you if your Grandfather didn’t get rid of it. I think he still has it. And for you, Miss Bianca, there are some real pretty baby dolls I bet you would like. He did tell me he saved those. My Momma would never have let him throw those out.” Bianca stared back wide-eyed, uncomprehending at first, but brightened at the words ‘baby doll.’
Chloe looked a little sad. “ I wish I could meet Grandmother.”
“Me too sweetie.” Answered Marissa. “But I’ll show you some pictures of her so you can see how you and Bianca both got her eyes and we’ll have a lot of fun, okay?”
“Okay!” said Bianca.
“Okay, okay, okay!” chimed Bianca. It was her favorite new word.
“I’m glad she likes that word,” said Marcus. “It could be a lot worse.”
“I suppose so. Remember when the other one found the word spelled n-o? Marissa reminisced. “She used that constantly.”
“Uh, huh,” said Marcus. “That’s exactly the example I was thinking about.”
They drove on for a few more minutes, Bianca singing a chorus of ‘okays’ in the background of Marcus and Marissa discussing ideas on what to do once they hit town, now only a few minutes away. Marcus had a brainstorm.
“I think maybe you and your Dad should spend a few minutes without me, so I thought what I’d do is go shopping for ingredients for a fine dinner. I could take the girls or let them meet him, either way is fine…”
“Oh no you don’t, those girls are my ice breakers. Don’t you take them!” Marissa teased.
“Okay fine, see, and I’d come back and prepare a feast. Let him see the successful chef his daughter married.”
“I think he’s already accepted you dear,” said Marissa. “Otherwise we would not have even be invited.”
“Even though I’m…”
“Black. Yes, dear. I promise you my Dad has a very long arm. He knows exactly who, and what color you are. I am sure he has accepted you by now. Lots of older folks reconsider and want to make amends in their old age. That is what my Dad said. He said he is old and did not want to spend his last years apart from his family anymore.”
“I suppose I can understand that,” said Marcus as he watched another bolt of lightening dance across the afternoon sky. The thunder cracked again, but more off in the distance. “Well girls, I think the storm may be heading off to sea. We’re chasing it away.”
The girls clapped in unison and Marissa directed. “Take a right turn at the next light, we’re almost there.
The cape cod style house looked like something out of a magazine. It stood majestically three stories high, the weather vane turning back and forth crazily as if was frantically making up its mind about which way the wind was blowing. Hey dude, sometimes, I feel that way too. Marcus smiled to himself. She picked me after living with this all of her life, Marcus thought amazed at the adoration of his lovely wife. He had done well as a chef, working in one of the capital city’s premier restaurants, Quinn’s Bistro, but they lived quite modestly compared to the obvious splendor in which Marissa had been raised. He followed his wife and two little girls quietly through the main entrance and gasped at the beauty of the hardwood floors, the antique furniture and pedestal light fixtures throughout the foyer and living room, out across to a small den and dining area. Skylights provided a dark purple glow; they were unable to provide sunlight, as there was none that day.
“Dad, this place is different,” exclaimed Marissa. “Those skylights weren’t here!”
Her father grinned. “After we realized we weren’t paying for your college education, we did a little renovating a couple of years later. Now, I suppose you will inherit this and live here perhaps after I am gone.”
“Let’s not talk about that Dad,” said Marissa, a lump forming in her throat. “Let’s enjoy the time we have. Dad, meet Marcus and my two daughters, Chloe and Bianca. Aren’t they beautiful?”
Earl Lindeman looked at the two copies of each other with their frilly dresses and long tousled curls. Bianca began to cry as if the sudden attention directed her way was too much for her. She grabbed her mother’s leg and tried to hide.
“It’s okay, Bianca,” said Chloe, coming around to hold her sister’s hand.
“Okay, okay, okay, oooookay!” wailed Bianca.
Everyone laughed, and Bianca continued to cry, but more softly.
“Granddaddy, where’s the ice?” Asked Chloe.
Earl Lindeman looked confused. “The ice? Dear, we won’t see any of that for a month or so at least, more than likely.”
“But Mommy said we were supposed to break the ice.”
“Oh, Ha Ha!” Earl laughed. “I’ll let you know sweetie.” He glanced at Marissa knowingly and smiled softly.
“Dad, do we still have my old toy cars and racetrack? Oh, and my choo-choo train? I’d love for the girls to see them.”
“Well, I reckon I still have those things around here upstairs, though.”
Marcus jumped in. “I thought I’d prepare a nice dinner for everyone tonight, with a chocolate pie for desert. Tell me this, do you like shrimp?”
Here suddenly the eyes of Earl Lindeman went cold. “Yes son. It all sounds good. Don’t think you need to impress me. I know exactly who you are. If you want to make us some dinner, that’s fine by me.”
An awkward silence hung in the air for a moment. Chloe was the one who broke it. “Granddaddy, your arms aren’t so long.”
Earl Lindeman softened instantly. “What about my arms dear?”
Chloe rolled her eyes in mock impatience. “I SAID your arms aren’t so long. Mommy said you had a long arm.”
Marissa blushed and Marcus grinned nervously.
Earl answered his granddaughter. “My arm is long when I need it to be, dear. When I need it to be.” He turned and glared at Marcus.
It was Marissa’s turn to speak up. “Marcus, honey, we all love shrimp. Go on and I’ll visit with Dad. Love you.” She leaned over and gave him a reassuring smile and a peck on the cheek. I’m sure Dad wants to get to know Chloe and Bianca and catch up with me.”
“Um, sure, if that’s what you think is best,” said Marcus.
“The kitchen has everything tool wise,” said Earl Lindeman. “The biggest store is Oldman’s right before you cross the bridge.”
“Right, I remember we used to shop there during my internship at The Captain’s Grille. Is Beckley’s Catch of the Day seafood store still in business?”
“It sure is, son.” Replied Earl. “I see you remember it well.”
“Great, I’ll be back in a couple of hours,” said Marcus, wanting very badly to leave quickly. He practically fled out the door to the family’s small blue sedan.
It took a while for Marcus to decide what to make. Flounder with a shrimp stuffing? He forgot to ask if Earl like flounder. He settled on a seafood pasta with shrimp and a shrimp cocktail as well. A nice salad and stuffed artichokes for an appetizer (an icebreaker, he hoped) would make for a pleasant evening though he wanted nothing more than to leave and never come back. Something about the cold power in the eyes of Beckley Island’s former mayor left him unsettled.
After shopping (and very much taking his time) Marcus decided to head back into the village again. The sky was a menacing purplish black and it appeared that a terrible storm was brewing. I am surprised that her Dad would invite us to come in such potentially hazardous weather. Maybe he just didn’t pay attention to the news reports. Marcus shrugged and said a quick mental prayer. He remembered something about a well-stocked basement at the estate and presumed they were all safe at Lindeman’s house.
When he arrived at Beckley’s Catch of the Day seafood store, the wind was blowing very hard. He walked around, briefly recalling his college internship days and dating the teenage Marissa Lindeman, buxom blonde sweetheart. Finally he settled on two pounds of fresh deveined shrimp and headed to the cashier.
“Any more news on this storm?” he inquired of the young man running the cash register.
“Just that it looks real bad. We may close up shop here soon. It’s a good thing you’re buying, it’ll be hard to catch anything for a day or two after a storm like this, though sometimes larger stuff gets caught in the current and comes closer to shore.”
“Better grab me a couple of cans of crabmeat there too, then, in case we’re stuck at the house.”
The cashier reached over and grabbed the two cans from a nearby display, and added it to the bag. “Staying here in town?” he asked. “Might want to get some bottled water, too.”
“Hmmm, I guess it can’t hurt, I’ll stop on the way in. The place I’m staying at is supposed to have a well-stocked basement, so I’m not too worried,” said Marcus. “You see, I married the former town’s mayor’s daughter.”
The cashier looked puzzled. “Mayor Johnston?”
“No, his name is Lindeman. Earl Lindeman.”
The clerk’s brow furrowed. “I thought he died. It seems like there was a whole scandal about it. The daughter left, the wife became ill soon after. I thought I heard he killed himself! Stupid rumors. Are we talking about the same guy? The mayor until two or three years ago?”
Marcus stared at the clerk dumbfounded. “Something must be wrong here, perhaps you have the name wrong.”
The clerk laughed. “I must! Sorry Dude!”
Marcus laughed too, though a little uneasily. “Yes, well, I’d better get headed back before the storm gets worse.”
“Sure thing, be careful. Sorry I weirded you out there.”
“It’s okay.” (Okay, okay okay okay Bianca style echoed in his head as he rushed out the door.)
Marcus climbed into the light blue sedan and headed to get water from another store. At the Village Quik-Stop, he found a spare few bottles down on the bottom shelf. As he reached down to pick up the bottle he banged his head on the metal edge. Pain and black was all he knew for a few seconds. Then he knew nothing at all.
Marcus Whitaker opened his eyes in the emergency room at Mercy East Hospital. He knew this because when the sign “Mercy East Medical Facility” was directly across the room. Though he was tired, he felt fine; just very thirsty and he had a headache. He looked around and saw the usual emergency room scene: nurses and medics rushing about, a desk with a tired looking clerk, and a roomful of people waiting. He realized he was on a cot and sat slowly up. A pretty red-haired nurse turned around and spotted him. She came over to him. “Easy does it there….Mr. Whitaker, is it?”
“Yes, that’s right. Listen, I think I’m okay. I just hit my head I guess at that store and passed out. I need to check on my wife and daughters, they don’t know where I am.”
The nurse was sympathetic. “I understand. Do you want to make a call? We have a phone here for patients.”
“I need to go. I need to check on them and this storm.”
“Can you make a call? We just need to make sure that you are safe enough to be released. You aren’t going to be any good to them if you’re dead.”
Suddenly Marcus remembered everything way too clearly, the clerk and the confusion about Earl Lindeman. He needed to see his wife and children with his own eyes. “Can you tell me where I am? I’m a tourist and unfamiliar with the area. And what about the storm? Has it hit yet?
The nurse smiled as reassuringly as she could. “You missed the storm. There is some flooding in the area, but there was less damage than some people thought there would be. There have been, as you might guess, a lot of car accidents and the like,” she gestured at the nearly full waiting room, but truly you didn’t miss much by sleeping through the storm. Hopefully your x-rays will show you are fine, no concussion, and you will be alert to take care of your family if they need it.”
Marcus exhaled loudly. “Well, that’s a relief. Let’s get on with it so I can leave soon. I’ll call my wife on her cell phone.”
The nurse nodded, red curls bouncing as she pointed toward the phone on the wall. “Over there. You may want to ask her to come drive you since your head hurts. We can give you something for the pain, but it’s best for you not to get too drowsy yet.”
Marissa showed up, having found the blue sedan in the parking lot of the convenience store where Marcus had his accident. A cab had brought her that far, and the girls were playing with their Granddad.
“We’re all having a wonderful visit, Marcus. I think Dad is warming up to you too. I checked the shrimp like you asked, the store put it in an ice pack so it’s still okay. I’m just glad you’re safe.” She leaned over and gently kissed his cheek.
Marcus told her about the clerk’s strange reaction.
“That’s just plain weird,” she told him. “Ghosts can’t call on the phone!” Then she laughed.
“I guess not,” said Marcus and they drove back to the house.
As they approached the neighborhood the damage from the storm became more and more evident. There were several areas where the small car had to drift through tall muddy water. Finally they arrived at the cape cod Marcus had only briefly been in for hours before. “Are you sure you feel like cooking, Honey?” Marissa asked, concerned.
“Yes, I need a diversion after this day,” chuckled Marcus wearily. He stretched as he got out of the car, stepping around a puddle and picked up a sack of groceries. “The chilly November air kept everything from spoiling, but I sure am glad we’re eating this stuff tonight,” he added.
As he stepped around the car he realized that the backyard was a lake, literally, after the storm. “Good God,” he said softly. Marissa came around and stood next to him. “Yeah, we always get hit pretty hard. It’s a good thing Dad has that full basement. He always keeps it stocked with food and water. Come on down and I’ll show you.”
Marcus nodded and followed her up the steps. As he reached the top step and looked past the bushes to the left he saw large debris floating distantly in the water. “That must get to be a real pain to clean up,” he observed.
“Yes, it really does,” agreed Marissa. “Come on now, we’re all hungry and it’s getting late. I’ll help with dinner to save time.”
Marcus followed her into the kitchen and began to unpack the grocery bags. As he put a quart of milk in the refrigerator, he noticed it wasn’t on. “Now that’s funny. Oh, it must have blown a fuse during the storm.”
“Could be, I’ll check the fuse box. I think I remember where it is.” Marissa stepped around the corner. Marcus continued to check his inventory. Unable to do much in the kitchen, he decided to check on his daughters and say hello to Mr. Lindeman. He followed the laughter of the girls into what must have been Marissa’s girlhood playroom. They were merrily giggling and playing with a train track and putting different dolls on the train. A hapless Barbie was practically upside-down and barely hanging on, much to the joy of Bianca, who was red faced with mirth.
“Well, I wasn’t sure if you were coming back,” said Earl Lindeman.
“Yes, well, I ran into a bit of trouble with the storm,” said Marcus. “By the way, did you know that there’s a rumor that you’re dead?”
“It’s true ,” said the former mayor.
Marcus shook his head. “Oh, you mean figuratively.”
“No, I mean I have been dead, in every since of the word for nearly three years.”
Footsteps caused Marcus to turn around, where he saw a petite gray-haired lady in a black dress and a string of pearls around her neck. “Oh, we’re all dead, Marcus. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Hannah Lindeman, Marissa’s mother. I took sick a couple of years ago. The loss of my daughter was too much for me. I didn’t put up much of a fight for the doctor, I’m afraid.” She turned and left the room again.
“We met Grandma!” squealed an ecstatic Chloe.
Marcus blinked hard as if it would clear the amazing vision before him. “This can’t be,” was all he could say.
Just then Marissa came into the room and gave a soft chuckle. “I suppose Marcus is telling what the rumor is in town, Dad,” she said.
“It’s not a rumor,” said Earl.
“Dad!” Marissa said, a trace of anger entering her voice. "Don’t play this weird joke in front of my daughters. Now, I need to find the fuse box so we can cook dinner and get the girl’s milk in the fridge before it goes bad.”
“They won’t need their milk anymore. Look out the window and tell me what you see.”
Something in the former mayor’s voice denied argument. Marcus and Marissa stepped over and looked outside. Marissa shrieked and stepped backward. “Ohmigod it’s us!”
Marcus looked past his wife’s trembling shoulder and saw what he would never be able to forget: his wife’s body floating face downward next to his two daughters in the backyard, now a lake.
“Now we can be together always,” said Earl Lindeman.
“We can play everyday,” said Chloe as she picked up another doll.
“Okay okay okay okay…” sang Bianca.
Marcus wanted to comfort his wife but he could not stop screaming.
Then he woke up in the emergency room at Mercy East Hospital. A pretty red-haired nurse came to check on him.
Site: Erin E Elder
Reader Reviews for
"Sleeping Through the Storm"
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|Reviewed by Shirley Cheng
|Very good! Enjoyed it a lot.|
|Reviewed by Clayton Umbach (Reader)
|Good story. Drop the last two sentences and it's a terrific story.|
|Reviewed by Diana Black
|This story is fun, scary and surprising.....Thanks, Diana|
|Reviewed by Eulela Blanks
|Terrific story. It kept my attention all the way through, but I didn't see the end coming. Spooky, but fun to read.|
|Reviewed by John C. McMakin
|Great story! I sure felt sorry for Marcus, poor guy! We need more like this!|
|Reviewed by x
|This was a great story. I enjoy mystery stories - loved the surprise ending. Keep up the good stories.
|Reviewed by steve jones
|great story. I quickly went from curious to sad from sad to amazed...|
|Reviewed by Betty Watson
|I really enjoyed reading this. Waiting for more.|
|Reviewed by David W Turner
|This is a great story. It kept my attention to the end which was unexpected, but gave me chills. Great story. I can't wait for more!!!|
|Reviewed by Terri Matthews
|Thank you for this story. I Thoroughly enjoyed it. X's & O's|
|Reviewed by Chris Kincaid (Reader)
|God I love this one! I love horror stories, this one didn't disapoint especially with that creepy, "hello father," like ending. Someone loves her seafood :)Great Read!|
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|this had me hooked from the get go, and i couldn't stop reading 'til the end! super, scary write! love, your friend, karen lynn. ((((HUGS)))) :)|
|Reviewed by Kevin Yarbrough
|Loved it Erin! Didn't expect it to end that way. Took me by surprise.|