Monday, June 21, 2010

A Surreal Storm

by Julia Buckley
You know those movies that are set in a post-apocolyptic world, and people walk around in shadowy caverns, hiding from the cyborgs that have taken over? Children cry in the darkness, and everyone's voice is pitched high with fear? That happened to me on Friday.

Well, not exactly. But almost. My husband, who had the week off, said he wanted to see a movie. Unfortunately, the summer crop of movies is horrible, and we literally couldn't find one that seemed appealing. We finally settled on THE A-TEAM because Jeff didn't want to let his whole vacation pass without one popcorn-swilling, giant-pop-drinking movie adventure.

So we set off to a cineplex about half an hour away. It was about 95 degrees and the air was thick with humidity. We entered the air conditioned theatre with relief and watched our movie. If you suspend your disbelief and just determine that you will have fun, THE A-TEAM is actually sort of a fun flick.

When it ended, we trailed out and I, according to tradition, had to use the ladies' room. My husband and older son waited while my younger son and I went into our respective doors. I went into a stall, shut the door--and the lights flickered. Then they went out altogether.

Ever been in a giant movie complex when all the lights went out? Neither have I. I decided not to go to the bathroom (even though I had to) and went back out to find my family. The hall was dark, too, and already the murmurs of fear were coming from the children in the place. Some people had still been watching movies--namely TOY STORY, which was packed with kiddies--and they came flowing out of the theatre into the darkened hall to see what had happened.

At first I decided they must have had some sort of problem within their own fusebox. Then we opened the door to the outside world and saw, just like a special effect on the big screen, a kind of green sky and trees that were bent almost to the ground. This was either one giant thunderstorm, or it was a tornado.

We opted to stay inside the dark theater rather than risk the tempest outside.

"Did you know it was supposed to rain today?" my son asked accusingly.

"No," my husband and I said in great surprise. In fact, the weather forecast had said 'hot, hot, hot,' but nothing about wet. The storm was moving fast. We watched it now and then out the door of the theater.

Meanwhile, none of the hundreds of other people who stood there in the dark with us was eager to leave, either. They comforted their children and talked to each other and made cell phone calls. No one was rude or unkind, at least not for the nearly half an hour that we squatted against the wall, waiting out the storm.

It was one of the stranger experiences of my life.

Eventually the sky looked a more normal color and the rain wasn't coming down as torrentially. We decided to risk the drive home. As we trotted through the parking lot, my youngest pointed at a nearby Wendy's restaurant. "Look! The storm knocked down the giant frosty!" Sure enough, the big yellow cup that had stood on top of the building was now on its side.

On the way home we heard the constant sound of sirens. The traffic lights were out, and we could smell things burning. Trees were down everywhere, and garbage cans sat in the middle of streets as though flung there by angry giants. Some streets were flooded, but most of the damage from this storm came from the wind, which had exceeded 55 miles per hour.

When we finally reached home, our dog was in quite a state. He actually talked to us, moaning and yipping as he met us at the door and then followed us back up the stairs. I think he was actually telling us the story of what happened. Our cats, on the other hand, were all still sleeping in the spots they'd been in when we left.

I thought our story was spooky and fascinating, but then I talked to my neighbor. I told her we'd spent the storm in a darkened theater, and she told me that she'd been on the El, which actually stopped between stations because the storm messed up its computer. They sat on the tracks and the train actually ROCKED in the storm; she feared it would fall right off the tracks.

In terms of scary storm stories, she wins hands down. :)

Image link here.


Paul said...

Your account of the storm is thrilling, and I think it shows how phoney the "rule" is that says you should never start a story with a description of the weather. Vivid, scary, unnerving. It all can draw in a reader.

Julia Buckley said...

Unnerving is a good word!

I didn't even know that writing rule. But I agree that really shocking weather could be a suspenseful way to open a tale. Raymond Chandler did it quite well. :)

lil Gluckstern said...

Wow, surreal is right-I remember those thunderstorms where the whole world was both noisy, and yet, waiting for the ordinary light to come back. I live on the west coast now-the storms are not so bad. Great picture, and nice writing, put me right there.

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Lil. I guess storms like this can be curiously Midwestern--although don't you get hurricanes?

kathy d. said...

That's quite a story. Luckily, your neighbor was okay and so were all of the frightened children at the movie theater.

Your poor dog! He didn't know what happened and I do agree that he was trying to tell you what happened. I've seen my neighbor's Dachshund do that on July 4, after the fireworks' display with its sonic booms.

Julia Buckley said...

Kathy, it was kind of cute, the way he talked to us. I'm sure he was partly yelling at us for leaving him alone. :)

Yes, it certainly could have been much worse (we've had trees come down in the past).

But of course more storms are coming this week, so I shouldn't speak too soon!

lil Gluckstern said...

Hi Julia,

We get a lot of water, and wind, thunder and lightning-not so much. I just got The Dark Backward, and I'm already breathless. Have to stop, and go to work however, I look forward to your others.