Does a storm warn you before it strikes?


I KNEW THE STORM was coming long before it turned north at New Harmony and headed in our direction.

I heard a distant rumble in the sky.

It didn’t sound like a freight train.

In the newspaper business, I had covered tornadoes before.

I had interviewed men and women standing in the rain and looking at the ragged remnants of their life in ruin.

Homes gone.

Furniture gone.

Photos gone.

And they all said the same things.

It sounded like a freight train.

The freight train did not come to East Texas Friday afternoon.

The sky sounded more like kettledrums when an army marches off to war.


And gunshots.

So close.

And yet so far away.

The clouds hung like angry blankets across the treetops behind our house.



Gray flannel.

And the wind was no longer still.

Branches swept the ground.

Wind chimes danced.

And the birds no longer sang.

The birds were nowhere in sight.

The day grew dark.

It was if the night came early.

It had a strange burnished glow.

If the world wanted to end, this was as good a time as any.

I stood in the doorway and listened to the kettledrums.

The ghost army was marching closer.

The war was deafening.

Lightning cut a slash in the sky.

It crackled.

Thunder rattled the windows.

It was deafening.

I smelled the smoke in the air.

It had the aroma of sulphur.

Or maybe brimstone.

I closed the door.

The Muse stood staring through a looking glass darkly.

“It’s a bad one,” he said.

“It’s Texas.”

“What does that mean?”

“When we have a storm, it’s a bad one.”

“You’re gonna lose some limbs,” the Muse said.

“We’re gonna lose some trees,” I said.

“They’ve stood here a long time.”

“Some a hundred years or more.”

The kettledrums were louder.

And overhead.

Their beat was steady.

The ghost soldiers were marching in place, stranded in the wind.

The trees bent in one direction, then twisted around and leaned low in another like the swirling skirt of a Flamenco dancer.

Lightning wrote script in the sky.

The Muse tried to read it.

He couldn’t.

Too many adverbs, he said.

Thunder was no longer rumbling.

It was mad now.

The sound was punishing.

“Funny thing about a storm,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“It’s like a rattlesnake.”

“How do you figure?”

“It warns you before it strikes.”

The Muse laughed.

There was no humor in it.

“You’re wrong,” he said.

I waited.

“A rattlesnake rattles,” he said.

I nodded.

“Then it strikes.”

There was no argument from me.

“Storms are different,” the Muse said.

“I don’t understand.”

“Lightning strikes.”

I nodded again.

“Then the thunder warns you.”

“By then it’s too late.”

“There’s one consolation,” the Muse said.

“What’s that?”

“If you hear the thunder, the lightning missed.”

He shrugged.

“If you hear the thunder,” he said, “you’re still alive.”

Lightning flashed.

Thunder pounded the top of the house.

I smiled.

It was a comforting sound.

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