A storm siren blared in the distance as Sonya, a tall, light-haired woman gave pause, her hand still holding the whisk she was using to whip up cake batter.
She turned as she dropped the whisk back into the bowl, wiping her hands of flour. The T.V. was still on in the living room of their modest, single-story home, and she headed for it hurriedly. Her five-year-old step daughter, Meghan, was laying on the couch, eyes wide as she stared at the breaking news.
“It’s a tornado, Mama,” she said quietly, and Sonya proceeded toward the girl, scooping her up in her arms. She was a small child, and her thin arms wrapped neatly around Sonya’s neck. The woman pushed hair from the girl’s delicate forehead.
“It’s okay, baby girl,” she said quietly, “you know how they need to do the alarm anytime the wind picks up.”
Meghan lifted a finger to point at the television as Sonya stooped to pick up the remote control. The images on the screen showed a small wind funnel- a storm cell which had broken off from a larger rotating system- twisting furiously through a field.
The room darkened as the T.V. flickered off, creating an eerie silence as Sonya and Meghan departed the room to seek safety in the basement.
Liam, a stocky, dark haired man of thirty, was moving swiftly down the street after visiting his mother, now only two blocks from home. His phone buzzed once and he ignored it, stepping faster as a harsh blast of wind slammed him from behind.
“Jesus!” he exclaimed hotly, looking around defensively as though a person had pushed him. He continued home, holding tight to a container of eggplant, when a man and woman caught his eye at the end of the street.
Their home was a nice one, a ranch-style house with a lot of land which sat inside a short picket fence. Liam’s pace slowed as he witnessed the couple and their golden retriever stepping down into their storm shelter, the metallic door slamming to seal their enclosure.
Liam looked to his left, where the roof of his house could be seen between a row of other houses, and then scanned the street for witnesses.
He and his young daughter Meghan had moved out here to get away from his past only three months ago, he reminded himself shortly, trying to pull his mind back to his waiting family. At the same time, he had learned to recognize an opportunity when he saw it.
He stared at the crisp-looking mailbox at the edge of the neighbor’s long driveway, which read “Watts” and had a picture of a small bluebird, happy to accept their post. Knowing he needed to decide quickly, Liam cast a final glance the direction of his home before running to the end of the street for the rich neighbors’ house, instead.
Sonya sat Meghan on a worn couch in the basement and turned on a battery-operated lamp.
“Just sit and read your book,” she said, handing the little girl a children’s book with a fairy on the cover. Meghan’s hands gripped the book tightly and she stared up at her step- mother.
Sonya pulled her cell phone from her pocket.
“I’m calling him right now, baby. We’re safe down here, just read your book.”
Sonya pressed the number she had on speed dial for Liam’s cell, and muttered to herself as the phone rang three times and went to voicemail.
“Liam, Meghan and I are in the basement. I left the door unlocked in case you come home, but if you’re still at your mom’s, stay there because it’s bad out here. We’ll be fine. Love you.”
Liam was on the other side of the white picket fence now, stealthily opening the neighbors’ side door, again ignoring the buzzing of his cell phone.
He walked through the kitchen, finding the woman’s purse first and relieving it of eighty dollars in cash and two gift cards.
He next made his way into the living room, grabbing the knick knack which seemed to be of the most value and pocketing it in his old flannel jacket before making a run for the bedroom, where the most valuable items would almost certainly be.
He opened a few jewelry boxes, careful only to take the two nicest pieces; a small ruby ring and a gold necklace. He slipped the ring onto the chain and clasped it around his neck, tucking it into his shirt before setting everything back in its place.
As he touched on the first floor landing again the downstairs seemed suddenly much darker, and it occurred to him that his impromptu break-in had actually been quite dangerous. The wind was loud enough to rattle him, and he moved quickly, leaving this time through the front door, heading again for the fence.
He placed his hands between two of the slats and hoisted himself up, but fell back as a fierce blast of wind slammed against his body. The wind now was almost unbearable, and the sky a sickly green above him, Liam forced all of his strength into pulling himself up and over the fence. His leg was swung over the top, and he looked down at the container of eggplant he’d left waiting for him on the grass.
He was about to touch the ground when a sudden movement caught his vision. Before he managed to turn around he was struck from the side by a projectile, which knocked him unconscious before he hit the grass.
In his pocket his cell phone was buzzing again, a noise inaudible over the wind.
A quarter of a mile away Sonya knelt beside Meghan as the little girl read her book, and she closed her phone as she said a heartfelt prayer; her lips whispering a plea for God to bring her boyfriend home to them.