Denying the Signs

Honorable Mention – Written by Mickey Hunt – Vehicles inched forward, leaving barely enough room for Harold Stumbo to swing his crew-cab pickup through the gap in the guardrail. The four-horse trailer loaded with the thoroughbreds and hay followed dutifully in the U-turn.

Riding shotgun, Norma Jean glanced up from her paperback romance, sighed and said, “It’s nice. We’re free of the traffic jam, but now we’re going back to Roanoke Island.”

Raiden, Harold’s teenage helper around the farm, spoke from the heap of luggage and sleeping bags piled on him in the rear seat. “I never wanted to evacuate.”

“A Category-3 hurricane is terrifying. Your parents won’t be happy.”

They’re not leaving the island.”

No one else was driving in the lanes leading back toward the long bridge that crossed the Croatan Sound, and Harold felt relieved to be moving again, even if toward a potential catastrophe. His life had always been this way. Whenever things seemed easy, he paid a high price. Only when plodding ahead did he accomplish anything worthwhile. Still, the frozen inland-bound evacuation traffic might never clear. Probably there’d been an accident.

Harold leaned down to see the upper sky through the windshield. Grey, torn clouds soared southward, just then flinging another blinding rain shower at them. He switched on the hopeless wipers.

“Why didn’t we just travel inland in the free lanes?” Raiden asked.

Harold pulled to the shoulder and stopped. “Why didn’t you suggest this earlier?”

“I figured you forgot something.”

Harold looked at Norma Jean who seemed absorbed in her novel. The rain ceased and he opened the door of the pickup. “I’ll be a minute.” He climbed over the guardrail and slid-walked down the embankment to a cluster of trees, their leaves rattling in the stiff breezes. He needed to empty his bladder, but really, he needed to think. He didn’t know why he had started back to the island. It didn’t make any sense, and it scared him. Was this the first hint of Alzheimer’s?

When he reached the pickup truck, the glittering blue lights of a State Trooper were approaching, the cruiser leading bumper-to-bumper lines of cars, vans, and trucks on the wrong side of the road away from the impending storm.

“Uh, oh,” Raiden said. “We’re trapped.”

A few minutes later another trooper pulled up. “Mayor Stumbo, sir. Are you all right? We met at the All Outer Banks 10k last weekend.”

“Officer Melton,” Harold said, reading from the name badge. “Good, good to see you again. We’re headed to… To, ah… I thought I’d give Emergency Management a hand as the hurricane makes landfall.”

The officer frowned at Harold and glared toward the horse trailer, which had shifted in a sudden gust of side wind. “Are you sure, sir?”

Harold nodded.

“Okay. Let me turn around and I’ll guide you back to Manteo on the shoulder. The bridge may be vacant by the time we arrive, so you should be able to cross.”

This will be boring,” Raiden said, his tone loaded with ominous irony.

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Mickey’s stories have appeared in Every Day FictionPenumbraStupefying Stories, and elsewhere, and you can learn more about his work at chaoticterrainpress.blogspot.com.

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