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The wind roared like an animal. Not a gust, but a continuous howl that went on and on... and on. The downpour wasn't even a downpour any more. The rain drove sideways into her Explorer's flank like an endless barrage of bullets. Dee shuddered in the driver's seat, but she didn't slow down. She didn't even consider it.
It was coming.
It was coming and she was too late.
"No." She whispered, unaware that she'd even spoken. She couldn't hear own voice over the storm.
A worn white sneaker eased downward on the accelerator. She could barely see, but she didn't need to. She knew where she was. She knew where she was going and knew she'd needed to get there fifteen minutes ago. She was kidding herself; she needed to be there hours ago.
She wasn't going to make it.
It was coming for her! The damned thing had changed direction not once, but TWICE, first veering away from Gulf Shores to slip right up Pelican Bay, and then turning almost due north to come up Mobile Bay.
It was coming straight at her. It was coming for her like it had her address!
Just like last time.
She'd lost everything but her life in New Orleans. Now she was going to lose that, too.
She had to get out. She HAD to!
Dee made no attempt to slow down before twisting the steering wheel to the left. The 2003 Explorer was on two wheels for one agonizing second, and then she was roaring straight ahead, literally driving blind. Headlights and windshield wipers were equally useless. The windshield was a watery grey blur in front of her. Everything beyond it was an array of indiscernible shapes in the dark. Houses. Cars. Street lights. Not people. The people were either gone or locked up tight in their homes, trying to wait it out.
They were probably going to die.
Lightning flashed and thunder boomed simultaneously. Her radio... the radio that was OFF... let out a brief crackle of static.
Something exploded behind her to the right, illuminating the neighborhood like watery daylight for an instant. The street lights went out.
Dee barely noticed. She hit the brake, not because of the storm or the exploding transformer, but because she'd arrived.
The rear wheels tried to slide to the right. Dee let of off the brakes and steered into the turn just enough to bring the SUV back under control.
When she finally stopped she was blocking her own driveway.
The driver's door flew open and Dee was out, darting through the open, gateless fence and down the cracked concrete toward her front door-
At least that was what was supposed to happen.
The instant she cleared the car, a powerful burst of wind grabbed her, spun her around, and slammed her into the still open door. Then it spun her AGAIN and sent her spiraling into the street in front of the explorer. She slipped and ended up face down in the river of water gushing down the gutters toward the already flooded drain.
For one terrible instant she couldn't breathe.
In the next instant, adrenaline sparked by terror and the realization that she was drowning in the STREET sent her staggering toward the gate. Fighting the wind with every step, she stumbled up the driveway to the front door. The keyring dangled from her right hand. Her fingers found the right key by instinct.
The door swung open, and Dee almost fell inside.
Furious barking erupted from deep in the house.
"TREACH!" She shouted. She paused to catch her breath. One... two... Then she shouted again. . "TIME TO GO!"
The barking ceased, replaced a second later by the sound of claws on hardwood. A muscular black and white pit bull charged out of the dark kitchen. The beast looked like a pile of bricks with paint-splattered carpet thrown over the top.
Lightning flashed, and thunder shook the house.
The ferocious animal skidded to a halt and lay down in the hallway, whining. Dee darted toward... and past the frightened dog. She reached the closet and snatched it open. At the bottom was a black leather backpack. A white plastic tag labeled "BOB" dangled from one of the shoulder straps.
Dee snatched up the backpack. It wasn't full, but it was still heavier than it looked. Objects of various sizes and weights shifted around at the bottom of the bag as she shoved her right arm through one of the straps. Dee didn't have time to inspect the contents. That was the point, after all.
She turned back toward the open front door. Rain was blowing sideways into the house.
How much time did she have? The storm wasn't that close when she checked. She'd had plenty of time to evacuate. She'd gotten delayed... had to sneak out. Sneak away like a thief. But had it taken that long? Was it really too late? Was it safer to stay?
Lightning struck. An avalanche of light and sound rattled the entire house, building toward a crescendo that ended as abruptly as it had begun.
Treach darted behind Dee and lay back down, halfway inside the closet.
"...hell with this!" Dee muttered. "Not staying! Not this time!" Dee reached down and grabbed the dog's collar. "LET'S GO!"
She dragged the dog the first few inches toward the door before the beast finally stood and followed. Stepping outside was like getting hit with a fire hose. The rain actually HURT; tiny bullets pelted her exposed skin. She shielded her face with her left hand and pushed forward, leaning into the wind briefly to stay on her feet.
Lightning flashed again... another rolling bombardment of sound and fury that peeled back the dark gray sky for a few seconds.
Dee saw something.
Not the storm. Something... else. A shape that flew past the house and vanished. A tree? Had the wind already started picking things up and tossing them around? Was there a tornado, too? She scanned for the characteristic funnel shape, but the sky was almost black. The roar of the wind increased.
Dee eyed the SUV. Sturdy and heavy... but not indestructible. It wasn't waterproof either. But neither was the house. The hurricane was coming, and the waters would come with it. Just like last time. People were going to die. She was not going to be there to see it. Not again.
"GO!" She shouted to herself, and pushed forward. Treach darted in front of her, then turned back to bark. She grabbed his collar as she pushed past and they reached the Explorer together.
She threw the bag in first. Treach leapt in after it. Both the bag and the dog trailed water across the driver's seat. Dee added to it when she pulled herself in. She fought to pull the door closed, then started the car and drove off.
Lightning hit something on the next street. A single blast this time, but it was enough to light the sky.
The shape. Not something IN the sky, but the sky itself swirling... rotating...
Darkness returned, and Dee was driving almost blind again. Wind and rain pulsed in random but increasingly powerful gusts. She navigated the close streets of the neighborhood, winding her way toward the main road. From there she could be on the highway in ten minutes, headed inland at maximum safe speed. This would be the roughest part. Once she was headed out, it would only get better the further and faster she went. She could outrun this thing. The eye was headed north, but she would be going northwest. Just far enough to get out of the path. Out of the flood zone. Could she make it?
The SUV started to shudder and skid. Dee tried to turn into the skid, but the Explorer wouldn't respond. The wind had her. She skidded across the street. There was a jolt as the wheels hit the curb. The Explorer stopped... then started moving again, sideways, up onto the sidewalk.
"NoNoNO!" Dee revved the engine. Wheels spun in water... and then air. What little she could see through the windshield twisted as the Explorer changed direction. Spinning... slowly, spinning in mid air. "OH GOD!"
Treach growled from the passenger's side floor. The Explorer began to twist faster, tilting backward as it rose. Dee could see nothing... only darkness with darker shapes spiraling around her in what appeared to be the distance, but which was probably only a few feet away. The vehicle began to shake violently. Dee heard her belongings bouncing around in the back like rocks in a soda can.
"I'm sorry..." She said. Her voice was lost in the roar of the wind. Her apology to herself continued in her thoughts. She should have stayed at the hospital instead of running away. She'd abandoned them to save herself. Abandoned patients... people who needed her. Left what was probably a safe place because she couldn't bear to live through this again.
And now she wouldn't. She wouldn't live through it because she was stupid, heartless, and afraid. Maybe they'd put it on her tombstone, if they found anything to bury. They probably wouldn't.
Dee was driven down into the driver's seat as the Explorer shot upward suddenly. Screaming, Dee reached for Treach, but the whining dog crouched well out of reach on the floor.
Lightning struck with the sound of mountains smashing together. Light and sound filled the sky... filled the SUV... filled Dee. The spinning, rattling SUV veered in some unknown direction as the light brightened, becoming literally too bright to see for an instant before darkness swallowed everything.