Katie Allen Ross
Lightning flashed. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Missi--the thunder clapped so loudly that Jack forgot his counting and ducked further under the table. The storm was right on top of him. Rain pelted the windows of the shack, and wait...what was that? Jack tried to settle his wildly beating heart and imagined pricking his ears like a cat toward the sound he could just barely hear, the--was it a thud? A steady hammering? Whatever it was, the sound was loud enough to be heard over the fury of the storm. From beneath the limited comfort of the table, Jack suddenly realized that he had more to fear than a poorly timed thunderstorm.
He took a moment to remember his mother only an hour or so before, standing at the kitchen sink, arms covered in bubbles and grime. Storm's coming, Jack. Don't you go too far now.
He'd only half heard her as he shot out the door, letting the screen slam behind him with a resounding Bam! He knew she hated it when he did that, but he was halfway across the yard, and her exasperated Jack! was nearly out of earshot.
Wishing that he could go back to that moment and help her with the dishes instead of going on one of his adventures was hopeless now. Still, he allowed himself that luxury and imagined sitting at the kitchen table when they were done with the dishes, sharing a glass of milk and an after-lunch cookie. The banging sound interrupted his thoughts, reminding him that he needed to focus on the present and how to escape the shack without getting killed in the storm.
The shack was a long walk from his house. It seemed to have taken forever to get there, but he was determined; a double-dog dare from Tommy Cochran had led him there. It was a favorite hangout of the teenage crowd and rumored to be haunted. Jack was crouched in the front room of the house under a plank top table. He worried the lucky glass marble in his pocket, a striking yellow cat’s-eye, his prized possession. He'd found it years ago, gleaming at him from the darkness under his front porch.
He kept the marble with him always, buried deep and safely in his pocket, along with a piece of arrowhead, his pocketknife, and a river stone. The marble brought him luck, but he wasn't so sure it was working now. The thunder boomed loudly overhead, and the noise in the shack suddenly became clearer.
Gathering up all of his courage, Jack crawled out from under the table and turned to face the closed door that led to the rest of the shack. He’d only just arrived when the storm hit, and he hadn’t had proper time to explore before retreating to the relative safety of the table. Just beyond that door was the adventure he'd been yearning for earlier in the day, which only seemed like a threat to him now. The source of the ominous sound lay just beyond that door, and now the boy who was normally full of pluck and courage could only tremble, his hand thrust into his pocket, fingers nervously worrying that prized marble.
He slowly approached the door. The lightning flashed outside; the thunder retreated further and further away. Nine years old seemed much too young to be facing such a fear, but he put on what his Mom called his brave face and tore open the door.
On the other side was a kitchen, or what used to be a kitchen. The shell of it was still somewhat recognizable. Faded cabinets lined one side of the room, the remnants of a wood-burning stove sat abandoned in a corner. In the very back of the kitchen, a door swung back and forth in its frame, banging repeatedly against the back side of the house.
All Jack saw was the door moving on its own. He didn't attribute the movement to the wild wind of the storm. He didn't blame the violent sound of it on the fury of nature. He simply ran. He ran through the front room, past the plank top table, over the deteriorated front porch.
As he fled, he didn't bother to look back. If he had, he would've seen her. She stood alone in the shack, framed by the casement window, hand pressed against the dirty glass. She watched the boy run as though the hounds of hell were on his heels, and a tiny smile touched her pale lips as he disappeared into the woods. Turning to face the room with the plank top table, she reached her hand deep into the pocket of her faded dress and pulled out a striking yellow cat’s-eye, her prized possession.
Lightning flashed. One Mississippi...
Katie Allen Ross is a Georgia native, who is extremely proud of her Southern roots. She currently writes a weekly column for the Haralson County Gateway-Beacon. Her fiction has appeared in West Georgia Living and the literary journal Southern Gothic. She lives in West Georgia with her husband and three cats and affirms that she’s not a crazy cat lady…yet.
Katie Allen Ross