Here is Part 1 of my new short story, The First Storm of Spring...
The First Storm of Spring
By Catherine Mesick
Subee lived in a tiny house on the edge of the swamp.
Although she was young—probably no older than nineteen—she lived alone, and everybody wondered why.
She’d moved in about a year before, and although she went to the local grocery store every week and stopped in at the gas station and the diner, just like everyone else, no one knew anything about her except her first and last name: Subee Cantor.
Subee wasn’t very friendly, and she rebuffed most attempts at conversation.
“She’s running from something,” Lacey Witt said when the topic of Subee came up at the beauty parlor as it did from time to time. “Nobody knows nothing about her. The only reason we even know her last name is because Ellen down at the post office told everybody. She’s running from something. Mark my words.”
The younger citizens of Brown Sugar Basin had been known to gossip about Subee, too, and the under-twelve set—as well as some of their older teenaged brethren—had breathlessly recounted to each other, more than once, that the living room of Subee’s house was decorated with snakeskins she had nailed to the wall. Conventional wisdom held that Subee had killed the snakes herself, thus earning her the appellation ‘Snake Lady.’
An eleven-year-old named Roger had added a great deal of luster to his reputation by regaling his peers with the tale of how he, personally, had seen Subee out by the swamp one night killing snakes. He further said that it was under a full moon—though some thought that that was added just for effect. But the essential details of his story were not doubted by anyone.
And when a man was unfortunate enough to lose a leg to an alligator in the swamp, Snake Lady was transformed by some strange alchemy into ‘Gator Lady’ for a time. Tortuous logic conjured up the argument that the woman who killed snakes had some kind of affinity for all things reptilian and had sent the gator after the hapless man.
The furor over the Gator Lady eventually died down, however, and Subee became Snake Lady once again.
But whether Subee was Gator Lady or Snake Lady, the children of the town were afraid of her, and they dared one another to go near her house.
But Subee and the town’s other favorite topics for gossip were completely forgotten on the first day of June, when an even bigger news item dominated all conversations: Brown Sugar Basin was in the path of a hurricane.
Hurricanes and tropical storms were an annual occurrence in Brown Sugar Basin, and such events, though very destructive, often carried a peculiar excitement with them, driving all other topics of conversation away. Long-time residents would recall the worst storms that they had personally seen and weathered, and all would discuss how the latest storm would stack up against past storms. And the latest hurricane was not going to disappoint: experts had predicted that the hurricane would be one of the biggest to ever hit the area, and the governor had ordered that the entire region be evacuated.
The citizens of Brown Sugar Basin complied in a hurry—for the most part—and it was up to Sheriff Walt and his deputy to round up any stragglers.
By noon on Wednesday, the town was all but deserted, and the sky was darkening ominously.
“I’m going to check on old Mr. Brooks,” Sheriff Walt said to his deputy, “and make sure he’s actually left. I’d like you to go check on Miss Subee Cantor. You know her, right?”
“Yeah, I know her,” the deputy said. “I’ve seen her before—she’s not like other folks.”
“Well, just make sure she’s out of her house.”
The deputy rubbed the back of his neck. “You know, I’ve got a feeling about her. I think that she’ll still be there. What if she hasn’t left?”
“Then request politely that she come with you,” Sheriff Walt said. “You’re a handsome young fella. I’m sure there’s a little charm in there somewhere.”
The deputy did not respond, but something suspiciously like a blush stole up under his tan.
“Once you’re done out there,” Sheriff Walt said, “get yourself out of here, too. Radio me once you’re on your way out of town.”
“Will do,” the deputy said.
Sheriff Walt got in his squad car and drove off. The deputy did the same.
A twenty-minute drive brought the deputy to Subee’s tiny house. The waters of the swamp were visible not too far off, and though the wind had not started yet, the air was heavy with the feeling of anticipation that accompanied a big storm.
The deputy got out of the car and walked up to the house.
He sincerely hoped Subee wasn’t at home.
The deputy knocked on the door and waited what seemed to him an acceptable time. There was no answer, and no one seemed to be stirring inside.
After a moment, he knocked again. As before, there was only silence.
The deputy turned away, but he felt his conscience prickling. He turned back and knocked once more.
This time, the door flew open, and the deputy was confronted by a young woman with red-gold hair and eyes like a stormy sky. She said nothing and simply stared at him.
The deputy moved to take off his campaign hat and then realized he wasn’t wearing it.
“Good afternoon, miss—ma’am,” he said. “I’m Deputy Garrett Durand. I’m here to check on you.”
He paused, expecting her to say something, but the girl remained mute and continued to stare at him.
“You see, ma’am,” Deputy Durand said, “a hurricane is heading this way. You may not be aware of this, but the governor has ordered an evacuation. Everyone has to leave.”
“I know,” the girl said flatly.
Feeling a little out of his depth, Garrett decided to reset.
“Are you Miss Subee Cantor?” he asked.
“Yes,” the girl said.
“Well, ma’am, may I come in for a moment? I have a matter to discuss with you.”
Subee stood aside wordlessly and allowed the deputy to step into the house.
As he did so, a brief exclamation escaped his lips.
Deputy Durand found himself standing in a small living room with a couch, a table—and walls that were covered with snakeskins. Each snakeskin was affixed to the wall with a nail.
The deputy turned to find Subee watching him with a glittering eye.
“So it’s true?” he said.
A small smile quirked at the corner of Subee’s mouth.
“Yes, Deputy, I am the Snake Lady. Just like they all say.”
The deputy grinned sheepishly. “You read my mind. And please call me Garrett.”
“As you wish,” Subee said. “What do you want?”
Garrett suddenly felt himself on surer footing. He had questioned reluctant witnesses and suspects before—not that Subee was a suspect. He knew what he was doing. Friendly persuasion was what it took.
“Well, ma’am,” he said. “Since you already know about the evacuation order, I would like to inquire what your plans are in reference to said order.”
Subee stared at him for a moment. “Do you mean, am I leaving?”
“Just Garrett, ma’am.”
“Garrett,” Subee said. “I’m not leaving.”
“Not at all?” Garrett said.
“Not at all.”
“Ma’am, are you aware that the storm headed this way is classified as Category Four? That means your roof could be torn off, your walls could collapse, and trees could be uprooted and thrown through the air. This storm is a significant threat to your health and safety.”
“Thank you for outlining everything so clearly.”
“Subee. If I’m going to call you Garrett, you should call me Subee.”
“Subee, this is a serious matter,” Garrett said. “Staying here puts your life at risk.”
“I know the dangers only too well,” Subee said. “In fact, I know them far better than you do.”
“So you’re just going to ride out the storm?”
“Not exactly,” Subee said. “But I am staying here.”
“I see,” Garrett said.
He glanced around the tiny living room that opened on an equally tiny dining room. Garrett went over to the little table with two chairs and sat down.
“What are you doing?” Subee asked.
“Well, ma’am—Subee. I’m not leaving either. If you’re going to ride out the storm, then so am I.”
“What does that mean?” Subee asked.
“It means that until you leave this house, I’m going to sit right here at this table.”
“You can’t do that,” Subee said. “You can’t stay here. You’ll die.”
“I figure my chances are just as good as yours are,” Garrett said.
“You really don’t understand,” Subee replied. “There’s a lot more going on here than just a storm.”
“Just a storm is enough for me. I don’t need to worry about anything else.”
“So, until I start packing to go,” Subee said, “you’re going to sit right there?”
Subee moved to her tiny kitchen, and Garret could see her opening the cupboard next to the sink.
Garrett sat up in his chair. “Ma’am—Subee, I wouldn’t worry about packing up the dishes. Right now you should just worry about the essentials.”
Subee turned around quickly, and her hand flashed out. A moment later, something struck Garrett in the chest, and a strong, acid vapor, a bit like vinegar, assaulted his senses and made his eyes tear up.
He stood and lurched away from the table. Then everything went black.
*You can read Part 2 here.*
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