HARMONY  CHAPTER  ONE

The Storm

          The roar that reverberated through the two story house must have been what it would be like if you were trapped inside the engine of a locomotive, and the floor shook as if it were a hundred earthquakes at once. Loretta Morgan hurried her two children into the bathroom where she thought it would be safest. She lifted and placed her oldest girl Jean into the bathtub. Then she turned to her youngest and dearest Belle, but to her horror, Belle had somehow escaped her grasp and had left the room. Loretta cautioned Jean to stay low in the sturdy porcelain tub and she would return shortly. The interior of the house had been transformed over the short period of just under an hour, from one of a warm and safe family home, to another of furious destruction.

And like a dying animal, windows broken out everywhere, furniture and other possessions strewn about, it seemed as if it were gasping its final breaths.

          Loretta discovered Belle in the family room in front its large plate glass window, rattling but still managing to stay in place. She stood calmly looking out, draperies and dress blowing about. Loretta called to her daughter from across the room, but Belle failed to hear. And while Loretta hesitated to rescue her daughter, the window began to rattle violently. Belle placed her hand against the glass pane as if she could somehow quiet it, but it broke all the same. Shattering inward, a shard deeply sliced her palm as it did. Her mother immediately recovered Belle and carried her to the safety of the bathtub where she could shield both her daughters through the worst of the storm.

          Loretta wrapped her daughter’s hand with rags she tore from her own clothing. She continued wrapping thicker and thicker windings until the bulk of the cloth began to finally subdue the blood that wept from the deep wound of her daughter’s small hand. Belle never cried, never showed pain. Jean however, was afraid. And under the blanket her mother held tightly over her children, Jean cried.

          “Mamma, are we going to die?” Jean wailed.

          “Sssh! Sssh!  None of us are going to die,” she assured them.

          “When is Daddy going to be home? Is he going to come home, Mamma?

          “Daddy’s going to be okay too,” she told her daughters.

          “What about the girl outside?” Belle inquired. It was strange because Loretta never saw anyone outside. No one could be outside because of the weather.

          “What girl outside?” Loretta asked Belle. She was sure she must have seen something else.

          “The girl with the lantern.”

          “A girl with a lantern? Belle, you tell me how can that be? There’s no girl outside,” Loretta assured her.

          “Yes there was Mamma! There was a girl outside; a black girl; and she had a’ oil lantern; and she was right there at the window. I saw her, Mamma. I did!” Belle was insistent.

Loretta held her girls even closer, pulling the wet sheet tighter around them all to keep them as warm and dry as she could. The sound of the wind was deafening and getting worse. As the floor vibrated in the fury, the feet of the tub performed a kind of a tap dance, and Belle hummed an unfamiliar hymn in time with the beat. The force of the winds became worse until it finally pulled the bathroom door completely off the hinges.

          “Shhh! Shh, shh!” Loretta continued. It was all she had left to help her children feel safe. But Loretta was herself, very frightened. She had expected the storm to be bad, but had no idea, not a notion, that it could get this bad. And probably for the first time ever she actually feared for her mortal life. And the only task left in her life was to keep her children safe, and she felt pathetically weak against the nature they endured.

          Belle began to softly weep. And she constantly repeated over and over, “The girl! The girl!” Loretta was sure this was one of Belle’s many imaginary friends, and she was using this idea of the girl at the window to somehow keep herself calm. All Loretta could do, was to continually hold her daughters close to her in her arms, gently rocking them and hushing them for the endless hours the storm persisted. But in the back of her own mind, Loretta had her own vision that she-herself may have imagined, probably imagined, and that was the image of a lantern. She thought she had seen its light in the darkness of the storm outside the window; something that couldn’t have been where it was. She remembered seeing it, but there was no girl. A burning flame from a lantern hanging in the wind? How could that have been?

          The three girls stayed safe in their bathroom, but outside, Katrina claimed her victims.