The Bright Side |
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The Bright Side

By Caren Hahn

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Jess slipped her phone into her back pocket and grabbed her keys. She’d been checking the weather app obsessively all day, and the tropical storm had officially been upgraded to a hurricane. Forecasters warned that it was intensifying as it crossed the gulf and would be more severe when it made landfall that night.

The school wasn’t far—no more than half a mile—but the thought of the kids being away from home made her itch like a thousand insects crawling up her spine. At least the school day was almost over. Shaun was traveling for work, but he’d be flying in tonight. She’d feel a lot better when they were all home together.

The air was thick with moisture as she slipped out the back door to the driveway. The minivan’s driver side window reflected the sun shining brightly overhead, oblivious to the disaster on the horizon. They’d moved to Beaumont last winter and Jess still wasn’t used to the unrelenting Texas heat and oppressive humidity.

But this…this is what she’d feared since the day Shaun had first told her about the promotion that would move them 2000 miles away from Sacramento.

“Look on the bright side! At least we’ll still be close to the beach!” he’d said.

But it wasn’t until later that she’d realized that also put them in the potential path of disastrous hurricanes like Rita and Harvey.

She waved at Marcy, her next door neighbor who offered an awkward return wave while balancing an armload of groceries. At least Jess had already stocked up on bottled water and essentials as soon as the news had reported the first whispers of a tropical disturbance. As she drove down the street, she ran through the mental list she’d compiled from hours of internet searches and conversations with other moms at the school. Would it be enough? What if they lost power? What if they flooded? Marcy had lived there for ten years and said their neighborhood had never flooded in all that time, but there was always a first, wasn’t there?

Images of Hurricane Katrina haunted her as she joined the pick-up line outside the elementary school, the air conditioning less potent now that her engine was idling. Sweat gathered in the creases of her elbows and behind her knees. At least the storm should cool things off. It was almost October and she wanted desperately to break out the jackets and autumn decorations, but it was hard to get excited about pumpkin spice and hot apple cider when you were still wearing tank tops and sunscreen.

“When’s Daddy coming home?” Beth asked as she climbed into the van. Jack followed right behind, bringing with them a gust of hot air and the smell of active children.

“He’ll be home tonight!” Jess said brightly with a quick look at the time. “At least he’ll beat the storm.”

The kids buzzed with excitement as they settled into their seats.

“Mrs. Newell says we don’t have to do homework and school could be canceled on Monday.”

“Gabby’s mom is in the National Guard and she said they might be deployed to Galveston.”

“I hope the power goes out. I want to use my new flashlight!”

“Sebastian says that after Hurricane Harvey they had so many rats and cockroaches his mom got a hotel until the exterminator came.”

Jess looked up sharply at Jack’s reflection in the rearview mirror. “What?”

“Yeah, I guess they all escape to dry ground. So the houses that don’t get flooded with water get flooded with rats and roaches!” He grinned, gaps showing where he’d lost his most recent canine.

Beth made a retching sound.

“I’m with you, Beth,” Jess said, easing the van carefully through the crowded parking lot. She hoped Jack’s friend was exaggerating, but just in case, she made a mental note to research hotels as soon as she got home.

An hour later, Shaun called with grim news. “I can’t beat the storm. They’re rerouting me to Kansas City.”

“Oh.” Jess tucked the phone tighter to her ear as she turned on the faucet to fill a saucepan with water. “I was really hoping you’d be home tonight. You know it’s officially a hurricane, right?”

“Yeah, I wish I could be there too. But hey, at least you don’t have to drive to Houston tonight to pick me up!”

“Right. Do you know if we have any rat poison?”

“What do you need rat poison for in a hurricane?”

“Never mind.”

The thought of rodents swarming the house lurked in Jess’s mind as she made dinner. Every time she opened a cupboard door, she expected to see roaches spilling out. Once, Jack kicked a plush toy into the kitchen, and it skittered across the floor just on the edge of her vision. She jumped and squealed, heart racing as she clenched a wooden spoon like a weapon. A second later, her panic turned to sheepishness as she spied the sauce slashed across her apron.

At least it was alfredo and not marinara.

The skin-crawling sensation continued into the evening as the air grew heavy with the stillness of expectation. The kids grumbled about going to bed, but Jess reminded them that at least she’d let them finish their movie.

But Jess couldn’t sleep, imagining hoards of rats crawling through the windows, climbing up the house to slip through the vents in the attic, even coming through the pipes in the toilets. When the pattering started on the roof, she pictured hundreds of clawed feet and her stomach sank into her toes. A breath later she realized what it was, and went to the window to look out on her first hurricane.

Shade trees bordering the sidewalk whipped in the pale light cast from the streetlamp on the corner. A strong gust of wind rattled the windows, and within minutes, the driving rain had swelled so loud that she didn’t hear Beth come in until she was right beside her. Beth wrapped one arm around Jess’s waist and leaned against her.

“Can’t sleep?” Jess asked.

“It’s so loud.”

“Let’s turn on a light and read a book together. That might make it seem less scary.”

They snuggled in Jess’s bed, with the bedside lamp illuminating a picture book about a boy who was afraid of the dark. Jess infused her voice with as much calm optimism as she could muster, but felt like a shrill yelp was caught in her throat just waiting for an opening.

“At least we still have power,” Jess observed, reaching for another book.

With a flicker, the lamp went out.

She sighed and reached down under the bed, squishing Beth until she giggled. “I’ve got a flashlight here somewhere. Ah!” Her fingers closed around the cool metal.

But when she switched it on, the beam sputtered and went dark.

“It’s not working!” Beth complained.

“It’s all right. At least I thought to get more batteries.”

Jess slipped on her shoes and fumbled to the door. Jack met her in the hallway with his own flashlight.

“Get your sister and some blankets and let’s camp out downstairs. I don’t think we’re going to get any sleep with all that rain.”

She felt her way down the stairs in the dark—at least they’d thought to pick things up before bed—and edged her way to the kitchen. A great roar built in the distance and grew until it slammed into the house, shaking the windows.

“What was that?” Jack called from upstairs.

Jess laid a hand on her racing heart. “I think…I think it was the wind.”


“Don’t worry. This house has weathered worse, I’m sure! At least we’ll be snug and dry all night!” She hoped they couldn’t hear the fear in her voice.

As if in answer, the driving rain intensified. Jess gathered the kids onto the couch farthest from the windows. By the time she returned with batteries for her flashlight, the kids’ greatest concern was whether it counted as shining his light in Beth’s eyes if Jack aimed for her forehead.

At least they don’t seem scared.

Jess, though, was running out of positives. She thought about the food filling her fridge and freezer and wondered how long it could stay fresh with the power out. She imagined rats fleeing the storm and finding her well-stocked pantry. Would all her preparation be for naught?

“I really wish you hadn’t told me about the rats,” she muttered to Jack.

“At least it’s only rats and not—“

His voice was drowned out by a terrific cracking over their heads, accompanied by the sound of breaking glass.

Jess swept the room with her flashlight, the kids’ wide eyes reflecting her own fear. She left them with instructions not to leave the couch, then cautiously went upstairs, envisioning a tree coming through a bedroom window. But everything appeared sound.

“At least it wasn’t one of our trees,” she said encouragingly as she returned to the nest of blankets. It was far too warm to snuggle, but Beth and Jack burrowed close to her anyway.

Every time the wind battered the house, she held her breath until it passed. Eventually, the soft sound of snoring replaced the kids’ chatter.

With eyes stinging from exhaustion, Jess watched the progress of the hurricane on her phone's radar app. At least she’d charged it before they ran out of power. Finally, she managed to doze. She dreamed of a semi truck driving through her living room and woke with a start, surprised to see the windows edged in a thin gray light.

They’d made it through the night.

Jess reached for her phone. It was dead. No more updates. No more phone calls from Shaun. No calling 911 if they had an emergency. No looking up hotels in case they were overwhelmed by a battalion of rats.

Feeling raw like her insides were scraped over, Jess shuffled to the window and looked out.

She gaped. The street had become a river. Murky gray water ran all the way up to the sidewalk. They were trapped. And worse, a large tree from Marcy’s yard had fallen right on top of their van, crushing it like a soda can.

“Wow!” Jack said from beside her.

Jess blinked. The scream that had been building all night pushed against her throat.

Look on the bright side.

What bright side? Their van was destroyed. There was a river blocking their escape. The rain was still coming down in thick sheets. The water was rising. They had no power and her phone was dead. There was no way of getting help or getting out.

And then, as if nature had one more trick up her sleeve, Jack pressed his nose against the window.

“Is that what I think it is?”

Jess peered through the curtain of rain. The water was now lapping at the edges of the yard. Something was moving there. Something long and sinuous with ridges along its spine.

A gator. A bona fide, wild, Steve-Irwin-wrestling alligator.

Jess swallowed the scream until only a small croak escaped.

Jack saw her face and a look of pity flashed in his eyes.

“It’s okay, Mom. At least it’s not a rat.”

Cori Hatch

At least it’s not a rat! 😀
That was too good!

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About Caren Hahn

Caren Hahn writes relationship dramas in a variety of genres. With deeply empathetic characters and richly layered plots, readers of her fiction will enjoy an emotionally resonant experience—and have some fun along the way!

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