by Susan Buchanan
The warnings are ominous. To make matters worse the twins have disappeared. I can tell that Mom’s really nervous. The twins are known for doing stupid things like locking themselves in the attic or getting caught on the last sandbar when the tide is almost all the way in. Mom tells me to go easy on them. Personally, I don’t think they need special treatment. I mostly ignore them. So this time, storm or not, I’ll be doing exactly that.
Since early this morning, the kitchen radio has been blaring hourly updates of a fast-approaching summer storm. If you believed half of what you heard, you’d be shivering in your boots. They keep saying things like “the worst storm in over twenty years” or “a terror of nature” or “something to be reckoned with”. We usually get a good storm or two every summer or fall but this storm sounds especially scary. The entire eastern seaboard, from Florida to Maine, has been severely battered. People have died. Entire towns have been destroyed. And now the hurricane is headed towards the Maritime Provinces. I listen to the latest update with a stomachtwisting mixture of excitement and fear.
These days I’m addicted to this crazy kind of feeling. I keep doing more and more, just to feel the blood-tingling rush. Last week I went out in the dinghy in the middle of the night with fog so thick I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me. And two days ago I shop-lifted for the first time. My knees almost folded beneath me leaving the candy store. And later, while eating the stolen chocolate, the smooth richness sliding down my throat, I wanted to sing. This is the closest to happy I’ve been since Dad died two years ago. It’s taken me this long to wake up to my stunted emotions. Now I’m flying and I don’t want to come down. And flying has been the best way to ignore my cousins.
Kate and Kenna, my twin twelveyear- old cousins, are driving me crazy. We’re the same age but from different planets. And now they’re missing. Not that it’s easy for them to disappear. Everybody stares when they walk by. Tall, athletic, very pretty, carbon copies. My polar opposites. They have been snobby since they arrived from Toronto two weeks ago. Mom tells me to cut them some slack because their parents are in the middle of a divorce and the twins are taking it hard. That’s why they’re here, to get away from all the nasty shouting and horrible tension. They think a divorce is the worst thing. Well, yeah, they should live in my lonely world, where Mom is so sad it’s like she lives in a different country than me.
The thing is, with the twins, they have “secrets”. They seem to thrive on them. That’s probably what they’re up to now, a silly little secret. One minute I’ll think they’re actually being nice and the next minute they’ll have disappeared, pursuing some big mystery. Right now, the only thing they’ll be pursuing is an escape from the wind because when it picks up it will feel like it’s sucking the air right out of your lungs.
“Lily, before the wind gets crazy out there, you need to go find them.” Mom has a scary way of hearing specific words I’m thinking of.
“”Mommmm... Do I have to?” I know I’m whining but I can’t help it.“They’re so annoying. They always have secrets. It’s just stupid! And they’re such hotshots, a little wind and rain shouldn’t bother them.”
“Secrets or not Lily, I think you need to go find them. I don’t like the sounds of this storm.” Mom turns from the post she has taken up at the kitchen window. She bites the side of her thumb, a sure sign that she’s fretting. I haven’t seen her do that when it comes to me in such a long time.
“Oh, Mom,” I say. I can’t stop from rolling my eyes. “Why do they have to be such pains.” Wailing like the wind, I slam the kitchen door behind me and get my bike from the barn. I wave to Mom who is still standing looking out the kitchen window.
The air is thick, with a hint of coolness. I’m glad I had an old windbreaker in the barn. I tie it around my waist. Far off, thunder rumbles like a train on a bridge. With a loud clash a jagged bolt of lightning lights the leaden sky. The wind whips in a frenzy across the grain fields, ghost bullies pushing huge swathes of it to the ground.
The last thing I want to do is take the short cut to the village but I have to find my cousins as soon as possible. Usually, I ride up on the highway, far away from Folly Lane. Instead I’m on this dinky little back road because it’s the fastest route. I look towards the Northumberland Strait. It’s twisting like a giant writhing snake, big whitecaps rushing toward the beach. Dirty foam clings to the masses of seaweed that have come ashore. Despite my fascination with the wild water, I have to pay attention to the road. The wind is stronger now and it’s harder to pedal. Taking the short cut means going past Folly Lane with its creepy shadows. And the screams that come from that old house up there give me nightmares. Real honest-to-god nightmares. What goes on there?
I pedal fast, the bike’s wheels catching in the soft sand on the road. What if I fall? My stupid cousins will probably perish in the storm. Faster. Faster. Now I’m on the pavement leading into Folly, a little village that clings to the sandstone cliffs of the Island’s south shore.
Kate and Kenna love ice cream. I don’t know how they eat so much of it and never gain weight. My guess is they’ve come into Folly to stuff their perfect faces, not caring for a second that people like my mom may be worried about them.
I shout at my friend Maddie, asking her if she’s seen the twins but she can’t hear me so I pedal past her. I’m surprised at how the wind has intensified since I left home. It’s screaming across the water, making it impossible to hear the men on the wharf, lashing down the last of the fishing boats. Usually summer storms don’t cause much fuss on Prince Edward Island. By the time the winds reach the rocky red shores they are more noisy than harmful. The sea may whip up and the waves will crash in, far above the high tide mark. Lobster traps will be tossed about like toys and tons of seaweed will be uprooted and spread like thick carpet on the beaches. But that’s it. Nothing scary, not like this storm. This storm sounds more serious and dangerous.
The ice cream stand is on the wharf but I can hardly see it. Ghostly shapes loom around the little shack. All of the fishing boats have been pulled from the water and lashed down on the wharf. The usual late afternoon bustle of the pier has been crushed with the worry and fret of looming disaster. Fishermen stand about, restless and unsure on land, their usual confident, easy manner missing. This is as unsettling as the wind.
Then I see them, those stupid twins. Far out, a tip of land called Folly’s Point defines the western boundary of the harbour. Like a bathtub duck, my yellow inflatable dinghy bobs at the water’s edge out by the point. The dinghy seems to be caught in the rocks. I can just make out two dark heads against the yellow of the little boat.
I drop my bike on the wharf and run along the beach toward Folly’s Point. The wind thrashes the waves against my legs. I’m being pulled on and it’s hard to make any headway. I keep pushing against the waves. The beach at Folly’s Point can only be reached by boat or by walking along the shore for several minutes. Nobody ever goes here and now I see why. It’s rocky and slippery and even on a fair weather day it’d be difficult to walk along. My sneakers catch in the sucking sand and I fall hands first. I skin my knees and the palms of my hands against the gritty sandstone rocks. I struggle to my feet, my hands and knees stinging like crazy. Spitting sand and brushing sticky seaweed from my hair, I call to the twins.
“Kate! Kenna! Stop fooling around! Get out of that stupid dingy. NOW!” My voice is lost in the wind. I know they can’t hear me. I limp along, my head down against the wind. When I look up again, my stomach plunges.
The boat is bashing even more furiously against the rocks. It jams and starts to sink. The twins tumble out into water up to their shoulders. The wild waves break over their heads and each time the twins disappear I worry this will be the last time I’ll see them alive. In seconds, the dinghy is nothing more then yellow shreds. One piece blows into the air and catches on a bit of branch sticking out from the cliff.
I finally reach Kate and Kenna as they crawl out of the thrashing waves.
“Come on, you two. We’ll go home through the fields. It’s a short-cut. If we’re lucky, we’ll get there before the storm really comes ashore.” I hope my impatience and sarcasm can be heard. I don’t much care about how frightened they look. The wind is even stronger now. And the rain has started in a furious way. I do feel just a little bit bad for them so I offer them my dirty, old windbreaker. In a feeble attempt to keep the rain off, they share the windbreaker and pull it tightly over their already wet heads.
We scramble up the cliff and start walking fast through the fields, heads down and into the wind. Trudging behind me, Kate and Kenna have nothing to say. Until one of them screams and grabs my arm.
“Lily, what is that? What is that terrible noise?” Kate has real panic in her voice.
“What noise? All I can hear is the wind.” And then I hear it too, a horrible howling rushing towards us, carried on the wind.
We all run. Folly Lane. There is a house at Folly Lane. We can get out of the storm there, I think and run harder, my heart pounding, my lungs bursting.
We stumble into the shelter of Folly Lane. The storm is gentler there.
“I think we can get into the house. I don’t think anyone lives there.” We run up the lane. The shelter of the trees is short-lived. We soon step into the wind and rain again, our legs tangling in the over-grown yard. And the horrible howling is back!
We clutch each other and look around. Arusty wagonwheel is stuck at a haphazard angle in the grass. The wind catches at its spokes and spins it, screeching and howling in crazy circles. The wheel screams again and we drop to our knees, laughing with shaky relief.
“Wait Lily, wait. I think it’s ok. I think she’s deaf,” Kenna says, gesturing in response to the woman. A huge smile softens the old lady’s face.
I watch with surprise. Kate and Kenna appear to be communicating with the woman.
“Her name is Ruth. She’s an artist. And she wants to know if we need to come in out of the storm.”
Ruth leads the way through her yard and into the house. A small woodstove warms the kitchen. She brings us thick towels and makes us tea.
“Do you think we could call Mom?” I ask and then wonder if I’m being dense. Do deaf people use phones?
It turns out that Ruth does.
When I say hello I hear my mother let go of a deep, shuddering breath. I reassure her that we’re fine. I give her directions and sit back to enjoy my tea. The twins keep signing with Ruth. I guess this is another of their secrets. A very cool one. I wonder if they would teach me.
My cousins and I called it Folly’s Storm. It blew itself out before doing much damage. The twins kept having secrets. But I stopped having nightmares about the screams from Folly Lane. And I stopped doing stupid stuff and instead visited Ruth. Ruth agreed to give me art lessons if I would run errands for her. It was the perfect arrangement. By summer’s end I could sign with confidence, the twins went back home to divorced parents, and we all parted as friends. They still had their secrets but they included me in many of them. Summer stretched out into something beautiful. I still missed Dad but my chest didn’t tighten every time I thought about him. I painted, telling the stories I remembered about him, the colours acting like the words I couldn’t find. Ruth and I spent long afternoons together. Even Mom changed, became more like the mom I remembered, quiet but funny, always singing along to the radio. We managed that summer, Mom and I, to start rebuilding our little world. The storm blew away things we didn’t even know we’d been hanging onto.