Short Fiction: Seven Sisters and the Storm

Dear Readers,

9/27/22:With my text alert wildly warning of Ian's arrival, I prayed about what to blog this week. In an instant, the unexpected answer came: "Post that short story about hurricanes." Years ago, I wrote a collection of stories, Waterworks: Modern Tales of Redemption & Grace. This is a collection of twelve short inspirational stories for women, including reflective prompts and prayers for spiritual growth. I never published them, though one was featured in a literary anthology. I confess I'm not even reading this again before posting it. If you like it, will you let me know? I sure do hope you'll enjoy it!


9/30/22 UPDATE: I scheduled this post earlier this week. As of this morning, all is well. By the grace of God, Ian was a nonevent for us here. We were serenely hunkered down at my house. Grateful! Thanks to all of you who prayed and reached out.

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It was just starting to rain now, clouds materializing out of an innocent, early morning August sky. Caroline rushed to shut the windows in the house against the coming storm.


She ran the headcount in her head. Betsy was pulling soggy laundry off the clothes line across the way. Raylene was playing with the rabbit ears on the TV. Her twin, Ruth Ann, was still down at the truck stop along 37. Sistah Sally, as they called her, was at the church preparing for the worst. Mary Pat was our running somewhere. Little Kitty was splashing in the muddy puddles quickly forming from the flat, grassless stretch of earth before the little compound they called Sisterville. All seven of us accounted for.


“Betsy!” Caroline called out the window. “Betsy!”


“What?!” Betsy answered impatiently, as she lifted a damp sheet off the clothes line to find her sister’s face. Already soggy from the light shower, Betsy stood with the plastic laundry basket resting at her feet and wet clothes slung over both shoulders.


“Get the rugs out back, too,” Caroline hollered. Betsy shrugged a reply.


It had all started three hours ago. Roused by a strong breeze early that morning,


Caroline had hurried to hang the wash and air rugs. Nobody said anything about rain.


The storm was supposed to pass far east of Cypress Creek, population 700. At eight a.m., when she finally sat down for morning coffee, her younger sister Raylene burst in the screen door.


“Talula’s comin’ this way,” she announced breathlessly.


“Talula?” Caroline asked indifferently, lighting a cigarette.


“The hurricane.”


“Right.” She answered absentmindedly, remembering. “They’re really dredging for names aren’t they?” Caroline got up to pour herself another cup of coffee. “Want some?” she asked, lifting the pot.


Raylene crossed the small living room to the old console TV in the corner and switched it on. “I’m serious, Caroline,” she said fiddling with the knobs, “it’s coming straight for us.” Raylene smacked the side of the television, hoping to jar it into compliance.


“We’ve been through storms before, sis,” Caroline said, placidly returning to her chair at the small kitchen table.


“This is different,” Raylene bent over the top of the TV, which was covered with potted plants. “They’re evacuating the coast and then some,” she said as she rummaged through a tangle of wires and vines. “Why don’t you spring for satellite and get rid of this old piece of junk,” she said pushing aside some ivy to grab hold of the antenna.


“And what is it, a TV or a plant stand, anywho?”


“I don’t watch television, Ray,” Caroline said resignedly for the hundredth time. “And we’re a long ways from the coast.”


“Well, that’s just fine, you being in the house and all,” setting the antenna down and turning to her sister. “The trailers are gonna be river barges by tomorrow night if it whips up the Miss like they say.”


Caroline and their youngest sister Kitty lived in the tiny, three room log cabin that had been their parent’s home, while the remaining sisters lived in two trailers that flanked the cabin. Sisterville.


“Mama and Papa never left. We won’t either.”


Their parents had died five years earlier in a car wreck along rural route 564. Their old Dodge collided head-on with a flatbed full of hay bales on the dark country road one evening coming back from dinner at the VFW in nearby Collinsburg.


Deputy Warren Stohl showed up at the house late that night. “You being the eldest, Caroline, I come tell you first,” he said softly, standing in the peculiar orange glow of the front porch bug light. The memory was vivid.


“Caroline?” It was their little sister Kitty who appeared in the arc of the hallway to jolt her back to the present. “What was all that banging?” she asked. “It scared Thumper,” the stuffed bunny rabbit she clutched in her arms.


“That was your sister Raylene, trying to fix the television,” she replied, casting a stern glance at her sister. She turned back to Kitty. “Did you sleep well, honeybunch?” Caroline opened her arms to the youngest of the seven orphan sisters. When their parents died, Kitty was only six months old, a surprise baby. All in their late teens and early twenties by then, the other sisters had welcomed Kitty as though she were their own child, and cared for her with equal tenderness and attention. Providential, as it turned out.


“Storm’s comin’, Kitty Cat,” Raylene said in a scary voice.


“Stop it, Ray,” Caroline warned, pulling Kitty up onto her lap.


“Will we go stay in the church again?” Kitty asked excitedly.


“That was fun, wasn’t it?” Caroline said, recalling the prior summer when they’d found shelter in the church during a bad storm.


“It was fun!” Kitty squealed.


“Yes, well, maybe we’ll do that,” she lifted Kitty off her lap. “Go ahead and get dressed now, Kit. I’ll make you some breakfast.”


“Okay,” the child said brightly, running off, Thumper in hand.


Caroline walked around the counter into the galley kitchen to prepare breakfast. Raylene pulled a stool up to the bar and leaned forward over the counter. “Caroline, I mean it, I got a feeling about this storm.”


“Okay,” Caroline said beating eggs. “Let’s talk to the rest of the gang and decide what we oughta do. Let me just get Kitty fed and you round everybody up.”


“Good, I’ll see you in a few.” Raylene hopped off the stool with a flourish and vanished out the door.


Twenty minutes later Raylene was back, followed by everybody except for Ruth Ann and Mary Pat. Assembled, the sister’s kinship was evident. They all had their mother dark wavy hair and their father’s angular features. Other than the twins, that’s where the resemblance ended.


“Good morning,” Caroline said clearing dishes from the table. “Hi!” Kitty said, looking up from the book she was reading sitting on the living room floor.


“Hi, squirt,” Betsy said, mussing Kitty’s hair.


“Kitty,” Caroline said wiping her hands on a dishtowel, “why don’t you go play in the yard a little bit, honey.”


“Okay,” Kitty replied obediently, grabbing Thumper off the sofa and heading for the door. Her sisters each took turns patting her along as she scooted by.


“Where are Mary Pat and Ruth Ann?” Caroline asked.


“Ruth Ann’s at the diner,” said Raylene.


“I don’t think Mary Pat came home last night,” Sally said embarrassed.


“Out with that Pritchett boy prob’ly,” Raylene winked.


Betsy walked up to her eldest sister resolute. “I think Raylene may be right about the storm, Caroline. It could really be bad this time, sis. I’ve been watching the news and it does look like a big one.”


“Anybody hear anything from town?” Caroline asked.


“I talked to Robin, Pastor Kirk’s wife,” Sally answered. “She said Sheriff and them was heading out to ask folks to leave, told them to get the church ready for holdouts. I’m going over after this to help set up. I know we’ve done this before, but Robin said Sheriff was real worried. Said they’d never seen anything like it.”


As if on cue, Deputy Stohl appeared in the doorway and rapped on the storm door before letting himself in.


“Hi, Warren,” Caroline said. “We were just talking about Talula.”


“Hi, Caroline,” the Deputy nodded to the assembled group, “Hi, girls.” He removed his hat. “That’s what I’m here about.”


“Want some coffee, Warren?” Caroline asked, gesturing to the kitchen.


“No thanks, Caroline. I’m making the rounds this mornin’. Just stopped in to tell you that we’d like you to go by sunset. Storm should be up good by then. River won’t be far behind.”


Sally, who was leaning against the front door jam, glanced up at the sky through the storm door. “It’s just drizzling now.”


“I know, but it’s going to get worse. With all that spring rain they had upriver this year, it looks bad,” the deputy said urgently. “You got somewhere to go? Your Aunt up in Jackson maybe?”


“I don’t think we’re gonna leave, Warren,” Caroline said decisively.

“Right now, it is up to you,” Warren conceded. “But that could change, Caroline," Warren said carefully. "Storm’s picking up speed and Sheriff’s talking mandatory evacuation if the rain keeps coming.”


“Well,” Caroline said scanning her sisters’ faces for agreement. “If he does, then we’ll talk again.”


“OK, then.” Warren sighed. “I’ll probably be back before too long, one way or another.” He backed out the screen door. “See you later.” They heard him say bye to Kitty and then tires on gravel.


Raylene nudged Caroline with her elbow. “Why didn’t you ask him for lunch or something?” Everyone laughed except Caroline.


“Your sense of timing is really something else, Ray,” Caroline answered humorlessly.


“So, I guess we oughta get ready,” she added, not missing a beat. “I’ll get all the windows and storm shutters.”


“Let me see if I can’t get this darned thing workin’.” Raylene squawked grumpily, kneeling before the TV.


Betsy rose, “I’ll get the laundry,” she said, moving to the front door.


Sally joined her. “Wait up, Bets. I’m heading to church. I’ll be back in a few hours with a report from town.”


Betsy looked out toward the river, a small sliver of which was visible from this vantage point. “I hope we don’t lose the crop again,” she said anxiously.


The same storm that had put them in the church overnight last year had flooded their low fields, washing away the herbs and flowers they sold during the growing season. Years ago, their grandparents Lilly and Earl built the cabin just above the five acres of rich floodplain where they grew vegetables to sustain their family of three, including their only child, April. When April married their Daddy, Carl Jr. at 17 and he joined the family economy with his generous machinist’s pay, they were soon able to save enough money to buy a large double-wide, which they had placed next door to the cabin. Eventually, Papa Carl, by then a foreman at the small engine plant in Collinsburg, bought yet another trailer as quarters for the older sisters, since by then they had their six daughters stack