Their meal is hurried. They hunch over their plates, shoveling food in like its fuel for the fight and listening to the wind whistle through the trees outside. Claudia prays that none of the older trees come crashing down on the roof, or the whole place might come down around them.
Drake and Ruby Gerritson from the Circus come around to help Pen wrestle the plywood onto the windows that don’t have functioning storm shutters. Dav rushes around the yard, gathering up all the effluvia of daily life – garbage cans, watering cans, the odd toy or two – and putting them in the shed. Estelle, still a bit quiet and withdrawn, cuddles with Lucas and Marcie on the couch. Lucas smooths her feathers with one hand and sucks the thumb of his other while an ancient VHS tape of cartoons serves as a distraction. Marcie has timed-out, tucked up against Estelle’s other side, asleep after so much excitement.
Claudia plays fetch and carry for a while. Where-are-the-big-nails? Will-you-help-me-hold-this-ladder? Where-the-hell’d-I-set-that-hammer-down? That kind of stuff. When things truly get underway, she moves into the house to check the emergency supplies. The can opener is stashed next to the neat rows of canned goods in the mud room. New batteries go in all the flashlights. Water jugs are inventoried and judged sufficient.
The small horde of people come inside out of the rain and need to be dried off and smoothed out. Ruby Gerritson comes inside after giving herself a dog-like shake on the back steps and seems to sort herself out without trying much, rain rolling off her tattered denim shirt, her greying red hair still held in two tight braids. Her husband Drake settles the kids in a tidy heap in a safe place away from the windows and starts telling them a tall tale.
Just when everyone pauses to take a deep breath, there is a commotion outside. Pen and Ruby go outside to check it out. Ruby produces a shotgun from God-knows-where. It sounds like she’s growling deep in her throat, but it might just be the wind howling.
Pen comes back in looking like his feathers have been ruffled, more rattled than Claudia has ever seen him. More people gush into the house and need to be tended to. They look like they’ve been rolling around in a muddy ditch somewhere, and they smell of faintly of bug. Pen seems to know some of them and accept the others, so Claudia relaxes. The shotgun is put away.
Extra blankets and spare clothes are claimed and people are fed. Claudia gives a smallish girl named Callie some extra attention. She looks like she’s been through a washer on slime cycle, and her eyes are haunted. Although she’s stiff as a board, she accepts a cuddle. Things worse than bugbites have happened to these people. At least one of them, an Asian man, is hurt badly and has to be carried in, and they all look like they’re on the verge of shock.
And the storm has only begun. She’s sure there’s more coming.