Author: Dody Myers
2013 First Edition
6"x 9" Trade Paperback
Retail $14.95US; 216pp
ISBN 978-1-62268-022-1 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-035-1 ebook
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Author: Dody Myers
August 23, 1882 was
a scorcherninety-two degrees in the shade by midmorning, air like
a sodden blanket. On St. Simons Island lumber men worked in undershirts,
business men loosened their collars and fanned themselves with wide-brimmed
straw hats, and women in long bathing costumes led children into the sparkling
foam of the ocean off the Georgia coast. Clam diggers strolled by with
buckets full of quahogs and littlenecks. A pair of sandpipers skittered
along the incoming tide so fast their little stick legs left only scratch
marks on the hard sand. On the beach a young man and a girl walked hand
in hand at the edge of the surf. Calm surf, belying surf that within hours
would become a roaring monster. The girl, Amanda Kennedy, was nineteen,
short, with blue eyes, and a softly rounded chin often thrust out in defiance.
Today her hair, a rich chestnut, was gathered and tied at the nape of
her neck to keep it from flying in her eyes. She was from Pennsylvania,
a Junior at Wilson College in Chambersburg. She was visiting the boy with
her aunt and uncle during summer break. The boy, Michael McKenzie, lived
on the island. He was twenty-one, his sun-bronzed skin and high cheek
bones hinting at his Native American heritage. He had a strangely sweet
grin that was at odds with strong Lincolnesque features.
Amanda and Michael picked their way over
small, broken shells and jellyfish on sand that was damp and rippled from
the tide. They strolled slowly toward the lighthouse which guarded the
southern tip of the island and guided high-masted ships through the channel
that separated St. Simons from Jekyll Island. As they walked Amanda noted
the numerous summer cottages that had sprung up along the beach, a fact
that boded well for Michael who was building a resort hotel on his stepfather's
former plantation. Dune grass swayed in a sudden gust of welcome wind.
They walked along the edge of the incoming tide and Amanda threw back
her head and laughed as they jumped to avoid the long rolling swells rising
from the ocean bed. Cirrus clouds braided a pale sky, the tang of salt
wafted on the air, the wind began to quicken, and the sun hung like a
copper globe over a sea turned glassy. Occasionally shrimp fishermen shouted
from boat to boat or the lighthouse horn sounded its mournful call. But,
overall, there was eerie stillness. No gulls or shorebirds were to be
heard. Old timers nodded their heads; animals were always the first to
sense a disturbance in the weather.
Michael pulled out his gold pocket watch
and flipped it open. "It's getting late," he said. "Maybe
we should turn back. My father said he would like to leave for Savannah
before noon. Grandma is expecting you for dinner tonight."
"Are you certain you can't join us?
We've had such a short time together," Amanda said. Her dark hair
loosened in the stiffening wind.
"Dang it all, Amanda, I just can't.
They are going to deliver the hotel rugs today and I must be here to make
sure they're the ones I ordered." Michael's shoulder-length hair
snapped in a sudden gust of wind and he pushed it back. "Crazy weather,"
he muttered, glancing out to a quickening sea where white caps were beginning
to appear and a boat zipped along, sails billowing.
This stretch of the beach was almost deserted
and Michael put his arm around her waist. She felt lightheadedfree
as the sun and wind, free as a child. She turned to look at his bold profile.
He stopped walking and pulled her to him. They kissed. His hand slid down
her back and she felt a flash of heat so intense it rocked her.
"Stop Michael. People will see us,"
Amanda said with mock firmness, pushing him away, fighting to hide a coy
"Not on this beach, they won't."
He laughed and pulled her back into his arms. Since he was taller than
Amanda by a head, her face nestled comfortably against his chest.
"Um," she murmured. "You
smell good . . . like sunshine and salt."
He drew himself up to his full height, while
a look of stern pride settled on his face. They stood that way for several
minutes, then he took her hand and guided her to a pair of wooden steps
leading from the boardwalk down to the beach. They were barefoot, the
soft sand beyond the tide line griddle-hot. "Let's sit here for a
while," he suggested. He brushed sand from one of the steps and Amanda
hiked up her long skirt and slowly sat down.
"Lord, is it always this hot?"
she asked with a helpless gesture, fanning herself with her hand.
Michael grinned. "Sometimes it's hotter."
"Don't you miss the change of seasons?
I would miss that more than anything."
"Well, on the coast of Georgia and
the sea islands of the Carolinas, we do get a sort of seasonal change;
but our seasons are different from fall and winter in the north. The change
is more subtle. The weather stays warm but not hot. The sea and sky turn
a deeper blue, the sun more golden, the marshes turn tawny and luminous.
It's beautiful in its own way."
They sat side by side, shoulders touching,
watching a sun-tinted sea caress the shore. Michael's strong fingers squeezed
hers. The odd light slanting across his high cheekbones was incandescent
and arresting. He was striking. The slant of sun showed bronze skin tanned
golden, dark eyes under strong brows black as licorice. His hair was black
and shiny, along with his beard which was new and tidy. She wouldn't call
him handsome, but then she knew that she was not beautiful. She was plain
with plump arms and legs, her only exceptional features, thick-lashed,
blue-violet eyes. Michael was an extrovert while she was somewhat of a
loner. Her desire for education, coupled with her terrible feeling of
inferiority due to her birth, set her apart from others. Her eyes stung
and filled with tears as she remembered.
She was seven when she first heard the word
bastard. She had run home from school sobbing and burst into the
kitchen where Ila, their cook, was stirring cake batter. "What does
bastard mean?" Amanda asked, her eyes brimming with tears. "Some
fat boy at school said I was a bastard and couldn't play with them."
"Thet not a nice word," Ila said
as she increased the rhythm of her spoon against the crockery bowl. "Lawd,
chile, I thinks o' you more like the gift of an angel from heaven. Ask
yo' mama. It gots more to do with you daddy than you."
But her mother pushed her questions aside.
Somehow, even then, Amanda didn't think her mother thought of her as a
welcome gift. No one ever spoke of her father. Now that she was older,
she knew why.
Michael looked at her with a lopsided grin.
A smile crinkled the skin around his dark eyes and made her heart leap
as it had since they were children and he had come north to live with
Uncle Ford and Aunt Abby.
"I think we should get married as soon
as the hotel opens," he said. "I miss you and want you with
"We made an agreement, you know,"
she reminded him. Amanda caressed his fingers one by one as she talked.
"You promised I could finish college."
"Yes, I know. But I'm terribly lonely
and in addition to being an excellent hostess you will make a fine wife
Amanda frowned, her lower lip caught between
her front teeth. Hostess? Wife and mother? Is that all her education
would equip her for? She didn't quite care for his choice of words. If
Michael had a fault, it was his old-fashioned view of women.
He had traveled south two years ago and
found his stepfather's old plantation home in ruins from the Civil War.
A dream was born. He would not return to Pennsylvania to continue his
college education, instead he would stay at St. Simons, rebuild the plantation
home into a resort hotel and run it as a family business. Sometime in
the near future he and Amanda would marry and start a family. He had it
all figured out.
Amanda felt a butterfly of unease in the
pit of her stomach.
Michael kept his gaze on the sea as he lifted
a fold of her blue skirt and slipped his fingers onto her knee. With his
other hand he rubbed his new beard and pretended nonchalance. Amanda fought
to hide a smile. She witnessed a light pattern of red spread its way across
his cheeks and beads of sweat on his lip that she suspected did not come
from the sun.
They sat a while longer. "We should
say good-bye here," he said. "Everyone will be watching back
at the hotel."
"It won't be for long this time,"
Amanda said. "The whole family is planning to come down in October
for the grand opening. The college has agreed to let me off for the entire
week. Then too, my mother has arranged to get time off from work and she
is taking Erin and Eliza out of school."
She jumped up and lifted her long skirt
to shake away the sand. "We'll get married . . . but only after I
graduate. You promised." She pulled him to his feet. "Come on,
now, slowpoke. I'm not too grown up to race you home."
That afternoon the
tears that Amanda had fought to contain when she kissed Michael good-bye
streamed down her cheeks. She climbed into the carriage with her aunt
and uncle for the trip across the island to catch the ferry to the mainland.
They planned to visit Ford's mother in Savannah for two days, then return
home to Pennsylvania. Aunt Abby put her arms around Amanda and hugged
her. "I know it's hard, dear, but the time will go quickly,"
"I feel so guilty, Aunt Abby. Michael
wants to get married now and I want to finish college." Her chin
lifted in an arc of decisiveness. "I do love him. I'm just not ready."
"And neither is he, if he would only
admit it. Getting a new hotel up and running is a huge undertaking. I
imagine it will be several years before it provides him a living."
"And then some," Ford interjected
from the front seat. He glanced up at the sky. "I think we are getting
out of here just in time. A storm's coming. And the island is no place
to be in a northeastern blow."
Ford was right. Building on a barrier beach
is toying with nature. It is on borrowed land, on a loan from the sea.
St. Simons is a spit of land separated from mainland Brunswick on the
west by an extensive system of salt marshes and sounds and on the east
by the mighty Atlantic. It is the largest of the barrier islands along
Georgia's coastshaped and constantly changed by pounding surf and
But St. Simons had a romantic history and
Amanda was slowly falling in love with the charming island. During the
18th century it served as the sometimes home for John and Charles Wesley,
chaplains at Fort Frederica and founder of the Methodist Church in America.
Fort Frederica, on the northern tip of the island, was the military headquarters
for General Oglethorpe during the early colonial period and served as
a buffer against Spanish incursions from Florida. During the early 1800s
the island was cultivated by English colonists for rice and cotton. The
plantations were worked by large populations of African slaves, then destroyed
and burned during the Civil War. In the years following the war the coastal
islands were in critical condition. Many plantations had been destroyed
and the owners suffered financial ruin. Now it was struggling to find
a new identity. In 1874 Norman Dodge and Titus Meigs, two millionaires
from New York City, decided to start a lumber mill on St. Simons and bought
the plantation of James Hamilton Cooper on the Frederica River at Gascoigne
Bluff. At present there were four mills operating for which the lumber
was cut "up country" and floated on rafts down the Satilla and
Altamaha Rivers. Two thousand southern live oak trees had been harvested
on St. Simons to build the USS Constitution better known as "Old
Ironsides." The Dodge, Meigs Mills were very successful and in 1878
they supplied the oak for the roadbed of New York's Brooklyn Bridge.
The era of long-stem cotton and elegant
plantation life was gone, replaced by lumber and the emergence of a tourist
industry. Ships came to the island from England, South America, and Maine,
and their ballast was unloaded on the Mackay River. The Captains of the
vessels often brought their wives and children with them to enjoy the
wide sand beaches and they began to buy the seaside cottages. Now, tourism
was making its debut. People from Atlanta had discovered the island for
vacations and it was an excellent stopping point for travelers on their
way to and from Florida.
Because the island lay in a curve of the
coast line, well east of the gulf stream, hurricanes were practically
nonexistent. Still, it was a barrier island and the term "barrier"
refers to the protective role the islands and their marshes play in shielding
the mainland from oceanic storms. But on this weekend it was to fail miserably
in its prescribed role.
Amanda had been gone
for only an hour and Michael missed her already. He left his lunch half-eaten,
crossed through the main dining room, and stepped out the French doors
to the veranda extending along the front of the hotel facing the sea.
His brow puckered as he gazed at the turbulent water. He was concerned,
but not yet alarmed. The incoming tide was unusually high and should have
turned by now. Exceptionally long ocean swells were flattening the dunes.
A gale force wind had begun blowing hard from the north to the east and
as soon as his parents and Amanda had left for Savannah it began to rain.
He felt a slight quiver of uneasiness when a sharp gust whipped his jacket
open and tore at his long black hair. The sudden shift in weather confused
him, the day felt heavy, the sea a sulky gray, the sky a strange greenish-yellow.
He knew he had better secure the hotel boat before things got worse.
Michael ran down to the landing. Braving
the hammering rain he backed the boat away from the dock and rowed toward
a large cedar tree growing on the bank. He dropped the anchor into its
massive rootsthey would hold better than sand. Moving quickly he
rowed back to the dock, trailing the anchor line behind him. He picked
up the bow line and secured it to the boat then rowed back to a place
halfway between the tree and the dock where he tied it off Indian fashion,
like a hammock, clear of any objects that could cause damage.
Satisfied that the boat was safe he returned
to the hotel to finish lunch. As he drained his coffee, the mantle clock
chimed the hour. The hands of the clock showed that the tide should have
turned an hour ago. Alarmed now, he pushed his chair aside, rushed over
to the windows facing east and peered through the streaming glass. By
this time the sea had risen to the lower part of the landscaped terrace
threatening the newly planted heirloom roses. On the section of the veranda
encircling the front of the hotel the keening wind had ripped out the
wisteria vine and toppled the trellis. In the distance he saw his foreman,
James, slinging mud with a shovel beside the drainage ditch bordering
the north field. He was apparently not making any headway trying to divert
the incoming tide.
Michael ran out to the kitchen pantry, snagged
a rain slicker from a peg on the wall and rushed into the yard. He hit
the sodden front lawn running, his boots sinking into the soaked turf
as he squelched through the mud to help his servant.
Sweat and rain made rivulets on James's
black face. "Masta Michael, that tide ain't turned. Water's running
up the ditch fast as it should be runnin' out. It blowin' up a hurricane
that be for sure."
"Hurricane" was like a foreign
word to Michael, a Northerner since a child. He had only read of the tropical
storms and certainly never experienced one. His stomach churned. Oh,
God, not a hurricane. Not now. They were booked solid for the opening
in October. By now the water was over most of the yard and still rising.
"Better round up the chickens and get them into the stable,"
he yelled into the howling wind. "I'll help."
In the barn the agitated horses were snorting
and pacing in their stalls and several squabbling wild turkeys had banded
together in a dark corner. He and James chased the chickens inside, filled
the feed buckets with extra oats, and tried to calm the skittish horses.
Rain pelted the tin roof and crept under the door. He fed a carrot to
his stallion, Hobie, and on impulse kissed his muzzle. "Everything's
going to be fine," he whispered. "It's just a bad rain storm."
But by now Michael knew it was more than that. What he didn't know was
that most hurricanes attack with three weapons: swirling winds, heavy
rain, and waves so high that at first glance they may look like a fogbank.
This storm had all three.
Up until this time, although blowing a brisk
gale, the wind was not causing any major damage. Now each gust became
more frequent and seemed stronger than the preceding gust. The sea had
begun to churn and the tide still had not turned. Water slithered up the
beach and seawall, gathering into pools where Michael had never seen it
"I think that's all we can do for now,"
Michael yelled into the wind. "Better get inside before this gets
A stray chicken ran ahead of him and he
drove it onto the kitchen porch. Surprisingly the chicken obeyed and a
memory came over Michael of Penelope, Amanda's pet chicken, who used to
follow him everywhere. Please, he prayed, let my family be north
of this storm.
He went into the hotel and changed into
dry clothing while James' wife, Matilda, ground some coffee beans and
brewed a pot of coffee. Carrying a steaming mug of the fresh brew in his
cold hands Michael opened the kitchen door and stepped out onto the side
porch. He gasped when he saw how far the water had advanced onto the yard.
It would soon cover the steps. Matilda appeared at his side and he heard
"Lawd a mercy, looka that. I thinks
it be a good idea to take bread and food from the storeroom to one o'
the upstairs bedrooms 'case that water keep a comin."
"It is past time for high water. The
tide will surely turn now."
"Tell that to them poor little critters
huddlin' on our porch," Matilda muttered, pointing to several pigs,
two peacocks, and a groundhog whose home was undoubtedly under water.
Matilda is probably right, Michael
thought, his stomach tightening into a tight ball. He hurried inside.
"Get James, then, and we'll carry what we can to the second floor."
Water was now rushing into the storeroom,
various items already beginning to float about. The three of them turned
their attention to the flour barrel and hefted it onto a table. Meanwhile
the distressed chicken was making the most ear splitting squawks Michael
had ever heard. James went over and took it from a floating cardboard
box where it had gone for protection. He put it on the window sill.
The water had now reached their knees and
still rising. "Help me in the dining room," Michael shouted
as he waded out of the storeroom and back to the kitchen. Matilda stopped
to put the chicken in an empty pot on top of the stove. "Now you
stay put," she said with a scorching look. "I ain't a gonna
cook you. Yet."
Michael rushed through to the dining room.
His heart sank when he saw water already swirling around the legs of the
substantial mahogany table. The table and refurbished chairs were family
heirlooms, a gift from his grandmother in Savannah for the grand opening
of the hotel. "We can't move the table but we must get those chairs
up off the floor," he said to James. They hefted the antique chairs,
upholstered in a beautiful blue and gold tapestry, onto the table while
Matilda began moving the sterling silver tea set and other valuables to
the fireplace mantle. When the chairs were all elevated, he grabbed the
new table linens from the sideboard drawers, ran up the stairs and dumped
them on the bed, then started down for another armload. There would be
time to sort everything later.
He was still on the stairs when he heard
the shattering sound of glass breaking and the dining room windows burst
in with an explosion of wind and water. Glass flew everywhere, the sideboard
went over, the table with its load of chairs slammed against the wall
with an unbelievable grinding and clatter.
"We all gonna be drown'd," Matilda
screamed as she thrust a crystal vase high above her head. Michael navigated
to her and grabbed her arm. The swirling water was gaining strength. He
handed Matilda back to James, who was right behind him, and James slung
her over his solid shoulder. Together they fought their way to the circular
stairway and began to climb to the second floor bedrooms. But it seemed
the water was rising faster than they could climb. The hurricane was slamming
the house with its full force, the waves striking the building like a
battering ram, the veranda going up and down like a bucking horse. Michael
yelled, "This isn't safe. Head for the attic."
They scrambled up the narrow steps with
Michael in the lead. Matilda grabbed his shirt. "I ain't goin' into
that dark place," she cried in a quavering voice. "Theys haints
Michael yanked himself free. "It's
our only choice. The water is already on the second floor." He raced
up the remaining steps and pushed open a trapdoor covered with spider
webs. The attic was cramped, dark and un-floored, and Michael climbed
over the rafters to a tiny window set in the western eave. By now the
yard was part of the ocean, great waves chasing each other across from
east to west, striking the trees with flying spray. As he watched, the
chicken house lifted from its foundation and splintered into a thousand
pieces. Parts of neighboring houses on Demere Road whizzed by, drawn by
the demon wind. Great cedar trees, old as the nation, leaned into the
wind and lay down. What his eyes saw his mind could not process and his
heart refused to accept.
The boat he had secured so well went bobbing
across the yard, still attached to the tree. He didn't know whether the
tree was carrying the boat or the boat the tree. It seemed to be nip and
tuck with them.
"Pray . . . pray," Matilda groaned
from the attic stairway, firmly refusing to budge as the house trembled
In an instant there was a horrendous screaming
noise as the roof buckled and let go, separating from the main body of
the hotel and disappearing. Michael was blown through the opening and
hurled into icy water. Desperately, he tried to swim but it was impossible
in such churning foam. A piece of the roof banged against him and he grabbed
it and hung on, working his arm through the V of a rafter still attached
to the slate tiles. With a mighty effort he hoisted himself onto the temporary
raft and struggled to keep the roof balanced. Rain, broken shells, and
splintered driftwood lashed his face. The debris churning in the water
was as menacing as the sea.
He was not alone. Rooftop rafts floated
by, carrying children, dogs, and all manner of humanity. In seconds the
force of the wind and water had transported him toward all that remained
of a fishing dock, the splintered pilings like broken arrows ready to
impale him. If he survived the waves, Michael was afraid he'd be dashed
to pieces against the wreckage. Abruptly the wind veered and his raft
was slammed against one of the huge live oaks still standing. He reached
out and grabbed a branch, hanging on with every ounce of his remaining
strength. It seemed like forever but it was only seconds before a wave
threw him off the tree into a mass of drift where he lay, more dead that
alive. Saltwater stung his eyes and clogged his throat. He vomited into
He lay there in the dreadful tempest of
wind and rain, shaking and praying as he had never prayed before. He tried
to yell for help but he seemed to have no voice left. His tears streamed
down his cheeks as he realized the enormity of what had happened. Were
James and Matilda still alive? Had Amanda and his family safely reached
Savannah? Was anything left of the resort and his two years of labor?
He lay half-buried in mud, fishing tackle, clamming rakes, barn doors,
bits of carriages, dead birds, dogs, and cats for what seemed like hours.
When the eye passed, and the storm delivered its final blow, people began
moving about. A young boy saw him and went for help.
Several men dug him out and though considerably
shaken none of his bones were broken. The water fell rapidly as the tide
turned and the wicked wind moderated into a gentle breeze. he sought shelter
and it was dusk before he could hobble across the island and up the beach
toward what might be left of his hotel. The agonizing walk showed the
damage to the sea shore, all the pretty cottages, bath houses, and docks
were piled in one inextricable heap next to the woods. Houses sat in every
imaginable condition, their yards full of broken furniture, carriages
and animals. Some had the entire front wiped away, roofs were gone, or
nothing was left standing but the chimney.
He staggered along, stone-cold, clothes
muddied, bedraggled hair stuck with sand, face blackened with grime, legs
bruised and bleeding.
It seemed as though nothing had been too
heavy or strong to withstand the action of the waves. Michael's eyes stared
with fascinated horror as several men tried to rescue two dolphins that
had been washed ashore. A large ship had been left high and dry on Beachview
Drive and the masts of other sailboats tilted at sickening forty-five
degree angles. As he neared home he broke into a run, gulping air furiously,
desperate, yet afraid, to see the end of his driveway. The roadway was
choked with downed trees and he had to climb over a mass of drift before
spotting the hotel. Built of tabbya concrete-like mixture of lime,
sand, and seashellsit was still standing though mangled and roofless,
its porches gone. Hundred-year-old oaks were flat, their limbs crossed
and tangled in every direction, while mingled with them were the remnants
of chairs, tables, linens and crockery.
Thankfully, James and Matilda were alive.
He could see them already busy trying to salvage what they could. Heart
leaping, he limped to their side.
"Praise the Lawd, it's Master Michael,"
Matilda cried, wiping her face with her torn, muddy apron.
Reeling with unfettered joy he swept her
into his arms. "God, I'm glad to see you alive. How did you make
James smiled broadly. "When da roof
sailed away with you on it, we tied ourselves together with ma rope belt
an' climbed through the bedroom window. We grabbed on to a floating tree
that came to rest halfway up Demere Road an' jest sat in dat ole tree
till the storm over."
Michael looked around. It was hard to assimilate
the damage wrought by the hurricane. Every outbuilding was either washed
from its foundation, or blown away. The yard was a scene of complete devastation
and ruin, debris several feet deep in places. The hotel was roofless and
flooded. The parlor furniture, including the fine new piano, was strewn
over the beach. They found the boat, hard and fast, in the limbs of a
tree on the edge of the myrtle hammock. Dead animals, both wild and domestic,
lay everywhere. Michael's stallion, Hobie, and the two carriage horses
were gone. A chicken, stripped of its feathers, limped across the lawn.
Gulls and pelicans by the score had sheltered themselves about the hotel
and after the storm waddled feebly into the ocean, unable to fly. Life
or death seemed as random as the flip of a coin.
"Have we any livestock left?"
"Coupla our pigs was floundering in
mud up to their bellies," Matilda answered. "James got 'em free.
I been catching what chickens we got left and givin' 'em a good dunking
in dat tub o' water."
"Well, come with me," Michael
said to James. "I just passed several men trying to turn some endangered
dolphins back into the water. I didn't stop because I was anxious to find
you and Matilda and assess the damage to the hotel. Maybe we can help
"But you hurt, Masta Michael. You need
cleanin' up," Matilda cried, shaking her head.
"I can wait. The dolphins can't."
With that he turned and began to hurry down the beach, James behind him.
The dolphins had been returned to the water but he saw men digging in
piles of debris looking for people who might be trapped. Michael and James
joined them, working by lantern light until Michael was too exhausted
to stand. He draped his arm across James' shoulder and staggered back
to the hotel.
Matilda had placed straw pallets on the
floor of the butler's pantrysurprisingly intact after the stormand
Michael collapsed into the nearest one where he fell into exhausted sleep,
muddy clothes and all.
The next day the sun
was warm, the sky clear, the blue water sparkled back in its bed. But
on land, desolation was everywhere. Michael started James and Matilda
clearing away the rubble around the hotel while he set off for the mill
to see if he could purchase some tar paper to give temporary protection
where the roof was missing. As he drove his wagon down Demere Road, he
was appalled to see that there was absolutely nothing left of John Gould's
house except the chimney.
Several men he recognized from town were
poking through the debris as though looking for something. "Where
are the Goulds?" he asked.
"Out with a search party. Their children,
little Jimmy and the baby, are missing. Mary was in the nursery with them
when the wind blew out the window and sent the trunk of a cedar tree flying
through the opening. It knocked her unconscious and the house just exploded
from the wind. We can't find the little ones."
"Where are they looking?"
"In the marsh, yonder, while the tide
Although still overwhelmed by his own disaster
Michael realized the loss of family members would be far worse. He had
been so wrapped up in the damage to his beloved hotel he had not given
enough thought to the human carnage occasioned by the storm. He felt sick
to his stomach. God demanded more of him.
In the distance he could see searchers spread
out across the marsh and he immediately set out at a run to join them.
He spied Mr. Gould wading through a narrow channel poking the shallow
water with a long pole.
"Has anyone searched the beach?"
"Not yet. The hurricane was moving
"I'll go down along the dune line and
look. Children are light and the wind fickle. The outgoing tide could
have carried them toward the sea."
Michael retraced his steps to the beach
and soon spotted several other search parties combing through the rubble
lining the shore. He joined one group of men who informed him that three
people were missing from the village as well as numerous pets. Feverishly
they dug through stranded seaweed, tangled palm fronds and sodden Spanish
moss. All of a sudden a shout rang out and everyone paused.
"The Gould children have been found,"
cried a man running along the beach.
"Are they all right?" several
The man skidded to a stop. "Both dead,"
A sob caught in Michael's throat and he
sank to his knees, his fists convulsing with suppressed rage. Where
was justice in all of this? Where was God? A friend of his from the
village approached him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Rough
it is," he murmured. He handed Michael a length of iron. "But
we must keep digging in those downed trees. We've still got people missing."
They continued to work feverishly and silently.
The dead body of a woman was recovered but she had thrown herself over
her baby and miraculously the child was still alive. It was verging on
dusk and lanterns were lit, but still they searched. At last, dog-tired
and dejected he returned to the hotel where James was constructing a temporary
coup for the surviving chickens.
"Let that be and go find Mr. Gould,"
Michael said. "Tell him he and his wife are free to live here till
they can rebuild. They will want to be handy to their land."
"Did the mill have any tar paper left?"
"Truth be, James. I never got there."
"Probably all gone now."
"There is always tomorrow. God was
good to us . . . all we lost were material things. Many people lost their
"Still, I gonna add a little prayer
tonight that He send no mo' rain till we get things covered up a bit."
Michael gave him a bittersweet smile. "You
do that. And you might add a little footnote that the banking gods will
see fit to direct some money our way to begin rebuilding."
As James walked away, Michael lowered himself
onto the limb of a fallen tree and flexed his aching shoulders to ease
the rigors of the long day. He sat absolutely still, listening intently
to the noises of the night, the pounding of the surf, the small scuffing
of nocturnal creatures, the slap of a lanyard against a wooden mast in
gusting wind. An occasional shout could be heard from men still searching
the beach. He held his head in his hands and squinted into the distant
Had he the will to start over?
©2013 Dody Myers