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The Not So Wise Owl
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I peered out the window again.
The sky was still that sickly yellow colour that beans turned when they stayed on the vine too long.
It was the colour of death.
The wind had picked up too.
I watched the waves of grass swish to and fro as the wind buffeted them from every direction imaginable.
I just wanted to wrap up in Mama's quilt and hide under the heavy iron bed frame in her room. The one that protested each evening when she sat down after a long day of tending to us kids.
Surely they wouldn't notice if I crept away and disappeared.
Just for a little while, until the winds stopped and the sick sky became healthy again.
"Katerina! You must come quickly!" Papa called to me up the stairs, "bring Misha! We must go to the root cellar!"
I wanted to not hear him, to pretend that I couldn't understand what he was saying through his thick Russian accent.
That he wasn't telling me that the sky was sick and the wind wasn't whipping the air into a fury, a fury that was about to become very, very destructive.
A fury so destructive that we needed to hide from it, deep in the root cellar under the house.
It was her this time, my mother with her singsong voice, pretending she wasn't afraid. Pretending she was happy that we were about to play the game she liked to call "Nobody's Home".
'The wind is knocking but nobody's home, nobody's home, nobody's home', she'd sing while hugging my little brother close to her chest; rocking him back and forth.
I hated the game.
Mostly because it wasn't really a game, she might be fooling little Misha, but she wasn't fooling me, I wasn't little anymore.
I sighed; there was no reason to hide from the truth.
I picked up the old ragdoll that lived on my bed, the doll I wished I was too old to hold on to when I was scared.
Millie was her name.
I carried her to the top of the stairs.
"I'm here Mama, but I don't see Misha."
I called out his name just to make sure he wasn't hiding under Mama's bed like I wished I was.
I tumbled down the old wooden staircase, stopping to peek in the cabinet under the staircase; another of Misha's infamous hideouts.
He wasn't there either.
He was probably with Papa by now anyway, at least I hoped he was.
I met my mother in the kitchen where she was in a complete tizzy.
Spinning around in circles, trying her best to gather up all the food and provisions she wanted to take with us to the cellar.
You know, just in case.
"Misha?" she asked, glancing over her shoulder, I shook my head.
"He wasn't upstairs. He's not up in that tree again, is he?" I asked, referring to the apple tree near the cow pasture, the one with the wormy, gross apples.
Mama shrugged and passed me a thermos all heavy and sloshing with water.
"Be a dear; take this down to your dad."
I nodded and hefted the water jug off the counter.
Just then Papa burst into the kitchen.
"Misha!" he hollered, as if saying it as loudly as possible would make his young son appear out of nowhere.
I shrugged and held the thermos out, "Here's the water."
He shrugged me off with a wave of his hand and let out a string of gibberish, probably Russian by the sound of it.
He did that when he was stressed; rumble on in his first language.
It didn't seem to matter to him that we had no idea what he was saying.
I left them there in the kitchen and took the thermos and Millie out to the root cellar.
The dark, spiderwebby root cellar beneath the house.
The one with the ancient staircase that groaned each time you went up or down. Like it was a burden for it to help you to your destination, and it was just too old to care anymore.
"Mish, are you down here?" I asked into the gloom.
I dropped down three steps and peeked around.
When nothing moved or squawked I sighed and took the thermos the rest of the way down, just so Papa wouldn't yell at me for leaving it on the staircase.
"Mish?" I asked again, just to make sure he wasn't playing games.
"I found you, game's over, my turn to hide. Come out."
I paused to look around before shouting, "Now!"
I shook my head more annoyed than afraid. I tapped on my chin.
Where on earth would a four year old boy with dirty scabbed knees go in this sort of weather? Couldn't he tell this was twister weather?
I hugged Millie. How I wished she could talk at a time like this.
I turned and ran up the steps, nearly colliding with my mother in the process.
"Is he down here?" she asked, her voice pleading.
I shook my head. "Nope."
"Where on earth?" she asked, dropping her basket onto the uneven ground.
We stared at each other for a long minute.
It hit me like a ton of bricks.
"The dog house, with Sobaka. Did you look there?"
I barely waited for her response before I took off across the farm yard.
It was a long shot and I knew it.
He hadn't hidden in there for months; he was really getting too big to squeeze in there with our old mutt.
But I had to try; I couldn't just leave him out there.
My eyes scanned the barnyard as I ran.
There was no sign of Sobaka anywhere, which was probably a good sign.
At least he was smart enough to get out of the weather.
I nearly collided with the small wooden doghouse as I didn't want to waste any time slowing to a stop.
"Misha!" I said breathlessly as I peered inside, "Sobaka, where's Mish? We gotta go. The wind, it's going to..."
I stopped myself as I realized my own absurdity; I was talking to a dog!
Getting ready to explain to the dog that the clouds were churning themselves into a funnel, like he would understand the significance of what I was saying.
I shook my head and tried to make my eyes focus in the gloom.
I couldn't see anything.
I reached my hand down and groped around until I landed on the dog's soft, warm fur.
"That's my Sobaka-boy, all tucked in where it's safe. You gotta go find Mama."
I said pulling on his collar.
"C'mon boy, is Misha with you?"
The old black mutt shifted and stood, revealing a sleeping boy in a dirty brown shirt.
I nearly collapsed with relief.
I gave the dog a pat and pointed at the house.
He loped off agreeably, giving me room to get in and pull my brother out.
"Misha, we gotta go, it's time to play 'Nobody's Home'. C'mon, Mama has a picnic all ready for us in the cellar."
The little boy shifted and rubbed his eyes. "Katerina?"
"Yes, it's me."
"She and Papa are with the dog down in the cellar, it's time for us to go there too, C'mon."
I tried not to let him hear the desperation in my voice, tried to pretend it was all a game, just like Mama did.
The wind churned and bubbled around me, tossing sticks and dirt at my legs.
Any minute now the column of fury would appear, there was no telling where or when it would drop.
I held my breath as my brother unfolded himself, slowly like a moth from a cocoon. I urged him onto my back and set off at a run towards the wooden doors in the earth that led to the safety of the root cellar.
Mama must have been watching us from within as we approached because the doors popped open a moment before I reached them.
She took my brother from me and pulled us in.
Down, down just as the roar began, the roar that sounded like a train.
But this was no locomotive.
The column of fury was here, I turned at the last second to locate it.
There it was, off to the west, at the far edge of our land. Way far away from my house and my family, a wide dark tornado kicked up dust and debris.
My mother pulled me into the safety of the cellar and put the bar across the wooden doors, just like they had done a hundred years ago.
Papa fiddled nervously in the corner with some old pieces of wood and a hammer. Pretending the racket he was making served a useful purpose.
He might have fooled Misha, but he wasn't fooling me.
I gathered with Mama and Misha on the old gray blanket under a single stark light bulb that hung from the ceiling.
We made a game of it.
A fun little picnic, served a plate of sandwiches to everyone, including my Millie.
And then it was over.
The howl of the wind, the not so gentle sound of rain, hail and debris on the cellar door.
One minute it was there, and the next it was gone. Hushed and still.
I glanced at Mama, who glanced at Papa.
He put down his hammer and moved towards the old staircase.
My eyes followed him, my legs not quite ready to go with him.
To answer the question that was in all of our hearts.
The house, the barn, the animals and the crop.
Had the twister come for them, would they still be there when we poked our heads back into the now still evening air?
I watched him climb, wincing when the wood groaned under his weight.
Slowly he removed the bar and pushed up through the door.
He was silent, and then he laughed.
He laughed and laughed until we were all at his side.
Together we spilled out into the debris covered barnyard.
The house stood strong and silent against the dark sky, the barns, the crops, they were all fine.
The twister of fury had not come for us, but instead had gone off in the direction of the woods and the river.
Mama laughed then too, cheerful and relieved.
I wrapped my arm around her waist, hugging her tight.
"I guess nobody was home after all," I whispered into her shirt.
"I guess not," she said squeezing me back, "I guess they were just looking for someone else."
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