Excerpt from Toots Gentry

Angelica Shunae Johnson stood with her back to the wall, a wall that shuddered as storm winds pounded the house. The neighborhood. The entire city. Never in her fifteen years had she ever experienced such a force of Nature. Her hearing aids picked up and magnified the sounds of battering limbs, shattering glass, snaps and crackles as power transformers blew. Her hand lay over the crack between the door and frame. With unexpected force, the door rattled, shook in a frame that threatened to peel right off the wall.

Every muscle in Shunae’s body wound tighter and tighter. Her eyes were ready to pop out of her head, they were so wide. She couldn’t find a deep breath; each shallow draw of air seemed to be the last. The only reason she wasn’t in a quivering heap on the floor was because she leaned against the wall with her knees locked. The pit of her stomach burned with acid, both from hunger and the terror that tried to bash in the door, indeed the walls, to get to her and her family.

Prayer came easily to Shunae. Born into a Catholic family, schooled by nuns in a Catholic school, she turned to a higher power to save her from the beast on the other side of the wall. One that wanted her dead, she feared.

Darkness had fallen quickly as massive clouds covered the sun that day and rain fell like someone had turned on a faucet and left it running. Knowing the night would be long, the danger maybe more than she could face, she determined to follow the example she’d created years before…be like her heroine. Brave, strong, forthright and smart. A quick glance at the coffee table reminded her that the last notebook she’d been writing in—writing the stories about her heroine—lay there waiting for her to add more. Recalling the many attributes of that girl, Shunae squared her narrow shoulders. That character wouldn’t tremble in dread. She’d use her common sense, realize this storm couldn’t go on forever and follow the one thing Shunae herself believed: This too shall pass.

“Shunae!” Jeannie burst into the dark room, lit only by the lightening that flashed through the uncovered windows. Eighteen year old Jeannie grabbed Shunae by the shoulders and hauled her into a hard hug. “Daddy’s gone nuts. He hates this storm, but insists the curtains stay open so he can see it. Mama’s upstairs and they’re having a terrible fight. Ain’t it bad enough the weather’s gone crazy without Daddy going that way too?”

Shunae’s sister shook in her embrace. Who comforted whom?

“Listen to me,” Jeannie pushed Shunae back so the younger girl could read her lips in the erratic light of the storm. “Daddy took a knife from the kitchen.” Rolling thunder drowned out Jeannie’s voice but sound wasn’t needed for Shunae to know what she said. Years of lip reading almost made hearing aids unnecessary. “I can’t help Mama, but I can save you.”

“Are you crazy?” Shunae shouted. “Call the cops.”

“Can’t. They’re up to their eyeballs in this hurricane. Someone with a knife is the least of their worries right now.” Jeannie shook her sister—hard. “Listen to me, ‘Nae. You’ve gotta run. Get outta here until Daddy cools off. The stores, the money problems, Mama finding out about it all…I think Daddy’s gonna do something really stupid.”

Jeannie no sooner spoke than Shunae froze in the midst of her sister’s panic. Despite the heat of the closed room, her body went shivery cold all over. Down the stairs came her dad, one slow step at a time, walking like a zombie.

Both girls stilled, hoping perhaps that he wouldn’t see them by the door. Derrick Johnson stopped at the bottom of the stairs, his arms down to his side, his expression blank, his eyes focused forward. But the next flash of lightning glinted off the knife blade in his hand. A blade not as shiny as it was when in the kitchen earlier.

Like a mad woman, Jeannie reached for her purse on the narrow table next to the Shunae. Rummaging through it, she tossed aside lipstick and gum, notepad and pen. Her hand came out with her coin purse. She rudely stuffed it in Shunae’s jeans pocket. From the hall rack she grabbed her own rain jacket and pulled it around her sister until she stood sweltering in its folds.

“You gotta get outta here before he hurts you.” She glanced over her shoulder, her hands on Shunae’s arms gripping so tight they hurt.

“Come on, you go with me. He can’t hurt you if we both run,” Shunae jerked Jeannie around to face her, Shunae’s monotone words flat, almost inaudible in the wind’s noise.

“He’ll just come after us. Run, ‘Nae! Run!” Jeannie hissed as their father came out his daze and turned to the girls.

Jeannie put herself between Derrick and Shunae. “Run!” she shouted over her shoulder.

Unable to believe her father was coming toward them with a raised knife or that her sister stood as a shield against his anger and despair, Shunae debated whether to stay and help Jeannie or do as the older girl demanded—run.

Doubt disappeared as quickly as the light through the window when Jeannie grabbed her father’s arm and held on, giving her sister time to escape. “Run, dammit, Shunae!” she screamed once as lightning flashed on a blade that came down toward her.

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