Seemed like the worst of the storm had passed. Janelle had been sitting on the couch for nearly a half hour. With the power out, she had nothing better to do than sit here in the gathering dark and look out the big window in the back of the house.
She hadn’t seen any lightening since she had dropped to the couch to ride it out. The thunder out there was the distant, rolling kind that she’d always thought of as the drum major, moving along behind the storm, making sure it kept moving in a consistent manner.
In the summer, these evening storms weren’t so bad. She could go outside once the skies cleared and assess the damage, if any. She loved being out there in the calm after the storm, nodding to neighbors. Toeing the small limbs that had fallen, feeling lucky that her roof and her trees were mostly intact. Mostly though, she loved the excitement, the way the adrenaline kicked in with that first ear-splitting crack of thunder and built inside as the storm brewed outside. The adrenaline would start to wane as she walked outside, and she would a rush of relief and euphoria. She would eye the skies, secretly wishing another storm would roll in.
The fall was different, though. It got dark earlier. She couldn’t go out to check on her property. Seeing neighbors by flashlight wasn’t the same. It brought a whole new dimension of creepy to a storm.
Janelle looked away from the window as the candle on the kitchen counter flickered. She wondered how long it would be before her power came back on. It was cool out, so with windows open, she would sleep well. But she couldn’t remember what lights and other electronics were on when the storm zapped the power, and she dreaded going to sleep only to be jerked awake to bright lights and the sounds of the TV and the fans.
She jumped when she heard the thump in her garage. That was weird. The garage door was closed. An animal? A mouse? Doubtful. Maybe it hadn’t been in the garage but outside. Before she could decide what to do, her landline rang. She eased her way around the couch to the kitchen wall and grabbed the receiver.
The caller ID was blank. Janelle stared at the phone indecisively; she rarely answered a call if she didn’t know who the caller was. But, still, the storm. What if it was her mom? What if she had some storm damage? What if caller ID didn’t work because of the storm? Was that a thing? She had no idea, but the ringing was driving her crazy. If it were someone she didn’t know, they’d have given up by now, right?
“Hello?” Janelle put the phone to her ear and moseyed to the back door, listening to see if there was any noise coming from the garage now.
The line hummed, but there was no response.
“Hello?” she repeated, louder this time. Right ear pressed to the back door, she heard something that sounded like metal clanging on the cement floor of the garage. She jumped so hard, she nearly dropped the phone. “Hello?”
Someone spoke, but the voice was so garbled, Janelle couldn’t make out what was said. Or if the caller was a man or a woman.
“I’m sorry. I can’t understand you. Who’s calling?”
More static and a voice droning and saying something that was still unclear.
“Maybe if you hang up and try again?” she suggested.
She waited for a dial tone, but none came. More nonsense, and then very clearly, she heard, “Janelle.” Still impossible to make out who it was, even if the caller was male or female. She turned and leaned on the door at her back.
Something thumped loud and hard on the door. On legs now numb with fear, she stepped away from the door and looked back at it. The knob jiggled.
“Do you understand?” the voice asked. The words were still distorted, but at least she could make them out. “Janelle?”