I plopped down under the trees at the city park, concentrating on the air around their leaves above me. I let my eyes slip just barely out of focus and an outline began to form around the leaves, changing shape as the leaves shifted with the breeze.
“What are you doing?”
I jumped, hitting my head on the tree behind me.
I turned to see my best friend Kayla sitting down next to me and I gave her a dirty look, scrunching my nose. “I was looking at the trees’ energies fields.”
I sighed. “Everything puts off an energy field. If you concentrate, you can see them.”
“I still don’t get it.”
“Look, hold your hands in front of you, palms out. Now turn them so your fingers are pointed to each other. Concentrate on that space between your finger tips.” I waited, not bothering to look at her.
“Oh… Are my eyes going funny or is the air there wavery? Oh, darn! I lost it. Was that what you were talking about though?”
“And you can see that for trees? I don’t think I could even do it with my fingers again.”
“With practice you could, but yes, I can see it for trees. With a little bit of concentration, I can see it for anything.”
“Anything?” she asked dubiously.
“Anything. You name it.”
“See, you should tell people this stuff.”
“In this town? Hell no.”
“Okay, you’ve got a point.”
Kayla had just pointed out the bane of my existence. We lived in a backwoods Georgia town, population two hundred and three officially. I had my doubts about how accurate that number was. There were quite a few mobile homes that I suspected never filed their census, and that didn’t even count the squatters that could be found in the abandoned houses and barns. It being a small town, there was one church, right in the center, next to city hall. About three-quarters of the population went to that one church. Those who didn’t were usually the type who kept to themselves: the squatters, those who couldn’t afford Sunday clothes, those too hungover Sunday morning to get out of bed. The church here wasn’t any denomination in particular, but the pastor liked to pride himself on having a church with very conservative views.
Then there was me.
My parents and siblings went to church, just like most of the town, but I stopped going once I turned eleven. It was that year when I had seen my first spirit and had my first premonition. In the pastor’s eyes, I would be considered an abomination. I stopped going to church, first making up excuses of not feeling well, and then as I got older, blaming homework. We weren’t supposed to do homework on Sunday unless there was too much to get done in the days before. So I just didn’t do my homework until Sunday.
For the most part, I kept to myself. The kids at school figured out pretty soon that I wasn’t a Christian anymore, and then, that my beliefs had taken a turn towards New Age. I didn’t advertise it, but people could tell when they saw my book selection at the library, or the contents of my flash drive at school. To them, I was weird, a freak even. I didn’t tell anyone that I was psychic though. Kayla found out one day when I had suggested to her that she not go with a group of girls to Atlanta. She didn’t go, trusting my judgment, and two of the four girls who went didn’t make it back alive. The other two were badly injured. Kayla had confronted me about the premonition after the accident, wanting to know more about how I’d known the trip would be such a bad idea. To my surprise, she hadn’t been mad or scared. She had been curious. Every now and then, I would say something that weirded her out a bit, but for the most part, she tried to follow along when I talked about my abilities or beliefs, even if she didn’t understand it.
“Helloooo…. Earth to Katherine. You’re daydreaming again.”
“What?” I said, snapping back to focus.
“I said, do you want something to drink? I brought some soda.”
“Oh yeah, thanks.”
She handed me a can and I sipped it with a sigh. Soda wasn’t my favorite, but it was what people drank here. Well, that and sweet tea, another one I didn’t like. Sometimes I couldn’t believe I was born in the south.
Kayla and I chatted under the park trees until the sun started to set, then we headed back home. With coyotes and bears around, it was always safer to be cautious after dark.
I shut the front door and collapsed onto the couch, hitting the power button on the television remote as I did. The screen flickered to life and I groaned as the batteries in the remote gave their last bit of life to change the channel one time. Digging around in the kitchen junk drawer, I managed to find some fresh batteries, but as I did, the forecast caught my ear. I couldn’t see the screen from where I was, but I didn’t need to. The weatherman was describing a brutal hurricane that was about to come in through the Gulf of Mexico. It was projected to go straight through Alabama then die down around the northern border. Those along the coast had been told to evacuate.
I dropped the remote.
Roaring filled my ears and my vision went dark. I used the counter to lower myself to the floor, afraid I was going to pass out, and then I tucked my head between my knees. The roaring continued though and in my mind’s eye, I saw a flash of lightening. My hearing and vision returned a millisecond later, but I kept my head between my knees, imagining roots growing from my spine into the earth, grounding myself. I had never had a visual or auditory experience before. I was what was termed as clairsentient and claircognizant. In other words, I received premonitions as strong feelings or as definite knowledge that had no obvious source. Both of those were very strongly present right now to go along with the vision. I knew with every fiber of my being that that hurricane was going to hit our town and it was going to hit hard.
“Yes ma’am, I know it’s late. It’s an emergency. Can I please speak to Kayla? I’m sorry. May I please speak to Kayla? Yes ma’am, fifteen minutes. Thank you.
“Good grief, I thought I’d never get off the phone with your mom. Why can’t you be allowed to keep your cell phone on when you’re at home like every other teenager? Anyways, it happened again, but this time bigger, and more. You know that hurricane headed toward Alabama? Well it’s going to hit us and it’s going to hit us hard.”
“Please tell me you’re kidding,” Kayla responded over the phone.
“I wish. Kayla, I have no doubt about this at all. That storm’s gonna turn last minute and get stronger. I don’t know the science behind it, but that’s what’s gonna happen and we’re gonna be stuck in the middle of it.” My Georgia accent came a little heavier now that fear found me.
“Then what do we do? If you know this, we have to tell the town. They won’t have time to prepare otherwise. When will it happen?”
“Four days. It’s moving fast, remember? I… I can’t tell the town. One, they won’t believe me, two, they’ll call me a witch or a freak and I’m neither, and three, even if they believe me, they’ll never admit to it soon enough to save themselves.”
“Well let’s see. Everyone needs to be notified when to be in a storm cellar, whether their own, or the church’s. Luckily, they’ll have enough notice to get there. We need to look at how to hurricane proof a house. I helped my aunt and uncle once when visiting them in Florida during that really bad hurricane season a few years ago. That was an adventure! I’ll put some flyers together. We’ll keep them anonymous and post them all over town. They’ll say when to be in the cellars and how to prepare. That keeps you out of it. Yes mom, I’m getting off! I have to go. We’ll figure something out. Talk to you tomorrow! Bye!” The faint sounds of her yelling something about being off came through the line right before it clicked off and I had to shake my head. Sometimes her mom scared me.
I woke up the next morning with a headache caused by extreme tension in my neck and shoulders. Grimacing, I dug around in my drawer for some muscle cream, only to find that it expired a month ago. I rubbed it in anyways then grabbed some painkillers on the way out the door. I was too stressed to eat breakfast. My stomach churned, worrying away. There were two outcomes to this situation. One was to declare I was psychic and face the consequences of the reactions and the second was don’t, and face the consequences of the storm. I knew which was right, but that didn’t mean it would be easy. I desperately hoped that Kayla’s flyer idea would work. Becoming aware of my surroundings again, I could now see that they were plastered everywhere. Each flyer had a picture of the hurricane, its path altered to hit us, as well as dates, basic tips for hurricane proofing, and suggested reading, both a website and a book. Many people here didn’t own a computer.
I didn’t know how Kayla had done it. There was a flyer on every pole, every street lamp, and every stop sign. I could only imagine any store or community bulletin board was covered as well.
“Do you like it?”
“How did you get this all done?”
Kayla grinned. “I told Mom I wanted to go for a walk this morning. I just left a little earlier than she thought I would. I got most of it before the sun came up all the way. I still need to get the school. That will be harder.”
“Well if you can do this, then you can do that. If this works, then we’re set.”
“Katherine Todd please report to the principal’s office.” The students around me stifled a giggle as if we were all back in elementary school. I stood, grabbed my books and left.
In the office, I was pointed to the principal’s door by a frowning receptionist. I knocked and was told to come in. Two chairs sat in front of Principal Winslow’s desk and Kayla occupied one of them, a flyer laid out in front of her.
“Sit down Katherine. Are you responsible for these flyers?”
“I told you, I am,” Kayla said.
“Are you responsible for the content of these flyers? In this school we don’t believe in lyin’ you know. You could be expelled.”
“It’s not a lie!” Kayla said. “Tell her Katherine!”
The world started to fade around me. This is what I had been dreading the last six years. I took a deep breath, and admitted my crime. “I had a premonition.”
“You had a premonition?” Her accent drew the word out, making every syllable distinct. “Katherine, I know you think it’s cool to different, but in this town, we welcome Christ, not the devil. I think I’ll make a phone call and suggest to your mother that you be at church this Sunday and every one after that.”
Anger bloomed in my chest, building up with every frustration I had felt over the years. “Six years. Six years I have lived this way. Six years I have been ridiculed and teased because I’m different. Now I take the chance for even more to save this stupid town and what do I get? A prescription for saving. Does no one think that maybe my gift is God given? Hmm? There are plenty of renowned historical Christians who had visions and premonitions and knew they were a gift from God. Look, I’m going home. There’s no point in me being here. I have a house to board up. If you really want to go on living your life in the way you’re accustomed, then do it, but don’t look at me when that hurricane hits and so much is lost.” I turned and left the office. The only reason I didn’t just directly walk out of the building was because I needed my backpack but after retrieving those, I signed myself out and left.
I slammed through the front door and into my bedroom, ignoring concerned looks from my mom and siblings. Dad must still be at work. They would all know soon. Word traveled fast in this town and it didn’t surprise me to hear the phone ring less than five minutes later. Mom wasn’t on for long, and then she was at my door.
“Katherine, we need to talk.” Her voice was monotone, which scared me and I opened my door cautiously.
Her face dissolved into laughter and I was confused, but soon grew frustrated.
“Your principal just tried to tell me that you need to go to church. Meanwhile, half the town’s already boarding up windows. Your flyers worked well.”
“You knew it was us?”
“Katherine, I know you much better than you think I do. I’ve watched you procrastinate on your homework for years now so you don’t have to go to church. You can believe whatever you want. It’s not my place to tell you what to believe. As for being psychic, I figured out that one over the years. You hint at things all the time. The other day you texted me from school and told me not to drink the milk just as I was starting to pull it out of the fridge. I know you hate milk so you wouldn’t have opened it to know if it was bad, but it was. I thought the flyers were clever. Had you not been so mad when you came in the door, you would have noticed our own stock of hurricane prep supplies spread out in the kitchen.”
My mouth formed a little ‘o’ as I processed what my mom had just said. She had known for years… and she was okay with it? My mom was my toughest critic. If she was okay, then maybe others would be too.
The town had two main streets that joined at the square, and as I walked down the one I lived on with my mom and Kayla, I could see that some people had taken the flyers seriously. Those without cable and internet took the warning to heart and were doing all they could to board up their homes. Abandoned barns and houses were scavenged for wood for boarding up windows and the hardware store was busier than usual. The grocery store had sold out of white bread and cases of water and the liquor store was selling beer and cigarettes to anyone who believed in them. Our reason for being in town was similar. We were picking up more batteries for our jumbo flashlight and a new charger for the cordless drill, something we would be using a lot of soon. We had three more days to prepare.
Much of the town was confused though. The weather reports still predicted the hurricane missing us and I knew it would be another day and a half before they got it right. By then, it would be too late for the townsfolk to save most of their possessions, just themselves.
People looked at me as we walked. In such a small town, everybody knew each other and so everyone knew me. The word had spread quickly, first through the school, and then into homes, with people calling their neighbors to tell the tale. I could only imagine how the story must have escalated as it traveled. It was a real life game of telephone. I wondered what the town thought I was. Was I still just the psychic that needed church as the principal had said, or was it worse than that?
“Witch!” someone cried out. I turned and found Mr. James, I kind, older man who had always made us Christmas cookies, was the one who had cried it. He was coming toward me as fast as his arthritic knees would allow.
“She’s not a witch.” Mom’s voice had gone monotone again, and this time it wasn’t to hide laughter. “She’s my daughter and her gift is a gift from God, Mr. James. I’ll not have you saying bad things about her. Frankly, I think we’re lucky to have gotten a warning. If that hurricane’s coming for us, I’m glad to know early. And I’m also grateful to have such a wonderful daughter.”
Mr. James didn’t have anything to say to Mom, so he grumbled under his breath as he walked past us instead. Other people on the street had been watching us, and I as I looked around, most ducked their heads. However, a few held my gaze, with one even giving me a nod of respect. I was beginning to realize that maybe my assumptions had been a little too general. There were some who believed me. The ones who didn’t were just louder.
We got our shopping done and started back home, weighed down with our purchases. The sun shone brightly, deceptively luring everyone into a false sense of security. About one in every five houses looked to be making preparations for the coming storm. That was twenty percent. That wasn’t enough. I wondered how I could get through to the rest. I couldn’t just let them face the storm. Sure, they didn’t believe me, and that was their choice, but I knew what was coming and I couldn’t just let this happen. Who would they listen to?
Two hours later, I sat facing the pastor in his office. Depictions of Jesus hung on the walls next to bookshelves of Bibles and Christian nonfiction. It scared me to be here. I knew that Pastor Tim was very specific in his views of Christianity, but I needed him to believe me.
“So now you’ve come to me,” he started.
“I need your help, sir.”
“I need to convince the people that I’m not lying or crazy. They’ll believe you.”
“Then first you’ll need to convince me. All I’ve heard is a rumor that I pray to God has been twisted beyond belief. Start from the beginning.”
“Which beginning? Today or…?”
“The real beginning. Tell me how it all started.”
“Well, um, I was eleven,” I began, telling him about my first psychic experience and then a few others. I made a point to tell the ones I had acted on, the ones where I had helped someone, like with Kayla and then Mom the other day. When I was done, he regarded me solemnly.
“Have you ever wanted to use this knowledge against someone?”
“Do you believe this ability may have come from a particular deity?”
“Mom believes that it’s a God given ability.”
“But do you believe that?”
“I believe that everything comes from God, so I guess.”
“You don’t sound certain. How can I be sure that the devil hasn’t given you this ability?”
“I don’t believe in the devil. Even if I did though, would I want to help people if the gift came from him? Would I be trying so hard then? Look, here’s the deal. That hurricane is going to turn so that it’s headed straight for us. I know that’ll happen in a day and a half. By then, people will only have a day and a half to get ready and rain will come before the storm, so that will be tricky. Whether these people believe me or not, I don’t want to see them lose so much in this storm, not when I could give them warning so they’ll have time to prepare. I know people here don’t really have a lot to begin with. I don’t want to take away from that.”
“And what if the hurricane doesn’t come?”
“But what if it weren’t? Hypothetically speaking?”
“Then I hypothetically made a mistake.”
“And what would the repercussions be?”
“The townsfolk would know how to prepare for a hurricane and have supplies that they could use towards the next tornado producing storm we get next spring.”
“And what about you?”
“I’ll go on with my day to day life and people will laugh, but I don’t care. My premonitions are usually little ones and they’ve always been true, even when I ignored them. This one’s big and I know better now than to ignore it.”
“I believe I’ve heard all that I need to hear. I need time to pray on this.”
I nodded and left, closing the door behind me.
Another two hours later, I found myself sitting in that very same church, but this time in a pew. Pastor Tim had put up flyers and sent out emails about an emergency meeting tonight discussing the supposed hurricane. I bounced in my seat until Mom glared at me and even then, I couldn’t stop my foot from tapping. I was antsy; anxiety built up in my stomach, waiting to hear whether he would verify my intuition or deny its very existence. As he came out onto the platform, I froze, too nervous now to move.
“Many have heard about the hurricane and how a local girl, Katherine Todd, has had a premonition foretelling the hurricane’s path to change to include our town. I have spoken with this girl to find her motives as well as the source of her visions. I have spent a lot of time in prayer, asking God for guidance in this situation. While Katherine is not a Christian, nor has she graced our pews with her presence for many years, I believe her motives to be pure. I cannot speak to the verification of her abilities, or whether those abilities are a gift from God. I do know that God put her in this town and we’ve been offered a choice. We can heed her warning and be safer should her premonition come to pass, or we can deny it and it may turn out that she was wrong. It may also be that she was right. She claims that we have another day and a half before the meteorologists confirm the new path of the hurricane, leaving another day and a half for us to prepare. I believe that we should be safe, rather than possibly sorry. I have difficulty believing that God would place her here if not to advise us. If nothing comes to pass, then we will ask our merciful God for forgiveness of our misguidance. Therefore, I leave the decision to y’all, however I will be taking efforts to prepare my house, and tomorrow, I will be here at the church, taking efforts to preserve our house of God.”
Pastor Tim stepped down from the pulpit but stayed in the room, answering questions as the townsfolk poured out the door to start or finish boarding up their own homes. I approached him hesitantly.
“I did it for the people.”
“So did I.”
“I wish you luck in your path and I hope that you will find God again. I will pray for you.”
“Thank you.” I didn’t reply that I had never lost God, just changed my understanding. I didn’t want any battles, especially now that I had his support. I turned to go, and then stopped. “I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon,” I said. “While I may not worship here, that doesn’t mean I won’t support it, or that I can’t appreciate it.”
My comment must have caught him by surprise because he raised his eyebrows a bit, but replied, “Thank you.”
The next day went by quickly. I went to school, just like always, but now, instead of being ignored in the halls, people were questioning me. Yes, many still glared at me, or just looked away, but just as many were curious. What did it mean to be psychic? How did it work? They grilled me with questions until I got tired of repeating myself, and then they asked some more. When I left school, I headed for the church, ready to help.
Over the next two days, everyone boarded up their houses and shops, prepared livestock, and stocked up on essentials. That is, all but one person. Even the principal had given in after Pastor Tim had announced his support, but not Mr. James. As that third day, a Saturday, dawned, sky bright and blue, he sat on his porch and laughed. By noon, he wasn’t laughing as much. The sky began to cloud, and as the afternoon progressed, got dark and heavy with impending rain. Finally, someone told him to turn on his television. The path of the hurricane had changed, and it was headed right for us. He slammed his front door and shouting was heard from inside as he started searching for flashlights and batteries.
I quickly made a phone call and twenty minutes later was standing on his front porch, ringing the bell, a hammer in one hand, backed by the neighbors on our street as well as my own family, Kayla, and Pastor Tim. Mr. James made no comments as we helped board his windows while he continued his indoor preparations, except to mutter a single thank you when we were done. Pastor Tim helped him carry an overnight bag and some supplies to the church shelter, where he would wait out the storm tomorrow. Most of the people on our street did not have shelters because we were so close to the center of town. I too would be in the church shelter tomorrow, whether Mr. James wanted me there or not.
We woke the next morning to wind and rain already disturbing our peaceful town. As my family and I collected our own bags, we joined our immediate neighbors in walking towards the church, our umbrellas and ponchos not helping all that much. When we stopped to get Mr. James, I stayed back, letting someone else help him down the wet street. He didn’t look at me and I didn’t look at him. I wasn’t about to antagonize him.
The hurricane hit strong and heavy, the rain pounding on the door of the underground shelter. The inside, lit by flashlights and camp lanterns held about sixty people, squished together in clumps of families and neighbors. A handful of dogs and cats lay curled up next to their owners, too scared by the storm to be upset by the room’s inhabitants. Hushed whispers were the extent of the conversation. As the wind picked up even more and there was the thud of a tree falling, Pastor Tim stood up to say a prayer. I bowed my head and said my own prayer as well.
As the hurricane subsided and rain left, a group of nervous neighbors climbed into brilliant sunlight. The storm had lasted through the night and many hadn’t slept well. Still, as we progressed down the street, one mass of people, we stopped along the way, helping other people with trees, animals, and other damage. The power was out. Some homes and cars had been severely damaged by fallen trees and some livestock had been lost, but for the most part, everyone was okay.
I smiled to myself as I watched the townsfolk work together to clean up the mess. Maybe this town wasn’t so bad after all.