When I heard about the hurricane brewing in the south Atlantic, and how it was going to be a big one, a real big one, I decided to name it after a girl I had dated in college. Carol Santana, who had once been the love of my life, the girl I was going to be with forever, had dumped me for a scruffy guitar player named Dennis.
As Hurricane Carol started gaining strength, I was told that the name couldn’t be used after all, that it had actually been retired, (apparently there had been a big Hurricane Carol in the ‘40’s), so Carol became Carolyn.
And then a funny thing happened: what forecasters had predicted was going to be one massive storm, began losing strength. It quickly went from a category four and growing down to a three and then a two. When it finally hit Cuba, it was barely more than a tropical storm.
After Carolyn dissipated, another storm soon formed. This one was nothing to worry about, the forecasters said, it would probably just stay out in the ocean. I named this one “Dennis” for symmetry’s sake.
But then, to the disbelief of the meteorologists, Dennis started growing more and more powerful. It was instantly a three and when it swept through the Caribbean (killing hundreds), it was a four. Fortunately, most of southern Florida had been evacuated but that still didn’t stop Dennis from doing what was estimated at about a billion dollars worth of damage.
At the time I didn’t think too much about it; with all the changes in global temperatures, hurricanes were becoming more and more unpredictable and occasionally fooled the well-educated (not to mention well-paid) weather forecasters.
A few days after Dennis was finished wreaking havoc, I got a call about a new storm developing. They needed another name from me.
When I had first started at the National Weather Center’s head office in Oklahoma, I thought the person who named the hurricanes had the best job. How great would it be to actually get to pick the names for the storms? But now that the job had fallen to me, I thought it was rather tedious and not nearly as impressive as it once seemed.
Originally I planned on naming the hurricanes after my friends and family, I figured it would be a nice tribute. But after running the idea by my Dad, he politely declined.
“I don’t think I want to hear that Hurricane Martin was responsible for killing thousands of people,” he had said. “Thanks anyway.”
I guess I’d never thought about it that way. Sure, hurricanes could be destructive, but there was also a kind of raw, fierce beauty about them. After getting similar responses from my sister and a few friends, I decided to go in another direction and that’s when I thought about Carol.
I could name the hurricanes anything I wanted so why not after the people I hated? Why not the people who had screwed me over in some way?
The next hurricane after Dennis was named Helen. She had been my lab partner in biology sophomore year of high school. We had kind of been friends up until the day she loudly told the entire class that I was scared to touch the frog we were supposed to be dissecting.
Hurricane Helen made it up to a category two and did a little damage but nothing too severe. Hurricane Jeffrey, however, was a different story.
Jeffrey at one time had been a good friend. We had started at the NWC together, both fresh out of college. After about a year working as administrative assistants, a director’s job opened up. I told Jeffrey I was interested, he told me he wasn’t. A month later when Jeffrey did get the job, I found out he had been gunning for it all along and in the process, bad-mouthing me to the higher-ups. I didn’t even sniff a promotion for another three years.
Hurricane Jeffrey became one of the worst storms to ever hit the Carolinas. Waves got up to thirty feet high, entire beaches disappeared.
I no longer thought it was a coincidence that the force of the storms was determined by my level of revulsion for the people whose names I chose. Hurricane Kristy (one of my sister’s friends who once caught me masturbating) was a category three. Mark (a guy I used to play pick-up basketball with who never passed me the ball) was a two. Nancy (another ex who had told all her friends that I was a lousy lover) was a four.
Just to mix things up, to see if I was actually controlling the hurricanes, I named one storm Paula after a wonderful English teacher I had had in sixth grade. That hurricane didn’t make it past a one and died in the Atlantic.
This odd new power excited me, but even more than that, the revenge factor was thrilling. Anyone who had done anything bad to me, hurt me in any way could now be forever linked to a deadly hurricane. I hoped they knew these storms were named after them. When Jeffrey or Dennis or Nancy opened a newspaper or turned on the news and saw their name attached to death and devastation, I hoped they knew why, I hoped they felt bad, felt guilt, felt pain.
As hurricane season dwindled, I became a little upset that there wouldn’t be many more storms to name. One was spotted in the middle of the Atlantic but it didn’t look like much, the forecasters said; usually storms that late in the season didn’t pack too much punch.
Let me just see about that, I thought gleefully.
It took me a while to come up with the perfect name and when I did, I was shocked I hadn’t thought of it sooner. I don’t know how I’d forgotten about him, although maybe “blacked out” was a more accurate description.
Walter Bristol had made my life miserable from about age nine to 13. He was a tall, bulky kid who was a couple years older than I was and for some reason he just hated me. He picked on everyone younger than him but it seemed like he saved the worst for me.
Anytime he saw me in school he would charge at me like he was going to knock me down. He never did but I would flinch every time and drop my books or lunch tray. In gym class he would stare at me and laugh; it didn’t matter what I was doing, I could just be standing there, and he would laugh, a scary, high-pitched cackle. Unfortunately we were on the same bus route and on the way home from school (when he didn’t have detention) he would sit behind me and whisper things. Things like “you little shit” and “you ugly fuck” and then he would flick my ears.
I never said anything to him; I knew from watching Allen Mills get pummeled by the bike rack one day (his nose was broken in two places) that you didn’t talk back to Walter. So I would just sit there, afraid to rub my sore ears, and desperately try to hold in my tears.
Hurricane Walter struggled to make it up to a category two and that’s when I thought my powers might be fading. But then something strange happened. Hurricane Teresa (a girl who once refused to give me a stick of her gum), which had still been hanging around as a category one, met up with Walter. Walter seemed to suck up Teresa’s energy and instantly became a four. When the storm reached Florida it was a five and still growing.
Once it swept across Florida (694 dead), and crossed into the Gulf of Mexico, it only got stronger. It was now the most powerful hurricane in recorded history with winds reaching up to 274 mph.
This made me happy; not that the hurricane was doing so much damage but because it was named for Walter, someone who more than deserved the lethal connection.
I’ll never forget the last time I saw him. It was a Friday afternoon and I was sitting on the bus waiting to go home and praying he had gotten detention. Just as the bus pulled away, I saw him tear out of the school. He began screaming and waving his arms but the driver must not have seen him; I grinned as we headed out of the parking lot. Suddenly Walter stopped and looked right at me. Although I couldn’t hear him, he very clearly said “I’m going to kill you.”
I hardly ate or slept that entire weekend. But when I stepped onto the bus Monday morning, practically shaking, I found out Walter had been sent away; no one knew where, just “away.”
The storm died down a little as it hit Texas and everyone in the area seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. But then it just kept going, through Houston, past Huntsville, up into Dallas. Places that hardly got any rain, let alone a hurricane were now being attacked by the storm. Deserts were flooded, buildings were washed away. Northeastern Texas was quickly evacuated, as was most of southern Oklahoma.
The meteorologists and scientists were flabbergasted. Nothing like it had ever happened before and they had no idea where Walter was headed or when (or if) it might start weakening.
As I began tracking the storm myself — it was now only about 500 miles away and moving frighteningly fast — I finally realized what was happening, how did I not see it sooner? Walter was coming for me.
When this realization sunk in, I was immediately terrified. But then, surprisingly, a strange sort of calm came over me. It was as if I wasn’t entirely surprised it was happening. I even came up with a plan (ridiculous, I later recognized) that I thought would stop the hurricane, would stop him. If I could just change the name — like Carol to Carolyn — maybe, just maybe everything would be okay and the storm would finally end.
I called the local television station and after being on hold for a half hour, a woman came on the phone. When I told her the hurricane was no longer named Walter but Wallace (no one I knew) there were a few seconds of silence on her end. Then she laughed a shrill, sarcastic laugh and said she’d be sure to tell her supervisor and then hung up.
But of course the name change did nothing and that’s when I considered leaving, just getting in the car and driving — somewhere, anywhere — like nearly everyone else had. I even hastily packed a bag and glanced at a map, trying to decide where to go. But instead of getting on clogged Highway 77, I ended up driving back to the office.
What would be the point in leaving? I thought as I watched Walter on my computer screen whirling towards me. Where could I go he wouldn’t follow?
Alone in my dark office, I hear the howling (cackling?) winds swirling around outside. The power’s been out for hours; the only light I have comes from a little air freshener candle I found in the back of a desk drawer.
I hear windows shattering and what sounds like the parking garage being ripped apart. The building is shaking. It won’t be long now.
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Portland Fiction Project
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