ThisIsNotTheEnd(James has recently learned that he is, for lack of a better term, the Antichrist, and a group of men in Cadillac Escalades just tried to abduct him, though he managed to evade them and sprint home.)

James ran inside the house and spun on his heel, slamming the front door with two hands and all his weight. He flipped the knob lock, jammed home the dead bolt, and ran up to his room. He shoved that door shut and locked it as well. Hands up, barely breathing, James backed away as if they were right behind him, as if the door could burst open any second and the blond man would come rushing in. His hands shook, and his breath felt ragged in his throat.

Help.

9781625579379

*

A hum comes over the wires, a message from the meteorologists who are miles away watching color patterns swirl and break apart on the Pulse-Doppler radar. Yellow, green, red, blue, black—pixels in all colors of the rainbow. It is beautiful, they think. Kaleidoscopic. Majestic. Aloud, one will begin the alert sequence: rapid air movement, supercell gathering into a wall, affected counties. The alert becomes an all-out warning because science makes it so.

Emails, text messages, faxes, phone calls; printers spit out paper with bold captions. An intern hands a radioman a piece of paper and points to a message blinking on the computer screen in front of him; he pulls his chair closer to the microphone and prepares to read. One county on the list is more familiar to him than the others, but Ted Waite is a professional and does not pause.

9780525427421On the last day of August in 1970, and a month shy of her fourteenth birthday, Jory’s father drove his two daughters out to an abandoned house and left them there.

The trip had not taken long. Her father piloted the car with resolute determination toward the very edge of town. He drove past the railroad tracks and the fish hatchery and the rodeo grounds, past the sugar beet factory and the slaughterhouse and the meatpacking plant; all the while Jory stared out the window in a silent fury. Next to her in the Buick’s backseat, Grace was practically unconscious. She lay slumped over with her head resting accidentally on Jory’s shoulder, her drool dampening the upper portion of Jory’s T-shirt. Jory gave her sister a shove and then turned toward the window. Black Cat Lane and Chicken Dinner Road and Floating Feather rolled past—long, twisty lanes sided with fields of sugar beets and alfalfa and corn. Jory watched a lone mallard drop and skid like a bomber onto an irrigation ditch while three goats perched king of the hill–style on a salvaged roof a farmer had put out for them. Her father continued on past several vast silagey-smelling feedlots, and then the fields grew even larger and the scenery more sparse and the houses less frequent, and finally he turned down a narrow unpaved lane that Jory had never seen before. Then he stopped the car and opened the door. Jory refused to look up at the strange house where she and her sister were now to live. She sat in the backseat with her hands between her knees until her father pulled her forcibly out of the car and set her on her feet in the dirt.

bigvenerablecoverfinalThe Bureau of Everything Fitting Into Its Rightful Place

My friend Penny phoned and asked whether we’d go to the rally, my family and me. I told her I wasn’t sure. And in fact, I wasn’t. I knew that Burton wanted to cook again, meaty foods like steak or ribs. “Fire up the grill,” he said about what he was going to do. He encouraged me to go get the cauliflower and so I did. I went to the grocer and I picked some up, along with a few other items. The cashier had been friendly, didn’t even ask about my purchases. I liked to be left alone and not subject to inquiry when it wasn’t necessary. Among a few other unnoteworthy items, I was buying cauliflower as a delicious side for the meal we’d be eating that evening. Nothing more needed to be discussed. She probed instead about my day, about the rally, whether I was going. I said we might, my husband and kids and I. I wasn’t sure –much like I’d earlier told Penny. She said she was going and implied it would be good if I went too, with the family. She didn’t say it like she was trying to scare me. Still, I had to be getting home.

41bKsL5ED+L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_OK, Goodbye

Let’s say the first time she tries to walk out she loses her car keys in the front yard at night. She’s sassy, maybe a little drunk. She tosses her keys in the air but misses them on the way back down. The next thing she knows, she and her husband and the neighbors’ kids are on their hands and knees on the front lawn, feeling around for keys. Wet pieces of mowed grass stick to her legs as she crawls in the dark. She’s cussing to herself and dizzy and hungry. She’d like to stay angry enough to leave once she finds her car keys, but she’s also tired.

Then there’s the scene outside in which the neighbors are loading their truck to move. It’s a hot afternoon, and Vivie says, “You probably won’t be here when I get back, so I want to say goodbye now and tell you how nice it was to have you as neighbors. I mean it—we won’t ever get neighbors as good as you,” and she starts to tear up.

Everyone hugs. They laugh and say, “Keep in touch.”

“You keep in touch, too.”

Vivie gets in her car and pulls away. She drives slowly and waves. They wave, and she honks and waves some more. At the corner she turns to go to the store, and they’re out of sight.