Joining the Storm


The Storm Builds

Etan Griffith loves his life in Chicago, far from his native Blue Ridge Mountains.

Alex Collins escaped Wisconsin to a career he loves, in a city that welcomes him more than his own family.

Both seek the missing piece to their puzzle.

Dreams and patterns.

Restless and searching.

Then one snowy night sets their shared destiny in motion.

An excerpt from Joining the Storm:

“I never wanted you to know about the dreams,” Etan said. “I feel crazy enough without you confirming it.”

“Crazy isn’t the question,” Alex said, stroking Etan’s hair. “Unless it’s both of us. You missed me saying every word feels true.”

“I don’t even know what the dreams are, Alex. I know I have them, but I never remember a thing. That’s not exactly stable.”

“Well, have a drink and let me enlighten you.”

Etan sat up, managing to keep himself from curling up into a knot of fear again. He drained the whiskey, watching Alex do the same.

“What you tell me in the middle of the night is all about how we can’t stay here much longer. Something bad is going to happen, with the food supply I think, and none of the cities are going to be safe anymore. And we don’t have much time to get ready before we’re trapped along with everyone else who’s not going to make it out.”

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Chapter 1-1
Chapter 1 Alex Collins was never asleep when he was supposed to be. His parents gave up trying to hide holiday gifts or replace his lost teeth with money before he turned five. He was the kind of kid who didn’t care for surprises anyway. He preferred to know what lay ahead of him. By the time his brother and sister were old enough to consider sneaking out of the house at night, they already knew it would be pointless. Life on the outskirts Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, gave Alex the stability he craved. Giggling about the French translation of Fond du Lac as Bottom of the Lake before he even started school gave him the first taste of the humor that would always sustain him. He saw patterns all around him. The orderly grids of streets, noises and bursts of activity with shift changes at factories, migrations of huge flocks of birds each spring and fall. All gave him the framework he needed to withstand the upheavals of childhood. In the summer of his thirteenth year, the comfort of routine failed him. Patterns transformed into prison bars, hemming him in, dragging him inexorably onto a path no one around him thought to question. An approved set of classes in high school would lead to community college, then to the University of Wisconsin and a solid, respectable corporate job shuffling papers in Madison or Milwaukee. He could detour into the factory, like his father. Or the farm, like his grandfather. Either way, Alex knew he would sink into oblivion and disappear. Around the same time, the fundamental honesty that kept him from pretending he didn’t know about his parents’ late night activities drove an impenetrable wedge through the middle of his family. Alex wasn’t quite old enough to know he should pretend he didn’t notice when certain patterns changed. Distance between him and his father grew first, and most painfully. Seeing the changes, less time spent together, avoiding Alex’s activities, and more harsh words than kind, didn’t help him understand what was going wrong. One conversation brought more clarity than anyone wanted. Glen Collins had picked all of them up from school for the third time that week, a task he’d rarely done before the past several weeks. Alex sat at the desk in the den, while his brother and sister sat with his father on the sectional sofa lining three walls of the carpeted basement space. The other kids had their mother’s straight blond hair, and Alex had red like his father, just starting to curl enough to be horribly unruly. Nearly as unruly as his mouth sometimes. “Did Mom get a different job?” Alex said. “No, son. She’s had the same job for seven years now. You know that.” Alex looked up from his math homework, warning prickling along his spine. His father didn’t sound annoyed as he had so often lately. He sounded afraid. “I just thought…” he said, not sure how to make everything better but needing to. “So many things have changed over the past couple of months. That’s all.” His father shut down his reader with an ominous sigh. He lowered his chin and looked at Alex. “Is that so? Why don’t you enlighten me about all these changes?” Alex was scared he wouldn’t be able to answer through a dry throat and mouth. His after school sandwich weighed heavily in his belly. “That’s okay, Dad.” “No, it’s not.” The other two kids were ignoring their own homework now, watching the exchange. “You’re always so full of information, noticing every little thing, whether we want it or not. Well, I want it. Start talking. Now.” “You pick us up more,” Alex said, forcing the words out. “So I thought she was working late more. She bought a bunch of new clothes. I wondered if they made her wear different stuff. And with her new haircut, I thought she seemed happier or something.” “New haircut,” his father said. He sat back and crossed his arms. “That it?” An alarm deep in Alex’s brain, triggered by budding empathy or self-preservation, kept him silent. “Know what I think, Alex? I think I’ve had just about enough of your vivid imagination and your little games. Next time you have a bunch of lies and nonsense you just have to tell someone, save it for school. Or for your mother.” “Dad, I didn’t mean to upset you,” Alex said. “I’m not imagining things. I’m not lying. I feel like something good is going to happen to Mom, not something bad.” This time the flash of fear and fury in his father’s eyes made Alex cringe in the hard wooden chair. “What are you doing, making notes of her movements? Spying on us? Do your damn homework! I don’t want to hear another word. In fact, why don’t you take yourself and your excess of attention up to your room?” Alex gathered up his things, heart pounding in his throat, tears in his eyes. Worse than his father’s shout was the fear he’d clearly seen in his brother and sister. They both drew away, faces pale and eyes wide. When his mother got home two hours later, he heard more shouting that didn’t stop until his mother talked to him a week later. She walked into his room looking sad and exhausted. “Listen, Alex. I don’t know what you told your father. But I’m not sick, losing my job, or having an affair. I’ve been going for a promotion, which I may not get after the last week of going to work asleep on my feet.” “I wasn’t trying to cause trouble,” Alex said, trying not to cry. “I just noticed something was different. I thought it was going to be something good.” “Well, it may still be if I can make up for the past few days.” She rubbed her eyes, then looked at Alex again. Her brown eyes were red around the edges. “I know you think you see a lot of things, and sometimes you probably do. You’re not old enough to know when to keep your mouth shut. Do me a favor, kiddo. Don’t be on my side.”

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