Thou Shalt Not… Thou Shall… [Fiction]

I had a note in my story-idea book for some time about revenge at the height of a storm. It seemed a perfect way to cover up a crime. One hurricane-season morning, while enjoying my coffee and watching hurricane news (I live in Florida), I toyed with the thread of a few lines for that story as the caffeine kicked in. As I scanned my images folder, I came across one (a text image) that gave me the title and the core of the story’s protagonist. I fleshed out my premise… you can push a person too far, and then the 6th commandment (or other laws) may not keep them from doing what they must to survive. And what better time to do something so drastic than when you stand a good chance of getting away with it.

“Overhead, the wild huntsman of the storm passed in one blare of mingled noises; screaming wind, straining timber, lashing rope’s end, pounding block, and bursting sea contributed; and I could have thought there was another, a more piercing, a more human note, dominated all, like the wailing of an angel; I could have thought I knew the angel’s name, and her wings were black.” –Robert Louis Stevenson, The Wrecker

Ian watched the squall, not flinching at the fat rain-splatted drops striking an inch from his face. “Doesn’t it scare you?”

Daniele shook her head, knowing he didn’t care how or what she felt, and she was long past fear. “What’s that line from ‘Islands in the Stream’?”

“What line?” he replied, not turning from the window.

“What Hemingway wrote about hurricanes.” Daniele quoted: “He knew too what it was to live through a hurricane with the other people of the island and the bond the hurricane made between all people who had been through it.”

“Your meaning?”

“You wanted to move here. Here’s our hurricane.”

Ian aspired to be a writer of Hemingway’s stature and had insisted on moving to Key West. Hoping the vibe would revitalize his stalled career. It hadn’t yet, and nothing had changed. When he sobered up, he defended his actions. Alcohol was a crucial existential salve for Hemingway. A much-needed release that fueled his writing, Ian believed. He had chosen the same path; a bargain with the devil that proved one-sided. And not in his favor. Seven years from his bestseller, without a repeat of its success, cruelty had replaced his creativity.

She stepped closer to him as he looked at the wind-whipped palm trees through rainwater coursing down the glass. “Maybe going through this—the storm—will make things better for us,” Daniele lied as the hurricane’s shriek grew and the walls of their cottage trembled. Ian didn’t move from the window as she turned and shifted to stand behind him.

* * *

First responders worked their way through streets full of debris. A tumble of broken jackstraw, former storefronts, and homes, the detritus of a community that would take a long time to recover in the hurricane’s aftermath. There were bodies of those who stayed, and others dragged out to sea and washed ashore miles away. Amid the devastation, only one survivor.

“He wouldn’t go… he thought to ride out a hurricane was just another experience… something to help his writing,” Daniele looked at the police officer as two paramedics zipped the body bag around Ian, “and I couldn’t leave him.”

Two Years Later

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm’s all about.” –Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reporter closed the notebook and reached for his phone, which had recorded the interview. “After the storm and your husband’s death, Ridley Scott’s production company optioned your husband’s novel for a major motion picture with Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson. That movie became a tremendous hit and grossed $478 million. And the points on the back end—the profit piece you secured—paid off. Does it make you sad your husband isn’t alive to share the joy and financial success with you?”

“He always hoped to see some of his work in film and was a great Samuel L. Jackson fan.”

“Are you?”

Daniele had slipped into memory and did not follow what the reporter asked. “Am I what?”

“Are you a Samuel L. Jackson fan?”

Daniele shook her head. “No. I’m a Liam Neeson type, those ‘Taken’ movies.” Her thoughts returned to what happened—what had to happen—that night at the height of the storm. Ian, drunk, not concerned by the wall and window’s buffeting from the Category 4 force winds, did not turn when she called his name, hoping to look him in the eye. And she had done what she needed to do and then slipped out, hanging onto a line secured to one of the stout pillars on either side of the front door. She broke the window’s glass from the outside, went back inside, and stared down at him. Shards of glass covered Ian. His skull caved in, blond hair darkened with bits of bone and blood. He was moving, trying to stand. She had pushed him down and knelt to whisper in his ear. “Here’s the line I like best from that Hemingway story: ‘He also knew hurricanes could be so bad nothing could live through them.’” Stormwater from her hair dripped on his face as she lifted the section of 4×4 post brought in from where he had been building a deck extension. She had driven it down with all her weight, leaning into it until the twitching stopped.

Coming back to the present, Daniele blinked and took a deep breath.

The reporter stopped recording. “A good wrap-up,” he smiled at Daniele. He had met with her three times for the interview and to welcome a new—affluent—resident to Santa Fe. “Sensitive skin?” he gestured at the long sleeve, high-neck shirt.

“A history of skin cancer in my family,” Daniele explained the odd summer wear and tugged her sleeves down. They and the high collars she always wore hid the scars accumulated through years of abuse. The film rights sale of Ian’s one successful work had paid for her plastic surgery with a discrete surgeon in Los Angeles. But it had not pleased her as much as the feel of that piece of wood in her hands when she made Ian pay for what he had done to her.

“You must feel blessed.” The reporter stood and tucked his notebook under an arm.

Daniele lifted her head. “Blessed?”

“To have survived that hurricane.” The reporter held his hand out.

Daniele shook it with a hard grip that surprised the reporter. “I’m hard to kill….”

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