Word Storm, by Shannon M. Wednt


Ellen Morris walked through the municipal park, her red umbrella hooked at her elbow. She could see the storm coming towards her, like a dust devil swirling with words. According to the National Weather Service, it was the third so-called “word storm” in the Austin area in the past week. She had been safely indoors with windows and doors battened down, and air-conditioning off during the last two storms. This time, she was outside when the warning klaxon blared. She had no time to take shelter. She was exposed, vulnerable.

She opened her dinky, red umbrella and hoped for the best. Futile was the first word that hit her. It tore her umbrella from her grip and sent it up through the vortex where it arced over the park, to land in the branches of a stately row of oak trees.

Razor sliced her bicep from elbow to shoulder. It wasn’t too deep, but blood gleamed and dripped in a slow streak down her arm.

She watched the storm with trepidation now, trying to read the words as they came close, trying to determine the storm’s trajectory, trying to decide which way to run and whether she could dodge the really dangerous words like eviscerate—that would be a bad word to cross paths with. Ambivalent hit her squarely in her lower belly, with enough force to drive the air from her lungs. She stood stock still, catching her breath, not knowing what to do next.

Giddy slapped her across the face, and Ellen started laughing. She danced, and skipped, and hooted merrily for a short time. A minute passed. Then two.

Ellen realized she was in the eye of the storm. The half-way point. A moment of respite. The words spun faster here. There were too many to count and trying to read them as they whizzed by made her dizzy.

Escape. She could make out the word escape orbiting around the eye of the storm. Escape seemed her best bet of all.

She knew she had to concentrate. She slowed her breathing and heart rate, let her vision blur a bit and as soon as she saw escape entering her peripheral vision, she lunged for it. She caught the descending stem of the letter p and held on as tightly as she could.

Everything swirled. A jumble of the verdant grass, darker trees, letters and words of varying typefaces, and the small dot of red from her umbrella in the trees. She was spinning so fast now that everything became a panoply of green and black, blue and red, a kaleidoscope ride through space. Still a bit giddy, she thought of green-skinned witches, sparkling red shoes, and tornadoes in Kansas.

Suddenly, everything was calm. She could feel the ground beneath her back. She kept her eyes closed to let the vestigial effects of spinning stop. She could no longer hear the freight train roar of the storm. After a moment, she opened her eyes and stood on unsteady legs.

Ellen was on a beach surrounded by palm trees. A gentle, susurrating surf came in from the ocean. “I’m not in Kansas anymore,” she thought, grinning for no reason.

She had escaped. She was no longer at the mercy of a word storm in Austin, Texas. She was on a small island in the Pacific, or perhaps the Atlantic. Ellen Morris laughed, wondering how long the giddy effects would sustain her before she had to face the reality that escape might not be a good thing.

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Posted in 2012, Fiction, Humor
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