During the hurricane’s peak, the Samoa Cookhouse was reduced to a pile of barn-red wood that was quickly underwater. The entire community of Samoa and the whole northern peninsula on which it was nestled were submerged, as were the sparsely populated Indian Island in Humboldt Bay and Woodley Island adjacent to it. On Woodley, the bar and restaurant that looked out on the marina were flooded and destroyed. So was the National Weather Service station and the nearby Humboldt Bay Harbor Recreation and Conservation District.
Most of the boats in the harbor had been moved or put in dry dock in preparation for the storm, but not all. Some had simply been tied down. But none were safe from the storm. Many of them would next rest on dry land in the middle of town, or in someone’s front yard.
Beyond the two islands, Humboldt Bay opened into Arcata Bay, but now there was no discernible difference between the two because both had expanded and flooded inland, covering the Eureka-Samoa Bridge and flooding into Old Town.
The proud turret on the Carson Mansion was ripped out like a tooth by the storm and came to pieces as it tumbled through the air. Not long after that, the mansion was hit by the storm’s main surge, a rushing wave of water that viciously attacked the beautiful old house. But it moved in well beyond the historic mansion, flooding streets and parks and lots.
It flooded the cocktail bars and coffee shops and restaurants and gift shops and art galleries in Old Town. It flooded the Humboldt Bay Maritime Museum, the Clarke Historical Museum, and the Redwood Discovery Museum. It rushed up to embrace the California Department of Fish and Game, the Public Defender’s office, and the county library. The storm flooded the town all the way up to Fifth Street, making worse a situation that already was severe thanks to the hurricane’s bludgeoning winds.
The fire in the Old Town Shelter did not last long. It was snuffed out by the flood, which followed not long after the power pole crashed into the shelter.
By the time Hurricane Quentin moved on, it had destroyed most of Eureka.
Andy had never experienced such menacing weather in his life. As he walked down the front steps of Giff’s house, his arm wrapped protectively around Donny’s shoulders, it felt as if the storm had noticed them, turned its attention to them, and was deliberately trying to knock them down.
Andy’s right foot sank into the thick mud of the driveway and it took some effort to pull it out. Before Donny could do the same thing, Andy grabbed him and swept him up in his arms. He carried him as he made his slow, clumsy way to Ram’s patrol car.
The world was exploding all around them. There was no safe way to move through the storm because of the debris, large and small, constantly flying through the air at dangerous speeds. All around them, Andy could hear the cracking and popping of trees straining against the force of the wind, and more than once, he heard what sounded like a tree going down. He had the unnerving fear that one would fall on them before they could take cover.
Andy put an arm over Donny’s head and lowered his own as he battled the wind to stay on his feet and move forward. The wind felt like a wave of meaty fists that never stopped punching him. The car seemed a long distance away and Andy felt exhausted. His feet seemed made of lead and the mud made them even harder to lift.
The car loomed out of the murky darkness, slowly appearing larger as Andy pushed forward, gradually getting closer. The mud sucked at his feet, tried to swallow each one up with every step he took.
Donny was tense and stiff in his arms, scared to death.
A white gate, the kind that might be found in a picket fence around a front yard, cartwheeled through the air, slicing across Andy’s path less than three feet in front of him.
Donny shouted something, but even though his head was next to Andy’s, he couldn’t understand what the boy said. It didn’t matter. They were almost there.
Andy reached out his right hand as he approached the driver’s door, grasped the handle, and pulled it to open the door, but the handle snapped from his grip and the door didn’t open.
It was locked.
Ram had the keys.
There were other cars parked in front of the house. Andy just wanted shelter from the storm. One of the vehicles there had to be unlocked. None of Giff’s friends struck Andy as especially responsible people and it seemed unlikely that they were all conscientious enough to lock their cars.
The closest vehicle was the Toyota Highlander parked behind him. He wrapped both arms tightly around Donny and turned, slowly making his way to the dark SUV. It was parked next to another SUV and standing between them provided some shelter from the wind, but they were still getting soaked by the rain. He tried the door.
It was locked.
“Goddammit!” he shouted, frustrated and weary, but the word was blown away even before he heard it.
He turned around and looked at the dark green SUV parked next to the Highlander. It was a Ford Explorer that had seen a lot of wear. There were dings and scrapes on the passenger side of the vehicle. Andy tried the door.
His knees almost gave way under the heavy weight of relief that fell over him. He was about to bend down and lift Donny into the Explorer when he heard a loud pop, like a gunshot, followed by several more, and behind those sounds was a steady, ongoing crackling and groaning sound, like something large breaking. It was coming from behind them. He looked over his shoulder, but could see nothing in the stormy darkness. He knew what the sound was, though. A tree was falling, a
tree, and it was falling dangerously close.
He swept Donny up and shoved him into the SUV, almost
him, shouting, “Get in, get in, get in!” He climbed in after the boy, then plopped his butt in the seat and pulled the door closed.
The crackling and groaning became deafening, overwhelming the sound of the storm for a moment, and Andy instinctively leaned over and covered Donny with his body. The sound continued to grow until it ended in a tremendous crash filled with shattering and snapping and crushing, including something hitting the SUV.
When Andy realized it was over and they were safe, he rose up and looked around. Tree branches were pressed against the windshield making it impossible to see anything.
They sat in the Explorer, Donny behind the wheel and Andy in the passenger seat, and just breathed for a while. The windows fogged up as the SUV was rocked and jostled by the storm.
Through the branches, Andy could see a glimpse of the grey trunk of an old redwood. It had fallen on Giff’s house. He realized that every inch of his body was shaking.
“I’m sorry, Donny,” Andy said, shifting in the seat, trying to get comfortable, but there was a lump in the seat. “I’m sorry for getting you into this. I just wanted to get you out of that house because I knew you weren’t safe there, and now . . .”
“You didn’t get us into this, Dad. Your cop friend did. You got us out of the house before we got smashed.”
Andy laughed gently and turned to Donny. He looked at him for a while, such a tough kid to have held up so well while living with his drug addict mother and her pimp-daddy friends. He hoped Donny was holding up well, anyway. It was always possible that any damage done wouldn’t show up until later. But he had to give the boy credit for having a thick skin.
“I guess you’re right,” Andy said. “Ram is the one who got us into this. But I should have known better than to trust him. And by the way, he’s not my friend. I grew up with Ram. We went to school together.”
“You mean, you knew him when you were my age?”
“Yeah. I’ll tell you about that someday.”
Andy shifted in the seat again, but he could not get comfortable. Something hard and jagged was poking him in the ass. He lifted his hips, reached under them, and found something that jangled.
It was a key ring with about twenty keys on it. Attached to the ring was a silver skull. Of all the keys, only one had a plastic bow that bore the Ford Motors emblem. The keys jangled in his hand.
“Is that the keys?” Donny said.
“You know what? These
the keys. The driver left them here.” He got up from the seat as much as he could and turned toward Donny, waving the boy toward him. “Come on, we’ve got to switch places.”
“Can you drive in this storm?” Donny said as he climbed over the console to the passenger seat.
“Maybe not far, but we can get away from here.”
He slipped the key into the ignition and turned it. The engine started without hesitation.
“Seat belts,” Andy said as he put on his own, then looked to make sure Donny’s was secure.
He backed slowly away from the house and the tree branches scraped and whined against the windshield and trunk. He turned the wheel to the right as he backed away. With distance, he could see that the tree had fallen diagonally over the house. Windows were shattered and the trunk had demolished most of the roof and fallen inside the house.
“Where are we gonna go?” Donny said. His voice was higher than usual and thin with fear.
“I don’t know,” he said, “but we’ll be away from here.”
Andy pulled away from the house and drove down the road that led back to Emerald Canyon. As they passed the trailers on either side, he noticed that two of them had been knocked over and one of them appeared to be gone. Before they passed through the cluster of small mobile homes, Andy had to step on the brake because one of the trailers rolled from left to right across the road like an angular barrel, until it slammed into the fat trunk of tree and casually embraced it.
Between the wind and the potholes, the SUV felt like a boat on stormy waters. Andy had to drive around branches and one fallen tree to get to the main road, where he turned right. He drove slowly down Emerald Canyon until he had to slow down even more because a long stretch of the road was mostly underwater.
“I’m scared, Dad,” Donny said.
“Nothing wrong with that, Donny. So am I.”