Dana Gerard’s pulse quickened as she scanned the horizon. The sky glowed the murky greenish-gray color of a bruise, and a menacing wall of clouds rolled in the distance. She knew a possibility of rain had been forecast, and she’d been hoping for a good, steady shower – the kind that sank in deeply, nourishing farmers’ crops, one that would wash away the dirty browns of winter and give life to the budding tulips and iris that had just begun to dot her neighborhood. But that scenario seemed unlikely now. These clouds carried an ominous threat.
Pulling her gaze away, she murmured to Mrs. Carlyle. “Try to get some sleep now. We’ll check back a little later.” Dana tucked the blanket around the frail woman who’d once been a much-loved third-grade schoolteacher, and gave the limp hand a gentle squeeze, then made a beeline for the door, emergency procedures playing in her mind.
At the nurses’ station, she tapped the keyboard of her computer for a local weather report. She wasn’t one to panic over bad weather, but she did like to be ahead of the curve. “Hey, Jeanie, have you heard any weather updates?”
Jeanie Thresher, one of the other nurses on duty, turned from her chart. “There’s a thunderstorm watch. Brooke’s mom said it was windy when she came in.”
Earlier in the day, Greg Talisman, their chief surgeon, had removed six-year-old Brooke’s tonsils, and her parents, with three other children at home, had been tag-teaming ever since.
When the computer monitor sprang to life, Dana pinched her lip as she studied the screen. The flashing radar indicated a heavy line of storms heading straight for Whitfield. The thunderstorm watch had been upgraded to a warning, and a tornado watch had been added. She was no meteorologist, but it looked like tornado weather to her. A life-long Kansas resident, she knew the signs.
“Okay, listen, I don’t want to alarm any patients, but I’m concerned about this.” She walked toward the window as she spoke, then gasped. The sky had darkened considerably in the last few minutes. “Get Valerie in here, and let’s–” Lightning flashed outside, quickly followed by a sharp clap of thunder. Dana jumped, her heart thundering as well.
She whipped the pager from her waist. “I’m calling Greg. I think we’d better start preparing to move patients. Those clouds are nasty.” Dana mentally ticked through the patients on the floor. Thankfully, the clinic was closed on Sundays, and the fifteen-bed hospital was only about half full.
Adrenaline surged through Dana as she began implementation of the Whitfield Community Hospital emergency procedures. As head nurse, she was in charge until Greg or their administrator arrived.
“Let’s move all ambulatory downstairs,” she instructed. “Everyone else comes to the center hallway for now. Remember, charts stay with the patients. Start with maternity.” Dana figured a new mother would want her baby in her own arms if things got tense.
When her cell phone buzzed, she checked the number and took the call. “Hi, Greg. I wanted you to know that I’m moving patients into shelter zones. This storm looks bad.”
“Is Brad there?”
“No.” Even though Brad Berkley, their administrator, was next on her list of people to contact, she expected him to arrive on his own. Surely he, and everyone else in town, was watching the sky. “What are you seeing from your place?” Dana asked.
“Storm is definitely heading this way. It’s probably a good idea to get a jump on moving people, just in case. You’ve got a few folks who won’t be able to manage stairs.”
“Exactly.” She wanted to get as many people downstairs as she could while they still had use of the elevators. “I’m going to call Brad then–”
“I’ll call him. You take care of the patients.”
As soon as she ended the call, Dana motioned for Valerie. “Let’s move Mrs. Carlyle down. We may not have much time.”
Ten minutes later, her cell phone buzzed. “Hey, Greg. Did you get–” In that instant, the emergency sirens outside blasted to life, the loud horns screaming a warning of danger. Damn. That meant the elevators were off limits now. They’d have to have two shelter areas.
Greg’s voice sounded over the noise, mirroring Dana’s sense of urgency. “I’m on my way.”
For a split second, Dana stood rooted to the floor, another alarm sounding in her head. Where was Chase? She said a hasty prayer that her son had gone to Paxton forty-five minutes away as planned, and was still there – safe and clueless to the potential danger unfolding in Whitfield.
She slipped her cell phone into her pocket, then charged into action. As she headed down the hall, Dana nearly collided with a wide-eyed Brooke holding her mother’s hand and clutching her fluffy stuffed bunny. Dana stopped and gave them a reassuring smile, patting Brooke’s arm. “Head to the stairs and down to the basement. Don’t run. Everything is all right.”
“What happens if the power goes out?” Brooke’s mother asked.
“The back-up generator will kick in. Don’t worry.”
Mrs. Dryden let go of Brooke’s hand and began fishing in her handbag, immediately drawing a whimper from her daughter. “Shh, Brooke, I’m just going to call daddy.”
Dana put up a hand. “Mrs. Dryden, please don’t take the time to do that now. We need to get you both to shelter.” She gave Brooke a quick hug, then applied a tiny bit of pressure to her back to scoot them along toward Jeanie who was hovering near the main staircase with the new parents and their baby boy.
Seconds later, Mark Sellers, their security officer, called Dana’s name. At the same time, Valerie dashed around the corner. Feeling like a traffic cop, Dana waved her toward the patient hallway. “Hey, Mark. I need you on the scanner. Find out how close this is and how big of a threat we’re looking at.”
The horns outside waned, but then blared again. Inside, it was organized chaos as Dana and the other nurses shepherded their patients to safety. Just as Dana and Valerie steered another patient and his heart monitor into the hallway, Greg appeared.
“Hey,” Dana said. “We’ve got a group downstairs and the others in here.”
“How many still in their rooms?” he asked, his voice low.
Dana shook her head. “Haven’t seen him. It’s possible he slipped in while I was with a patient. Did you talk to him?”
“Yeah. But by then, the sirens had gone off, and his wife was freaking out, I guess.”
“Hmm. We don’t have time for a freak-out,” Dana said.
“We’ll manage whether he makes it in or not. You were smart to start early. Something’s brewing for sure.”
As they wheeled the bed and equipment to the designated interior shelter, Dana gave Greg a rundown on the patients in the basement. “Mr. Hoffman has been a little agitated today. Why don’t you take this area, and I’ll head downstairs with Jeanie.”
She and Valerie spun around and raced back down the hallway. One more patient to evacuate. As they hurried past the central nurses’ station, more lightning crackled outside, lighting up the windows with an eerie green glow. Dana could almost feel the electricity around them as they rushed into the seventeen-year-old’s room.
“Hey, Derek. It’s probably no big deal, but since the sirens are going off, we’ve got to move you out of here,” Dana said. Turning to Valerie, she added, “wheelchair to the stairs. It’ll be faster. Grab his chart, too.”
Her head snapped around as Mark barked at her.
“Hurry up. This is bad. How many more?”
“This is it.”
“Come on, come on.” Mark pressed a walkie-talkie into Dana’s hand. “Hang tight. I’ll be in touch.”
She clutched the mobile device, feeling the weight of it in her chest as well as her hand. Downstairs, Dana moved among the patients, making sure everyone was settled. Jeanie had given out bottles of water, and the lab technician was speaking softly to Mrs. Carlyle. Though not the most comfortable space in the facility, the room offered basic necessities.
Satisfied that everyone was doing well, Dana slipped out the door, and sprinted back upstairs. She wasn’t about to “hang tight.” She wanted to know what was going on.
Her mouth dropped open as she neared the security station and police monitor. Harsh, loud voices boomed from the speaker. Men shouting, yelling over each other. Holy shit.
“What’s going on?” she asked, though it was obvious that something was very wrong. So much noise. The wind and the sirens roared in the background.
“Oh, God,” shouted one voice.
“It’s on the ground. Go. Go!”
Dana stared at Mark, heart pounding. There was something chilling about hearing fear in a man’s voice. “This sounds bad,” she whispered.
Mark jumped to his feet. He placed firm hands on her shoulders, and turned her around. “You gotta get out of here, Dana. Get downstairs. Stay there until I give the all clear.”
The windows rattled as if to enforce Mark’s words, and Dana sprinted to the back stairwell, her no-nonsense orthopedics cushioning her pounding steps. She stopped short in front of the door. She was a professional, and would do everything she could to keep her patients safe, but she was a mother first. If Chase was home he could be in danger. That kid could sleep through anything – including tornado sirens.
Snatching up her phone, Dana punched in Chase’s number, willing him to pick up quickly. On the third ring, she slumped against the door, about to give up. Then his voice came on the line. “Hey, Mom.”
“Chase! Where are you?”
“Paxton. At Luke’s,” he said, puzzlement in his voice. “What’s the matter?”
Her tone had obviously sent him a message, but apparently he knew nothing of the weather situation. Her words rushed out as relief surged through her. “Oh, good. Stay there. We’ve got tornado sirens going off in Whitfield. I’m at work. I just wanted to make sure you’re safe.”
“I’m fine. It’s–”
“Okay. That’s all. Can’t talk. I’ll call you later. Love you.”
She slipped the phone back into her pocket and raced down the stairs. No point trying to call her dad. By now, the manor staff would be doing the same thing she and her staff were doing – securing patients. He was in good hands.
All eyes turned to her when she stepped into the concrete storage area. Dana smiled, and glanced around. “Everyone doing all right?” she asked. “Hopefully we won’t be down here long.” She leaned closer to Jeanie and whispered. “There’s definitely a tornado. I heard the police on the scanner. It’s touched down.”
Without a change in the expression on her face, Jeanie nodded.
Dana tamped down the fear in her chest, and pushed her own concerns aside. She had to be mentally present here. Her gaze landed on Derek. A teenage boy would put on a good front and try not to show emotion, that she knew well. Inside, though, he probably wished one of his parents were there. Too bad they’d had to turn away the bouquet of balloons his grandmother had sent. Due to allergies, the hospital could no longer allow latex balloons in the building. Of course a teenager wouldn’t care so much about the balloons, but oh, could they have some fun with the helium. Not so many years ago, the gas was a standard of comic relief around there. She nearly laughed as she imagined a tornado and Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz combined with a little helium.
“Hey, buddy, how are you doing?” Dana asked “Hope we didn’t jostle you around too much. The leg okay?”
Derek shrugged. “I’m good.”
A shrill wail interrupted them, and Dana could see the frustration in the young mother’s face as she tried to calm the newborn. The baby’s howls filled the crowded room.
“I don’t know what’s wrong,” Shannon cried.
Jeanie’s glance met Dana’s. “I’ll get this,” Jeanie whispered. She stepped away and repositioned the baby against his mother, her soft voice trying to calm them both.
When Dana scanned the group a few moments later, she caught Mrs. Dryden’s eye. The woman glared at her. “There’s no cell service down here,” she snapped.
Dana’s stomach dropped. Of course there wasn’t. That meant none of them could contact their families. She’d forgotten about that when she asked the woman not to make a call earlier. With a twinge of guilt, Dana turned toward Brooke. The girl’s chin quivered, her mother’s tension obviously triggering some anxiety. Dana stroked Brooke’s tangled hair. “You’ve been such a brave girl,” she told her. She patted the stuffed animal that Brooke had nestled into her neck. “And bunny, too. Super Brooke and her best buddy, Bunny.”
Brooke’s head bobbed. She leaned into her mother, but gave Dana a shy smile.
Dana glanced at Mrs. Dryden. “I’m really sorry,” she said. “But your safety is my top priority.”
“What about the safety of my other kids?” she said, her voice pitching to a high whine.
“Aren’t they with their dad?”
Mrs. Dryden covered her face with her hands. “Yes, but he’ll have his hands full, and they’ll be crying for me.”
Dana crouched beside them. “I know it’s not ideal to be separated, but you’ll be together soon. The storm will be over before we know it.”
As she spoke the words, Dana was reminded just how fast a storm could wreak havoc. Then again, she’d heard these sirens go off many times before. She’d gone through this same routine, hunkered down in this basement with dozens of patients over the years, and it never amounted to much of anything. That was life in tornado alley.
Seconds later, they all jumped when a loud crash came from outside. And another.
Mrs. Dryden screamed, sending her daughter into a fit of crying.
“It’s okay, Brooke,” Dana said softly, trying to soothe the girl. Her mother certainly wasn’t helping the situation.
“Sounds like something hit the building,” the baby’s dad said.
Yes, something was pounding the hospital. Dana couldn’t tell if it was a hard rain or something else. Tree branches? There was a line of beautiful red maples along the south side of the building, and redbuds dotted the green areas. To her, it sounded more like trash night, when gusty winds played kick-the-can with all the neighbors’ trash barrels at the curb, bumping and rattling them until they fell into the street.
Funny thing was, Dana couldn’t remember ever being able to hear anything from outside in the times she’d waited in the basement before. Now, even over the cries of Shannon’s baby and Brooke, noises rumbled around them.
The voices she’d heard on the scanner ran through Dana’s mind again, and she drew in a deep breath, steeling herself for the possibilities. It didn’t sound like nothing this time.
tornado, Kansas, parenting, single mother, farming, relationships, friendship, friends
Second Wind is book two in Darlene Deluca's Women of Whitfield series. They are companion books, and do not have to be read in order. The book is available in print or digital formats from Amazon, Apple, Barnes&Noble.com, Smahwords and Nook.