“Father was an ordinary man whose passion had become his curse.” As Mother Nature’s vengeful wrath escalates, a doomsday prepper goes to extraordinary lengths to weather the storm…
by: R.E. Hengsterman
Extension cords snaked under the scaffolding that breached the nearby rooflines. Power tools cluttered the sawdust-covered subfloor. In the corner, seated on the composting toilet with an undamaged snow globe cradled in his lap, Father kneaded his forehead as ubiquitous blue tarps flapped in the breeze. Gale force winds had picked over man-made carrion, leaving the bones of the nearby homes exposed by fresh wounds.
Days later the insurance adjuster arrived, and with a feeble shake of orange Rust-Oleum, sprayed a large X on the garage door marking our home uninhabitable. His short-worded decision, denounced by Father, stumbled over itself as his eyes dragged from our battered home to the next.
A love of weather had always occupied a large swath of Father’s mental real estate. But along with his fascination with physics, the atmospheric processes and the eleven-year cycle of sunspots was a deep-seated foreboding. Little by little, Mother Nature exposed Father’s uneasiness. After Hurricane Priscilla, Father lay red-eyed beneath the sharp crackle of the sun, his sleep supplanted by insomnia.
In the days and weeks following the storm Father had gone wild inside himself. He obsessed over the surreal, undamaged world within the tiny globe, marveling at the equality distributed across the arc and mumbling that one day he’d be protected. Mother often hinted that Priscilla had dismantled more than our house as everything in Father’s world, and ours by proximity, involved preparing for the next superstorm.
One Saturday, intolerant of Father’s over-preparedness, Mother drove to the local Walmart and deposited Father at a recruitment table for the local prepper club, a stand adorned with a breathtaking array of survival swag: compasses and iodine pills, hand-cranked radios and solar-powered flashlights, emergency shelters, magnesium fire-starters and laminated paper maps of the region. As Father embraced the like-minded, Mother slipped away.
Father wasn’t your classic, bald eagle clutching the American flag t-shirt-wearing, prepper. There were no conspiratorial gears churning in the recesses of his mind, no gold bars stashed for currency or buckets of freeze-dried macaroni in our basement. Father was an ordinary man whose passion had become his curse.
The group’s membership had a core of three. Father, Mr. Jackson who was a liberty-minded, faith-based, pro-Second Amendment geology teacher, and Mr. Benjamin, the eleventh grade science teacher who wore the same shirt to every meeting which read, “Our planet needs you to care.”
The trio bore a politeness that implied non-action, but Father had committed to something unique after Priscilla. After work, the men plotted weather patterns, updated their “go” bags as Father sketched out the design for his salvation. Membership fluxed with the weather. At the group’s peak, when Hurricane Mitch churned off the coast, attendance reached twenty. They met every Saturday at the local Biscuitville until things went sideways after an interloper who claimed himself a sovereign nation drove up from Flagler on overfilled nitrogen tires and clipped Edith Toomer in the parking lot. When the law confronted the strong-jawed transplant — a salt and pepper-haired hardcore — he brandished a .45 and a satchel of crushed labradorite to amplify his earthly energy. Not deterred by mysticism, law enforcement tazed the stranger into a drooling stiff-man, which was more than Father, Mr. Jackson, or Mr. Benjamin could stomach, and the group disbanded. But Father persisted. Having more time, he completed his magnificent creation in weeks, not months.
There was more collateral damage from the Saturday meetings beyond Edith Toomer. Mother found normalcy in Gregor the bespoke, McKenna-worshipping substitute English teacher. One might have questioned Mother’s motives in depositing Father at the Walmart months ago. Father might have too, if not for his preoccupation with filling his oversized, indestructible refuge with supplies. He had solar power, a composting toilet, packaged food, and water. Two days before he sealed himself inside an unbreakable globe — where Father believed spherical relationships were bound in eternal time — a storm pounded the Caribbean. When that hurricane stalled over land, another one-eyed monster churned in its place, removing any vestige of indecision from father’s consciousness. To be fair, global hurricane frequency had increased twofold in a decade, but it was Priscilla which had compromised Father’s remaining rationality.
Father’s first days and weeks inside the sphere were uneventful. His design was purposeful. Inside the translucent globe, he’d marvel at the stars while being protected from the extreme atmospheric conditions. Pangs of jealousy and loneliness bemused my insides.
Social media labeled Father “Man in the Globe.” The devout and curious arrived first, dressed in camo as they puffed on their cigarettes and compared prepping anecdotes. A small tent city erupted on our overgrown lawn. One couple traveled from Alaska, which had just seen its eighth foot of snow in a month.
“Alaska demands a prepper lifestyle,” said the proud man who came to appreciate Father’s ingenuity.
The god-fearing lingered after the first wave of curiosity waned. There were a handful of kooks and zealots who took up residence inside our old house. A Japanese man circled the sphere, mumbling, “Fukushima.” Some stood trance-like. Others swayed. On occasion, a desperate plea for entry pierced the night. Things went this way for a while.
During the dead period of the second winter, I fell in love. On our way to meet Father, the bald snow tires on my boyfriend’s ’03 Civic struggled up our steep driveway, so we trekked on foot around back to find Father reading in his favorite chair. The temperature had culled the onlookers and the snow swirled around the giant globe, Father nestled inside, visible, his love partitioned and untouchable.
Over the years, onlookers lost interest. Mother remarried.
Adam and I tied the knot with the guests in a semi-circle around the globe as Father muffled “I do” through the glass when the preacher said, “Who gives this woman away?”
The climate wobbled for a decade, then stabilized. Through the glass Father shouted that anyone who lived through the harrowing Dust Bowl, or the freezing winters of the 1890s, knew that the climate was unpredictable.
“We haven’t seen the worst,” Father said.
Through the birth of my first and second child, Father appeared ageless, his skin spread smooth by the gentle convex of the globe. My third child came after my divorce, a sheepish boy overwhelmed with unadulterated curiosity.
One April, during a visit with his grandfather, as my son sloshed in the puddles a thunderstorm pulsed in the distance. I watched my son’s face luminesce with astonishment as Father’s, through the glass sphere which separated our two worlds, blanched with pity.