Gathering Storm

This short story was written last year for a local writing competition, The Decameron Project. Entries, limited to 1,000 words, were to be previously unpublished and based loosely around the theme of the current pandemic. Genre, tone, and content were left up to each author.

I’m pleased that my story was chosen as a finalist and was published in an online collection. I am now able to share it on my blog.


Gathering Storm   

As Sarah walked through the house collecting her shopping list, keys, and purse, she glanced out the window and saw rain clouds forming. Where is my umbrella? Thinking that she probably left it in her office, she entered the small room off the front entry.                                                                                              

She wasn’t surprised to see her grandson nestled in her favorite reading nook, his nose buried in a book. At 12, Jack was bright and inquisitive. Sarah loved having him stay with her while his parents were at work.

“Hey there, I’m looking for my umbrella. I’ve got to go out for a bit, but I’ll be back before your father comes to pick you up. Whatcha reading there?”

“In school today, my teacher talked about a pandemic back in 2020, and I wanted to read more about it. Mom was just a kid then, right?”

Sarah put her purse down on the desk and sat next to Jack. “Yes, your mother was a little older than you are now, about 15. Your dad must have been 16 or 17. They, of course, didn’t know each other back then.”

“What about Grandpa, was he alive then?”

“Yes. I wish you two could have known each other; you would have been great friends. Before Covid, your grandfather was the picture of health. In fact, we were going to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary by hiking the Camino in Spain. Those plans, like so many others, were put aside when the virus hit.”  

“What happened?”

“Well, at first many of us thought it was no big deal. Avoid crowds, wash our hands, that sort of thing. The outbreaks seem to be happening elsewhere, to other people. Then, your grandfather started to feel feverish and he lost his sense of smell. When his symptoms became severe enough, he went to the hospital. Since I couldn’t go with him, the last time we saw each other was as he was being loaded into the ambulance. He had turned 45 just two months before. I think that experience might have been what convinced your mother to become a doctor.”

“It says here that a vaccine was developed towards the end of 2020?”

“Yes, but it wasn’t widely available until later the following year. There were also mutations of the virus that were harder to fight. In the end, we lost almost 4 million people worldwide, close to one million in this country alone. There was so much controversy: mask, no mask; shut everything down, open it all up. Scientists and medical professionals were being drowned out by politicians and conspiracy theorists.”

“That doesn’t sound much different from today.”

“You are right about that,” Sarah said, patting Jack’s leg. “Well, I have to get going if I’m to get back in time.”

“Thanks for talking to me about it. I’m sorry I never met Grandpa but I’m glad you and Mom and Dad didn’t get sick.” Jack closed his book and looked up. “Can I go to the store with you, Grandma?”

“Oh, I wish you could, but you know you can’t. Unlike the 2020 virus, this one seems to be harder on younger people. We need to keep you safe.”

Sarah picked up her purse and checked to make sure her mask was inside. Then, she grabbed her keys and umbrella. Giving Jack a quick kiss on his forehead, she said, “We can talk more about this anytime you want. It’s your history too.”

As Sarah left the house she looked up at the sky, hoping the promised rain would come soon. The response to the latest virus, coming just twenty years after Covid-19, was playing out much the same as before. She knew that the protesters would be out, without their masks, yelling about their freedoms. She thought about her late husband and her precious grandson and said a silent prayer that the rainstorm would make it too inconvenient and uncomfortable for the angry crowds to come outside.

Author: Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

92 thoughts on “Gathering Storm”

  1. A very poignant story, Janis, since it contains many first hand truths. Sad, since we will not see the end of viruses and variants of the viruses. Yet, such hope, since here sits Sarah’s grandson. A wonderful story! Congratulations! I can see why your story is a finalist. xx

  2. Nice story. And not surprising that everything has changed and will change. And this was not the first time (Spanish flu) and won’t be the last time, sadly. Will the children of today ever know what a simple easy life looks like?

      1. Oh no, not tats on the forehead – or right hand – not good.
        But you’re story was.
        As for submitting to facelessness (masks) yeah, when the store has a “mask required” sign, it’s only good manners to put up the stupid thing – go in, buy what you need, then leave. And get your face back as soon as you’re a few feet from the door.

  3. Exceptional writing. It’s been a really tough year, and I hope we learn from this. Although, I’m not sure we’d be any more prepared to fight another virus because we are too divided. I think it’s a given that we will never go back to the way things were nor will we get over all the lives lost. I do hope we have a breather in between so our grandkids can adjust. Again, great writing, and I applaud your skills. 👏🏻 Take a bow.

  4. Lovely story, Janis. Congratulations on the well-deserved recognition. You give us a lot to think about, and the hope that we will learn from this and not find ourselves in a do-over in 20 years. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. So powerful!! It doesn’t surprise me that it was (you were) a finalist. Glad to see you are still writing, you do it so well. Thanks for sharing and stay safe out there.

  6. Although fiction at the moment, there is so much that resounds as plausible, sadly, and you’ve told a tale that is truly foreboding, Janis. It really gave me shivers, and made me a little sad. So nicely done, however, and I’m truly pleased it was published where others could read it and give some thought to what you’re saying!

  7. I love this story. Such an intriguing idea to think ahead to how we’ll talk about this era now. Congrats on being a finalist. How cool is that?

  8. Well done, Janis! I certainly hope this isn’t our reality in 20 years, but, if it is, may we all have learned something about our interdependence and how our actions and choices have long-reaching and, in 2020’s case, heartrending effects.

  9. I like your SF story. It contains an important message. We don’t learn our history lessons and tend to repeat the same mistakes over and over, the eternal recurrent of the same. Congratulations on your literary success, Janis!

  10. You touched on everything we’re all experiencing so well. But I pray another pandemic doesn’t hit 20 years from now. We try to stay positive, but it’s difficult to keep our thoughts from swaying to the dark side. Great story and Congrats, too!

  11. Nicely done, Janis! How great that you finaled in the Decameron Project! Maybe next time, the White House won’t have just demolished the subgroup on planning for it, and maybe it won’t be politicized. (We can hope.) Of course, other problems will crop up, but it would be nice if we learned something….

  12. Pandemics and plagues seem so 14th century, but here we are in the middle of one in 2021. Your story is moving and just a little bit frightening. It is very imaginative and thankfully fictional. Hopefully, if we have another pandemic, we will be better prepared to handle it.

  13. Wow, what an incredible story, Janis! Let’s hope we do not have another pandemic in our lifetime, but the way the world seems to work these days, another one could be on the horizon. Quite spine-tingling and beautifully written. Congrats on being a finalist and so well-deserved!

  14. Congratulations again for becoming a finalist in the story contest, Janis! That is fabulous. And, now that I read your story I can see why you were selected. Well done! A very relatable story for so many of us and well written too. Like you mentioned to Suzanne, I also hope this will remain a fictional story based on true facts and nothing more. Happy weekend!

  15. This is so beautifully written. And sobering and painful. I lost both of my parents in the past year and was not able to be with them because of the virus. We haven’t seen our daughter or 10-year old grandson in more than a year. It has been a devastating time. We’re still waiting for our vaccines, wearing our masks, trying to stay safe. I am an optimist by nature, but sadly, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of this pandemic or the vast political chasm that has divided our country. Nothing to do but be grateful for this moment.

    1. I’m so sorry that you lost both of your parents – it’s bad enough during normal times (mine passed away 10 and 20 years ago) but not to be able to be with them and say goodbye must have been extra heartbreaking. So many friends and family members have been missed too. Fingers crossed that you will get your vaccines soon. We have both of ours (YAY!) and plan to have an outside dinner next week with another double-doser couple. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I, too, grieve for our divided country. That, unfortunately, won’t be fixed with a vaccine.

  16. Wow! What a powerful story, Janis. So well-written. One thing is discouraging – I hope in 20 years if we have another pandemic, the no-mask protesters will have learned better.

  17. Wow, that was very sad, and definitely something I can picture happening. On the day that I was considered to be “recovered” from Covid, 1,884 people in the US died from the virus. I think about that a lot.

    1. Thanks for the visit and comment! I just read your latest post. I’m glad you are feeling better (and regaining your sense of smell). My husband and I have been spared but we have friends that weren’t as lucky, although no deaths, thank goodness. Best wishes for your continued recovery!

        1. I just read a (long) article in The Atlantic about Covid long haulers with ongoing lung issues (even a marathoner had problems) and how many of them have benefited from breathing exercises. I imagine the mindful breathing from Yoga and meditation does help.

          1. My teacher told me to do daily yin videos when I was sick, and I practiced pranayama (yoga breathing) throughout the day, and slept on my stomach. Going to class (now that I am better) helped a lot with the lingering brain fog.

  18. Just read this and am really impressed. Your story made me tear up and provided that frisson of shock that sometimes happens with a short story. I read the NYT Decameron issue. Your story certainly is comparable in quality to the ones they published. Well done.

  19. Again, and as everyone else has said, you’ve written another great story that features the pandemic. I love how your mind works. It’s a short story but I feel like I have a real sense of both characters and the world they live in. Well done. I wrote a less fictional one featuring my grandchildren as grandparents, sitting in our house talking about the pandemic.

    1. Thank you for commenting (and the follow!). I am in the same position as far as competitions. I know they are out there, but not sure how to find them. The one I entered this story into was a local contest. The only other one I am aware of is Craft Literary’s 2021 Short Fiction competition (March 1 – May 1 for submissions). You can check out their website (craftliterary.com) for more information.

      I read The Attic and enjoyed it very much. I look forward to subscribing to your blog and following along.

  20. Janis, congratulations on having your story chosen for publication. I think it’s wonderful that you’ve started writing short stories over the course of this pandemic.

    Jude

      1. I felt so lucky to become part of a writers’ group in my area that was just forming. The people in it are doing fascinating work, and they provide excellent feedback and encouragement. After a couple of years, so many additional people wanted to join that we started a second affiliated group that I co-facilitate. My plan had been to just get it started, then go back to my original group. However, the second group is also so great that I find myself wanting to continue with it. So now, oftentimes, I find myself attending two writing groups a month, one for each group. It inspires me.

        Jude

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