East by Tim Raveling
A Waking Dream
The people of that town looked always east. It was summer there and nearing harvest, and the fields stretching from the town in every direction
were golden with wheat.
Simon walked down the main street of the town. A warm wind, always easterly, ruffled his shirt and pushed at his back. It stung Simon's soul
somehow, a sharp but sweet prick of the conscience that made him raise his eyes and look past the town to the prairie where the highway
vanished on the horizon. Late at night great roaring trucks would thunder through the town, passing with the wind always east. They never
stopped. Simon often wished they would. He wanted to talk to the men who drove them, men who left no mark on the town except the
fleeting impression of a shadowed figure behind the wheel, the motion of a flick of the wrist, and the orange arc of a cigarette bud tossed to
die on the pavement.
The town seemed emptier this summer. Perhaps it was. The last had seemed emptier than the one before it. No one talked about leaving.
In this town, no one talked about much of anything with any real meaning. Sometimes Simon wanted to answer wrong, just to make
something (anything) happen. No, missus, he wanted to say, just once. The weather ain't nice at all, not in this town. He never did. He
thought, somehow, that to say so would be a lie.
The gaunt old man who ran the town's general store was leaning against the rail. His eyes, hard and gray, were fixed on the eastern horizon.
He nodded at Simon without looking at him. “Son,” he said. “Storm's coming.”
Simon looked east. The sky was blue and clear. “I don't see no storm,” Simon said.
The old man blinked and seemed to shake himself, then nodded behind him. A long line of black clouds was billowing up over the western
horizon. The sun hung low, poised to sink into the blackness. Simon felt a shiver run up his spine. When it did, he thought, there could be no
“Find your pa and tell him to board up, boy,” the old man said. “Tell him now.”
Simon nodded and walked back up the street. The black clouds in the west were already closer, but the people of the town were not
watching them. They were slowly, almost absently, preparing their homes for the storm. Their eyes, even now, drifted always east.
Pa was standing on a ladder nailing planks over the big glass window above the front door. “Hand me up some nails, Simon,” he said they
walked up. “Last big storm, the wind blew a tree branch right through that window. Near frightened your mother to death.” Pa gave a
nervous glance to the clouds, and then looked lingeringly east. Simon wondered why Pa seemed less afraid of the storm than whatever it was
the people of that town saw that way.
The wind stirred again, and again Simon felt the prick inside. It was as if the wind was pushing his soul ahead of it, and his soul wanted his
body to follow, the way sails pulled a ship.
“Feel that?” Cayse, Simon's twin sister. Breathing deep.
Pa gave her a sharp glance. “It's nothing, girl. Little ones inside?”
“Good. I'll have us locked in safe, right soon.”
The screen door banged in the wind. Ma leaned out, her graying hair wisping around her head. “You almost done there?”
Her voice shook, and Simon looked at her. There were deep lines around her eyes, and her hands were shaking. “You scared, Ma?” he
said. “Pa's going to get us boarded up nice and safe.”
“Come inside, Simon, Cayse.” she said, tugging them in by the shoulders with her weathered hands. Her eyes looked at Pa on the ladder,
then slid off east, and her brow lined.
They stepped inside. The narrow wood hallway was lined with old family pictures. Simon's younger brothers and sister were sitting on the
couch, hands in their laps. They seemed to Simon more curious than afraid. Simon wondered what the adults could see that they couldn't. Or
remember, he thought. The last big storm had been many years ago, when Simon was too young to remember much. He had a vague
impression of darkness and noise, but he couldn't remember any fear. The only feeling he could recall—if he wasn't just imagining it—was a
sort of speechless wonder.
The wind was blowing harder outside now, moaning soulfully through the planks.
“It sounds like crying,” Cayse said. “Like the way a lion would sound, if lions could cry.”
Simon pressed his face to the glass and looked through a crack in the planks. The wheat glinted under the black sky like stolen gold.
“Simon,” his mother said. “Get your face away from the window.”
Simon sat back reluctantly and looked at Cayse. “You all right?”
Pa stepped inside and shook himself, then locked and bolted the door.
“Storm's almost here,” he said. “Damn, but I wish we had a cellar.”
Ma put her hand on his chest and looked up at him, searchingly.
“Cellar wouldn't stop the sound, would it, dear? Do we know anyone who has a cellar?”
They both looked at the front door and held each other close. Simon's youngest sister, just talking, started to cry and Cayse picked her
up and rocked her.
“Gonna be all right,” she crooned in a low, sweet voice. “Baby, gonna be all right. Shut your eyes and sleep you tight, baby, gonna be all right.”
The wind rose to a mournful agony outside. Now Simon could hear it too, nothing human, nothing even lion. It was something older than both,
and far more powerful.
“What does it mean?” Cayse whispered. “Why does it sound like that?”
“It's just the wind,” Pa snapped. “Just damn wind. Quiet now.”
Was it agony, Simon thought, or longing? It was ancient and musical, wild and chaotic, and Simon's soul reached for it unbidden. He and
Cayse looked at each other, wide-eyed. Cayse's cheeks were flushed with color.
The last rays of the sun lanced through the planks in long streaks of light that vanished, one by one, as they were swallowed in the black storm
clouds. The shadows deepened, and the baby began to cry again.
As the last ray of light vanished and the room fell dark, the wind died suddenly. The baby stopped crying and seemed to catch her breath. The
silence was long, anticipatory.
“Here it comes,” Pa said.
The wind screamed down from heaven and the house shook with its coming. The windows rattled in their frames.
Cayse was quivering and her eyes glinted in the darkness. “What is it?” she breathed.
“It's ...” he said, and stopped. There was nothing to say. The roaring fury of the wind was unspeakable.
“Dear God in Heaven,” Ma said, sitting down on a chair in the corner and staring fearfully at the boarded windows. “Hush,” she said to
the baby, “hush there,” but the baby was not crying.
Pa paced, and beneath the wind Simon could faintly hear him muttering to himself. Now and again he'd stop and stare up at the windows
where the wind tore at the boards, and Simon could see his throat constrict in the dim light, could see the vein on his forehead throbbing.
The deafening noise of the wind faded, sublimated, giving way to a deep throbbing that was almost unconscious, just beneath hearing. Simon
became aware of the low choking sounds of his mother's sobs.
The baby laughed.
Ma shrieked and twisted in her chair, shaking her, but the baby only laughed and laughed.
“Shut your eyes and sleep you tight,” Cayse sang, “baby gonna be all right.”
Her voice was soft, wry, as if she and the baby were sharing some amusing subtlety.
“Quiet, quiet,” Ma snapped, close to hysteria now. “You'll frighten her, you'll frighten her—it's all right, baby, it's all right, little girl—”
her arms still shook the baby, the baby still laughed—“calm down, girl ...”
Simon saw his father, frozen, back bent like a frightened animal. He stared wide-eyed east, biting at his knuckles. There was blood on his
“Pa?” Simon said.
“Do you remember it, Rachel?” Pa shouted then, as the wind began to rise once more, “Do you remember?”
Ma squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. “No, no. no,” she moaned. “Can't. Won't.”
“The children—” Pa gasped and shrank back against the wall. “Watch the children ...”
The heavens opened and the rain fell across the house in roaring sheets, driven hard before the rising wind. From the darkness outside came
a flicker of something lightning, low, red, at once the least and most natural thing Simon had ever seen.
“We should go outside,” Cayse hissed, taking hold of Simon's arm and kneading it with her fingers. “We should go and see it.”
Another flicker of light, brighter, and this time Simon saw the silhouettes of the children, faces pressed to the window, palms outstretched,
eager, expectant. Awestruck.
Ma saw them too and leapt to her feet, putting the baby under one arm, and began pulling the children back from the glass, screaming at them
to sit down, sit down, the glass, the glass, the sound! Pa slumped into the corner with his hands before his face, fingers stretched, tendons
knotted, spasms of something—fear?—running through his entire frame.
Simon found his gaze moving from the boarded windows to the door where it stood, locked and bolted, on the eastern face of the house. He
imagined himself standing and walking to it, could feel the way the wood would creak under his feet. He could feel the cold metal of the knob
as he turned it, the click of the locks as he opened them, the way the door would open to, to .... but he could not imagine past that, could not
see the storm itself where it crouched upon that town.
And then the thunder began. Thunder, or something very much like it. It was low, powerful, muscular, alive somehow. And angry, Simon
thought, enraged, hateful, murderous. Bent on death. Death itself, prowling the Earth with an empty basket, to be filled with the souls of those
whom he would call upon.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” Ma said, her voice shaking.
No. Not death. Not quite. Maybe not at all. Rolling thunder again, louder now, closer.
“I will fear no evil, for thou art with me ...”
Not hate, Simon thought, not an enraged roar at all.
“Thy rod and thy staff ...”
“It's laughing,” Cayse said, awestruck. “The storm is laughing.”
Laughter. Yes. Not amused laughter at some joke, not cruel laughter at some misfortune, but throbbing, roaring laughter, the triumphant
thundering laughter of a god who has no question of his own dominance.
Against the thunder of the storm the baby was shrieking her own laughter and clapping her hands, wriggling in Ma's terrified grasp.
“Rachel, Rachel,” Pa said, putting his hands over his ears and squeezing his eyes shut. “Do you remember? How close we came?”
Ma was shaking her head, lines of tears streaming down her face in the brooding flicker-light of the storm. “No. It's hate. It's hate, it's the
devil, thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies, God please, God please!”
The house shook with the loudest roar yet and a dish fell from the counter to crash to the floor and then Simon knew, knew, what it was,
and felt joy and terror, twisting, coil into his soul. The breeze coaxed and cajoled the people of that town to look, to walk east. The storm
took on presence and towered outside their locked doors and boarded windows and roared at them, defied them, thundered to them come
out if you dare, and find where my paths lead. And the people of that town only cowered inside their homes, wanting desperately to give in,
to answer, to step outside. They were not afraid of the storm, Simon realized, but of their love of it.
Cayse stood in the flickering red light, and the pounding rain seemed to swell with some ancient music. “No, Cayse, no,” Ma sobbed, but
only shrank farther back into the couch. “Sit down, Cayse, sit down girl, stay with me, stay safe.”
The baby fell silent and watched her. Pa looked at her too, shaking in his corner. Cayse looked at Simon. “Come with me,” she said.
Simon saw two paths, and knew in that instant that whichever he chose he would choose forever. He looked at his sister, at his father, at his
mother, and heard the screaming challenge of the storm outside. Slowly, he sank back onto the couch.
Cayse's eyes welled with tears, but she nodded. Without another word, she walked down the hallway—the boards creaked—and unlatched
the door. The storm howled in rage, in joy, in carnal triumph and in thunderous accolade, as she stepped through it and disappeared into the
In the morning the town itself was untouched. The sun was bright, the grass green with that vibrant smell of living things after the rain. The
people went about their business as usual, saying nothing about everything. They did not speak at all of the houses, scattered about the
town, that sat with their doors opened, full of belongings that now belonged to no one. They would be allowed to decay in some
self-deceiving hope that their occupants would return to them, and then be sold to the children coming of age and marrying within the town.
In the first few weeks after the storm, Simon often wondered where Cayse was, what she was seeing now, what she was hearing. But slowly,
as did all the people of that town, Simon forgot who she had been, that she had ever been, and began to feel the breeze on his skin with a dark,
forboding chill that resented the way it tugged at his soul.
And so it was that Simon grew old and, with all the other people of that town, looked always east.
Tim Raveling is a writer, artist and observer who wishes to
acquire no address more specific than "Earth: at large." He enjoys
good books, beautiful places, and interesting people.