THE LOST KEY
Gwyneth started life in the tropics where it was steamingly hot and humid. Where the scalding sun alternated with ferocious thunderstorms of searing lightning and golf-ball hailstones.
She was being watched and monitored, even then, as many like her had led lives of violence leading, not infrequently, to death and injury.
At first she wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. A bit wild and unruly, perhaps, but that was to be expected and was no cause for concern. Until, that is, when she drifted away. She began to grow and develop and the watchers noted her increasingly violent rages and so the experts were called in. The warning signs were all there. Gwyneth was going to be big trouble. From her movements it was obvious she was headed for the bright lights of Miami, or, at least, the rich person’s playground of the Florida Keys.
Pelican Key was not a rich person’s playground. It was small; little more than half a mile wide and a mile long. Nor was it linked to Highway 1 which ran the length of the Keys. It didn’t have any of the fancy mansions of famous (part time) residents that some of the other islands had. It’s population, no more than three dozen, lived there all year round and made a living by doing a bit of fishing or travelling to the larger Keys’ resorts or to the mainland for work. Their homes were modest and constructed in a way that made them easily and cheaply repairable. Hurricanes were a way of life on Pelican Key and so they were well prepared when told that Gwyneth was heading their way.
By that time Gwyneth had blossomed from a tropical storm to a full-blown hurricane. Long before she came into sight at Pelican Key, when the winds were still cooling and refreshing, her presence was made known by the waves, much larger than the breeze could ever produce, rushing onto the beach like animals fleeing a forest fire.
If Gwyneth was intent on taking lives, she’d made a mistake. She was too predictable. Some of her brothers and sisters had brought more death and destruction than their strength would suggest, simply by behaving erratically and outsmarting the experts.
The people of the Keys were ready for her and like those onrushing animals fled for safety after securing their homes and taking their valuables. On Pelican Key they did the same in their modest way. Storm shutters went up, cases were packed and stowed away on the boats along with dogs, cats, birds and any other non-human members of the family. On the nearest large island they transhipped their cargoes from boat to car. Put the boat on a trailer hitched to the car and headed up Highway 1 to the mainland. It was something they did most years. It was just one of those things. After a couple of days they’d return and, literally, pick up the pieces and carry on as if nothing had happened.
But Gwyneth was strong. Very strong and powerful. She was a Category 3 hurricane capable of dumping a foot of rain in a day, or less and winds of 120 m.p.h. The rain was of little consequence on the Keys and even the wind would only cause inconvenient damage. The biggest threat came from the sea.
Had anyone been on Pelican Key they would have felt the wind gathering force by the hour. The blue tropical sky turning milky and watering down the sun as cirrus clouds like a bride’s veil wisped across the sky.. The waves increased in size and probed further up the beach until they overwhelmed it and splashed and tumbled around the boardwalks and trees above the sands.
Once Gwyneth’s black clouds appeared above the horizon the weaker trees started to fall. Smaller, unsecured objects had been bowling around for some time, but now bigger objects were on the move and the island’s permanent structures began to lose bits of themselves. The sea was now swirling and frothing around the piles supporting the houses and the steps leading up to them. And Gwyneth had barely started.
She had been storming across the Atlantic, lashing the Bahamas on her way. Now she was heading for the gap between Cuba and Florida. All the time she was increasing her power so that by the time she made landfall on Pelican Key she was Category 4.
Her towering clouds pummelled both land and sea with giant hailstones, lightning, tornadoes and waterspouts. Her wind now screamed in at 150 m.p.h. The less secure sheds, shacks and even buildings were smashed to smithereens while of the others barely a roof escaped denudation. The waves and storm surge carried the sea right across the little island and carried off the remains of the broken buildings.
Gwyneth then stopped. The first and only unexpected thing she ever did. If that person was still on Pelican Key they would have witnessed one of Nature’s wonders. Gwyneth’s eye, some twenty miles across, was a clear and brilliant blue. It was the hue that crooners mooned over. But hers was hard. It was a killer’s eye having none of the softness and gentleness of the crooner’s lover. All around the eye clouds soared several miles high like a colossal stadium, a dazzling deathly white where the sun touched them otherwise a funereal inky black flecked frequently by flickers of lightning. There was not a breath of wind and no sound except for the incessant sea and the occasional cry of a seabird taking advantage of the storm’s hiatus for a quick feed.
Gwyneth hovered over Pelican Key like a monstrous bird of prey seeking her next victim. But she could see nothing ahead of her but the vast openness of the Gulf of Mexico. She was heading in the wrong direction. She should be going north towards the vulnerable and populous areas of America’s southern states where she could wreak billions of dollars’ worth of damage, could kill and injure and render thousands homeless. But all she could do now was blow herself out over the Gulf. Maybe she could damage a few oil rigs, but they knew she was coming as did the shipping which ran for cover. How could she have been so stupid? What was the point of being one of the most powerful storms in history when her death toll and damage bill was so paltry that even a weakling Category 1 hurricane could beat it. She was angry. She was raging. She wound herself up into a Category 5. She moved. Her eye closed. The eye wall enveloped Pelican Key and the speck of land was lost behind a curtain of thunderous rain and hail and the re-invigorated storm surge reaching twenty feet or more. With shrieking banshee winds now reaching 200 m.p.h. Gwyneth’s tantrum swept across the island smashing everything in her path – houses, trees, power lines, people’s personal and intimate secrets. She didn’t care. She wanted to kill and destroy, but she wasn’t able to do as much as she wanted. So poor defenceless Pelican Key bore the brunt of her apocalyptic fury.
Not content with erasing every sign of human existence, Gwyneth’s raging seas and wind first removed any soil, then the sand and finally exposed, ground down and drowned the island’s coral heart.
As Gwyneth roared herself into oblivion on the distant coast of Mexico, people returned to the Keys and after some touching up and putting things straight they got on with their former lives. All, that is, except for the three dozen erstwhile residents of Pelican Key. Their former lives had been washed away along with their homes and their island. Where their life had been was now merely a part of the calm and sparkling blue sea, populated by some sea birds, ironically including pelicans, pecking about in the flotsam.