Shared from the 4/10/2016 Philadelphia Inquirer - Philly Edition eEdition

She is alone on an island.

A storm and a stranger approach

Beth Kephart

is the author of “This Is the Story of You” (Chronicle Books), which will be released Tuesday

The young adult novel “This Is the Story of You” introduces Mira Banul — daughter of a single mother named Mickey, sister to young Jasper Lee, who is battling a rare disease, and friend to those who, like Mira, have grown up as “Year Rounders” on a barrier island along the Jersey Shore.

In this excerpt, a storm that forecasters said would simply pass is gaining force, and speed. With Mira’s mother and brother in a hospital on the main land, Mira is alone as the storm — and a stranger — encroaches.

In the early evening of the day that Jasper Lee couldn’t come home, I cooked myself eggs sunny-side up.

I poured milk into one of Mickey’s glitter-glazed bowls and Friskies into the palm of my hand, and Sterling, my cat, feasted. I left the dirty dishes in the sink because everything else was incredibly clean, and tomorrow would be another day.

We were supposed to have another day.

You know those sound machines that pretend to be waterfalls, log fires, whales? Right then the air outside sounded like machine rain on volume low. Like slosh, like slide, like someone shaking a sleeve full of beads. I climbed the stairs. I whistled two three four and Sterling came — her narrow body snaking between my calves, her whiskers like sugar that’s been heated, pulled, and chilled. She said nothing on the stairs and nothing in my arms when I carried her from my room through the open door into the wet dusk. Beyond the balcony there were no stars, no moon, just rain.

The tide was halfway back and retreating. Far away, ayellow crack of lightning split the sky. The edge of that storm, I thought, blowing out to sea. I pictured it a hundred thousand feet high and a thousand miles wide and a storm eye the size of an island and pretty as a cathedral, because that’s what Ms. Isabel had said, years ago — the eye of a storm is like a cathedral. She read it to us; I remember: “It has been likened to a cathedral with sacred carvings on the walls, stately balconies protruding, even pipe organs reaching to the clear, blue dome above.”

I thought of all those forecasters with their fancy weather machines, their computer models, their barometric reads, their promise: the storm headed the way of oblivion. They were, I’m telling you, sure.

No danger here.

No danger there.

Not the night I’m speaking of.

Sterling squirmed in my arms, tucked her head beneath my chin, kept herself out of the way of the rain. I thought of Jasper Lee and Mickey in the fake happy colors of Memorial, a line between them and the storm. Maybe Mickey was asleep in the visitors’ chair. Beep of the monitoring machines. Bar of light beneath the door, storm at her back.

There was the cool prickle of the rain in my hair, the tide going out, the soft flop of fish out in the watery sea.

The wind curled and thickened and the birds flew low and dusk seemed loud to me. Sterling’s tail was going tick tick tick, and her ears were cutting into the underbelly of my chin and her whiskers were quivery and now something changed, something went wrong inside the wind, until Sterling herself was pushing against me, from me, her silver fur turning to muscle.

That’s when I heard them: footsteps in the sand. Footsteps coming from the other side of the blockading fence, then onto the invisible part of the beach, then cutting the corner and heading for the gangplank — our gangplank, the one with the ropy rails that bridged over the dune that kept our house safe from sea treachery.

It was only dusk, but I could not see. We were not alone.

My phone in my pocket and Sterling in my arms, my mind roulette-wheeled through the possibilities. Deni with more Friskies, but she’d have called. Mickey and Jasper Lee had come home, but there was no chance of that; I froze. Nobody I could imagine was coming for me. But somebody was down there, under the deck, in the Zone.

“Lock the doors,” Mickey had said, but in Haven, offseason, we hardly did. Lock the doors, but now it was too late, too wet out there, and if I creaked just a little bit on that deck, if I moved, whatever had come would come for me. “Shhhh,” I told Sterling. “Shhhh.” The sound of feet on the gangplank going up, and then heading back down, and now the squeak of the shoes in the wet sand, and the sound of the rain in the breeze.

If I’d heard the back door open, I’d have 911’d. If I’d heard footfalls on the steps by the ceramic ladies, I’d have screamed. If I’d turned to find someone in the room behind me, I’d have bundled Sterling and taken a flying leap off the deck and into the dunes.

Nobody out there to hear me.

But that’s not what happened. What happened is the footsteps stayed inside the Zone. What happened was a bumping and bending and rattling of things, a banging and sliding, a knocking of buckets against lids and tops against bottoms. Beneath the deck where I stood, someone was hunting, noisy and careless.




Be still.

I held Sterling tight. I never touched my phone.

I never heard the back door open or the stairs creak. I only heard, after too much time, the gangplank groaning again, the stranger leaving.

It was early dark by then. I strained but all I could see was the hunch of a figure lit up by a brand-new lightning strike. A figure fast receding.

Beth Kephart blogs at

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