Sunday, November 11, 2012

Fear of the Known

More than 15,000 home fires are started by dryer fires every year, usually from lint build-up, but few people are aware of this danger in their home. Tornadoes and black ice are another issue altogether.

“Get to the basement!”

Kurt captained his family to safety, wedging them in the southwest basement corner under blankets and an upended mattress.

Out of the southwest sky snaked five black vortices, tearing homes from foundations in a sinister hula as they lunged relentlessly closer to the Lindstrom’s fragile house.

 “I’ll be right back,” he shouted over the growling roar of the approaching storm.

“Kurt, NO!” cried Mary.

“Daddy!” pleaded the kids, trembling and tearful.

Kurt bounded heroically up the fourteen basement stairs, ducked into the living room and breathlessly crouched for an unobstructed view out the west-facing bay window. The sky was black. No, worse than black, it was swirling green and brown. Crackling spears of lightning shattered trees and limbs, flash-bulbing the scene in blinding stop-action images.

Two of the twisters were on course for a direct hit. One lifted off the ground two blocks away and paused, roiling with intent, seeking a target, and seemingly on a mission to strike out at Kurt Lindstrom with the full fury of its destructive wrath.

The funnel accelerated and dove.

Kurt gasped for air, sat upright like a spasming corpse and lunged forward, pulling the covers from Mary who slept quietly beside him. Morning had broken. Kurt sat panting.


The day began as usual, brushing teeth and shaving. News radio 780 announced the first February forecast, a blizzard watch on the eve of Groundhog Day.

Kurt plugged in the gutter cables to prevent icicle formation on the overhang near the front door. After all, his grandfather had reportedly been killed by falling chunks of ice in the 1930s. Best not to take a chance.

Kurt busied himself where he could see Mary disappear into the bathroom for her morning shower, then scurried to the laundry room where he heard the dryer cycling through a load of wet towels. Mary had started the dryer moments earlier. A mild whistle emanated from the lint screen, a warning that the trap needed cleaning.

Kurt planned to pull the long screen from the top of the machine, scrape away a thick sleeve of soft warm fiber and toss it into the trash. He would have to be careful not to make much noise, easing the screen back into the whirring device where it would invariably dislodge crumbs of lint and dirt. They would rattle into the exhaust tube and travel most of the distance to the outside of the house behind the evergreens near the front door.

As he reached across the top of the dryer, Kurt flinched at the sound of gently padding bare feet and the peripheral awareness of a spectator in the utility room.

“What are you doing?”

Mary wore a towel on her head, a blue bathrobe and a look of disgust.

“I’d rather not say,” said Kurt.

“You were cleaning my lint screen again, weren’t you?”

“No. I mean, yeah,” he stammered. “There are fifteen thousand dryer lint fires every year, Mary, we have to…”

Mary sighed, turned and headed back to the bathroom. It wasn’t worth an argument this early in the morning.


Kurt was first to leave the house for work, energized by thoughts of the approaching blizzard.

“Make sure you have a snow brush. Leave your wiper blades up, and take it slow.”

“I know Kurt. I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life.”

“Ok, have a good one,” said Kurt as he watched Mary drive away. Glancing up at the gutters, he turned and stepped with a lively stride onto the front walk. In less than the span of one second, Kurt’s entire weight turned ninety degrees, elevated upward with the rotational force of his pace, and left his body descending at near terminal velocity straight down onto the asphalt driveway. The impact of the fall was absorbed and spread throughout his frame, limiting damage to a bump on the back of his head and a scraped elbow.

“Black ice” groaned Kurt, gazing skyward, his arms splayed Christ-like at his sides.

Kurt edited his mental checklist, gathered his briefcase and snow-brush and carefully shuffled toward the car. To his right the flapping dryer vent behind the evergreens emitted a small swirling curl of black smoke.

“Need to get some ice-melt,” thought Kurt as he slammed the car door and headed to work.

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