The black clouds hung heavily against the peaks of the faraway Santa Clara Mountains. Ben shuddered as he heard the faint sounds of thunder after each lighting flash.
“I’ll bet there’ll be a big storm,” he told himself, as he tucked his math book more firmly under his arm.
After getting off the school bus, Ben walked up the road watching the threatening streaks of light in the distance. It had rained lightly on and off for two weeks, and now more rain. A friendly “Woof” took his mind off the storm.
“Hi, Lady Belle!” he called to the big white dog who was running back and forth inside the fenced yard. Three fluffy balls were tagging right behind her. Ben reached a hand inside the wire fence to rub and scratch each of the dogs who wiggled all over with pleasure.
“Even with your new pups you came down to meet me just the way you did before they were born,” Ben said with a wide grin. Lady Belle had been his first friend when the family moved from the city.
The dogs ran along the fence on the other side, each one barking happily. When they came to the gate at the end of the long yard, Ben reached in and gave each dog another good scratching.
“You get that family back to the kennel before it rains, Lady,” Ben said as he hurried up the road toward home.
“Hello, Ben!” called Mrs. Haycock, their closest neighbor. “Mr. Larsen just took his wife to the hospital. She fell on the porch steps.”
“That’s too bad,” Ben said as he kept looking at the lightning. “Do you think there will be a storm as bad as the one two years ago?” he asked.
“Maybe even worse,” Mrs. Haycock replied. “There was one about five years ago that washed out everything. Horses, furniture, even some orange trees went down the arroyo and into the river. Mr. Larsen’s yard was filled with water and looked like a big pond just the way it was when my husband and I came here 50 years ago.”
Ben shuddered. He remembered some of the storms in the city. The lightning and thunder always frightened him a little. When the lightning crashed against the tall buildings and the water swirled down into the storm sewers, he’d run home as fast as he could.
“So you’d better hurry home,” Mrs. Haycock continued. “Will your mother be on the next bus?”
“No, she’s working late,” Ben answered.
Mrs. Haycock thought she sensed worry in his voice. “Want to keep me company?” she offered.
“No, thanks. I’m fine,” he said, turning to leave.
Ben unlocked the door and went inside. He put on some storm clothes and a pair of rubber boots. With a storm on the way there were a few things that he knew had to be done in case the storm turned out to be a bad one.
As Ben worked he remembered the first time they drove into this valley. There was a long bridge spanning a wide river filled with muddy water and tree branches. “Look, Dad,” he had said, “it must be almost a mile wide.”
“Usually it’s a big empty riverbed with just a trickle of water going down the middle,” Dad had explained. “But when it rains heavily in the mountains the water comes down in sheets, washing gravel and rocks down the stream. Sometimes it even floods over into the fields and groves.”
It began to rain a little now, and Ben kept on putting rocks and sandbags around the outside of the house. Soon he heard Lady Belle barking, and Mrs. Haycock’s words came back to him. “Mr. Larsen’s yard … a big pond.” And now with Mr. Larsen gone, Ben was worried about Lady Belle and her puppies. They were right in the middle of the yard, and in his imagination he could see them floundering in deep water.
It was raining much harder now. Ben picked up a flashlight and started down the road.
Lady Belle was barking frantically.
“I’m coming! I’m coming!” Ben shouted.
He reached the high gate but it was locked. He remembered that Mr. Larsen always kept the key in his pocket. Lady Belle’s fur was plastered down with water and the puppies were huddled against the fence in front of her, whimpering.
“Take it easy,” Ben said as much to himself as to the dog. He looked around for something to knock the lock off. Aiming his flashlight along the fence, he spotted a rock about the size of a baseball. Every time Ben hit the lock with his makeshift hammer, it stung his hand. But the lock wouldn’t budge.
Lightning cut the sky overhead, followed by rolling thunder. Great drops of water began pelting down. The sides of the roadway became small rivers. Rain dripped over the edges of his hat and down onto his hands, making his fingers stiff and cold.
Lady Belle whined and licked Ben’s hand as he tugged at the lock. Then he said, “Look out, Lady!” Ben struck the lock as hard as he could several more times. He was just about to give up, when he saw that the bottom of it had slipped down. It was open!
Ben dropped the flashlight and picked up the wet puppies. The little fellows wiggled and squirmed, but he bundled them inside the warmth of his coat and held them close with one arm. He grabbed Lady Belle’s collar with his free hand, and urged, “Come on, Lady. We’ll have to run for it.”
While he was rearranging the pups, Lady Belle placed her body squarely in front of them so that she broke the force of the storm. She was strong, for she was a Great Pyrenees, a breed of dog used to facing cold winds and snows at high mountain sheep camps.
Everything set, Ben took hold of Lady Belle’s collar again. As they slogged along, Mrs. Haycock came running out to her gate. She looked tired and worried, and her coat was flapping in the wind.
Ben edged over to the side of the road and gave a high shrill whistle. Mrs. Haycock heard it and pushed herself out toward them. Ben took her arm and guided her up to higher ground.
“Muddy water … it’s flooding … rocks bouncing all over!” she gasped.
Ben took her thin hand and put it on Lady Belle’s collar. He called to her over the storm, “Hang on. Our house is higher.” She nodded and clenched her hand on the collar.
It wasn’t until then that Ben became aware of the sounds, like artillery blasts. Rocks were bouncing down the cement drainage canal in back of the house, crashing into the walls and booming as they came.
Ben helped Mrs. Haycock up the steps of his house while Lady Belle went up them in one bound. Ben snuggled his face into the wet fur of the puppies and then put them all down on the doorstep.
Mrs. Haycock leaned against the door as Ben opened it. “Never thought we’d make it!” she wheezed. She reached over and patted Ben’s back.
At that moment the storm hit with a burst of sudden fury. The wind blew in wild gusts that rattled the windows and ripped at the shutters. There was a sudden “KER-BANG!” from the garage, followed by the sound of splintering boards and the rattle of cans.
Mrs. Haycock tried to keep her voice calm. “I am glad to be here where we’re all safe,” she said as she took off her wet raincoat and scarf and sat down on a kitchen chair.
Ben looked out of the kitchen window. The street was a muddy river by now. Branches, boxes, garbage cans, and tree limbs all went tumbling along in the water.
“I really think the storm is easing up some. Usually they end with a big fling, like that last,” said Mrs. Haycock, listening to the sounds from outside.
Flashing red and yellow lights were suddenly reflected through the window, and three people got out of a rescue truck. They came splashing up to the house. Ben opened the door and called, “Mom! Dad! Mr. Larsen!”
Lady Belle bounded out of the door. “Thought you and your puppies were goners for sure,” shouted Mr. Larsen.
Ben hugged his parents in relief while Mrs. Haycock smiled at the happy reunions.
“They let us come with the rescue crew when we told them how worried we were about our son who was all alone,” Mom explained.
“But I can see that we didn’t need to worry about you at all,” Dad said with pride as he smiled at Ben.
“That’s right!” Mr. Larsen exclaimed. “And I didn’t need to worry about Lady Belle either. I can see that Ben knows just what to do in an emergency. I’d like him to have a pup for his very own to take care of.”
Ben was so happy that for a few minutes he forgot all about the storm outside. Finally it quieted so the neighbors could go home.
“Well,” said Dad as he looked at the clock. “It’s almost morning but I think we better get a little sleep. We’ve much to be thankful for. This has been a night to remember.”
And Ben agreed. He knew it would be one he would never forget.