Ash Wednesday

Thank you Rochelle for hosting the weekly prompts and for the photo this week.  All stories can be found here.

My story is a about Hurricane Sandy and human mortality.  I found it a fitting topic to tackle during Lent although I am long gone from the practice of Catholic rituals.



The howling winds, crack of transformers and the fear of normal routines gone, settled into silence.  It was the day after and people started to panic. Rushing out for gas, waiting hours for a few gallons to go nowhere, to feel gas tank full, they found themselves fidgeting for refrigerator items they could not keep.  I lit the hurricane lamps, thought of the day after nine eleven when the skies’ only movements were twinkling stars. Not an escape in sight.  The harsh burn of spirits and the frame by frame remembrance of the ease of lives turned into ghostly ash.


Hurricane Sandy


The Ash Lady

68 thoughts on “Ash Wednesday

  1. I was thinking of Sandy when I saw the lamps but decided to go another route. Nice touch adding 911. The days after Sandy did feel like days after 911. A writing job well done.

  2. You do express powerful emotions in this piece, Tom, and poetically, too (but I expect that.) I’m curious about this part: “Rushing out for gas, waiting hours for a few gallons to go nowhere, to feel gas tank full they found themselves fidgeting for refrigerator items they could not keep. ” I like “to feel gas tank full (although I would probably have hyphenated it but that doesn’t matter, it ‘s a good phrase.) What I wonder is whether there;s meant to be a break between that and “they found themselves…” Or did they go out to do this and while waiting, found themselves fidgeting?

    There is really deep-felt sorrow in this and the lamps worked in perfectly.


    1. I thought about breaking the two thoughts into two separate thoughts but I felt the panic justified it becoming one idea…lets see what others think…
      Thanks tom

    2. Also I think I was trying to stress the uselessness of their actions if that makes any sense….Maybe it doesn’t work.

      1. They both work Tom. I caught that feeling of “doing something no matter how futile is better than doing nothing”

        being in a disaster I know you have to keep moving, not thinking

        1. I’m throwing commas all over the place…..Thanks Moon. More of the chill and use what I can kinda guy but a lot of people would rather just be doing something no matter how pointless.


  3. Dude, (may I call you Dude?)
    I love the black background. It provides a great setting for this unsettling story. Those were times that caused us to wonder “What was I thinking?” I fear something similar or worse might yet happen in my lifetime. Great job!

    1. Dude, you can call me dude anytime…it’s fitting to my 420 nature. I fear you may be right…odd thing was after 9/11 happened the next day Wednesday I felt this sort of peace with the world standing still. I was lucky no one close to me died that day and the same thing with Sandy. It may be wrong to say this but it felt like the world was reflecting on mortality and how precious life is and somehow that made me feel better about humanity…It was the darkness that made the light so bright. Strange I know but that next night I watched the skies for hours and not a plane flew by like time had gone back to simpler days. It was short lived because the anger took over soon after.

      Thanks dude.


      1. You’re right, the next day was peaceful, and the event did bring people together in a weird sort of way. I think I even saw a Republican hug a Democrat for a few short seconds.

  4. Nicely done scene…the crack of the transformer was a great piece of figurative language! I could hear it.

    Thanks for you comment on my fiction…your comment about the Mercury made me laugh!

    1. Well thanks for commenting on my non-fiction…sort of cause I am sure all non-fiction has plenty of fiction in it! Your story was funny, sort of sad and all too real.


  5. Very powerful, very evocative. Well done. I keep reflecting on those two verbs together in that first sentence – ‘the feel of normal routines gone settled into silence’.
    The jury’s still out on that… 🙂 Very enjoyable though.

    1. Well I am glad you enjoyed it. I threw a comma in there for you…perhaps that will help the 12 angry men in your head. Thanks.


  6. Dear Tom,
    “…the ease of lives turned into ghostly ash.” The perfect ending. Very well written and obviously heart felt.
    I have children in upstate NY so we watched Sandy pretty closely and prayed for their safety. The mention of 911 sent me reeling back to the day we nearly lost our daughter in law. She worked on the 95th floor of the first building. Had she been on time for work that morning…
    Tragedy ripples doesn’t it?
    Again, well done, Sir. If I were wearing a hat it would be off to you.

    1. Rochelle,
      Thanks. A friends father had a pipe burst at home and never made it to work that day….another friend of the family made it out of the building only to die a few weeks later of a heart attack. Tragedy sure does ripple, one event often can send out shock waves far reaching and beyond the scope of those within the inner circle. Tragedy bleeds mingling one event with the next. I am glad to hear your daughter in law was late to work that day and was saved because of it. Life has a funny way of working out.


  7. This is very good–have one quick question: should there be an apostrophe after the skies’ or should it be singular, the sky’s? Very atmospheric and reminiscent of our reactions to disasters.

        1. After much internal debate and a discussion with Rich I have decided to go with both the possessive and plural even though they sound the same because that was my original intent so….one more time now…it’s skies’!

  8. as for sky’s and skies’, it can be either one. technically, it can be sky’s because at that moment, the speaker of the poem can only see one sky. however, there is a collective thought, a universality that includes all people, all of america or the northeast, and all of the various perspectives of the sky, which would pluralize it. then, the movement that belongs to the sky, or skies, makes it possessive. so there’s no right or wrong – sky’s or skies’ – it’s a matter of which the poet wants to include, just his one view or the view of all people affected. an individual feeling or a community feeling? the event affected thousands of people very distant from each other, so i see the community feeling.

    1. You know Rich I am glad you do because that’s what I was going for….I wanted it to be both but wasn’t sure I could do that…the rules of grammar often mess with me. Thanks bro!


    1. Jwd,
      My style takes a little getting use to…Thanks for the kind words. I am glad you found it powerful.

      Thanks again,

  9. Tom
    Such a powerfully evocative story.
    We were in the lounge at Heathrow airport talking to some lovely people from Connecticut, at the time Sandy was rampaging up the East coast. The wife/mother was desparately trying to get through to her daughter to find out how grandma was doing and if their house was stil standing. There weren’t many people in the lounge and we were all busy pretending not to listen. But then she shouted “they’re all ok, they’re all ok, Sally got the genrator working” and the whole place cheered!
    When I hear stories of people who should have been in work on 9/11, in either of the buildings, and the often mundane things that saved their lives – missing the bus, not hearing the alarm, catching a cold, I wonder how they coped with it.
    I have visited Ground Zero. My family and I just stood there and wept.

    1. Dee,
      My friend who’s father missed work that day because of the pipe breaking lost all his colleagues, except I believe one or two who were not in the office that morning. The guilt has weighed heavy on him since. The friend of the family who died of a heart attack shortly afterwards was a Vietnam vet and a NYC cop for 20 some odd years. He was one of a few who made it out from above where the first plane hit. He made it out of Nam, the tough streets of the ghettos of New York during the 80’s crack epidemic and the first tower to die of a heart attack likely induced by years of being in the battle zone. My cousin’s house in Breezy Point still has no heat or electric. She made it out with her kids only by the help of neighbors. I was at Sabrina’s house for Sandy and we were pinned in on every side by fallen trees,lucky none fell on the house or anyone on the block. It was almost a week before we could get a car out. Life is a fragile thing and disaster strikes in a blink of an eye.


  10. Very powerful!
    Such life stopping events beg one to consider how non essential and avoidable every day worries are.
    You captured something very fundamental and sound in this post. I really liked it

  11. Man, what a powerful piece to connect Hurricane Sandy to 911 victims turned to ash to Ash Wednesday. I remember that your story last week had to do with Long Island, and this made me think of how the area was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. Your writing here is a deep description of the effects of outside forces.

    1. Dave,
      Thanks…here is a thought on how my brain connect them…Its lent, it starts with Ash Wednesday, 911 was on a Tuesday, people were covered in ash and Sandy was a disaster…Ash Wednesday/lent is about mortality…..Lots of people died….Jesus died rose again the freedom tower is rising, spring is here death is turning to life…like skipping stones the brain works in an odd way. Thanks so much for the kind words my friend. I look forward to yours this week.


  12. HI Tom
    Beautifully crafted story – i loved this: “to feel gas tank full” – and the general sense of futility in everything they did. A very thought provoking piece.

  13. Tom you must have been feeling especially profound, because that is what came shining through. Unending Kudos to you sir!

    1. I hear ya Dave for a guy who often has his head in the clouds I seem to have my feet planted in reality…It’s a sick world out there best bet is to keep in light because darkness surrounds us.

  14. Tom, you well captured the sense of panic and of the familiar so suddenly turned into chaos. Haunting, but a very good read.

  15. Tom PPPPP!

    Really well done my friend. The power of the emotions and the feeling of helplessness was deeply felt. I wasn’t in either situation except from afar, but I have been in some where to do nothing would drive me crazy! So even to stand in line for a few gallons of gas was better than nothing. So understood that perfectly!

    1. Jackie PPPPP,
      When Sandy was coming I bought myself a bottle of Vodka made myself a drink I called the Blueberry storm. I had plenty of ice for the fridge and just waited for the lights to go out. I made drink after drink until the blender could no longer work because of a lack of electricity. When they lights finally came back on some 9 to ten days later it was election day, without showering I went down and voted. I came back to Sabrina’s place and finally took a nice hot shower. I find it easier to be patient in times like that, for simplicity seems to be the key for me. Others have to do, do, do! Not me the doing is in the embracing of the moment…but to each their own.

      P.S. On 911 I went out and worked defiant of standing still.

  16. This left me breathless, Tom. So very well done. Tying in the two east coast tragedies in so few words was amazing to behold. My husband is from New Jersey, and even though I’m from Missouri, I was extremely saddened by 9-11 and Hurricane Sandy. I’ve visited Ground Zero twice to pay my respects.

    The Ash Lady is horrific to see. Poor woman. And the stories about people who just happened to not make it into work that day also leave me breathless and shaken.

    1. Beth,
      Thank you. The Ash Lady is a hard image to get out of the mind, haunting in so many ways. Somehow all the elements of this story came together…sometimes stories do that all on their own. It’s an odd thing.


  17. Wow, Tom – a lot of emotion and worry packed tightly in there. I especially liked the image of the sky empty of planes and full only of stars.

    1. Brian,
      That is what sticks out in my head about the day after 911. I never forgot how still the sky was that night and what seems like endless tears coming from my wife(at the time) on the couch. Thanks Tom

  18. Hi Tom,
    Beautifullly stated and you covered two tragedies with this one short piece. Very moving and emotional. Ron

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