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Owls, wooden reindeer and the ‘Staircase’ murder: Inside Larry Pollard’s quest to clear Michael Peterson

Inside the gates of the Durham estate where Kathleen Peterson lived with her husband Michael are a pair of Christmas decorations that could have led to her death: two white wooden reindeer with red ribbon around their necks.

The reindeer are part of attorney Larry Pollard’s theory that an owl attacked Kathleen.

The reindeer may have been stored in a nearby barn where the owls grew up, Pollard said, so the owls could have become imprinted and associated the reindeer with their mothers. An owl may have seen Kathleen as a threat to its mother—and pounced on her with its talons to protect its mother. Kathleen then could have run inside to the safety of her home before she fell down a staircase and died.

Pollard and his wife own the reindeer now. They bought them when Peterson had to auction off his belongings to pay legal fees.

In a trial that put Durham on the Court TV map just a few years before the Duke lacrosse case, Peterson was convicted of murdering his wife after the prosecution argued he beat her. Interest in the case and the owl theory has picked up after “The Staircase,” a 13-episode documentary on the case, was released on Netflix last summer.

Peterson served time in prison from 2003 until 2011, when a judge ruled that jurors were misled about blood evidence by one of the prosecution’s key witnesses. Peterson was granted a new trial but decided to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter in 2017 to avoid more prison time. The 75-year-old has continued to maintain his innocence.

Pollard, who still lives next door, says he has served as an attorney for Peterson on the case, submitting motions, although none have succeeded.

The owl theory has become Pollard’s obsession. Pollard said he has helped out Peterson without taking a penny.

“It says in the Bible to love your neighbor as yourself. If your neighbor needs help, help him.”

“Owls are mystical”

In his office with red and grey carpet and ceiling-high mirrors in the lobby, Pollard displays his degrees, owl books, stuffed owls, mannequin heads, life-sized marlins—and one cartoon that suggests he has a sense of humor about some of the criticism about the theory.

It shows Pollard standing at a podium with a flying pig next to him.

“If we learn it wasn’t an owl that killed Mrs. Peterson,” a portly caricature of him says, “we have an alternate explanation!”

Pollard, 70, has lived on the same street in Durham for his whole life. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his law degree from Wake Forest and has practiced law for more than 40 years, he says.

He attended the Northwestern School of Prosecuting Attorneys and became an Associate Attorney General in the Department of Justice assigned to the special prosecution division of the North Carolina Attorney General’s office, where he took part in trials and appellate cases.

He was Peterson’s neighbor for nearly 10 years, and while they were not close friends by any stretch, Pollard said Peterson was congenial and active. The last time he saw Kathleen alive, in late November 2001, she was walking off from Pollard’s house hand-in-hand with Peterson. Kathleen died Dec. 9, 2001.

Pollard first floated the owl theory when he saw Kathleen’s wounds on television during trial coverage—he thought they looked like talon marks. Owls were fresh on his brain: just over a month before, an ornithologist had brought birds of prey—including owls—to a family reunion to entertain the kids. While the ornithologist presented, other adults stood around socializing.

“I was sitting there watching and drinking my lemonade,” Pollard said.

He called up the ornithologist, who noted that owls have been known to attack humans. From there, he has talked to countless experts on birds and been an avid consumer of owl information, although his theory has not helped Peterson in appeals.

“People say that owls are mystical,” Pollard said. ‘When you hear them from the right, it means good things will happen. If you hear them from the left, bad things will happen.”

A look at the Peterson property—”Wonderland”

On a brisk fall day, Pollard, donned a dapper hat, a suit jacket, a vest and tie, and took me to the gates of “Wonderland”—the old Peterson home—to detail his theory.

We weren’t allowed inside the house—Biond Fury, a psychic and the current owner, didn’t want photographs taken on the property, Pollard said. Brenda Pollard, Pollard’s wife, tagged along, adding details at times—usually trumpeting Pollard’s work.

The house, which has changed owners twice, looks a lot different than it did when the documentary was filmed in just after the turn of the millennium. The pool, featured in many shots in the Netflix episodes, is empty.

When the Petersons lived there, there was no fence. After Kathleen was killed, the house became a marvel. People came from miles away to see where she had died, even cruising up the driveway to try and get a glimpse inside.

The residents after the Petersons, the man who co-owned Mad Hatter’s restaurant before selling it, put up gates that say “Wonderland” in gothic letters, plus a separate privacy fence, Brenda said. Now, another sign has been added that reads “NO TRESPASSING” in red lettering.

Larry Pollard in front of the gate to the estate formerly owned by Michael Peterson.

 

Elsewhere, fences may be normal, Brenda said, but not in this cozy neighborhood in Durham.

In their sprawling Southern neighborhood lined with oak and pine trees, it felt like Trump putting up a wall, she said.

“You just aren’t inviting,” Brenda said.

As we walked up the winding driveway towards the white mansion, Pollard pointed to an old wooden building between his property and what used to be the Peterson’s. It’s a barn where the owls probably roosted, he explained. His dogs used to bark at the owls constantly.

“I used to think someone was hiding in the bushes,” he said, but then concluded it was the owls.

They made their homes in the barn, the same one that the Petersons may have used to store wooden reindeer that they put near their driveway for Christmas. He still sees them fly around the property.

The Pollards bought the wooden reindeer from a public auction of the Petersons’ belongings.

His theory is that owls may have been confused by the wooden deer, which were stored in the barn. The owls, which are known to strike humans, may have associated those big eyes with their mother’s.

So Pollard theorized that when Kathleen came out front and adjusted the reindeer, the owls could have taken it as a threat to their mother. Blasted with floodlights from the front of the home, the glasses on her head may have also given off a flicker of white—a color owls are attracted to, he says.

Owls make mistakes for a number of reasons and don’t actively try to strike humans, Pollard said.

But Matt Larson, an owl researcher at the Owl Research Institute, told the 9th Street Journal that an owl striking Kathleen due to imprinting or the glint of the glasses would be unlikely.

Imprinting mostly influences sexual preference, Larson said. So if a bird of one species was fostered by a mother of a different species, it may prefer a mate from its mother’s species, or the one it imprinted to over its own species. Larson also said that he has never observed or heard of owls defending their parents from predators.

“Adult owls will often aggressively defend their nests from potential predators, including humans. But I’ve only ever observed this during the breeding season and around the immediate nesting area.” Larson said. “To my knowledge, chicks don’t defend their predators or siblings.”

As to attacking Kathleen after seeing the glint of her glasses, Larson said that owls could strike if the glint was prey, but they have excellent vision in low light.

“I’ve never seen an owl go after glinting light (or anything like it), but I suppose it’s possible,” Larson said.

Owl talons strong

The late-night timing also gives a reason why an owl might strike, Pollard said. The pool in the backyard is an owl “grocery store.” Small critters come out in the safety of night for water and make perfect snacks.

He believes that after Kathleen was attacked, she ran inside and tried to go upstairs. But after having taken Valium and had some wine, she fainted and collapsed, smearing blood on the walls of the staircase and leaving a layer of blood that later was found dry, he argues. She later became conscious and tried to stand up, but fell over again, hit her head and got knocked out again, Pollard says, pointing to a second wet later of blood and wound evidence. There, she bled to death.

He has studied owl talons and concluded that the wounds match up with the wounds the talons would inflict.

When owls strike, they grip at 280 pounds of pressure, while humans grip at just 28 pounds, Pollard said. Their talons strike in a unique way—the outside digits go sideways, peeling “the meat off the bone.”

“It’s like a spoon going through mashed potatoes or a box of ice cream,” Pollard said.

The wound is much different than what would have been inflicted by a fireplace tool, which was the prosecution’s theory.

A microscopic feather was also discovered in Kathleen’s hair—something Pollard said only owls have. He called it his smoking feather, although he has declined to conduct a DNA test on it.

“Why should I try to disprove my own case?,” he said. “The evidence is clear and convincing. It is circumstantial in some ways, but it is also factual.  When you use a medical examiner’s report, that’s a factual document. This is real stuff. When you use a trace evidence report, that’s a factual document. This is real stuff. It was all in there from the get-go.”

Carla Dove, a forensic ornithologist and Program Manager of the Feather Identification Lab at the Smithsonian Institution, said other birds have feathers on their talons, including golden eagles, but wasn’t sure if other birds have microscopic feathers.

Dove looked at microscopic photographs of the feather from Kathleen that police investigators discovered and signed an affidavit saying she could not identify which bird the feather is from.

One of the photographs wasn’t in focus well and key identifying features were not visible.

“The problem with the feather is that it’s only a partial barb,” Dove said. “It could be that it’s an owl or it could be that it’s a duck or some other bird that is used to stuff pillows or clothing. It was unidentifiable.”

Pollard: Follow the blood to prove the owl theory

Pollard keeps a diagram of the Peterson house in his office with red thumbtacks to indicate blood spots.

The prosecution argued Peterson beat Kathleen in the staircase and took the bloodied murder weapon out to hide, leaving blood droplets outside. No murder weapon has been found. The prosecution alleged it was a missing fireplace tool called a blow poke, but it was later found and had no blood on it.

But Pollard said wounds and the blood splatter are consistent with a possible attack from a bird of prey. There was not much blood higher up the stairs, mostly just splatter on the walls. He said that if it were a beating, there would be more evidence of blood higher up the stairs.  

In his office, which he called his “war room,” he demonstrated with a mannequin head how blood from a wound could soak hair and splatter the walls when Kathleen fell.

It’s a pattern he has observed as a hunter.

“Any self-respecting deer hunter in North Carolina will tell you a blood trail starts with one drop. It takes time for blood to come out of the wound, reach an edge and drip off,” Pollard said.

For Pollard, this was the culmination of an unusual combination of things, including his knowledge of brain injuries that came from his brother’s tragic death in a plane crash and his love for hunting.

“As corny as this sounds,” he said, “I’ve always thought there was something spiritual about this case.”

“Pure fantasy”

Some people think the owl theory is preposterous.  

WRAL-TV anchor David Crabtree, who covered the trial, called the theory “pure fantasy.”

Crabtree said when he walked into the Peterson house and saw the vast amount of blood staircase, he knew it was no accident.

“Larry Pollard is a great guy and a man of integrity,” Crabtree told the 9th Street Journal, but  “that owl theory is one of the most far-fetched things I’ve heard.”

Pollard has been subject to ridicule for his theory.

Pollard brought the theory to David Rudolf, Peterson’s defense attorney, just before closing arguments. But evidence had already been closed for the trial—and Rudolf had argued for months that Kathleen had died in a fall.

In hindsight, Rudolf noted several apparent inconsistencies with Kathleen falling. He said Pollard’s theory became more credible over time.

“I had tunnel vision,” Rudolf said at a talk Oct. 3 at Durham’s Carolina Theatre. “I had a theory that it was a fall, and anything that was inconsistent with that theory or might have been, I came up with my own explanations for.” Rudolf said the theory is now plausible.

After being skeptical at first, Peterson has also become a believer in the owl theory, Pollard said.

Pollard said he will continue to push to clear Peterson’s name—he says all he has to do is file evidence that a judge rules “clear and convincing.”

He owes it to his friend and neighbor. And there’s still a killer at large.

“On the day I die, I wouldn’t want my family to think, ‘well there goes the killer.’”  

Katie Nelson contributed reporting.

 

How a Durham taxi driver survives in the age of Uber and Lyft: personal service

It’s 9:13 a.m., and Ashraf Yousif, 43, is parked on Chapel Hill Road in Durham’s Best Cab Co.’s taxi #100. After an hour of waiting, he gets a request on his phone from an address he immediately recognizes. A student at Jordan High School. “He probably missed the bus,” he says.

Ash, as he prefers to go by, has been working as a taxi driver in Durham since 2005, after he immigrated from Sudan in 2004. He loves being part of people’s lives, a member of their community.

“You know everybody, find out everything. Who is pregnant, where people are traveling,” he says with a smile as we pull up to the rider’s address seven minutes later. A young man wearing a bright blue Duke hoodie and a backpack steps out—sure enough, he is the high schooler late for class that Ash had expected. He knows the boy’s parents, (“They’re Yemeni.”) and knows that they prefer their son take rides from a driver they trust, rather than, say, call an Uber.

This may be how the taxi business can survive in the age of Uber and Lyft.

Like other taxi companies, Durham’s Best Cab Co. has suffered from the rising popularity of ride-share apps. In the last five years, the company has gone from having over 60 taxi cabs to 31, and had to create their own app for calling and scheduling rides in order to keep up with the technological culture shift. Cab companies like Durham’s Best have found their niche by providing personal service to populations that desire special attention, such as immigrant families and young teens.

Today, prospects for the taxi industry across the country are bleak, but Ash’s dedication to his local immigrant community have allowed him to maintain success as a driver in Durham even after a few difficult years.

In order to stay in business, the company also had to take more serious measures to cut costs and stay afloat. “For two weeks, we were about to close,” Ash said, but then they outsourced their dispatcher system in 2015 and ended up saving thousands of dollars per month. Customers like the Jordan High student make survival possible.

A shift in customer demographics

Taxis still have unique appeal for families and seniors, largely because these groups tend to be more cautious about who they get into a car with.

“If you need to send your kids to school, or if you’re traveling somewhere and leaving your house empty for two weeks, you want to be in the car with someone you know you can trust, because you never know what can happen,” Ash says.

Since Uber launched its first smartphone app in 2010 (then named UberCab), there have been questions raised about how well the company can guarantee safety for its drivers and riders. The company’s image has been hurt by incidents of sexual harassment, drunk customers, and even scamming by drivers abusing the system. Ash and Durham’s Best say they offer a safe and friendly alternative for customers who might be particularly worried about their safety.

Uber has been a classic “disrupter” to the taxi business. Its presence in cities around the U.S. resulted in a fall in income of around 10 percent among taxi drivers and chauffeurs, though it has had a worse impact in certain locations. Los Angeles saw Uber and its younger competitor Lyft “deal a swift, brutal blow to the Los Angeles taxi industry.”

Ash, by catering to late-snoozing high school students, immigrant families, and cautious seniors, seems to be a survivor.

He has a wife and two young boys, and just got an IT certification as a systems administrator from My Computer Career, a computer training school in Raleigh. He says he got the highest grade point average in his class, and also had perfect attendance.

Back in Sudan, he obtained a law degree, and though he misses the practice he knows he will never be able to work as a lawyer in America because of the language barrier and difference in legal systems. He likes being a taxi driver, especially because of the flexibility it gives him and his family, since he can adapt his schedule to ensure that someone is always home to care for the kids.

He works every day of the week, but he spends a lot of that time in parking lots, waiting. It’s now 9:45 a.m., and he’s in another lot after having dropped off the Jordan student.

Not just a company, but a community of immigrants

Durham’s Best Cab Co. has its roots in Sudan. Most drivers and shareholders are also Sudanese, as the company was founded in 1999 by a group of immigrants from the North-African country who were working for ABC Cab Company and decided to start their own taxi service.

Ash belongs to a wave of Sudanese immigrants that poured into the United States between 2000 and 2010. The company’s founders arrived during an earlier surge between 1990 and 2000, when the state’s foreign-born population more than tripled.

Ash says Arab communities tend to be tight-knit and supportive, so it was natural place to start working at Durham’s Best shortly after he moved to North Carolina with his family.

Now, he is one of the company’s 31 shareholders, 15 of which are also drivers. If they are not from Sudan, they’re from Egypt, Morocco, or Syria. “The cultures are all so close. There are differences but it still feels like we are all at home, with the same traditions, the same religion.”

Finding stability in Durham

Ash is happy knowing that his customers trust him. They could be paying less for Uber but will pay the extra few dollars as long as he’s in the driver’s seat.

“This city is beautiful,” he says, looking the windshield at the color-changing trees. It is a chilly Friday in Durham, but the sun has emerged after several days of rain, and only a few slim clouds line the bottom of the bright blue sky.

He doesn’t seem to mind that his shift has been going for two hours, and he has only given one 10-minute ride that earned him less than twenty dollars. He says that Fridays are always particularly slow, but business picks up when it’s raining, when it’s extremely cold, or whenever there’s an event or festival.

Still, for all of its waiting and uncertainty, he loves this job. He does it because to him, Durham’s Best Cab Co. “is like a family,” and he is a valued member of that family, trusted with ensuring customers’ safety and comfort, assuring they make it to class – or wherever – on time.

At 10:52 a.m., Ash gets another ride request. He doesn’t recognize the address this time, but he knows how to get there.

Durham offering free bus rides to vote in midterm elections

Durham voters who still need to cast their ballots in Tuesday’s elections can get a free bus ride to the polls.

For the second straight year, GoDurham buses will be free while the polls are open, from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

The fare-free service was supposed to be approved during a City Council meeting Monday night, but a power outage at City Hall postponed the meeting until Thursday.

City Manager Thomas Bonfield told the 9th Street Journal that he approved the free service for Tuesday and the City Council will confirm it Thursday at his direction.

Scooters coming to Durham, but questions linger

A scooter swarm will soon be coming to Durham.

After weeks of deliberations, the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to regulate the use of motorized scooters Monday night. At least 100 Bird scooters will hit the streets once the company receives permits—although there could be more.

“It always depend on the size of city,” said Servando Esparza, senior manager of government relations for Bird. “Our deployments and growth are based on demand.”

Residents can “realistically” expect to be able to ride scooters in 2019, transportation planner Bryan Poole told the Durham Herald-Sun.

Many questions still have to be worked out, though.

Esparza couldn’t give a definitive answer on whether Bird would be able to accept Faith ID’s—identification for undocumented, Spanish-speaking residents, provided by

El Centro Hispano, a local Hispanic advocacy and social services organization.

That frustrated council member Mark-Anthony Middleton, who said he had pushed Bird representatives for an answer to that question during the council’s work session Oct. 4.

“This council was very concerned the accessibility of the scooters, and ID was one of those factors that could curtail access. A lot of people don’t have driver’s licenses,” Middleton said.

Esparza also said that he couldn’t give an estimate on when he would be able to provide the council with an answer. The ordinance does not have a requirement that permittees accept certain forms of identification.

“We have to continue to push vendors to make scooters as accessible as possible,” said council member Charlie Reece.

Companies will be required to drop a “sufficient number” of scooters within “low and moderate income areas…as defined in the permit.” The city will also require companies to accept diverse payment types, including methods for those without smartphones or credit cards.

There also had been controversy about whether scooters would be defined as mopeds under North Carolina law, but that was not resolved by the new ordinance.

Scooters may be deemed mopeds, which would require them to have license plates, lights and rearview mirrors. Bird and Lime bikes do not have rearview mirrors or license plates, but they do have lights.

The ordinance was changed to define the scooters as “‘vehicles’ (without reference to mopeds).”

However, it still requires the companies to “comply with applicable local, state and federal laws, including state equipment and registration requirements.”

Senior City Attorney Fred Lamar says that it is up to the state, not the city,  to regulate vehicle use on the roadways.

“We have not heard anything definitively from the DMV,” Lamar said. “There are lawyers that don’t think it’s a moped.”

The ordinance requires that riders wear helmets.

But it’s not clear how much the police will actually enforce that provision or any other aspect of the law. The police department said in a statement that it will “address violations of the law that present an obvious and immediate risk to public safety.

Addressing violations may entail notice to the Transportation Department so that it may pursue civil penalties against the business owners/operators,” the statement read

However, since scooter riders aren’t required to carry a license, the police department is limited in the type of citations it could issue. The statement continued, “ … the Police Department does not anticipate being the primary agent for the regulation of these devices.”

Although Durham’s ordinance only requires that scooter drivers be 16 years old, Bird’s policies require drivers to be 18 years old. The ordinance leaves the decision for any age requirement above 16 up to the company, Poole said—a policy Bird does not plan on changing, Esparza said, noting that in most cities, the age requirement is 18.  

The new ordinance also attempts to address the piles of scooters that may be left behind—something painfully familiar to what the city saw with Lime and Spin bikes. Companies will be required to move their scooters before they are parked in the same spot for 72 hours.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission noted in a Sept. 18 letter that the Transportation Department is planning to create designated parking spots for shared bikes and scooters.

The city will charge $1,000 for companies to apply for permits and will charge $100 per shared scooter that hits the streets. It also will charge $50 for electric-assisted bikes and $25 for bikes that aren’t blessed with electric assistance.

In Durham, protecting the bears and wolves from Hurricane Florence

Correction, Sept. 17: This story has been corrected to clarify that the museum has four red wolves, not two as originally reported.

Only a few at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham remember when Hurricane Fran hit: three staff members, a couple of turtles, and Misha the red-tailed hawk.

The morning after that 1996 storm, animal caretaker Sherry Samuels returned to the museum to find fences for several enclosures crushed by fallen trees and the bear house filled with water.

“I swam down a road rather than walked down a road. It was that much water,” she said.

The museum had no power, and only a fraction of the staff got to work that day.

The staffers who made it sprang into action. They drained the flooded enclosure and fed warm apples to the shivering bears.

Now, Samuels is the director of the animal department, and she’s leading the museum’s preparation for Hurricane Florence.

When the first forecasts showed Florence heading toward the Carolinas last weekend, staffers at the museum made 80 sandbags to stack in front of areas that might flood. They stocked shelves, inventoried medicines and began planning what to do with the animals.

Virginia, pictured here, and other bears at the Museum of Life and Science should fare better in this weekend’s storm because of lessons from Hurricane Fran in 1996. (Photo courtesy of the Museum of Life and Science)

“There are wonderful things about living in captivity: You get access to health care and food, but you don’t have space or the same choice, and in extreme weather, space and choice is critical,” she said.

Samuels said that this time around, the four black bears will be locked in their house. The lemurs and farm animals will also be kept indoors.

The museum’s four red wolves – two adults and their two juvenile pups – are her primary concern. They’re part of a breeding program to conserve the critically endangered species native to the southeast.

“The wolves are really nervous, shy animals, so it’s always a judgment call of whether to leave them where they are or crate them up and bring them inside, which is very stressful on the wolves and people,” Samuels said.

Before the storm hits, she’ll have to decide if they’ll stay in their six-acre enclosure or come inside.

When designing its new Explore the Wild exhibit to house the bears and wolves, the museum took into account lessons learned from Hurricane Fran.

The bear house was built on a site three feet higher, and the drains were revamped to better control flooding.

“Everything — from procedures to protocols to training to infrastructure — is all better now,” Samuels said. “Does that mean we’re going to ride out the storm and not have any issues? No, each storm has a life of its own, but we can try to prepare.”

Fearing power outages, Durham residents rush to library for old-school entertainment

“Tennessee,” a guide on the state’s attractions by Margaret Littman more than 500 pages thick, was at the top of Jeffrey Petrou’s stack of books as he left the Southwest branch of the Durham County Library Tuesday evening.

“In case we’re evacuating to Tennessee,” Petrou, a local entrepreneur, said when asked why he chose the book.

With the threat of power outages this weekend due to Hurricane Florence, a steady parade of Durham bookworms followed Petrou out of the library with their own stacks Tuesday evening. Most chose books more for pleasure than practicality.  

Real estate advisor Kelsey Berland chose 10 books, mostly novels, to prepare for a possible power outage.

Real estate advisor Kelsey Berland, 42, carried 10 books out of the library, saying she sought out “fluffy” page-turners like mysteries and true crime stories, including the late Michelle McNamara’s new book, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.” But she was most excited to open up Tom Hanks’ “Uncommon Type,” a collection of lighthearted short stories that all involve an antique typewriter — and yes, that Tom Hanks.

“I’ll go volunteer if I need to, but otherwise, it’s like, ‘Nope, I’ve got all my books at home,’” Berland said. “Somebody was telling me you should be ready for up to seven days of no power.” She seemed confident her 10-book stockpile would be enough.

Stacks of books even taller than Bertrand’s were common. Some patrons toted full bags of books in both hands to feed the whole family. Durham School of the Arts eighth grader Theo Reeves was weighed down by the stack of 17 he lugged alongside his mother.

The middle schooler came just to get the next novel in the series he is reading, “Darke” by Angie Sage. But he decided it was better to be safe than sorry and emptied the shelves of everything interesting he could find.

Retired talk radio producer Mona Gauthier followed the Reeves family out with just one paltry book, the detective novel “Nine Dragons” by Michael Connelly, and felt the need to justify her scarce supply.

Mona Gauthier chose a new detective novel to keep herself occupied.

“I already have five books at home,” she said. “I’m going to make sure I don’t get bored.”

Inside, librarian Larry Daniels said regulars were calling the front desk, wanting to renew their books for a little bit longer.

Thunder rumbled outside. A young boy shouted, “I can tell the hurricane is coming,” and ran out the door with his parents chasing after him.

The rain held off as the real storm swirled off the coast in the Atlantic Ocean. The boy was ready with a book in each hand.