Evacuation – the short story that I wrote during our real evacuation.

When they cancelled the New Orleans Bouchercon mystery convention, I decided to make the trip to my favorite city anyway. My new Vintage Cookbook Mystery series is set in the Big Easy, plus our daughter is a senior at Loyola University. And I’m a Tulane alum. So… research. Daughter. Friends. What could go wrong?


The trip started out so well. I got in Wednesday night and stayed at the French Quarter Marriott for two nights to show my support for the hotel, which had been extremely understanding re: the con cancellation. I met Eliza for dinner at one of my favorite hangouts, Napoleon House. I enjoyed a nightcap at the hotel with fellow visitors, mystery author Mary Monnin and her husband Bob.

How perfect is this artwork? So sad Bouchercon attendees couldn’t be in NOLA to see it.

Thursday was lovely. A morning visit to the Milton Latter Library book sale. Lunch at Commander’s Palace. A wander through the Garden District, where my new series takes place. An art opening on the Tulane campus – a friend had a piece in the show – and dinner with book blogger Debra Jo Burnette. And… the rumble of Ida’s approach.

By Friday, when I moved uptown to be closer to my kid, the rumble of Ida’s approach had turned into a throbbing drumbeat. I wanted to wait out the storm. My kid wanted to evacuate. Dinner with my mystery author pal Greg Herren was punctuated by more “should I stay or should I go’s” than you’d find in The Clash song.

We went. To Houston.

You can read the deets of our somewhat harrowing journey here. Since I articulated them in the post on my personal blog, I won’t repeat myself. Instead, I’ll share a short story the journey inspired. About five hours into our thirteen-hour drive, my poor kid developed a migraine. To entertain her – and keep my own panic at bay as we drove dark, deserted two-lane roads in an effort to avoid the standstill traffic of I-10 – I made up a silly story. A few days later, after the final leg of our evacuation brought us home to Los Angeles, I decided to commit it to e-paper. So, my Chick on the Case friends, I give you…


A version of the short story I (Ellen Byron) made up to entertain Eliza as we drove down dark back roads to evacuate from New Orleans to Houston

“We’re going the wrong way,” the unpleasant woman insisted.

“No, we’re not, Mom,” her ever patient daughter responded. “We’re going the right way. We’re trying to bypass the traffic on I-10.” She was convinced she’d made the right choice. With tens of thousands evacuating New Orleans, the interstate was more parking lot than roadway, so she’d made the decision to head north, then eventually drop down south and continue west to Houston.

The two drove on for a few more hours. Hills appeared in the highway topography. “Look.” The mother pointed to a cemetery. “They can bury their people in the ground here. That’s how far north we are. We’re above sea level. Houston is south of here. We’re going the wrong way.”

“No, we’re not.”

“Yes, we are.”

“No, we’re not.” The daughter counted to ten. “Why don’t you rest? Close your eyes. See if you can take a nap.”

“Fine,” the mother grumbled.

She closed her eyes. When she awoke several hours later, they were on a pitch-dark, two-lane road with not another car in sight. She gasped. “We’re going the wrong way!” This time she screeched it.

“We’re not. We’re headed south. We’re just away from all the traffic.” The daughter yawned. “I need a break. I’m going to pull over so we can stretch our legs. We’ve still got another couple of hours before we get to Houston.”

She pulled over to the side of the road next to a bayou, still and black. The daughter got out of the car and stretched. The mother, furious, also got out. She screamed, “We’re going the wrong wa—”

She never got to finish the sentence. A luggage strap wrapped around her neck. She fought for a minute and then went limp. The dead quiet of the night was punctuated by a heavy splash in the bayou.

The daughter got back in the car and maneuvered back onto the silent road.

“I told you we were going the right way,” she said with a sly smile to the empty seat next to her.


Readers, have you ever been through a traumatic weather event? Or has a real-life event inspired you to write?

23 thoughts on “Evacuation – the short story that I wrote during our real evacuation.

  1. We moved to Florida 4 years ago and after being here for 2 1/2 weeks Hurricane Irma struck. We were to go to a shelter so we packed up what we needed and our 2 cats. They don’t let the cats stay with you. There was no place for us to even sit never mind lay down. People bring these queen size air mattresses and hog all the space. We decided to go back home and ride it out. One of our cats has a medical condition and I couldn’t trust some stranger to take care of him. We did get some water in the house mostly just in front of the door so I piled a bunch of towels. We never even lost the power but the neighbors across the street lost theirs for 9 days. That was our Welcome to Florida.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Excellent story, Ellen.

    When I was in Puerto Rico doing cleanup after Hurricane Marilyn, another storm was headed our way. Evacuation plans were made to move us to the naval base, which had super-thick concrete walls. Fortunately, the next hurricane made a right-hand turn before it ever reached us. The locals were very calm, but I was not looking forward to experiencing that bit of island life.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Liz, how great you were helping out after that hurricane. And glad you dodged the bullet of another one. I’m dealing with that right now. There’s a storm heading towards Houston, where we left Eliza’s car. And she’s supposed to go there with her dad tomorrow to get it and go to NOLA.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So glad you and Eliza made it safely through the storm, El. If I had kept my Bouchercon plans, I would have been there in the back seat! Maybe I could have prevented that unfortunate luggage strap incident. Or maybe you both would have fed me to the gators…On to 2025!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. The big earthquake of 1989. Yup, that was somethin’. (Though it doesn’t really count as “weather.”) People around here still talk about where they were when it hit.

    Love the story, El! Ha! And I’m guessing Eliza does, too…

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Love the story, Ellen! Made me snort!

    We went through Hurricane Charly in Ft. Myers, 2004. Unable to evacuate because at that time, shelters wouldn’t allow pets, we decided to ride it out. After all, Charly was a cat. 2 storm headed toward Tampa.

    Two hours later, Charly became a cat 4 headed straight into Ft. Myers! Even our reliable weatherman looked pale and frightened.

    We gathered up all we could and headed to our master bedroom closet. Molly, our sweet little rescue terrier, got in her bed and slept for 6 hours. I grabbed a bottle of Amaretto and proceeded to drink the entire bottle. My adrenaline was so high, I barely noticed the alcohol.

    While waiting for Charly’s arrival, he, inexplicably bumped into Sanibel Island, turned north, then headed into Punta Gorda, 60 miles north. Our good fortune, their disaster.

    The next year we made plans to move to Atlanta. Planning for a hurricane every other week wasn’t for us.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. LOL Loved the story, Ellen. For me, having spent my childhood in Texas and then driving into tornado alley in Kansas to visit relatives, my weather events have all been tornado related. Had some near misses, but fortunately property damage has been limited to barns and sheds. It’s amazing how our home has survived when only about 100 yards from major damage. Very thankful indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great story, El! And I’m impressed you could conjure it under such stressful circumstances. I sing when I’m scared. So if I’d been driving, you and Eliza would’ve been ready to kill me!
    So thankful you two are okay, and hope Eliza’s car is okay, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yikes! Good reminder to not be a backseat driver.

    The one thing I was thinking while Ida is that it turned out to be a blessing that Bouchercon had been cancelled. It would have been a nightmare for all involved in that had been happening that weekend.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Horrible ordeal but FABULOUS story!!

    Other than snow, we don’t get much serious weather in my neck of the woods. However, I did experience my first and only tornado while visiting my grandmother in Albert Lea, Minnesota. While sheltering in her basement, a huge oak tree in her front yard was uprooted and tossed across her yard. It was terrifying and thrilling to 11 year-old me.

    I also clearly remember the eruption of Mount St. Helens, but that’s not really weather, even though it did “rain” ash in our town.

    Liked by 3 people

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