Authors: Katie Kacvinsky
“I’ve never seen you like this,” he says.
“Like what?” I ask him.
“Irritated,” he says and drops my hand. “You never let anything bother you. It’s
Serena’s problem, not yours.”
“I don’t see it that way,” I say. “It
my problem. We’re family. This little baby is our family. Problems should never rest on one person. We’d get crushed that way. We all have to carry it now.” I look out the window at the green fields that tuck themselves under the cloudy horizon. “I’m mad because Serena is being so…,” my voice trails off because I hate saying the word. I hate to label my sister with such a terrible insult. I look at Gray for help.
“What do you think is the worst insult you can say to someone?” I ask
leans his head to the side while he thinks about this. “That’s a good question,” he says. “Dick licker is pretty bad. Uncle fucker hits low. Although, I’m more of a purist. I think a well executed mother fucker can always cut deep.”
give him a blank stare.
“I’m thinking more along the lines of
,” I say.
“Oh,” he says. “Yeah, that’s definitely insulting.”
“That’s my issue,” I say. “She’s not thinking about this baby. She’s only thinking about herself.” I look out the window and the sunset has dropped behind a wall of purple-black clouds. They glow with pockets of flashing electric lights. The spectacle matches the conflicting thoughts flashing through my head.
The horizon fills with clouds as black as soot and the sky is tinted a sickly shade of yellow. Thunder rumbles around us and the noise makes the car windows shake.
“I’m not a weather expert, but I’m sensing a very unstable air mass heading in our direction,”
Dylan says, looking out the window at the menacing clouds.
I play with the radio tuner, trying to find a local weather report. My hand flies off the dial when a piercing alarm fills the car speakers. It sounds like a nationwide alert that a nuclear bomb is heading our way.
A voice comes through the speaker and I brace myself for the news that the US just declared World War III, but instead a meteorologist lists all of the counties currently under a tornado warning: Polk, Fillmore, York, Hamilton, and Merrick.
My stomach knots and I hand
Dylan my phone. “Can you find out what county we’re in?” I ask.
She stares down at the touch screen like I just handed her a microscope and asked her to
map the human genome.
“You want me to what?” she asks.
“Check our location on the map,” I ask her and point to my phone. “See what county we’re in.”
“How?” she asks me.
“It’s one of the apps,” I tell her. “Haven’t you learned how to use a cell phone yet?” I know she bought a flip phone last spring.
“I’m still in training,” she says.
A shower of rain starts to fall in heavy sheets. A stroke of lightening flashes next to the car, answered by a crack of thunder and my fingers instinctively tighten around the steering wheel. I look out the window at green-ish black clouds racing low in the sky.
I glance impatiently at
Dylan and she’s scrolling through all the apps on my phone, fascinated.
“It’s like a journal,” she tells me. “What’s the Area 51 app?”
I rub my hand over my forehead. “It’s for extraterrestrial sightings,” I say.
“Really?” she asks. “You believe in that stuff?”
“No,” I say. “It’s just entertaining.”
She opens the app with the touch of her finger and starts scrolling through a featured story.
“What’s a USO?” she asks.
I sigh. “It’s an unidentified submersible object,” I say shortly and she gives me a confused look. “You know, like an alien submarine?” I say.
“Or the Loch Ness Monster?” she asks.
Rain is starting to fall so hard it sounds like it’s mixed with rocks.
“Dylan, focus!” I yell and point out the window. “Map. County. Tornado warning.” Lightening crackles around us and thunder shakes the car. The rain turns to hail. It hammers the rooftop like driving nails. It’s so loud I swear the windows are going to shatter.
I lean forward, trying to see out of the windshield.
Dylan sets the phone down and presses her palms flat against the windshield as if she’s trying to hold it up.
“It’s going to crash through,” she shouts and I agree with her. The hail sounds like a
stream of bullets hitting our car. I look at the speedometer and I’m barely going thirty miles an hour.
“We’ll be fine,” I say to myself and swallow. We coast down a blurry,
almost invisible road. The headlights carve a few yards of our path at a time.
A lightning bolt hits the ground with a cracking fizz and thunder screams with rage.
Dylan unzips her backpack and pulls out her camera. She unbuckles her seatbelt so she can turn around to face the backseat.
“What are you doing?” I shout to be heard over the hail.
“It’s one of nature’s greatest photo shoots,” she yells and looks over at me. “I didn’t know you were scared of storms,” she says.
“Not if I’m in a basement cellar. Driving through tornado valley’s a little different,” I shout as I struggle to keep the car steady on the flooding road.
An alarm warning wails again over the radio. As if I’m not freaked out enough, a man’s voice, sounding as dark and ominous as the Gatekeeper of Hell, reports that two funnel clouds have been spotted and one tornado touched down in York county.
“SEEK SHELTER,” the voice commands. I’m waiting for him to add, “OR ROT IN HELL.”
Shelter. I strain my eyes to see through the curtain of rain. All I see is darkness, as if the clouds have fallen on top of us, smothering us inside.
“I should pull over,” I say, and my foot eases up on the accelerator. I glance at the clock and it
’s only 9 PM. We’ve barely been driving for two hours. Operation Avoid Dylan Plan: Failure.
All of the other cars on the highway barrel along, seemingly unaffected, as if evening tornados are part of their daily work commute.
“Will you grab the wheel?” I ask Dylan. I pick up my phone and scroll for the map. The car starts to hydroplane and I grab the wheel back and my phone slips through my fingers, in between the car seat and the console.
Mother Nature muffles my curse with a lightning bolt and simultaneous burst of thunder. She must hate profanity. The storm is on top of us, like a monster crawling at us from the sky.
“Do you have a phone?” I ask
“It’s in the trunk,” she says. She rests a hand on my arm. For once, I’m not affected b
y her touch. Fear of death is great for defusing sexual tension.
Gray, we’re fine,” she says. The hail finally quiets down, replaced by a hard rain. I search for a green exit sign in the distance.
“I grew up around these things,” she says. “There are plenty of signs before a tornado hits.”
“Like what?” I ask.
“First, the sky needs to turn a yellowish-green color.”
I look out at the green tinted clouds. “Okay.”
“There also needs to be this creepy, foreboding silence that happens right before it touches down.”
I listen and it sounds like the rain is letting up. The wind gusts are subsiding. I can finally see the road clearly.
“Yeah?” I ask.
“Then, you see the funnel cloud in the sky. It starts to roll over on itself, spinning into a tight spiral just like a spider spins webbing around its victims.”
I stare at her. The image is absolutely terrifying.
“Finally, the funnel cloud turns into a twister and touches the ground,” she says easily, as if this science discovery conversation has nothing to do with our current scenario.
take my eyes off of the road to examine the sky for funnel clouds, so I’ll have to trust her on this one.
“And the last sign is, you hear the s
ound,” Dylan says. “It’s like a train. That’s when you know it’s time to run.”
I swallow. There is an undeniable roar behind us.
Dylan and I turn to look over our shoulders. In a streak of lighting we see a dangling twister in the distance.
We both scream and
Dylan lifts her camera and turns to record it and I see a green exit sign ahead. I step on the accelerator.
“You should never try to outdrive a tornado,”
“What’s our other option? Death?” I say. The rain starts to fall harder now, mixed with hail.
“Pull over into the ditch and let me get some really great photos,” she says.
“Forget it,” I say. There’s a light in the distance, a yellow light, and I pray that it’s a gas station. A gust of wind pushes against the side of my car and for an instant it feels like the tires have left the ground.
“The good news is they only last about a minute,” Dylan shouts over the rain and whistling wind.
“Thanks,” I shout back to her
as I try to outdrive the tornado on our tail. “I’m so happy to hear that.”
In the distance a single yellow light shines through the storm like a fallen star. It’s my only source of navigation.
The car wheels start to hydroplane again and I slow down long enough for the tires to catch the concrete. Dylan is still facing backwards, taking a photo documentation of the most terrifying moment of my life.
This is awful.
“This is amazing,” Dylan yells.
“Is it gaining on us?” I ask.
She shakes her head. “No, it looks pretty indecisive. It keeps going back and forth. It looks like it’s doing the twist. Haha, twister, doing the twist? Get it?”
I exit the highway and my car kicks up a spray of water at the stop sign. The country road is starting to flood, but I head for the
yellow light. As we get closer, a farmhouse comes into view. Lights are on inside and it’s all the welcome I need.
I turn onto the gravel driveway and the wheels kick up waves of water. I turn off the car and have to push my door with both hands to open it.
Dylan shoves her camera in her backpack and opens her door. I stand for just a minute and feel the odd vacuum of the wind. It’s as if the air is coming out of the ground, not from the sky.
I look for
Dylan and she’s standing on the other side of the car. She’s using one hand to keep the hair out of her eyes and her other hand is pointing up at the sky. I follow her hand and in the flashes of lightening I can see two tornadoes, far off in the horizon, dancing along the ground. They spin and twist next to each other like mad lovers. I can hear the roar of the wind, like the far-off whistle of a train. It’s strange to stand here, in the rain, and know that just beyond me the world is spinning wildly out of control. Being with Dylan is like that, always balancing on the edge of insanity, like riding up the slow climb of a roller coaster and waiting for the soaring ride that follows on the other side.
The wind starts to pick up and whip the air around us. I grab
Dylan’s hand before we’re yanked off the ground. We run for the porch light, our feet splashing in puddles the size of ponds in the driveway. We jump up the stairs and open the door to a screened-in porch. The door flies back so quickly in the gust of wind it nearly rips off its hinges. When we get to the front door, we don’t even have to knock.
A woman appears and smiles as if she was expecting us. She waves us inside and shuts the storm door behind us.
Dylan and I are both panting. Her hand is warm and wet inside mine. I hold it tightly, and have to remind myself to let go.