01 Feb Tales from a Rookie Storm Chaser Part 1
If you were to tell me a month ago that walking into a television station in south Nebraska would change my life forever, I probably would have laughed my head off.
I had rode the bus up from the state line on a Monday based off a bland newspaper ad no bigger than a baseball card.
Got storm footage no one else wants? We pay top dollar at Channel 46.
KTHU; the forecast is calling!
There was a little picture of a sun that was smiling and looked like it’s rays were branching off to form golden tentacles.
Below that was a phone number and an address to someplace called Emerald Bay, Nebraska.
Something about it felt off, besides the obvious. Like someone had placed it there for me to see.
See, since I was a little boy I have always had a fascination with the elements that I can’t really explain. Out there amid the thunder and rain, you lose yourself. Call me a dreamer if you want, but I have always felt a connection to Mother Nature that others haven’t. And in a storm, facing life and death… I can’t really describe anything more exhilarating.
Storm chasing was my calling, just like the ad said. And thanks to some amazing footage I had managed to snag over spring break, this seemed like my golden ticket into the business.
So after several false leads and misdirection, I finally figured out where the town was at.
Despite its name, there is no body of water near to Emerald Bay. In fact the only thing that it seemed to have an abundance of was rundown cars just sitting in the street and closed down storefronts that now served as shelters for the homeless and the vagabonds.
Everything about the place felt off to me. Especially because there didn’t seem to be any broadcasting towers in sight.
I made my way to a diner near the main thoroughfare, hoping to get some information.
Of all the buildings so far, it was the cleanest and that wasn’t saying much. There was grime on the floor, mold on the ceiling and smoke stains on the walls.
I tried my best to hold back a gag at the smell and walked up to the counter to ring the bell.
While I waited, I glanced at the breakfast menu and casually saw that Channel 46 was on the tv hanging above it. Strangely there didn’t seem to be anything playing besides the test signal.
“Can I get you some coffee hun?” a voice asked breaking me from my distraction.
When I turned I found myself staring at an elderly woman wearing what looked like a rain smock made in the fifties.
Besides her bizarre clothes, the most notable feature about her was the fact that both of her eyes had scars running across them; like someone had deliberately made her blind.
“No… uh… I’m actually looking for something. Do you know where Channel 46 is stationed?” i asked gesturing to the tv.
“Whatcha going out there for?” she asked as she went ahead and grabbed a pot for me.
“I’m a storm chaser. Or at least, I want to be.“
“We get a lot of those around here,” she agreed absently as she looked toward the road like she was thinking of something.
Won’t be long another will roll in. Always does this time of month.”
I grabbed the remote and started flipping channels to see if any other signals were coming in when the old lady grabbed at my arm, her glazed eyes filled with fear.
“Don’t turn that off.” She snatched the remote away and muttered, “Have to listen for the weather. You can’t go out in a storm. Not here.”
I looked toward the clear skies. “Forecast looks clear to me. Maybe I can get to the station before it hits?“
The old woman looked blankly at me for the longest time.
“Sure. Of course you can. I apologize for that.” She started to wipe the counter furiously.
“Yeah… so, where is the station anyway?“
“You can find KTHU on the outskirts of town, near a group of hills that cast a shadow over any road that led you toward it,” she said as she went back to her kitchen.
I meant to tell her thanks, but she had already disappeared from sight.
Since there didn’t seem to be any running taxis in Emerald Bay, it looked like I was in for a long walk into the middle of the woods.
To make things worse, a soft icy rain began to fall just like the old woman had predicted. The tree cover was just enough though where I knew I wouldn’t catch my death of cold.
Once I got to the foothills, the broadcast station stood out like a sore thumb.
There was yellow graffiti on the outside of their building which looked like it had been on the brick longer than anything else. The roof was slumped in and the windows that weren’t smashed were boarded up. Even the letters for the call sign on top of the building weren’t working, just a flicker of their former selves gently illuminating the foggy woods that shrouded it on all sides. If there was a poster child for forgotten and abandoned television networks, it would probably be in the top three.
Upon entering, a short blonde receptionist popped bubblegum and asked me what I was there for.
I showed her the newspaper clipping and she buzzed someone on the intercom to come up and walk me to the back.
A few seconds later, an imposing older black gentleman walked through a set of double doors and gave me a once over.
“You a cameraman?”
I swallowed hard and responded. “Yes sir, I’m Dillion Pruitt, sir. I’m from…“
“Come with me, thanks Nat,” he ordered waving to the receptionist and walking off before I got a chance to even give him my well prepared speech.
Ten minutes later, I was fidgeting with the tape I brought in my right hand and biting my cheek when a young reporter walked past and started pouring some coffee.
I think I noticed her because of her age. Here was a girl, probably about my age able to lead the life that most only dreamt about. It made me jealous to think that she probably had experienced more adventure than my whole college class combined.
The girl noticed me too. Well, she noticed the old VHS I was holding and asked about it.
“It’s for Mister Kearny, from the F4 we had back at the end of March,” I told her.
Her ears seemed to perk up.
“You a chaser?” she asked.
“I hope to be.“
“Well… The boss is kind of busy. If you want, I can take a look at it to tell you if you’re wasting your time or not,” she said.
I hesitated, surprised by her sudden interest in my footage. But I was too exhausted from the trip up to think of a reason not to give it to her.
“Wait here,” she instructed me.
It was probably only twenty minutes she was gone but it felt like eternity.
When she did return, a stout looking man was at her side; looking anxious and excited all at once.
“Young man! Are you the one that brought us this footage?” he asked.
“Yessir…” His sharp voice intimidated me.
“Where did you get it?” the girl snapped. Her brash words made me even more nervous, like I was being tested.
“During that F4 back in March, I was on the 330.“
“There’s no way anybody could have got this footage. Too dangerous,” the stout man proclaimed and then added with a fluster, “We need to run this by Martin. Have him check for any discrepancies.”
“Hold on,” I said as I stood up. “That belongs to me.“
The girl let out a sigh and took out her checkbook. “All right. How much?”
“What? I don’t want your money. I want a job.“
Her laugh echoed down the hallway this time.
“You’ve got guts. I will give you that. Trust me, you want to walk away from this. So… how much or do I just leave it blank?”
I looked at the stout man to see if this was some kind of joke. But it was clear she wasn’t budging. Neither was I.
“Mister Kearny will be the one to decide what to do about my footage,” I told her sternly.
She gave me another glare like she was about to slap me. Then a smile crossed her face.
“All right, wise guy.. have it your way. I’ll have my dad look at it right away.”
As I took a moment to register what she just said, she snatched an old walkie-talkie off a shelf and shoved it into my open arms before disappearing into the office doors just past me.
The stout man shuffled his head and mumbled an apology, “Sorry about that. Olivia tends to be a bit of a hot head. Comes with being the boss’ daughter, I suppose.”
That explained how she was able to get a job here so young. My jealousy actually felt justified.
“What’s this for?” I gestured toward the walkie.
“Set it to frequency two, when Mister Kearny makes a decision; Liv’ll call you on there,” he explained.
“Do you people not believe in cell phones?“
“Phones calls interrupt signal,” he muttered as I strapped the walkie to my belt.
“She’s right you know.”
Now the stout man was standing right in front of me.
“You should take the money and walk away. No one wants to work here. Her least of all.”
Naturally after my little encounter at the diner, that piqued my interest.
“I don’t have anywhere to go. Nothing to lose. I’ve been to the bottom. Nowhere left to go but up.“
He gave me a lopsided smile. “You remind me of myself when I was younger. What did you say your name was?”
“Dillion, Dillion Pruitt,” I told him.
“Jim Laschar, I’m the chief science officer to this whole shindig, put’Er there,” he said as he gripped my hand and shook vigorously.
It felt like he was going to rip my arm off to be honest.
Once he was done and I stretched my hand a bit, I decided to start asking some questions of my own.
“How long have you been with Channel 46?“
“Huh. Probably nine years now. Since Liv was a teen. Or maybe she was ten? Kinda hard to remember. I still can’t believe we’ve been in business this long,” Jim answered.
“You… like the job?“
“That’s a joke right? Have you looked around kid? This place is a dump. We’re the rejects. Heh. From the looks of you, you’ll fit right in.”
That made me look down at the carpet in embarrassment.
Jim rubbed the back of his neck as though regretting his words and then glanced toward the office door.
“Look… they’ll be in there for a while. Mister Kearny is very particular about this kind of stuff. Why don’t you go get some rest?”
My face was red now.
“I, uh.. I don’t have… anywhere to go…“
“Oh shit. Sorry.” Jim mumbled something under his breath and reached into his pockets to give me a wad of cash.
“Take this. Should be enough for the motel..”
Just then the black man I met earlier stepped through the doors wielding a camera on his shoulder and some sort of spherical metal object under his other arm.
“Hey Martin, you about to head out to meet Caleb?” Jim asked as he walked past us.
He paused in irritation, clearly having other things on his mind and muttered, “Kind of busy. What is it Laschar?”
“This young man could use a lift to the Bad Moon Motel. Think you could help out?”
Martin shook his head and looked at me and then grunted, “Storm’s rolling in. Don’t need to be going anywhere.”
“The motel is still in the safe zone. If you leave now, you should be fine,” Jim suggested.
Both of them seemed to be sharing a private conversation silently as I stood there awkwardly.
Martin sighed and pushed the back door open with his foot. “Come on then.”
I jumped, said thank you to Jim one more time and then ran toward the parking garage behind Martin. A few moments later I was helping him put the equipment into one of their bulky vans. It had the broadcast logo on the side and was entirely painted a bright yellow. Like a school bus.
“Aren’t weather trackers normally painted white?” I muttered as I got into the passenger seat.
“Anything about KTHU seem normal to you?”
I had to give him that one. The short drive to the motel was filled with awkward silence except for the occasional bump in the road and a rumble of thunder. It felt longer than any leg of this journey had so far.
Finally he slammed the brakes in front of the cheap motel on the outskirts of town.
“This is you.”
“Thanks. I guess I’ll see you in the morning.“
Before I stepped out of the van, Martin grabbed my arm and made me look him dead in the eye.
“You’re really set on joining our crew huh?”
“I wouldn’t have come all this way just for a few bucks, if that’s what you mean.“
“Can I give you a piece of advice?” Pat asked. He didn’t sound as mean anymore. It almost sounded like he was genuinely concerned.
“If you’re going to tell me to ditch town, it’s not happening…“
“Nah. You’re too stupid to listen to common sense. But maybe you’ll hear what I got to say about the storms in these parts.”
I turned toward him, excited to hear more. “I’ve heard the weather can be pretty wicked. Hailstones the size of golf balls in the spring. Tornadoes in the summer. Honestly it sounds right up my alley, pun intended.“
“You haven’t heard shit. The storms out here ain’t normal, son. You know why you couldn’t find Emerald Bay on a map? Cause people who come here die. They die and it’s always for the same reasons. The storms roll in and they bring something sinister with them.”
He had a wild look in his eye. It reminded me of the lady in the diner. It was enough for me to not question his word.
“There’ll be one tonight. So listen close if you do want to live. You’re gonna go inside your room, lock the door. Close all the windows and don’t come out until it passes through. That’s important. No matter what you do, don’t go out in a storm. And for the love of god don’t look at it! You hear me?”
I nodded frantically as he pushed me to the curb and added, “One more thing. Keep your TV on Channel 46. No matter what.”
A little voice in my head told me that he was just trying to scare me. After all, if he’s the veteran cameraman on the crew; new blood like me might be considered a threat. But another voice, nagging at that unease I had felt since arriving in Emerald Bay; told me to listen.
That voice grew louder when I walked to the motel office and found the young man running it had the same scars on his eyes as the woman in the diner.
“You looking for a room?” he asked pleasantly.
“Cash or card?” he asked as he took out an old ledger from under the counter. There weren’t any other names on it.
“Cash. I uh.. I brought forty.“
Despite his disability, he was able to take out the exact change I needed from the register and then passed me the correct key card.
“Number 11, on the end. Enjoy your stay,” he told me.
I spent the next two hours looking out toward the town and seeing the storm clouds grow bigger. It did look pretty deadly, and Martin’s words kept ringing in my head.
Despite my better judgment, I went ahead and closed the blinds and locked the door. Then I found the tv remote and switched it over to Channel 46.
Once again, nothing besides the test signal came through and it was so loud that I immediately reached for the dial and switched the set back off.
Over the next few hours, I tried to get some sleep, but I’ve always been something of a lightweight and as the rain started to get heavier I found myself instead listening to it beat down outside.
Amid the strong rain, I heard what sounded like shrieks. It was this low guttural noise that a wild animal makes when beaten by a whip, that’s the best way to describe it.
Car alarms went off. Rumbling noises and tremors shook the motel like a leaf. While distracted by the noises outside, I heard a raspy voice at my door and spun around to hear someone desperately trying to open it.
Instantly I leapt to the handle and pressed my body against it. “Who goes there?” I asked.
“Let me in. Please. You have to help me!!” it sounded like the old woman. She was scratching at the wooden paneling, crying. I kept hearing the storm rage on. I hesitated. Something about her voice sounded off.
“It’s getting closer… please.. I’m begging you…” She was trying so hard I thought she might break the door down.
“I’m sorry… I’m sorry but I can’t…” I told her.
Suddenly her desperate cries for help turned into outrage and feverish clawing. The door began to splinter and I ran toward the dresser. It took all my strength to push it. And even then I wasn’t sure it would be enough to stall whatever was on the other side.
I closed my eyes, listening to the thrashing and praying I made it through to morning.
Above me, the shrieks caused the electrical fan to short and darkness covered the room. The wind was picking up and the whole motel felt like it might cave in. Quickly I snatched up the remote and used the light from the tv to see as she finally broke open the door.
But what stood there was not a human being at all. Her lower body was stretched out like a snake’s with long jagged legs skittering inside as the storm raged louder. Just as she was on top of me, her mouth stretching open to reveal rows of tiny little sharp teeth, the broadcast from Channel 46 began to play.
The snake woman stopped in her attempt to swallow me whole and hissed loudly as the test signal grew louder. I kicked at her face and slammed what was left of the door shut on her as she slithered away. After another moment, the thunder stopped and the air outside began to fall silent until at last nothing remained but that one high pitched sound.
I collapsed on the floor of my room, covered in sweat and confused. Then the walkie on my belt crackled to life. But instead of a voice it was a series of chirps. It took me a minute to recognize the pattern.
>Job is yours.
>If you still want it.