01 Feb Tales from a Rookie Storm Chaser Part 2
Morning light crept its way into my room less than an hour after I got the message from Olivia Kearny. I probably stared at the note I scribbled for the longest time though, trying to decide whether or not I was in or out of this mess.
Then, before I knew it there was another rap at my door.
“It’s… it’s open,” I muttered. Somewhere between the hours I had managed to stumble back to bed and get sleep. I heard the door crunch, then the newcomer pulled at the blinds and made a loud popping noise right over my head.
Shielding my eyes from the sun, I sat up and found myself staring at the young blonde from the station.
“Rise and shine,” she said, popping her bubblegum again and tossing me some clothes. “Take a shower and put those on. Meet me outside in ten.”
After stretching and letting her leave, I took a minute to peek out the blinds and see what sort of damage the storm had done to Emerald Bay.
Much to my surprise however, the ghost town looked no more desolate or rundown than it had the day prior.
It made me wonder if whatever I had heard and seen the night before was some sort of smoke and mirror set up by KTHU. Was the old woman an actor in on whatever scam they were pulling?
The reason for this doubt is because before I came here I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of that call sign before. Just like Emerald Bay, it doesn’t seem to exist anywhere, not even in the corners of the dark net. How did Channel 46 remain that much of a secret?
After a quick shower, this doubt I I felt that they were hiding something only grew when I saw the impressive outfitted Hummer the girl was driving. There was no way a place like this could afford something like that.
“Busy day today, let’s grab a bite to eat before we head up to the station,” she suggested as she revved the engine.
I tipped my head to her with a polite smile. “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced miss…“
“Natalie Castello. But you can call me Nat, everyone does. Astronomer and mathematician. Welcome aboard newbie,” she said with a giggle and then sped down the road.
“How long you been with KTHU?“
“Six months. Nice to finally have some new blood. I just hope you last longer than the last cameraman.”
That gave me pause.
“I take it you seem to have job vacancies often?“
“Nick was a good one. I really thought he would make it,” she admitted as she turned the corner and started rambling; “You know the way I see it the boss should be more open with y’all about what we’re up against. It’s not like telling you is gonna change nothin’.”
She spat out gum and pulled up to the front of the diner. “Nobody listens to me anyway, except for Martin. He still remembers what it was like, before all this.”
I kept quiet, too afraid that if I interrupted she might second guess what she was saying and we walked inside.
Unfortunately my hopes of the conversation continuing were dashed to pieces when Natalie saw the diner was full of customers.
All of them seemed to be of the same breed, long faced and bulging eyes and their skin showed signs of severe dehydration.
“Where did all these people come from?” I muttered as Natalie grabbed my shirt and whispered, “Stick close to me.”
We walked up to the counter and she rang the bell, glancing nervously up toward the tv monitor. It was blank.
From the back the old woman appeared and offered a blank stare to both of us.
“Morning Maggie, something wrong with the set?” Natalie asked with a tense smile.
“Storm knocked out the power. Must have blown a fuse cause it hasn’t been working all morning,” she said dismissively as she got out her pen and paper and asked for our order.
Natalie stood back up. “You know what… I think we’ll just take a rain check on that Maggie. It’s the new guy’s first day and he probably shouldn’t be working on a full stomach…”
She grabbed my arm and turned to leave, bringing us face to face with one of the odd townsfolk.
“What’s the rush?” the fellow said with a wide grin. It looked unsettling. “Stay,” a second person insisted and pushed us both down on the shoulders.
“You can’t leave,” the first agreed.
“Natalie… what’s going on?” I asked, still trying to determine if any of this was real or not.
Suddenly others in the diner started chanting the same three words.
you can’t leave you can’t leave you can’t leave
Natalie reached into her purse and grabbed the keys. “On the count of three we’re gonna make a run for it,” she told me.
“What?” their chanting was getting louder.
They were all standing up and staring at us, looking dead eyed.
“Two…” “Natalie I think we should…“
But before I got the words out, she yanked at my hand and we dashed toward the parking lot. The crowd was on us, snapping their mouths like piranha as we pushed to the door.
Out in the parking lot, Natalie clicked the doors open and shouted for me to get inside.
As I saw the townsfolk begin to scramble out of the diner like a flood, I didn’t have to be told twice.
Cranking up the engine, Natalie instantly put the Hummer in reverse.
“Buckle up,” she warned me.
A few of the patrons from the diner were weaving their way into the road, but that didn’t stop her. I let out a gasp as she plowed the vehicle into the first one and then picked up speed.
I gripped the seat and looked back toward the pedestrian we had just run over, only to find he was already standing back up and staring at us ominously.
“There’s a walkie in the center column. Switch it over to frequency 2,” she ordered as she made the next block.
I opened the middle console and reached for it, a burst of static filling the air as I saw more of them rushing toward us faster than wild dogs.
“Nat; this is only meant to be for emergencies…” that was Martin’s voice.
“Martin we’re coming in hot, get the garage open now,” she ordered him.
“Shit. Seriously?” the black man muttered as she stepped on the gas and passed from the city streets into the backroads.
The strangers were still coming though, running down the trails like a flock of angry zombies. Shrieking and hollering as I spotted the gate to the station.
“Hold on,” Natalie ordered as she twisted the steering wheel hard, another attacker knocked aside.
We drifted straight through the old metal doors as she slammed on the brakes and I heard the townsfolk begin to beat down on the station, desperate to get inside.
I fumbled out of the car and watched as they kept scratching at the metal with their bare fingers until at last; a strong deafening noise emerged from all throughout the station.
The strangers began to thrash and bang their heads against the glass, angrier than ever before. Then they all collapsed onto the ground, writhing and shrieking mindlessly.
Natalie grabbed my arm and pulled me inside as Martin closed the garage up completely.
“What the hell Nat? They almost breached us that time!” Martin muttered as we walked quickly down to the control room.
Jim was inside handling the controls, watching the monitors as the group of thirty something individuals kept flopping about on the ground like fish out of water.
“I’m sorry… I’m sorry. I went to grab Dillion and… I thought we had time to grab a bite to eat…” she said anxiously.
“Goddamnit girl, you know not to go into town after a storm!” the black man said as he paced the room and then turned to Jim. “Is it working?”
“Give it a few more seconds,” the stout man replied as he looked toward my face.
“You okay son?” Jim asked with a smile.
I clenched my fists, looking from Natalie’s pale face to Martin’s stern one and then muttered, “I would reallly appreciate it if someone told me what the hell is going on around here.“
A few seconds later, the townsfolk stopped shaking. Then I heard a door slam behind me and Olivia entered the room.
“That should be good Jim,” she said.
The stout man reached toward a control panel and the sharp noise stopped, leaving the room silent except for the awkward tension between the group.
“What the hell happened?” Olivia asked.
“It’s my fault… I didn’t know the power would be cut. I just wanted to grab a bite to eat…” Natalie fumbled over her words and the younger girl sighed irritably.
“We’ll deal with that later. Go watch the phones or something. Jim, start up the generator. Dillion, you’re with me.”
I blinked a few times and then followed her down the hallway wordlessly. I was too anxious and excited to meet her father to ask any more prying questions about the things I had just seen.
After a short brisk walk, she knocked on the door and a raspy voice shouted, “Come.”
She pressed the metal frame open, making it give a sharp creak and then we found ourselves standing in a smoke filled room.
Amid the clouds of cigarette smoke, sat an older balding man wearing square glasses and a pressed suit.
“Did the signal push through?” the man asked, his attention completely focused on Olivia.
“For the most part. But there’s a problem at the diner again,” she said.
“I heard,” he said taking another smoke.
I coughed softly, and his eyes briefly flickered toward me before going back to his daughter.
“Make sure the back ups are online. And dock Natalie’s pay by a week,” the boss decided.
She nodded and stood there for a minute before gathering that her father wanted to talk to me alone and then left the room as quickly as she had come.
“So you’re the chaser,” the old man said dryly, reaching into his pocket to grab a lighter.
“Yes sir. Dillion Pruitt,” I said extending my hand to him. But he left it lingering in the air as he put out the cigarette and muttered, “Olivia tells me you had to come quite a ways to reach us.”
“I’m originally from Missouri sir,” I told him.
“Well, Dillion Pruitt from Missouri, I hate to break it you but we’re not hiring right now,” he said.
“What? But the ad-“
“Said we were looking for footage, which we will compensate you for and give you enough extra to make it back home,” he said as he reached for his checkbook.
“I told your daughter I didn’t want your money.“
“Maybe not. But I’ll give that to you and something more. This contact info is the best way to get yourself a job at any news agency on the east coast. You’ll be able to pursue your dream of chasing death anywhere you want,” Mister Kearny said sliding the info across his desk.
I took a look at it, having no doubt in my mind that it was a legit offer. But instead I simply passed it back to him and replied, “I appreciate the offer. But after everything I have seen these past few days, I’m afraid I’ll have to decline.“
He nodded absently, tapping the business card on the desk before commenting, “Who did you lose?”
“Nobody chases storms with a zeal like this except for one reason and one reason alone. You lost someone in a storm. Someone close.”
I opened my mouth to make a reply but before I got the chance, another person slammed on Mister Kearny’s door.
“Sorry to interrupt boss, but I got a signal,” Jim said as he cracked the door open.
That was enough to make him sit up straight. “What? How?”
“Martin’s probe. Caught the tail end of it just outside the county line. Looks mighty promising,” Jim said excitedly.
Before Mister Kearny had a chance to respond, his daughter pushed the door open and remarked, “Don’t even think about it. We still haven’t heard from Caleb.”
“Who’s Caleb anyway?” I asked recalling the name as Jim spread a map out right in front of their boss.
“It’s all flatland out there. Should be a done deal, we could get in and out before anything went sideways,” Jim insisted, ignoring my inquiry.
“And who’s going to be manning this little expedition, Laschar? You?” Olivia snapped.
Jim rubbed the back of his head and muttered, “Look Paul, we might not get a chance like this for a good long while. Me and Nat can watch the base and we can do this. We have to.”
“There’s no way I’m leaving my father’s life in your hands!” Olivia snapped.
“Enough!” Mister Kearny said sharply as he looked at the chart and then toward me.
“You familiar with these roads, Pruitt?”
I glanced at the map and nodded, “Yeah. I could get you there no problem.”
“What? You can’t be serious,” Olivia said as her dad grabbed something from under his desk and then leaned on it to stand up.
It took me by surprise as I saw him lean against a crutch and then realized his right leg was completely gone.
“Martin will have his hands full with the camera and I sure as hell can’t drive,” he said dryly.
The old man tossed a pair of keys to me and remarked, “Congratulations Mister Pruitt, it looks like you’ll get to chase that dream after all.”