01 Feb Tales from a Rookie Storm Chaser Part 3
If I thought my time with KTHU was already strange enough then the items we loaded up for our chase were the icing on top.
Martin and I gotten thirty feet of rope and and three different compasses, along with enough food and fuel for a day and then electrical, computers and a spare tire. Last but not least were the weapons. Two crates of c4 and a couple of old hunting rifles and harpoon guns.
“Are we off to chase storms or do war?” I chuckled nervously as I lifted the last crate of wiring.
As we made it back out to the garage though, we were stopped short to find Olivia blocking the driver side of the weather van.
“If I can’t talk you out of going then I’m coming with you.”
Mister Kearny leaned against his crutch and muttered, “Out of the question.”
“You’re right, it is; cause if you don’t let me go I’ll cut your fuel line and then you’ll up a creek until Caleb gets back,” Olivia snapped back. Her father flared at her angrily, looking like he was ready to smack her face and said, “You wouldn’t dare.”
She got right in his face. “Try me.”
I held my breath, unsure what might happen next.
“Fine,” Mister Kearny decided as he took his crutches and slid them into the van as well. Then Martin helped him in and gave Olivia the stink eye as well.
“Hold down the fort for us Jim,” Olivia called out to the stout man that was checking the garage door for any breaches in defense. Then we were off.
“Quickest route is down the interstate,” Mister Kearny said as we got on the road out of town.
“Bad idea. We should take the 515. Get us there in half the time,” his daughter chimed in.
“The 515 takes us out of the way,” the older man snapped. Then they began to argue.
“No it doesn’t! They’ve opened it back up!” “How do you know?” “I was there a month ago with Caleb.” “You went without me??”
“Hey!!!” Martin shouted as we drove out of town. “I’ve got an idea.”
The two stared at him as we passed the motel.
“How about we let the new guy decide. Fair?” he suggested once he had their full attention.
Olivia glared at me, “Sure. Whatever.”
I hated being stuck in the middle, but it seemed like the best option so I checked the map again and then made a decision, “Olivia is right. The 515 will get us there quicker.”
Mister Kearny made a humph and then closed the little window between the back of the van and the front, leaving Martin and I a chance to finally talk.
It took me another two miles before I got the nerve to say anything.
“I never got a chance to tell you thanks, for the other night.“
Martin kept his eyes on the road and shrugged, “It wasn’t anything.”
“I’m alive because of you. Nobody else on the team saw fit to do that,” I told him.
“Hate to lose you before you even get started,” Martin muttered.
Behind us I heard the father and daughter begin to bicker again and I chuckled, “They always that way?“
“Didn’t use to be. Things changed after the mom left. Or so I been told. Wasn’t around for that leg of the journey.”
“What happened?” I whispered as we made our turn onto the open highway.
“The way Jim tells it, she was tired of this life. Of Emerald Bay, the storms, everything. But… Paul couldn’t give it up. He just couldn’t. So they went their separate ways…” he glanced toward the rear of the van and added, “It messed up Liv pretty bad. In fact I would say that she hasn’t been the same since.”
I nodded and watched as the miles flew back, considering everything that I had seen so far since joining the crew.
“This life isn’t for everyone I suppose. Not for a family anyway. I guess that makes us lucky huh?“
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Loners. We don’t have to worry about that sort of thing. Nothing between us and our dreams except the sky and earth,” I told him.
Martin clenched the wheel a little harder and didn’t respond. From what I gathered, I had said the wrong thing and the conversation was over.
So for the next four hours we listened to the occasional radio broadcast and followed the charts where the monitor took us.
Finally we reached a stretch of the 515 about 5 acres wide with nothing but green grass and power lines dotting the road.
“This should be a good spot, Martin,” Mister Kearny said. We parked a few feet off the road and then Olivia began to help her father set up a tripod while Martin checked the cameras.
The sky was so still and quiet, it was kind of hard to believe we were even tracking anything. In fact, come to think of it; I had checked my phone on the way out and hadn’t seen a blip on the Doppler. So what had we been following?
While everyone else got to work, I fiddled with the controls to familiarize myself with the van and how to handle it. I wanted to make sure I could switch between the gears and get us going at top speed if necessary. I didn’t want to come up short on my first chase.
Popping open the glove compartment, I saw a few stray papers and slid them out to take a look. Insurance and maintenance were pretty common, but there were also quite a few articles on missing persons. I recognized one of the names.
Nick Sanchez. Was that the same Nick that all of them were talking about?
“Dillion, can you check to see if the feed is still running?” Olivia shouted to me, breaking me away from my reverie.
I shoved the papers back into the glove compartment and nodded absently to her before giving the thumbs up.
Then my eyes turned to the horizon and I saw a rumble of lightning ripple across the distant clouds.
“There she is…” Mister Kearny said excitedly as he adjusted the tripod.
The clouds were rolling in rather fast, much swifter than I expected. And as soon as they crossed a patch of trees, several alarms on the computers began to go off.
The lightning began to stop and simmer in the clouds as all of us watched with bated breath. The air itself seemed to change and grow heavy.
Then the funnel began to form. Mister Kearny shouted excitedly and shouted, “Martin, start up the camera.”
“I think we should probably get back in the van…” Olivia said hesitantly as the sharp bursts of wind grew stronger and the swirling clouds grew more intense.
Suddenly, sky and earth met to form a tower of dust and debris on the horizon and a twister was barreling across the farmland.
“I need to get a good angle,” her father insisted as Martin got everything in place. Olivia ignored her father and pointed toward me. “Get ready to go.”
“Don’t listen to her!” Mister Kearny barked as the winds nearly pushed the tripod over. The funnel was right across the road. Maybe only 10 miles away.
“I think I’ve got the signal,” Martin shouted. The old man was staring toward the tornado with fierce excitement, waiting another moment until Martin confirmed it and said, “Yep. We’re locked on boss.”
That was all it took for the old man to finally listen to reason and get in the van.
“Drive Pruitt,” Olivia told me as Martin kept himself steady and the back doors open.
“Keep the speed steady, we can’t get too far from it,” her father added as I stepped on the gas.
The massive black and grey clouds swirled and destroyed everything in their path as we made it down the highway, Martin dangling halfway out the back to get the right shot for his boss.
“Anything?” Mister Kearny asked. The black man narrowed his eyes and muttered, “Too weak. Could be anything.”
“Damn it. Dillion take us closer,” the old man barked.
“You’re kidding right?” I asked with a surprised look on my face. Already powerlines were being snapped up like toothpicks to be pulled into the storm.
“This is what you signed up for isn’t it?” Kearny countered with a wicked laugh as the raging twister filled the air with its roar of devastation.
The choice was made for me a second later as some of the powerlines fell down on the road and I yanked the steering wheel hard to turn about. Now we were driving straight toward the funnel.
“Get in the fields, right alongside it,” Kearny said. “Dad!” Olivia said in surprise. “Martin, get the guns ready,” he said ignoring her as I picked up speed.
We were almost there. I felt my heart beat out of my chest as I pulled the van into the long stretches of farmland and the tires began to bump wildly. One little pitfall and we could go flying.
“I got it. We’re back in business,” Martin said excitedly as another computer screen lit up. The tornado was ripping straight toward our van.
“Open the hatch,” Mister Kearny ordered. His daughter complied and pushed the roof to the van open as he lifted himself up and yelled out, “Give me the gun!”
Martin was right there below him, loading the weapon and tossing it up as I clenched the wheel harder and prayed to God that we could make it past the funnel.
“Steady, Dillion. I need to get a clear shot,” Mister Kearny yelled. I must have given them all a look that showed how insane this all was but I didn’t say a word, I just kept driving.
Kearny pointed the rifle right toward the tornado as I felt the van bump and nearly lift out of the air. “I think we hit something,” I said as we kept wobbling on the right side. But he was ignoring me, and with a look of satisfaction on his face; he fired a shot straight toward the twister.
I heard a scream, it sounded like a banshee howling. It was coming from the storm. “Give me another. We need to make sure!!” he snapped passing the gun back to his cameraman. Martin loaded it up again and then looked toward me as I turned my eyes away from the road. “Dillion! Watch out!!”
I swerved to avoid a billboard, the van hitting stalks of corn as the tornado ripped the massive metallic structure to shreds and Mister Kearny clutched the roof. In those few moments I lost control of the wheel.
The storm was nearly right on top of us, one of the billboards pylons had come smashing down a few feet from the van as Mister Kearny climbed back inside and slammed the hatch shut.
“We need to get out of here, step on it Dillion!” Olivia shouted. “We’ve already blown a tire!“
“We’re so close!” Her father growled as the screaming grew louder. “I can do this!”
Before we got a chance to object, the backdoor to the van swung open and flung itself into the storm. It was barely hanging on. Then he raised the gun again, and fired another shot.
This time there was no mistaking the shrieks that we heard. A rumble filled the air. I saw streaks of lightning cross the funnel and something move from within.
“What the hell is that?” I shouted.
Suddenly more debris began to rain down on us as Olivia pushed my leg down and muttered, “Drive god damn it!!”
The other door to the van was flung open and dangling as well as we made it to the highway. Then from amid the storm something spun out and hit the road behind us like a rocket.
“I need the rope! Martin!!” Mister Kearny shouted anxiously. A moment later the two of them had prepared the harpoon gun and I watched from the rear view mirror as the thing from the storm began to move.
It was about the size of two grown men. It’s body was like that of a overgrown toad with its legs twisted backward and it had two extended arms that resembled that of a praying mantis.
Just as it stood up, I saw from its back long thin bony wings extend toward the heavens. Then it shrieked and it started toward the van.
“Don’t stop!” Olivia told me as I drove around the downed power lines. The damaged tire causing the van to bump and grind on the road.
The creature screamed and flew toward us with lighting speed. It’s long claws smashing against the road like boulders hitting the pavement and knocking up more debris.
Martin lifted the heavy harpoon gun and took aim. “I need you to keep straight!” he demanded. I clenched the wheel again, doing my best to comply as sweat rolled down my face.
Suddenly the creature was on the roof of the van, it’s claws smashing and thrashing at us like we were a tinker toy. I twisted the wheel to try and throw it off, our tires skidding and our vehicle went spinning. Martin dropped the gun and the massive flying monster slashed straight into his right shoulder.
The cameraman screamed out and Olivia fumbled to grab the harpoon gun as the creature shrieked and prepared for a second strike. It was all over in a matter of seconds. Olivia fired the weapon straight at the creature’s face as Mister Kearny let out a few rounds. It fell from the back of the moving vehicle with a thud.
Martin collapsed in pain in the passenger side as Mister Kearny shouted out a few colorful words in victory.
“Turn us back around,” he ordered. This time I made sure the look I gave him told him I thought he was crazy.
But just as I was about to make an objection I saw that the funnel cloud had dissolved. The sky was clear. All that remained was a path of death and a severely wounded monster.
I pulled the van up right beside it to get a good look. The thing had skin as grey as the storm, with strange rows of teeth where it’s eyes might have been. It had a face like that of an angler fish and a disjointed spine that seemed to not be fully formed. It was breathing in and out rapidly, the way any dying animal might.
Mister Kearny hopped out, chuckling to himself softly as he grabbed the other harpoon. Then he slammed the second sharp prong straight into the creature’s skull.
Once the monster lay still, he looked toward me and Martin and gave a nod of approval.
“Wrap it up boys. Time to go home.”