01 Feb Tales from a Rookie Storm Chaser Part 9
Driving out of Emerald Bay the second time for a storm chase felt so much different than before, given all that I now understood.
Especially when it came to the people who I now worked with.
Natalie was at the wheel, her trim figure looking so minuscule against the bulky frame and yet I had seen quite recently just what sort of fighter she was.
In the back Jim Laschar was watching the monitors, his eyes dashing back and forth between screens to get a better idea of where we were headed. To think of how many times he had been through this and yet he still always wanted more.
Then there was Kearny. Paul Kearny was standing up near the very rear of the long camper, staring toward the road that we had been on as he used the door to prop his body up. From this angle as the sun dipped low again over the horizon, he looked like a captain at the mast of a ship; watching the open ocean as his crew set out for adventure.
But this wasn’t an ordinary voyage we were embarking on by any means. I was beginning to get the feeling that we were the Pequod and he was our Captain Ahab.
The roads north of Emerald Bay were scarce with life or even crops. Just dead earth and scars that ran crisscross, making the whole place look like a barren waste.
According to Jim, we still had about thirteen miles to go before reaching the beacon. And the screen showed the storm was moving to the northwest, lingering near the mountains. Could that be where this supposed nest was they were so eager to find?
I didn’t know what to make of any of it, and from Natalie’s tense expression it seemed clear she was nervous too.
“Is this your first time out here?” I asked her as I came back from the mini-bar, offering her warm coffee.
She yawned and took it before saying, “No… uh. Actually my second. The first didn’t go very well…”
I placed my beverage down in the cup holder apologizing quickly, “Sorry, I didn’t know…“
“It was a winter storm. Strong south east winds moving across the Stateline that Mister Kearny wanted to track, and I wanted to prove I was valuable for more than just crunching numbers,” she said as she looked into the horizon distantly.
I didn’t say a word, listening as she recounted the experience.
“Back then, it was me, Nick, Caleb and of course the boss. We were in high spirits because Jim had just managed to figure out how to build a probe and it was time to go and test it on a live storm, the radar picked up some fluctuations and so we went without hesitation,” she clenched the wheel nervously.
“It was actually thanks to my astronomy that the probe even worked at all. I worked side by side with Jim. The math was perfect. Everything should have been perfect.”
I looked toward the road, the realization of what happened dawning on me. “Nick died, didn’t he?“
“The storm was too strong. The calculations were off. We couldn’t stand up against it,” Natalie said as she reflected on the event with a glazed look in her eye. “But Mister Kearny… he insisted we push forward. He refused to believe we could fail.”
I thought back to the chase a few days ago where Martin had been hurt and how Paul had acted similarly. Was he really so blind to this pursuit that he was willing to risk anything and everything for the sake of the hunt?
“I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have brought it up,” I admitted.
“It was right after that Martin and I got close. He told me there was nothing I could have done for Nick…” she paused and looked toward me. “I guess that’s just a forecast for our whole relationship huh?”
I leaned over and sipped some of the coffee.
“What made you decide to stay?“
“I guess the mystery of it all. What the storm is, and maybe a part of me wanted to fight back after what happened with Nick. Mostly it was Mister Kearny though. He was insistent that my concepts for the probe were spot on, and with more work it could be perfected,” she gestured toward the sky adding, “Six months later it looks like maybe he was right.”
She laughed nervously as we kept driving and I glanced back toward the rear of the camper where our boss stood.
“What do you think is keeping him here then? I mean, why is he doing all this?“
Natalie looked me dead in the eye. “Isn’t it obvious? Revenge,” she answered. I nodded, realizing she had come to the same conclusion as me. The storm had taken what he cared for most.
“I just hope that it hasn’t transformed into blind rage,” I said softly.
Neither of us said a word for a long time as we passed the next stretch of road and I spotted something off in the distance.
I leaned forward, seeing a glint of sunlight reflect off of the object and Natalie remarked, “That’s the beacon I think.”
I banged on the back of the camper to get the others attention. Kearny and Jim came up front as Natalie slowed the camper down.
“Good work. Looks like she’s still intact,” the old man said. Natalie pulled the camper alongside the highway and turned off the engine as Jim and I started to gather extension cables to reach the device.
“I’m surprised no one bothered it out here,” I said as we lugged the long cords over the grass.
“Not many people use these old roads. Lots of ghost towns out here,” Jim mused as he opened up the paneling on the side of the cylinder and punched in an activation code.
I looked about the barren land, spotting a few mountains off to the south; but besides that he was correct: there wasn’t a sign of civilization for miles.
“Come on, work dangnabit,” Laschar said smacking the beacon on the side.
“Problem?” Kearny asked as he gingerly walked over.
“It says it’s connecting, but I’m not picking up anything. Should be right on top of us actually,” Jim admitted in confusion as he looked up.
There wasn’t a cloud anywhere to be seen, nothing but clear skies.
“You got the coordinates right and you’re patched into home base?“
“Maybe that’s the issue.. I need to start running the algorithm for the triangulation…” he said as he rushed back to our vehicle.
Kearny was ruffling his hair and looking about. The air was colder and Natalie hugged at her body.
“Something feels wrong about this,” she muttered.
Laschar made it to the camper and turned on the equipment there as Paul kept scanning the clouds. “Hey Jim! Bring me a flare gun!” he shouted.
The stout man was back at the beacon in a heartbeat and passed the flare to his boss.
While Jim started working on the code, Kearny grabbed his crutch and moved to the side of th camper.
“Natalie, help me with this ladder,” he demanded.
I watched as the blonde pulled the ladder down and Paul climbed up on top of the camper. Then, using the roof satellite he pulled himself up and aimed the flare gun toward the heavens.
A second later he fired and the flare streaked upward quickly. I watched until it disappeared from sight and frowned. It exploded across the sky, revealing something hidden.
The empty sky began to swirl, pushing clouds together into a central mass. Then a streak of lightning burst across the newly formed storm as it kept growing bigger.
Jim hit the monitor again and said, “I’m picking up something now but it’s going to take a minute to transmit.”
I kept looking at the swirling clouds as they got darker and darker and the wind picked up.
“I don’t think we’ve got that long..“
A low deep noise boomed from the storm. It sounded like the waking of a mighty beast. Then, as I watched with morbid fascination; the clouds seemed to form the shape of an eye.
“I think we need to go,” Natalie realized as she saw it too. Meantime Paul was smiling but when he noticed our distractions he called out, “Dillion! Natalie! Don’t look directly at it!!”
I rushed up to the ladder and shouted back, “Sir, we need to move and I mean now.”
The equipment in the van was already registering wind bursts up to 33mph.
Lightning crashed down only about thirty feet from the beacon and Jim held his chest, frightened at the close proximity.
He quickly detached a flash drive from the device and rushed to the camper muttering, “I’ll compile it on the road.”
Paul was climbing down from the roof as the roads of the storm grew louder. Then the funnel began to form. It was larger than before, at least the size of an F3. The camper was rocking before it even touched the ground.
“Get in,” I said as I helped Mister Kearny inside.
Once the doors were shut Natalie wasted no time pulling onto the highway.
“Dillion, the camera. It’s the only way we can monitor that thing without it hurting us,” Paul told me.
The twister hit the ground to the east of us with a reverberating crash. With the speeds rising over 90mph on the equipment scanners, It could easily become an F4.
“Shit,” Jim muttered as I moved to the rear and got the camera ready. The back of the camper also doubled as a equipment carrier for the heavy camera so setting it up wasn’t difficult even as Natalie picked up speed.
I turned the lens toward where we had come from and watched as the massive tornado devastated the flat lands. “That thing is moving pretty fast…” I said watching it rip past us on the horizon.
Our equipment now rose to 150 wind speed from this distance. The storm pushed its way past us, striking against a body of water right off our view and I checked the maps.
“We need to turn around.“
“Are you crazy?” Natalie asked.
“It’s intercepting us,” I said as the funnel was moving toward a bridge we would have to cross.
“We’re not gonna make that,” Laschar agreed. Natalie pushed the camper to its limit. But it wasn’t enough. Almost 2000 yards away the mighty twister smashed the bridge apart like it was nothing. Concrete and slabs of pavement flew up into the restless cyclone in a matter of seconds.
Natalie slammed on the brakes and turned the wheel as sharp as she could, our tires skidding and avoiding some of the debris as we moved toward the side of the river.
I held the camera steady and heard the storm roar louder as more massive chunks of stone and cement flew past us.
One of the windows in the back shattered and our vehicle barely made the U-Turn, but somehow Natalie managed to keep all four wheels from lifting off the ground.
“Bloody hell,” Jim said as he hung on for dear life.
Soon we were speeding down the highway in the opposite direction. The storm was not far behind. At this point our equipment couldn’t even register the top speeds it was reaching but it had to be over 200mph.
Kearny quickly scrambled for a map. “We need to find shelter,” he muttered.
From behind us, the inhuman shrieks began to rumble across the storm and I watched several of the creatures burst out of the tornado and fly across the heavens.
The whole sky was alive with this storm’s fury as I kept recording. I briefly glanced away from the lens to get a better look with my own eyes, only to find myself covering them as a direct glance was like staring at the sun. It hurt so much I had to turn away and cuss softly. It took a few seconds for my eyes to refocus.
“Nobody ever listens,” Paul quipped as our own pedometer reached 77mph. “That thing is catching up!” Jim muttered to our frantic driver.
“I can’t go any faster!!” Natalie screamed frantically. The storm was almost on top of us.
This chase had now become a hunt, and we were the prey.
“Here. It’s an old train yard. They probably have some well fortified bunkers there, enough to even withstand this,” Kearny said pressing the map to the dashboard.
Natalie’s eyes darted back and forth between the chart and the road as she struggled to keep from losing control.
“Can we make it there?” she asked.
Before Paul could answer, one of the creature’s latched onto the roof of our camper, causing the whole vehicle to shake.
“Hell,” Jim muttered, grabbing the flare gun and then shoving the roof hatch open.
He aimed it toward the creature’s abdomen and let it rocket straight through the beast.
It exploded in fire and the creature shrieked again as it fell, colliding against the side of the camper as we turned a sharp corner onto a dirt road. Dust and more debris kept spinning in the air as the twister took a short cut, smashing up farmland.
I could see the train yard that Paul had mentioned about 13 meters away. But the twister was picking up speed.
There was a long stretch of tracks across the road where I saw an old freight engine sitting. The cyclone was almost on top of it.
“Come on, come on.“
But it was too late and I knew it. The train didn’t stand a chance. As the massive storm hit it, it was flung like a tinker toy. Natalie swerved right as she saw the metal and gears fly about chaotically.
The air pushed around us. The camper crunched as it went over a part of the tracks and into the yard.
The train hit the back of our vehicle and sent us up in the air. Natalie lost control. I held my breath and watched as we spun through the air. Equipment crashed down around us, the windows shattered, Mister Kearny bashed his head against one of the counters and Natalie screamed. Then the world went black.