01 Feb There’s Something Moving In The Storm Clouds
The hot air blew up north from the Gulf, and the cold wind swept in south from Canada, and when the two fronts collided over the States their battle spilled over into a monstrous, rolling stormcloud not a few miles north of my lot in the woods. For the better part of an hour as things there unfolded, the buzz of the weather alert was all I could hear on the TV and on the radio. They’re saying this could be a big one, folks. Stay indoors and be prepared to run to the cellar if this supercell does indeed produce a funnel cloud. We’ll keep you updated as more information becomes available. And all at once I could see the black underside of the beast as it moved, and then the trees started to list and sway, and then the wind rolled up through the grass until it blew dust onto my trousers and into my hair. I whistled.
“C’mon, Shiloh! Inside, boy, let’s go!”
The dog bounded up the stairs and I shut the door behind the two of us. And then it began to rain, nothing but a drizzle at first but then a pounding, howling downpour that fell in sheets and torrents. It turned the dirt to mud, and it poured from the gutters, and it swept up against the windows like ocean surf. Shiloh, never one for thunderstorms if he could help it, laid down on the rug and covered his snout with a paw and begin to whine.
“Hang in there, boy. It’ll be over soon.”
I sat down on the recliner and turned on the T.V. and pet him absentmindedly with my free hand.
”…of the storm.”
”Well do you think it’ll produce a twister?”
”Its – its hard to say, right now, Debbie. The conditions, we think, are there, especially here, near Fairfield, and over here in the uh, in the Manchester area. You can see on the radar how that’s playing out. So that’s certainly a cause for concern that we’re keeping a close watch on.”
”Thanks, Kevin. And I’m getting word now that there is indeed a tornado watch now, in Fort Hutchins and in Charles counties, and of course you can get a more comprehensive list of affected areas on our website and at the bottom of the screen. To anyone in the path of this storm, especially in those areas, it is imperative that you are either prepared to move to a storm shelter on short notice or find a low place to hide, without windows if at all possible. Place mattresses up against any exposed windows if you can, and do not attempt to drive away from the storm until the Watch is expired.”
I looked out the window. It was hard to see much of anything through the wind and the rain. But it was dark out there, for sure. I stood up and walked over to the window to get a better view, but it was so worked over in fog and rainwater that I could hardly see a thing.
“Stay put, Shiloh. I’m just gonna take a quick peek out the door.”
I cracked it open a bit, and the sound of the storm utterly exploded into the house. I could barely hear the dog bark over the sound of the wind and rain and the claps of thunder. Then a spear of lightning bolted across the sky.
“Whoo! Its a big one, boy!” I shouted. “Might have to rev up that generator in a bit!”
I eased the door open a bit more and leaned out. Within seconds I was nearly as soaked as the porch, and then I had to squint and shield my eyes and wipe my hair off my forehead when the rain plastered it there with weight. In the distance and through the trees I could still see the sunset, but the red and orange and yellow there had hit a hard, fast wall of blackened stormclouds a few miles off, and that cloud only got darker and more violent the closer it got to where I stood. The grass in my fields was nearly flattened with wind, too, and the trees were heaving sideways and billowing their tops to the windfall as the storm threw its back to their beating. I craned my neck upward. The clouds were moving fast above the house. I could tell that even through the rain; they swirled and bulged and they chased their tails, and wisps of them scouted the ground and dipped deep and low. I felt Shiloh brush up against my leg.
“Back inside, boy.” I gently nudged him the heel of my boot. “Things are gettin’ worse out here.” I shut the door and muffled the sound by doing so, and Shiloh went back to his spot on the rug and picked up his whining where he’d left it off. I knelt down and scratched behind his ear.
“Almost over, boy. Storms this bad can’t last too long.”
But the storm didn’t let up. It carried on through the afternoon and into the evening and only strengthened as it did. I kept tuned into the T.V. as I made a casserole.
”…down near Fairview.”
”And luckily the worst of the storm is holding to the northwest of Wilbur Heights, which, of course, is minimizing the damage there.”
”Uh, yeah. That’s right, Deb. But the roads there are just clogged to death and back with people getting out of the storm’s way, and that kind of uh, that kind of congestion could prove to be very dangerous if things do indeed decide to move in that direction.”
”Well we certainly hope everyone there gets themselves to safety before that happens.”
Shiloh had his nose pressed up against the window as the talking heads conversed. He was almost perfectly still; his tail was tucked, his paws were set wide and he had one of his ears standing on end.
“Anything interesting out there, boy?”
He paid me no heed, so I got up and joined him at the window. The storm had reached a hurricane-level of fury – the rain was flying in sideways, now, and bursts of lightning illuminated a number of downed trees at the edge of the yard. The rest of them continued to bend their spines to the wind.
“Its a wonder the power’s still on, ain’t it?” I scratched the back of his head. He continued ignoring me, but when I got up to check on dinner, he barked. “Shhhh. Hey. No need for that, Shiloh. C’mon now.”
He barked again.
He barked a third time, and a fourth. Then his ears flattened up against his head and he backed up a little from the window and growled under his breath.
“You see somethin,’ boy?”
He barked again. I went back over to the window and did my damnedest to peer out of it, but all I could see and hear was darkness and wind.
“C’mon. No more barkin’ inside, boy.”
”So where’s this all coming from, Kevin? Its been churning non-stop for twelve hours now. Emergency crews can’t even get out there to do their jobs properly.”
”Its, uh – its definitely lasting longer than anyone predicted, I’ll give you that. But its not unheard of for particularly powerful front-collisions to result in longer lasting supercell systems like this. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.”
”And has the center of the storm moved at all?”
”Bizarrely, it hasn’t, Deb. Its remained relatively stationary outside Wilbur Heights and Bellsouth and its actually uh, its actually gaining strength in certain areas, too.”
“And of course we’re now getting some reports of widespread power outages and property damage in the Riverside area. Here’s a video of the 7-11 at the intersection of Turner and Route 40. This was turned into us by an anonymous source. You can clearly see some severe, uh, severe structural damage to those gas pumps, and a lot of debris floating around the parking lot. Its not the best angle but if you look right here you can see part of the gas station’s roof is kind of uh, kind of hanging off, there. Fortunately we have yet to hear of any injuries or fatalities, but you know. There’s only so much of lot of the older buildings out there can take.”
”Unfortunately that’s right, Deb. A lot of the houses in the Riverside and Port Harbor areas were built decades ago, and in some of the lower end neighborhoods out there the uhm, the architecture is particularly vulnerable to high speed, prolonged winds like what we’re seeing here tonight.”
”Any advice for people who might be trapped in those areas for the duration?”
”Well, you covered the bases pretty well earlier, I think. But its worth repeating. Board up your windows or put up mattresses in case the glass shatters. And at all times, have a place in mind to run to if things get particularly bad. Make sure it has no windows. Make sure its low to the ground. Bathrooms and basements are good choices to run to in a pinch, and as a last resort, find a ditch or some other low ground to lie down in.”
”And I believe that tornado watch has been extended, is that right, Kevin?”
”It has, yes. And that’s why knowing these safety tips is essential right about now. The watch has been extended to midnight in the Manchester and Fairfield county areas, and its even been widened in scope to include Courtside Hills.”
Shiloh remained vigilant by the window, and I was staying up in the recliner, watching the news with coffee but dozing off here and there. The storm continued to rage outside. Every once in awhile I’d open the door to take a peek, but I stopped that once the wind became so violent I struggled to shut the door against it. There was also the f-
Shiloh yelped, and my heartbeat slammed.
The dog leapt back into his defensive stance by the window, ears flattened to his head, hair up on end, teeth bared up to the gums. He barked again and then growled.
“Loudest clap of thunder I think I’ve ever heard. What about you, boy?” I scratched him behind the ears, but he was focused on something outside. I followed his gaze to the top of the trees, and just as I did there was a spectacular flash of red lightning that spilled its glow across the forest. Shiloh let out a little squeal of confusion. My mouth hung open a bit.
The lightning flashed again. A deep, almost purplish red thrown out by giant spears of electric power that shot to and fro, and through a small gap in the mist I saw nearly to the top of the big storm cloud when it did. It was a colossal monstrosity obscured by the darkness of its own underside; a billowing, rolling titan of a stormcloud lit from within by lightning and that must’ve stretched for miles in every direction. God only knew how high up into the atmosphere it went.
“God almighty. Ain’t never seen anything like that in my life.” I rubbed Shilo’s back. “Startin’ to think this isn’t any normal storm, ol’ buddy.”
The flashes of red lightning kept up throughout the night, and every once in awhile they’d be joined by lancing snaps of blue and purple. It was a spectacular and breathtaking display, wondrous and otherworldly to behold, but I’d be dishonest if I didn’t admit it was the most terrifying experience of my life. Meanwhile, the rain kept falling in sheets, and the wind had remained at steady, low-hurricane speeds for some hours now. The front yard was littered with debris and branches and hail stones the size of a fist.
The power flickered in and out, too. I wasn’t sure how it’d stayed on as long as it had, but it wouldn’t hold much longer. It couldn’t. I had the T.V. on while Shiloh and I watched the storm from the window, and I’d glance at it from time to time. The picture flickered and static filled up the screen in between shots of the news desk.
”…R-r-rpports of red…. -ightning are confounding r… over in Riverview, where….”
”…Deb, this is unlike…. I’ve ever seen… this is not an ordinary storm… that cloud above… -lonimnbus.”
”…‘cumulonimbus hyper-cell? Is… new classification?”
”Well, its… yes, and I…who…”
The feed turned to static, and then, with an audible snap, the power went out for a final time. I whistled and sighed.
“Just us in here now, boy.” I hugged him tight and felt how violently he was shaking. I think I was shaking, too, so for both our sakes I kissed his head and said, “Glad you’re here with me, buddy. That’s gotta count for something.”
And we turned back to the window to watch the storm.
”Shlioh? Where are you, boy?”
I listened for him – a whine or a bark – but heard nothing. My heartbeat quickened in pace until it was slamming.
I started digging through the rubble of my home, tossing bricks and shards of glass and chunks of drywall to the side. They started forming a pile behind me.
”C’mon, boy. Don’t you do this to me. Don’t you do this.”
I dug and dug and dug until my nails had fallen off, until the skin of my fingertips peeled back to the bone, and then I dug some more. He was nowhere to be found. My dog. My best friend in the whole world, crushed under the weight of his own home. I couldn’t begin to imagine.
”Shiloh, please. Come here, boy. C’mon. I need you, Shiloh. I-”
I heard a bark behind me. But it wasn’t Shiloh’s; it was deep and loud and it echoed and rattled my ear drums. Then I heard it again. Louder. I turned around and peered right into the darkness behind me. It was thick and it was black and nigh-impenetrable, but it was far from empty – I could feel the wind getting stronger until my hair was flying and my skin began to peel away. I couldn’t breathe. Then there was a flash of that red lightning, and for the split second before it hit in that light I saw a tornado of incomprehensible vastness bearing down on me, to destroy what it hadn’t destroyed the first time.
-LOH!” I bolted upright and gasped and grabbed at my chest.
I was still at home. Covered in sweat but alive and awake, in the darkness. I could still hear the howl of the storm outside. I breathed a sigh of relief, and then Shiloh plodded up and started licking my face.
“Ha-hey, hey there, boy. Sorry about that, buddy.” I scratched behind his ears. “Just a bad dream.”
I looked at my phone – five in the morning. I’d managed to get nearly a full night’s sleep in spite of everything.
“You hungry, boy?” I got up and used a flashlight to find the dog food bag, and then Shiloh inhaled his breakfast while I looked out the back window. “Can’t believe its lasting this long.”
It truly was incredible; the rain had abated a bit, I could see – not a lot, but a bit – but the wind still howled, and the sky remained nearly pitch black dark. Not a drop or note of sunlight made it through the canopy of cloud cover, but frequent pulses of that red lightning afforded me enough visibility to appreciate the wreckage of my yard. It looked like the Somme. Trees were leafless and downed, branches carpeted the grass, and I could even see split roof shingles lying soaked in puddles at the foot of the yard. I’ll bet the insurance company’s about to have a hell of a day.
“Hey, boy. I’m gonna run outside and see if I can’t turn on that generator.” He ate the last bite of food and turned to me. “You stay put, okay?”
He wagged his tail, but when he saw I was moving for the door, he stood up and barked.
“I’ll be back in a minute, boy, okay?” I threw on my coat. “Generator’s just outside. Calm down.”
He barked again, and again, but I just rolled my eyes and stepped outside. As expected, it took less than a second to get completely and utterly soaked in the downpour. I could feel the moisture through the coat, soaking into my tee shirt, and even my boots struggled to keep my feet dry. But I slogged through the mess and the mud and the debris all the same and slowly advanced up to the generator. I threw back the tarp and-
I turned around. Shiloh had thrown himself up against the inside of the window and had descended into madness; he was barking and chewing at the glass and frantically, desperately trying to grab my attention. I’d never seen him in such a fit, but from what I could tell he wasn’t seeking help for himself. He was trying to save me.
As soon as I realized this, I heard something in the distance that constituted the single loudest and most bizarre sound I’d ever heard. It wasn’t thunder. It wasn’t an explosion. In fact it wasn’t especially dissimilar from a whale call or the horn of a ship docking at a harbor. It was a deafening, animalistic sonic blast that lasted for several seconds and carried hard and steady over the thunder. I felt my bloodbeat wash to a stop, and then I turned.
I couldn’t see much. But I saw enough – there was something in the cloud; a formless mass moving east and still well behind the mist. Then I heard the sound again – BAAAAAAUUUUUUMMMM – and then a flash of red lightning shed its glow on what I could now confirm was a still-clouded over form of something moving there; something alive that was titanic and otherworldly to a degree I can’t adequately put into words.
I forgot all about the generator. I dropped the cord. I forgot all about Shiloh, too, who was still barking himself into a fit from inside the house, and for the briefest of moments I even forgot about the storm, although I was still being pelted with rain. I was simply basking there in unspeakable, existential awe.
Not a normal storm indeed.
Not by a long shot. I stood and watched the Beast – whatever it was – move slowly but with grace behind the storm. Then I heard a low, rumbling thud they may have been its footstep – the ground shook when it hit – and then the giant shadow of the figure faded into the upper clouds, and the storm resumed as before with a spectacular clap of thunder that shocked me back to reality.
I looked over at Shiloh. He’d calmed down a bit and was now looking at me through the glass as if to say, what the hell are we still doing here?
He was right. We couldn’t stay here. Of course we couldn’t stay here. I didn’t know what this storm was – or if it was even a storm to begin with, in the strictest sense of the word – but I had no indication it was letting up anytime soon. And I didn’t know what that thing was.
“Alright boy.” I said it under my breath, more to myself than to him. “Alright. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
It took me mere minutes to throw a bag together – clothes, electronics, toiletries, other necessities within the grasp of convenience – and to get that and Shiloh situated in the truck. I’d thrown it all in haphazardly, and in my haste I was positive I forgot something. But I didn’t care. I just wanted to leave; to get as far away from this place as I could before things got worse. I didn’t know what was waiting for us out there, either. I didn’t know how far the destruction went, or how wide-reaching the storm was, or if this was all indeed some kind of apocalyptic level event. But if that was the case, and if we got caught out in the middle of it, then at least we’d know for sure before we died. It wasn’t exactly a comforting thought, I had to admit. But the possibility of escape was, certainly.
I locked up the house – not like it particularly mattered – and then, after throwing up the hood of my jacket and zipping it to my chin, I grabbed the handle of the garage door and threw it up, letting the wind and rain and hail blast its way inside and soak everything. So violent was the storm that it looked like we were staring out into a blizzard;the wind-whipped rain was flying in just about every direction, not just down, and in the fray, too, were rocks of hail and leaves and sometimes whole branches.
“Alright, boy!” I shouted as I climbed into the truck. “You ready?”
He looked at me and he didn’t whine or bark or make any sound or movement whatsoever.
“My thoughts exactly, bud.” I rubbed his head and turned the key. The truck – which luckily had nearly a full tank in its gut – revved into life. Then I eased my foot onto the gas and off we went, hi-beams on, windshield wipers on full blast.
The driveway was rough with debris, so the truck bounced and jostled as we made our way towards the wooded path that led out onto the main road. God, let that road be clear. I knew the odds were against us. But I didn’t have it in me to think about that right now; I just kept going – five, ten, fifteen miles per hour – through the surf and the storm and hail.
The trees offered some manner of shelter, at least, and spectacularly the road was clear enough to drive through; none of the felled trunks had barricaded the path forward. But I didn’t want to wait around for that to happen – it looked like it could at any second – so I hit the gas harder and we fell into gear and shook and rolled all the way down to the Hill Farms boulevard.
“Can’t believe we got this far, huh, boy?” Shiloh was whimpering in the seat next to me. “Hang in there, champ. We’ll be out of this mess before you know it.”
I said the words. But I’m not sure if I believed them.
We drove north for hours. Occasionally we’d see a tree in the road, or a pile of debris, or an abandoned car with its blinkers still flashing through the fog, and we’d navigate accordingly. But by and large the roads were clear, and I wanted to exploit that fact to its end before the whole damn town and all of nature’s wrath came down on top of us at once. I tried the radio on multiple occasions, too, but there was nothing to be heard there but static. I gave up after the third attempt.
A burst of red lightning streaked across the whole sky at once. Shiloh didn’t respond, but when the thunder clap hit he jumped almost entirely off the seat.
I tensed up my grip on the wheel until my knuckles were white. Things seemed to be getting worse. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, even in my head, but it was true. Are we going the wrong way? The wipers were overwhelmed with the onslaught of precipitation. So intense was the downpour, in fact, that I was getting dripped on despite having the car sealed up tight. To boot there was the almost complete lack of visibility; I could see maybe fifty yards ahead when the rain parted in the wind, but not an inch more. At its worst I could see nothing but mist and cloud. I’d reduced my cruising speed to ten miles per hour to accommodate this. The gas tank sat a quarter.
It carried on this way for over an hour before Shiloh sat up straight and started whimpering and pawing at the window. I looked out the glass on my side. We were downtown, I saw. Its a small, isolated place, so ‘downtown’ is about three intersections wide in any direction. But in the shroud of fog and rain it looked expansive and mysterious. Light poles – sans the light, of course – loomed out of the clouds and hung gloomily over the road. I could see storefronts, too. Windows and doors were boarded up on most, but in a few – Carl’s Pharmacy and the Subway among them – the doors were thrown in and the interiors gutted. Debris and rubble littered the sidewalk, and as had been the case in my yard, the road became rough and uneven as a result.
“Looks like hell out here, doesn’t it, boy?”
Shiloh kept pawing at the glass. But then he stopped, all of a sudden, and he perked up his ear. I listened, too.
“…What in the hell-?”
For the first time in nearly twenty six hours, we began to hear silence. The rain slowed from a torrential downpour to a steady rhythm, then to a drizzle, and then it stopped altogether, and the wind, which had brought up an incessant howling since yesterday morning, abated too. All the way down to a hint of a whisper. Even the clouds began to part and spread and thin out, and before long the road ahead became clear enough to see without straining and guesswork, although fog still covered nearly everything to a certain degree. I laughed aloud and aggressively rubbed the back of Shiloh’s head between the ears.
“Shit, boy, we made it! Safe at l-”
My heartbeat slammed into rhythm, and Shiloh yelped and whined and yelped some more. That sound – that horn-blast from earlier – had exploded through the air and vibrated the windows. It was orders of magnitude louder than it was when I’d first heard it, and that meant it was close. Too close.
I’d by now slammed on the brakes and was using both hands to cover up my ears. It was a fruitless endeavor; I could feel my eardrums rattle in my head even after the blast ceased. Shiloh was going berserk next to me.
“C’mon, calm down, boy.” I could hardly hear my own voice over the ringing in my ears. “You’re not helpin’ anything by-”
I felt that more than I heard it, and I heard it just fine. I slowly craned my hands over to the left.
The whole car shook and rattled. I could see pebbles on the ground leaping up in unison at the impact.
And there it was. A leg. A leg that more closely resembled a California redwood in complexion and size, although it dwarfed even that.
The Beast was walking across the road and making a spectacle of it; I could only see the mammoth lower half of its legs as it moved – the rest was still shrouded by mist and fog and cloud – but even that was an awesome and terrible sight to behold.
It took a full minute for the Titan to cross the road and carry on its way to the east. Slowly I eased my foot to the pedal and we began to roll forward again, but I never slowed up the rate of my heartbeat.
The horn-blast sound drifted away on the wind, and soon the center of town was behind us and fading deep away into the mist in the rear view mirror. The road remained rough for another mile or so. But the storm continued to clear up, and visibility improved at a slow but steady rate until the view obstruction was negligible.
“Hang in there, Shiloh.” The poor dog was so exhausted he almost lacked the energy to care. “We’re almost out of here, boy. We’re almost free.”
But then the last of the clouds parted ways, and we saw it; a scene of awesome and spectacular devastation. The whole of Forston County – what had been a sparsely populated region of wooded wilderness stretching from Wilbur Heights on its southern neck to Philips creek to the northeast – had nearly ceased to exist. In its place now sat a desolate, gray pit of impossible scope; miles across and miles deep, reaching down into the earth like an excavation site or an industrial mine dug up to unearth something of utterly mammoth size. There were no living trees or grass or running water or any signs of wildlife here, just endless gray rock and stone, spiraling down deep and then back up and then stretching off into the distance until it ran up against another wall of fog and storm clouds ten or twelve miles down.
“God almighty, boy,” I said, and I leaned down to view the scene from his side of the glass as we scrolled by. Doing so brought the sky into view. “Will you look at that?”
Above the pit, spilling its ruby-scarlet light out over the landscape below it, sat the swirling red center of the storm. The relative calmness of the air beneath it hinted its purpose was not particularly unlike a hurricane’s eye, and yet it was so thoroughly covered up with clouds it blotted out the sky entirely. Red lightning cracked and snapped in increasing frequency and intensity the closer up to the center things got, and at that center sat a swirling, blood-red vortex from which everything appeared to emanate and spread. Beneath it were multitudes of Titans, too, flying up out of the pit and into that vortex and disappearing forever. Shiloh whimpered and whined.
“I don’t know, boy. Maybe they’ve been down there all along, and that thing there’s their way back home.”
The scene was finally obscured again by wisps of light fog, and before we knew it we were back again in the thick of the storm the Portal’s presence had kicked up; our atmosphere’s white-blood cell reaction to something mammoth and alien in its midst. We drove again for hours, through wind and hail and sheets of rain and past other Titans moving home – BAAAAAAAAUUUUUUMMMM – but we made it through in good order. The storm finally stopped somewhere north of the Tawnee River and the town there of the same name, where we filled up our tank and got a room for the night.
The storm raged for three more days there, non-stop and at full fury for the duration. And then, in the blink of an eye, it was over.
”The June storm that devastated a previously unknown town in the center of the state is finally beginning to clear, according to authorities from the weather services, and emergency crews are finally freed to move into the already lightly populated region in force to look for survivors and restore power. But their job won’t be easy.”
”Yeah, ain’t never seen nothin’ like this. Look here, y’see that?”
”It looks a bit like a giant footprint.”
”Yeah, we’re thinkin’ the storm ripped up trees an’ threw ‘em every which way and then blew dirt back into the holes, leavin’ nothin’ but a dip like that behind. We’ve seen tons o’ these, usually in lines for miles. Maybe a tornado did it. Runnin’ theory, anyway.”
”Bizarre scenes like this are indeed everywhere in the affected areas, no doubt a humbling and mysterious testament to the sheer fury Mother Nature can deliver. Coming up after the break, we’ll -”
I switched the radio off.
“Bunch of idiots, huh, boy?” Shiloh didn’t respond. He was asleep, still, but I confirmed it under my breath. ”Bunch of idiots.”
We pulled up to the driveway about an hour later, and then we started the long, brutal process of recovering and rebuilding, which, as of this writing, is still not complete (I still need to get the roof replaced). But none of that matters, in the end. I’ve got a bed to sleep in, and I’ve got Shiloh with me, too. I think the two of us will be just fine. The worst part, after all, isn’t the devastation.
Its what amounts to a cover-up.
Now I’m not sure what this storm was, and I couldn’t tell you if it was the first of its kind or just the latest in a long-chain of poorly reported incidents of similar quality and magnitude. But I do know enough to dismiss the ‘official explanation’ – that the ‘Wilbur-Forston Hypercell,’ as its now known, was just a freak weather phenomenon that can be easily enough dismissed as a strange little footnote of interest to few outside the relevant fields of study. Luckily for the powers-that-be, too, the affected area is among the least known, most sparsely populated regions in the United States, and what other witnesses there might’ve been have likely been displaced or killed.
But between myself and Shiloh? There are at least two sets of eyes here who’ve seen the reality of things. So I’m getting the word out.