Storm Chaser short story: "Very Funny, Mother Nature"


As promised as part of TwisterPalooza, an original Storm Chaser short story that hasn't been seen anywhere else, and isn't included in the short story collection to be published later by Whiskey Creek Press. It relates the moments at the very beginning of Storm Chaser -- but from a different point of view:


"Very Funny, Mother Nature"
by Mark R. Hunter

            Allison Craine wrestled her big white RV onto the highway berm and slowed to a stop. When she rolled the window down waves of Indiana heat battered her, but she ignored that and stuck her head out.
            She stared southwest, squinting at a single white puff of cloud that stood out like another sun in the bright blue afternoon sky.
            “Huh.”
            I wasn’t even thinking about the weather.
            She supposed that said a lot, for a person who made a good living from something everyone else just talked about. Still, she’d driven into northern Indiana exactly because there was no severe weather going on there; at least, not the kind conducive to photography.
            She withdrew back into the RV’s cab and glanced at the electronic weather station on the dash. Eight-eight degrees, sixty percent humidity. A little humid for a drought stricken area, par for the course in the Midwest. Slight breeze out of the southwest.
            Her gaze rested on the black camera case that waited, always ready, beside her seat. So much for looking for a quiet place – something was popping, and it wasn’t the stunted stalks of corn in the field beside her.
            So, what was I just thinking about? A vacation? No, more like going home – some place comfortable and always waiting, and not at all like the place where I used to live.
            Jeez, you’re only twenty-six – stop moping. Grabbing her camera from the case, she climbed out of the RV and walked a short distance, to get a clear view. A few cars passed by, but no one took notice.
            “Hello, little cloud,” Allie murmured. As if in response, it puffed out and upward, like a slow motion shot of a kernel of corn popping. “What kind of mischief are you up to?”
            Her mind picked through the factors: Temperature, humidity, pressure, wind sheer. There shouldn’t be enough energy to grow a storm, yet there it was, reaching higher into the air.
            “Fine.” Sometimes she had the feeling fate pushed her from place to place – or maybe Mother Nature did – but this time the action seemed to be coming to her.
            The cloud ballooned upward, the side facing the sun brilliant white and the other side in ominous darkness. It shouldn’t last long, or produce severe weather. But that wasn’t the way fate played, not when Allison Craine was around. Should she call it in?
            From inside her vehicle a muffled voice came over the police scanner: “Dispatch, 14-47, are there any weather alerts posted?”
            So, someone besides her noticed the cloud, although the man didn’t sound all that worried. No reason he should be, in theory. Allie walked forward, putting some distance between her and the RV so it wouldn’t crush her in a wind gust, although she estimated the little storm would drift over the woods a half mile to the north. Probably.
            She also worked her way to the edge of the berm, as far from the pavement as possible, because in her experience rubbernecking drivers were more of a danger than the storm itself.
            The cloud barreled upward into a cumulonimbus tower, expending its energy upward as it sucked hot ground level air into its vortex. Allie saw no lightning, no rain shaft – then her pulse quickened when a small area of dark cloud, flattened at the bottom, appeared near the tail end of the formation. Wall cloud.
            By the time the funnel dropped, she was ready. This won’t last long. As she snapped shots she examined the cloud, and saw it top out and begin to lose strength. The heat was there, but not the moisture. She was mildly surprised when the twister actually reached the ground, sucking up dirt and plants from a bean field. “Oops.” It shouldn’t be down long, maybe long enough to pass through the woods and cross the highway into another field. Nothing at risk, as long as –
            She glanced both directions and saw only one vehicle approaching: A white Crown Victoria with blue decals and a red and blue emergency light bar across the top. That would be the voice I heard on the radio. As long as he didn’t drive into the storm’s path, no one would be in danger.
            When she saw the car start to slow, she turned back to the action. Even with a baby twister, she had an opportunity for some good shots. She braced herself as the wind picked up and the tornado howled its rage.
            An instant later, in a shower of gravel, the police car slid to a stop not two feet beside her. Whoa – cutting it close there, officer. She’d been in the middle of composing a shot, so she maintained her position until she was sure she had the image she wanted. The perfect lighting waited for no one –
            “Hey!”
            He doesn’t sound nearly as calm as he’d been on the radio.
            “Get in the car!”
            Ignoring a cop never ended well. She turned to see he’d lowered his passenger window, so she put her head inside so he could hear. “It won’t last long. You’re safe here.”
            She saw her mistake instantly, from the way his blue eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. He wasn’t worried about being safe. He was trying to rescue her. The wind gusted into the inside of his cruiser, making his close-cropped blond hair ripple like a wheat field, while his blue tie whipped around. Oddly, the rest of his dark uniform seemed unaffected, as if it had been ironed right onto his strong frame.
            “It’ll cross about a mile north,” she explained, hoping that what she feared was about to happen wouldn’t.
            It did. “Look, we don’t have time to argue, kid – get in. Now!”
            Why don’t I put on some makeup now and then, or curl my hair, or something? Suppressing a sigh, she pulled the door open and climbed in beside him. “Are you going to drive like everyone else does around tornadoes?”
            “Yes!” He hit the gas, shooting them forward – in exactly the wrong direction.
            “That’s what I thought.” While the Trooper shouted into his radio mike, Allie cinched her seatbelt tight. Then she realized he wasn’t turning around. “You’re not going to keep going north, are you?” Not good.
            “No, I thought we’d just sit here and get blown over to Oz for a nice vacation!”
            “We’re heading right into its path.” Well, might as well get one more good shot. They can print it with my obituary. She raised the camera and focused on a spot along the highway, at the edge of the woods.
            “Look, I can judge distance and direction, Miss –“
            And maybe he could, under less stressful circumstances. In this case he had to stand on the brakes as the tornado finished its swath through the woods and whirled onto the highway, right in front of them.
            “Holy --!”
            In the time it took for the trooper to shift into reverse, the tornado left the roadway and ripped up a billboard – a really ugly one advertising a podiatrist, which Allie thought no one would miss – then tore into a corn field. “Don’t worry, it’s already tapering,” she announced, taking a few last shots that she suspected would be less than stellar.
            “Where did you get your junior meteorology degree …” He trailed off and stopped the car again as the funnel, now only a thin, straw-like structure, lifted back into a cloud that itself was starting to dissipate.
            “Cal State.”
            She watched him, playing a mental game she often indulged in called How old does he think I am? She saw, now that his nerves were calming a bit, a handsome, square jawed face and even a hint of friendliness, which lasted right up until the moment he asked if her parents knew where she was.
            Sixteen, she guessed. He thinks I’m sixteen. Only ten years off.
            When she explained that she was a professional photographer, it just made things worse. Cops, she had to remind herself, just didn’t like photographers, but that didn’t account for the open hostility on his face – especially when he discovered her RV had California license plates. “You can’t just run around without supervision.”
            She glanced back at her home, suddenly sorry she’d ever seen that cloud. What was Mother Nature thinking, dropping a freak twister at exactly the wrong time? “Clearly, I was doing just that.”
            Later, she wondered why she didn’t offer up her driver’s license then and there, before she ended up handcuffed as a suspected runaway. Later she’d wonder what possessed her to call him a Nazi, removing the chance for a reasonable discussion. Later, she wondered why she just didn’t have her birth date tattooed to her forehead, at least until she hit forty and looked twenty.
            After all those times when she saw disasters change people’s lives, this one little tornado sent hers veering in a direction nobody – including her – would ever have predicted. Almost as if planned that way.
            Maybe, Allie reflected as Chance Hamlin belted her into the back seat of his squad car, Mother Nature is tired of me chasing around after her.
            She glanced up, and saw the last little wisp of cloud vanish.
            Very funny, Mother Nature.