DISCLAIMER: Twister is the property of Warner Bros. films and no copyright infringement is intended with the publication of this piece. The picture used for the cover is property of Bamboozlepig and may not be used without permission. ALL ORIGINAL CONTENT OF THIS STORY IS THE SOLE PROPERTY OF BAMBOOZLEPIG AND MAY NOT BE USED WITHOUT PERMISSION. *This story may contain graphic language or depictions of potentially upsetting situations, therefore reader discretion is advised.* Feedback is always welcomed and thank you for reading!
BLUE SKY PROMISES
It came for her.
Breathing in the dank dirt smell of the tornado shelter as the storm still rages overhead, that is the litany running through six-year-old Jo Thornton's mind…it came for her.
It came for her as penance, the punishment due her for every little infraction she has committed thus far in her young life…for all the little temper tantrums she's had, for all the eyeball rolls and weary sighs of injustice she has uttered when commanded to clean her room or help out around the farm, for pinching Katie Mulroney in kindergarten because Katie called her an idiot for wanting to play 'meteorologist' at recess instead of playing 'teacher'. It came for her because she is imperfect and flawed, not always the good little child promised by her thick blonde curls and bright blue eyes and freckles across her nose.
But most of all it came for her because she wanted it to.
She has always been fascinated by severe weather, ever since watching The Wizard Of Oz on tv and seeing the sepia-toned tornado sweep Dorothy's house off to another world that was full of eye-blinding bright color, and she revels in thunderstorms instead of being afraid of them like most children would be. She loves watching the wind whip the rain and the hail, sending it clattering against the roof of the farmhouse and the big metal silos, seeing the lightning streak across the sky with the thunder chasing behind it, and instead of crushing on David Cassidy, she crushes on KWTV's Gary England and can accurately imitate the shrill tonal beeps and sonorously serious announcements put out by the National Weather Bureau in Norman, Oklahoma.
So when her father had mentioned earlier that afternoon that it was good tornado weather, she suddenly didn't mind the sweat that beaded upon her skin or the stagnant air that was almost too thick to breathe or the fact that the barn cats and hens seemed to be in a particularly foul mood that day, she felt her pulse quicken and she looked to the milky blue sky with elation, noticing the billowy pink-white thunderheads that marched upwards in the distance and she wished…oh God did she ever wish…that she'd actually get to see a real live tornado.
And as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for, for it might come true.
And it did.
It came for her because she wanted it to, and her stomach twists as she thinks how just moments ago she avidly stared out of the cellar's small windows at the debris flying past, her blood thrilling at the violence of the twister, wondering what the inside of it looked like and what it felt like to be within it, communing and becoming part of it, and then…
Instead of taking her, it took her father instead.
And that is something she will have to live with for the rest of her life.
Her mother sobs softly at her side, curled up into her own world of hurt and sorrow and loss, and as Jo's fingers knead Toby's fur like worry beads, she watches the rain and hail pour in through the missing shelter door, listening to the wind prowl about the open cellar in a keening mournful howl, a discontented beast still searching for prey to consume, driven to keep devouring whatever lies before it until it is fully satiated. She is painfully aware of the vacuum of silence that surrounds them…not of the noises that are, but of the noises that aren't, namely the reassurance of her father's booming voice, for any time they've had to hit the cellar, he's been the one to keep them all calm by telling silly jokes and stories in order to distract them from the danger outside. She cannot bring herself to look at the gaping hole where the cellar door used to be, for she knows that if she looks at it, she will see her father spinning up into the blank, black air, hand still clutched to the handle of the door, his mouth open in a soundless scream that was swallowed up by the roar of the wind and echoed back in her own screams.
She leans forward and picks up one of the hailstones that has bounced across the red clay floor like a spunshot beebee, cupping the half-dollar sized orb of ice in her palm, feeling as frozen as it is, her emotions sucked out of her in the vortex that passed by outside, and she thinks she should be crying, raging…something…besides feeling like her insides are as iced over as the hailstone, her shock layering over her like the coats of frozen water covering the stone she holds in her palm. She studies it…her father always told her that the larger the hail, the more intense a storm would be, for bigger hailstones meant that the droplet of rain had been carried around and around inside of the storm, freezing and refreezing as it circulated until it finally was too heavy for the storm to carry and fell to earth. The outer layers of the stone are as clear as window glass, but the center is opaque and mysterious, hiding the secrets of the storm that spawned it, and she throws the stone hard against the dirt floor in an attempt to break the secrets, but all it does is shatter into shards and retain the mysteries of its birth.
She fixes her gaze on a fat brown spider that lazily spins a web in the corner of the shelter, the spider untouched by the tragedy surrounding it, Mother Nature's blind ignorance to the suffering of others. She watches it as it bobs and weaves, waltzing as it constructs its home, the knowledge of arachnid architecture implicitly innate in its instincts as it delicately spins a strand here, twists a strand there, carefully building a death-trap of breathtaking beauty. And she is suddenly seized by a dark throttling hatred as she watches the spider's industry, for if she cannot have a home, neither shall the spider, so she picks up a hailstone and throws it at the web, the icy missile tearing a jagged hole through the lacy patchwork, sending the spider scurrying for safety behind the shelf of jarred preserves.
"Jo!" her mother cries, startled out of her own misery by her daughter's violent action. "What are you doing?"
"It's not fair!" Jo replies, pointing to the damaged web. "That stupid spider can spin its dumb ol' home wherever it wants and no stupid tornado is gonna get it, but what about us? Where can we go that a tornado won't chase us?"
"Oh, honey…" Her mother wraps her arm Jo, pulling her tightly to her, and Jo can feel the warm rain of her mother's teardrops falling onto her head. She huddles in her mother's grasp, listening to her mother weep, her own emotions still frozen solid, and even when an hour later, rescuers arrive to remove them to safety, she feels as vacant and empty as the vortex that devoured her father.
And that lack of emotion frightens her, for she's afraid she will forever be frozen, trapped like a fly within the amber of death and destruction.
She and her mother return to the farm by daylight to see what is salvageable and they find that it is even worse than they expected, the two of them staring stunned at the wreckage of their lives that lies strewn before them, for there is nothing left…nothing left of what used to be a thriving farm except the shattered, scattered shards of buildings; nothing left but the shattered, scattered shards of what used to be a family. Being broken is the new normal that has been foisted onto her young self in less than 24 hours, being broken is the new normal she will have to live by from here on out.
And she hates it.
She stands next to her mother in their gravel driveway, a little blonde ragamuffin wearing too-tight sandals and a too-big sundress that came from the donation bin at the emergency shelter, listening to one of the neighbors telling her mother how sorry he is for their great loss, and she rolls the word around on her tongue, tasting it, trying it on for size…she is not unfamiliar with the concepts of death and loss, for death is what happened to one of the barn cats when her dad accidentally ran it over and loss is what happened to her pink coral bracelet when it fell into the bathroom at school, but she has never truly applied those terms to something as broad and devastating as losing her home and her father in one fell swoop, and she still feels hollow and vacant inside at all the sorrow surrounding her, unable to muster up anything but a faint echo of sadness whenever someone hugs her and tells her it's going to be all right.
Because she knows it never WILL be all right, not now, not ever. Instead of being Jo the weather nut, she will now always be Josephine Mae Thornton, the little girl whose father was sucked right up into a tornado and seemingly disintegrated into the storm, becoming one with it, for his body will never be found.
Her eyes search the wreckage of their farm for anything familiar…the big oak tree that held the tire swing her father hung up for her, the big red and white barn, the huge metal silos, the clapboard farmhouse and whitewashed chicken coop, the pole buildings and windmill and big John Deere tractor…but it looks like God took a giant egg beater to everything they owned, for the oak tree lies across the crumpled hulk of her dad's truck, its bark and leaves and limbs flayed from it in obscene nudity as its stump points an angry, jagged finger at the cheerful sky. The white clapboard farmhouse and outbuildings and barn lie in sharp shards of splintered wood and shattered glass and scattered shingles, puffs of pink insulation filtering through the air like glistening cotton candy, the foundation of the farmhouse swept clean. The big windmill is toppled onto its side, the tornado a giant Don Quixote that has taken it down in its quest to devour all before it, and her father's John Deere tractor dangles grotesquely from the jagged stump of another nearby oak as if the twister neatly hung up its toys after playing with them. Everything that made their farmhouse a home…the appliances, the furniture, the pictures on the wall, the clothing in the closets and the boxes of Christmas decorations in the attic, her stuffed animals and other toys…are all spun shattered across the yard, lying warped and waterlogged in the sunshine, mudspattered relics of a prehistoric period that existed up until 8 o'clock last night before the twister rendered it extinct. The air smells of freshly churned dirt and damp mustiness and broken wood, the scents permeating her sinuses and lodging forever in her memory to remind her that THIS is what violence smells like, what death and destruction smells like.
And she knows she brought all of this hellish carnage down herself, by wishing that she could see a tornado.
Guilt gnaws at that vacant hole in her heart, settling heavily into her gut, and she is unable to stand there any longer and listen to the neighbor's consoling words to her mother, knowing that she has been the cause of everything, so she shifts away, going to stand at the edge of the gravelled drive. She spies something glittering at her feet and she bends down to pick it up…it is the little black onyx pendant on a silver chain that her parents gave her for her birthday last year. A smear of red dirt mars the stone's black surface and she rubs a thumb across it to polish it up, and then…
Then it all hits her and she breaks, shattering into pieces like that hailstone last night, like the farmstead before her, falling to her knees in the wet dirt, sobs ripping themselves out of her lungs as huge tears roll down her face, her fists clenching tight and pounding into the ground, her mourning as visceral and violent as the tornado itself as she cries and rages in six-year-old impotent fury over the loss of her home, of her father…
And like Scarlett O'Hara promising on radishes that she will never go hungry again, Jo Thornton promises on that blue sunny sky that she will hunt that beast that took her father, the seed of anger and vengeance sprouting within her soul and becoming the driving force of her life as she vows to find the monster.
And slay it dead.
The little green rental car bumps up the rutted gravel drive and she parks it, getting out. She pushes her sunglasses to the top of her head, the wind whipping her blonde hair about her face as she stares out over the once-thriving farmstead that was smashed into splinters a couple of decades ago. Not much remains of it, save for the slab of foundation for the house and the flooring for the barn, and while the neighbor her mother sold the property to still farms the nearby fields that her father once farmed, nothing has ever been rebuilt on the property. She has come home to this place several times over the years since his death, for she has never felt comfortable mourning at the cemetery where her mother buried a bodyless casket and planted a granite headstone atop it to mark Ed Thornton's life, and she has often come to tell him her various triumphs and sorrows…that she got into the University of Oklahoma, that she'd gotten grants to research tornadoes, that she was marrying fellow chaser Bill Harding, that she was divorcing Bill…but this time, she is here with proof that she never forgot that blue-sky promise she made all those years ago, for yesterday…
Yesterday they made Dorothy, the tornado interceptor module she and Bill had built to try to record information from within a twister, fly in a huge F-5.
"We did it, Dad, we did it," she says softly, her fingers wrapping around the black onyx necklace at her throat. "You'd be so proud of us, we finally made Dorothy fly." She hesitates, a lump forming in her throat, tears brimming in her eyes and blurring her vision. "I kept my promise, Dad, and while it's not exactly slaying the beast, Dorothy has helped us learn the best information yet about tornadoes, and that hopefully will help us increase the lead warning time on severe storms so that people have a better chance of surviving."
And as she turns her face to the bright blue sky, feeling the warmth of the sun against her skin, she knows her father has heard her…
And he is proud of her.