Emily’s eyes dart from the rearview mirror back to the wet road ahead. “Shit! What do I do?”
Lana, Emily’s older sister, turns to peer out the back window. The sky is sickly yellow but for a black tornado spinning beneath a mass of rainclouds. Snake-like branches of lightening strike the earth and blast a power line. Faint beneath the storm’s din, a monotone siren blares out of some nearby town and echoes across the cornfields.
“Keep driving!” yells Lana. “We’ll outrun it!”
Emily points. “Look!”
Dozens of cars sit abandoned along the shoulders on both sides of the highway, doors open, adults and children running through the rain and throwing themselves into ditches.
“Should we stop and follow those people? We’re going to get blown off the road!”
“No! Try to reach the next overpass! We’ll be safer if we get beneath an overpass. Seriously, I’ve heard of people doing that.”
“Okay!” Emily steps on the gas, eyes locked on the rain-swept highway, her Prius jumping to sixty-five, then seventy miles an hour.
The funnel roars behind them with increasing speed. Trees are yanked out like loose teeth and sucked into its rotation. It advances along the highway, flinging people from the ditches—their helpless bodies landing in distant lawns and parking lots. Others are inhaled directly into the tornado’s belly.
“Hurry! It’s getting close!”
Emily swerves to avoid a billboard that tears across the highway in front of them, its advertisement upside down.
“Seriously Em! Gun it!”
“I know! I know! Look, there’s an overpass just up ahead!” She weaves around an abandoned car, trying her best to keep from sliding off the road. An out-of-control flock of birds comes within inches of the windshield. Wind and debris assault the car.
Lana puts a hand on her sister’s leg. “Em, listen to me. As soon as we get to the overpass, jump out of the car and follow me up the slope. We need to get way up underneath of it, okay?”
Emily stares straight ahead. “OK, got it.”
Thirty seconds later she hits the breaks and they skid to the shoulder. Seatbelts fly; coats are snatched from the backseat. After sprinting up the concrete slope, the sisters huddle beneath the overpass as the wind pounds their bodies and whips their hair, the weather siren nearly inaudible.
Wind-pressed tears stick to Emily’s cheeks. “Oh god, we’re going to die! We’re never going to see mom and dad again!”
Lana pulls Emily tight against her body. “We are not going to die, Em. You hear me? You hear me?”
Just then a large, sharp object plows into Emily’s shoulder, tearing her coat. As she shrieks in pain, Lana pushes her to the ground and gets on top of her like a shield. Overhead, the concrete rumbles and cracks violently.
Neither hears their own screams as the tornado sideswipes the bridge.
* * *
It’s a summer day. Meadowlarks sing from distant fence posts. Emily is lying in a meadow of green grass and purple coneflower. She’s remembering back to when she was ten, and Lana twelve, to the day they chased each other through Mr. Dupree’s backyard, picking violets for their curly blonde hair. She can smell the vegetable gardens, the magnolia trees, can feel the warmth of that day over her skin. She remembers how the old man came bursting out of his back door, cussing and turning red. And she remembers her and Lana hiding behind a row of lilac bushes, giggling into their tiny hands. Later they had skipped through a meadow—this meadow—and lay in the grass after an hour spent kicking dandelions.
Something snakes through the grass and takes Emily’s hand. The touch is familiar.
“Lana, look!” says Emily, suddenly ten years old again, pointing to a yellow and black butterfly flitting overhead. It glides down and lands on the strap of Lana’s dress, the same dress she wore all those years ago on that summer day.
Emily turns on her side to greet her sister; but there is no face, only a flickering broadcast of Lana’s countenance at different ages, from childhood on.
The faces stop flickering and Lana is twelve years old. Emily smiles to see the younger version of her older sister. “Wasn’t today fun?” says Emily, her voice that of a little girl. She can taste lemonade on her teeth.
“The best,” agrees Lana.
“Then let’s stay forever. Never, ever leave.” Emily twirls her hair.
Just then, a luminous white light appears in a nearby patch of coneflower. Lana morphs back to her current age of twenty. “Em,” she whispers solemnly.
A gust of wind blows the butterfly off Lana’s dress. The coneflowers sway.
Emily lets go of Lana’s hand and sits up, the youthful glow fading from her eyes, her voice eighteen again. “It . . . killed us, didn’t it.” The light holds her attention as she speaks the words.
Lana sits up, for a moment seems to hear something off in the distance. “I think it’s happening right now.”
“But . . . but what about mom and dad? What about . . . college? Our boyfriends? What about our lives? We can’t die, not now!”
“If that’s what this is,” says Lana, “then I doubt we have much choice.” She offers her hand. “C’mon Em, walk with me. Maybe it’s not what it seems. Let’s go find out.”
Emily recoils from Lana like a frightened animal. “No!”
Three figures appear inside the light, one a small boy. Lana smiles at them, almost trancelike, points to the boy. She begins to tear up. “Em, look! Look who’s here!”
Emily shakes her head defiantly. “I don’t care. I’m not ready!”
The wind picks up suddenly and the light shimmers. The meadowlarks go silent.
“Can’t we just stay awhile longer?” asks Emily, ignoring the light.
Lana jumps to her feet, brushes the grass off her jeans. A large storm rolls in from the west, its unbroken shadow flooding the sunlit meadow. Lana watches it, her face growing stern. “Em, I know this is your favorite place in the whole world—it’s mine too—but . . . but it isn’t real.” She pauses, gives her sister a hard look as if taking on the role of their mother. “Emily, this is a transitional space. Do you understand?” She looks back at the fast-approaching storm. “It’s time for us to go!”
Emily drops her head, clutches at the grass with both hands, shoulders heaving as she begins to sob. Overhead, the sky turns sickly yellow. Storm and shadow loom closer and closer; flowers and grass buckle beneath the wind. When two or three bolts of lightning simultaneously crack the sky, images of the tornado blast through Emily’s mind. She shudders violently.
“Time’s running out, Em,” yells Lana from inside the fading white light. The human shapes gather about her. “Please, please understand. You need to come with us or you’ll be stuck here!”
“No! I can’t!”
Emily scrambles to her feet and rushes off in the opposite direction, her long hair blowing wildly. Just then, a ten foot tornado rises up and takes chase. It launches a tentacle of dusty air at her feet, yanks and slams her to the ground with a violent thud. Sharp blades of grass pelt her across the face. She is dragged, kicking and screaming, toward the swelling cloud. Then, with spinning rage, the twister whips itself down like a snake and latches onto her head. The meadow falls out from beneath it, revealing an aerial view of cornfields, flattened homes, and a road littered with cars and uprooted trees.
Now the funnel spins along the ground, gurgling debris as it swallows the writhing girl. It vanishes in a burst of light.
* * *
A few miles to the west, under blue skies, a white orb pops into existence over an earthbound meadow. There it zips around in circles before settling down in a patch of purple coneflower.
A meadowlark flies up to a fence post and starts to sing.
First published in Volume 4, Issue 17 of Schlock! Webzine.