The Eye of the Storm

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
The "Eye of the Storm" is a short story about a scientific anomally that leaves a trail of death across America and a family caught in the middle. It has a surprising ending that will leave you guessing. This is the first draft, literally in the first trimester, so be gentle with my baby. Sorry about the scripting. When I post the next draft, I'll be sure to make it pretty.

Submitted: February 25, 2008

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Submitted: February 25, 2008

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The Eye of the Storm

 

by Krow Wesley

 

 

 

 

With the meteorologist’s final prophetic words, Jack Turrey turned off the HDTV projector and began rummaging through a denim pocket for his truck keys - the trailer had no basement and Lord knew what kind of eight-legged freaks lurked beyond her metal skirting. No, he would pack his family in their beat-up 2011 Ford F150, take the Loop, and race the tornado all the way to Miller County. They would be safe at Uncle Jim's.

"Do ye think it'll hit Texarkana, pa?" Bo crackled. Puberty still had him by the throat.

"Probably," his father replied, sifting hurriedly through some magazines on the coffee table. "Ye heard the newsman, dincha?"

"Well, on our way back from school, Lily and I ran into that old feller by the Sav-'O-Mat. Ye know, the one missin' a leg, and -"

"- He said the devil was comin' to town!" Lily screamed. Six-year-olds tend to do that – a whole lot.

"Yeah, pa, he was rantin' and ravin' about the end o' the world," Bo reverberated with enthusiasm. He loved the classic film, Armageddon, and idolized the late Bruce Willis. Bo was still at the age when boys dreamt of shooting random baddies, delivering bad one-liners and, of course, kissing the girl at the end of the show.

"Sherman believes in the Swamp Monster. Sherman's an idiot," Jack shrugged, lifting up the Lazy Boy. Nothing but some cookie crumbs (Lily) and a stale Dorito chip (Bo). He let the chair down. "Now, just where in the hell did I put my-"

Suddenly, there was a jingling at his right ear. Good ol' Teresa. He grabbed the keys from her, while twisting around to give her a kiss on the cheek. They were a rosy red color and her skin was cool to the touch. She had been outside packing their belongings in the truck bed. She smiled at Jack, but he could see that panic was building in her eyes.

"Everthing'll be all right, sweetie," he reassured her.

"If God wills it," she reminded him.

Jack picked Lily up with one of his giant, veiny arms and told Bo to go fetch his coat. Bo did as he was told, but raided the pantry on his way out the doublewide trailer. He loved those Handy Snacks, even though his stepmother said that chocolate was bad for his complexion. Like he cared.

The diesel engine was rumbling, steam rising from the hood and dissipating into the gray sky above. Jack was fastening Lily into her car seat. Teresa was on the cell with Uncle Jim.

"Thank you so much, Jim. We'll see you at the State Line."

Teresa snapped her cell phone and turned to Jack. "He's sending Rudy to meet us halfway."

"Why?" he asked, clamping Lily's plastic harness together. "I know my way to the mansion."

"Don't make a fuss. There's several car pile-ups on the 245. The National Guard's on it, but he just wants to make sure we hit the right detour."

Jack couldn't argue with sound reasoning.

"Come on, son."

Bo put a cup of Vanilla pudding in one of Lily's tiny hands and leapt to the other side of the cab.

"You know that chocolate is bad for your complexion," his stepmother said for ninth time that day. He could tell her nerves were racking when she started the Repeating Game.

"I know, ma. That's why I gave Lily the vanilla 'un. A boy got no need of a fair complexion."

Jack couldn't help but grin at that while shifting the Ford into first. He slowly let his foot off the clutch, got them rolling out the driveway. Gravel shot out from under the Goodyears and Bo looked out the back window to see their trailer covered in dust. It left him with an unsettling notion that he would never see home again.

 

The sun was setting over the dashboard and Jack noticed an ominous black cloud moving toward them from the Arkansas platuea, like a pair of shadowy claws.

"That ain't good," Jack thought aloud. Too aloud if you asked Teresa, who was trying her best to remain calm.

"That don't look like no regular willy-willy," Bo stated. He'd watched the Twister sequelsenough times to know that.

"He's right. Look at the strange patterns it's making... almost like skywriting."

Now, Bo wasn't a VirtuCom junkie like Max and Gabe from 5th Hour, but every now and then he would jump into Wikipedia.org and type in random words - an unusual habit, but at least it was mother-approved. One time, while surfing through the C's, Bo came across the shelf cloud, and if this dark, brooding mass in the sky was a shelf cloud, he and his family were in for one heck of a night.

"That ain't a tornado at all," Bo wheezed.

Silence. Even with the extended cab, there was nowhere in the truck to hide from unsettling silence. Finally, Teresa decided to click the Mute button.

"How fast are you going, Jack?" Teresa asked, in that high-pitched way only the people in the movies got away with. Yet, somehow, Teresa got away with it.

"Five over. Ye know me."

"Go faster."

Bo was sitting behind Teresa, but he could feel the look she passed his father. Out the window to his right, he could see flocks of birds flying in the other direction, towards the spec of Mount Pleasant in the distance. Bo had a startling feeling that he and his family just rolled through a Wrong Way sign.

The dark sky was illuminated with fire. It rose from the Ark Highway 245, which had become a metal graveyard of Toyotas, Hondas, and even some of the finest American-made vehicles. A News 4 chopper whirled above the wreckage as the National Guard were doing their part to supress the ensuing chaos.

Suddenly, there was a wet thud at Lily's window and she let out a blood-curdling shriek. An elderly hispanic man was beating his hands on the window, shouting in a language none of the Turreys understood. Bo could see the madness in this man's eyes and was stark glad that his sister's door was locked.

"Auxilio! Ayudeme!" the crazed man exclaimed. Bo noticed that he wasn't wearing a shirt and some red stuff had caked into his graying chest hair. "Yo lovi! Yo ve la luz roja!"

Bo thought his heart might burst out of his chest. Tears strained his eyes and he was starting to feel downright guilty about wanting to cry. He was no crybaby. It's just that everything was moving so fast...

"Jack!" his stepmother screamed, shaking him from momentary paralysis.

Jack put the pedal to the floor and swerved past a Tundra that was lying on its back. Behind them, Bo saw the old man disappear into the shadowy night, his eyes like that of a deer in headlights. He wondered what the loon was trying to get at. His thoughts were suddenly averted to the blinding light emanating from the windshield. Jack brought the truck to an abrupt halt. There was a burring sound as the electric window slid into its rubbery threshold.

"Destination?" came a gruff voice from outside. Definitely a soldier, Bo surmised.

"Miller County. The Johnston Plantation to be specific," Jack answered, steam billowing from between his teeth. Bo felt the frigid desert night clinging to his arms. He covered Lily with his dingy Avatar jacket.

"All roads going eastbound are closed off. The storm leveled Pine Bluff and is making its way towards Hope."

In the almost extraterrestrial light, all Bo could make of the soldier was the silhouette of his helmet. Somehow, it riled him up.

"Look, we've got family waiting for us..."

"A State of Emergency was declared just an hour ago," the soldier interjected. "We've been ordered to evacuate the city. 'Most everyone here is heading north to Oklahoma. Shelters are being set up in Durant."

"But we only got half a tank o' gas left. How 'r we supposed to make the trip?"

"We've dispatched a Sentaur to a Chevron truck-stop about 20 miles up the highway. The operator'll see you though. Now, hurry on."

He slapped the truck door at that, and moved on to the next vehicle in line.

"What do we do, Teresa?" Bo's father asked, sounding halfway sedated.

Teresa started punching digits on her cell phone.

"Let me call Rudy and see where he's at."

There was no signal. She tried again, but there was nothing but static on the other side. Her lip dropped a few centimeters as panic ran its full course.

"We're in a dead zone, huh?" Jack pointed out. Jack was one to point out the obvious. "So... what do we do?"

"Why didn’t we just head north in the first place!" Teresa snapped, banging her head against the glass window. She began to sob. Jack caressed her neck with a warm hand. "I'll get us to Durant," he said with utter conviction. The kind of conviction only people in the movies got away with.

Yet, Jack Turrey got away with it.

He stepped on the gas and the turbo charged V6 let out a war cry. This Ford was on mission. The Turreys merged into Highway 71 and made a beeline for the glitter of light on the horizon - a glitter of hope.

 

Lily was sound asleep by the time the Turreys reached the gas station. There was a line of cars that stretched for about a mile, a quagmire of lights, shiny metal, and carbon monoxide. From the News 4-chopper halloing above, the blurred line of vehicles looked auspiciously like a dragon puppet one might see at the Chinese New Year.

"God damn..." Jack blasphemed, but not loud enough for angels to hear. He pulled in behind a purring Chevy and put her in neutral.

They were third in line when there was some commotion at pump 11. A middle-aged fat man, probably Texan Bo thought with a grin, was arguing with a UGV (Unmanned Ground Vehicle), screaming obscenities into its sensor.

The Sentaur got its title from the anthropomorphic design by Lockheed Martin. This one featured the articulated arm of the X700 and was armed with smoke generators and tear gas grenade launchers for crowd-control. The intimidating Sentaur was just one of the many robots to follow the MULE back in 2016.

"You're request has been denied," came an effeminate, muffled voice from a speaker. "We're portioning gas to one vehicle per family."

"This is my brother we're talkin' about here!" the Texan spat, flailing an empty gas canister in one hand and pointing with the other. "His pick-up ran outta juice a few miles yonder and he'll need this stuff to get his FAMILY to Durant!"

"Sir, I have my protocol-" the voice said with stern empathy. Bo tried to imagine what the operator on the other side must have looked like, and couldn't shake the image of that Shiloh Jolie-Pitt chick off the new Star Trek series.

"Screw the rules! I ain't leavin' til ye fill 'r to the brim!"

The fat man's chest was now heaving up and down, sweat jumping off his pinkish skin and onto the concrete near his feet. His forehead was gushing the stuff - like a water drain, cascading all the way down into his Sloppy Joe-stained wifebeater.

"I'm warning you, sir, -" she took a long, meaningful breath. "- a State of Emergency has been declared and with Homeland Security compromised, the government isn't taking violators of Ordinance Nine too lightly."

"Jus' what're ye gettin' at, lady?"

"That if you put even a drop of fuel in that canister..."

"What -" the fat man snarled, waddling over to the gas pump. "- like this?"
The Texan gripped his chubby fingers around the gun, withdrew the nozzle from its metal scabbard, and thrust it into the canister. He felt like King Arthur as he turned to the metal dragon, pulled the trigger, and let it watch the color turn from red to a murky brown. He made a wide grin, bulbs of spit gathering in the corners of his mouth.

Sentaur acquired the target, aimed - but had to request for human guidance before pulling any trigger of his own. Shiloh gave the authorization and Sentuar primed its weapon systems. Bo would never forget the way the Texan's whimpering eyes rolled up to whites as he plummeted six feet into the air - the CS tear gas canister had nailed him square in the chest. Bo thought it was the coolest thing he'd ever see.

Onlookers gasped as the robot used its mechanical gorilla arm to push the Texan's SUV out of the way. It landed clumsily in the desert, a good Eli Manning throw away. Sentaur went into the pallid smoke and retrieved the small-time rioter. It gently lay the Texan down by the station's bulletproof glass door and turned to the awe-stricken refugees.

"Jesus Christ!" Teresa cursed the big one. Bo was positive that somewhere in heaven a little cherub's ears were bleeding.

"Please remain calm," Shiloh said with an added dose of strain. She definitely would be changing career fields after all this was over. "-Continue filling your gas tanks. The storm is close."

It was real close. The Turreys watched the shelf cloud blot out the stars and slowly, like a red-bellied black snake on its prey, work its mouth around the moon.

Something was definitely off about this storm, Bo thought as a lump grew in his throat.

The firmament wavered into pitch black.

Lily started to cry, sending the brooding thought to her brother. Bo felt it all at once. They were going to die.

 

"Fuck it!" Jack yelled, pulling the steering wheel until it popped. With lightning speed, the truck veered around and zoomed down the highway, toward the car pile-up, the crazy Mexican, and the faceless soldier on 245. The smell of burnt rubber tickled at Bo's nostrils.

"What are you doing, Jack?" Teresa stammered, holding onto the dashboard for dear life. Jack didn't reply - there was no need for one. He'd rather have his family face the bulbous-eyed lunatic over the emerging darkness behind.

They weren't far off when the storm hit.

Bo watched, exasperated, as the 1800-pound Sentaur was hurled three-hundred-feet into the twilight, disappearing within the shadowy vortex. The force of the storm was so intense that it was ripping people out of their cars in mid-air. Bo let out a flaugh, cringing to his stomach as he saw a driver go through a windshield, glass flaying his skin, and plummet into the grill of a soaring Bronco.

Lily's eyes were covered for the next part.

Bo's face turned a ghastly pale color, as he witnessed a young lady grated into a scattering diesel engine. He shut his eyes and prayed for God to stop the unrelenting carnage, but the big G must have called in sick that Friday night.

 

The sound was deafening. A deafening sound - almost like teeth grinding metal. A grating sound that was not of this green earth. It was an alien frequency that easily ruptured the human eardrum.

All Bo could do was clasp his hands over his ears, blood trickling between his fingers. Everything became slow and blurry and he felt weightless, like an astronaut experiencing zero gravity. Yet, in this hushed, inebriated moment, Bo was able to glance at his sister. Fate had flipped the hourglass, leaving the bottom side empty for but a singular moment. Bo was granted a chance to say his good-byes.

 

I love ye, sis

.

 

Bo Turrey remembered the next events like flipping through a dusty stack of photos. There were doubles that got in the way, but he clearly remembered the storm tearing off the Ford's roof and the sensation of wind hammering at his face. And then he saw it - the Eye...

The eye of the storm.

Not like the satellite scan of the hurricane eye of the North American blizzard of 2006. No, this wasn't in the textbooks...

The Eye glared at Bo with pure malevolence, its pupil burning hot like red embers. A light glowed and danced within the iris, almost playfully, as if it were enjoying the slaughter. That idiot Sherman was right, Bo thought, - the devil really had come to town.

Bo's own eyes were drying out. His lips had already cracked open, revealing tiny droplets of blood, and when the ends of his hairs began to sizzle, Bo realized that death was upon him. He knew he had to avert his eyes, but the Eye was daunting... enthralling even. Satan had him and there was no denying the devil what he claimed. Bo surrendered his will to live and a pair of hungry fangs gripped tightly around his soul.

Suddenly, Bo felt a little hand brush against his. It was Lily… she was still alive! This set a fire in his lungs that forced Bo to let out a scream - a big, defiant one. The devil could have his soul for all he cared, but not Lily's. Lily was a flower that belonged in a vase on the Lord's desk.

Bo's strength returned. He used his battered hands to jostle Satan's fangs off his chest, and turned away from the Eye. In a flash, Bo pulled his sister in, and readied himself for whatever judgement St. Peter had in store for them.

 

There were stars. His stomach was crawling up his throat. Whiplash. The smell of oil. A familiar voice.

"Here, Bo, eat this," it said to him, shoving a gelatinous substance in his mouth.

"Chocolate pudding?" Bo asked, almost choking on his own tongue. It was still numb, the apex lying limp on the roof of his mouth. Was he upside down?

Bo sluggishly rolled open his eyes. The light came to him like the sun etching over the Rocky Mountains at dawn. He could make out the silhouette of a face bending over him.

"Found it in your coat pocket. It's a miracle you're alive," said the face. "Both, you and Lily-bud."

"Rudy?"

His cousin was the only person who called her that.

"Yeah, buddy. Is it okay for me to set you up?"

"Un, yeah..."

He was lifted. His head lolled back in that climactic way the bad guy's did after getting stuck by John McClane. Though, instead of following up with a campy one-liner, all Bo got was a headache the size of Mt. Fuji. He groaned. Quite a bit.

"Where is she?" Bo slurred, his vision going in and out. Everything looked washed over like a Monet painting. "And where's pa and Teresa?"

"Lily-bud's sleeping in the car..."

"And... what 'bout my folks?"

Bo couldn't see the look on Rudy's face but he didn't need to. The dead silence was enough.

"Oh..." he barely got out.

"I'm sorry, Bo," said Rudy, his lower lip trembling. The Turreys had visited him every Sunday while he was in rehab. Teresa would sit with him in the Community Room watching Telemundo, even though she didn’t understand a lick of Spanish. When his leg was feeling better, Jack would shoot some hoops with him in the courtyard. The images of Jack's charred black face would forever be imprinted in his mind. He would store it on the shelf where he put all the shit that went down in Iraq. Tears swelled up in his eyes. "Really, I am."

It would be another hour before Bo's sight returned. Rudy had nursed him the whole time, rubbing the palm of his hand through Bo's short hair, promising him that everything was going to be okay. The sun was burning overhead when Bo was finally able to get to his feet.

They were resting on the side of Highway 71. In the distance, Bo could see the reflection of metal and instantly recognized what it was.

"I wanna see for myself!"

Bo started down the black road, tar sticking to the bottoms of his Converse shoes. In a flash, Rudy blocked his path and was glaring down at the boy with his intense brown eyes.

"Mujito stupido!" he yelled in Spanish. It came out every time he lost his cool. His abuela used say that, "-you can take the American out of Mexico but you can't take the Mexican out of America." Rudy set a brown hand on his cousin's quivering shoulder. "Can't you see? That place has become a graveyard."

It was then that Bo noticed the vultures in the sky. The hungry carrion birds were stalking the wreckage, patiently waiting for the meat to spoil. Bo's fists began to shake. "We need to get moving, buddy. Two more of them storms appeared last night, while you were asleep. One in the east... the other in the west. They say to head for the larger cities, that we're safe there. The storms appear to be going around them."

Rudy paused for a moment, staring up at the vultures, as if he was an augur praying to some Roman god for guidance.

"Bo, I'm taking you and your sister to Mexico."

"W- what? Wouldn't we be safer..."

"I don't trust this," he said, more to himself than Bo. "Any of it."

"But I don't get it. Why Mexico?"

"Because, this isn't happening anywhere else."

Bo floundered at the idea. He couldn't imagine three of those storms - nor why the devil made the US his prime target.

"My family owns a house in Guadalajara," said Rudy, turning to the car. "They'll take us in. Come on."

Bo followed his cousin to a red Lotus Exige 265E, one of the first Bioethanol cars to hit the market. Bo couldn't tell the year, but it was definitely a collector's item worth at least half-a-mil. It was a shame that it was missing its hood and had lacerations all over its body kit.

"I found this in the debris and scrapped my bike for it," said Rudy, hopping into the driver's seat. It'll get us to the border in no time."

Bo opened the passenger-side door and inside he noticed an HK830 assault rifle propped against the leather seat.

"What's wid the gun?" he asked, almost probingly.

"Found that at a car pile-up on my way here. Just move it over and get in."

Bo did as he was told and shut the door, startling his sister awake. Lily rubbed the crusties out of her eyes and gave Bo a warm smile.

"Are ye all right, Lily?"

"Un-huh."

There was a bloodstained T-shirt wrapped around her little arm.

"What's wrong, Bo?" she asked with her big, green eyes.

Bo had just realized that it was going to be his task of explaining why their parents weren't around. What a horrible way for a kindergartner to learn the concept of death, he thought. Bo could feel tears rising up his eyes.

"Bo..." his cousin said, turning the key and starting the car. Steam was venting through the Exige's exposed metal innards. Rudy rummaged through one of the many pockets on his forest green vest, and withdrew a pack of Marlboros. He shoved a cigarette between his chapped lips, using a gold Zippo to light the other end. He then took a drag and blew the smoke into the dusty, blue sky. "You saw it, didn't you?"

By it, did he mean-

"The Eye..." Rudy chanted.

The image of the Eye hit Bo like melting iron being plunged into water. He remembered the fiery gaze, the way it pierced his soul.

"Yeah."

"The storm came outta nowhere. I was in the mansion, in the study - you remember the one with the sky light on the east wing - and when I looked up..." Rudy’s throat went horse. "What do you think it was?"

Bo knew exactly what it was, but dared not to utter his name.

"Me too," Unknowingly, Rudy was gnawing at the cigarette filter. "I don't care what, or who it is, Bo, but if it crosses our path again, I won't go down without a fight. I promised your dad I would protect you and Lily-bud and I intend to keep that promise til' I'm put in a coffin."

The tears came. Bo plunged his face into Rudy's vest and let it all out - the guilt of not being able to do anything to save his parents, or not telling them about the bad feeling he got when they left the trailer, or the birds, or-

"It's okay, buddy..." Rudy whispered in his ear. "It's okay."

"I did nothing!" Bo sobbed, pressing his hot red face even further into Rudy's chest. Snot was oozing down his lips. Tears were dropping onto Rudy's jeans. "I just sat there, dammit!"

"What's wrong, Bo?" Lily sheepishly asked. When her brother didn't answer, she looked up at Rudy with her big glassy eyes. Confused and afraid, she began to cry as well. Rudy brought her into his shoulder and clutched the two of them as hard as he could.

Bo didn't remember how long they stayed in that position, but for those minutes or hours, nothing existed beyond the leather interior of the red sports car.

 

Bo had torn off a loose thread on his Avatar jacket and was trying to lasso a fly without much succession. It was a trick his father had taught him while shackin' at Uncle Jim's a few years back. He remembered how miserable the weather was that summer - it was the kind of humid that made your arms and face all sticky. Just thinking about it made him wish Rudy could stop the car so he could take a dip in Lake Texoma.

They had been skimming along the reservoir for the past hour. Their destination: Amarillo, Texas. An emergency weather broadcast had interrupted the Argonauts, who were beating the house drum and hammering on their Strats in one mothercluster of a solo, to report the tornado had struck Waco, Texas, and was making a curve toward Beaumont. If they were lucky, the storm system would continue its current course and assimilate with the Gulf of Mexico.

Rudy didn't believe in luck. He would take them around the Lone Star State, except for the jump to Amarillo, and haul ass until they were in the Land of Entrapment (it was a little nick Uncle Jim gave New Mexico after nabbing three speeding ticks in one lousy day). After passing Albuquerque, they would merge into I-25 and head south, through El Paso, until they were super south of the border.

"How far 'r we from Marietta?" Bo asked without thinking it. He was still daydreaming about the cool river, the water splashing his perspiring face, bubbles tickling at his pits, the feeling of sand coursing between his toes.

Rudy checked the GPS and counted all the little blips to Elpaso, Texas. They had nearly 1,000 miles to go and anything could happen on a desert highway - he'd seen enough David Lynch flicks to know that.

"86 miles and counting..."

"Jesus," Bo cursed the good name. It wasn't the first time he'd done it since losing his folks to the devil. "I need to pee, Rudy."

"I warned you not to drink all that Mountain Dew, didn't I, buddy?"

To Rudy's surprise, the Allsups they stopped at in Durran had been abandoned. While he gassed up the Exige before paying, Bo and Lily took some time to commit a little felony of their own. The trunk was chock-full of candy treasures that were plundered from their gas station raid. However, like most criminals, Bo and Lily had no self-control - Bo most of all.

"Well, since you sucked down all that Dew, you got plenty of room in the bottle to do your thing."

"Seriously?"

"Hey, it ain't my car, buddy."

"Don't do it, Bo. That's g-UH-ross!"

"Yeah, forget that!" Bo snorted, tossing the plastic bottle out the window.

"You know littering these days is worth a five-hundred dollar fine," Rudy nagged, emulating Teresa to the T. Bo cringed at that.

"Don't think it really matters none too much 'nymore," Bo quipped, laying thick on the accent.

"This will be over one day, Bo, and when it is... I'll bring you and Lily home."

"I don't know if ye noticed 'r not - but we left our home to the vultures."

"Don't say such nasty things. The trailer might still be intact - and I'm sure they left you some money for college. You'll want to continue your schoolin' here in the states, right?"

"I don't ever wanna come back to this hell hole," he replied, staring intently out the window.

"What about Lily, huh? Where I'm from, little gringo girls go missing every week. Mexico's all fucked up right now - prolly always will be. Why do you think my abuela sold the farm to get me a Green Card? Hell, if it wasn't for her, I never would've been able to get my education from the army."

Bo leaned his cheek against the warm glass of the side window, trying hard to ignore his cousin. He was beginning to hate all the self-righteous mumbo-jumbo and wanted to kick him off the soapbox. Suddenly, something hateful worked its way up Bo's throat.

"But if you hadn't joined the army, ye wouldn't have been shot, and Uncle Jim wouldn't have been there to take ye in the way he did fer all ‘em soldiers. Ye'd just be another fat spic lying drunk under some freeway in El Pisso."

Lily was stunned.

Rudy knew that Bo was still coping with the sudden loss of his parents, but it didn't stop the insult from burrowing deep into his skin. He discontentedly lit up another Marlboro and took the Exige to 180 mph.

Rudy warp-speeded through Marietta.

"Hey, what the hell?" Bo sneered. His bladder felt like it might explode at any moment. "I really gotta go!"

"Shouldn't have littered. There's plenty more Dew in the back if you want to make another empty bottle."

Bo shot him a satanic glare.

"It's how we spics do it while riding out donkeys to the nearest bar," Rudy hissed, smoke billowing out of his nostrils like a chimney. "You know what I mean, hombre?"

Bo's lip curled, partly because he was seconds away from soiling his Levis, partly because he realized that he'd done wrong to his cousin. If Rudy hadn't found them, he was sure the vultures would be pecking at his intestines - which in his current predicament, was almost a relieving thought. Anything to ditch the ten-pound dumbbell that was lodged in his gut.

"I'm sorry for what I said back there!" Bo jittered, holding his crotch. "Now, please, stop the damn car, Rudy!"

The Lotus Exige 265E could accelerate from 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds, but when pushing down the break at full throttle, it took nearly 15 seconds for the car to make a complete stop. It took another second for Bo to get out the door and a whopping minute to unleash his fury onto a helpless patch of mesquite.

"Ew!" Lily hollered from afar.

Bo zipped up, and with his weight returned to normal, he almost glided back to the car.

"Did ye see the bush?" He was beaming up at Rudy. "It shriveled all u-"

"Shut up!" his cousin snorted, pumping the Volume + button on the Panasonic digital stereo to MAX.

"- emerged in Bakersfield during the early hours," said a wiry news reporter on the other end. "-at approximately 2:35 in the morning. In one brutal hour, it leveled the Westchester and Stockdale districts, killing hundreds and wounding thousands. It then vanished without a trace, leaving scientists to question the origin and attributes of the storm.

"'It is sporadic. When it amasses, the Doppler is overwhelmed with greens and reds - mostly reds - but then it will disappear and reappear in another city. We have witnessed this from the GOES-12 satellite. The water vapor scans are unbelievable! With its unorthodox patterns and exceeding wind velocities, some of us in the lab are calling this storm extraterrestrial.'

The reporter took over the mike again.

"The storm veered its ugly head again, this time striking Yuma, Arizona. Fortunately, the city had already been evacuated, and there are no reported casualties. However, it appears to have set its eye on Tucson, and despite the National Guard doing their best to evacuate the city, it is highly unlikely that everyone will reach safety. For once, we at CNN hope we are wrong.'"

It appears to have set its eye on Bo, was all he heard.

"He wants to finish what he started," he thought aloud.

Rudy stared hard into his cousin's eyes.

"He's comin' for me, Rudy!" Bo yowled. "He wants my soul!"

Rudy wanted to reach over and slap the boy for being superstitious, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. It would be hypocrisy. Somehow, he believed him - every inch of every word.

Lily was shivering. Not from the cold wind blowing in from the west, but from the look on Rudy's weathered face. His skin was sallow and his eyes were darting around, like crazy ol' Sherman's did when he started jabbing about the Swamp Monster. Rudy could see it, like she could see Santa. Kids at school told her that Christopher Cringle wasn't nothin' but a fairy tale, but she never fancied the idea. Lily could only hope the devil was part of her overactive imagination. She reached her tiny hand out and tugged at Rudy's vest.

"I'm scared," she whimpered.

The Marlboro fell out of Rudy's mouth and lit a fine spark on his trousers. It woke him from his trance and he smacked the lit cherry off his leg. Suddenly, the part of his brain that wanted to survive sent a signal for him to grab the hell out of the shifter, and push her into first. Bo and Lily rocked back in their seats as the Exige peeled pavement, setting a new record for the quarter mile run.

Rudy would do it. He would race the devil.

 

They breasted another steep hill and Bo could see the glint of Santa Rosa in the distance. The moonlight reflected off the sinkholes that New Mexicans erroneously called rivers. It was an infected harvest moon - the kind that rusted over time. The stars were hiding behind a skim of copper clouds and Bo saw that a green, phosphorous mist was gathering in the desert. It made his skin crawl. He knew it was a sign that the devil had accepted their challenge.

"Once we hit Albuquerque," Rudy began, tossing a cigarette butt out the window. After Bo's last fit, he'd given up on setting a good example. Besides, his abuela had the vaccine for teenage angst and he still had the marks on his ass to prove it. "-It’ll be a straight shot to the border. If I maintain this speed, we should make it to Elpaso in less than three hours."

"Do ye think Customs'll be busy?"

"We haven't passed a car since Rotor City. I think we're the only bastards crazy enough to head toward the storm. The only action we'll see over at the border are Mexicans trying to get in!"

For some reason, that only made Bo feel worse.

"But hey, buddy, it'll be clear sailing from Juarez. I can't wait for you to see the skyline of Torro de Hierro, on our way to Analco. Once we're settled in, I'll get us some tickets to Guggenheim."

"What the hell is that?" Bo pondered, taking his mind off the pulsating moon above. "Is that German or something?"

"I'm surprised you never heard of these art museums. There are, like, three here in the U.S. The one in Guadalajara was built in the early teens and is, in my opinion, the baddest mother of 'em all."

"I didn't realize you were so artsy-fartsy," Bo quipped.

"Nah, I couldn't care less about what's inside the museum - it's the museum itself that captivates me. I used to want to be an architect, you know. I did construction work on a couple buildings in Andares plaza and would think, 'you know, I could design this stuff. I mean, I just had better ideas than the foreman, but-"

Rudy's eyes turned a shallow brown color. He clearly had taken a wrong turn down memory lane.

"Rudy?" Bo snapped the closest ear to him. "Back to earth, Rudy!"

"Ah!" Rudy gasped, breaking free of nostalgia. "Sorry, Bo. I was just thinking..."

"'Bout what?"

First, feeling sorry for himself, wondering just how many years he wasted dodging bullets in Iraq. Then, he remembered the little Kurdish girl hanging from a tree by her own intestines. Who would do such a thing? He looked into the rear-view mirror, at the sleeping beauty, Lily-bud. Suddenly, he remembered why he called her that. The lily bud had yet to bloom. He'd seen a lot in his 36 years. Hell, enough to write a bible out of an autobiography... but Lily-bud was just a kid. Suddenly, Rudy felt guilty for despairing.

"Listen, the sun'll be up in a couple of hours, and we still got half a state to cross. Why don't you get some rest, buddy?"

Bo knew that his cousin was camouflaging something, it's what the army taught him to do, and you just don't rubberneck a roughneck. He was right sure that Rudy would die with all his demons.

"Okay," said Bo, reclining in a clammy leather seat. He could hear Lily snoring softly from behind. It was oddly soothing to him - like gazing into the golden horizon of Van Gogh's Red Vineyards piece. Uncle Jim had a duplicate hanging in his office in the attic and Bo would sometimes creep inside, just to marvel at the painting. He'd never admitted it to anyone, but he suffered from a mild case of the artsy-fartsy - at least when it came to the Red Vineyards. Bo imagined him and Lily frolicking in the brassy fields, the sun waning down over the slopy Van Goghish horizon, until his parents would call them in for supper. They would skip the hearth and make for a little 2-D Italian villa that rose above the Red Fields...

"Mierda!"

Bo's head shot up like a rocket. He didn't know the exact definition of the Spanish word, mierda, but knew that it didn't belong on the romantic side of the language, and once when he noticed the fumes undulating from the car's engine, out came a little curse of his own.

"Chinga usted!" profaned Rudy, thrusting the palms of his hands against the steering wheel. Lily bolted upright from the back seat, looking in every direction for the monster that was chasing her in her dream. She watched Rudy mash his face into his dirty, scabbed hands. He then suspired. "Yo no creo esto... por que ahora?" Rudy slammed the door and went around to the exposed bleeding motor. Bo peered out the cracked windshield. The full moon was ebbing in the west. To the east, a red sun crept over the Jarilla Mountains.

 

"Where are we, Bo?" Lily asked feverishly.

"Don't know fer sure," her brother replied. "Somewhere outside o' Elpisso, I think. Prolly near that shit hole, Orogrande."

Any traveler en route to Elpaso had to first pass through a rundown mining town called Orogrande. It used to be home to a few rednecks, who ran an Exxon station near the cockeyed water tower. However, when the U.S. was through with its little Operation Iraqi Flapdoodle, gas prices finally returned to normal, and folks had all the fuel they needed to get them from Alamogordo to the Lone Star State. Not soon after, the Bureau of Land Management would christen Orogrande a "ghost town".

 

If there was one place that Bo disliked in all 268,820 square feet of Texas, it was Orogrande.

 

If Rudy couldn't fix the Exige, Bo knew they would have no choice but to SandTrek the rest of the way - no beaming up for them. Once they were in Elpisso, they could ride their thumb to the border... assuming the devil didn't get them first.

"Bo, get in the cockpit and rev her up!" his cousin rasped within the smoke.

"Sure thing!"

Crunch. Crunch. Hssss...

It was to no avail. That's what happens when you keep an engine revved at 6,000 RPMS for 15 hours straight. It was lights out for the Exige... and it would be the same fate for them if they didn't get their kickers to the highway.

"Hey, Lily-bud, you wanna piggy-back ride?"

"Un-huh..." she replied in a oblivious, foghorning tone.

Rudy pulled her out of the car and threw her on his shoulders. Lily wrapped her stubby legs around his sun-baked neck. "Of course you do. Bo, grab my rifle."

Rudy started down Interstate 54, steadying Lily with one hand, while using the other to withdraw his trusty Zippo. Bo hung the assault rifle around his shoulder and looked back to the north. He'd expected to see the devil mounted on a behemoth (they were large beasts mentioned somewhere in the Bible), charging down the mountain, leaving a trail of fire in his wake - but all he got was an empty desert under an empty sky. He hoped, for their sake, that it stayed that way.

"Hurry up!" Rudy called from afar. Bo had to sprint to catch up with him. "Keep your fingers crossed that someone comes our way. Well, you'll need a thumb, so don't tie it up."

"Ain't hitchin' dangerous?"

Bo raised an eyebrow.

"Yer right. Don't matter no more - like I said 'bout littering."

Rudy lit a bent cigarette and took a drag. While he exhaled the mixture of carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide into the atmosphere, he found it pointless to argue with his cousin. Besides, no matter which way you looked at it...

 

-They were fucked. By the time they could see Orogrande, the sun won its game of King of the Hill, and soared triumphantly above the Jarilla Mountains, revealing something awful to the north. The storm had beguiled Bo, hiding within the remnants of night, clinging to it like a disease.

Rudy scrambled towards the ghost town.

"Faster, Bo!" he bellowed. "Faster!"

Bo's chest was on fire. His heart was somehow beating in his jaws. The lump in his throat wouldn't go away, no matter how many times he tried to swallow it down. The wind burnt his eyes. He knew that a muscle in his leg had torn - the one with the crazy Latin name. Just when he was about to faint, Rudy curled him up with a shaky left arm and was hauling ass toward an abandoned mine.

"N - no... it's... haunted," Bo huffed in a daze.

Rudy ignored his cousin and darted toward the boarded entrance to the mineshaft. He used his heel to break down the petrified wood. Looking up, he saw the storm was gaining on them. It swelled up, red lightening shooting up from the center like a thousand spider legs, and from its throne, the Eye surveyed all. It would follow him inside the mine unless...

"Can you move?" he asked Bo.

"Un... yeah."

Rudy traded Lily-bud for the gun on Bo's shoulder. "Give me this. Listen, I want you to take your sister and run as far as you can."

"No wa-!"

"You will do as I say!" Rudy barked, shaking him violently. "Run as far as you can!" he repeated. "Don't look back and never, for any reason, come out of hiding - even if its me calling out for you. Do you understand me, Bo?"

"But what 'r ye g-"

"Baboso!" He slapped the boy. "Answer me!"

Bo couldn't fight the tears that were gnawing at the back of his eyes. "Y - yeah!"

"Good," Rudy said with a faint smile, propping the assault rifle against the nape of his neck. "I love you, buddy. You too, Lily-bud."

Rudy turned away from them and began running toward the bars of light that were jutting from the entrance. Bo was holding his sister's trembling hand, trying his best to be strong.

"Asshole!" he screamed at the top of his collapsing lungs. When the echo returned, Bo realized that, asshole, might have been the last thing he would say to his cousin. He began to sob.

 

Outside, Rudy was dragging a fat, rusty chain from the remains of Ben’s Auto Shop to the center of the village. The chain jingled as he looped it around the base of a fire hydrant.

"Chinga usted..." he muttered, frowning up at the storm. It was dead close. Rudy's hair and clothes were rippling in the wind.

"Yo mataria tu!" he screamed at the devil, getting his attention. The storm let out a roar, and if Rudy hadn't dodged out of the way, he would have been impaled by a soaring Yield sign.

"Usted perdio! Come on!" Rudy taunted. He then wrapped the chain around his ankle, fastening himself to the fire hydrant, and proceeded to take the remainder and wrap it around his wrist and the assault rifle. Planting his feet into the ground, and raising the gun to the amassing storm, he declared, "Estoy listo, usted hijo de puta madre."

The devil returned his challenge with another thunderous roar and the cockeyed water tower finally gave under. The empty silo fell on top of a nearby trailer, shattering into a million pieces. Another gust of wind lifted a Voltzwagon and sent it tumbling into the side of the Exxon station. Rudy shielded his eyes from the debris. Wind howled. The chain tugged at his ankle.

His arms were shaking. It wasn’t ‘cause he was chickenshit, he knew there’d be no backing out the moment he decided to race the devil down Interstate 54. Rudy affirmed his resolve two days ago, when he made the promise on Jack Turrey’s grave that he’d protect his surviving children, no matter the cost. No, Rudy wasn’t chickenshit – he was anxious to get it over and done with.

The Eye erupted, like a floating volcano in the sky, and Orogrande was enveloped in a hellish blood red. Just then, the chain around Rudy’s ankle made a snapping noise and he let out a hoarse cry. It had gnarled the flesh off his leg. The exposed meat of his calf muscle stuck to his jeans. The pain was unbearable… but Rudy had a job to finish. He bit his tongue to stifle the pain, mustered the corners of his mouth into a little grimace, and put the Eye in his crosshair.

"Fuck you," Rudy cursed to English perfection.

 

The echo bounced from wall to wall, and by the time it reached the siblings, the gunfire sounded more like the fusillade of a Kurdish firing squad. Bo felt the little hairs on the back of his neck rise electric. Lily grasped his hand tightly and made an undecipherable whimper - her breaths had been getting heavier and heavier with each passing step.

Sulfur burned at Bo’s nostrils. Maybe this was all a deception, he thought. What if the devil had lured them inside the mineshaft? He expected to find a sign reading, Abandon all hope, ye that enter, but he couldn’t make out anything in the pitch black. Only God knew just how far he and Lily went fumbling into the darkness, but one thing Bo did know was that he dropped a good sense of direction along the way.

"I want Rudy," Lily panted, tugging at her brother’s sweaty hand.

"Ye know we can’t go back, sis. We should wait here, like Rudy said."

"What if he’s hurt?" she began to cry. "We can’t just leave him out there,

Bo!"

"But if we go out there, the storm’ll get us too…"

She stomped on Bo’s foot. "I don’t care! I want Rudy!"

The sharp pain surged its way through Bo’s nervous system and up to his brain. The voice up there warned him that if they stayed in the mine, there was a chance that Lily would suffocate before the storm passed over. That wasn’t part of Rudy’s plan, Bo had no doubt about that. He’s never been compos mentis, like Uncle Jim was in the courtroom, but it didn’t tale an judge to figure this one out – anything seemed better than asphyxiating in a dank, gloomy mineshaft.

Bo cleared his throat. "Ye gotta stay right be me, okay?"

"H-hokay…"

 

The decrepit village of Orogrande was consumed in a dreadful, benumbing silence. Bo rubbed the soot off his eyelids but had to squint to get a decent view. Dust and debris swirled around the Plaza like a scourge of locusts devouring some hapless farmer’s crops. When it began to subside, Bo could see the outline of a man prostrating with his leg coiled unnaturally around the bulbous tripod-like shape of a fire hydrant. A machine gun lay an arm’s reach away.

"Rudy!" he cried out, grabbing Lily by the hand, and dragging her to the scene.

"Get back! Get back! Get back!" Rudy shouted hysterically, spit bubbling from between his teeth. His eyes were glazed over in a madness that Bo had seen once before, when Rudy was going through withdraws his third day in rehab. Bo unconsciously took a step back and caused Lily to lose her balance and plop to the ground. "I told you to stay in the mine, Bo! Why didn’t you listen to me?!"

"I – I heard gun shots…" he muttered. "-and then the wind stopped howlin’ and I thought… I mean, it looks like ye got ‘em. Right, Rudy?"

Rudy was hyperventilating.

"It wasn’t what – who we thought it was," he gasped, blood spurting from a gash under his eyebrow.

"Then what was that thing?"

"Over there…" his cousin replied, pointing to an oval-shaped object in the falling debris. Smoke was ebbing out of several bullet holes on it’s side paneling "I think it was some kind of… weather controlling device…"

"But – why?"

"Who cares! Take Lily and get the hell outta here!"

Vrrrrrr…

The machine began to rumble and Bo could see two green lights flickering within the dust. Suddenly, the top canopy opened with a hiss.

"Run!" Rudy screeched. "Run, dammit!"


© Copyright 2017 Krow Wesley. All rights reserved.

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