The old man looked out the window at the clouds rapidly moving in from the south.
“They’re runnin’ scared. The clouds, I mean. You can almost smell New Orleans.”
Warm air was pumping north from the Gulf of Mexico. It was January, but severe storms were marching in from Arkansas.
“Was never like this as a kid. Something has gone screwy with the weather. We’re gettin’ March in January now. It has to be that Al Gore’s fault.”
No one in the Cougar Falls Texaco station liked Al Gore much. But they did notice the weather pattern changing.
“Think we’ll get a twister?” the young boy behind the cash register said.
“Lord I hope not.”
The EF-5 of 2011 had wiped out much of the town. Folks in these parts were as nervous as raccoon at a coon hound convention when storms headed their way. Just the mere mention of a tornado watch by the National Weather Service caused palms to sweat.
Jimmy Gillespie reset the checker board and dared anyone else to sit down and play him. ”C’mon you wimps. What’re you afraid of?”
“Having to look at your face for 30 minutes,” Lou Jacobs said. Lou owned the local clothing shop and had been friends with Jimmy since they were in kindergarten. Lou and Jimmy had something else in common — both lost their wives in the storm. It was the unspoken bond of the tornado survivors — loss. A tough scar tissue now covered their hearts. ”Think those boys at the Weather Service are screwing with us?”
Hank Fresco looked up from his iPad. “Naw. Don’t think so. We’re in the bulls-eye again, I’m afraid.”
Hank had been a meteorologist in the Navy. He had retired from the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command down at Stennis Space Center and moved north. “I had enough of hurricanes after Katrina,” he had once told the group. He had lost his wife in 2011, too.
Clouds began to build west of the Mississippi River. The horizon began to look like a portal to Hell. If the men hadn’t been talking, they might have even heard the thunder.
Dr. Greg Forbes from the Weather Channel had given the area a TorCon value of 9. No one knew what a TorCon value meant exactly, but Dr. Forbes and Jim Cantore seemed concerned. So they became a little worried. But not a lot.
“It can take me this time around. I ain’t rebuilding again. My insurance company was almost as big of a disaster as the twister.” Hank moaned.
Fatalistic might have been the right word. But it was deeper than that. These men had faced mortality. They had bled. And now they were facing it again the only way they knew how: Head on.
“And they just got the elementary school rebuilt.” Jimmy lamented.
“Damn son, don’t count your tornadoes until they touch down.”
“This has to be the President’s fault.”
All the men looked at the young man who had come to pay for his gas and pointed at the sign above the cash register. “NO FIGHTING. NO DRINKING. NO POLITICS.”
A Baptist preacher had once stopped in to save their souls. The men all looked at the man with his slicked back hair, pearly white teeth and new suit and promptly ran him out of the little gas station. All these men had seen the devil and spit in his face. They had all lost their wives (who were at home with the storm hit.) They had talked to God personally. No man waving a Bible knew the Lord like they did.
Hank popped open a Pepsi and looked out at the approaching squall line. ”Farmer Johnson’s dog is out runnin’ loose again. Should I go out and get him?”
“Yeah, might as well. Stupid dog shouldn’t have to suffer.” Hank nodded at his friends and went out and lured the wiry mutt to him. “C’mon Toto. You don’t want to go to Oz.”
The town’s tornado siren, paid for FEMA, went off. ”This is it boys. This is the show.” The town’s old tornado siren was found five miles away after the storm of 2011.
All the men walked out to the porch of the gas station and sat down in their rocking chairs. Wind was whipping now, blasting their faces with sand and gravel. None of them said a word. Tears flowed down all of their faces.
There, off to the southwest, a funnel touched down. A power flash off toward Farmer Bryan’s farm lit the sky. They gasped as debris start to spin in the air. The tornado looked like an dark angry beast, ready to consume its latest meal. The roar became louder — more like a pulsing jet engine than a freight train. Hail began to pelt the metal roof above them and then it got still. Deathly still. The huge tornado chewed through the woods on the southwest side of town, throwing trees into the sky and headed right for the little gas station.
And then, as the men held hands, the tornado mysteriously pulled into the sky.
“I think our wives put in a good word for us.” Jimmy said. “It’s a first, but I ain’t complainin’”
“I bet they just are enjoying some peace and quiet without us,” said Hank.
“Next chance of severe weather is this weekend.”
“See y’all then. Same bat time? Same bat channel?”
“Yeah. Right here. On the front porch.”
And as the sun broke through the clouds, the Tornado Club wiped their eyes and went home until the next storm.