Land of Tornadoes
Melanie S. Wolfe
A plume of red dust chased after a nineteen-eighty-five Jeep Grand Cherokee as it sped down what used to be Route 66 Highway. Supply runs were only once a week, not to save on gas, it was cheaper now than ever, but to save on time. Time was crucial to the Wilson family mission.
The wind blew hard against the old SUV forcing it to veer a few feet every so often. Where the wind comes sweeping through the plains, Bronte Wilson thought of the cheerful line from the famous Oklahoma song as she stared at the waste land before her. Where the wind comes sweeping through the plains. The wind sounded so much more delightful in the fun, perky song than in reality. In real life, the wind sweeping through the plains was about as comforting as a tornado joyously hopping over one’s home.
Bronte looked out her window and processed the state of things. There was so much to ponder. Ian, the trial, Robinhood and Gram. Each competed for space in her head but Gram was winning at the moment. Would Gram wake up the same woman or would she be a Frackhead like Baylee’s aunt? The thought of this happening to her precious grandmother made her weak in the stomach. Next to Baylee, Gram was her best friend, not to mention, she was one of just three females in their larger than normal male-dominated family.
A greenish-black lake appeared through the naked trees outside her window and Bronte remembered the time she went waterskiing with Ian’s family in its once clean waters. Now, no one would want to go near the place as floating fish dotted its shorelines and it smelled like an unattended port-a-potty.
“Gross, isn’t it?” John Wilson’s tired eyes left the road to see the lake they usually ignored.
“A cesspool,” Bronte responded to her dad. “Do you think Lake Arcadia will ever go back to normal?”
A feeling of disappointment mixed with guilt swarmed John before he could answer. “I wouldn’t get your hopes up. Not in my lifetime anyways.”
Bronte shook her head in protest of her stupid world. “I don’t know that I’ll ever understand greed.”
“It’s about to get worse. They’re building a dome around the city.”
“To protect the rich from the mess they created. They say it’s for other reasons and that we will still be able to get in, but I guarantee you within a short time, they won’t let us in.”
“That’s wrong. I hate them more than ever.”
“Easy to do.” Her dad said as the left turn signal blinked. “We’ll bring them down soon enough though—they won’t get away with this.” John gave her a hopeful smile and she returned the gesture but with hesitation.
Bronte looked nothing like her adoptive parents, she had lighter skin than her Native American father and darker hair than her mother’s blonde. Her bright green eyes were passed down to her from her biological Afghan mother whom she had no memories of.
The side road they entered had remnants of pavement mixed with swatches of red dirt. A now common site on all Oklahoma side roads. Bronte’s cell phone pinged and she opened the message from Ian to find a similar text to the one before it:
You have to tell them to stop. What they are doing is wrong. Please, Bronte, this is my family not just some random strangers. WE GREW UP TOGETHER! Doesn’t that mean anything to you? This will destroy us. Call it off!!
She slipped her phone back in her pocket. Thanks to John’s obsession with all things tech, Bronte had a cell phone and didn’t have to pay a dime to use it. The ether should be free to all, John preached. Not hijacked by a few to suck off the many.
Bronte swore to her mother she would stop biting her nails but these days it was hard not to and her finger tips were always in pain. “Do you think they’ll find you guilty?”
“Bronte. Please. You know I won’t discuss it. It’s my burden to carry not yours.”
The Wagoneer turned onto a rock driveway leading to a small hilltop that gave way to the best views of the property. On another hilltop, at the end of the driveway, sat a large white farmhouse with black shutters. In front, a neglected tire swing hung from a dying Oak tree, and swayed on occasion from the bursts of wind. An unfinished Buckminster Fuller inspired geodesic dome sat about fifty yards from the house looking out of place. The blades of the rusted windmill John’s grandfather installed when he built the place jerked hard to the right as a cloud of dust invaded the land.
Wilson’s Ranch was now a non-working ranch and had just been remodeled and updated six years ago. That was back when life was kind to them, when John was still CTO for the largest oil company in the country.
When they reached the house, Bronte had her door open before the Jeep stopped. She pulled her swimming goggles up over her eyes, covered her mouth with her shirt, jumped out and ran by her mom’s dusty broken-down electric car, swinging the bag of Ramen noodles they'd just bought.
Her flip-flops flew to a pile of shoes on the side porch as the screen door slammed shut and she ran down a hall with only one thing on the wall, a plaque that read: Mensa International Member. A reminder that only those who scored in the top 98th percentile on the IQ test walked these halls.
Kerosene lamps lit the open living room and kitchen. The solar panels were useless on dust days so they had to resort to the days of old for light. Gram laid on the pale blue sofa under a blanket, shivering and moaning. Above the sofa hung a quote written in black font on a piece of pale green barn wood:
“What is now proved was once only imagined.” – William Blake.
Bronte dropped the bags on the big white kitchen island and went straight to Gram’s side. Her older brothers, Fresco and Nikola sat in the surrounding chairs scrolling their laptops for the news of the day as John had requested. Malcolm and Koi, the two newest kids to the Wilson clan, sat at the table reading The Republic and Brave New World, assigned by Ali Wilson, PhD. She had to get them caught up with the others.
Huxley, done with his assignment, hovered over the island, engrossed in a video on the oldest temples around the world. The most profound experience of his short seventeen years was when after a tech conference in China, he and his family went up to the Shaolin Monastery in the Wudang Mountains and he got to have a heart-to-heart with a Taoist. The experience was far more gratifying for him than a tech conference on hacking.
“Hux,” John called out, “What’s our Litecoin wallet sitting at?”
“Last I checked, which was thirty minutes ago, four thousand.” He pulled out his earbuds and paused the video. “Bitcoin was down around ten thousand and our altcoin wallets were up at around eighty-five-hundred altogether.”
“Okay, I’m going to need you to cash out five-hundred from Bitcoin. Also, I want you to scan the new ICO’s and see if there’s anything worth throwing some money at.”
“Will do,” Huxley went to work.
John was always concerned that their whole life savings could drop in value at a moment’s notice. They could have nothing tomorrow morning or be millionaires. Crypto’s were risky, but at least the government couldn’t freeze them like they did his bank accounts.
John went to Ali in the kitchen and without telling each other their problems they said it in a hug. Twenty-four years together and they could read each other like a billboard flashing in Times Square. John looked into her eyes, seeing the same strong woman he once saw standing on the lawn at MIT wearing a tight pink T-shirt that read: RESIST. Ali was of Swedish descent and had creamy tan skin, yellow soft hair and the biggest blue eyes John had ever seen. “Any sign she’ll be okay?”
John asked, looking over at Gram, hoping Ali would surprise him.
“Her nails have turned black, John. I’m sorry.” The ground grumbled and everything in the house shook as if a subway had been built under them but no one paid much attention. Earthquakes were a daily event.
John let her go and leaned on the counter. “Damn it,” he whispered. “I don’t know how she got a hold of bad water. We’re strict with our supply.”
Everyone adored Gram, she helped raise the kids when Ali was teaching full-time at the University of Oklahoma, back before Ali switched to part-time to homeschool the kids and give them a ‘real’ education. Joyce Anne Wilson was always there to help, making sure her grandkids never saw the inside of a daycare. She taught the kids Native traditions and her knowledge of the natural world. Being full Apache and a hippy, she was very much in touch with the world around her, but seeing what had become of her beloved state these last five years, was more than she could take, and she felt herself dying along with the land way before she drank the poisoned water.
In a way, she knew her time was coming to an end, the grandkids no longer needed her, the youngest, was now fifteen, and Gram was witnessing her son and grandchildren plan something so questionable and dangerous, she feared the end results. She was all for protesting, but revenge, this crossed her line. Even in her counterculture days when she and Jim Wilson took their then five-year-old son and two-year-old daughter on a road trip to protest in D.C. and the cops man-handled her and hauled her off to jail in front of her children for doing nothing more than peacefully standing up for Native American rights, she didn’t seek revenge.
Ali turned back to the long marble-top island, stirred the Ramen noodles and noticed Bronte. Bronte was on her knees next to the sofa, caressing Gram’s long salt and peppered hair, whispering in her ear.
“Bronte Rose,” Ali said from the kerosene lit kitchen, “Don’t get so close, hon.”'
“Mom, I’ll be fine. They say it’s not contagious. The only way you can get it is from the water.” Gram came down with a fever in the middle of the night three nights ago. John and Ali took her to the one ER still open in Edmond but they were turned away because there is no known cure yet.
Nikola, wearing a black T-shirt that read: Poverty is Manmade, chuckled, “Imagine Bronte a Frackhead. She’d probably become the leader of all the Frackers, convert to crony capitalism, and kill us all.”
“Nik!” Both, Ali and John said with an alarmed tone.
Bronte clasped her long caramel brown hair in her hand and tied it into a ponytail while casually smirking at her brother. “Hey Nik! If I turn, you’ll be the first I attack.” She smiled and he returned the compliment with a wink.
Nikola acted nothing like his composed, thoughtful twin brother, Huxley. They were opposites in every way. Nikola looked twenty-five rather than seventeen, he had a bushy beard, tattooed arms and neck and his hair was shaved too short on each side of his head, leaving the top long. Once Ali Wilson was asked by Diane Carter, her husband’s former boss’ wife, how she could let Nikola be so free with his appearance. He had a Mohawk at the time. Ali returned the question with a question, “How can you force your kids to look like everyone else?”
“Bronte, come on, listen to your mom.” John said, picking up a kitchen chair. “We don’t know how this spreads…please, I would feel better if you just sit over here with your brothers.”
Bronte’s phone pinged again as she sat in the chair. Another message from Ian Carter blared at her, begging, but this one said things that made her mad.
Bronte typed: Maybe your dad shouldn’t have fired mine! It’s not like you like him anyways.
Ian: Maybe your dad should have supported the company mission instead of going all enviro! Look, if we aren’t going to discuss this, I’m done. I have to protect my family. I’m talking to them this weekend.
Bronte: No! Please, I’m begging U don’t! I can’t deal with this right now. Gram is sick. We think she drank bad water.
Ian: What??? No!! I am so sorry, Bron. I had no idea. I know how close you were to her. Even though we aren’t together anymore, I’m here for you. Please, could we just meet and talk in person?
Bronte put the phone back in her pocket to think on it. Her family would freak if they knew she was talking to him, let alone talking to a Carter. The rich scum of the earth, her father just recently called them. If John knew Bronte told Ian about the mission, he would be livid. He would assume Ian would warn his dad, but Bronte was certain of Ian’s loyalties to her, and she had her reasons for warning him.
“Boys,” John smacked his hands together. “Help me get the gas out of the Wagoneer and into the generator.”
“You aren’t doing this now, are you?” Ali stopped stirring the noodles.
“I can’t sit here and watch my mom turn, Al. She could be here, like this, for days. I have to do something productive. Time is of the essence, I’m in Daniel’s emails, and we have several to read. Call me if anything changes.”
Ali gave him a dismissive look and turned the gas stove off. “Food is ready if anyone is hungry.”
The boys loaded up their bowels and made their way out the back door. “You coming, Bronte?” Frisco called out, holding the door open.
“No, I’m staying with Gram.”
Ali sat near Bronte in the living room and ate the noodles she silently swore just yesterday she could never eat again. John wouldn’t allow them to buy anything else. They had to save money.
“Mom. Look. Gram.”
Ali looked up from her bowl and saw Gram staring straight at her. “Hi!” Ali said softly as not to startle her. She sat her noodles down and came closer as did Bronte. “How ya feeling, Joyce?”
Gram’s smile wasn’t right. “I’m…um. I’m…” Her eyes darted to Bronte then to Ali.
Ali felt something was off. She had heard the rumors but didn’t want to believe them. And still, the rumors kept her cautious. Bronte, on the other hand, only felt joy and scooped Gram’s frail body up in her arms and hugged her tight. Gram eyes stared at Ali as if she wasn’t there, then she grinned in a sinister creepy way.
“Bronte, stop.” Ali put her hand on Bronte’s back. “Bronte. Please. Scoot back.” Ali warned as her intuitive alarms went off. “Get back!” Bronte ignored her mother. Everything was going to be okay. Gram was fine. Gram was…Wait…
Bronte felt a sharp pain on her neck. She tried to pull back but Gram had her locked in with her teeth clenching Bronte’s neck like an abused Pit Bull with a score to settle. “Gram!” They both screamed. Ali grabbed Gram’s arms to pry them apart and free her daughter but she was much stronger than anticipated. With an animal like growl, Gram chomped and chomped at Bronte’s neck. “Gram, stop!” Bronte chocked. “Mom, she’s hurting me. Help!”
“I’m trying! JOOHHNN!!!”
A figure appeared and a loud thud startled them. Gram’s head and arms went limp. Ali looked up to find her first born, Lincoln, standing there with a metal candle holder in his hand.
“Link!” She cried out, “What are you doing home?” Her mommy super powers kicked in and she did two things at once; she felt Gram’s neck to check for a pulse and looked up at Lincoln but her handsome twenty-year-old son was stalling to answer. It was probably best to put off telling her he had gotten kicked out of Stanford and spent a few months in jail.
“Is she still alive?” he asked.
“Yes, I feel a pulse. Hurry, get some ropes or something to hold her.”
Bronte and Lincoln shared a glance. Not every day they were told to get some rope to tie up their grandmother.
The others had filled the room now. “So Gram’s an official Frackhead.” Nikola mused as he plopped in a chair. “Sweet! We get to live with a psychopath. Go psycho Granny!”
“Nik!” Ali and John growled in unison.
Lincoln, who resembled his mom more than his dad, sat on a bar-stool on the other side of the white marble kitchen island and braced himself as he made his confession to his parents.
“You what?” Ali’s voice went up a few octaves as John folded his arms.
“I kind of hacked the schools database to change some grades.”
“You didn’t.” Ali said, as she shook her head.
“How long were you in jail?” John asked.
Lincoln’s masculine face quickly turned boyish as he hesitated and looked away, working on the courage to say it. He ran his hand through his dark blonde hair and exhaled. “Six months.”
“Six months!” Ali walked to the window only to see a wall of dust. “So you were calling us from the jail all this time and not your friend’s phone like you said.”
“You missed an entire semester,” John stated, his voice calm and composed as if this were just any other conversation. “Son, why are we just now learning of this?”
“I just thought you were going through enough without all my crap. It’s not the end of the world, you guys.”
Ali lost her cool and yelled, “You were kicked out! You were in your third year, Link! You were so close. Now you’ll never get your degree, that’s a hundred and seventy thousand dollars down the drain! Do you realize how lucky you were? Your siblings will never….” she stopped speaking and looked out the window again.
“Mom, I understand you’re upset because you think I’ve ruined my life. Your generation was conditioned to believe a person needs a degree to succeed. But, you of all people should know that was a ruse to get people to go into debt. The government being the biggest student loan leech of them all. My generation is different, we see that computer skills and entrepreneurship makes expensive degrees and going into major debt, useless. My god look at Bronte, she was making a killing off her YouTube channel before the government seized it. With computers, the internet and all that you two taught me, I don’t need a degree. And if you want to know the truth, I was a better programmer than my lousy professors.”
But that wasn’t the whole truth. The truth was Lincoln never wanted to be a programmer, he wanted to go into international law, he just didn’t have the heart to tell his dad.
Trying his hardest not to gloat, John nodded his head. “He has a point. The kids a computer genius.”
Ali worked hard to get her degrees and it meant so much to her parents because they never got theirs. She just assumed all her kids would follow in her footsteps. “I can’t deal with this right now,” she told John. Ali started to stop and check in on Gram in the reading room, but it was too much, she needed time away from her world and went on upstairs.
Before the land and vegetation died off, Oklahoma’s low cost of living had afforded the Wilson family the opportunity to live well, and not in the typical materialistic, extravagant sense. They weren’t your normal family striving to look richer than their neighbors while swimming in a pool of debt. When things were good, they still drove old cars and were frugal with everyday living expenses which put them in a much better spot than those families that spent all their extra income on what John called “worthless non-income producing assets.”
For Ali and John, knowledge and experience trumped material items and luxuries. The Wilson kids spoke fluent French, Spanish, Russian and Chinese, thanks to Ali Wilson, and each of the kids learned to code around the same time they were learning to read, thanks to John.
While most Oklahoma families were crowded around a TV cheering OU as they beat OSU, the Wilson’s were watching TEDTalks or some documentary on the arts, or various governments or economies. School breaks were a combination of historical tours of ancient ruins and tech conferences with themes like Blockchain technology, Artificial Intelligence, FinTech and Hacking.
Ali and John agreed early on to give their kids an education that developed both sides of the brain, opposed to the public school’s lopsided left brained education that in the end killed imagination, intuition and created good little cubicle thinkers.
This is how you learn to read big data, the kids were told with an underlying competitive go-grab-the-world-by-the-balls tone while climbing the famous stairs of the Sagrada Familia in Spain.
They were vacationing with the Carters, the Murdochs and the Griffins for the month of June, but still, Ali managed to weave in learning moments. “The humanities,” Ali said from the front of the group as they twisted up the narrow staircase, “…inspires creativity, and expands the imagination.” She turned back and pointed the kids closer to the wall and away from the center of the staircase that plunged thirty feet below. “The universities and corporations are now discovering they need to combine both the humanities and computer sciences, they complement each other and create a more well-rounded education.”
John, a former runner, pre-kids and career, grew winded in the esoteric themed stairwell but still quizzed them, “Why do we want to be better data readers?” he asked out loud and in unison the Wilson kid’s said, “To predict the future and stay ahead of the herd.”
“Now,” Ali stopped and turned around. “Look down the stairs and tell me where you think Gaudi drew his inspiration for this design?”
“That round fossil…um, the Nautilus,” Lincoln, their oldest said. “Fibonacci Sequence,” Huxley and Fresco blurted out, competing with one another.
Gram stood next to John smiling and patting him on the back for a job well done. The Wilson kids were being prepared for the future.
Thanks for reading the first two chapters of LAND OF TORNADOES. A modern Grapes of Wrath meets The Outsiders with a little Mr. Robot.
Release date TBA!
Keywords: Environmental disaster, YA, crossover, poverty, class warfare, family, anarchy, chaos, dystopian
All rights reserved. Copyright@Melanie S. Wolfe