A plume of red dust chased after a nineteen-eighty-five Suburban 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.
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.
John Wilson’s tired eyes left the road to see the lake they usually ignored. “Hard to believe it was a beautiful lake at one time.”
“Yeah, it’s just a cesspool now,” Bronte responded to her dad. “Do you think Arcadia will ever go back to normal?”
A feeling of disappointment mixed with guilt swarmed John before he could answer. His rubber gloved hands gripped the steering wheel. “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,” John said. “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, that’ll change.”
“That’s wrong. God, 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. Her finger tips and around the nails were always dotted with tiny scabs and in pain. Her throbbing fingers seemed to help keep her anchored in reality. “Do you think they’ll find you guilty?”
“Bronte. Please. It’s my burden to carry not yours.” John tapped the steering wheel. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Bronte looked away and pretended she didn’t see him counting.
The Suburban turned onto a rock driveway leading to a small hilltop that gave way to the best views of the property. On the second 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 but it was the unassuming barn in back that was the true oddity.
The blades of the rusted windmill John’s grandfather had 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 Suburban stopped. She grabbed the bag of Ramen noodles and bread, covered her mouth with her shirt, jumped out and ran by her mom’s dusty broken down electric car.
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 theme on the walls, Mensa. Several plaques read: Mensa International Member. A reminder that only those who scored in the top 98th percentile on the IQ test lived here.
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 Amy Wilson, PhD. She had to get them caught up with the others.
Huxley, not done with his assignment, hovered over the island, engrossed in a video on the oldest temples around the world when he was supposed to be reading about the trade agreement with China.
“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. Also, I want you to scan the new ICO’s and see if there’s anything worth throwing some money at.”
“Will do,” Huxley slid over to the laptop. “Did you know there are monks that are so physically strong they can be hanged but never break their neck. Isn’t that cool?” Huxley got excited, “…and get this, they can get stabbed in the stomach and it never penetrates.”
“Cool,” John said abruptly, “But let’s stay focused. You’re dealing with out life’s savings here.” John smacked him on the back. “Once we get Robinhood done and out of the way, then college, you’ll be onto your role as Secretary of the Treasury then you can read all about monk life. But first thing’s first.” Huxley gave a faint smile that quickly faded as he pictured a life in DC.
John was always concerned with the crypto risk; their whole life savings could drop in value at a moment’s notice. It had already done that three times now. 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. After the bitcoin bubble, which John was positive the big banks caused to get rid of the competition and keep themselves alive, he was more determined than ever to stick with crypto’s and dump the fiat shit.
John went to Amy 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 Alanis Morissette T-shirt and John Lennon sunglasses. Amy was from Iceland and had creamy 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 Amy 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. He tapped the counter with his gloved hand. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. “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 Amy was teaching full-time at the University of Oklahoma, back before Amy switched to part-time to homeschool the kids and give them a ‘real’ education.
Gram, 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, Koi, 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 at the height of 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.
Amy 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,” Amy 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 days ago. John and Amy took her to the one ER still open in Edmond but they were turned away because there was no known cure.
“We don’t know that’s it not contagious just yet, hon. They’re still researching all this. Please. Stop.”
Nikola, wearing a black ‘Kill the Ayn Rand Cult’ T-shirt, chuckled, “Imagine Bronte a Frackhead. She’d probably become the leader of all the Frackers, convert to crony capitalism, and kill us all.”
“Nik, enough!” Both, Amy and John said with a disgruntled 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 too long.
Once Amy 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. Amy 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…we’d feel better if you just sit over here with your brothers.”
Bronte’s phone pinged again as she grunted in protest and 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.
A few seconds later Ian wrote: Even though we aren’t together anymore, I’m here for you. Please, can we just meet and talk about this in person?
Bronte had 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 despite his threats, 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 Suburban and into the generators.”
“You aren’t doing this now, are you?” Amy stopped stirring the noodles.
“I can’t sit here and watch my mom turn, Amy. 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 and Fresco and Huxley are having issues with the ultrasonic signals. We have to get this taken care of. I’ll take kitchen duty tomorrow, I promise.” John tapped Koi on the shoulder to get him out of his book. He pecked Amy on the cheek. “Call me if anything changes.”
Amy 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?” Fresco called out, holding the door open.
“No, I’m staying with Gram.”
Amy 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 expensive healthy food. They had to save money.
“Mom. Look. Gram.”
Amy looked up from her bowl and saw Gram staring straight at her. “Hi!” Amy said softly as not to startle her. She sat her noodles down and came closer as did Bronte.
Gram’s smile wasn’t right. “I’m…um. I’m…” Her eyes darted to Bronte then to Amy.
Amy knew something was off instantly. Bronte, on the other hand, only felt joy and scooped Gram’s frail body up in her arms and hugged her tight. Gram’s dark eyes stared at Amy as if she wasn’t there, then she grinned in a creepy way.
“Bronte, stop.” Amy put her hand on Bronte’s back. “Bronte. Please. Scoot back.” Amy 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 near her shoulder. She tried to pull back but Gram had her locked in with her teeth clenching Bronte’s neck like an abused dog with a score to settle. “Gram!” They both screamed. Amy 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 screamed. “Mom, she’s hurting me. Help!”
“I’m trying! JOOHHNN!!!”
A figure appeared and a loud thud made them jump. Gram’s head and arms went limp. Amy 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 only naturally born child stalled 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 in fear of hitting her too hard.
“Yes, I think so. Hurry, get some ropes or something to hold her.” Bronte and Lincoln shared an awkward glance. Not every day they were told to tie up their grandmother.
Nikola and John ran in first and the others soon followed after creating a crowded living room. Stunned, they all stared at the living corpse before them until the one who always had something to say said it. “Whoa! So Gram’s an official Frackhead.” Nikola mused as he plopped in a chair. “Sweet! We get to live with a psychopath. Psycho Granny!”
“Nik!” Amy and John said in unison.
Thanks for reading the first chapter of LAND OF TORNADOES.
Release date TBA!
Keywords: Environmental disaster, YA, crossover, poverty, class warfare, family, anarchy, chaos, dystopian, zombies
All rights reserved. Copyright@Melanie S. Wolfe