Land of Tornadoes
Melanie S. Wolfe
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.
The wind blew against the old SUV forcing it to veer a few feet every so often. Bronte Wilson sat on the passenger side and thought of the cheerful line from the famous Oklahoma song as she stared out at the wasteland 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 processed the state of things as she held the Star of David pendant her biological mother gave her between her fingers and ran it back and forth across her necklace. 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 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, making the antique chandelier earrings she inherited from her Gram swing back and forth. “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 to indicate to the one other vehicle on the road they were turning. “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.
Bronte looked nothing like her adoptive parents, she had a shade lighter skin than her Native American father and much darker hair than her fair mother. Bronte’s bright golden-greenish-blue eyes were passed down to her from her poor, unwed biological Afghan mother who thought she was giving her baby girl up for a better life.
The side road they entered had remnants of pavement mixed with swatches of red dirt. A now common site on all Oklahoma 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. Call it off!!
She slipped her burner 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 fingertips and around the nails were always dotted with tiny chunks of missing flesh or little scabs and always in pain. 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 that led 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 Oaktree 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 great 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 farm. The old house 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. John slowly got out, covered his nose and mouth, and while walking looked for any sign of their missing dog.
Bronte’s flip-flops flew to a pile of shoes on the side porch near a stripped, two-foot-tall robot as the screen door screeched open and slammed shut. 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 during dust storms so they had to resort to the days of old for light. Gram laid on the pale blue sofa under a quilt that was as old as her, 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, their devices had charging cords that ran across the room to the special made stove the boys had built to get enough amount of energy from the fire to keep all the devices powered. Malcolm and Koi, the two newest kids to the Wilson clan, sat at the table reading The Republic and Brave New World, assigned by Rakel Wilson, PhD. She had to get them caught up with the others.
“Still no sign of Steiner.” John said to them while reaching down to pet their two other Great Pyrenes. “Hey, Milton! Michio!” The big white fluffy dogs weren’t as old as Steiner and their bodies wagged with excitement from the love.
“Maybe a Coyotes got ‘em?” Koi suggested, taking a break from his dystopian, realizing how hungry he was.
“Doubt it. We haven’t seen a Coyote in two years,” Nik reminded him.
Koi grew annoyed with the Nik’s stupid statement. “That doesn’t mean they aren’t out there.”
“There’s no way he would run off, he loved us too much.” Bronte reminded them to not go there. “He was the most loyal dog ever.”
Huxley, not done with his assignment and ignoring the conversations around him, hovered over the island, engrossed in a video on the oldest temples around the world when he was supposed to be reading about the new 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 from Litecoin. 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 and mentally strong they can be hanged but never break their necks. Isn’t that cool?” Huxley got excited, “…and get this, they can get stabbed in the stomach,” His innocent eyes grew large. “And the blade never penetrates.”
“Cool,” John said abruptly, “But let’s stay focused. You’re dealing with our life’s savings here.” John lightly smacked him on the back. “Once we get Robinhood done, college out of the way, your role as Secretary of the Treasury, then you can read all you want about the monk life. But first thing’s first.” Huxley gave a faint smile that quickly faded as he pictured a stuffy future in D.C.
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. Cryptos were uncertain 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 cryptos and dump the fiat shit.
John went to Rakel 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 soul, seeing the same strong woman he once met at a bar in Boston wearing a tight Alanis Morissette half T-shirt and John Lennon sunglasses on her head. Rakel 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 Rakel would surprise him.
“Her nails have turned black, John,” she said with a subtle Icelandic accent. “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.
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 Rakel was teaching full-time at the University of Oklahoma, back before Rakel 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, a hippy and a retired Professor of Ecosystem Biology, 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 fourteen, and Gram was witnessing her son and grandchildren plan something so questionable and dangerous, she feared the end results.
Rakel turned back to the long marble-top island and stirred the Ramen noodles. “John, could you please do something about these robotic arms?” She looked up at the robotic arms that came out of the ceiling. “They were great when I could use them but now they keep falling down in my way.” Rakel’s eyes left the arms and noticed Bronte in the background. Bronte was on her knees next to the sofa, caressing Gram’s long salt and peppered hair, whispering in her ear.
“Bronte Rose,” Rakel said from the kerosene lit kitchen, “Don’t get so close, hon.”
“Mom, I’ll be fine. They say it’s not contagious.” Gram began acting strange two weeks ago and just the other night she came down with a fever that left her in a deep, constant sleep. John and Rakel took her to the one ER still open in Edmond, but they were turned away because there was no known cure nor did they have insurance.
“We don’t know that it’s 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 the Frackers, convert to crony capitalism, and kill us all.”
“Nik!” Both, Rakel and John said with a disgruntled tone.
“Hey Nik!” Bronte clasped her long dark hair in her hand and tied it into a ponytail while casually smirking at her brother. “If I turn, I promise you, you’ll be the first I attack.” She smiled big, and he returned the compliment with a wink. “Just because you’re a girl doesn’t mean I won’t take your ass out.”
“Nicola Wilson!” John gave him the look.
“I’m not scared of him.” Bronte defended with an unwavering smile. “I’ll hack him and send all his personal chats to Caleb.”
Huxley laughed, knowing that had to have stung his brother. Malcolm and Koi high fived and said, “Burn!” Anything to get back at the ox who liked to put them headlocks.
“Bronte, we don’t use the word hack, we say data mining.” Rakel joked. “You’re going to data mine and collect your brother’s information.”
“Man, you all suck.” Nikola said, “I’m going to get all of you now. Just wait. You won’t know it’s coming.”
While pushing the robotic arms up and trying to figure out why they kept falling down in the way, John said, “That’ll be enough, you guys. We have a mission. I don’t need you guys horsing around and unfocused, so no retaliation, Nik.”
Nikola was nothing like his composed, thoughtful twin, 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 Rakel Wilson was asked by Diane Carter, her husband’s former boss’ wife, how she could let Nikola be so free with his appearance. He was ten at the time and had a Mohawk. Rakel 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. It was starting to worry him as well with her being so close. “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. “You guys are overreacting. She’d never hurt me.” Another message from Ian Carter blared at her, begging, but this one said things that made her mad.
Bronte typed back: Maybe your dad shouldn’t have fired mine!
Ian didn’t like his father anyways, Bronte thought, why did he care?
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 typed fast: No! Please, I’m begging U don’t! U know my family would kill me if they knew I told you. Look, 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 poured clean water into nine shot glasses, making sure they were equally measured. “Help me get the gas out of the Suburban and into the generators.”
“You aren’t doing this now, are you?” Rakel stopped stirring the noodles. “They just worked all morning and afternoon.” Anymore John and the kids were spending fifteen hours a day out on the computers, and it was really disrupting family life.
“I can’t sit here and watch my mom turn, Rakel. She could be here, like this, for days. I have to do something productive. Time is of the essence, I have more of Daniel’s emails, we have several to read and Fresco and Huxley are having issues with the ultrasonic signals. We have to get this taken care of ASAP. I’ll take kitchen duty tomorrow, I promise.” John pecked her on the cheek and tapped Koi on the shoulder to get him out of his book. “Call me if anything changes.”
Rakel gave him a dismissive look and turned the gas stove off. “Food is ready if anyone is hungry.” She knew the answer, they were starving and always hungry. It was the norm.
The boys ran and competed for a spot in the food line, Nik and Koi even wrestled a little and took shots at one another for the first spot. Nik held him in a head lock under his arm pit until Koi burped and the smell grossed Nikola out.
“Strákurs!” Rakel shouted. “Enough, you aren’t three!” The stress was getting to her, she wasn’t normally so short with them. She was usually fun and playful. The teens quickly got themselves under control, loaded up their bowels at the watchful eye of their father to make sure no one took more than their share and made their way out the back door. “You coming, Bronte?” Fresco called out, holding the door open.
“No, I’m staying with Gram.”
Rakel 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. A month’s supply of organic fruits and vegetables was now as much as the mortgage payment on an expensive house. But if she was honest, it was ice cream and imported salty Icelandic licorice Rakel missed most.
The sound of a car coming up the drive alerted them but before they went to look, Bronte said, “Mom! Gram!”
Rakel saw Gram staring straight at her. “Halló!” Rakel said softly as not to startle her. She sat her noodles down and came closer as did Bronte. “How ya feeling, Joyce?”
“I’m…um. I’m…” Her eyes darted to Bronte then to Rakel in a distrustful, panicked way.
Rakel knew something was off. Bronte, on the other hand, wasn’t as aware and only felt joy and scooped Gram’s frail body up in her arms and hugged her tight. Gram’s dark eyes stared at Rakel as if she wasn’t there, then she grinned, displaying the beginnings of blackening gums.
“Bronte, stop.” Rakel put her hand on Bronte’s back. Milton put his large black nose between them and licked them, sensing something was wrong and wanting to make things right. “Bronte. Please. Scoot back.” Rakel warned as her intuitive alarms went off. “Get back!” Bronte finally listened to her mother and let go of Gram. Gram sat up straight, shook her head and came back to them. “Oh, goodness. How long was I out this time?” She petted Milton and then Michio had to get in on the action.
“Several days.” Bronte said with some relief Gram was coherent.
“My head hurts a little but I feel okay other than that. Boy, did I have strange dreams. Or more like nightmares. They were so vivid.” She stopped, recalling the disturbing images. “I remember I took Steiner out into the woods, tied him up, stabbed him and then,” she shivered at thought. “I skinned him.”
Rakel’s hand covered her mouth, then fell to her side. “Oh god!”
The front door swung open, and Rakel looked up to find her oldest child standing there. His duffle bag slammed to the ground next to him. “Link!” She cried out, “What are you doing home? You should be taking finals.”
It was probably best to put off telling that he had gotten kicked out of Stanford and spent a few months in jail, maybe he’d tell her later after he had eaten something. “Is she still Gram or has she turned?” he asked while hugging his mom.
Rakel whispered, “I’m not sure at this point.”
“I’m fine, hon.” Gram said with a giggle, her blackening pupils glistening with sweetness. “Give your grandma a hug, Lincoln. You’re home! Oh, how I missed you.” She squeezed him as he hugged her. “Our future Secretary of State!”
Thanks for reading the first chapter of LAND OF TORNADOES. The novel will be available soon. Updates coming soon!