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Mar 22 2014

Saturday Storytime: Tornado’s Siren

It is still award nomination season in F&SF land, which makes me very happy. So many people pointing to good things I missed because I don’t have the time to read everything. (The reason for this feature is making sure I make time to read something regularly.) Thanks to Rachel Swirsky for the pointer to this story by Brooke Bolander. I may identify with one of the characters in this story. It may not be Rhea.

Left with no other choice, Rhea sets out to prepare by herself in all the ways she’s been taught. She strips the blankets and pillows off the bed and piles them into the bathtub. She grabs a flashlight and hauls Murray the big yellow tabby into the bathroom with her, all ten pounds of yowling, wounded dignity. When there’s nothing else to do, she shuts the door, climbs into the tub, and huddles beneath the comforter. The air is stifling, and Murray won’t stop meowing. She tries to say the prayers she’s been taught, but they don’t stop the aching in her gut like Grandma says they should. Bad things happen to good people all the time. Even at nine she’s a little wary about putting all her faith into such a moody higher power, although that’s the kind of thought she would never say in front of her grown-ups.

The waiting is the worst part. Balled up in the blackness, hoping that maybe nothing will happen, listening to the wind increase and rake at the walls. Listening, always listening, unable to do anything but stay put, the air getting more and more stale under the heavy sheet. Rhea holds her breath for as long as she can—it feels like hours—and then comes back up, clawing at the bedding for a fresh breath. She tugs the blanket away just in time to see, through the window, the neighbor’s privacy fence go spiraling by, panels of plywood twirling like old newspapers.

The full force of the storm hits the house a second later. Everything—roof, walls, window, her popping ears—creaks and then gives before the bull’s roar of the twister.

Rhea thinks she screams, but the whole world is screaming too so it’s hard to tell. Glass shatters and pops into her face, cutting her cheeks. Bathroom tile and bits of plaster rain down on her head. The room pulls apart in hunks, walls peeled down to pink insulation and rose-printed, rose-scented strips of shredded paper. She realizes the ceiling’s gone when hail begins to fall, nasty, biting little chunks of cold ice. Through the wall of noise and debris, looking up and up and up, she can see the jaws of the monster, an endless swirling throat of fog and whipped rain.

Frozen, Rhea stares up into the twister and waits for it to gobble her whole, blankets, bathtub, and all.

“Why?”

She doesn’t know why she says it. It just comes without a thought, the last thing she’ll probably ever whisper swallowed up in the fury of a tornado.

For a moment everything stops. The tornado’s voice grows still. All the little chunks of trash hang frozen in the air, like someone’s just hit the pause button. Rhea can see flowering shrubs and someone’s shoe, a lawn gnome and two china cups. Then, just as suddenly, it all comes tumbling down. As quickly as it arrived the storm moves on, grumbling deep down in its throat.

Keep reading.

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