Wednesday, June 03, 2009

fiction: A Hole In the Sky: part 2

continued from part 1:

The purpose of the road was obscure. No one lived in the area, there were no cattle, and there wasn't enough desert growth to justify a fire road, yet the dirt track wound off between the hills as though it had somewhere to go. They meandered through the narrow twisting valleys, leaving a cloud of dust to their rear.

Katrina kept taking pictures with her phone and sending them off to be uploaded onto her blog. Since there was no phone service in this remote area, she was using the satellite uplink. Satellite transmission was expensive and she knew that Julius would be upset when he found out, but he shouldn't have put the satellite relay in the hundred-thousand-dollar jeep if he didn't want it used.

The road did seem to be taking them closer to the storm, or whatever it was, and Matt was obviously frightened. She smiled to herself as he once more cautioned J.C. to slow down. The main reason she had wanted to take the road was because Matt didn't want to. He was constantly putting her down and sabotaging her plans for J.C.'s career so she took her little revenges when she could. Matt was basically a coward. He had had great potential as a super heavy weight, but he took a bad beating in a fight with the national champion and after that he was never the same. After a couple of more fights, he had retired from fighting to become J.C.'s full-time trainer. He had not only lost his chance to be a world champion, but had lost his girlfriend. Shortly after he retired, Katrina had broken up with him and started dating J.C. And the bastard hadn't even acted like he cared.

That last thought irritated Katrina enough that she had to take a dig at him, "What is the matter, Matt? You look a little white-knuckled. You are not scared of a little wind, are you?"

Matt gave her an angry look, "I'm more afraid of J.C.'s driving."

Katrina laughed and leaned dangerously far out the window for her next shot. Suddenly the hills opened up and they were looking at a good-sized valley. The tornado was on the far side of the valley tearing up some kind of structure. The howling had increased in volume to a banshee wail. The cloud had flattened out a bit at the top and now looked more like the traditional funnel cloud. As they watched, several old and rusted-out vehicles were sucked up into the mouth of the tornado. Katrina was able to follow the largest vehicle, some kind of truck, about half way up the funnel until it disappeared from view.

"That's going to hurt whoever it lands on," Matt commented dryly.

J.C. and Katrina looked quickly up at the sky, but it was clear and blue above them.

"Calm down, Matt." Katrina said. "Trucks are not raining down yet."

"Why not?" asked J.C. "They should get sucked to the top and then come down somewhere."

"They probably fell on the other side where we cannot see them." Katrina said.

"All three of them?" asked Matt. "And all the other stuff going up? Corrugated metal, wood, machinery, tanks ... In just a few minutes we've seen lots of stuff go up, but nothing come down."

"And the sky is clear," J.C. added. "If stuff were falling anywhere except the far side, we should have a clear view of it."

"Well, if nothing is coming down, there is no reason to stay in the truck, is there?" Katrina asked. She opened the door and stepped out. Matt made a motion, barely suppressed, to tell her to say inside. She smirked to herself.

Soon, J.C. joined her, handing her a soda from the minifrij and they sat on the hood, drinking their sodas as they watched the wailing destruction below them. Matt used the satellite relay to find the local 911 office, he got out and leaned against the SUV as he waited for the call to go through. When it did, there was some skepticism from the other side.

A business-like female voice answered the phone, "This is nine one one, please state the nature of your emergency."

"Hi, this is Matt Morely, I'm calling from a satellite phone. I wanted to report a tornado."

"Do you know what a dust devil is, sir?"

"Yes, maam, and this is no dust devil. It tore up several buildings and lifted some large vehicles up in the air."

"What county are you trying to reach, sir?"

"Uh, I don't know, it's the one in the northwest."

"Of what state, sir?"

"Of Arizona."

"Are you sure you mean Arizona, sir, and not Alabama?"

"Look, I live in Tucson. I know what a dust devil is and I know what state I'm in. We're just off Highway 93 on the way to Las Vegas."

"North or south of Kingman, sir?"

"North. I've got GPS coordinates."

"Please give me your GPS coordinates, sir."

Matt gave her the information and there was a long wait. Eventually a man's voice came on the line.

"This is Sheriff's Deputy Ron Preason. Please say again the nature of your emergency."

"We just saw a tornado tear up some buildings. We don't know if anyone was inside."

The tornado had by now moved to the edge of the valley and was about to move over a hill to the next valley. They got back in the car and J.C. started down the hill toward the ruined buildings. The generator engine started up automatically to begin refilling the depleted batteries.

"Sir," the deputy asked Matt, "do you know what a dust devil is?"

"Look", Matt was getting a little frustrated, "I'm born and raised in Arizona. I know what a dust devil is. I've never seen a tornado before, but this thing has torn up buildings and lifted vehicles up in the air."

"Please say your name again."

"Matt Morely."

"The fighter?"

Matt was only a little surprised. He wasn't exactly famous, but the fighting sports were more popular among law enforcement people than among the general public. "Yeah, the former fighter. I'm with J.C. Smith and his wife. We were on our way to Las Vegas for the fight with Marvel Mike when we saw the tornado and decided to follow it."

"Sir, do you know that it is a crime to make a false nine-one-one report and that we can get an owner's ID of the phone that you are using?"

"Yes, sir. Please send a car to the coordinates that I gave you. There is an old dirt road to reach the place."

"We know the site, sir." the deputy sounded accusing, "It is a common target of vandals and pranksters."

"Not any more," Matt assured him, "The entire site is gone."

"We have a car on the way, sir. Please stay there until a deputy arrives."

"Sure," Matt said, not mentioning that they were already moving. "When the deputy gets here, have him call us on the CB, channel 9." The deputy thanked him and hung up. Mike leaned over to turn on the CB and switch to channel 9.

When they got to the ruined buildings they could see the tornado's path in both directions through the valley, and it looked perfectly straight.

"Look at that path!" exclaimed Matt. "I thought a tornado would wind back and forth, but this one is going straight as a ruler."

J.C. drove to the center of the broad shallow trench that the tornado had excavated and began following it in the direction of the tornado.

"Hey, Kat," Matt said, "look through your photos for a couple of good identifiable spots where the tornado was. We'll get GPS coordinates of the spots and use the timestamps on the photos to estimate the tornado's speed."

"You can do that?" Katrina asked dubiously.

"It's basic mapping stuff, sweetie." J.C. assured her. "We do that sort of stuff all the time in orienteering."

Katrina found a good shot with the cone centered over a scared red boulder and another with the cone centered over the peak of the hill. They got coordinates at the boulder and then began driving up the hill. At the summit J.C. stopped and everyone got out to survey the tornado's path. Mike used the calculator on his computer and announced that the tornado was moving at about 12 miles an hour. From the regularity of the path ahead and behind, it seemed to be moving at a steady, straight 12 miles an hour.

"What kind of storm moves like that?" asked Katrina.


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