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imageADAM MAREK
THE STORMCHASERS

It’s so windy today. My son Jakey and I are at the window watching leylandii bow to each other, and the snails being blown across the patio like sailboats.
     We've been watching for fifteen minutes or so when Jakey says, 'I'm scared.'
     'Of what?' I ask.
     'Of tornadoes.'
     'Listen,' I say, no tornadoes are coming here. Even if we got in the car right now and drove around all day like the stormchasers on 'TV, we'd be lucky to find one. Very lucky.'
     'But what if we did?'
     There is a noise from behind us. We both look at the fireplace. The wind is playing the chimney like a flute.
     'Even if we were really lucky and did find one,' I say, 'in England it would be a tiny thing. We don't get the big ones here.'
     'An F4?' he asks. We have watched documentaries about tornadoes together since he was a baby. Among six-year-olds, he is an expert.
     'No way,' I say. 'An F2, if we were really lucky.'
     'Big enough to suck up a person?'
     He is imagining the tornado like a straw in the sky's mouth, I can see this.
     'Nuh-uh,' I say. 'Just big enough to fling a couple of roof tiles about, or knock over some flowerpots, or break a greenhouse to pieces.'
     'But what if .. .' he starts.
     He is not going to believe me, sitting here in the house with the wind whoo-whooing around our walls like a ghost.
     'Go get changed out of your jim-jams,' I say. 'I'll show you that there's nothing to be afraid of.'
    
While Jakey looks for his shoes, I pack lunch for us in a cotton shoulder bag: for me, chicken-liver pate and apple chutney sandwiches, and a flask of Earl Grey tea; for Jakey, cheese
spread sandwiches, a fun-size Twix and two cartons of apple juice.
     'All set?' I say when he gets to the bottom of the stairs. He is wearing the bright yellow sou'wester and macintosh that he has finally grown into. I bought them for him before he was
born, when he was just in my imagination.
     'Uh-huh,' he says.
     'We'd better go say goodbye to mum,' I say.
     We creep upstairs together, peep around the bedroom door. Mum is still in bed. She has the light out. Yesterday the dentist at the hospital pulled four wisdom teeth from her mouth. She has been in bed for a whole day, and mostly silent.
     'Where are you going?' she says. Even her voice sounds wounded.
     'We're going tornado chasing,' Jakey says.
     'We won't be long,' I say. 'Can I get you anything?'
     'No.'
     'Are you feeling okay?' Jakey asks.
     She pulls the duvet over her head. 'Just go away,' she says.
    
We drive.
     'It feels good to be out, doesn't it?' I say. 'Seen any tornadoes yet?'
     Jakey looks around. He says nothing.
     The bendy roads between the hedgerows are full of fallen branches so I go slow. We live in the countryside, a little house all on its own. In the summer, from the air, our plot is a dark green triangle in the middle of a bright yellow sea of rapeseed. I have seen it from the air, in a
microlight. The photograph I took is in our bathroom. I stare at it every time I pee.
     'Where shall we go?' I say. 'If we were proper stormchasers, Jakey, we'd have a Doppler radar and a laptop so we could find the tornadic part of the storm.'
     'We are real stormchasers,' he says.
     I'm watching the road carefully but I can see his pout from the corner of my eye.
     'You're right,' I say. 'But we don't have Doppler, so we'll have to rely on our instincts. You take a look at the sky and tell me where you think the tornadoes will touch down.'
     Jakey presses the window button till the window is open the whole way. He sticks his head out. I slow the car and move into the middle of the road so he doesn't get hit by the sticky-out branches that the hedge-mower has missed. I'm going slow enough that I can watch Jakey. He is looking up into the sky, holding the door frame with both hands. The wind is throwing his
shaggy hair all around his head. His hair is cornfield-blond, the same as mine. His mum's is
almost black. 'Yet another thing he got from you, not me,' she sometimes says.
     'That way,' he says, pointing north-east.

When we get to the motorway, the car is hard to control. The wind bullies our left-hand side. The windscreen wipers are overwhelmed with this much rain. We feel enclosed, in the car. We are like a head in a hood. Jakey gets to choose the radio station. He chooses pop music. He sings along.
     'How do you know the words to all these songs?' I ask.
     'Mum listens to this radio station,' he says.
     I do not like pop music, but I do like to hear Jakey sing.

We've been driving for twenty minutes, when ahead we see a smudge of yellow on the horizon. The rain is thinning. The cars coming towards us on the other side of the motorway have their lights off. In the rear-view mirror is a procession of lit headlamps, bright against the bruise-black sky.
     'We should turn around,' I say.
     'No. It's this way,' Jakey says.
     'Are you sure?'
     'Uh-huh.'

We reach sunlight. The wet tarmac around us is steaming.
     'Are you sure the tornadoes are this way, Jakey?'
     'No.'
     'Shall we turn around?'
     It looks like the end of the world back the way we came. Within the wall of cloud, there's a heck of a light show.
     'Okay,' Jakey says.
     I come off the motorway and go round the roundabout three times—our game when Mum's not in the car. Jakey giggles, pinned to the door by physics.

We go back the way we came. I break the speed limit now because the storm is running away from us. We eat our lunches from our laps while we drive.
     'If you're scared of tornadoes,' I say, 'why do you want to see one so badly?'
     Jakey shrugs, finishing his apple juice. It gurgles at the bottom of the carton.
     'Well, I told you we'd be very lucky to see one. Stormchasers drive thousands of miles to find them, drive around for weeks sometimes.'
     'How far have we driven?'
     'About 80 miles. Shall we go home now? Mum'll be wondering where we are.'
     'Yes,' he says.
    
The sun follows us back. We lead it all the way to our front gates. Jakey picks up handfuls of the leaves that are heaped against our porch and drops them again. I put Jakey's lunch rubbish in the cotton bag before I get out. I open the front door and we both go inside.
     'We're home!' I call, wiping my feet.
     No answer.
     I tiptoe upstairs. Our bed is empty.
     'Dad!' Jakey calls out.
     I run downstairs.
     In the living room, the coffee table is on its side against the wall. One of its legs is broken off. The TV is face down on the carpet. The mantelpiece above the fireplace is bare. All
the photos and pinecones and holiday souvenirs are on the floor. Some are smashed on the slate tiles in front of the wood burner. On the walls, the pictures are all at angles. Jakey's toys
are tipped from his box.
     In the middle of it all, sitting on the floor with her arms round her legs, and her forehead on her knees, is mummy. Her knuckles are bloody.
     Jakey moves towards her. I hold him back with my hand.
     'Don't. There's glass,' I say.
     'You okay, mummy? Did you see it, the tornado? When it came through?'
     No answer. No movement.
     Only she and I know that the story about the dentist was a terrible lie.

© Adam Marek

This electronic version of “The Stormchasers” appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the editor and author. It appears in the anthology The Best British Short Stories 2013, edited by Nicholas Royle, published by Salt Publishers, 2013; originally published in the author’s short-story collection, The Stone Thrower, Comma Press, UK, 2012, and ECW Press in North America, 2013.  Book ordering available through amazon.com and amazon.co.uk

The Barcelona Review is a registered non-profit organization

Author Bio

Adam MarekAdam Marek is an award-winning short story writer. He won the 2011 Arts Foundation Short Story Fellowship, and was shortlisted for the inaugural Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award and the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. His stories have appeared in many magazines, including Prospect and The Sunday Times Magazine, The Stinging Fly and The London Magazine, and in many anthologies including Lemistry, The new uncanny, Biopunk, and The Best British Short Stories 2011 and 2013. His short-story collections The Stone Thrower and Instruction Manual for Swallowing are published in the UK by Comma Press, and in North America by ECW Press. Visit Adam online at www.adammarek.co.uk
photo: jayneodellphotography.co.uk