The two of them had been into the second day of a road trip to Colorado when they got caught in the storm. Dark ominous clouds encircled them with foretelling pea-green hues suggesting imminent tornado activity. They were on a stretch of road in the Oklahoma panhandle, surrounded by the flat rural farm land. No houses or buildings in sight. The only change in scenery was a small bridge just ahead that spanned a creek.
Until then the unexpected arrived…
It was the billboard. They had seen it two miles past. An ad for a Super 8 Motel. Like a flat rock being skipped across a pond, they felt it touch and go off the roof of their car, before it spun out of control, taking a sharp turn and wrapping itself like a large paper napkin around a telephone pole.
Looking out the rear window, she grabbed his forearm as she spotted the tornado. It was a half mile behind them. Not monstrously wide, but rather serpentine with a long narrow funnel whipping side to side, as if intentionally striking targets: telephone poles, road signs, and the billboard. Debris of all kinds were hurled out of its fast rotation. Without question they were its next target. As it closed in, he made a decision he didn’t have time to think over. He brought the car to a sudden stop atop the bridge. “Get under the bridge!” he yelled, “it’s our only chance!”
Grabbing their phones, wallet, and purse they bailed, leaving the doors open as they ran towards the concrete bank leading down to the creek. Neither of them had seen a tornado before, and were now caught in its appetite for prey. The sound of a freight train was no exaggeration as many people had described them. Its horrifying roar seemed to escalate as they slid down the steep bank. Find a ditch and lay low. That was always the advice he’d been told. The creek was shallow, maybe a foot deep. There, some ten to twelve feet below the bridge, jutted up against the bank, they lay in the water. If they were to survive, this was the only conceivable place it might happen.
It was a defining moment when their eyes met with despair. All that remained of their vocabulary was, “I love you.” Repeatedly. They held hands then tightly embraced each other to create more weight as one object instead of two. Insignificant to a tornado, but they figured why not.
The water splashed around them as dirt swirled and fell. The charge of the serpentine was deafening and intent on nothing more than its natural duty to destroy. They could hear the bridge creaking, on the verge of splintering. It was as if it was fighting for its life with its concrete footings doing everything possible not to be uprooted and sucked up into the virulent sky.
The creek was rising in the downpour. Shattering glass and pulverized steel could be heard as they looked up and saw their car being hurled hundreds of yards into a field beyond their sight. Its lift-off and flight seemed to defy physics. And as quickly as its tonnage disappeared, the moment seemed akin to something resembling science fiction. The tornado howled, pulsating sound waves of anger through their bodies as it madly excavated the land. It was born here, marking its territory and claiming jurisdiction by its own laws.
And then a change in the weather.
As if it were thinking, as if it became curious about altering its own direction, the twister made one last sweeping pass before moving on. This creek, this muddy water sanctuary below a determined bridge, had saved them, low enough to evade the destruction above. Was it luck or fate that brought them here? The answer was irrelevant, for they had made it, and there was no end tonight. They had survived. This was, in fact, a beginning. The start of realizing just how vulnerable life is, and how fortunate they were to still be in it.
They climbed back up to the bridge. The mangled remains of their car lay in a field, like it had been dropped from the atmosphere. Their phones, wallet, and purse were down stream, let loose in their huddled prayer to survive.
For five minutes they watched the tornado plow southward before it, almost instantly, dissipated like an act of illusionary sleight of hand.
There they stood: clothes caked with muddy water, and debris-speckled faces. Their car was destroyed. The trunk ripped open—its contents strewn about who knew where. No money, no phones. They were two survivors holding on to the most valuable possession they had: life.
The Super 8 Motel billboard wrapped around the telephone pole was flapping in the wind. They looked at each other and chuckled. “Think they’ll buy our story?” she asked.
He smiled while wiping dirt off of her face. “Won’t know until we try.”
Down the road they walked, hand in hand in the rain—and, though never to forget, leaving the bridge behind them.
Copyright Ros Hill 2016