This installment of the Greater Fort Worth Writers’ Round Robin, The Ultima Storm, is by Immediate Past President Susan Sheehey.
A swirling mass of black sky and jagged lightning hurdled over the hills and swallowed the horizon. Cyclones spun viciously over the landscape, nine… ten… no, eleven vortexes ripping up stone and earth and flinging them like bottle rockets. Lightning interconnected the twisters at the base of the funnels in a constant electrical charge, and scorched the ground where they struck. They stretched across the skyline like a god’s black claws raking the ground in a raging fury.
Though the factions that believed in one god had died out in recent years, a few fanatics and old relics of religion remained. Most of the surviving population, including the ones in this vehicle, believed in none of any kind.
One thing was certain as I watched the storm and skies dissolve the landscape before me, if there was ever a god, by any name, he’d left us a long time ago.
The charge in the air made my hair stand up across my arms, and from the rearview mirror my head as well. Sera made a whimpering sound behind me, but my throat was choked with fear.
“Get us out of here!” Caleb yelled.
I spun the rover around, as well as the clunky vehicle could, and charged back the way we came. Everyone’s head was turned the other way, watching the destruction in our wake. Chunks of rock and concrete smashed into the ground around us, exploding in heaps of charred earth and clanging off the side and roof of the rover. I dodged heap after heap of debris that crashed on the highway, everyone swaying with each tilt and swerve.
“There has to be a way around this,” Sera called, ducking from another slam of rock just outside her window, and cradling her rounded stomach. “Or we’ll miss the last launch.”
“We can’t outrun it,” Joe answered, his eyes glued to the side mirror. “We have to find a faster vehicle or someplace underground until it passes.”
“If it passes.” Caleb gripped the bar above his head to keep from careening into the front seat as I slammed on the brakes to swerve around another pile of concrete. “Before the last launch, the station reported lightning storms engulfing half the globe.”
My stomach fisted into knots as I fought to control the rover through the minefield before us. Old and useless hover cars, abandoned over the last few years of decay and destruction, spotted the highway before me. What I wouldn’t give for one of those with a full nuclear charge, much faster and easier to handle than this decrepit metal trap. We’d escape this massive storm and reach the launch site with hours to spare. I only hoped the rest of our team made it past this thing in one piece. All of this chaos just to avoid a damn mob.
I felt, more than heard, the ball of fire explode behind us and vibrated all the windows as the cyclones passed over an old electrical station. The heat scorched by us a split second later and my eyes instantly watered.
Sera’s violet eyes connected with mine in the rearview mirror, wide and terrified. The plea in her face was easy to read: save me. She gripped her belly again, an instinctual protective move from the jostling of the car. The whole world, really.
“What the hell is that?” Caleb howled while staring out the back window.
I glanced in the side mirror at the closest vortex and a silver object spun around its base, spiraling into the air, down again and disappearing back into the funnel, over and over again. It was larger than the rover, but dwarfed by the sheer monster of the twister gaining on us faster than I wanted. Two other twisters spun close to the first and the object was passed from one vortex to the other.
“That’s a transport,” I murmured, trying to focus on driving instead of the dread slicing through my gut. Our team had left in one right after us, along with the rest of the field crew in outlying observation towers. The longer hover trains, reminiscent of subway cars, were faster— and lighter— and apparently no match for the storm they drove straight into.
“There it goes,” Sera screamed. “Caleb, it’s coming right for us.” She reached for him and he wrapped an arm around her, cradling her head in his shoulder. I was too afraid to be jealous or hurt.
“Keep your eyes on it! Tell me where it’s gonna land,” I shouted.
“Drake, over there!” Joe pointed off to the side as I dodged another chunk of debris, though I refused to admit it looked like a charred body. My eyes darted to where Joe pointed and I saw it. Three hundred yards away tucked behind a small hill was an old parking garage. The top level had been stripped away from earlier storms, but the rest of it looked intact.
“It might have an underground level.” Joe continued. “And pushed up against the hill like that, we might stand a chance.”
The cyclones had expanded in the mirrors as it consumed more earth and debris, the swirling air on fire from constant lightning strikes. Without another thought, I veered off the paved highway and rattled over the trembling ground, desperate to reach the structure. It was our only hope.
My head scraped the roof a dozen times as we bounded over the decaying fields, the wind louder and more brutal with every second. Just as I saw the entrance to the structure, a massive chunk of debris landed in front of the rover and I swerved, narrowly missing the front end of what used to be the silver transport. The windows were shattered and the hull dented and seared, but not as badly as the bodies trapped inside. No doubt cooked from the repetitive electric currents.
“Oh my god!” Sera screamed and covered her face. I wanted to heave, but didn’t have the breath in me.
The earth trembled beneath us as I floored the last remaining yards into the darkened entrance of the parking garage. We careened down the ramp and slammed into something at the end, ducking our heads on impact. Wind started to suck the rover back out of the tunnel and my ears popped as the raging cyclones reached the garage. I punched the accelerator again, forcing us back down the ramp.
The wind howled around us and the structure shook over our heads for endless hours. Or maybe just one, I’d lost track of the time. My hands never stopped shaking and I’d lost count of how many times my ears popped. No one spoke, but the sickening grimaces on everyone’s faces were enough to confirm we all thought the same thing. Caleb and Sera held each other the entire time, as Joe and I kept our eyes on anything else.
“Well,” Caleb started with a frown. “At least there will be more room now on the shuttle launch.”
Sera buried her face in his chest and either started crying or hyperventilating. I couldn’t tell which. I only scowled and swallowed the bile rising in my throat.
“If it’s still there.”
A flash of light followed by a deafening crack threw me against the window. My whole body shook with the charge arcing through my limbs. Then the unmistakable stench of burnt hair and flesh filled the car and Sera screamed.
About Susan Sheehey
Susan Sheehey writes contemporary romance & romantic suspense novels, with 4 completed manuscripts. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, GFWWriters (former President), and North Texas RWA. She’s still abiding by the most beneficial piece of advice she ever received- keep writing forward. When not writing, she’s chasing after her 4-year-old-son with the help of her husband.