When I was younger, a lot younger, my most vivid memories are of the storms. Thunder, lightning, gale force winds, dark skies lit with bright flashes, pelting raindrops thicker than tears, banging shutters, and tornadoes whipping debris across the flat landscape. During each and every storm, my Father would put on his heavy leather coat, wide brimmed hat, and waterproof boots, open the door, and walk outside. He would stand directly facing the wind, rain, and calamity ahead. There he would wait, regardless of wind or rain, until the storm passed.
I have so many memories of him watching storms. When I asked my mother about it, she’d just smile and say my dad was a “storm chaser”, and watching them was his hobby. She’d send me to bed, pull out some board games, or in some cases huddle me closer in the closet as we waited for it to pass. This continued for much of my life.
There were storms almost weekly, nearly every week a new storm blew by. None of my friends seemed to know about these storms, not all of them anyway. But I just thought that was normal. Dad was a storm chaser after all, I was sure he just caught them.
Our lives were pretty normal, aside from the storms. I went to school, my parents attended PTA when they had to, my dad taught me sports, or tried to. Sometimes he’d get frustrated when he worked on the family car, and sometimes he would try his hardest to be embarrassing in front of my friends. But you could always tell when a storm was coming. He would get this… far away look in his eyes, and his gaze would constantly drift away, always toward the direction of the approaching storm, whether or not it had been reported on the radio.
When this happened, mom would react immediately, she would pull all the storm shutters, bring in the laundry, cover the car, anything that wasn’t tied down would get tied down. Then, she’d sit down in front of my dad, take his hand, and ask “how bad”. He would mumble a reply, and based on his reply, we’d either break out some board games, or hunker down in the closet. Dad would rise with the first thunder, put on his coat, boots, and hat. He would walk to the door, then outside.
On my sixteenth birthday a storm came. I was so frustrated, I wanted to have my friends over but dad got that faraway look and we had to cancel our plans. I didn’t understand it, and I threw a tantrum. Mom went through the routine, calm as you like. It was like everyone was ignoring me. So I thought, screw it, I’m going out. I had my hand on the doorknob when I felt a vice grip on my shoulder. I want to state now that my Father had never been one for corporal punishment, he tried spanking me once, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. My Father was not a violent man. I need to make that clear because I did not even know my Father could grip this hard. He said two words to me. They were pretty ordinary words, all things considered, but the circumstances, his vice grip, and the dead, emotionless tone of his voice made me uneasy. “Not yet,” he said. With a single motion, he pulled me away from the door, and stepped outside.
Mom was right behind him closing the door. “It won’t be so bad this time,” she told me. Before she could offer the board games, I stormed off to my room, I was shaken, but I wouldn’t let my pride be stopped. I slammed the door behind me. It was probably 15 minutes before the storm seriously hit. It was pretty bad for a thunderstorm, but still just a severe thunderstorm. You have to understand, a storm a week for 16 years means I could identify most aspects of a storm based on what I could hear through my walls.
It was the rattling of the shutters that gave me an idea. My shutters rattled like this when the wind was blowing directly toward them. That meant that dad would be standing outside. I inched toward my window, trying to dodge the floor boards I knew would squeak. Carefully I opened my window, sliding it up just enough to reach out of. I carefully unlatched my shutter and pushed it open.
It was surprisingly dark out, the wind and rain and clouds blotting out what should’ve been afternoon sun. At the edge of the light from our house stood my father, coat blowing in the wind, hand on his hat. The wind and rain were deafening, it stung my face where it landed. Then, lightning flashed. A complex, multi-branched arc that lit the sky… and something else. I only saw it for a moment, a massive shadow in the distance. Fuck, it’s a tornado, I thought to myself. Dad was never wrong about the severity of the storms. I was immediately worried. I wanted to tell mom, but I didn’t want her to know I’d been watching. Lightning flashed again, this time the arc seemed to strike.. something. It arced in complex circular patterns that almost looked like… like eyes.
The two circles then flashed up, and seemed to fix on me. At the same time, my dad threw up his hand and a gust of wind hit the shutters, throwing them closed and knocking me backward. My mom was in an instant later, looking for the first time in her life, afraid. She slammed the window closed and without a word dragged me into the closet. I spent the rest of the increasingly violent storm listening to her quiet sobs, feeling her twitch with each one. If I strained, I could hear her whispering “Not yet” almost audibly under her breath, over and over and over again.
I didn’t try to look again after that.
The storms got worse, though. Every one seemed more violent than the last, so much so that my parents invested in metal storm shutters, and even a storm cellar, something we didn’t even consider in the past. Despite this increased activity, nothing new really happened until my 18th birthday.
That day, there were two coats, two hats, and two pairs of boots on the coat rack at home. I looked for the visitor, but my father was just sitting at the table, staring off in the distance again. I started to leave the kitchen to find mom, but my dad called out.
“Wait. Please, sit down,” he said. It was the first time my father had directly spoken to me on a storm day. Naturally, I sat.
“Today,” he said, calmly. I should’ve been confused, could’ve asked question, but I knew. Ever since that day two years ago, I knew that “Not yet” was temporary. So I sat. At first time seemed to crawl by, and my eyes wandered. Until they found… something. Whenever I stared at the direction my father stared… it wasn’t that I saw something, not necessarily. It’s like I felt something, deep in my bones. A kind of rumble. Like thunder you can’t hear. My father and I sat, staring into the distance. As soon as the first thunder sounded he rose. I was only a moment behind him. I immediately understood the extra clothes were mine. We donned our boots, long coat, and hat in silence. I hesitated at the door.
“Wait, mom…” I started.
“She’s in the cellar. This isn’t for her,” he replied, before throwing open the door to the sound of a thousand steam trains. I knew from experience it was a tornado, and a big one by the judge of it. There wasn’t rain, but the wind was vicious. No, this wasn’t a storm for rain. The wind would keep the rain from hitting the ground, and it would fall as hail elsewhere. I followed my father outside, hand firmly on my hat, its stiff, wide brim angled downwards to protect my eyes from dust and wind. We strode directly out, stopping about fifteen paces from the front door. My father stood and I stood at his side. The steam trains roared viciously but never came any closer.
It was nearly pitch black outside, visibility was cut off like a knife at the edge of our porch light, and we both stood with our toes at the line. Wind whipped us from every direction, trains roared their ghostly cries, and for the first time I noticed that it wasn’t coming from one direction, but every direction.
“Our family has watched storms for as long as anyone can remember,” my Father’s calm voice reached me despite the wind filling my ears and the echoing wails rattling my bones. “We don’t remember when it started, and why is not something that can simply be explained.”
He went quiet, lightless thunder rumbled in the distance. “It can only be shown.” Following his words he brought his hands together in a mighty clap, directly ahead, in the sky, a multi-branched lightning bolt crept slower than it should through the clouds. What I saw… I still don’t know how to explain. It was like a web, covering the whole sky in a three dimensional mesh. Cells of dead air with thick black borders made of violent cyclones all interconnected in a mind-numbing fractal latticework.
This mesmerizing net of lightning and wind and rain wasn’t what held my gaze, however. It was the thing beyond the lattice. It stalked, eyes blacker than the surrounding darkness, a form indescribably twisted upon itself, folded into itself and among itself in ways that twisted my very gut. It was a shape that shouldn’t exist, that couldn’t exist, but there it was, stalking the outside of the cyclone barricade, and that’s exactly what it was, a barricade. Bars of the most violent forces our planet has to offer woven together in such a way that this thing couldn’t squeeze through.
It locked eyes with me, visually there was no way to discern where it looked, but you could feel its gaze, feel it like it was physically caressing each individual atom of your body. Under its gaze you too became uniquely aware of every single particle of yourself, like the very act of being observed was unraveling you. Laying you to bare and naked before it’s eyes. It was then that I found something inside myself, a spark, an ember, whatever you want to call it. Under this thing’s unwavering observation I learned what it truly meant to stand sentinel at the gates of reality, to maintain the barricade, to watch for cracks, to watch for weakness, to shore up the walls with mortar when required and I understood.
When I was younger, my father used to watch storms. Now, it is my turn.