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June 17, 2024

Storm of the Century

By Jerry Seeger

I was out on highway in the Texas panhandle when it happened. Twister alley, they call it down there. Maybe you read about that big blow they had back, oh, hell, must of been five years ago now. Before that time, I swear to God, there wasn't a grey hair on my head. Now look at me. That storm, and the things I saw that night, aged me thirty-five, thirty-six years at least.

Come on, now, don't look at me that way -- you haven't even heard my story yet. Let's have another round and I'll tell you all about it. You'll be glad you did. Yes, another would be nice. I appreciate that, brother.

So I was out on the road, nothing but air in my stomach, low on gas, and a load of Bibles in the trunk. Yeah, Bibles, sure as shit. It's a long story. I had to get them down to Abeline before Sunday or I wouldn't get paid. You might think folks spreading the Good Word might be a little more understanding, but this is how Earl explained it to me. "It's a business," he said. A business. Don't get me wrong, they were nice Bibles. I kept me a couple of them they was so nice.

Anyway, I'm watching the clouds as I'm piloting the old Davemobile down from La Junta and I don't like what I see. My radio's busted but I don't need no weatherman to tell me when there's twisters comin.' The clouds were dark on the bottoms, and lumpy in a funny way. It was only a matter of time before the funnels started to form.

I was trying to conserve fuel; if I had it figured right I was gonna be steaming into Abeline on the last fume from the tank. If I didn't have it figured right ... well, the Lord wasn't going to let that happen, keepin His already-paid-for Bibles from His flock. Even so, I was tempted to pick up the pace a little, get my ass into Amarillo. Not that I'd be any better off there.

"Steady as she goes, brother," I said to myself. "Gotta have faith."

Well of course I didn't know at the time that some people would be callin' that the storm of the century. I don't know about that myself. We've been getting an awful lot of storms of the century lately. But it was one hell of a blow, I'll tell you what. I was drivin' along and starting to get real nervous, Bibles or no.

I'm probably lucky the passenger window of the Davemobile is busted out. At the time I was all pissed off because the rain was comin' in so hard it came all the way across the car and hit me in the face. And that's a big car! But when that monster funnel came right down on top of me the whole Davemobile would probably have flown apart if that window had been there. You gotta equalize the pressure.

What? I am serious. Look it up, man. You gotta equalize the pressure. Shit. You've never been in a twister.

So all of a sudden my ears are poppin' and my nose starts bleeding and things get really dark, and I know a big, big, tornado has set down right on top of me. The Davemobile wants to lift right off the ground like that house in The Wizard of Oz. Man, whoever wrote that knew his shit about tornadoes, I'll tell you. Do you remember how the window broke? Lucky for them it did.

I'm just about shitting myself, but I know that as bad as it is right there, it's going to be a lot worse around the edge. Tornados are like hurricanes that way. Things are worst in a circle around the middle, but smack dab in the middle it's OK. So I figure my best shot is to stay right there in the center of that thing until the mother blows itself out. There's no way I'm getting out of the Davemobile -- no, my name's Mike, I bought it from a guy named Dave back in '85; he's the one who named it -- there's no way I'm getting out of the car 'cause I'll be picked up and carried off to the neighborhood of make-believe just like Dorothy was.

I had some big mirrors put on the Davemobile for pulling a trailer -- it's got the 455 and it can tow damn near anything; I had to sell the trailer some years back but it was a piece of shit anyway -- and I used those mirrors to watch behind me while I tried to keep right in the middle of the tube.

I saw some weird shit flying through the air that day, and no shit. At first just the normal stuff -- mailboxes, telephone poles, cows, stuff like that. But as time went on things got stranger. A car landed right out of the sky right in front of me. It was one of those plastic Jananese cars. There's nothing to them, you know? Then a Lazy-boy went flying past, and then along with the rain and hail it's raining Saxophones.

Bang! The first one near scared me to death, scared as I already was. I know they was saxophones 'cause I have a friend Bill who plays sax in a band. They're called Cold River. Ever heard them? Damn, next time you're in Lubbock on a Thursday you definitely have to listen to them play. They are good. They're like Willy would be if he played rock and roll. You need to get down there before they get too big and you can't get tickets anymore.

When that first saxophone bounces off the front of the Davemobile all I can think is "Damn! It's got Bill!" But of course that was silly. So then another one comes down, and then another, until they're falling everywhere. It's a lucky thing for me none of them hit the windshield. You can still see the dents in the Davemobile where the damn things hit it.

Up to this point I've been lucky -- that big-ass twister has been following the road, but now I'm seeing it looming up on my left and I'm faced with a decision. I can stay on the blacktop and hope to survive the wall of the tornado or I can head out cross-country. I turned the wheel and headed out over the fields. There were no fences to worry about -- the Davemobile could have busted through anything the twister didn't take out -- and with the car riding so light I was practically skimming across the plain.

It was dark in there, damn near black, and I didn't know what I'd do if it got too dark to see the edges of my safe area.

I start to hear a howling sound. Up to now it's all been this giant roar, but now it's like the song of the Devil himself. I think of the Bibles in my trunk. Would they protect me or were they tainted? I kept thinking of what Earl had said. It's a business. I wondered if Judas said the same thing. Accepting Cesar's silver coins for the Word of the Lord didn't feel right to me then, and I wondered if I was damned for my role in it all. Let me tell you, when you're lost, wandering across fields in the eye of the Tornado of the Century, you think black thoughts.

Yes, another beer would be most welcome. That's very kind of you sir. I'm a little tapped out at the moment.

I won't bother to tell you everything I saw that night -- there were the frogs, right out of the Bible, there was an ATM machine that busted open when it fell, sending money flying like snow, there was the chicken coop landing with a crash and sending chickens in every direction in a cloud of feathers, there was a fender, it looked like from an '82 LTD, and all kinds of crazy things. I'm just following along as best I can, hoping the next thing that falls from the sky doesn't land on me.

I passed a farm house but there was nothing left. I read later the family had got down to the storm cellar in time, so they were OK, but the house just wasn't there anymore. I watched the dishwasher go tumbling by. The only thing left was the flagpole, with Old Glory whipping in the wind. That pole was bent nearly sideways, but by some miracle it had survived. That's when I knew I would be OK. This storm had respect for the important things.

Still the howl continued to grow, but what before I had thought was the call of the Dark One I now knew was a chorus of angels. Not your Christmas Eve angels, these were the angels of war. They have 'em. Look 'em up. So these angels are howling and I'm soaked to the skin but I'm howling right along. I'm one of them; I've got a shitload of Bibles in the trunk and we're scouring the Earth.

That damn twister went on and on, and I had no idea where I was. The compass on the dash was completely haywire, and I was watching my precious gasoline dwindle. I wasn't frightened anymore, though. Wherever that twister took me was where the Lord wanted me to be. And with the wind holding up the Davemobile, I was getting the best mileage I've ever got in that tub. I know exactly how much gas it takes to get between places in that car, and I knew that night I was covering some serious ground.

Finally, as night came on, the twister drew itself back up to heaven and left me shaking and spent on a two-laner with my headlights shining on a sign that said "Abeline 5 miles". I still had a quarter tank.

There was nobody at the church that night; they were all in their shelters. I could have told them that they didn't need to worry, but why would they believe me? They didn't know I had just been singing in a howlin' chorus of the angels.

I kept a couple of those Bibles. I kind of helped 'em fall out when I was carrying the boxes into the church. One of them got burned up -- it's a long story -- and another was lost in a cave-in at an old mine, but I still have one, and I'm pretty sure as long as I keep it close I'll be all right. Bad things happen to everyone, but the Davemobile never goes out of tune, and somehow I always find a kind soul to buy me a drink when times are hard.

Thank you, brother, that's a kind offer but me and the Davemobile have a delivery to make. I've got a trunk full of Mexican jumping beans they need pronto up in New York.

Article © Jerry Seeger. All rights reserved.
Published on 2006-04-24
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