The sun hadn’t set yet but the dark clouds brewing up on the western horizon had turned day into twilight. The curtains were waving in the wind and dust was flying through the screen when Deidre closed the window of her bedroom. She shivered when lightening flashed in those dark, towering clouds. Under her breath she counted '1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi', waiting for the thunder crack. As she reached '11 Mississippi', she heard a low rumble in the southwest. Not too close, she thought, but probably the storm was probably moving in their direction.
"Dad, I'm closing windows, should we go to the cellar?" she called out. Her shout filled the house but she didn’t hear a response. She got up so she could check the other windows and make sure they were closed against the rain and wind.
The house was small but it seemed very large after the death of her mother two years ago. Sometimes the three bedroom ranch house seemed like a grand mansion with no other people around when her dad was buried in his job. He wouldn't talk about his work but she was sure it had something to do with security. Occasionally she caught glimpses of his home office, it was filled with monitors on the walls. It looked like some command center from a science fiction movie, with maps and charts displayed on the screens. She wasn’t allowed in the room, but she knew it had no windows, so she walked by the door to check the other rooms of the house. If her dad hadn’t come out, she would bang on his door to make sure he knew about the storm.
Another flash of light outside, and she counted to 5 Mississippi before hearing a louder rumble. The storm was getting closer and she yelled "Dad! Cellar or not!" Still no response, he must be deeply immersed in his work. As she closed another window she could see it darker outside. It looked like the wind was blowing harder, the trees outside were bending as the storm moved in. Finished closing the windows on the north side, she went back to the stouside and gasped at approaching storm clouds. They towered above everything else and were blotting out the sun completely. Lightening was flashing every few seconds and the thunder was getting louder as the storm continued moving. The trees were bending farther and it looked like rain or hail was falling a few miles away. When she saw green in the clouds, she knew this was a bad storm, it was time to head to the cellar to wait it out.
In the hallway she banged on her dad’s door, yelling 'DADDY! STORM, WE NEED TO GO TO THE CELLAR NOW!” She tried opening the door, it was locked. She twisted on the handle with her right hand while beating on the door with her left, now screaming “DADDY, COME ON!” She couldn’t see outside but the front of the house was getting darker as the storm blocked out more of the sunlight. While she continued banging, she almost fell when the door suddenly opened.
"What's wrong, I need to get my..." Brian said, before stopping when the house was lit up by a lightening flash. The lights flickered while a loud RUMBLE sounded close by.
"Down to the cellar, now," and he pulled the office door closed and automatically locked it. Deidre ran for the stairs in the kitchen and opened up the door to downstairs, her father right behind her. He closed the kitchen door as she ran down and opened up the cellar door. Before the kitchen door was closed, the room was lit up again while there was a BOOM directly overhead. The lights flickered again but the power stayed on. Her father closed the door and ran down the stairs to the cellar door.
Deidre opened the cellar door, and rushed in to the small concrete bunker. Her father followed her in and slammed the metal door shut. She flicked on a light switch and look at the old couch, battery operated lamp, and radio along with the other rag tag bits of furniture. Brian went over to the portable lamp and flicked it on just as the power went out.
"Sorry Deidre, I was busy preparing for my shift, I didn't know a storm was coming in." He went over to a small desk and pulled out the spare laptop, opening it up and turning it on. Within a few seconds it started up and started connecting to the Internet.
With a sigh Deidre sat down on the couch, while her dad started checking on his work. The job, the job, always he had to stay on the job and never talk to his daughter or mention his dead wife. Although she was seventeen, she would be graduating high school in another month and she planned to leave home as soon as she could. Her dad wanted her to live at home and go to a community college but she couldn't stand to live in this house anymore with all of the memories and her father trying to forget them all. She felt like she was simply a reminder of the person he had really loved and he wanted to forget her too.
"Daddy, how long is this going to last?"
"Hmm, er, I don't know, I'll check, let me see..." he said while bringing up another website. As a local weather site started up, he went back to his original software and quickly got caught up in the network traffic.
"Daddy, what's happening?" Deidre asked, frustrated again.
"Ah, the center of the storm is passing over us, no tornadoes sighted in our area but there are warnings for Owasso and Bartlesville, tornadoes on the ground in both places. I checked our outside cameras, it looks nasty but I didn’t see any twisters in the area. However,” he said, while looking at the screen, “the radar shows a nasty cell approaching, so it’s better to be safe than sorry." His eyes flicked back and forth on the screen, watching the data while Deidre sat on the couch, arms crossed and one leg swinging as she watched him.
There was a loud BOOM, slightly muffled by the concrete. The house shook a little and the sound of the thunder rumbled through the little room. Deidre curled her knees up to her chest, holding on and rocking back and forth on the couch. She was so tired of this life, of hiding in this house from everyone else. They lived outside of town, her friends didn't stop by to visit and she wasn't allowed to drive into town to visit them. Her life was schoolwork, and her chores, anything else was considered unimportant for college. It hadn't been like that when her mom had been alive, there had been time for friends but that had gradually gone away after the funeral. At least she was allowed to go to school. After her mother’s funeral, her dad had considered homeschooling but had been unable to find time to take care of the responsibilities. He reluctantly let Deidre go to high school but his monitoring programs called her constantly if she was more than five minutes late.
There was slow rumble and Deidre could feel the house shake, than another louder rumble from thunder overhead. After the second rumble, she heard something crash over upstairs and the house creaking as the storm rushed in.
"Daddy, what's going on!" she yelled, clutching her knees tighter, wanting for him to hold her but afraid to move. She rocked back and forth, gasping when something else crashed over upstairs.
Brian looked up at Deidre’s gasp, then looked back at his laptop screen. His eyes scanned the information, moving back and forth while Deidre struggled to stay calm.
"Damn it, there's another cell about two miles southwest of us and reports of a tornado developing. The first cell is moving out, but this next one looks even nastier. I hope my office makes it through, I need to help out this evening," Brian said. He continued to focus on the screen, hands moving the pointer around and occasionally typing something as he evaluated their situation.
Deidre willed herself to get up and move closer to the laptop even though the sounds above them were getting louder. When she got up and stood behind her dad, she saw a radar screen, bulletins and one window of camera views from around their house. Her face got white when she saw a funnel cloud moving towards the camera and the storm pulling up trees as it moved through the woods around their house. Her dad was switching between screens, expanding out the camera views while pushing back the bright red notice of “TORNADO WARNING: TAKE SHELTER NOW!” in the other window on the screen. The camera showed the tornado moving towards their house as trees, bushes and other debris swirled around in the funnel. She flinched involuntarily as a tree flew towards the camera and then the view disappeared. Her dad brought up another camera view, the funnel cloud was moving closer and continued pulling up trees and bushes in its path. She could see other things flying in the funnel, such as bits of fence and posts, trash and other debris. They were out in the country so there wasn’t much manmade debris but she thought that would change if it went over their house.
When the second camera view disappeared, Brian grabbed the laptop and said "Deidre, in the safe room, now!" He grabbed the lamp on the table as he quickly went over and to the door on one side. He swung it open and waited for Deidre to get in the room.
Deidre followed him and walked down the short staircase into a smaller room. Her dad had gotten this room built as an extra safety precaution for what he called ‘thousand year storms’. When she went in, Brian followed her and grabbed the door to shut it. While the door was closing she saw the roof of the other room starting to lift up and a small bit of dust blow into the room in the cracks of the ceiling. The door closed and Brian swung the handle to lock the steel door.
"Daddy, I'm scared," Deidre said as she sat down on the floor. There was no furniture in this room, it was just a barren room, the only light from the lamp her father had brought in. He sat down next to her, put his arm around her. However, he still focused on the laptop, his face shadowed by the lamp as he looked at the screen.
"We'll be fine, although we may have to stay someplace else if the house is pulled up," he answered absentmindedly. There were no more views from the cameras around their house, just the radar screen and some news channel showing video of the funnel clouds in the area.
A tear rolled down Deidre's face, she bit her lip and concentrated on keeping her emotions under control. She wasn't going to start crying, she needed to be a grownup and be able to stand on her own. Smashing sounds started above them and she gasped as she heard a CRASH in the room next to them. Her father was oblivious, some problem was absorbing his attention while the storm raged around them. He still had his arm around her shoulders, but it was loosely draped and she knew he was in his own world.
Suddenly Deidre felt herself getting hot and like she was seeing red, her fear gone as she decided she had had enough of being ignored by her father. Watching his eyes move back and forth, watching that damned screen while their house was destroyed around them. She bit her lip now to keep from raging at her father and felt drops of blood dripping down.
After the loud crash, the noises grew less and finally the rumbles of thunder were distant again. When she looked at the radar screen and the news feeds it looked like the storms were moving off and quieting down in their area. She took several deep breaths, determined to get control of her emotions. Her father finally noticed the quiet and looked over at the door.
"The radar shows the storm has moved on and it looks like the weather is clearing. The cameras are gone, I suspect there isn't much of the house left either." He sighed, stood up and turned the lever of the door with one hand while holding the laptop in the other. The ceiling was gone from the cellar and water was dripping down from the floor above. A tree branch was hanging from one side and furniture from the floor above was strewn about in the room.
"C'mon Deidre, let's go see what's left," Brian said as he picked up the laptop and the lamp.
"Why? You've still got your laptop, what more do you need?" Deidre asked, trembling as she struggled to control her emotions.
Brian stopped, turned around and looked at her, mouth open in surprise. "Deidre, are you alright? What's wrong?" He looked at her but she saw him glancing back at the laptop screen before looking back at her.
"What do you care, your computers, your work, that's more important than me. And definitely more important than mom was to you," she answered in a cold, unemotional tone. Yet she wanted to run up the stairs and down the road to someplace else besides this loveless house.
"Deidre, c'mon, let's go upstairs and see what's left, we can go into town," he said, glancing back and forth between her and the screen. "We can go to a shelter, there are probably more tornadoes, we need to get..."
Deidre interrupted him and said "No, no more, I'm not going anywhere with you. You didn't help mom and you won't help me, I've had enough." Something inside her snapped and she raged inside, anxious for some kind of action. She pushed past him as he tried to talk to her but he was still drawn to the screen, the damned screen that had stolen him away from her.
When she opened the door to the kitchen stairs, she could see the door was still standing at the top of the stairs. She ran up and slammed open the kitchen door in her mad dash to escape from this prison. Two of the kitchen walls were still standing but the hallway in the house was now open to the sky. Water dripped down into the open house and storm debris was scattered in what was left of the house. She ran to her room, dodging the branches and pieces of the house. She needed her phone, with that she could do whatever she needed to.
At the door to her room she could see one wall of her room had been torn away and a tree had been blown into another wall. Her belongings were strewn about the room but she spotted her phone sticking out of one pile. When she walked over to grab it she was glad to see there was still battery left. She found a coat and then saw an old picture of her family, with her mother and father and herself all smiling for the camera. A sob escaped her, she grabbed the picture and ran out of the house towards the road. Tears streamed down her face, then her anger took over and she picked her way out of her room to the outside. Once she was there she started running for the road, running away from this grey life without love.
"DEIDRE!" she heard yelled out behind her but it didn't stop her, nothing would stop her now. She had friends who would help her out as she worked to build a life without her father. Another sob escaped her as she realized that was already her life, she was finally facing the fact that she had lost both of her parents when her mother died. She ran along the highway, dodging fallen trees and other debris left by the tornado, running towards a new life somewhere else.
* * *
Tears were streaming down Brian's face as he watched Deidre running away from the house. He had hated ignoring her but it was the only way he could've pushed her out and not have her in danger from his enemies. If they thought she didn't matter to him, they would leave her alone, at least he hoped so. As she went out of sight, he looked back at the laptop and confirmed his tracking of her was working. God, first Alison lost to cancer and now Deidre lost to his neglect. He hated this part of his work, the danger to those he loved. ‘Alison, forgive me and if you’re there, keep Deidre safe. She deserves better.’ Tears continued streaming down his face as he went back to figure out what to do next. He hoped the work was worth the costs he had paid and continued paying.
Pictures by J.T. Harpster