Published on 2011/07/17

Eyes of the Storm

M.A. Moreno

Born of an atmospheric cocktail of cold and heat, foretold by a dazzling and harrowing violet sky, predicted along with its maternity ward’s worth of siblings by foreboding voices over the radio and television, the funnel cloud began his spin on a 1999 day that otherwise would have been quickly forgotten by most who experienced it. The day before remains a goldfish memory for most, flashing in and out without any impact, but this one would choose to remain.

The funnel peaked out of the storm to see what was below long before he dared to touch what he saw. He witnessed the confused scurrying of cattle in a hill-speckled field, the livestock hopelessly trapped within the confines of a fence meant to safeguard them. A sister cloud thought it amusing to engage in a round of cow-tipping, but her unsteady tornadic tentacle slayed the poor, domesticated-into-defenselessness creature. She retreated in shame, leaving the other cattle be as the storm continued its path across rural northeastern Arkansas.

A sloppy, undignified effort, thought the funnel. He had a more artistic purpose in mind, less sloppy and reckless. Of course, youthful arrogance prevented the funnel from trying to understand what had motivated the attack on the cow, what the source of such silly sadism could be: possibly a bad formation or a less-than-ideal example from other clouds in its storm front. In that way, the sister cloud was not so much unlike the humans that hid below them in the bathtubs of their shaky single-wides, searching for cheap thrills and inflicting abuse on their own species and those neighboring them to distract them from their own self-disgust.

Some of the clouds sought to blow away the artificial clouds of ignorance and suppressed truths that the humans had formed to obscure the inadequacies of their governments to take care of the citizens of their communities. The television crews were never around to witness rural poverty and the shortcomings of welfare provisions on a sunny day, regarding the family of six who hunt for sustenance when Wic and food stamps are not enough to make up for the absurdly low minimum wage that is mostly devoured by the absurdly high gas prices paid to get to the daily beatings of a factory job in a town fifteen minutes less than newsworthy.

Steal away whatever little they have, reasoned the clouds, take from them those second-hand shirts and skirts that they picked up from the local church congregation that can do little more for them due to the lack of disposable income available to most residents of the tiny town of two hundred, strip the blocks from under their rusting aluminum shacks, and then maybe the media will be drawn to the delightful sensationalism of it all. Until then, the extramarital affairs of a former governor of the state turned president of the United States would sell the ads between the broadcasts a little better than exposés on the sufferings and starvings next door.

However, the funnel was less interested in this social justice kick than some of the others were, focused instead on creating a mosaic of disaster, an aesthetic of horror, for his own artistic immortality. This selfish goal was not shared with the other clouds, who would undoubtedly see his efforts as no more noble than those of the sister cloud—possibly even less so, since everyone, cloud or human, recognizes with contempt the relative worthlessness of an artist. For now, he would slowly spin and observe from above, tactile interaction with the world withheld.

The system reached the outskirts of a small town called Pleasant Plains, a little lump of dirt roads attached to a highway leading to the far more significant Batesville. The town had a high school that also housed the middle school and that had even before that housed an elementary school before the forces of consolidation merged the school district of nearby Floral to form a new, overstretched district of hill-bound homes and hell-bound businesses. Pleasant Plains sat on the Independence/White county line, and the division between the jurisdictions was conveniently marked by East Club Road, a recently-paved street that had been a dirt road for most of its existence. The road forked at a VFW post, and the path that continued to follow the county line was popular with drug dealers, who could simply move their merchandise from one side to the other when either county’s police attempted a bust.

The funnel was not interested in this display of police incompetence and directed his attention instead to the other side of the fork. There sat a property that had recently been cleared of junk cars, scrap heaps, and drug paraphernalia, but still bore the trailer home of its dubious former resident. Also on the property was a newly-built workshop, a newly-poured concrete foundation for a newly-drawn house plan, and a newly-buried storm cellar, where a newly-formed family assembled from the scraps of two other families, as well as an additional party or two from the neighborhood, attempted to fortify themselves against the storm.

The funnel had reached his canvas. Expertly uprooting the trees on the property, the now-touching tornado shred the ground with each tug on the trees until the landscape was a muddy mess with none of the wooded coverage that had once served as an obstacle course for the children in the shelter. The trailer was tipped over with a satisfying smash that spilled all of the merchandise that its owners held so dear in their materialistic foolishness. They would do fine without all of that if the tornado so chose to spare any of their lives. To test the resilience of said lives, the tornado decided to engage in a fun round of tug of war with the door that supposedly sealed them away from his power.

The strength of the two fortysomething men attempting to hold the door shut hardly impressed the tornado, and so he decided to go in for the kill. The funnel engulfed the little concrete construction and began to pull away at it. Unfortunately for his immediate goal, he let curiosity get the better of him and peered through the ventilation pipes at the top of the cellar and saw a preteen boy sitting in the damp, dripping, slimy interior on a wet wooden bench. The tornado was not one for silly sympathies and sentimentalism, especially not in the midst of an artist outburst such as the current one, but he was acutely aware of those who shared his passion for creative expression, and he recognized this trait in the young boy.

In that recognition, the tornado also recognized a greater opportunity for his greater wish for artistic immortality. After all, the impact of the visuals witnessed by onlookers and captured by news cameras might be forgotten and discarded sooner than he would prefer, and a rather clever landscaper might even hide his very mark on the land. A story, however, a manifestation of a memory inside the mind of an imaginer, could live on long after the cloud that offered the funnel life support had since dissipated away into nothingness.

The story would be a fun one: a kid left homeless, all of his clothing and possessions ruined, having to survive for the next few months without plumbing in the workshop that is ill-equipped for serving as a makeshift residence, taking baths in plastic tubs and enduring the disgust of a shared outhouse, waiting as the land is slowly cleared and the new house is slowly constructed, relying on the reluctant charity of family friends and pitying strangers, surviving on nearly-expired canned goods and the cheapest perishables possible, and enduring the embarrassment of school-enforced counseling sessions that did nothing but create increased resentment for an incompetent system. Yes, the tale had potential, so the child must live.

The tornado pulled away from the storm cellar and tossed a tree across its entryway to ensure that the fragile little inhabitants inside would not blow away as he worked his artistry on the terrain. Spinning around, dancing across the fallen pine branches and unearthed stones in the orange clay mud, highlighted by streaks of purple-white lightning from the obsidian sky, the twister added his finishing touches across the property. A cyclone of creative fury laid waste to his own waste and did so again and again, repeating the swirling motions, splattering spurts of earth like an atmospheric Jackson Pollock.

However, as the funnel pulled back into the cloud, his work complete, he noted that the work was more impressionistic than expressionistic. Indeed, at close range, a viewer would be unlikely to see the implicit design of the disaster, the deliberate sculpting and shaping to form a suggestion of form. Only from the heavens’ eye-view could the observer hope to see the true scope of the portrait and perceive its imagery as intended. Nevertheless, the funnel thought as he began to drift away with the storm, my immortality is achieved, for there, embedded in the land that he has always known as home, unrecognizable as it may now be, is the face of the boy, recreated to tell the story of my arrival and his survival.

M.A. Moreno is an English teacher, film and literary critic, and amateur filmmaker. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in English at his alma mater, Arkansas Tech University, where he obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing with a minor in Philosophy.