“That’s about 3 miles away!” Cried Jess.
“It’s getting closer. Hurry up so we can pack up and move out.” Quincy told her as he ran to load up the remaining supplies into the vehicles.
“How do you know its 3 miles?” Asked Bo.
Jess grabbed a small backpack and threw it at Bo, “It’s five seconds for every mile in between the lightning and the thunder, remember?”
“Oh yeah! Sorry I forgot.”
“It’s okay. The storm only comes around once a year but by the end of the storm, in about a month, you’ll be that much better at knowing how to track it.”
Emil started up the diesel truck and honked the vulgar horn. It always made the group jump; that’s why he did it. Frank gave him a stern look as he passed by with a trunk of charts and diagrams. Emil looked at him and smiled, flashing a set of off-white teeth.
“That’s ONE mile!” Yelled Bo.
Quincy grabbed Bo and threw him into the van, “It sure is! It’s coming in fast kid… SADDLE UP!”
Emil drove the truck with Frank as his passenger and group navigator. The truck had a steel plated grill guard with an edge cut out to tear through the vegetation and foliage as it grew. Quincy and Bo were with Jess in the van following behind trying to track and anticipate the storms direction.
You could tell the speed of the storm and amount of rainfall by whatever came up underneath it. Only grass meant that it was either a light rain or the clouds were moving too fast for there to be much of anything underneath. A slow storm or heavy rains meant big and fast growing trees.
In previous years, the storm moved too fast, they weren’t prepared enough to keep up with it, or it was missed altogether. Last year, a tree grew from under their SUV while they were camped out and shot it up, leaving them stranded until the storm passed. The year before, they stayed too deep in the center of the storm and got lost moving in its opposite direction.
This year their strategy was to stay on the outer edge, always in the grass, being able to move with it. The Valley was a folktale to some, a legend. Some people believed that there were already thousands there, living in an evergreen community year-round. The rest of the world suffered in a dry desert, where knowing how to live and survive was a skilled art.
Everyone paused as they heard the first drops of rain fall when the storm pulled in right beside them. Jess saw the droplets of water fall on the windshield as she looked at the grass slowly growing on the ground beyond her view of the rain. Bo stuck his arm out of the door to let the cool water hit his hand, letting his hand fill enough to take a sip of the fresh water.
They heard the crash right over them and they took off. Frank was looking at a chart on his clipboard flipping pages back and forth, giving Emil directions.
“Stay along the front.”
“Move in a little bit!”
“Keep it there.”
“Shut up, Frank!” Emil yelled. “I can see the damn thing!”
In the van, Jess was trying to stay as close as she could without running into the truck. The storm was moving faster than she expected and she hoped it would slow down enough get a good rhythm and idea of how this it is behaving. They stayed with the storm until it slowed down then went in for cover in the light foliage that grew along the storm’s edge.
Day after day for the first week or so, they kept a good pace. The group felt comfortable with how things were going. They estimated they had enough supplies and gas to make it through this year. Hopefully their trek would be short, having reached The Valley sooner than expected, or at all. The stories they heard said, in around 30 days, the storm travels across the earth, starting and ending over The Valley.
During the second week, they were parked in a small grassy area, big enough for a small campsite in between the vehicles with a few trees surrounding their hideaway. The storm slowly rumbled as a moderate level of rain fell. Emil and Frank looked over their maps and figured out the area traveled, storm direction and speed, and planned their next few days. Quincy was making lunch and enjoying the fresh air that came with the rain.
Bo and Jess were in the van making trinkets from the wood they cut down a couple of days ago. Since the trees grew within minutes, it made selection an easy task.
“Tell me about The Valley.” Bo said.
“Well, I’ve never been there but people have said it’s always green. Even without the rain. All the time.” Jess replied.
“People we’ve met on the road, moving around.”
“Has it always been like this?”
“No, I remember when it was not always dry desert everywhere. There used to be oceans, which is just water, everywhere. You could go into a boat and literally be surrounded by water.”
“But I thought you said there was water everywhere around us now.”
“There is, but its deep in the ground. That’s where we get our water from with the extraction machine.”
Emil and Frank walked over as Quincy brought a tray of bowls over.
Frank let the group know what they figured out. “The storm is approximately 4 miles wide. It’s not that big but it brought a lot of rain. So far, we’ve had the most amount of rain at this point than in the last 10 years. I feel our position and stock is good enough to take us to The Valley. We just need to keep to the plan. We’re about halfway through.”
The stress of having to constantly move to stay in a good alongside the storm was a constant nagging thought in their minds. They would have to take shifts for storm watching, driving, and sleeping. If they fell short or weren’t paying attention, the storm would leave them behind or they would misinterpret and move away from it. They would have to wait another year to try again. Having enough supplies and fuel for the journey also weighed on them.
“We better get moving, looks like it’s getting going again.” Emil said, looking at the ground. They others watched as the rain fell harder, small bushes and thin trees slowly began to bud everywhere.
They packed up their belongings and drove off, moving along the outer edge. The storm on their right, desert land on their left. As they set off, they saw smoke coming up at a distance beyond a small berm. As they got closer, an explosion happened. A fireball shot up followed by a mushroom cloud of smoke. The truck pulled in and parked at the base of the berm.
Emil and Frank slowed down and crept up to the base. They shut off their vehicles, got out and moved on foot, followed by Quincy, Jess and Bo. The kept one eye on the smoke, and one eye on the crawling storm. Feeling the dirt and hard sand soften under their hands as grass slowly grew around them, they made their way up.
“Marauders!” Quincy whispered. The group was horrified as they saw two vehicles burning up. On the ground were empty crates, boxes, cans, and clothes all over the place. The ground was spattered red with blood as half-a-dozen bodies lay lifeless. Laughing and moving about them, looting supplies were 9 men and women dressed in dirty clothes: salt-stained, unclean. and unkempt. They had 3 off-road vehicles, ATVs.
Frank turned around and saw the storm moving away. “Oh no!” he whispered. The group slid back down and made their way into their vehicles. The storm stayed at a crawl but was moving in a different direction. From their position, they found themselves behind it, having to play catch-up. As they got closer, they moved up alongside it, vying to get back to their spot up front.
Jess happened to look in her rearview and saw the three ATVs they just laid eyes on coming in full speed. She immediately began honking her horn and swerving around, trying to get Emil and Frank’s attention.
Emil looked up as the van’s erratic movements caught his peripheral. “What is she-…” He stopped and saw what she was warning them about. Frank turned around and saw the vehicles coming in.
“Go into the storm!” Frank bellowed.
“We could get lost!” rebuked Emil.
“I’d rather have to do this again next year than go through what those people did!”
“Good answer!” Emil veered the truck right, cutting into the grass and vegetation as they sprouted. Jess followed suit and used the truck to make the way for them.
As they moved deeper in the storm, the rain fell harder. The drops echoed inside each vehicle cabin as they got heavier, causing an already tense situation to increase. The truck flew through the brush, as the rain combined with the banging of branches and snaps of twigs alongside the doors, panels, and fenders.
Despite having quicker vehicles, the marauders couldn’t maneuver through the vegetation as well as the heavy trucks and steered away. Frank saw them move towards the lighter area, backing off and giving up. Emil moved in a bit and away from the heavy rain. They drove a little while longer to find a calmer, covered area as the storm had stopped moving. They were able to take a breath and relax.
“Where do you think we are now? Quincy asked Frank.
“I estimate our location to be left center of the storm. I don’t think we made it very far up when the marauders came after us.”
Bo asked, “What do the marauders want Emil?
“Our stuff. They want to get to The Valley too but they also want to be mean and hurt people.”
Quincy moved around the van to get a better view of the clouds forming around them, “I think we can stay here for a while. Looks like the storm has slowed down. Better refuel while we’re at it.”
For the next week everything was calm as the group stayed on track. They constantly checked supplies and even though the storm slowed to a crawl the last 5 days, they hoped they still had enough fuel to last until the end of the month. Emil and Quincy kept weapons close even though they hadn’t seen or heard any marauders since their first encounter.
The lightning lit up the entire area, making it feel like it was right above them. The hairs on their arms and heads rose. They felt the boom in their chests and paused for a moment, stunned.
“That was the closest I’ve ever felt it!” Cried Jess.
Quincy yelled from behind the van, “Hey Frank!”
Frank stood up and was about to step forward when he looked in the direction where Quincy called his name. He froze. Giant cumulonimbus clouds rolled around in the sky, dancing. An evil, angry, beautiful dance of multiple white, grey, and black billowy partners. The dark hues were lit up by a steady stream of multiple bolts of lightning, performing a stunning, dangerous ballet of their own.
The fear engulfed them one-by-one as they turned to see the enraged sky.
The echoing sound resonated and set them off like runners at a race. They each grabbed the closest item they could and moved towards the vehicles. Bo looked towards the storm again and saw a wall of rain heading for them. Trees shot up from the ground beneath the clouds almost as fast as the rain fell on it.
“Come on BO!” Quincy called.
The diesel engine roared as Emil slammed the gas and turned the steering wheel away from the incoming terror.
A lightning bolt hit the ground ahead of them.
Rain hammered down from above and the noise echoed on the roof of the vehicles. Frank looked out of the window. “Faster!” he cried. Emil pushed the pedal and floored it. The van came up along side it. “Look!” On the horizon, they saw sunlight and sand. “It’s the edge of the storm!” Frank yelled.
They moved closer to the edge as the clouds rolled towards them. Jess saw a path towards the right and moved towards it. As she moved, Frank saw the storm shift directions as if it was chasing the van. Jess drifted further away from the truck, solely focused on the light. The wall of trees moved alongside the truck, blocking the view Frank had.
“Do you see them?!” Asked Emil.
“No. Keep heading for the edge, we can follow along from the outside. I’m sure they’ll make it. They’re further ahead than we are.”
The truck turned along the outer rim of the storm, rain sprinkled on the windshield as they bobbed their heads around, looking for any sign of their friends.
“Up ahead!” Yelled Frank. The van was upside down. He could see Quincy walking around and Bo on his hands and knees crawling out of the passenger window followed by Jess.
Frank jumped out as the truck grinded to a halt. “What happened Jess?!”
“We were about to clear the storm when a tree sprouted out from underneath us. We tipped over and literally rolled out.”
The rumble of the heavy rain moving away along with a breeze coming from its center helped to ease the group.
Frank looked at a demolished van with supplies everywhere. “What are we going to do?”
“We can still pile in and keep the pace. We’re right next to the storm, but not for long.” Answered Emil.
They all turned towards the storm and saw it moving in away from them. Everyone grabbed the supplies from the van and jumped in the truck. Emil loaded up one last box as he heard another rumble. He turned around and saw the three marauder ATVs coming around the corner of the storm.
He jumped into the driver’s seat and took off. The rear of the storm was only drizzling so not much brush was growing from the ground. The grass provided good traction but the vehicle was now heavier with people and supplies.
“I can’t shake them!” Yelled Emil. “I’m heading for heavier rain.”
Remembering what just happened, Bo reminded him to be careful. Emil saw an area with heavier overcast and headed in that direction. As he did, denser foliage grew around them. The truck swerved and juked, one of the ATVs came up along side them, Emil easily bumped the back tire, causing it to lose control and head full speed into a thick tree trunk that grew in front of it seconds before.
Metal and bodies thrown everywhere, a second ATV came up and bumped the rear of the van. Emil saw how close it was and slammed his brakes, sending the lightweight machine into the rear bumper and over the truck. When it landed, he slammed on the gas and took out what and whoever was standing in his way. The third ATV drove up next to them but in the grassy area to the far right of the truck.
“This one is smart.” Emil said, pulling out of the heavy rain but staying in a lightly covered area.
“What’s that?” Asked Bo. He pointed to a small lake, surrounded by a mountain, draped in green trees that were fully grown and an acre of brightly colored flowers that covered the hillside.
“That’s The Valley.” Quincy whispered, literally breathless, from its beauty.
The passenger window shattered. A bullet hole was left as everyone turned to see the noise. They looked over and saw Emil holding his chest. Thinking fast, he veered the truck left into a spot behind a few trees. The ATV stopped in the clear sky of The Valley, waiting for a chance to raid the group.
With a condensed view of their threat, the group tended to Emil’s injury. “The bullet is deep.” Said Quincy, as he placed bandage over the wound, helping to stop the bleeding. “I can try and get it but it’s going to take time.”
“Well, we made it.” Emil looked through the windshield; through the water droplets and tiny streams moving down the glass; through the canopy of leaves, trunks, and branches; and watched the lake ripple. The seconds passed by like years.
“I’m good. I got what I came for. Everyone, get out.”
He sat up in his seat, reached for a gas can and tipped it over, spilling its contents on the truck floor.
“What are you doing?!” Jess asked.
Seeing no one react to his direction, Emil pulled his gun out and cocked it. “I said, ‘get out.’”
The four moved, reluctantly. He scanned the ATV and saw the riders were still inside.
“Don’t do this Emil!” Beckoned Bo.
“You’ll be fine kid. Promise me you’ll take care of everyone.”
With tears in his eyes, Bo nodded.
Emil hit the gas, tearing through the jungle, sticking his gun out of the window, he took aim. He fired a single round in the engine, watching fluid fall out, verifying its disability. The marauders fired their weapons at the oncoming truck as Emil lit a flare and hit the ATV head on.