The adolescent adventurers, who had only been in Missouri a day, had gone to riding mostly at night to escape the sweltering summer sun. As they rode through the countryside, still reeling about Johansen’s escape, a dilapidated Ford pickup crept up alongside them. The passenger seemed to eye them suspiciously until finally deciding George was the most approachable.
“Hey, you boys better be finding some shelter. There’s a storm comin’.”
George surveyed the night sky where stars were twinkling aplenty. “What are you talkin’ about? There is a cloud anywhere.”
“At ‘on’t mean nothin’ ‘round here, boy. Theyz a storm comin’ and they ain’t no shelter this way. I’d turn ‘round.”
Spider had slowed to pedal beside George. They looked at each other, not anxious to believe the makeshift meteorologist when the man spoke again only looking at George.
“You know you’re missin’ a whole front tooth?”
Spider, never missing an opportunity to wield his quick wit snapped, “Naw, it’s a convertible tooth. It only comes out when it’s about to rain.”
The pickup didn’t need to be told twice that their prognostication was unappreciated. It sped off.
When knights are on a noble quest, the gods have been known to send a blind Tyreseus or prudish Cassandra to warn the heroes of impending doom, but it only took the Ice Cream Gangsters around forty-five minutes to realize they had repugned two pickup prophets. The thunderheads blacked out the stars and rushed the sky like a barbarian horde. The cool smell of rain filled the night around them as they pedaled for their lives. The night became impenetrable darkness adorned by a cacophony of lightning. The pre-storm light show was so frequent the images of one blast barely faded before another lethal line of arclight was taking its place.
“Why are we going so fast?” Buddha panted and yelled up to Tex. “They said there’s nowhere to go!”
“How do they know?” Tex called over his shoulder.
“They knew about this storm, didn’t they?” Buddha countered.
“Up ahead!” screamed George. “Look!”
The structure he pointed to was an abandoned car wash designed to drive a truck through next to a small, boarded-up filling station.
They barely reached the relative safety of the truck wash when the deluge began. The wind blew stinging walls of water in the open ends. Buddha’s cat, Nikki, trembled and climbed her soaking wet body into his t-shirt.
“Nikki! That’s cold! Ow!” He gave up trying to remove her after a few scratches.
The boys realized the full danger of their situation when the stinging rain turned to ping pong ball size hail that forced them out of the truck wash to shelter behind a barricade of rusty pipes. The gale-force wind blew hail, twigs, debris, and other projectiles up inside the truck wash in a maelstrom of death. The chaotic orchestra of destruction hit its crescendo with a sound that mimicked a thousand horn-blowing freight trains.
Buddha and Tex screamed in unison, “TORNADO!”
The four boys clutched the old water pipes with white knuckles to prevent the tornado hell-bent on claiming them for Oz or other points unknown from winning its prize. Finally, with the sound of crunching metal, an old freezer came flipping end over end through the tunnel of debris of the truck wash. The boys watched in horrified slow motion as it hit the pipes where Buddha was hiding and he flew out into the darkness. With a slicing of claws on skin, Nikki was separated from her owner.
That should have been the end of Mark Antony Jenkins. In all probability, he would have been sucked out into an excruciating death amidst the millions of objects circling the mile-wide cyclone. Maybe it was fate. Maybe it was divine intervention. Maybe just sheer one-in-a-gazillion luck, but all these explanations cheapen the courageous act that saved Buddha’s life.