The Storm Chaser
When the wind calls, follow
Cyclonic winds totter New York’s skyscrapers, and hail chisels their steel. The wind racing through Manhattan’s canyons howls preternatural warnings to everyone to get off the street. And everyone has. Except for storm chaser Jack Sanger, who, among New York’s eight million residents, is the only person outdoors.
Ropes and carabiners anchor him to a lamppost on Fifth Avenue and 55th Street facing Central Park, where a minute ago, hurricane Ximena uprooted a century-old oak tree. Wearing a climbing helmet, Kevlar vest and gloves, shatter-proof goggles, and orange Arctic pants, he’s ready for the tempest. Despite his custom-made, twenty-kilo lead-soled boots, the wind levitates him off the sidewalk. The climbing rope tightens to keep him from becoming airborne.
The city sounds like planets colliding.
Jack memorizes his instruments' readings because he’s not sure he’ll be able to write them down through the rain, ice pellets, and swirling debris. Air pressure: 880 millibars. Sustained wind speed: 390 kilometers per hour with gusts to 420 kph.
Lightning strikes the street light on the corner, layering the purple sky with blazing white. Electricity races across and under the sidewalk, momentarily shutting off his consciousness and setting his eyes aglow, like a star gone supernova.
The concrete sizzles.
A gust whips his goggles away.
Ximena screams like a banshee. An airborne shopping cart almost crashes into him, screeching like a missile before exploding into an SUV parked across the street.
I’m in the middle of the biggest storm the planet has ever experienced, Jack thinks. He’s glad he didn’t follow his first inclination, which was to get on a plane to chase a forecast tornado outbreak in Oklahoma. Exciting, yes, but it was just going to be a batch of run-of-the-mill trailer park-annihilating tornadoes. Ximena is the rock star of storms. Jack wonders what New York will look like tomorrow. Flooded subway stations, tens of thousands of shattered windows, cars flung every which way, mailboxes upturned, brick peeled off buildings, the power out for weeks.
He wonders if the next storm will be even stronger and knows it will.
Jack thought Jacob in Cuba in 2022 was the most powerful hurricane that could ever be, with sustained winds of 350 kph. He had slipped in via Jamaica on the last flight to the island just before a tornado, a prelude of the apocalypse to come, sucked the windows off the airport’s control tower.
He booked a room in the only hotel that was open in Havana. A few seconds after Jack stepped out, an immense wind and fusillade of hail turned the building into twigs and sawdust.
He captured some of the best photographs of his career on that chase, and even better, the storm’s rage invigorated him.
Ximena grabs Jack. The rope that secures him to the lamppost frays, the white and red fibers unwinding in the wailing wind. A fury of frigid air cascades down his boots, ripping them off. The rope snaps and Jack launches into the troposphere.
“Come, Jack,” the storm says to him. “Be one of us.”
He spreads his arms wide.
“Yes, I want to,” Jack replies as he soars into the embrace of Zeus, Chaac, Zephyrus, Boreas, Thor, Raijin, and a hundred other gods of storm and wind. He wonders, By what name will humankind know me?
If you enjoyed The Storm Chaser, I think you’ll also like my story, Escape to Crylauyttu.
Fiction by Bill Adler is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Thank you Bill for another good Sunday morning story.
I'm new to Substack and it's nice to see fiction pieces like this one. I really enjoyed the suspense here; makes me wonder what drives some folks to risk their lives chasing storms.