Editor’s note: Tulsa Community College (TCC) English language division offers an eight-week online “Short Story Writing” class during both the spring and fall semesters.
TCC students are provided a great opportunity to learn about elements of fiction in the class, such as character, plot, setting, point of view, theme, language, tone, and style.
“Short Story Writing” is taught by TCC professor, Sloan Davis, who is a fiction writer himself.
Weekly discussions and journal exercises help students to gradually process the content of the course and practice fiction writing.
By the end of the course, many students have developed the skills to complete two short stories. One of those lucky students was Tatyana Nyborg, editor for the Metro Campus for the TCC Connection. She wrote “A Tornado” short story presented below.
Vicki Johnson left her office building in downtown Tulsa and began walking to the parking lot. She had to go to a business meeting. A big client scheduled her an appointment on renewing his yearly contract.
It was partly cloudy, but no wind. The apple trees on Main Street were in full bloom, and its intoxicating aroma had spread many feet away from the trees’ location.
Vicki pulled her car’s key out of her purse and opened the car’s door. She sat by the steering wheel and opened the zipper on the back of her pencil skirt so she could move her legs easily when she was driving. Then, Vicki found her cell phone in her purse and put it on the car seat next to the driver’s seat. She pushed her long brown hair back, propped her glasses on her nose, and unbuttoned the top button of her light blue blouse. All those preparations made her feel comfortable in the car.
Driving through this corner of the downtown in spring was a pleasure. A modernistic mural on a building’s wall was followed by a small square park with a fountain by a century old, stone-made Methodist church, on the left side of the road. On the right side, the street running to the center of the downtown was covered with a row of trees with white blooms.
Suddenly, a howling sound of a siren shook the air outside.
“It might be a tornado drill,” Vicki thought.
But the sound did not stop as it would during a drill, and it was going and going until Vicki left downtown and turned on a long road leading to a smaller town.
Vicki’s flip top cell phone rang. It was her husband Kevin, a tall and blond hair small business owner, calling from their country side home.
“Don’t come home!” he shouted. “A tornado just passed our town, and it is moving toward Tulsa!”
Vicki’s car radio played music. She turned the sound down, so she could hear Kevin better.
“The tornado wrecked a semi-truck on the highway; don’t drive on the highway!” Kevin warned.
“Where should I go, I just left Tulsa, where can I hide?” Vicki asked with a surprised expression.
“Should I go back to Tulsa?” she added.
“No, find an escape somewhere… close to you!” Kevin exclaimed.
“I will go to Walmart, they should have a shelter,” Vicki stated.
Vicki looked around. There were no signs of tornado around the place where she was driving. It usually was quiet in the afternoons there. It seemed as if the tornado was far away.
Vicki kept staying on the same road which had to take her to Walmart.
She passed two blocks of the street when she saw a dark gray cloud surrounding the smaller town where Walmart was located. In a moment, the cloud was everywhere.
It became dark almost like night. A strong wind began blowing tree branches, small rocks, sand and other debris onto the windshield of Vicki’s car. No cars had followed her. All cars were driving fast in the opposite direction including the police cars with their sirens on.
Vicki finally realized she already was inside the tornado, but Walmart was still a few miles away.
She started shaking from fear.
The fear grew into panic. Vicki desperately needed to find shelter. But it was a part of the city with a lot of private homes and a few abandoned buildings.
Vicki decided to drive down another block and stop at a motel where she had stayed during a winter storm two years ago, due to icy roads.
“God, help me make it to the motel!” The woman prayed with all her heart as the wind became stronger and began pushing her car from left to right and opposite, making the car swing.
Vicki pulled into the motel’s parking lot and ran to the motel’s entrance.
The olive-skinned, bold motel owner who was originally from India yelled at her, “Hurry! Hurry! Hide from the tornado!”
The man’s face was anxious. Vicki was trembling.
“Come to the kitchen’s backroom!” he shouted.
Vicki stepped into the backroom and saw five other people hiding there. Four persons were the motel customers and one was the owner’s wife.
The room had a round dining table with chairs, a refrigerator, a stove, and a microwave. The room’s walls were a dull gray color. It made the room appear gloomy and impersonal.
The owner whose name was Nitin offered Vicki to sit down. Vicki was so scared that she did not take a seat but stood near the refrigerator and put her purse on top of it. Vicki’s eyes opened widely. The corners of her lips went down, her usual cheerful smile was gone. Vicki’s hair was sharpened by the wind. She had a feeling of a lump in her throat. The other women in the room also had stone faces; they were scared to death.
Vicki worried that the tornado would tear off the roof, and the two-story motel would collapse on people.
The noise outside became louder. It sounded like heavy masses of air were passing the place. Then, everybody heard large windows in the back side of the motel break with a ringing sound. Vicki’s panic was beyond belief. She felt as if she was in another reality like the one that the artist Edvard Munch depicted in his painting “The Scream.”
A thunderstorm appeared as suddenly as the strong wind before. Loud lightning strikes were followed by intense hail. Nickel size hail was bombarding the motel’s roof and the cars on the parking lot.
A few motel customers went outside and watched the hail while standing on the porch. Feeling weak and shaky, Vicki walked to the motel’s entrance door and looked at her car through a large glass door. She was afraid hers and the other people’s car windows could break.
The storm calmed down in about a half hour. The motel and surrounding neighborhood had lost electricity.
Vicki felt worn out. She sat on a comfortable sofa in the motel’s guest room and called her customer explaining why she missed the meeting.
Then, Vicki called her sales manager, a sixty-year-old man with a prosthetic leg, at work.
“I did not make it to the business meeting because I was stuck in the tornadic storm,” she explained to the supervisor.
“That is not a reason to disrupt an important business meeting!” the manager shouted.
Vicki froze in surprise from the manager’s comment.
“Did you hear what this monster is saying?” asked Vicki addressing the question to customers in the guest room, and she hung up on the supervisor.
Vicki could not decide whether she should go home or stay at the motel overnight because nobody knew the amount of damage from the tornado in the area. Vicki asked Nitin for advice.
“You better try to drive home,” he said. “We do not have electricity now.”
Nitin pointed his finger to the road where cars were already starting to move after the storm.
Vicki got in her car. Luckily, it started. She nervously began driving on the road covered with debris. No stop lights worked because of the lack of electricity.
It had become quiet outside. The dark heavy tornadic cloud was gone. A few light gray clouds remained, and the sun was already shining through them. A burning scent filled the air.
Vicki drove on two different highways. One had debris and a big wooden log on the side of the road. The other highway was already cleaned as if the accident with the semi-truck had never happened.
When Vicki got home, her husband was not himself.
“My metal box with tools was pulled by the tornado from my truck, flew in the air and landed somewhere on the ground,” he told with an expression of a shock on his face.
Vicki stepped outside. She needed a breath of fresh air after such a stressful afternoon. Oak and cedar trees around the house stood still, and a red cardinal bird tweeted happily. The air was filled with wild flowers’ aroma. The grass and dirt were wet. It looked like nature had had a big, stormy shower, and now was clean and refreshed.
Vicki’s panic and nervousness were gone. After the experience inside the tornado, a feeling of unity with nature overcame her. The tornado was a part of nature, and Vicki felt herself a part of nature, too. The fear had been followed by peace and calmness in her heart. Vicki thought how much she appreciated her life despite its imperfections. A big smile lit up her face.
Next morning, Vicki was driving to work. She saw that part of the road was closed where the tornado hit a gymnasium. The building was severely damaged. It did not have its roof, and the walls fell down. Vicki had watched on TV news that about fifty children survived by hiding from the tornado in the gymnasium’s basement.
The gymnasium was located a few miles from the motel where she had taken shelter. It seems that the tornado touched the ground at the gymnasium.
Because the road was blocked, Vicki turned to a path leading to the neighborhood across the street from the gymnasium. What she saw amazed her to the bottom of her heart.
The old neighborhood looked like it was a war zone. Giant trees with their massive roots had been thrown across the roads and on the houses’ roofs; electric wires were torn and lay on the ground.
Vicki had difficulty to find a way to drive out of the neighborhood. Tears filled her eyes from the disaster she surveyed.
When Vicki came back to her office, she wrote an email to her supervisors, “I experienced a tornado yesterday. This morning, I was driving through the part of Tulsa which was severely damaged. It looks like a war zone there now. It is hard to forget what I saw. If you see me crying today, please, do not pay attention: I am overwhelmed.”
Then, Vicki’s phone rang, and the company’s human resources manager, a middle-aged man with slicked hair, invited her to his office.
“We received a letter from your manager that you sabotaged a business meeting with an important customer yesterday and did not sign the big contract,” he said.
“You also insulted your immediate supervisor by phone,” the HR specialist added.
At that moment, Vicki discovered that she had not turned off her cell phone when she had called her manager “a monster.”
“Because of that, our company does not need your services anymore, and your position is terminated,” the HR manager uttered with anger in his voice.
Vicki felt that after surviving the tornado, she was not afraid of anything anymore. She stood up and yelled at the HR manager; “Your company will make more money if you treat your employees nicer!”
Then she left the room slamming the door.
Vicki went outside and took a big, happy breath. It was her first step on the way to freedom from the ugliness of the corporate world.