Culture and Cuisine

My friend Lois Lewandowski over at LinkedIn put up a blurb about Storm Chaser up on her website, Cultureandcuisineclub:

You can see it in the "Entertainment" and "Posts" sections, as well as a banner on the home page that links to my website. She's got a great looking site, check it out. Thanks, Lois!

On another book related note, I don't know what's more stressful: Preparing for my first book signing or trying to figure out how's ranking works. Probably the latter -- just ignore it. (I do have two 5-star reviews there now, though!)

First Time Novelist Takes Q's, Kicks A's

Storm Chaser has had its first official review:
Who knows? Maybe I'll even report on the first bad review. But probably not. Meanwhile, I'm not above making fun of myself:


            Some people will be surprised to learn that my first novel, Storm Chaser, is already out and available, and has been for two weeks. It turns out that the Think Method of using mental energy to get things done doesn’t work with publicity.         
   I envisioned a big coming-out in which I hold a press conference, followed by a semi dropping off forklifts of book copies with that fresh novel smell, followed by a signing, followed by a dinner with Stephen King (what does Stephen King eat, anyway?), followed by an announcement that I’ve hit number one on both and the New York Times Bestseller List, followed by a seven figure, three book deal offer from a Big Publisher.
            All in one day.
            The problem is, there was no big day, and I think my subconscious is still holding out for one. The book went up for sale a few days late on the Whiskey Creek Press website. (That’s the name of the publisher, not a place I wanted to look for after my run of publication stresses. Okay, that too.)
            But it still isn’t up on bookseller sites like You can see why I was considering drinking deeply from the nearest Whiskey Creek.
            So the whole thing still doesn’t quite seem real, and I’m trying to muddle through until some jump-in-the-air, screaming out loud, kissing perfect strangers moment when I suddenly realize Today I Am An Author. In advance of (and to keep my mind off) that moment, I asked people to contact me with any questions they might have about the book or the writing business in general, and I thought I’d share those questions with you:
            What the heck is the book about, anyway?
            Oops. Sorry:
            Disaster photographer Allie Craine rescues Indiana State Trooper Chance Hamlin from an approaching tornado – and he promptly arrests her, in the mistaken belief that she’s a runaway. Chance doesn’t like photographers, especially when Allie decides to stay around his home town of Hurricane for awhile. He decides to drive her away out of sheer boredom, but that proves impossible when someone begins causing various catastrophes around the area. That someone might be Allie, who has plans of her own ...
            So it’s a romantic comedy?
            Unless you don’t like romantic comedies. In that case, there are fires, car crashes, and of course a tornado or two. Also a couple of rather racy scenes, for you guys who are secretly into that.
            Where can I find Storm Chaser?
            It’s for sale as a print version, or as an e-book in PDF and HTML formats, at You’ll be able to buy a copy at the Albion New Era, and I hope to get them shelved at some other local bookstores and businesses. They won’t be at any chain stores that don’t have a ‘local authors’ section, but just come and knock on my door – I might be in fuzzy slippers and pajama pants, but I’ll get you a copy and sign it too, if I’m awake enough for my hand to function. Consider yourself lucky I put the pants on.
I’ll get a supply of print copies soon, and when I do people will start hiding in terror whenever they see me approach with a stack in my hands.
            But when will it be available for the Kindle or Nook?
            It already is. Just download the PDF file from Whiskey Creek Press and either use Kindle-for-PC, or transfer it to your e-reader; both Nook and Kindle accept PDF format, and the book will look the same. It will hopefully be in the Kindle and Nook online stores soon, but if you can’t wait to read it, it takes five minutes to sync your device or transfer with a USB cable.
            Who owns actual rights to the book? You or the publisher?
            I own the rights to the book, and the publisher owns the right to print the book. In my case, they own the right to print it for three years, unless it flops and they tell me I can just have it back. I also own the individual characters, and have written an anthology of short stories featuring them … which I’ve already sold to Whiskey Creek Press. It’s the circle of publishing life.
            Was it hard to get your works published?
            It took me thirty years. That pretty much says it all.
            Do you have an agent who helps with that?
            Do you know one? Um, I mean, no. Probably would have saved time.
            How was your awareness of climate and weather heightened by your research? And did that awareness last?
            Oh, excellent question: Research is all important when you’re writing, even if the story’s fictional. For instance, even though I work with police officers, I researched their job before writing Chance’s character. Then I took a certain dramatic license with how State Troopers actually work, in the interest of story. Once word gets around, I’ll have blue and white police cars lying in wait for me at every intersection, loaded with angry men and women armed with big guns …
            Maybe I should have thought that through.
            Anyway, while I did heavy research into meteorology while writing Allie, I’ve always been fascinated by the weather, and will continue to be. The Weather Channel’s probably one of the top five places I go to on television. I’m that boring.
            Do you still have hair? Did you take up nail biting?
            Hey, what kind of – oh, you mean the waiting? No, and yes.
            Did you get advance reviews for the book? If so, did you publisher arrange those?
            My fiancée LOVED it.
The publisher sends out review copies, but since about 400,000 books are published – every year – just in the US and UK – a not-surprisingly large number slip by reviewers. By the way, 93% of those books sell less than a thousand copies, so no; I’m not giving you a loan against royalties.
            Okay, final question. Anyone?
            When will Storm Chaser come out on Amazon?

            Editor’s note: On June 16, Mark opened the door to discover his shipment of Storm Chaser print copies had arrived. Minutes later he was arrested for running into the street and kissing perfect strangers.
            Another Editor’s Note: A few hours after Mark submitted this column on June 19, Storm Chaser was made available on Protestors are requested to move their picket line to Barnes and Noble.

Close Call at House Fire (them, not me)

If you happen to see me around town and I seem to be in pain, it's because I fell backward onto my air pack while trying to pull a meter at a house fire early Wednesday morning. Just a ground level fall, but when you're falling onto that air tank and its harness, in a kind of twisty sideways/backward motion, it tends to jar and/or twist about every part of your body. On the brighter side, I felt fine until later in the day. Maybe not "fine".

I was using something called a TNT Tool to pull the lock off the electric meter, so we could shut power off to the house; you're be surprised how unpleasant it is to contact a live power line, with all the insulation burned off, while pulling a ceiling with a metal tipped pole or spraying water around. When the lock broke free it threw me off balance, and those TNT tools are
heavy. Thus, the embarrassing falling. I have no idea if anyone witnessed it. I'm also not sure if anyone saw me try to force the side door, but I kind of hope not, as it turned out there was heavy furniture behind it and I couldn't get the thing open. The window smashed out very nicely though, and the guys told me later that helped the ventilation process nicely.

At no time did a roof fall on my head. (A little
Storm Chaser inside joke, there.)

     An Albion area couple barely escaped a fire that swept through their Upper Long Lake home early Wednesday, June 23.

     Susan and Gary Tackett were both sleeping when flames began to spread through their residence at 0371 N Oakwood Drive, according to the Albion Fire Department. Susan Tackett awakened to discover heavy smoke filling the building and woke her husband; after they got out she reportedly went back in to try and retrieve a family dog, but was trapped in a bedroom by the spreading flames and blinding smoke. Gary Tackett assisted her through a window before emergency units arrived.

     Susan was treated for a minor leg injury, but otherwise the two escaped unharmed.

     A neighbor reported the fire at 1:10 a.m. Albion and Noble Township firefighters arrived to find the living area of the one story wood frame home engulfed in flames, with fire already coming through a burned-out roof. It took about half an hour to bring the blaze under control, while Cromwell and Ligonier fire units provided standby coverage at the Albion Fire Station.

     Although firefighters were able to keep the flames from spreading into the home's bedrooms, an estimated $100,000 damage was done to the building and its contents. Red Cross personnel were brought in to assist the Tackett's with their loss, and a company that helps secure fire damaged buildings was also on the scene.

     The cause of the fire is undetermined and remains under investigation, but is believed to be accidental.

     No injuries were reported among the firefighters, who remained on the scene until about 4 a.m. A Noble County EMS crew stood by as a precaution, and Noble County Sheriff's Department personnel also responded to the call. Noble REMC crews cut power to the residence, and Noble Township Auxiliary Members also helped at the scene.

     A total of 11 Albion and Noble Township fire units responded to the fire; 19 Albion firefighters manned their trucks.

My first book signing coming up!

I promise I'll try to talk about something other than Storm Chaser in the future ... but ever since I started my vacation this weekend, I've been working 10 hours a day -- on the book. Hopefully things will calm down and we'll be able to take some R&R soon. Meanwhile, my first book signing has been set for July 1st, in an unusual setting:

Don't forget, Storm Chaser is available for Kindle on and can be ordered as e-book or print copy on the Whiskey Creek Press website, and print copies are available on my website,

Storm Chaser in the United Kingdom

Check this out -- the Kindle version of Storm Chaser is available on the UK edition of Amazon:

Storm Chaser out on, plus print version is in

Wow -- what a Father's Day weekend it's been for me. My print copies of Storm Chaser arrived, making me very happy after I regained consciousness. I put off making an official announcement because there were a few people I wanted to surprise with it, then I got busy on Saturday with the Twins' birthday party (they're three!) and some other work. In between, I wrote a column (which you'll see later in the week) in which I bemoaned the fact that the book still hadn't appeared on

A few hours after I sent my column into the newspaper, Storm Chaser appeared on

Happy editing time! If this means my novel will only show up at a time that inconveniences me, then let me point out it's still not at Barnes and Noble or on the New York Times bestseller list.

If you want a signed print copy (I will NEVER get used to saying that), and live in Northeast Indiana, I'll set up some books signings and announce them as far in advance as possible; if you can't get to a signing, e-mail or otherwise message me and we'll make arrangements so that you don't have to pay shipping and I don't have to pay packaging costs.

If you live outside the area, you can order a copy through the Whiskey Creek Press website or get a signed one (not that I won't sign anything that's put in front of me) through my website, . There's a Paypal button there, and you can pay via Paypal or by using a credit card. Or, we can make other arrangements. I'm an easy writer. Look at me, going all big time! Emily did all the work, of course: All I did was write the book.

Here I am, all happy:

If you want an e-book copy, order it from and leave a review! I'd like to see my ranking rise from ... well, from nothing, so I have nowhere to go but up.

Weinergate Leaves Rep's Career Dangling

I'll be on vacation for a few weeks, so my internet presence will be spotty -- I have lots of chores and, hopefully, a bit of R&R along the way. We also need to spend some time planning our publicity and selling ideas for Storm Chaser, since I should be getting my print copies in a couple of weeks. Don't even talk to me about and other bookseller sites; with this temporary tooth crown torn up, I'm already stressed. But the tooth will be fixed tomorrow, the Kindle/Nook version will be up soon (fingers crossed!) and as usual I'm just an e-mail away. Say, I should write a column about dentists ... at least then I'd get something besides a new crown out of this.


            I was heating up some hot dogs the other day, and got to thinking about U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner.           
Oh, I tried not to. Just as I tried not to write this column, which can’t possibly contain jokes that weren’t already covered on late-night TV. But I couldn’t help myself, and as a result my new, low-cholesterol diet has successfully divested itself of hot dogs, bratwurst, and, by association, meatballs.
            For those of you hiding in a cave, hoping to emerge in some year that doesn’t include an election, Anthony Weiner – I’m going to call him Tony Weiner, ‘cause that just sounds funnier – sent a tweet to someone other than his wife, which contained photos of, shall we say, somewhat private and less than fully dressed portions of his body. I can say that, because he’s now admitted to sending the poke. (Poke. It’s an internet term, honest.)
            As a result, he now has the single most ironic last name in the history of politics.
            Now, I’ll try to write this column in a way that doesn’t get me censored by my editor – whose job is to edit, after all – but I doubt it.
            I’d determined not to write about Weiner’s wiener because, as I said, it’s been done. I mean, the writing’s been done. Two things took me over the edge:
            One was legislation brought before Congress in 2007, called the Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators Act. The title’s self-explanatory, although like everything that goes through a committee of lawyers, the text wasn’t as clear. “Sadly, the Internet is the predator’s venue of choice today. We need to … stop those offenders who are a mere click away from our children,” explained the bill’s sponsor, Anthony Weiner.
            But it’s Washington, after all, and where else does hypocrisy run more rampant? Where else brings me to the second thing. On a TV show called “The View”, which involves several women screaming at each other (as near as I can tell), Barbara Walters went to bat (ahem) for Weiner. She suggested that possibly Weiner intended to send the photo to his wife and, possibly having gotten clumsy because of his state of, er, excitement, punched in the wrong phone number.
            It happens.
            What caught my attention was Walters’ suggestion that Weiner showing off his impressive – photographic ability – was no worse than former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin taking her cross country bus tour.
            No way did Walters say something so patently stupid. Except she did: “If Sarah Palin can still ride around on her bus and be considered as a possible President, this man can override this, stay in Congress, and just hope there is another scandal that will take him –“
            Where that was to take him we’ll never know, because she was interrupted by co-host Joy Behar. Behar is a solid liberal, and Weiner a Democrat, so what she said next was fair-minded and deserving of great respect: “The woman has no sex scandal in her dossier, in her arsenal. This is a completely different thing from Sarah Palin, and I want to defend her here.”
            I don’t have a clue why Palin’s name would even come up in this. If she’d been on the receiving end Palin would have cut Weiner off, and I’m not talking about his Twitter account. However, since “comedian” Chris Titus recently hinted at assassinating Palin if she ever got elected President, my assumption is the white-hot hatred some people have of her could still cook those hot dogs I’m not eating anymore.
            As if the previously mentioned part had been introduced to cold water, Weiner initially shrunk from the accusation. First he claimed to have been the victim of a computer hacker – but hacking a federal official is a pretty darn serious crime, and he didn’t want the authorities to investigate. Instead, he claimed an internet security firm was going to take a – wait for it – “hard look” at the incident.
            Weiner also refused to say that was not his pride and joy in the photo. In the end, Weiner had to make an appearance (as if he hadn’t already) to admit it was indeed him demonstrating how tight his whities were. (Okay, they were actually gray – the whities, I mean – it’s an expression.)
            Wait, it gets better. Okay, worse.
            Another photo surfaced, this one of the Congressman’s bare torso, which was frankly nothing to write home about. (Yeah, I’ve seen the photos. No more hot dogs for me, and I’m thinking of giving up beef altogether.)
            In the background of that photo are several framed photographs, including one that appears to show Weiner with President Bill Clinton, who, for the record, did not appear to be holding a cigar.
            Weiner’s wife is an aide to the current Secretary of State, who happens to be Hillary Clinton, who happens to be married to Bill Clinton, who also can’t seem to keep it in his pants. (They also have a Weiner dog. Okay, I made that up.) The one and only good thing I can see in all this is that at least Mrs. Weiner’s boss will understand what she’s going through.
            Even Bill never sent a direct message to a porn star, as Ginger Lee claims Weiner did. I can only imagine her comment: “You think that will impress me?”
            I don’t know what the result of this Weiner roast will be. Should he leave office? If he didn’t actually do anything illegal, it should be up to his constituents. Maybe they should vote him out just for being an idiot (but that would empty the Capital!), and he can go hang out somewhere else. Or maybe this will prove to be a short story.
            On the other hand, considering I just found out he won his first major election (New York City Council) by distributing an anonymous, race-baiting leaflet, maybe it’s Karma that’s really showing skin.

Storm Chaser quiz solution: the location (and history) of Hurricane, Indiana

Oh, no, I didn’t forget – I just got busy. But I’m going on vacation in a few days and look to be even busier, so let’s finish this up with, courtesy Google Maps, an actual aerial view of the town of Hurricane, Indiana:,-85.394905&spn=0.00814,0.013669&t=h&z=16&lci=com.panoramio.all

            Most of you Noble County residents will recognize this place – or at least, you’ll know about where it is. I don’t honestly recall how I chose it as the location of Hurricane; maybe it’s because I pass by often, or maybe it’s because there aren’t a lot of buildings in the area (you can make out a home in the woods, along the roadway). Hurricane Books and Bait would be at the northeast corner of the intersection, with a convenience store (which I haven’t named – suggestions?) at the southwest corner. The Hamlin home is about a block to the south and three blocks to the west of the intersection, near the end of a street that, of course, doesn’t really exist.

            But now that you know where Hurricane is, how did it come to play a role in Storm Chaser?

            According to legend, Hurricane was established in the 1920’s just after a hurricane roared ashore from the Atlantic with such force that its effects were felt in the Midwest. One of its founders confidently predicted the town would someday grow into a major Indiana city, but by then the pattern of highways and railroads through the area was pretty much set – and the coast to coast highway Route 6 missed Hurricane by just one mile.
            In fact, the arrival of the Hamlin clan in 1938 made an appreciable spike in the town’s population (which was set at 714 in the 2010 Census). “Woots” Hamlin, a Kentucky coal miner, came to Indiana in the hopes that the cooler climate would improve his health (he died later of black lung disease). With him came his wife and nine children: He named his boys Jefferson and Abraham in a symbolic attempt to pacify still strong feelings dating back to when Kentucky was a Civil War border state.
            Abraham Hamlin eventually was sworn in as an Indiana State Police officer and built a home in Hurricane, where he met his wife-to-be, Elsa. Their son, Chance, followed in his father’s footsteps as a Trooper … and with him our story begins.
     Today Hurricane consists mostly of single family homes, with no industries. Businesses consist of a convenience store, an antique store, a bed and breakfast, a coffee shop, and an unoccupied storefront that was once the famous Hurricane Restaurant, but most recently held a bookstore and a bait and tackle shop.
            Residents say Hurricane’s best export is its small town atmosphere.

TwisterPalooza banners

I was able to access them when not signed into my LJ, so there's at least a chance that everyone will be able to see the great job Emily did on the winner and participation banners!

In other news, I sent an e-mail to my publisher at Whiskey Creek Press this morning, and hopefully should have some word soon on when Storm Chaser might be up on bookseller sites like Meanwhile, I feel like I'm getting a little burned out from hovering over the internet, and I have to prepare for my upcoming vacation (which I hope will involve some book signings and other writing related events), so I apologize if I'm unusually quiet online for awhile.

Replacing the Oprah Book Club

We hit a record high temperature here in northeast Indiana yesterday: 97 degrees, one over the previous record from back in 1933. I actually turned on the air conditioning at home for the first time this year -- and when I get hot, it's HOT.  The storms coming through now are cooling it down, though ... too bad they didn't help during our annual Fire Department fish fry yesterday afternoon, in the un-air conditioned fire station. Numbers were down: it was too hot for some regular customers.


            I found out Oprah aired her last TV show a couple of weeks after it happened, so it’s safe to say I’m not her biggest fan.
            Not that I dislike Oprah Winfrey (Hey, she has a last name!) On the contrary, I admire self-made people, and she turned … whatever she used to do … into a huge empire. It’s made her not only rich and powerful, but a person who by all accounts gives back to her community and her world. That’s pretty cool, and her success story really is inspiring.
            But I watch very little daytime TV, do I don't really think about her one way or another. To me she was a TV show, and I didn’t watch it because it just never interested me. (I hear she’s also an excellent actor and very good at weight loss programs.) I caught a few episodes many years ago, and I remember thinking to myself, “It’s just another Jerry Springer Show – only with class”.
            From what I’ve heard that’s unfair to what her show became later, but in general I don’t watch reality TV unless it involves history or something blowing up (Mythbusters). So I won’t miss Oprah, unless they replace her with something really awful, like Real World – Little Rock.
            But don’t forget Oprah’s Book Club.
            People actually read because of a daytime talk show host! That’s a true service to humanity. Unfortunately, her taste in books isn’t the same as my taste in books, but at least she had people reading. You could even argue that people might be better off reading her depressing literary stuff, rather than the escapism I usually go for. Getting themselves cultured, and all that.
            Then again, it’s possible I’m just upset because my first novel came out last week, not long after she went off the air, leaving me without the famous “Oprah bump” in sales. You don’t suppose there’s a connection, do you? I can only imagine her reading the trades: “What, they’re publishing him? That’s it – I quit.”
            I read through Oprah’s Book Club list, and discovered she hasn’t put anything on it that I’ve read since 2004. (That would be The Good Earth, which I read so long ago that I only remember thinking “isn’t it really bad earth?’) I watched her 2007 pick, The Pillars of the Earth, but TV adaptations don’t really count.
            I am ashamed.
            (Say … other books on her list include A New Earth and The Road. Pattern? At least she’s well grounded.)
            People say, “Why do serious literary novels never sell well?” Well, it’s because a lot of them are depressing, and on occasion incomprehensible. Sometimes it seems the only way to have your work declared a masterpiece of literature is to write something that has no plot, with the aim of killing off any character who’s a good person.
            To replace Oprah’s book club, I propose new and different kinds of books clubs. They’ll also be helmed by celebrities, as a way to draw people into reading. Let’s take a look at some of them:
            The Charlie Sheen Book Club:
            Harry Potter! Warlocks! Winning! I only lasted until page 50, but I got further than my third marriage. I think it has trolls in it.”
            The Al Gore Book Club:
            “I have just enough time before leaving the mansion for my jet to give you this election cycle’s book choice: Global Warming and Global Cooling. You can have it both ways! Tell all your friends – the debate is over. Here, let me show you some slides …”
            The Kim Kardashian Book Club:
            “Books? They’ve got pages, and words on them … and stuff. Sometimes they have pictures. Pictures are nice.”
            The Mythbusters Book Club:
            “Today Jamie and I will be testing the myth that books can be turned into rockets.”
            “That’s right, Adam – for the sake of irony, we’ll be using a copy of The Anarchists Cookbook. And then we’ll blow it up.”
            “Yep. That’ll give you more bang for your book.”
            The Larry the Cable Guy Book Club:
            “Today we’re gonna take a look at two new books: A Moonshiner’s Guide to Road Kill Stew and Kissin’ Cousins: the European Royalty Family Tree. One of ‘em’s disgusting, but with the other you get a great meal. Get ‘er read!”
            Okay, so I guess I don’t have that much shame.

Storm Chaser questions for column

I'm going to write a column about the process of getting Storm Chaser published. Does anyone have any questions about the publishing/writing process, Whiskey Creek Press, the story itself, or anything related? The column itself will not be serious (hey, it's a humor column!), but I'll make sure all your questions get answered.

And no, I still don't have any answer on when it will be up on or Barnes and Noble!.If you know -- tell me!

back to work

Bad days off. Really bad days off, with things going wrong on a family level in various ways, and that was before my brother and his wife got rear-ended in their pickup truck (They seem to be more or less okay, despite the efforts of several dozen people to get them to make a doctor's appointment).

Now  I seem to have picked up either a stomach bug or some very mild form of food poisoning. (We're getting by -- no need to call 911.)   The family stuff involves other people, and it's not my place to talk about it, other than to say I'm concerned and upset. For all I know, my digestive discomfort of the last several hours might be stress. Best way to handle times like that is to muddle through, think of others who have it worse, and keep plugging away at life. Mostly I wanted you to know that if I'm not around as much as usual the next few days, it's just real life intruding.

Meanwhile, I have the comfort of Emily and all my friends and family who've been voicing support and spreading the word about the release of Storm Chaser. With all the books that get published every year, it's wonderful to see how much attention my little piece of escapism is getting. I'm very thankful. Although it's still not up on or the Barnes & Noble website, I assume it's selling a copy or two on the Whiskey Creek website, and I expect to get my shipment of print copies in a couple of weeks. Soon I'll have enough feedback to know if I should tackle that sequel I've had on my mind ...

Storm Chaser short story: "Very Funny, Mother Nature"

As promised as part of TwisterPalooza, an original Storm Chaser short story that hasn't been seen anywhere else, and isn't included in the short story collection to be published later by Whiskey Creek Press. It relates the moments at the very beginning of Storm Chaser -- but from a different point of view:

"Very Funny, Mother Nature"
by Mark R. Hunter

            Allison Craine wrestled her big white RV onto the highway berm and slowed to a stop. When she rolled the window down waves of Indiana heat battered her, but she ignored that and stuck her head out.
            She stared southwest, squinting at a single white puff of cloud that stood out like another sun in the bright blue afternoon sky.
            I wasn’t even thinking about the weather.
            She supposed that said a lot, for a person who made a good living from something everyone else just talked about. Still, she’d driven into northern Indiana exactly because there was no severe weather going on there; at least, not the kind conducive to photography.
            She withdrew back into the RV’s cab and glanced at the electronic weather station on the dash. Eight-eight degrees, sixty percent humidity. A little humid for a drought stricken area, par for the course in the Midwest. Slight breeze out of the southwest.
            Her gaze rested on the black camera case that waited, always ready, beside her seat. So much for looking for a quiet place – something was popping, and it wasn’t the stunted stalks of corn in the field beside her.
            So, what was I just thinking about? A vacation? No, more like going home – some place comfortable and always waiting, and not at all like the place where I used to live.
            Jeez, you’re only twenty-six – stop moping. Grabbing her camera from the case, she climbed out of the RV and walked a short distance, to get a clear view. A few cars passed by, but no one took notice.
            “Hello, little cloud,” Allie murmured. As if in response, it puffed out and upward, like a slow motion shot of a kernel of corn popping. “What kind of mischief are you up to?”
            Her mind picked through the factors: Temperature, humidity, pressure, wind sheer. There shouldn’t be enough energy to grow a storm, yet there it was, reaching higher into the air.
            “Fine.” Sometimes she had the feeling fate pushed her from place to place – or maybe Mother Nature did – but this time the action seemed to be coming to her.
            The cloud ballooned upward, the side facing the sun brilliant white and the other side in ominous darkness. It shouldn’t last long, or produce severe weather. But that wasn’t the way fate played, not when Allison Craine was around. Should she call it in?
            From inside her vehicle a muffled voice came over the police scanner: “Dispatch, 14-47, are there any weather alerts posted?”
            So, someone besides her noticed the cloud, although the man didn’t sound all that worried. No reason he should be, in theory. Allie walked forward, putting some distance between her and the RV so it wouldn’t crush her in a wind gust, although she estimated the little storm would drift over the woods a half mile to the north. Probably.
            She also worked her way to the edge of the berm, as far from the pavement as possible, because in her experience rubbernecking drivers were more of a danger than the storm itself.
            The cloud barreled upward into a cumulonimbus tower, expending its energy upward as it sucked hot ground level air into its vortex. Allie saw no lightning, no rain shaft – then her pulse quickened when a small area of dark cloud, flattened at the bottom, appeared near the tail end of the formation. Wall cloud.
            By the time the funnel dropped, she was ready. This won’t last long. As she snapped shots she examined the cloud, and saw it top out and begin to lose strength. The heat was there, but not the moisture. She was mildly surprised when the twister actually reached the ground, sucking up dirt and plants from a bean field. “Oops.” It shouldn’t be down long, maybe long enough to pass through the woods and cross the highway into another field. Nothing at risk, as long as –
            She glanced both directions and saw only one vehicle approaching: A white Crown Victoria with blue decals and a red and blue emergency light bar across the top. That would be the voice I heard on the radio. As long as he didn’t drive into the storm’s path, no one would be in danger.
            When she saw the car start to slow, she turned back to the action. Even with a baby twister, she had an opportunity for some good shots. She braced herself as the wind picked up and the tornado howled its rage.
            An instant later, in a shower of gravel, the police car slid to a stop not two feet beside her. Whoa – cutting it close there, officer. She’d been in the middle of composing a shot, so she maintained her position until she was sure she had the image she wanted. The perfect lighting waited for no one –
            He doesn’t sound nearly as calm as he’d been on the radio.
            “Get in the car!”
            Ignoring a cop never ended well. She turned to see he’d lowered his passenger window, so she put her head inside so he could hear. “It won’t last long. You’re safe here.”
            She saw her mistake instantly, from the way his blue eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. He wasn’t worried about being safe. He was trying to rescue her. The wind gusted into the inside of his cruiser, making his close-cropped blond hair ripple like a wheat field, while his blue tie whipped around. Oddly, the rest of his dark uniform seemed unaffected, as if it had been ironed right onto his strong frame.
            “It’ll cross about a mile north,” she explained, hoping that what she feared was about to happen wouldn’t.
            It did. “Look, we don’t have time to argue, kid – get in. Now!”
            Why don’t I put on some makeup now and then, or curl my hair, or something? Suppressing a sigh, she pulled the door open and climbed in beside him. “Are you going to drive like everyone else does around tornadoes?”
            “Yes!” He hit the gas, shooting them forward – in exactly the wrong direction.
            “That’s what I thought.” While the Trooper shouted into his radio mike, Allie cinched her seatbelt tight. Then she realized he wasn’t turning around. “You’re not going to keep going north, are you?” Not good.
            “No, I thought we’d just sit here and get blown over to Oz for a nice vacation!”
            “We’re heading right into its path.” Well, might as well get one more good shot. They can print it with my obituary. She raised the camera and focused on a spot along the highway, at the edge of the woods.
            “Look, I can judge distance and direction, Miss –“
            And maybe he could, under less stressful circumstances. In this case he had to stand on the brakes as the tornado finished its swath through the woods and whirled onto the highway, right in front of them.
            “Holy --!”
            In the time it took for the trooper to shift into reverse, the tornado left the roadway and ripped up a billboard – a really ugly one advertising a podiatrist, which Allie thought no one would miss – then tore into a corn field. “Don’t worry, it’s already tapering,” she announced, taking a few last shots that she suspected would be less than stellar.
            “Where did you get your junior meteorology degree …” He trailed off and stopped the car again as the funnel, now only a thin, straw-like structure, lifted back into a cloud that itself was starting to dissipate.
            “Cal State.”
            She watched him, playing a mental game she often indulged in called How old does he think I am? She saw, now that his nerves were calming a bit, a handsome, square jawed face and even a hint of friendliness, which lasted right up until the moment he asked if her parents knew where she was.
            Sixteen, she guessed. He thinks I’m sixteen. Only ten years off.
            When she explained that she was a professional photographer, it just made things worse. Cops, she had to remind herself, just didn’t like photographers, but that didn’t account for the open hostility on his face – especially when he discovered her RV had California license plates. “You can’t just run around without supervision.”
            She glanced back at her home, suddenly sorry she’d ever seen that cloud. What was Mother Nature thinking, dropping a freak twister at exactly the wrong time? “Clearly, I was doing just that.”
            Later, she wondered why she didn’t offer up her driver’s license then and there, before she ended up handcuffed as a suspected runaway. Later she’d wonder what possessed her to call him a Nazi, removing the chance for a reasonable discussion. Later, she wondered why she just didn’t have her birth date tattooed to her forehead, at least until she hit forty and looked twenty.
            After all those times when she saw disasters change people’s lives, this one little tornado sent hers veering in a direction nobody – including her – would ever have predicted. Almost as if planned that way.
            Maybe, Allie reflected as Chance Hamlin belted her into the back seat of his squad car, Mother Nature is tired of me chasing around after her.
            She glanced up, and saw the last little wisp of cloud vanish.
            Very funny, Mother Nature.

TwisterPalooza results and Storm Chaser Short Story

Well, the TwisterPalooza voting went right down to the wire -- and I mean that, since the tie-breaking vote didn't come in until after I'd originally planned to end the competition. We didn't get many votes, in part because this isn't a regular contest but maybe in a larger part because (I discovered just yesterday) it seems to be impossible to vote on a LiveJournal poll if you don't have an LJ membership. You can't very well expect someone to sign up just for one poll, so there you go. If I do a poll again, I'll either post it only on LJ, or try to find another place to put it where anyone can vote.

The winner is LJ user
Description: [ profile] randombattlecry's Tin Man fanfiction "She Stares Down the Storm", a vivid description of severe weather that brings a new arrival to the O.Z. Congrats!

Emily is going to make you a 1st place banner, as well as a banner for the other participants. Here is a direct post of the stories, for those who weren't able to open the links: 
Title: She Stares Down The Storm
Fandom: Tin Man
Characters/Pairing: Lavender Eyes/Ahamo, Ambrose
Genre: romance/fantasy
Rating: G
Summary: The Queen's alert and watching when the tornado brings a stranger to the OZ. Pre-mini series.
A/N: For [info]ozma914's TwisterPalooza. It was supposed to be comment fic. It got a bit out of hand. Not a lot. Just, y'know. A bit.

The sky darkens that afternoon, and the wind picks up around tea time. The Queen sits in the Amiable Rose Garden, breeze plucking at her skirts; with graceful hands she pours the tea into two cups: her own, and no one’s.

The chair across from her is empty. She places the cup with precision— just so— and tips a bit of her own tea into the saucer to cool. The Queen can’t abide things that are too hot. She burns easily. The servants would do all this for her, of course, but there’s a comfort in the ritual. If she concentrates, it becomes like any other day, months ago. It becomes as though her parents are still here beside her, and as though she’s not alone.

Awfully young to be queen, is what they’re saying. Such a tragedy.

The Queen raises her saucer to her lips, sips the milky brew. Her eyes are far away and unfocused, and she pays no heed to the sudden stillness in the Garden until she feels Ambrose’s hand on her shoulder.

“Milady,” he says, almost hesitantly, “there’s going to be a storm.”

The Queen looks into the distance as though she can see the future; the birds have stopped singing. The world waits. She nods.

“There’s going to be a storm,” she says, voice near inaudible. Ambrose waits as she sets the saucer down, and stands. He offers her his hand, which she takes. As they walk towards the Amiable Gate, leading to the castle proper, servants behind them scurry to collect the tea things before they’re hit by the first heavy drops of rain.

The Queen watches the storm from her window. The eerie stillness that had crept up on her transforms in the space of a second into wildness, a natural rage. The wind hurls itself against the battlements, whistles around the ancient stones. It picks up whatever it can grab and makes off with it like a thief. The rain dashes and dashes. Rivers swell and flood and race. The entirety of the OZ, caught unawares in the usually peaceful summer months, huddles in whatever shelter it can find. The Queen herself digs her bare feet into the deep pile of the carpet, curls her arms around herself and keeps her eyes open.

Then, the tornado.

One blink, and it’s there, as though there was no stretching arm from the sky. As though it had grown full fledged from nothing, and where once there was straightline wind and driving rain, there’s a flurry of hail the size of peas— interspersed with peas the size of hail— there is this torrid churning thing, moving towards the castle as though full of deadly intent. It picks up the landscape and throws it out of its way; it locks eyes with the young Queen, perched waiting in her tower; she stares down the storm, with the same distant calm with which she poured the tea.

In the middle of the boiling agitation, a flash of something yellow.

The Queen bolts to her feet, alone in her room, and she hunches over the stone windowsill, watching. There! Again! The flash of golden color, and something foreign. She hesitates only a moment, then turns to rush for the door, snatching up a cloak on the way.

Ambrose greets her with bewilderment in the grand foyer.

“Milady, I had thought—”

“I must go, Ambrose.”

“But— Milady, the storm!”

“It is dying,” she tosses over her shoulder, and she’s through the door and running. She’s forgotten to put her shoes on, and her feet are wet; she slips on the rolling marbles of downed hail, and leaps a horizontal tree trunk. Ahead of her the tornado groans, giving up, and lessens itself down to nothing, dissipating into a wind, and then a breeze; and still the Queen runs. She’s triumphant, barefoot and triumphant, barefoot and triumphant and running.

Ahead of her, yellow.

The airless bulb of the curious balloon has lodged itself in the branches of a tree, hopelessly tangled. From beneath, attached by ropes and wires, hangs a crooked wicker basket big enough to hold four men. On the balloon she can make out only partial words, strings of letters: MAHA, it says, and REAT AND POW RF L.

The balloon’s owner, scratched and bruised and passed out from sheer terror but alive, has fallen in a heap from his basket. The Queen bends to hover over him, carefully straightens out his limbs and ascertains that nothing is broken. Her heart is in her mouth, it seems— but then, no; no, her heart is in her chest, where it belongs. For once. Her breath is what seems to be missing.

The stranger is handsome, bruised and impossible as he is; every line of every feature seems strange and familiar. She thinks she may have seen him, once or twice, in a dream she had, when she was young. She waits for him to wake, holding closely there, to be the first thing he should see when his eyes open.

His eyes open. They are blue. They’re unfocused, as well, and drift around aimlessly for a moment, while a smile creases the side of his mouth, as though nothing is wrong, or has ever been wrong. Eventually, at long last, they drift to her face, and the smile stays. Grows stronger.

“I must be dreaming.”

“The tornado brought you,” the Queen informs him.

“Dreaming,” says the stranger. “Like I thought.”

“You came in the storm. I saw you, and came to find you. To save you, if you needed saving.” The Queen hesitates, as the stranger reaches his hand out to touch, just lightly, her hand. His gaze is focused on hers, with an odd sort of intensity, and she knows that she is strange and yet familiar to him, too.

“Lavender Eyes,” he says. “I know I’m dreaming, now.”

The Queen lowers her eyes, and smiles.

“I don’t suppose you’d like a cup of tea,” she says.

The storm is passing, with a last few murmurs of thunder. There’s clouds above them both, but on the horizon is the sky, clear and blue. 
Title: Let It Snow
Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Author: [info]evil_little_dog
Words: 255
Rating: K+
Summary: Pinako, Rezembool Trio
Warnings: Pre-series story
Disclaimer: Dogs and cats, living together – and I don’t own anything out of this universe.
A.N.: Written for [info]cornerofmadness prompt of young Resembool trio, 'giant snowfall' and [info]fanfic_bakeoff prompt of carry.


The wind carried the cold weather out of the northern mountains, bringing fat flakes of snow down over Rezembool. The kids were shocked – fascinated – delighted the snow fell so thick, so fast. Pinako was glad she’d insisted the Elric boys stay at her house. She didn’t think they could’ve made their way to the Rockbell homestead with the amount of snow that had fallen during the night but didn’t bother saying it out loud; Ed would think he’d be fine and drag Al home with him, no matter how unsafe traveling in a blizzard might be.

“I’m bored.”

Of course, Ed would be.

“When it stops snowing, you kids can play outside.” Pinako hooked a thumb at the window, where Al was still staring at the falling flakes. “I’m not letting you go out now.”

“Awww.” Ed scuffed his foot over the floor, his lower lip pooching out.

The static made Winry’s wispy hair stand on end. “We could play a game!” She ran out of the room and returned a few minutes later, carrying a deck of cards.

Scowling at the offer, Ed dragged himself over to the table. “Al. Al, come on,” he whined. “We’re going to play cards.”

“But I wanna play in the snow!” His nose and hands smudging the glass, his breath left a cloud of fog, too.

“No one’s playing in the snow until it stops.”


Pinako hoped she had enough tobacco to carry her through the blizzard. She had a feeling she was going to need it.

Title: Snow Day
Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Author: [info]evil_little_dog
Words: 405
Rating: K
Summary: They’ve been playing in the snow all day.
Characters: Pinako, the Rezembool Trio
Warnings: Pre-series fic
Disclaimer: Arakawa owns all. I swear. Not me.
A.N.: For [info]yuukihikari, for her prompt: itty bitty Resembool trio and one cup of hot chocolate. Sort of a sequel to Let it Snow.


The kids stomped back into the house, bringing the cold with them. They had bright red noses and pink cheeks; their clothes sodden from their fun in the snow. Hair stuck to damp skin and fingers, chilled from the snow, moved slow. Pinako watched as they helped each other drag off jackets, unwind scarves, and kick away boots.

“Strip down and get in front of the fire.” She pointed toward the living area. Naked kids ran, giggling as they landed in the nest of towels and a blanket. They rolled up together to get warm, squabbling over the cover, throwing towels at each other. Pinako sighed, letting them work it out themselves, heading back to the kitchen.

If the snow didn’t melt, it’d be hard to get any deliveries, including milk. Pinako thought they’d be all right, though. The chickens would provide eggs, and there was still cheese in the pantry. There was tea and coffee, and her stock of apple cider and juice. There was a cord and a half of wood on the porch. And, there had been enough milk left over for a cup of hot chocolate and Pinako carried it in to the kids. “Here you are. You’ll have to share.”

Ed’s nose twitched. “You two drink it! It has milk!”

“Are you sure, Brother?” Al asked as Winry accepted the cup, ignoring the face Ed made.

Winry said, “More for us, then!” She sipped and offered the cup to Al.

Pinako pointed her pipe stem. “You should drink milk, Ed. You’re never going to grow if you don’t.” She pressed her hand on top of his head before he could squawk. “But I’ll make you some hot tea. This time.”

When she came back with the cup of tea, Pinako had to smile. The kids had fallen asleep, reminding her of a knot of puppies. Al’s thumb was in his mouth, his back pressed against Ed’s side. Ed’s arms and legs were outflung, even under the blanket. Winry’s head rested on Ed’s shoulder and Den had joined them, her body curled around the kids.

“Guess the tea can wait, huh?” Pinako take a sip of it, smacking her lips. The kids could sleep for now. Later on, the boys could transmute the damp out of their clothes, and Winry could hang them up. But for now, it was nice to have the quiet soak into the room.

…at least until Ed started snoring.

This is a very Australian story, which appears in my new collection Making a Name and other stories.
Available wherever good books are sold


'All human affairs, including the most subtle affairs of the heart, are subject to the laws of economics.'    
       Kathryn Davis

At Dirrunbirdum station, everything was much the same as usual. John had even left his cup askew on the saucer, as he always did. Marianne looked at how it shared space with the teaspoon: lopsided, like John’s smile.
They were cups she bought in Alsace, a tablecloth hand-printed by a woman in Paris. The blue of each did not quite match – the tablecloth was lighter than the cups. And each piece of crockery, because of its handmade quality, was quite an individual.
Marianne remembered wrapping each item carefully in tissue and then newspaper, placing everything she owned into tea chests to be transported all the way around the world, from Europe to a place she had seen only in photographs.
‘Dirrunbirdum station,’ John had said, from behind a stack of books and papers, ‘is a very special place.’
If only for its heat and isolation, thought Marianne much later, it certainly was. Disappointment had fleshed out her already swollen face, filled her bones with a fluid restlessness. She unpacked her things on arrival only because she wanted to recreate around her, here in the middle of rural Australia, the scenes she missed. The dining room in Valtellina, the garden in Sa Maison, the swimming pool that was a cocktail of rose petals and dill roots in Kalmthout. Could it be that John did not feel they had descended into a plane whose heat and whiteness erased their very beings, rubbing them into the landscape until they too were flat and dusty? She felt she had abandoned everything with meaning and history.
The knives had ceramic handles, and both were streaked with melted butter. Flies buzzed at the mesh that thankfully covered each window so snugly nothing but red dust could enter. Pictures she hung all around the dining room sprang, lifelike, from walls painted a uniform professional magnolia.
The walls she remembered, of the old friary in Grosseto, were uneven, anciently composed of large blocks of stone plastered and whitewashed with the trowels and hogshair brushes of antiquity. She missed those walls, and their ability to hold grey dust from narrow streets that were never really silent. She missed the uneven floors of sandstone flags that creaked and tilted, and the hollow thresholds, holding rainwater from the square of sky over the courtyard.
Here at Dirrunbirdum station, there were large terracotta pots planted with star-leaved geraniums, common daisies: pink, purple and white pelargoniums. And she had cried when she saw them. John mistook her tears for appreciation, for gladness that they had arrived in that deserted place where the only sound was the rustle of leaves from a stand of young gum trees to one side of the house.
Deep verandas, steep eaves and strategically placed matchstick blinds kept the house in shadow, and all rooms were rather dark but thankfully cool. Ceiling fans kept her papers mobile, as if possessed of a life of their own. In Alsace, in Paris, in Antwerp and Valletta they had lain flat, patient, accepting of the battering in the old typewriter, and then the assault of her blue fountain pen.
Now, Marianne cleared the table, thinking she had better start writing if her column was ever going to be sent away in time to make the deadline. John was far away, probably in the ‘top paddock’, a place she had still not seen; preferred not to see, until the worst of the heat passed. Until they had some rain to settle the dust. Until she had felt a breeze from somewhere: anywhere.
‘In March or April,’ John said with confidence, ‘we’ll get rain.’
But Marianne did not believe in rain any more. She did not think it was possible for those impermeable steadfast skies to become stained with cloud: to fill with greyness and open to release respite.
How she would run! She would leap off the veranda onto the place they optimistically called the front garden, and reach up. She would welcome the drops, drink them in: revel in their capacity to drench her, to sink past the stretched dry canvas that was her skin.
‘Why did we come here?’ she said that night. The patterned French crockery was once more on the table, on the same handcrafted tablecloth. The bowl of fruit was bright. She sprinkled water and placed ice cubes among the peaches. They were damp and cool. There were ice cubes floating in a large water jug, and ice cubes in the soup.
John looked up from the soup, which was a delicate orange colour, and raised an eyebrow. ‘Darling. Sweetheart, darling – cold soup?’
‘It’s Potage Crécy. It’s too hot to have it warm.’
He tasted a spoonful and nodded uncertainly. ‘Darling – sweetheart. Do you really hate it here?’
‘No. The colours are wonderful. The silence is just what I needed. But the dust – the heat ...’ She lowered her head. Thick curly hair almost touched the edge of the soup bowl. ‘I so used to love travelling. I adore change, movement ... all that. Do you remember moving into the cottage at –’
John cut her off. ‘It’s only been a couple of weeks. In March or April —’
‘– we’ll have rain.’
‘Darling, the money. We couldn’t just ignore the property. Someone had to come back and run it after Dad went. This place is ideal – think of the future.’
Marianne thought absurdly of a white sheet hung out to dry on a long line in the garden at Sa Maison. It cracked and flapped like a sail in the high wind, a wind that came over the Mediterranean all the way from the Greek Islands to tousle her hair and bend the heads of her marguerite daisies. Past the flapping corners of the sheet, she saw the gathered bobbing masts of a clutch of small yachts moored out in the bay. The sea was choppy and felt wet even from that distance. Marianne smelled the salt on the air.
‘What’s that? What can you smell?’ John placed his soup spoon on the tablecloth.
‘The sea.’ She smiled forlornly.
‘It’s four days away by road!’

At Dirrunbirdum station, a team of men arrived to start the shearing. Marianne and a bright-eyed girl prepared meals in the kitchen, turning out what seemed like an impossible amount of food three times a day. It was devoured in less time than it took to assemble. There would be no Potage Crécy, of course, but what looked like gallons of Irish stew, which she thought would be impossible to consume after the dozens of pies and tomato sauce they had demolished a mere couple of hours ago.
Fascination with the men, with the smells and animation of the shed, with the sheep and the buzz of the cutters, inspired her. She wrote several articles and items for her column and sent them to the paper, whose offices in London now seemed so far away. Did she still remember what it was like to leap from a taxi on the Old Brompton Road and struggle against the wind round the corner to where she and John rented the top part of a house? Did she remember the narrow stairs and the railings painted navy blue? Had she ever bought woollies and boots in Chelsea?
‘The wool is off to the yards tomorrow. Someone said there is a new buyer up from Western Australia. He’s English, would you believe?’
‘I believe.’ The smile on her lips did not quite reach her eyes.
That morning, she broke one of the French cups. It shattered on the tiled floor and she still could not find the fragment that held the ear.
The bright-eyed helper’s dismay filled the kitchen. ‘What a shame – such pretty cups.’
‘Alsace ... Alsace is very far away.’ Marianne looked at a piece of blue porcelain in her hand. ‘And we will have rain in March or April.’
‘Don’t hold your breath, now!’ The girl tilted her head wryly. ‘But we’ll have thunder, sure.’
Marianne waited. She lined the underside of the straw brim of her hat with green fabric, and spent time in the garden, holding the hose like a fishing rod, splashing dusty leaves with water, to the consternation of John and the girl, who wanted her to be parsimonious.
‘The lack of water strangles and parches.’ Her tone was mock-poetic, but sarcastic, the night a heat storm made the light in the lounge flicker, go off, and come on again in the blink of an eye. ‘And the use of it stifles.’
‘Never mind.’ She thought of the times they would hurry out to a small pavement café after dinner, jumping puddles and laughing, remembering to speak English, rather than their stiff unpractised French, to the man behind the bar.
She thought of tall narrow provincial houses, crammed and pushed together to form narrow streets. Her mind’s eye saw window boxes full of petunias and Easter lilies. ‘I want flowers.’
‘We have geraniums. And ... uh – and those other what-do-you-call-thems.’
‘Only because I water them three times a day.’

At Dirrunbirdum station, everything was awash with red mud. Terracotta pots out front almost disappeared: only their green tops and bedraggled flowers were visible from the window where Marianne watched.
‘Rain! Ah, rain – what an amazing thing. I never thought I would be so fascinated by rain. All I want to do is watch it. Look – things are floating past. Over there, see? Past the gate.’
‘The creek has broken its banks. It will be impossible to get the truck down to the road now. Or the ute. We will just have to wait it out.’ John’s voice was strained. Perhaps it was relief that he had sold off all the fat lambs before the downpour began. He had become sullen and fretful, silent a great deal of the time.
Why had she married an Australian? Was it his naked appreciation of everything European that had attracted her? He absorbed museums and galleries, overdosed on a series of history and culture lectures where he had plied people with questions. She was drawn to them: those crazy naïve questions to which she had thought no one did not know the answers. Then she was drawn to him. They sat outside noisy cafés. She led him museum to gallery, citadel to hamlet: old village to ancient archaeological remains.
They married in a clearing among Neolithic dolmens, on the night of a full moon. Her flowered headpiece and golden hair made her, he said, into a lunar goddess.
Now the moon grew out of mud, blanched and elliptical. It hung over the station for longer than a night. The sun warmed it, in spite of its watery struggle. And rain fell for most of the day.
They were stranded. No longer, thought Marianne, can we drive for eighty minutes on the dirt road to the one-pub town and drink frozen beer with the cockies. We will be here until the mud dries and cakes, and fixes us to the spot.
Still, she loved the wet. She ventured out in bare feet, getting drenched the instant she emerged from underneath the veranda. Her white dress clung to her form, and she raised her arms to the falling rain. Her hair streaked down her back, and the skin of her feet grew stained with mud and wrinkled from overexposure to moisture.
‘You’ll catch your death.’ John sounded like her mother in spite of the tight New South Wales drawl.
But she danced and ran about like a child, coming in only when her dress was stained inches all around the hem with red mud. The geranium heads were bobbing, laden with water. Marianne drank rain off the shiny star-shaped leaves.
‘We can’t afford this to go on much longer.’ John was counting the days in a different way.
Marianne looked at him in surprise. Was he going to count all seasonal changes on a till, registering their usefulness and rueing their damage? His eyes dimmed, and he no longer showed interest in the books of art history that packed their shelves. He no longer looked with longing and nostalgia at the posters she tacked to the backs of the bathroom and kitchen doors. Did he actually remember Verona, Arezzo? Did he remember Marseilles, Bruges: the Van Rijk Museum? Was he really there with her at Madrid and Nice?
John looked past her at the window, as if she was not really there with him, in the front room of the homestead on the station.

At Dirrunbirdum station, everything appeared much the same as usual. Marianne looked at the images in newly arrived photographs. The veranda looked a bit less crowded with pots of geraniums, and older plants still stood out in the patch of front garden.
In the home paddock, a small mob of newly sheared sheep looked dully into the lens. A crescent moon hung above them although it was broad daylight.
There was mud near the creek, with tyre-marks and footsteps in it that showed up clearly in the print she held in her trembling hand. She looked out of her double-glazed window at the bank of birches that nodded in the cold northern wind. The sky rested on the angle of ancient stone buildings across from where she was. Her feet rested on the guard in front of the fire, and pages of a letter and photographs lay scattered on her skirt and on the rug around her.
‘Today is the last time I will be able to write before the muster starts.’ John wrote in a hurried hand. ‘I have men coming in from all over and we shall be gone for a long while. You might be surprised at this, but I think I am finally going to be able to afford a helicopter – a little chopper to help us round the mob up in half the time.’ His words were not different to what she expected.
Marianne smiled and lifted her head to look out of the window, but her eye was caught by a shred of light sparkling on the ear of a cup. The table was still uncleared from tea. A blue cup and saucer stood on a lighter blue tablecloth hand painted in Paris. There was only one cup out, sitting properly in its cavity in the saucer. A blue-handled knife lay straight, bisecting a plate whose crumbs and smear of unmelted butter were the only remnants of her meal, apart from an empty bowl that had held some piping hot carrot soup.
‘I can’t afford the time.’ John had answered her plea for a break away from the property. It seemed such a long time ago, but it was only a matter of weeks. ‘I can’t afford the fare.’ He shielded his eyes from the sun and from her.
So she returned to Alsace alone, where she replaced the cup she broke at the station. She also went back to that boutique in Paris, where the woman sold her an identical tablecloth she immediately posted out to Dirrunbirdum station for John.
Marianne went back to Kalmthout, where she bathed once more in the sheltered pool whose water was scented with fallen rose petals, and where the roots of a clump of dill came through a crack in the side into the water. They were yellow roots, and water and light refracted to make them seem longer and more angular than they were. She floated, alone, on her back in the icy water, looking at cotton-woolly clouds, shivering slightly at the portent of rain.
She remembered Dirrunbirdum station in the midst of a rainstorm that lasted eleven days: the red mud, the overflowing corrugated water tank that flanked the house. She remembered John’s face when the rain stopped.
She thought of his face as she had seen it in Antwerp, in Valtellina and in Bruges. She thought of his face as it merged with the landscape in Australia, becoming lined and parched, struck forcibly by the sun. She remembered it drenched and splattered with mud.
‘I cannot afford to stay,’ she had said to that face.
He looked away, and nodded, and probably did not think she registered losses and gains in a different currency to his.
Outside Marianne’s window, it drizzled. Black and green umbrellas moved like winter flowers bowing to a rainstorm. The hiss of car tyres through water was very nearly audible in the room.
She rose from her chair and moved to the typewriter in the corner, stepping over wads of newspaper. The room was still full of partially unpacked tea chests. One of the photos of John’s station blew over in the draught she created when she closed a door. She missed it all – the pretty dark girl in the kitchen, the gigantic fridge, the insect screens on the windows. The longing was physical. She wanted to light a candle in that front bedroom, to look to where he lay, knowing he would already be asleep from sheer exhaustion.
She missed the high swish and rustle of gum trees in the wind, and unidentifiable birds like specks in the distance. She wanted a sky that domed so high, that became so studded with strange stars at night, that it dazzled and awed. She wanted to hear the rounded syllables of shearers, the interminable click-click of cicadas in the still heat of noon. She wanted it all so fiercely she shook, thinking of John on a horse, when he waved from a deceptive distance that took away his voice when he called.
There was a book on the table she dared not open: for what would happen if she looked upon the pictures of a Grevillea in full bloom, the strange flower of the Sturt Desert Pea, the sheer magnificence of a flowering gum?
Marianne ran her hand over the book cover. The back of her hand, the shimmer of a ring, the blur of tears starting to come, made her pause. The opal in the ring John gave her was more than a souvenir: it was a magnet, a reminder, a plea. And the fact she wore it was a promise: a pledge that she would return.


In a post right after this one, as promised, will be "Very Funny, Mother Nature", an original Storm Chaser short story that hasn't been seen anywhere else, and isn't included in the short story collection to be published later by Whiskey Creek Press. It relates the moments at the very beginning of Storm Chaser -- but from a different point of view.