The Price

The roof flew from the barn and somersaulted down the prairie like a tiller blade, churning up earth and flashing with the sharp sheen of its tin. From the front porch, at a quarter mile’s distance, Maggie watched the tin roof frolic in the March-matted field. The barn dissolved shortly afterwards, the bedeviled twister unraveling its old wooden planks in a spiral of uplifting torque. The tornado’s power overawed Maggie as it undid everything her father and grandfather and great-grandfather had created throughout the decades, erasing their hard work within a matter of seconds. She felt the same winds whip her brown pigtails wildly against her face. The unthinking violence of it all thrilled her, every nerve in her thirteen year old body tingling and vibrantly alive.
Maggie’s momma and daddy had gone to town to buy seeds for the planting season. She was alone with her baby brother, Mike. She could hear his wails over the howling of the winds. She wished he would be silent for once. His shrill voice reminded her of the children at school, all screaming and wailing and shouting for attention. She despised them. She despised her brother. She despised her parents for leaving her alone with him.
She marveled at the tornado.
“The March Hare,” she said to herself, though she could not hear herself over the howling of the winds and the wailing of her brother.
The tornado drilled onward, a massive column of spiraling eddies stripping apart silos and granaries as it continued its rampage toward the old farmhouse. Her baby brother’s wails rose, like a saw on sheet metal. Their farmhouse had no cellar or basement. She knew the tornado could easily tear the house up from its foundation and unfurl it like a moth-eaten blanket across the field. There was no escape. The tornado did as it pleased, unconcerned with trivial human matters.
Frowning, Maggie stepped off the porch and walked out across the field. Her white skirt flapped as if a bird desperate to fly away. She pressed it flat against her legs with her hands— not because of feminine dignity or shame, but because it irritated her with its panic—then she continued walking toward the tornado. Her pigtails whipped her face harder, as if flagellating her for her foolish willfulness. But she was undeterred. She went right up to the tornado. The tornado raged in its circle, as ever.
Then it seemed to hesitate.
When Maggie began to stagger toward the tornado, and started losing her balance, the tornado backed away from her and attempted to go around her, to either side. It was like a bewildered bull coming to a tree, unsure as to whether to go left or right. Yet, Maggie continued marching toward the tornado, stumbling and staggering and fighting to stay on her feet. Her tiny figure pressed the gigantic whirlwind back, as if a horsefly biting at a horse’s nose.
Finally, the tornado began to unwind, its spiraling column of debris and darkness slowing. It came undone, diminishing and dropping all of its playthings across the brown prairie grasses. The last shreds of wind dissolved into still air, at last, and a tall, red-skinned man stood before Maggie. He had dark black hair and wore a pelt of rabbit skin across his shoulders. He wore only a loincloth of rabbit skin upon his lower torso. His body was marked, seemingly at random, with war paint.
“You are a heedless girl,” the man said. “Do you desire death?”
Maggie stared up at the tall man. There were tears in her eyes, but they were not tears of fear. They were tears of envy. “I want the freedom you have,” she said.
The man crossed his arms and pondered the girl. His dark gaze never faltered; he never blinked. “Such freedom is death for mortals,” he said. “It is death for me, but I am born again with each whirlwind, for I am a spirit of the plains.”
Maggie tightened her small fists. They were tanned from years of laboring in the field, and calloused like leather. “I want to be a spirit of the plains,” she said. “I don’t want to have to go to school or take care of my baby brother or spend all Spring and Summer and Fall harvesting and working and breaking my back. You live how you want to. I want to live the same way.”
“It will be your whole life all at once, and never again,” he warned her. “It will cost you everything.”
“I do not care,” she said. “I don’t want to be married and then buried. I don’t want to live in fences and houses built to pen me in like a cow or a sheep or a dog. I want to live the way I want. Free. For myself.”
The man stood in complete silence for a little while longer, then nodded.
“Very well,” he said. He lifted his hands and grasped hold of the winds. He seemed to knead them into threads, then spun them together with his arms, as if coiling rope. He spun them until they began to moan, then howl. He then enshrouded Maggie in the spiraling air, like a swaddling blanket, and watched as it grew into a great spiraling column of destruction.
Live free,” he said.

The tornado rolled across the prairie, spiraling exuberantly with its newfound life. It destroyed homes and businesses and killed many people. Those who survived the storm swore the winds sounded like a young woman cackling in glee. It was a storm of the decade, they said.
When the tornado finally unwound, all that remained was the detritus that the tornado tore up and ripped apart and flung around itself. As the last whisper of wind dissipated into the warm Kansas air, there could be heard a single faint whisper of peace and calm without regret.
Freedom.”

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