“YEE-haw!” Austin’s friend Drew Scarola gripped the steering wheel of their hopped-up four-wheel-drive SUV as they bounced down a gravel road in the middle of nowhere.
It was a good thing they were in the middle of nowhere since, like Austin, Drew still had about three years to go before he’d be old enough for an Illinois State driver’s license. And Drew could have used another couple inches of leg to reach the gas pedal and brake without slouching in the driver’s seat.
Slam! They hit another pothole head-on. Austin held on, his eyes following the twister on the ve ry cool Doppler radar screen beside him.
The SUV had eve ry electronic gizmo you could imagine—and a whole lot more you probably couldn’t. A satellite navigation system to tell them exactly where they were. Windspeed indicators. Temperature sensors. Barometers. And a whole collection of computer monitors, each one flashing a different kind of readout.
“Here comes another bump!” screeched Drew, and Austin braced against the dashboard in front of him with both hands.
It didn’t do any good. Whump!
“Aw, man.” Austin grinned as he rubbed his head. “You almost put me through the roof that time.”
“I think we’re catching up to it.” Drew didn’t seem to be paying much attention to the bumps and gullies they flew over on the country road. Or to the sea of waving corn that stretched in all directions. Not with the ink-black storm clouds up ahead—and the wicked-looking funnel cloud that dipped to touch the ground, daring them to come closer.
Austin tried to scribble down what he saw, at least as much as he could between the bumps. Stuff like: old red barn explodes in2 million toothpicks, picked up in2 cloud. He figured that kind of thing would sound pretty good later if he had to write up a science report. Or golf ball–size hail pounds hood of Suburban.
He tried to see through the downpour that was so heavy it reminded him of the banana shake he’d made himself in the blender last Sunday after church.
Tree branches and fence posts flew at them like missiles looking for a mark. A hunk of twisted green metal—maybe from a tractor—hit the road just ahead of them. Could be this trip wasn’t such a good idea after all.
“Slow down!” Austin yelled, his voice already hoarse from shouting.
Thunk! A chunk of wood slammed against the roof of the SUV, and Drew swerved to keep from hitting something else.
The poor guy could hardly see over the steering wheel, but he was doing the best he could.
All of a sudden, though, he and Austin had something much bigger to worry about. As Drew slammed on the brakes, they could see the sky darkening, its shadow growing. Even with the wind blasting and the hail clunking against the SUV, they could hear the sound of a hundred freight trains coming straight at them.
Drew’s face turned white.
“Uh, Austin? Think maybe we’ve seen enough?”
Austin nodded. He quickly rolled down his window and squinted out to the side to read the links written in big letters across the cornfields, but hail pelted him on the side of the head.
“Where are the links?” Drew shouted.
Drew meant the parts of the Web site they could press or step on to go to another place on the Internet. Just now anyplace else seemed like a great idea.
“I’m not sure.” Austin held up his hand against the hail.
“But put it in reverse!”
“Huh?” Drew acted as if he’d never heard of going backward. Okay, so he hadn’t taken driver’s ed yet, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out that anything was better than forward.
Crash! A broken piece of two-by-four skewered the side of the SUV, sending a shower of sparks out one of the computer screens.
“Reverse!” Austin yelled with his last bit of voice. He reached over to the gearshift and shoved it into the R position.
Drew may not have known how to drive ve ry well yet, but he’d said he knew how to handle his Uncle Jerry’s John Deere tractor. And he sure knew how to “hit it.” Austin nearly got whiplash as they peeled out of their spot on the gravel road, and the front end of the SUV started to shake and bounce up and down in the wild wind.
They crashed through the corn just ahead of the twister. It was stripping the dry stalks like one of those triple-action shavers Austin always saw on the TV commercials.
“Faster!” he whimpered. Even if this was only a Web site, he didn’t want to get sucked up into a tornado. He glanced over his shoulder for a link. Anything would do right now.
They blew by Weather Service Info and then The Science of Tornadoes. Those would have been fine, but at least he could see other sites, too. Drew was obviously doing his best to steer straight backward.
Then Austin saw it.
“Stop!” He grabbed Drew’s shoulder and pointed at the Contact Us e-mail link. As they screeched to a stop, he threw open the door, which flew off its hinges and bounced off through the cornfield. They would have one chance to step into their escape link, the one that would e-mail them back to Austin’s laptop.
Only one shot.