Janelle just learned she's a Tempest, able to turn into a hurricane by touching the ocean. And Tempest law says it's her turn to transform...
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Holly Anne Hook
TEMPEST is now available on Kindle at Amazon.com and Nook at Barnes and Noble for FREE! A paperback is also available.
Sixteen-year-old Janelle never thought the gray spiral birthmark on her arm meant anything special. That is, until she meets Gary, a boy her age with a birthmark exactly like hers. Gary’s attractive, brooding, and perfectly normal…except for the fact that he materialized out of a dangerous hurricane right in front of her. Janelle’s certain of only one thing. Gary’s mark—and hers, too—mean something, but he’s reluctant to tell her what.
At last she squeezes the truth from Gary about their markings. And the truth is utterly terrifying: Janelle and Gary are more connected to the destructive power of nature than she ever dreamed possible. And learning the truth about herself is only the start of her nightmare.
This was almost certainly the end.
Janelle's breath caught in her throat. Outside the bay window of their new home, mountains of black clouds lumbered through the sky. The wind screamed, threatening to blast out the glass at any second or send a piece of debris shooting straight at them. And all through it, her father stood and watched, hands folded behind his back.
“Dad, get away from the window. I'm begging you. We’ve got to get out of here. Didn't you hear what the cops were blasting when the drove through earlier?"
Her father turned, and he was smiling of all things. It was the opposite of what she felt, and it made zero amount of sense. No one should be smiling in a situation like this, except for people with a death wish, and her father didn't strike her as the type. “Isn’t this exciting? I want you to see this.”
Rain beat against the house, adding to the roar that filled the world. The roof creaked like it wanted to peel off and fly away. Every single bush and tree in their yard bent over as if pointing them back to Michigan, to the sanity they'd left behind. To her best friend, Leslie, who was no doubt thinking she'd come to a sunny paradise, gawking at shirtless guys at the beach instead of trying to huddle away from a full-blown hurricane.
Janelle bit her lip, hugging herself. It was all a dream. It had to be. It was one of those nightmares where only she could see the danger, and her father wouldn't listen to her, like the one she'd had about him setting up camp above quicksand back in junior high. She’d wake up soon in her real life, go to school, and attend her Math Whiz meeting at her normal school. Any minute now she’d—
Snap. A tree fell across the street with a sound like gunfire.
Her heart thudded as she moved behind the couch, closer to the glow of the television. At least it could protect her a little if the window blew out. “Please. I want to go to the shelter.” It was getting harder and harder to keep her cool. And her sanity, for that matter. How was any normal person supposed to endure this?
Footsteps approached. Eyes shining, her dad spoke in an even voice, the one he reserved for work conversations on the phone and lectures about working hard in school. “We’re completely safe, Janelle. I’ve been through this before. Just enjoy it. You’d never have this experience back up north. This is nature’s most powerful storm.”
Behind him, a piece of sheet metal cut through the rain and somersaulted its way down the street. Did he really expect her to enjoy this? Sure, he'd grown up in Florida, but that should only make him understand how dangerous this whole situation was. Their new neighbors seemed to. The rest of the houses on the street were vacated, lights off and driveways empty.
“Exactly. Dad, why won't you explain this to me? If you've been through this before, you should know what can happen.” Something was way, way wrong here. Her dad was always Mr. Careful. He'd even made her wear knee pads when she rode her bike up until middle school.
She fell silent, waiting for his response. Her father ground his shoe into the floor, watching it with great interest as if he'd been caught doing something illegal. The storm continued to roar outside, sending a fresh wave of creaks across the roof. There was one last option. Sucking in a breath, she dodged through a canyon of moving boxes to the TV, fighting down panic. “Look. We’re running out of time.”
A weatherman pointed to a green and yellow radar mess behind him, rambling on about storm surges and wind speeds. The eye of Hurricane Gary twisted closer to shore, and their new home, Palm Grove, stood right in its path.
“See?” A dry lump formed in her throat as Hurricane Gary vanished and an angry red border appeared on the coast. Something about where the surge would be at its worst, and Palm Grove was right in the middle of it. Every horrible image of storm damage and flooding she'd seen on TV flashed through her head. Water rising inside buildings. Roofs flying off houses. “What if this ends up like Hurricane Andrina where like, nine hundred people drowned? We could die if we stay here!”
Click. Her dad had turned off the TV. “Honey, you need to control your emotions. Don't let them scare you. They’ll only tell you the bad stuff on TV. Hurricanes are actually really cool. They play an important role in—”
“I don’t want to hear it.” Someone must have slipped something into her dad's coffee this morning. Janelle ran into the kitchen and swept an avalanche of papers off the table in search of the car keys. It wasn't time for a science lesson. She could read up about hurricanes later if she wanted. If she had to drive to the shelter with her learner’s permit, so be it. “Where’re the keys?”
“I’ve got them.” Her dad fiddled with his shirt sleeve, not looking at her. In fact, he wasn't even looking at the storm outside anymore.
A car alarm went off somewhere across the street. So much for the tantrum. So much for the TV. Janelle sucked in a breath and kept her voice level, holding down the scream rising inside her. “Please. Why are you acting so weird?”
Her father’s gaze slowly dropped to the floor. He sunk to the couch like an old man, patting the cushion next to him. “O…okay. Come sit down, Janelle. We’re not in danger, and I’ll tell you why.”
A loud rap on the door made her jump back against the fridge. Now what—had a branch hit it? Or a tree? But the banging came again, louder than before. “Open up! Police!”
“Thank god,” Janelle said, running for the door. Someone with some sanity was going to get them out of here.
She tripped over a box and sent her collection of stuffed sea animals sprawling across the floor. The sea star she'd had since she was eight. The beanie crab. The killer whale Leslie had won out of the claw machine for her on her sixteenth birthday. The sight of it sent a brief pang through her gut--they might not see any of this again--but she forced her way past with her dad on her heels, yanking open the door.
The storm blasted in, tossing the papers off the table and swirling them in the air. A man in a dripping yellow rain slicker stood on the porch, bracing himself against the wind, and a black police car had parked next to her father’s truck. It looked like a chariot sent from the heavens.
“What are you still doing here?” he asked her father, eyes dark and narrow. “You’re under a mandatory order to evacuate. This could all flood when the surge comes in. We can’t come out and help you once it gets too bad. There’s a shelter five miles inland at the high school. You need to follow me there.”
“I’m in. Thanks,” Janelle said.
“We’re fine, sir—” her dad started.
Janelle reached out and took his arm. Now wasn't the time to let him be in charge. “No, we’re not.”
“Mister,” the cop spoke with the voice that could have stopped a rhinoceros in its tracks. At the same time, his pupils opened with the same confusion she felt. “Do you care about your daughter’s safety? We’re taking her whether or not you decide to come.”
Her father bit his lip, staring at the wall beside the door for a second. “All right. Let’s go.”
The officer waved them out into the curtains of rain. Janelle let the relief flood through her limbs, until her father urged her out into it. Immediately, a stray gust nearly knocked her skinny legs out from under her.
Her dad’s truck blinked its headlights as he jabbed the remote to unlock it. “Now!” he said.
Freedom. Safety. She'd live to make friends at this new school after all, and maybe even invite Leslie down when spring break came along. Head down against the stinging rain, she charged for the silver truck. Wind whipped her hair into her face and mouth as if trying to push her back into that nightmare. There was no way she was going to let it.
Her dad yanked the door open, staring hard at her through the watery beads on his glasses. “In!”
It was the first thing he'd said today she agreed with. Janelle seized the door and pulled herself into the truck. Dripping, she spat out strands of blond hair.
A blur in the rain, her father struggled against the wind as he made his way to the driver’s side door. He climbed in, bringing half a lake with him. Maybe now he’d realize what a bad idea staying home would have been.
“You okay?” Janelle asked, fighting back a sarcastic comment and soaking the cool rain off her arms with her shirt. But getting drenched running to the truck beat the alternative.
He wiped off his glasses and put the key in the ignition. “Of course. Just got a little wet.”
You could’ve gotten killed, she wanted to say. But she bit in the comment. They were getting out of here. That was all that was important. She didn't even care what happened to the house she'd spent only one night in. Tomorrow, her dad would apologize for acting so strange today.
The police car backed out of the driveway. Her father revved the truck up as a palm frond flew off a thrashing tree and plastered itself to the windshield. Streetlights blinked out, casting the street in an even more darkness. They’d finally lost power.
Janelle let out a slow breath. “We should’ve left hours ago.”
The police car led the way past a row of houses and the fallen tree. The truck swayed against the wind as it followed. A metal piece of something blew across the street ahead. Meanwhile, her father tapped the steering wheel with one hand, driving as if they were still on the road trip down here.
Maybe he was just too fatigued from the move to think straight. There had to be an explanation for this.
She swallowed, studying the streams of rain marching across her window and the slogans on plywood-covered windows. Get lost, Gary. Gary was here. Get out of town, Gary. She couldn’t agree with them more.
The rain managed to beat down harder, until Janelle could only make out red and blue lights ahead. Her father braked twice to avoid trash cans in the street, clicking his tongue in annoyance the second time.
Janelle glanced at him, but not so much as one stress wrinkle had appeared at the corner of his mouth. “How can you not be scared right now?”
His gaze flickered down to her bare arm. “You shouldn’t have worn a tank top. Here. Cover up your birthmark.” He reached over and took their cheap first aid kit out of the glove compartment. “People might think you’ve got a rotten sense of humor if you don’t.”
“We’re driving in a hurricane, and you’re worried about this?” Janelle held up her arm to show her birthmark, realizing he was dodging her question. The two-inch-wide spiral had been there since the day she was born. Her father had always told her it was special for some reason. To her, it looked weird and gave people something to stare at. And now the sight of it sent a little shudder over her skin. It didn’t look that different from the hurricane diagrams she’d seen on TV earlier, and it even had a dark spot in the middle that someone could mistake for an eye. Okay. Maybe he did have a point. She dug through the kit for the biggest bandage she could find and slapped it over the mark as if it were a badge of shame. Yeah, this’ll go over great in Florida.
“The school should be coming up.” He turned down a side street. “I’m sure they’re still using the same building since I went there.”
“Good,” she breathed. It was hard to believe she'd be attending her father's old school in only days. She still couldn't understand why he'd moved her here, other than nostalgia and that new job offer. His parents had died a long time ago and he was an only child, and none of his old friends had even spoken to him much since he'd moved up to Michigan to marry her mother. Did he just want her to believe all the stories he'd told her about his most annoying English teachers and the secret door in the storage room where everybody snuck back through to smoke? Somehow, she didn't think so.
A curtain of rain moved aside, leaving the road ahead clear for a second. One of the telephone poles ahead of them listed slowly towards the pavement.
A fist of panic squeezed Janelle's insides. The pole didn't look stable. Like it might--
The cruiser passed it safely, but her father started to hum as he drove after it and closer to the descending pole. He hadn’t noticed it.
Janelle grabbed the sides of her seat. “Um…” It was all she could manage.
With a great roar of wind, the pole lurched down, wires whipping overhead like hungry snakes. Her father slammed the brakes, but the truck screeched and went into a skid.
“Dad!” Janelle broke her paralysis and raised her hands as the pole descended. It was all over. Done. She'd never see any sunny beaches or watch any lifeguards after all. She squeezed her eyes shut, bracing for the impact.
It never came.
She lowered her hands, unable to believe the sight only feet away. "What the--"
The telephone pole had stopped falling feet above them and now trembled against a burst of wind…a burst going in the opposite direction as it had before.
There was no holding back her panic now. “Go!” Janelle slapped the dashboard so hard her palms stung, barely noticing her father sitting there, staring and muttering something under his breath.
With the squealing of tires, the truck lurched forward. Janelle twisted around in time to see the pole fall to the street as if released by a tired giant, dragging its wires with it. Sparks shot up from the ground and died.
“That was way too close.” She folded her arms to keep them from shuddering, but it wasn't doing any good. “Yeah, we’re completely safe.”
Her father turned up the air conditioning and smiled, of all things. “Please, take a deep breath and calm down. We’ll be fine. I know these storms.”
“Know these storms? What’s wrong with you, Dad? This isn’t making any sense.”
He said nothing to this.
Janelle leaned against the window to get as far as she could from him, trying to hide the flare of anger shooting up inside her. This demanded answers, but she swallowed her words, eyeing the road ahead. It would have to wait until later, when she calmed down. She just wanted to get inside that shelter, now.
The cruiser led them down a third street, one free of telephone poles. A yellow sign emerged from the rain. Palm Grove High School. They’d made it.
Another soaking later, Janelle burst through the double doors and into a hallway lined with families on blankets who remained silent as she came through. A string of emergency lamps lined one wall, casting an eerie light on all the huddled families around them. Her father pulled her to his side as they walked down a crowded hall and around blankets. She thought about ducking out of his grasp and getting away from him. Like other side of the school away. After his display, all she wanted was time alone to think.
“You can sit over here.” An old man in a brimmed garden hat rolled a blanket across the floor as they approached. “But maybe you should dry off first.”
Janelle shook off her dad’s arm, taking a towel the old man was holding out. It hung down to her feet as she dried off. Shooting the man the most grateful look she could, she took a seat on the blanket and leaned against the wall. She’d never dreamt her first week in Florida would be anything near this lousy.
* * * * *
An hour passed and the howling outside only got louder, gusts making the sides of the school whistle and groan. Children started to shift on their blankets while their parents held them close. One little boy asked for some cheese puffs and kicked the blanket when his mother said she’d left them out in the van.
And meanwhile, her father remained silent, staring at the wall opposite him. Whatever he'd wanted to tell her back at the house, it was gone now, and it wasn't the time to ask him and start an argument around all these people.
Janelle plucked her silver dolphin necklace from under her tank top, rolling it in her fingers as she focused on its tiny smile. It had belonged to her mother, before a patch of black ice and a tree had taken her life in a car accident when Janelle was two. She closed her eyes, holding onto one of the only memories she had of her, the one of her mother leading her around the yard, letting her pick up the Easter eggs hidden in the grass. For a moment, it drove out the wind and rain beating on the roof.
The dolphin’s fins poked into her fingers after a while, so she let the necklace fall against her chest. The memory blew away in a fresh gust against the building, one strong enough to make something hit the doors outside. Their new house might not look good when they went back, especially since her father hadn't taken a step to board up any windows or even put tape across them, like they were supposed to do. Water might even be rising around it as she was sitting here, like with Hurricane Andrina six years ago. The pictures on the news of roofs peeking up from floodwater and bodies under sheets had plagued her nightmares when she was ten. But Andrina had been a Category Five, and this storm was a Two. It wasn’t the same, right? The sinking feeling in her stomach didn’t agree.
“So, just moved to Florida? I saw you taking stuff out of a moving truck yesterday.”
Flinching, she faced the old man who’d lent her the towel, feeling bad for forgetting to thank him. “Yeah.” Then she added, loud enough for her father to hear, “We could have hung out at a motel for a couple more days, though.”
“Yes. Now wasn’t the best time to move in.” The man removed his hat and addressed her father. “So, what brings you here?”
“No jobs up in Michigan,” he said. “I grew up here in Palm Grove, but when she was a baby—” he pointed to Janelle—“my wife wanted to move north to help her parents. But I got a job offer down here last month.”
“Where at?” the old man asked.
“I’m starting at an insurance place next month. They need a programmer.”
“Sounds like a good job. Say, I never caught your name.”
“Lucas Duvall. This is my daughter, Janelle.” Her father shook hands with the old man.
“Name’s Ed. I think I live across from you.”
The wind outside stopped as if choked off. The battering rain on the roof ebbed away. Heads perked up and the drips from the ceiling came down with a little less intensity than before. Janelle expected another gust to hit the building, but it never came. The storm couldn’t be done already.
“It sounds like it's over.” The kid who'd asked for the cheese puffs stood and peered at the doors.
Janelle let her shoulders slump. It seemed like he was right. A sliver of pale sunlight hit the brick wall near a trophy case, only to disappear a second later. Cheese Puff Boy looked and down the hall for his mom, who’d walked past Janelle to the bathroom a minute before.
The weather radio droned away, and she wanted to kick herself for not remembering such a basic fact.
It seemed to get louder and louder in her ears, making the tension seize her neck and raise her shoulders again. “Gary has made landfall in the Palm Grove area and has weakened to a Category One storm with estimated winds of up to eighty miles per hour. It is expected to be downgraded to a tropical storm very soon. As of now, it is headed west at ten miles per hour.”
Murmurs flowed up and down the crowded hall, but the kid didn't seem to notice. He was too hungry, too oblivious. Bunching up his blanket, he started for the door.
“Um…” Ed raised a finger.
Janelle’s stomach lurched. This wasn’t good, but she was closest to the door. This was all hers. “No!” She shot up and bolted for the doors as the kid disappeared through them, out into the deceptive calm. “It’s not over. It’s the e—”
"Janelle, let me go," her father demanded, his words night to the day he'd been speaking in on the way here.
She ignored him, jumping over one of the lamps with an arm outstretched and ramming her body into the door as it closed. The door flew open so fast that it banged against the wall of the school. The sound drowned out the footfalls of her father and from the sounds of it, half of the hallway coming after her.
The air outside was damp, still. Thin clouds stretched and floated overhead. Ponds had replaced parking spaces, and leaves stuck to the windshields of every vehicle. Somewhere down the street, a power line hung low over the pavement.
"Kid!" she yelled, scanning the lot. Babysitting wouldn't be a career choice for her. At least, not for kids like this.
There he was. Hands on the door of the nearest van, tugging in frustration. He stared at her, but didn't move. The clouds continued to roll overhead. They might only have a few minutes before the other side of the storm hit. There was no time for diplomacy.
"Janelle--" her father started behind her, all no-arguments.
He hadn't listened to her earlier. Why should she listen to him now? “Come back in. Now.” Janelle lunged forward and took the kid's wrist. “I'm telling your mother what you did."
She prepared for protests. Screaming. Arguing.
“Ow!” The boy thrashed, his voice a genuine scream of pain. He thrashed against her grip as it rang in her ears. “You’re hurting my arm! Let go!”
Janelle watched her hand as it came open, freeing the kid's wrist. It looked unhurt. Unbroken. How could she have hurt him? She hadn't even held onto him that hard.
The boy rubbed his arm, staring up at her with wet eyes. They widened at her as if she was some sort of freak. Janelle could feel the sweat forming around her brow line in his gaze. Had she really hurt him? It was impossible.
The kid ran through the small crowd of people around the doors and vanished into the school, leaving a sick feeling that slowly bloomed inside of her.
A lone raindrop hit her on the forehead.
“Let’s get back in.” Her father emerged from the bodies around her, gray eyes wide with concern. “Be a bit more careful with your strength next time.”
“What strength?” Janelle held up her bony arms, trying to shake off the unease inside her, hoping that her dad couldn't see the worry ready to burst out of her in the form of tears. Nothing like that had happened before, and nothing else made sense.
She turned to go back inside, but sudden movement in the middle of the parking lot caught her eye.
A vortex of mist and water spun between an SUV and her father’s silver truck, shimmering in the pale light and not making a sound.
Janelle leapt back as her heart stopped. A tornado. That’s what it was. She’d read that hurricanes could spawn them. But this one was eight feet high and the sky was still a calm gray. It was all so…
“By golly. What is that?” Ed appeared at her side and stood with his mouth dropping open.
“Dad?” She backed right into him.
“Janelle, inside. Now.” Her father pulled on her shoulder. The dictator was back. “I said go!”
She couldn’t move or look away. Her mind raced around, searching for an explanation. The vortex tightened and spun faster, spraying droplets on the surrounding cars like a sprinkler in July. Maybe a water main had blown loose or something. Or the winds had come together just right over a puddle and--
The vortex exploded, sending water to the ground in all directions. Gasps shot up from the crowd. An army of droplets flew right at her, splattering over her skin and re-soaking her clothes. She blinked them away to look for the cause.
A teenage boy of fifteen or sixteen stood right where the vortex had spun a moment before.
She blinked, trying to make sure she was seeing this right. If Janelle was soaked, this guy was drowned. Stringy black hair stuck to the back of his scalp and his purple T-shirt clung to his skin as he wobbled in place like a newborn calf. He raised a dripping arm, reaching for something to hold onto. His palm flopped down on the windshield of the truck, but to no avail. He let out a sound like a dying horse, tumbling to the pavement with a thud.
“Oh, my god,” a woman cried out from the doorway.
Janelle looked back at the people gathered behind her. Nobody moved. Ed stared with huge eyes while her father swallowed. It was just like that story she'd heard about in school, about people just standing around waiting for someone else to go help the person getting murdered in a parking lot. What was it called? The bystander effect.
“What are you waiting for? Someone else to help him?” Janelle rushed towards the body on the ground. She’d try to figure out what she’d seen later. Now they needed to get this kid inside before the other side of the hurricane hit.
Janelle squatted down in a puddle of water and seized his limp left arm, curling her fingers into his wrist. A strong, steady pulse beat underneath his skin. This guy was just unconscious. Thank God. She let out a huge sigh of relief.
“He’s alive. Help me get him up.” Janelle made to hook her hand under his armpit while a reedy man kneeled down to get his other arm.
The drenched guy coughed; his purple sleeve crept up as she helped tug him to his feet. Janelle froze in place and stared at the arm just inches from her face. No, it couldn’t be. But it was.
He had a familiar grayish birthmark just below his shoulder. A birthmark in the shape of a spiral.