Above: Destruction wrought by the tornado that struck Woodward, Oklahoma on April 9th, 1947.
This Homefront fanfiction story is based on an actual historical event. That event was the tornado outbreak of Wednesday, April 9th, 1947. The most destructive storm of this outbreak hit Woodward, Oklahoma with devastating results. My story expands a bit on the actual event. It deals with the experiences of some of our favorite Homefront characters as a line of tornadic super-cell thunderstorms bears down on River Run, Ohio.
DISCLAIMER: This fanfiction story, which is based on the Warner Brothers television series, Homefront, is offered here for amusement purposes only. All recognizable characters and locations featured in the afore-mentioned TV series, Homefront, are the property of Warner Brothers and its associates, heirs and assigns. All other character names in this work of fiction, as well as, some town, or other location names, are mine. Any resemblance to any actual persons now living or deceased or, to any actual towns/locations, is purely coincidental and unintended. Rights to, or use of this fictional story is/are not offered here for sale to any business or corporate entity or to any individual. Now, on to the story!
WHEN THE DEVIL WINDS RAGE
A SULTRY DAWN breaks over the town of River Run, Ohio. For most folks in town, it seems like another run-of-the-mill Wednesday morning. As for the muggy atmosphere, this is nothing terribly unusual, for Ohio in springtime. At most, there may be a thunder shower or two, which will provide welcome, though temporary relief from the oppressive humidity. By afternoon, however, the denizens of River Run will learn that things aren't always as they seem.
Farmers who till the vast open countryside west of River Run see something else on the eastern horizon this morning. To them, the color of the early morning sky is the harbinger of something far more sinister. One of those sons of the Northern Ohio soil, is Chester Ellsworth, who works a 120 acre farm 27 miles west of River Run. On this rather warm and sticky morning, Chester stands in the front yard of the two-story farmhouse built by his father in 1868. He studies the red-orange sunrise, and the eerie orange glow in which the landscape is cast. "Today's the day," mutters the 73 year old Chester ominously to himself. "This county's gonna see somethin' the likes of which it ain't seen in forty years. . ."
LINDA METCALF IS DOWN IN THE KITCHEN, preparing breakfast. Suddenly, her brother, Jeff, pushes open the kitchen door, and drags in with tired, shuffling feet. He has just gotten out of bed and is still in his pajamas. His navy blue bathrobe seems to hang on him as though on a wooden coat hanger. Linda greets her brother in an upbeat manner. "Good morning, little brother. What's gotten you out of bed so early? I thought your shift at the Purl Roadhouse doesn't start till three in the afternoon." "I know when my shift starts at the Purl Roadhouse," snaps Jeff. "And, as for why I'm up so early, who can sleep in this lousy, sticky weather?" Linda is somewhat taken aback by Jeff's sharp tone. "Gee, somebody got up on the wrong side this morning!" "Speaking of shifts," asks Jeff, "aren't you supposed to be working?" Linda gives a casual answer. "I'm off today."
Jeff pauses to look through the kitchen window. He is struck by the red-orange glow that casts a hauntingly lurid pall over the neighborhood landscape. "Sure looks weird out there," observes Jeff. "I was noticing that, myself," replies Linda. "We'll have a storm later on, I guess. After all, it's April in Ohio." Jeff strolls, in his rumpled state to the breakfast nook and plops onto the bench seat. Linda can't help noticing Jeff's sulky demeanor. "Jeff--what's eating you lately? You've been out of sorts all week, so far." Jeff sighs in frustration. "Well, if you wanna know what's eating me, I'll tell you what's eating me: it's that lousy Arthur Shillhab." "Why?," asks Linda. "What's he done to you now?"
"Well," continues Jeff, "it's the way he struts into the Purl Roadhouse every night with that smug expression on his face, and with Ginger--hangin' on his arm. He acts like he owns the whole damm world. And he always comes in with her when he knows my shift is on; I know he's doin' it on purpose." "So?," asks Linda. "What's it, to you?" "You wanna know what's it to me?," continues Jeff, "Well, I tell you: ever since he and Ginger got engaged, Arthur's been rubbing it in my face every chance he gets. And Ginger isn't any better--the way she keeps showing off that ring he put on her finger. I can't understand what on Earth she sees in him anyway."
"Again, Jeff?," asks Linda. "What's it, to you; after all, you broke off your engagement with Ginger, remember?" "That's not the point," is Jeff's sharp response. "The point is that if Ginger knew what kinda crumb Arthur Shillhab really is, she'd never think of marrying him, in the first place." "Hmm," says Linda, "Sounds, to me, like somebody's jealous." "I'm not jealous," barks Jeff. "Jeff," replies Linda, "I'm really sorry things didn't work out between you and Ginger. But the two of you would still be together if you hadn't thrown an ultimatum in her face. Ginger has every right to pursue a career in radio or television, if that's what she wants." Jeff runs his hands through his unkempt hair in an agitated manner. "Listen, Linda--I don't wanna get into this right now."
"Well, then," replies Linda, "if you go upstairs and get dressed, I might have breakfast waiting when you come back down." Jeff rises from the table and starts for the kitchen door. He suddenly stops in his tracks. "How's Mom?" "Mom's fine, Jeff. She was just getting up when I passed her bedroom; I'll check on her again in a minute." Jeff nods in acknowledgement and proceeds out of the kitchen in a sullen mood. (Their mother, Ann, became wheelchair-bound after being stricken months earlier with polio.) As Jeff leaves the kitchen, Linda conceals an expression of pity for him. When she first heard the news of Jeff and Ginger's break-up, she was deeply saddened. Ginger and Linda have been best friend since childhood, and she-Linda-was looking forward to having Ginger as her sister-in-law.
LATER this morning, Ginger Szabo walks onto the set of her program at the WREQ Television Studios. She's there to make sure that all is in order before her program goes on the air at one o'clock, this afternoon. As she is going over her stage notes, she spots Ed Cranston, the studio electrician. "Hey, Ed!," calls Ginger. "Hello, Miss Szabo," replies Ed in a jovial tone. "What can I do for you, this morning?" Ginger points up to a track of stage lights, suspended above the set. "That third light from the left--it shines right into my eyes when I stand here. Can you move it alittle, please?" "Sure, Miss Szabo; no problem."
Ginger watches as Ed scales up a very tall ladder to adjust the light in question. In the meantime, Miss Joyce Wescott, the strutting, extremely officious secretary to WREQ's station manager, Mr. Roger Melon, walks onto the set. Miss Wescott approaches Ginger, calling out to her in her usual annoyingly shrill tone. "Excuse me--Miss szabo." "Ah-yes, Miss Wescott?" Just then, Ed calls down from his lofty perch on the ladder. "How's that, Miss Szabo?!" "Perfect-thanks, Ed!" Ginger returns her attention to Miss Wescott. "Pardon me, Miss Wescott; you-ah-you wanted to see me?" "Yes, Miss Szabo," is Miss Wescott's curt answer. "Mister Melon wants to see you right away."
That shrill announcement from Miss Wescott makes Ginger more than a little anxious. Is Mr. Melon calling Ginger in to tell her that the sponsors have decided to pull the plug on her show? This threat has always lurked in the back of Ginger's mind. Miss Wescott ushers a nervous and apprehensive Ginger into Mr. Melon's presence. "You wanted to see me, Mister Melon?," asks Ginger. "Yes, Miss Szabo. Good morning. I need to inform you that the sponsors of your show have decided that. . ."
Before Mr. Melon can finish his sentence, WREQ's chief meteorologist, Lou Heiser, brushes past a startled Miss Wescott and hurries into Mr. Melon's office. In his hand, Lou clutches a lengthy teletype message from the Cleveland branch of the U.S. Weather Bureau. "What's the meaning of this, Lou?," barks an angry Mr. Melon. "I'm very sorry, Mister Melon," answers Lou. "But this can't wait." Momentarily rattled by the interruption, Mr. Melon turns to Ginger. "I'm sorry, Miss Szabo. You'll have to excuse me. I'll speak to you later." Having been thus dismissed, Ginger returns to her television studio set in a state of worried bewilderment.
Meanwhile, in Mr. Melon's office. . .
"Alright, Lou, what's this all about?," asks Mr. Melon. Lou Heiser holds out the official Weather Bureau bulletin to his boss. "This just came off the wire from Cleveland five minutes ago," replies Lou. Mr. Melon snatches the bulletin from Lou's hand and begins to glance over it. Lou continues to speak as Mr. Melon peruses the document. "According to that report, Sir, severe thunderstorms have been literally exploding into the atmosphere on a line extending from the Texas Panhandle, all the way to central Illinois. And many of these storms have a history of generating high winds, heavy rain, large hail, frequent and dangerous lightning--and dropping damaging tornadoes. In my fifteen years as a meteorologist, Mister Melon, I've never seen anything like it."
"So?," asks a petulant Mr. Melon, "what do storms in Texas or Illinois have to do with us, here in northeastern Ohio?" Lou answers in a matter-of-fact tone. "Actually, a lot, Sir. The northern sector of the front is heading toward Ohio, and-more specifically-towards us." "I don't believe it," replies Mr. Melon in hushed astonishment. "River Run hasn't been struck by a tornado since 1904." "Believe it, Sir," says Lou with conviction. "That communique says the storm front is moving at about thirty miles an hour. At that rate, the first line of storms will reach the vicinity of River Run by about two in the afternoon. That still gives us about a couple of hours lead-time to broadcast a severe weather alert so everyone in listening or viewing range of WREQ can be prepared."
"Alright," concedes a cautious Mr. Melon. "Go ahead and broadcast a special weather bulletin at the beginning of every radio and television program. But-be careful how you phrase it. We don't want to violate Federal broadcast regulations by mentioning words like tornado, twister or cyclone." "Yes, Sir," replies Lou, "I'm well aware of Federal broadcast regulations. But I wish we could be more specific. The people of River Run have a right to know what may be coming at 'em. . ."
[During the 1940s and, into the early 1950s, Federal broadcast regulations actually forbade radio and television weather forecasters from mentioning such words as tornado, twister, or cyclone in any weather forecast or weather alert. The use of any of these words by a radio or TV meteorologist could land him in a Federal prison! The US Weather Bureau--now, The National Weather Service--reasoned that the use of such words as tornado, twister, or cyclone could cause unnecessary panic among the general population. Unfortunately, this ruling caused some people not to take the very necessary precautions that might have saved their lives. The first actual tornado warning would not be broadcast until 1952.]
BY noon, the balmy air over River Run feels even more oppressive. People everywhere in town begin to complain about the excessively warm, humid atmosphere. Many younger people say they have never experienced such stifling weather. On the other hand, old people say the clammy air reminds them of how it felt in the hours before the destructive tornado of '04. The hazy sky begins to give way to a more foreboding appearance. Patches of gray-shaded alto-cumulus begin to spread across the sky, underlain by widely scattered puffs of charcoal-gray cumulus. Still, many in River Run simply look skyward and shrug off what they see. To them, the clouds are merely a sign that there will be a brief afternoon thundershower, nothing more.
Meanwhile, far out in the rural farming districts east of town, the weather-wise Chester Ellsworth steps down from the front porch of his farmhouse. He tilts his head skyward, and knows what's coming. And, if the good people of River Run had Chester's unhindered view of the southwestern horizon, they might be more concerned about the darkening sky. What Chester can see in the distance, that the citizens of River Run can't, is a menacing phalanx of cumulonimbus clouds. They march irresistibly eastward like an invading force, towering high into the atmosphere like a nightmarish line of medieval siege engines. However, these engines of destruction are infinitely more devastating than the so-called "bad neighbors" that terrorized medieval castle defenders. Ahead of this powerful cold front, advances a dark, evil-looking, low-lying squall line, packing straight-line winds of hurricane force. Meanwhile, in the Meteorology Department at Radio and TV Station WREQ, Lou Heiser studies the latest millibar map from the US Weather Bureau. He notes the sharp drop in barometric pressure at weather stations ahead of the cold front--and begins to worry. . .
The lunch whistle has just blown at the Sloan Industries plant. Charlie Hailey, a grinder, drill press operator, and Union Shop Steward, has just taken a seat with four of his co-workers. One of Charlie's colleagues, a Richard Lambertson, is listening to a small portable radio next to him on the lunch table. Charlie unwraps his sandwich and is about to take a bite, when the music on the radio abruptly stops. An announcer breaks in with an important special bulletin. There is a definite urgency in the WREQ announcer's voice. Richard is about to change the station, when Charlie stops him. "Rich, wait--don't touch it." Charlie raises his hand to silence the others at the table. "C'mon, you guys! Keep it down!"
Charlie, along with the others, listens intently to the announcer's every word. . . "The U.S. Weather Bureau, out of Cleveland, Ohio, has just issued a special weather bulletin for Cuyahoga County, and all neighboring counties to the south and west: A line of heavy thunderstorms has just crossed into Western Ohio, and is expected to arrive in the WREQ listening area by about 2 PM, local time. These storms have a history of producing heavy rain, large hail, frequent and dangerous lightning, and high winds. Persons living in Connellsville, Prospect, Millersburg, Bartlett, Knauertown, and the Greater River Run area, will be directly in the path of these storms. If you live in any of these communities, you are advised to be vigilant and watch for rapidly changing weather conditions. Schools, factories, office buildings and hospitals, are strongly advised to post weather spotters for the safety of occupants at these locations. For further updates on this developing weather situation, please stay tuned to Radio Station WREQ, the Voice of Greater River Run. We now return you to our regularly scheduled program."
AFTER listening to the weather bulletin, Mr. Sloan reaches across his desk and switches off his radio. His wife, Ruth, seems disinterested as she gazes down at the mostly deserted factory floor from the high vantage point of her husband's office window. Mike Sloan turns to his wife. "Well--sounds like we're going to have some weather." Mrs. Sloan replies in her usual haughty tone. "Oh, I wouldn't worry about it, if I were you, Michael. Every spring, it's the same thing. They frighten the populace with these meaningless weather bulletins, and all we ever get is a little thunder shower. I don't think anyone takes those bulletins seriously anymore."
"Well, Ruth," replies Michael, "they are required to broadcast those bulletins. After all-you know as well as I do, that the Weather Bureau needs to cover itself--just as we need to cover ourselves-if you get my meaning." As the Sloans converse among themselves, they are soon distracted by the sound of two voices echoing through the plant below. The voices sound very familiar and seem to be locked in a heated contest with one another. Michael Sloan looks toward his office windows. "Ruth, What's going on down there?"
"Listen, Sam-that bulletin sounded pretty serious, to me!," exclaims Charlie Hailey. "The Weather Bureau wouldn't tell factories to post spotters unless they think something worse could come outta those storms. And you and I both know that, when they say high winds, it can also mean twisters. Now I'm tellin' you, Sam, we'd better post spotters!" Sam shakes his head in disgust at Charlie, and answers him in a surly tone. "You know, Hailey-you never cease to amaze me. Now you want us to take needed men off the line, and pay them to sit on the roof to watch the clouds float by?! Forget it; it's not gonna happen!! In case you forgot, Mister Hailey, we've got a production schedule to meet!"
"I'm tellin' you again, Sam, you'd better post spotters! Union rules say that--" Sam interrupts Charlie with that trademark surly sarcasm of his. "Enough is never enough with you union cry-babies, is it. Tell me, Hailey, do the union rules also say we also have to hold your little handsies when it starts to thunder? Anyway, I'm telling you again-there's no way I'm pulling men off the line for even a half-hour at a time, just so they can sit on the roof and watch the sky!"
Charlie leans into Sam and points threateningly at his chest. He replies to Sam in low, ominous tones. "Sam--if you don't post weather-spotters, and this plant gets hit by a twister, and men are injured or killed 'cuz they didn't get warning to take cover, you and the Sloans will be held responsible!" Michael Sloan suddenly calls down from the stair landing. "Sam-a word with you, please." A surprised Sam looks up to see Mr. Sloan glaring sternly down at him from the top of the stairs. "Yes, Sir," replies Sam. "I'll be right there!" Sam turns to give Charlie one last maledictive glance, then heads up the stairs. As Mr. Sloan is the final arbiter in all important decisions and disputes, Charlie waits at the foot of the stairs for his decision.
"You wanted to see me, Sir?," queries a dutiful, boot-licking Sam. "Sam--I want you to tell Charlie Hailey to post a lookout up in the cupola, with a half-hour rotation schedule, until this whole ridiculous weather-scare blows over." "But Sir," replies an incredulous Sam. "Is it really wise to pull men off the line, and pay them to watch clouds while we're trying to meet a tight production schedule??" "Listen, Sam, it's a small price to pay. In the unlikely event we should get more than a spring shower out of those storms, and workers are injured, or even killed, it'll be a lot worse for us."
"But Sir, if we keep knuckling under to every little demand from Charlie Hailey and his union, where's it gonna stop?" "Sam, Listen to me; if this plant should get hit by a tornado-and men die because we didn't post a lookout to warn them that it was coming--well--Charlie Hailey is right-we could well be held accountable. We'd be pilloried in the Press. And the surviving families would file one lawsuit after another against us. We would be ruined. We can't risk that happening, Sam."
"But Sir, we--" Mr. Sloan sharply interrupts Sam's last entreaty. "Sam, I don't like Charlie Hailey or his union any more than you do. But we really don't have a choice here. Mr. Sloan gives a sigh of resignation. "As I said--tell Mister Hailey to rotate a man in the cupola every half-hour until five o'clock. By then, this whole mindless hysteria about the weather ought to be over." A disappointed Sam sighs in defeat because he can't get Mr. Sloan's backing. "Yes Sir." With that, Sam turns and descends the stairs to deliver Mr. Sloan's directive to Charlie. In the meantime, the sullen sky begins to take on a lurid greenish appearance. The breeze freshens out of the southwest as dark, heavy clouds begin to frown down upon River Run.
JEFF Metcalf stands in the front yard of the family home, staring up at the greenish-black cloud that broods threateningly over the neighborhood. All is still and deathly quiet. Suddenly, a welcome gust of cool air hits Jeff. It stirs the branches of nearby trees and bushes. While the sudden rush of air is extremely refreshing, it-along with the ominous clouds above-is a telling sign of what is approaching. "This isn't good," whispers Jeff to himself. Jeff turns and jogs back into the house. He looks about and notices his mother, Ann, who is sitting in the living room in her wheelchair, quietly reading by a lamp. Ann looks up from her book. "Jeff, is everything alright?"
"Oh-ah-sure, Mom," answers Jeff in a halting fashion. "Everything's fine. It's-getting kinda windy and-ah-I was-ah-just outside-ah-you know--checking on the-ah-the garbage cans." Ann eyes her son with suspicion; his answer strikes her as somewhat disingenuous. "Are you sure that's all you were doing?," asks Ann. "Yes, Mom-I'm sure-really. I was just gonna go help Linda in the kitchen-ah-before I go to work." "Alright, Jeff," replies Ann. "But I think she's almost finished." "Oh, ah-well," stammers Jeff, "I'll see if she needs help with-ah-anything else." With that, Jeff briskly beats a path into the kitchen. Perplexed by Jeff's odd behavior, Ann watches her son with an expression of doubt. To her, something decidedly strange is going on.
Linda is wiping down the table after lunch, when Jeff strides into the kitchen. He steps furtively up to Linda and taps her shoulder. A startled Linda gasps and wheels about. "For cryin' out loud, Jeff! What's the matter with you?" "Shhhh," replies Jeff. "Listen, I don't wanna say this in front of Mom, but have you seen the sky?" "No, Jeff," sighs a disinterested Linda. "I've been busy, trying to get things done. I know it's cloudy; so what?" Jeff takes a quick glance toward the kitchen door, then speaks to Linda in hushed tones. "Well, I think there's a lot more than a spring shower comin' our way." "And," asks a preoccupied Linda, "why do you say that?" "Well, for one thing," continues Jeff, "the sky's turning green." Linda turns and gives Jeff a smart-alecky grin. "So, now you're telling me the sky's gone off?" "No," replies Jeff loudly. He quickly catches himself and continues in lower tones. "No-I mean-the clouds look green. You've gotta see this. Come outside and see, for yourself; we'll go through the service door so Mom won't see us." Linda sighs with irritation at Jeff's annoying persistence. "Jeff, I'm really too busy to look at clouds right now." However, Jeff won't be deterred. "Listen, it'll only take a minute-c'mon."
Linda sighs again and throws her sponge into the kitchen sink. "Alright, Jeff-if I go out and look at the clouds, will you finally leave me alone so I can get some work done?" "Like I said," continues Jeff, "This'll only take a minute." "Jeff--I sure hope you find another girlfriend before you drive us all crazy." With that, Jeff and Linda step out through the service porch door and, out into the yard. "Now," says Jeff, "take a look." At Jeff's insistence, Linda lifts her face skyward. She immediately sees that Jeff's concern is not without merit. Linda voices her observations in fearful tones. "I've seen a greenish tint in clouds before, but nothing like this." "That's what I've been trying to tell you," replies Jeff. "I read once in a science magazine that when the sky turns green, it means a twister could be coming." Linda looks at Jeff in disbelief. "But-but a couple of hours ago, the forecast only called for some rain this afternoon." Jeff checks his watch. "It's almost one o'clock. Maybe they'll announce a revised forecast."
With that, Jeff and Linda head back into the house. Jeff moves quickly to turn on the kitchen radio. So as not to arouse their mother's suspicions, Jeff keeps the volume low as he and Linda huddle closely around the radio's speaker. They tune in just in time to hear a WREQ special weather bulletin, calling for an imminent threat of severe weather by mid-afternoon. Jeff switches the radio off. A worried Linda voices a real concern. "Jeff-what about Mom and the baby? She can barely walk, much less, go down the basement steps with a baby in her arms. If they blast a storm warning, I won't be able to help her down there by myself."
"I know," says Jeff. "That's why I'm not gonna work my shift at the Purl Roadhouse. I'll call Mister McCaskey and tell him a family emergency came up, or something." A thought suddenly crosses Linda's mind. "I hope Charlie and Robert will be alright at the Sloan factory." Jeff also voices a concern. "Ginger's doin' her television show at WREQ right now. I hope she'll be alright." Linda gives her brother a studied glance. "Still have feelings for Ginger, do you?" Jeff replies in strident tones. "No-no-of course not. I--I'm just--I just hope she'll be safe if a twister does come this way-that's all."
"You do have feelings for Ginger, don't you!," says Linda with a knowing grin. "No, I don't," snaps Jeff. "Oh, yes, you do," insists Linda. "It's written all over your face." Jeff becomes irritable and uncomfortable at his sister's persistent observations--because he knows, deep within himself, that Linda is right. Jeff tries to steer the conversation to a more immediately important subject. "Linda, listen, we need to think about Mom. I don't think we oughtta tell her about that weather bulletin, just yet; it might upset her." Linda is petulant at Jeff's suggestion. "Jeff, it's not like Mom is a little kid. I think she's capable of handling it in a calm, adult manner."
"That's not what I'm saying," replies a frustrated Jeff. Linda folds her arms and gazes critically at her brother. "Well, then, Jeff-when do you think we oughtta tell her-just as a tornado is tearing the roof off the house?" Jeff sighs again in exasperation. "Will you stop being difficult? I didn't say that. I'm just saying she doesn't have to know right this minute. Besides, who knows? Sometime, storms change directions and go somewhere else." Suddenly, Linda and Jeff's mother, Ann pushes open the kitchen door and rolls in on her wheelchair. A startled Jeff and Linda turn and gape at their mother. She looks at her son and daughter with a suspicious eye. "What's going on in here? Why are you two whispering?" "It's nothing--nothing," answers Jeff. "It was nothing, at all, Mom. L-Linda and I were--just talking-that's all." "Really, Mom," adds Linda. "It's really--nothing."
"Don't give me that," says Ann. "And don't insult my intelligence. Now, tell me the truth-what were you talking about?" Jeff looks toward Linda. Jeff and Linda glance nervously at one another, then at their mother. Jeff looks toward Linda. "We might as well tell her." Linda nods nervously in agreement. Jeff turns to his mother, and volunteers a timorous answer. "Well, Mom--we didn't wanna scare you, but--we just heard a weather bulletin over the radio--it--said some--some storms with rain, hail, and winds could be coming. But the storms might not even come this way." Jeff's rather weak and watery assurances are lost on his mother. Ann looks anxiously up toward the kitchen window and notices the threatening sky. She turns her eyes back to Linda and Jeff, and makes an abrupt request. "Take me outside-now."
Linda and Jeff look at one another, shrug, and comply with their mother's request. Jeff carefully wheels their mother out onto the porch to the top of the steps. Unbeknownst to them, their mother has a special reason for wanting to go outside. She has long remembered what her Aunt Bernice in Stanhope, Iowa, had once said: before the coming of a tornado, the sky often turns a frighteningly lurid green. Ann shudders as she looks upward at the sullen, ominous banks of mammatus clouds, from which droop rounded bulges of dark grey, their outlines shaded in a deep bilious green. A devout Catholic, Ann raises her hand to her mouth and makes a fearful utterance. "Jesus, Mary and Joseph. . ."
CHARLIE Hailey strides up to Robert Davis's work station and urgently taps Robert's shoulder. "Hey, Charlie; what's up?," asks Robert in a cordial tone. "You're on for the next watch," announces Charlie. Robert gazes at his friend in puzzlement. "Next Watch? What are you talkin' about, Charlie?" Charlie gives Robert a critical glance. "Didn't you hear the weather bulletin?" "No," answers a surprised Robert. "What weather bulletin?" "Well," answers Charlie, "some heavy weather's comin' our way. They also said public buildings and factories should post weather spotters, just in case." "Just in case of what,?" asks a still confused Robert. "Twisters," is Charlie's blunt answer over the din of whining factory machinery. "Tony just finished the first watch. Now, it's your turn." Robert's eyes widen with fear. "So--I'm supposed to look out for twisters?" Charlie answers in a businesslike tone. "Yeah, now follow me. We hafta relieve Tony."
Startled by the revelation that he is to watch out for tornadoes, Robert follows Charlie to a tall iron spiral staircase. This eventually leads to a ladder which, in turn leads to a trapdoor in the floor of the cupola. From the cupola's high vantage point, an observer would have a commanding view of the horizon in almost every direction. When Charlie opens the trapdoor and pokes his head up through the opening, Tony turns to acknowledge his arrival. "Hi, Charlie. I ain't seen anything yet, but I swear--the clouds are turnin' green. Ya gotta see it." Robert climbs up through the trapdoor in the cupola's floor as Tony finishes his sentence. Not having been up here before, Robert looks about in astonishment. "Sure is some view, from up here."
"Tony," announces Charley, "I brought Robert up to relieve you." Tony Mangano acknowledges Robert's arrival with a greeting. He hands Robert the binoculars-which, surprisingly were lent by Mr. Sloan. "Like I said," reaffirms Tony, "so far, I ain't seen any twisters yet. But the wind's pickin' up, and it's gettin' dark in the west, like nobody's business. And, like I said, those clouds are turnin' green." Charlie leans outward through one of the cupola's tall, arched windows to have a look. He is, indeed moved by the dark black-green deck of clouds that now looms threateningly over the Sloan factory complex. "Yeah; I see whatcha mean," acknowledges Charlie as he leans back inside.
"Alright, Tony; you can go. Robert will take over from here--and, thanks, Tony, for helpin' out." As Tony descends back down to the factory floor, Charlie instructs Robert on how to use the antiquated hand-crank siren. "Now, Robert--as soon as you see a twister or even somethin' that looks like a twister or even a funnel cloud, no matter how far away it is, I want you to start crankin' this siren, got it?" "Yeah, I got it, Charlie," answers an anxious Robert. "And don't forget-keep your eyes peeled to the west, and southwest; that's where twisters mostly come from." "Sure thing," replies Robert. "If nothin' happens on your watch," continues Charlie, "I'll relieve you in half an hour." "Okay, Charlie; see you then." With that, Charlie descends through the cupola's trapdoor and, back down to the factory floor.
DUE to unforeseen technical glitches with some of the WREQ television broadcasting equipment, Ginger doesn't go on the air with her program until 1:30PM. She is blissfully unaware of the demons that are marshaling their forces in the threatening clouds over River Run. It is now a few minutes after two o'clock. Ginger has finished her program, and is about to enter the main lobby to go home. As she strides toward the studio exit, she is suddenly headed off by Miss Wescott, Mr. Melon's assistant. From Miss Wescott, Ginger learns the reason for Mr. Melon's earlier request to speak to her: In order to boost viewership, the sponsors of her program think it a good idea to have Arthur Shillhab-Ginger's fiancee-appear as a guest on her show. Caught by surprise at first, Ginger enthusiastically agrees to Mr. Melon's suggestion-more out of relief than anything else. It is, indeed, of unbounded relief to Ginger to know that her show won't be cancelled.
As Ginger steps out into WREQ's main lobby to the rear exit, she is literally accosted by WREQ Radio's head meteorologist, Lou Heiser. "Miss Szabo, wait! Where are you going?" "Well," asks a rattled Ginger, "home, I guess--why?" Lou shakes his head and answers Ginger in emphatic tones. "That's not a good idea right now, Miss Szabo. You're better off remaining here at the station. This building has a good, strong basement." Every muscle and nerve in Ginger instantly tightens. "Base-basement?? What are you talking about, Lou?" Lou answers Ginger in tense, rapidly spoken words.
"I don't want to frighten you, Miss Szabo, but we have a serious weather situation on our hands. Now, I know you've been busy with your television show, and you probably haven't heard the weather bulletins we've been broadcasting every hour. "What-what weather bulletins?," asks a dazed and bewildered Ginger. "Why can't I go home?" Lou answers again, in rushed sentences. "I'm sorry, Miss Szabo. It's too late for you to go home. I shouldn't be telling you this, but a tornado was sighted about forty miles west of River Run, and more tornadoes could touch down at any moment. Ginger, these storms are moving fast; River Run is in imminent danger."
An expression of fear transforms Ginger's face. Tears well up in her eyes. "No-NO!! I've gotta go home! My mother-she's all alone!" Ginger turns ans starts desperately toward the doors of the main lobby. However, Lou catches up to Ginger and grabs her arm. "No, Miss Szabo," shouts Lou, "you can't! There's no more time; you'll never make it!" "Lou," cries Ginger, "let me go!-LOU!! You don't understand! I need to be with my mother! She might not know what's happening, and she won't know what to do! I have to be with her!! As Ginger finishes her sentence, a deep, hair-raising rumble of thunder resonates across the sky, rattling windows and doors. A startled Ginger looks toward the ceiling of the lobby. With Ginger's arm still in his grasp, Lou leads Ginger to the main basement of the WREQ studios, with Ginger begging and pleading the whole time. "Lou, please!-You don't understand! My mother doesn't know what's happening, and she won't know what to do if a tornado hits our neighborhood! I've got to be with her!!"
"Miss Szabo!! There's No Time for you to go home!! THERE'S NO TIME!! Lou then addresses Ginger in a calmer, but more intense tone. "Listen, Ginger--Miss Szabo--when I get up to the broadcast booth, I'm going to broadcast a storm warning. And, even if your mother doesn't have her radio on, she'll know what's happening, and she'll know what to do when the town's air raid sirens go off." Once Lou Heiser sees Ginger safely down to the basement, he races back up the stairs to the WREQ weather forecasting office. Ginger is now beside herself, wringing her hands in fear for her mother's safety. She is soon joined by an increasing number of frightened WREQ employees. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning flashes through the clerestory windows of the WREQ studios main lobby, which is promptly followed by an even louder clap of thunder. This is quickly followed by nickel-sized hailstones, which begin to rain down upon River Run--another chillingly ominous sign of what is coming. . .