Disaster Movie by Lena Valencia

“Few life experiences can compare with the anticipation of a chaser while standing in the path of a big storm, in the gusty inflow of warm, moist gulf wind — sweeping up into a lowering, darkening cloud base, grumbling with thunder as a great engine begins to turn.” — David Hoadly, “Why Chase Tornadoes?” Storm Track magazine

Disaster Movie 

The lead girl hit her head on the car door during the cornfield scene and won’t shut up about it. It bleeds, but it’s nothing the medic can’t fix. The old crew quit, replaced by a newer, softer, more irritable crew. These Americans know nothing about sacrifice, their ingenuity pampered out of them by laugh tracks and central air. Take, for example, the bright lights necessary to create the contrast of angry skies. Movie magic. But the actors complain of burned retinas. The actors need a hepatitis shot after the bridge scene, the dirty water. The actors get dust in their eyes from the fan. No one seems to understand that this is all part of the process, all part of the art. It can’t all be hotels and swag bags, distant computerized destruction. You tell them again about the time you were scalped by a lion on a shoot, hoping it will boost morale. Anything for the shot! You know they talk behind your back, you can see it in the way they hang their heads when you walk by, their distaste. The actors are good at hiding it but the DP, not so much.

Still: you love this country. The prairies with their rippling seas of grass. The vulgar bleach-scented fast food restaurants with their waddling patrons. In the rare bits of sleep you get, the twisters scream through your dreams. Roaring, deadly, sentient in their destruction. But there’s grace in their violent swirl. You’ve never seen one, just their iterations by the effects team. You crave the real thing, to stand in its eye like a lion’s maw. To suffer nature’s wrath is to walk with God. On those airless Oklahoma summer nights in damp motel sheets you pray for the siren to go off, but it never does.

Another day. The corn has grown strange tassels overnight so yesterday’s scene needs to be reshot to match. The DP is threatening to quit, this time he means it. The sky’s azure and cloudless, no good for filming. The producer says you are nearly over budget. The storm howls through your mind again, and all you want is to be sucked up into thunderheads like Dorothy. To ride on currents of air. To hear that great engine begin to turn. 

Lena Valencia’s fiction has been published in Electric Literature, Joyland, Epiphany, Catapult’s Tiny Nightmares anthology, and elsewhere. She teaches writing classes at Catapult, the Sackett Street Writers Workshop, and One Story, where she also serves as the director of educational programming and managing editor. She’s the recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant and has an MFA in fiction from The New School.


Art (cropped) Ricardo Pablo 1996 Twister CC2.0 Non-Commercial ALT: Scene from the movie Twister – a jeep drives through a field with a tornado feet away


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