The Robinson family made camp ten miles north of the El Paso trading post along the Rio Grande barely an hour before the tornado hit. The family sheltered under their wagon until the storm tore it to pieces. Elizabeth Robinson protected their newborn daughter and George held Gabriel, their eight-year-old, to his chest.
A broken tree branch crashed into George’s head and he slumped unconscious into the mud. The tornado ripped Gabriel from his limp arms and lifted the screaming child into the night sky.
The tornado carried Gabriel along with uprooted trees, broken branches, and wagon wheels through the darkness. It followed the winding path of the river northward.
Gabriel screamed continuously, but no one could hear him. He took ragged breaths. It was hard to breathe in the driving wind and pouring rain. The tornado tumbled him head over heels. When the lightning flashed, he caught glimpses of the ground and river spinning below.
Eventually, the tornado left the ground and carried him toward the clouds. As it drew higher into the air it began to revolve slower. The heavier objects dropped past him toward the river valley floor. A wagon wheel almost hit him and one of the iron hoops that supported the canvas covers of the Conestoga wagons brushed his arm. The storm continued to weaken and falling bushes and tree branches filled the sky around him.
As the spinning wind climbed, it carried its lighter cargo upward with it and Gabriel was almost eight thousand feet in the air when the tornado lost the force necessary to hold him aloft. His stomach lurched as he dropped. He screamed louder.
The lightning flashed and the ground rush toward him. He curled into a ball to protect himself. It made him fall faster, but he didn’t know that. Something brushed against him and knocked him to the side. He involuntarily opened up and cartwheeled through the air.
The thunder rolled and the ground was only seconds away. Something caught him from above and held him. Strong wings beat the rain-drenched air. The claws across his chest were like oversized chicken feet. Gabriel struggled, but the claws gripped him tighter.
Gabriel was close enough to the cottonwood trees to touch the branches when his fall stopped. His stomach lurched when he was jerked upward into the lightning and thunder.
One huge talon gripped each shoulder. He touched them and they were long and sharp. He knew about eagles and hawks, but their claws weren’t this big. At least they weren’t this big in Georgia. Who knew how big eagles grow in Texas? Had the eagle saved him from the storm to feed him to its chicks? Gabriel didn’t know, but he planned to run like the wind if the bird put him down.
The bird hovered above an outcropping on a stony windswept cliff and dropped Gabriel onto the hard rocks. Cold and sodden, Gabriel huddled on the ledge. The lightning flashed and he saw that the narrow ledge faded to nothing in both directions. In the next flash, he noticed an opening in the cliff and crawled inside. It was pitch dark. He felt his way around two sharp corners. The sharp stones hurt his knees.
He crawled around the second turn into a well-lit cave. A dozen people sat around a warm fire. Gabriel stood in the opening like a wet statue.
Gabriel felt a man’s hand on his shoulder. The man shook the water from his wet hair and said, “If you aren’t going to sit by the fire, let me pass. I’m cold and wet. You must be freezing.”
Gabriel didn’t speak. He didn’t know where the man came from. There hadn’t been anyone on the ledge or in the short tunnel. A boy about his size left the fire and took him by the hand.
“I’m Marcus. You’re safe. Warm yourself and dry your clothes. There’s hot stew. Grandma’s making bread.”
The oldest woman turned the fry bread she was cooking in an iron skillet. It smelled like home and Gabriel followed Marcus to the fire. The others shifted and made room for him.
The woman addressed the man behind Gabriel. “Torin, where did you find this one? Did you fish him out of the river?”
“No, he was riding the storm. I flew with him for a while.”
Marcus asked, “He flew without wings?”
“He did for a while, but he and the storm got tired. I caught him before he hit the ground.”
The woman handed Gabriel a bowl of stew and a chunk of bread. He wolfed it down.
“Take your time, little one. Don’t eat so fast. No one will take your food.”
Another man shouted at Torin. “Why did you save this child? He isn’t one of us. He doesn’t fly with wings. We don’t need a foundling. The storm took him. He belongs to the storm. Take him back.”
Torin stared at the other man. He ate a piece of fry bread in a single bite. “I wasn’t aware we preyed on children or left them to the mercy of the storm. Do you challenge my right to save this child?”
The other man’s face turned red. The old woman said, “Valdor, step down. We’ve food enough for this one. He doesn’t look like he eats much. There’s no harm in keeping him until the skies clear. We’ll talk about what to do with him later. For now, let’s get him some warm clothes and let him sleep.”
Marcus gave Gabriel a blanket and a warm place to rest. Gabriel spread his clothes on the rocky floor near the fire to dry. Marcus asked, “Where are you from? How did you end up in the storm?”
“We’ve been on the trail from Georgia to California for three months. Dad was tired of growing cotton and peanuts and people say that California’s full of gold and silver. The storm hit us. The next thing I knew I was flying in the air. I hope my parents are alive.” Gabriel cried himself to sleep.
He dreamed of the terror on his mother’s face when the storm ripped him out of his father’s arms. He didn’t remember where he was for a moment after he screamed himself awake. The fire barely flickered and it cast strange shadows across the cave.
Valdor grumbled, “Shut up. Let the rest of us sleep.” He shook his head. “I knew this was a bad idea.”
Gabriel dressed in his dry clothes and warmed himself at the breakfast fire. The old woman said, “Breakfast’s the same stew as dinner.”
Torin said, “Marcus, take the boy and go eat on the ledge. The adults want to talk. Don’t let him fall.”
Gabriel followed Marcus around the two bends in the tunnel and onto the ledge. He hugged the rock wall along the narrow trail. It was less than three feet wide and several hundred feet above the mist-covered ground below. Marcus scampered around like a mountain goat. Gabriel asked, “Who are you people? Are you going to eat me?”
Marcus laughed, “We don’t eat people.”
Gabriel sat as close to the cave mouth and shivered in the chilly morning air. “How did you get up here? Is there a trail? Maybe, I could walk down a trail.”
“There’s no trail. We fly to the cave.”
“You can fly?”
“Not me. I won’t be able to fly until I’m older. The adults can fly.”
“Who are you people? You have a normal name, but some of the others have strange names like Kinya and Tiron.”
“The story is really for Kinya to tell. She’s the elder. We’re people chosen by the storm. The sky becomes angry, the wind twists, the lightning flashes, and the thunder rolls. Sometimes the sky picks a person and the storm carries them off. If that person is worthy, they change into a mighty bird and learn to fly and control the storms. Everyone except me was storm chosen, I was born here. Some come from other countries like Greece or France. Some from all parts of America. The storm-chosen become Thunderbirds. When I’m old enough, I’ll be carried into a storm. If the sky accepts me, I’ll become one of them.”
“What happens if the sky doesn’t choose you?”
“Maybe I die or maybe I live and join the people of the ground. If I fail, I don’t care what happens to me.”
Tiron appeared behind the boys. “Come back inside.”
Kinya said, “The storm has never chosen a child before, but it must have good reason to have chosen you. We will raise and prepare you. When you’re old enough, you’ll be returned to the storm to fly or fall as the sky wills.”
“Please, I just want to go home. Take me back to my parents. I’m afraid.”
“We do not question the sky. The storm chose you. We will abide by its choice.”
Johanna was training to be a teacher in New England before a particularly violent nor’easter lifted her into the skies above New Bedford. Gabriel loved the daily lessons and asked how she came to be here.
Johanna said, “While I was carried by the storm, I sprouted feathers and wings and rode the winds to Vancouver. After the skies calmed, I felt an instinct, a compulsion, to fly here.”
“Where is here?”
“This cave is in the Organ Mountains near El Paso in the nation of Texas.
The three textbooks were a primer, an arithmetic textbook, and a history book. Marcus said, “I really like Johanna. She’s only three years older than we are, but she’s really smart. I like her a lot.”
Valdor took Gabriel’s food when no other adults were around. Valdor hit Marcus one evening and Gabriel picked up a burning stick and stood in front of his friend. Valdor slapped him once and stomped away.
The next day, Valdor carried Gabriel on a training flight. He twisted and spun until his young rider was terrified. He dropped Gabriel several times and caught him at the last second. Gabriel endured the bullying in silence.
Gabriel told Marcus, “He can’t torment us forever. Someday, we’ll be as big as he is.”
Marcus rubbed his sore ear and said, “If we live that long. I hate him.”
Gabriel rode with one of the adults, usually Tiron or Johanna, during the almost constant storms. He asked, “Is there a storm every day?”
Johanna said, “It only seem like it, but there’s almost always a storm somewhere. It’s our job to guide the storms and minimize the damage they cause.”
He laughed in joy when they spun through the clouds and dodged lightning and hail in the swirling winds. He reveled in the power when the adults teamed together and hovered in front of ominous clouds and forced a storm to change directions. He cheered when they surrounded tornados and flew in circles until they spun them out of existence.
One day Gabriel realized he could see air currents. Updrafts of warm air were visible as red spirals and downdrafts were blue waterfalls. He told the others and they didn’t believe him until he demonstrated his power. Valdor was jealous and angry because Gabriel was the only one who could see the wind.
Gabriel rode Tiron for hours. He guided Tiron by a gesture or word from a weakening updraft to a gentle downdraft and back again. With his guidance, the Thunderbirds could ride the winds for without needing to flap a single time.
It was a big country and there were so many storms. The Thunderbirds were only able to influence less than one out of every ten. Even that kept them busy so busy that there was hardly time to find food and clothing.
Gabriel became entranced in his new life and he gave up chasing memories from before he was storm-called, and before long, his parents were a faded dream.
One morning Kinya said, “We have to go to El Paso for supplies. The boys are old enough to go with us. I want flour and beans and we need clothing. We’ll fly to the edge of town tonight and walk to the trading post tomorrow.”
She gave each of the boys a sack of coins to carry. “We don’t have hands when we change into Thunderbird form. Don’t drop the money.”
Hours before the first light of dawn, the adults walked to the ledge and changed into Thunderbirds. Johanna grew to ten times her height, sprouted turquoise feathers, and unfurled wings large enough to shelter a dozen people beneath their span. Torin’s plumage was a brighter red than a hummingbird’s throat.
Gabriel and Marcus mounted Tiron and Johanna and the flock flew through the moonless night sky. They landed two miles from the trading post, changed forms, dressed, and waited for dawn. After sunrise, they followed hard-packed wagon ruts to the trading post.
Thin black smoke drifted in the soft morning breeze. It didn’t smell like a cooking fire and there was no hint of bacon or bread in the acrid smell. Kinya sniffed, “I can usually smell the stables and hear people scurrying about, but I don’t hear anything and I don’t smell horses. Something’s wrong.”
The flock walked past a stand of cottonwood trees and stared at the smoldering remains of the trading post scattered across the ground. The stables were burnt, the horses were gone, and the stone chimney above the blacksmith’s forge was the tallest thing standing.
Kinya raced through the carnage. “This was the church. There were a dozen houses between these creeks. A small mill was here. Look, the millstones are broken. The corral is empty,”
Johanna said, “Spread out and search. Someone could be alive.”
Valdor answered, “We should search for food and clothing. We need food more than we need more people to care for. These people weren’t like us. We should’ve brought a storm to the village long ago. I’m glad it’s been destroyed.”
“For shame, Valdor. We take care of people, we don’t kill them,” said Tiron. “The sky chose us to guide storms away from people. That’s why we exist. We’re here and we’ll help if we can.”
Sharp cries came from the trading post’s well and the Thunderbirds hurried to its crumbled rock enclosure. “Who’s there,” Valdor called.
“Help us,” said a woman. “I hid in the well with my daughter until the raiders left, but they cut the bucket rope and we can’t climb out. Help us.”
The well wasn’t very deep and Tiron and another Thunderbird found several small pieces of rope in the wreckage of the stable and tied them together. They pulled the woman and her daughter from the well. Kinya asked, “What happened here?”
The woman nursed her infant daughter and replied, “Raiders. Twenty or thirty men.”
Valdor asked, “Indians?”
“Not only Indians. There were white men too. Some wore remains of military uniforms. Some spoke English and some didn’t. They came at sunset and killed everyone but us. They loaded all the supplies and took our wagons and horses. They burned everything else. I thought we would choke to death from the smoke that settled inside the well.”
Tiron growled, “Where did they go?”
“I was in the well, but I could hear them talk. They planned to follow the river downstream.”
The flock talked. Johanna and another Thunderbird left to take the woman and her daughter to Messina, a small settlement less than a day’s walk to the north. Johanna said, “After we deliver these two, we’ll meet you at home tonight.”
Kinya replied, “We’ll finish searching the trading post for other survivors. Whatever we decide to do about the raiders, we won’t do it today. Be safe.”
Gabriel whispered to Marcus, “Is it safe for three women and a child to travel by themselves with renegades and raiders in the area?”
“Two of the women are Thunderbirds. The men best hope they don’t find them.”
Torin said, “I want to kill the men who did this. We can’t help the people who’ve been killed, but we can keep these men from hurting anyone else. Let’s find a storm and take it to these bastards.”
Valdor snarled. “Kill them all and let the winds sort the dead.”
Kinya shook her head. “We’re the guardians of the storms. We don’t kill, we keep the storms from killing, but in this case, I agree. May the sky forgive me, but these men deserve to die. We’ll fly today and find them.”
Marcus said, “If you fly in the daytime, people will see you.”
“Possibly, little one.” She turned to the rest of the flock and said, “Fly high. Fly very high so men on the ground can’t judge your size. Find these raiders, these renegades, and bring the wrath of the storms to them.”
Gabriel rode Kinya and Marcus flew with Torin. Hours later, they found the men camped along the Rio Grande less than five miles from the trading post. The camp was disorganized. The stolen horses stood haltered to the wagons and burdened with stolen supplies. The men slept around guttered fires. They hadn’t bothered to unsaddle or unpack their horses.
Kinya called the other Thunderbirds with a shrill strident shriek and the flock flew back to their home in the mountains where Johanna waited for them.
They searched three days before they found a suitable storm building far to the south. The Thunderbirds chased the storm during the night and caught it near the Gulf of California. They stayed inside the front edge of the clouds where they couldn’t be seen and forced the storm toward the northwest.
Several times the storm fought to veer toward its original path, but Torin or Valdor responded each time. They blocked its path, hovered in place, and with a few mighty swipes of their powerful wings herded the clouds like stray calves. The storm grew stronger as it traveled, but the Thunderbirds were in control. Gabriel marveled at Johanna. She was the lightning queen. She directed flash after flash from the leading edge of the storm.
During a series of bright lightning flashes, Gabriel peered through the hard rain and shouted, “I see them. The outlaws are under a stand of cottonwoods along the river.”
Torin and Valdor led the storm front to the hidden men and Johanna called lightning bolt after lightning bolt. The cottonwood trees burst into flames, but Johanna didn’t let up. She continued to blast lightning into the burning copse of trees sheltering the raiders. When the heart of the storm was directly over the men, Valdor and four other Thunderbirds flew in rapidly decreasing concentric circles below the clouds. They guided the spinning storm lower and faster with every revolution. They created a tornado and strengthen it until it sustained itself. The shrieking wind ripped burning cottonwood trees from their muddy river banks and hurled the flaming roots and branches into the night sky.
The lightning flashes illuminated the terrified raiders. They tried to burrow in the ground or anchor themselves to the splintered remains of the once-mighty cottonwoods. The Thunderbird tornado and Johanna-driven lightning were merciless.
Torin and Gabriel circled below the clouds, but above Johanna. She stopped throwing lightning at the ground, but still sent bolts from cloud to cloud to light the river valley. There were no living people on the ground. Four of the Thunderbirds flew in reverse around the tornado until it slowed and retreated into the clouds.
Valdor seemed to be missing. Joanna called to him, but the Thunderbird didn’t respond. Gabriel and the others searched the sky for their missing compatriot. Suddenly, Valdor burst from the clouds and dove at Torin. He streaked by and ripped Gabriel from Torin’s back, clenched the boy with both claws, and pounded his wings upward into the heart of the dissipating storm.
“You have no place here. You aren’t one of us. Fly or die, little man. Fly or die.” Valdor dropped Gabriel into the middle of a hard updraft that lifted the child upward for a few seconds and then released him.
Gabriel fell through the clouds. He wasn’t twelve. He shouldn’t be old enough to transform even if he was storm chosen. He spread his arms out to his side imitating wings. It didn’t help and he dropped below the clouds. Lightning reflected from the ribbon of water below. The river was close. Gabriel flapped his arms and screamed.
The storm flung a lightning bolt and it caught Gabriel in midair. It knocked his breath away. His skin tingled. In the glow of the lingering electrical charge, he saw his arms stretch and grow longer. Feathers sprouted everywhere. His emerging talons tore his sandals off his feet. He flapped his red and white wings and arrested his fall. He caught his breath, turned, and flew upward into the storm.
The storm welcomed him. The winds shifted to support his flight and the clouds parted at his approach. He flew upward and the storm-created updrafts caressed him like warm hands and lifted him higher and higher. He climbed until he was high above the towering thunderstorm.
He searched for Valdor. Valdor had tried to kill him. Valdor had beaten Marcus. Valdor used his Thunderbird powers to harm innocent people. He was evil.
Gabriel felt strength course through his body and the warm glow reached his wingtips. He wasn’t a child anymore, he was a Thunderbird. He was one with the storm and one with the sky. The time had come from Valdor to pay before he corrupted any other Thunderbirds or coerced the winds to into evil actions.
Gabriel knew the sky agreed with him when the clouds beneath him parted and a single ray of moonlight pierced the opening. It illuminated Valdor far below him. Valdor rolled over, looked upward, and saw the crimson and cream-colored Thunderbird above the storm. He flew into the clouds to hide, but the storm refused to shelter him. The clouds darted away from him like bees fleeing from a fire.
Gabriel shrieked, rolled, and swooped toward the fleeing Thunderbird. The winds shifted into a downdraft and Gabriel’s swoop became a powerful dive. The clouds parted in front of him and the winds drove him faster. His wings were tight against his side and he plummeted through the lightning and thunder. He lost sight of Valdor for a moment. The older Thunderbird was in full retreat and he dove toward the shelter of the trees.
Gabriel gained on him. The winds fought to hold Valdor back and they propelled Gabriel forward. Valdor pulled out of his dive above the treetops and leveled out. Gabriel crashed headfirst into Valdor. He sensed another flash of lightning, but no thunder. Gabriel fell through the cottonwood trees and lay unconscious on the river valley floor.
Valdor was injured but stayed aloft. He saw Gabriel on the ground and circled to go after him. Torin, Johanna, and Kinya streaked out of the clouds. Valdor fled. Torin chased him, but Johanna and Kinya landed next to the red and gold Thunderbird crumpled in the mud near the river.
The women changed into human form and Johanna said, “It’s Gabriel. The storm has made him one of us. I knew he was storm chosen.”
The storm passed and Gabriel resumed his normal form before he regained consciousness. There was a large bump on his head, but no other injuries. Gabriel said, “I fell off Torin and had the strangest dream.”
“No dream,” said Kinya. “The storms gave you to us for a reason. You are a Thunderbird, but you must learn to control your powers.”
Johanna put her hands on Gabriel’s head and said, “My thoughts to your thoughts. Listen and learn. Feel the power grow inside you. Change forms and fly.”
Gabriel’s skin itched. Red and white feathers covered his flesh and his arms stretched long and strong. His bones ached and his body grew larger. The sky gave him strength and power.
Johanna said, “Fly with us.” She and Kinya changed and the three Thunderbirds flew to their mountain home. Torin joined their formation along the way.
Once back at the cave, Torin said, “Valdor took Marcus and flew away. I couldn’t catch them.”
Kinya said, “We have to find them. Without us to control him, Valdor will misuse his powers. It’s his nature to lead the winds to where they can do the most damage. We must stop him. If he builds a flock of his own, they’ll destroy villages, crops, and people. He hated his human childhood and blames all humans for his misery. Rather than rejoice in his storm-given powers, he seeks only vengeance. If Marcus doesn’t agree to help him, Valdor will kill the boy.”
Gabriel said, “He was always mean to me. I thought it was his way of trying to make me strong. Has he always wanted to hurt people?”
Johanna bathed Gabriel’s injured head and said, “Sometimes people who have known pain, only wish to cause pain in others. We were his family. I believed he would eventually accept the way of the Thunderbird, but I was wrong. His anger runs too deep.”
One spring, Gabriel spotted a wagon train camped near the Organ Mountains in southern New Mexico. He stayed a mile in the air while the wagons circled and made camp within walking distance of a clear mountain stream. Johanna joined him and reported a storm in the west. “It formed over the Pacific Ocean and is crossing Mexico and Arizona. It will be here by sunset tomorrow. It’s moving east faster than it should. It might be Valdor.”
Gabriel said, “Okay, let’s get the rest of the flock and intercept it. If it’s Valdor, maybe we can find Marcus.” He and Johanna flew back to the mountain cave. Johanna flew with him.
The cave entrance was covered with fallen rocks. There was barely room to land. Claw marks were on the mountainside above the rubble-covered ledge. Johanna hovered and said, “Valdor was here, I can smell him. He’s trapped Kinya, Tiron, and the others inside. We have to clear the opening.”
Gabriel pointed a wingtip at the billowing storm roaring up from the south. “Hundreds of people are in the wagon train. We have to help them. If Valdor’s driving the storm he won’t be happy until he’s killed them all.”
Johanna spun in the air and forced a landing on the narrow and crumbling ledge. She changed into her human form and tossed and kicked rocks over the side. “Valdor is trying to force us to decide between our family and the wagon train. We won’t play his game. I’ll clear the opening. You’re stronger than me, you go after the storm. Once I free the others, we’ll come to help you.”
Gabriel nodded his feathered head and streaked toward the dark clouds. He reached the storm front and rather than try to stop it, he turned the storm toward the west to make it miss the people camped in the Organ Mountains.
The storm responded at first, but it began to resist his guidance. It fought to move toward the mountains. Gabriel became one with the rain and wind. He sensed another Thunderbird, maybe two, shoving the storm to the east. He quit fighting the storm and flew to the other side of the front. There were two Thunderbirds working the wind and rain. One was Valdor. Gabriel didn’t recognize the other one, but he guessed it was Marcus.
Gabriel darted between Valdor and the storm. “Stop it. Hundreds of people will die if you force the storm over the mountains.”
Valdor maintained his position and his influence over the weather. “I thought I killed you before. I’ll make sure this time. You stupid boy, I know where the wagon train is camped. Why else would I move this storm? I’ll kill them all.”
Valdor shouted to other Thunderbird, “Marcus, keep the storm on its current track. We must kill the invaders. I’ll take care of Gabriel.”
Valdor directed lightning bolts at Gabriel, but the lightning only strengthened him. He hit Valdor with his claws outstretched. Valdor rolled and met claws with claws. The two Thunderbirds grappled with each other as they plunged toward the desert floor.
Marcus hesitated. He was confused. Valdor told him that the rest of the Thunderbirds were dead. He must have lied. If Gabriel was alive, maybe Johanna was alive. This was the first storm since the sky granted him his Thunderbird form and the power was intoxicating. He didn’t want to give it up. He maintained the storm on Valdor’s chosen course while the two giant birds battled in the swirling winds beneath him..
Valdor and Gabriel fought like eagles. They entangled their talons and spun toward the hard ground. Gabriel held the other Thunderbird and fought to be on top when the two hit the ground. Valdor fought for the same advantage. They rolled over and over. First, Valdor was in the position of death on the bottom and then he’d lever himself to the relative safety above Gabriel.
The winds buffeted the combatants and tossed them through the sky. Gabriel twisted behind Valdor, gained control, and forced him head downward toward the rocky soil. A strong updraft spun them around and Gabriel lost the advantage. Valdor drove him headfirst in a death spiral. Valdor held Gabriel’s neck with one talon and raked his shoulder and head with the other. Gabriel grappled for an advantage, but he couldn’t dislodge his rider. He lost blood as fast as he lost altitude. He was running out of time.
He changed into his small boy’s body and dropped free from Valdor’s talons. The storm didn’t betray him, it gusted and lifted his frail form upward above the confused Thunderbird. Valdor was still snapping his claws on empty air when Gabriel reassumed his Thunderbird form and swooped on Valdor from above like an avenging angel.
Gabriel caught Valdor by his shoulders and smashed his face into a basalt outcropping on the desert floor. The injured Thunderbird crawled for a moment, shuddered, and changed into his human form. He raised one hand in supplication to the sky. The storm responded with a dozen lightning bolts.
Gabriel abandoned the burnt and broken body to the scavengers and streaked into the sky.
He screamed at Marcus. “You’re leading this storm toward hundreds of people. Stop. Help me turn it. I’m injured. I can’t do this by myself.”
The two Thunderbirds spun in the slow-moving funnel cloud. It rotated faster as it dropped.
Marcus hovered for a moment. “You’re Gabriel! Are you a ghost? The settlers killed all of you. I’m going to kill these people, not help them.” He dove under the clouds and whipped the tornado faster and faster.
Gabriel followed him downward, flew backward in front of him, and forced him to a stop. He needed Marcus’s help. There wasn’t enough time to stop the tornado alone. The funnel reached the ground and snapped over the surface like a sidewinder. It flicked closer to the wagons every second.
Gabriel shouted, “The only one who hurt us was Valdor. He caused an avalanche and trapped everyone except Johanna and me in the cave. I have to help her dig them out, but first I have to save these people. I can’t fight you at the same time. Help me.”
Marcus flew over the men, women, and children huddled under storm scattered wagons. The faint sound of crying children was lost in the scream of the raging tornado.
“Marcus, this isn’t who you are. You’re a Thunderbird. Thunderbirds help people. Torin and Kinya are your family. I’m your family. These people haven’t done anything to you.”
A tear in Marcus’s eye glinted in the lightning. He choked back a sob, nodded his head, folded his wings, and dove to pick up speed. He unfurled his wings, jerked himself into level flight, and streaked against the wind. Gabriel flew at his side.
The tornado lifted a single wagon into the air before it obeyed the Thunderbirds. As it retreated upward toward the clouds, it released the lonely Conestoga. It dropped ten feet and its tongue and one wheel shattered.
Marcus stayed with the funnel until it disappeared into the roiling clouds. He rejoined Gabriel and the two Thunderbirds shepherded the storm away from the frightened people.
Marcus said, “I didn’t know. I believed Valdor. I’m sorry.”
“I know you didn’t. Johanna needs our help. The flock is trapped in the cave.”
The pioneers crawled from under their broken wagons and began to put their lives and belongings back together. They were too busy to notice lightning flashes reflect from the shiny Thunderbird feathers as the two giant birds flew across the night sky.
Johanna finished clearing the ledge and started on the cave mouth. She was thrilled to see Marcus and happy for the help. Gabriel pressed his ear to the rocks and heard his family inside working to get out. It took until sunrise to clear the opening. Torin’s arm was broken and he couldn’t fly for a couple months, but the rest of the Thunderbirds were unharmed. There wasn’t time to morn Valdor or welcome Marcus home, a storm was brewing in Oklahoma that needed guidance and that’s what Thunderbirds do. Johanna didn’t fly to Oklahoma with the flock. Johanna tended Gabriel’s bruised shoulder and his bleeding head. Valdor had almost ripped off his ear.
Gabriel’s shoulder felt stiff, but when he changed form, he knew he could fly. He perched on the narrow ledge. “People in Oklahoma need our help. There’s no time to rest. Let’s fly.”
The flock of Thunderbirds took flight and flew north through the scattered clouds in the moonlit night.