Telling Tales 166
Natural and Conversational Distractions
Bulat had to wonder about the storm. He’d heard of tornadoes and he was curious if he was about to see one. His grandfather used to tell stories about the one he had seen as a boy. “If the wind had a body, a tornado is what that body would look like, boy,” he’d said on more than one occasion, his voice rising to the story. “A ribbon, or threads, I don’t know, I don’t sew, now, do I? Anyway, what’s that thing called on a spinning wheel, a spindle? A spindle, yes. A spindle in the process of winding up thread, that’s what a tornado looks like, only that spindle reaches from the ground all the way to the sky and it’s not a straight line. It bends in the same way that a thin, green branch does when you whip it around. The thread, that’s the wind, and in some places on the spindle it’s thicker. Different from a spindle though, it doesn’t stay in one place. It moves around. That air, once it’s got a body, it’s got a mind of its own and it did like to wander. That air-body, now it’s hungry, isn’t it? You’ve got to feed it? Pretty soon it’s eating up everything around it on the ground, pulling it up into itself. Reason tornadoes don’t stick around, leastwise what my own grandfather told me, they don’t know what to eat. They’re made of air so they can’t eat solid food, not that they don’t try. They’ll pull up trees and horses and parts of buildings and people and anything you can put a name to. Sooner or later they’ll starve to death. Until that moment, they’ll eat everything in their path. That’s what happened with the one that I saw, anyway.”
“Ever hear of a tornado?” Bulat asked his fellow guard.
“Tornado. Whirlwind, you know.”
“Not this far inland. We don’t get those in Russia.”
“We do, but not many.”
There are a limited number of ways to pass the time when you’re standing guard. Stories are one and arguing is another. The other guard didn’t have strong feelings one way or the other about whirlwinds, where they were found, or how often, but he recognized an opportunity to avoid boredom for a short spell. “You’re ridiculous.”
The sum of the argument, “There are” and “there are not,” took them the better part of an hour. All the while the wind grew louder and the thunderhead grew closer. “What about Koschey?” asked Bulat at last. “Sometimes he turns into a whirlwind.”
The other guard was not to be deterred. “Whirlwind and a tornado aren’t the same thing.” To the guard’s satisfaction, this set about an entirely new round of arguing.
They were so intent – Bulat trying to point out that if Koschey could be a whirlwind, then whirlwinds were to be found in Russia; and if they were to be found in Russia, then that spiral off in the distance under the giant spinning cloud could be one; and if it was one, then they were in a sight of trouble; while his fellow guard simply took the opposite position of everything that Bulat said for the sake of passing time in as pleasant a manner as possible – that it was a large crowd that had gathered by them before the two men had noticed a thing.