"I wish your mother and father hadn't gone into town," Brian said nervously.

Twelve-year-old Denise glanced back at her thirteen-year-old cousin, visiting from England. When Denise's parents left for the fifty-mile trip into Tulsa that morning, the weather had seemed fine; otherwise, Denise knew, her parents would never have gone. She had never been allowed to stay home alone and had begged her mother for the chance to show she could handle it; Mom had finally agreed, "All right, but only because Brian's here. I just feel better knowing that a responsible teenager is with you in case the weather changes."

But now the sky was full of ominous dark clouds, and the radio had been broadcasting tornado-watch information for some time. Denise struggled to hide her own uneasiness. "Don't worry," she told Brian. "Tornado watches happen all the time out here. We're used to it."

Brian shook his head. "I can't imagine such a thing," he said. "We do get a lot of rain, but tornadoes are very rare in England. Your mum and dad WILL come back before the storm, won't they?"

Denise frowned and wondered if he, too, thought her parents shouldn't have left them alone. "I don't know. It's a long way to Tulsa and they had a lot of errands to do." She saw Brian's doubtful expression and added, "But I'll go out and see if their truck is coming."

Denise stepped out the back door and squinted into the sky. The clouds had grown darker than ever; even as she stared at them, a fork of lightning flickered out of one. Automatically, she began to count seconds after the lightning flash. "One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand . . . " She'd reached ten when she heard the thunder; that meant the storm was two miles away - one mile for every five seconds.

The wind had picked up considerably; now it blew Denise's long blonde hair straight back and forced her to squint. Trees swayed back and forth, and the electrical wires whistled. Lightning flickered and thunder cracked, closer now; a few icy raindrops stung Denise's face. The whole sky had begun to turn a strange greenish color, making her uneasy.

She struggled past the house; it was hard to move against the wind and she had to bend over and watch the ground to make any headway. When she looked up again, she froze.

To the southwest, a fat black finger of cloud stretched to the ground, churning up a dust cloud. Shocked into action, Denise whipped around, raced into the house, and cried, "Come on, Brian! There's a tornado coming - we have to get to the storm cellar now!"

"Let's wait for your parents," Brian insisted, hanging back. "They'll know what to do."

Denise lost patience. "And they taught me what to do too," she snapped. "There's no time to wait for them, Brian. We have to hurry!"

"All right," Brian agreed reluctantly. "I do hope you know what you're doing."

When they got outside and Brian caught his first glimpse of the tornado, he stopped, awestruck. "Incredible!" he breathed. Denise could only see his mouth form the word now that the wind was screaming enough to drown out nearly everything else. Then Brian lit up and bellowed, "Where's my camera? I have to get shots of this, or they'll never believe me when I get home!"

"Brian!" Denise screamed. "THERE'S NO TIME!!"

But Brian yanked out of her grasp and ran back into the house; Denise had to follow, afraid that her cousin would just stay there if she didn't make sure he came back to the storm cellar with her. Brian found his camera sitting on the guest room dresser, grabbed it and beamed at her. "This'll be brilliant!"

"Brian, you don't realize how fast these things can move," Denise cried urgently. "If we don't get to the storm cellar now, we could be killed. Let's get out of here!"

This time Brian agreed and was close on her heels as they left the house and fought the wind all the way across the yard to the storm cellar. It took both Denise and Brian to tug open the heavy wooden door. Three steps down, Brian stopped again and lifted his camera. Denise, panicking and furious at her cousin for taking this thing so lightly, came within an inch of pushing him down the steps. Brian got off three or four shots; then the wind increased even more and almost knocked him off his feet.

"Blimey," he blurted, eyes wide. "Maybe you're right, Denise." He hurried down into the cellar, and Denise came behind him. This time the wind helped her blow the door shut, and she fastened it down before seizing the flashlight that sat at the bottom of the stairway, clicking it on and nudging Brian to the back of the cellar.

Here, inside, the roar of the tornado rapidly grew so loud that they couldn't hear themselves talk or even shout. They could only stare at the door and hope it stayed in place. In the glow of the flashlight, Denise saw real terror on Brian's face now. She herself felt sick with fright, wondering what they'd see after the tornado had passed.

At last the roar gradually died away. Denise waited till it was entirely gone before she eased the door open and peered past it. The house had been badly damaged; the back section, containing the kitchen and Dad's den, was completely gone, and the rest of the rooms stood open to the elements. It was like looking into a life-sized dollhouse. The fence was gone and the storm funnel had vacuumed a path of bare earth through the long prairie grass just to the north of the property. But the storm was gone and they were safe.

Before Denise and Brian could react much, there came the rumble of the pickup truck's engine. Denise's mother saw her daughter and nephew standing in front of the open storm cellar and rushed for them. "Thank goodness you're safe! We couldn't get back before the storm hit and we were so worried!"

"It's all right, Aunt Janet," Brian said. His voice shook slightly, as if he were trying to hide his lingering nervousness. "It gave us both quite a fright, but Denise knew exactly what to do. I had no idea - I couldn't handle it."

"So she did," Denise's mother agreed, smiling. "You remembered everything we taught you, Denise. I'm very proud of you." She hugged them both to her and turned to Denise's father, who had just joined them after circling the house to inspect the damage. "Denise proved herself today, Rick. There's no reason for us to worry about leaving her here alone. If she could get herself and Brian through a tornado, she can handle anything."

Denise's face ached from the big grin she wore. There was a lot of work ahead of them, but she was ready to pitch right in. And when Brian got his pictures developed, she decided, she was going to get a copy of the best one and frame it, to remember the day forever.