It never fails. Sally took longer than I thought she needed to pour the coffee. I was mad and irritated. I looked around at the faces in the diner. I was so happy everyone could gather at their usual breakfast spot and act like nothing had happened. They were all assholes.
I held me head. I felt like someone made me suck on an exhaust pipe all night long. And my brother Dan, the weatherman, lay below us dead in the basement. Not that anyone around here seemed to care.
Charlie buttered a biscuit while I tore open three packets of sugar into my coffee. I stirred the black syrup, and I cracked my neck. I let out a long yawn and tried to recover from my malaise.
The farmer next to me tore into his breakfast with his knife and fork like he was ringing a bell.
“Those good eggs?” I asked.
“You know there’s a dead guy below you, right?”
He stopped in mid-bite and slowly brought the fork to his plate. He struggled to see past his boots and the floor.
“No. I didn’t.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. There was no point in going into it. “Any damage out at your farm?”
“No. Not a thing.” He turned to gaze at the broken clinic. “Nothing like here.”
He scrutinized the pile of brick, wood, and plaster where the clinic once stood. Smoke rose from the rubble where I spent last night watching a storm crush the walls, suck out the sheriff, and toss an IV stand into my brother.
As I thought about the events of last night, a stream of four Air Force trucks rolled through and blocked the view.
I motioned to the Charlie. “What are they doing back?”
A patrol of blue airmen jumped off the trucks and marched over to the clinic. The airmen picked up debris and hauled it to a waiting Colonel Cox. A sergeant barked orders while he supervised. Every once in a while the colonel would stop the airmen hauling the debris. A man in a white coat joined him, and they to an interest in pieces of rock and sheet rock covered in frost.
“Come on Jake. Let’s go look.” Charlie said from the open door.
“You go on ahead Charlie. I need to figure out something first.”
A bell chimed as Charlie left the diner, and he ambled over to the crowd watching the soldiers work. A few farmers stayed close to their eggs and couldn’t care about the crowd. I walked over to the storm cellar door and disappeared under the floor.
Sally glanced at me before returning to cleaning the counter. She moved to help a few more customers eating their eggs. I thought to myself another day in tornado alley. Nothing, especially a tornado, could stop the folks of Pretty Prairie from moving on.
Dan lay silent in the basement. I fumbled for a light switch and a fluorescent flickered to a shade of pale green. I inched over to the body and uncovered his face. He resembled a dead version of me.
In the clinic, he told me he was my brother. The nose matched mine, but one thing bothered me. In the clinic, his eyes were brown. When I was a kid, Dan had blue eyes. So I decided to see.
I lifted the lid of the right eye and it stared out into the room. The color of the eyeball was unnatural. Then I solved it. He was wearing contacts!
I wet my finger with my tongue. It didn’t bother Dan that I was sticking my finger in his eye. He didn’t move, and so I was not as careful moving his head.
I held the contact to my face and peered through the lens. There was a faint pattern around the edges. It was too light and I couldn’t be sure what I was seeing. I stuck the contact in.
You know, thinking back, if others were around, I might have paused before sticking a contact lens from a dead guy in my eye. Something like that would not go unnoticed. I revolved around to make sure I was alone. The thought of wearing a dead man’s contact made me squeamish. Still, I needed to know what was going on, and lying there, Dan was in no position to offer any clues.
I blinked a few times to settle the contact in place. It was a hard glass contact lens — not one of those plastic films — and it felt weird. I had to blink a few times to make sure it stayed in place.
I opened my eye wide and focused on the far wall until a diamond pattern in four colors surrounding a center purple dot appeared. I blinked again to secure it in place.
The pattern didn’t go away. I decided the glass contact was a key.
The storm cellar door slammed shut, and I jumped away from Dan. The door swung up as I pulled the contact out of my eye.
“Jake, you better get back up here. Charlie has started a riot.” Sally stood at the top of the stairs looking down into the basement. “Jake, you still down there?”
“I think Charlie can fight for himself. Why would he start a riot?”
“The airmen are trying to take the sheriff away and his family doesn’t want him to go. They say it’s for his own good. But the sheriff is a bloody mess, and it’s disrespectful to be taking a dead man away from his family.”
“Just a sec.” I lifted Dan’s left eye and revealed another brown contact. It had a similar pattern. I lifted it up and cradled it in my left hand. Now I was juggling two contacts in my clinched hands and had nothing to carry them in.
“Jake, it’s getting bad out there.” Sally insisted. I thought how funny it was how everyone needed to jump when she called.
I set both contacts on Dan’s chest and searched for something to keep them safe. All I found was Dan’s wallet, an envelope, and an aspirin bottle buried deep in his pocket. I put both contacts in the bottle, shoved it and the other stuff in my pocket, and ran up the stairs.
I spied a small riot taking place in front of the diner with soldiers on one side, farmers on the other, and Charlie holding them off with a pitchfork. He was standing beside a gurney covered in cloth and a leg sticking out. I assumed it was the body of the sheriff.
I recognized the 4X4 and the football players from last night who were standing by the body like defenders. They were in a crouch and trying to defend the body as airmen closed in.
An older woman comforted a crying girl while trying to hold back a militant third woman who was yelling at Colonel Cox. With no one to stop him, Charlie had set off his last stand. I rushed out the diner and into the street.
“Whoa. Why do we seem to have the beginnings of World War III starting in the streets of Pretty Prairie? I think we need to calm down.” No one heard me.
I never have trouble jumping into a fray and taking charge. As a kid, I was the one on the playground who set all the rules. My dad always told me to appear to be in charge and everyone else will follow your lead.
Except this fight. This time, the colonel believed he was in charge. All I did was give him a new target.
“Well, well, well, if it ain’t the guy who thinks my flag-burning scientist is a long, lost brother. Did you have a swell reunion?”
I could taste the sarcasm and the whole crowd settled down to listen.
The colonel pointed at the destruction of the clinic. “Your brother caused this, and he’s the only one who can put the genie back in the bottle.”
I shook my head from side-to-side. “No, I don’t see how a flash of nature has anything to do with my brother.”
“Oh no? Well, your brother not only created the tornado that tore up your clinic, but he scheduled it so he could escape. Now where is he?”
I scuffed my shoe and glanced back at the diner. Colonel Cox followed my eye.
“The weatherman’s in the diner. Go get him,” Colonel Cox bellowed. The airmen ran towards the diner.
I thought about Dan’s silently lying in the diner and wondered how he went to Afghanistan a soldier and came back a climate-controlling mad man.
Part One – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Two – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Three – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Four – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Five – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Six – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Seven – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Eight – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Nine – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
— wordsmithholler (@wordsmithholler) July 11, 2018
© 2018 – 2019, Michael Shawn Sommermeyer. All rights reserved.
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