Through the night we stayed huddled around Dan who alternated between sobbing and screaming. We kept him as comfortable as possible and tried to keep him from moving around with little success. At one point he tried to sit and ended up moving the pipe protruding from his stomach. He shouted in pain and promptly passed out. Charlie kept watch on the door with a shotgun and the rest of us huddled in the dark listening to the wind and rain pound the diner in anticipation of another tornado.
I must have fallen asleep. When I woke it was a little passed 6 a.m. and still dark. Everything was calm and I was alone in the storm shelter. In fact, I seriously wondered if I passed out drunk and dreamed the whole thing. Then I noticed Dan lying still on the table. He had a blanket over his head and I knew right away I had missed something. I pulled the blanket away and saw his gray face and I knew he must be dead. He wasn’t struggling to breathe or moaning and I realized he was dead.
Dead? This wasn’t happening! I lost chance at finding out about what he’d been up to and most importantly, what was going on with the weather, the air force, and my brother. I hadn’t been too close to the family since I ran off, but still this was a bit much. Family reunions are not supposed to end in a tragic death.
I replaced the blanket and stared at the room. I was as dark and empty as I felt.
“What the hell is going on?” I shouted as I climbed the storm shelter stairs. A somber group watched me emerge from the basement.
“The storm didn’t blow us away,” said Sally. “And the weatherman died.”
Her comment took me aback. No one knew he was my brother. Still, I expected some sympathy.
“I need a cup of coffee.” I motioned for Sally to bring me a mug.
“How do you plan to pay for it?” I smiled and waved her over.
“It’s been a long night and I need it.” Sally stood dangling the coffee pot behind her.
“You didn’t pay for breakfast yesterday and I doubt you can pay for breakfast this morning.” I dug out my wallet and sorted through the receipts, scraps of paper, and picture of my mom. I didn’t find any cash hidden behind her photo. If only Sally knew what kind of a night it had been she might be more willing to help a guy out. However, I didn’t want anyone to know about my connection to the weatherman just yet.
“C’mon Sally. Just give me a cup of coffee.”
“No can do amigo. If you can’t pay, then you can’t play.”
I looked at Charlie to see if he had any cash. He shook his head no. My head was throbbing from a headache and the last thing I needed was the day starting off badly.
“The mayor came in here half-an-hour ago looking for you to do some cleanup down the street,” said Sally. “Maybe he can buy you breakfast.”
It wasn’t the first time I went to work on an empty stomach. “We got some debris in the road?”
“No. The storm made a mess of his store,” she said. “I think he wants you to cleanup the sidewalk before he opens.”
The mess went beyond a bit of garbage on the sidewalk. Charlie and I removed a tree branch from the general store, boarded up the broken picture window, shored up the corner of the store where some bricks were missing, and swept out a mound of mud and rock blocking the door. In all, we worked a couple of hours and the mayor handed us each a $20 bill. “It’s good to have you guys around,” he said.
Carrying enough money to buy us breakfast, we walked back to the diner.
“I wonder if it is all coincidence?”
“A guy shows up screaming and hollering, the army pops in, and then a storm targets the medical clinic,” said Charlie. “Feels like there’s more to it.”
“Maybe. Or, it might just be a series of odd events.”
“I don’t know,” said Charlie.
“One things for sure. There is a dead guy below all those people.” I held the door open for Charlie and we shuffled into the diner.
I pushed aside a farmer and placed the $20 on the counter.
“Hey Sally. Here’s enough for yesterday and today. Now, bring us some coffee.”
(to be continued)
— wordsmithholler (@wordsmithholler) July 11, 2018
© 2018 – 2019, Michael Shawn Sommermeyer. All rights reserved.
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