Wednesday, March 28, 2012
I've been on a sort of mystery/ sci-fi/ supernatural kick lately. I wish that shows like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone could work today, though in a modern context they wouldn't be as good. Still, I love watching the old episodes from the hayday of science fiction writing.
We had a host of terrible storms near my hometown a few weeks ago. I took that idea, ran it through my Rod Serling lens and came up with this. Enjoy!
Aaron Matthew Smith - March 28th 2012
Saul heard the bell to the diner jingle. He turned to see a tall woman in a trench coat and a broad brimmed hat walk in. She shook the rain off of her hat and smoothed her frizzy red hair out before hanging her hat and coat on the hook by the door. Saul started another pot of coffee.
She sat down at the lunch counter. Aside from her and the guy at the end, the diner was empty.
She smiled, detecting the scent of coffee. “Brother, you read my mind.”
“It’s the weather,” Saul said. “When it’s raining like this, people always want coffee.”
A thunderclap shook the windows in their frames, and the redheaded woman sat up a little straighter on her stool.
“How about that storm, huh?” She said, pointing over her shoulder with her thumb. “I was on my way to Amarillo when it just rolled up out of nowhere. Flooded my carburetor. Knew I shouldn’t have borrowed Dad’s Pontiac.”
Saul smiled as he cleaned coffee cups. “You know a thing or two about cars.”
“Dad was a mechanical in the Navy, taught me. I was a machinist in the war.” She said proudly.
“Well look at you,” Saul said, impressed.
“Doris,” the redhead said.
“Saul,” Saul smiled. “Henry,” he said, pointing to the old man stooped at the end of the bar. He was hunched over a cup of coffee, floppy hat pulled low over his eyes. His mustache didn’t move.
Lighting flashed, and another peal of thunder shook the tiny restaurant.
“Get you a sandwich, Doris?” Saul said, nonplussed by the weather.
“No thanks. Got to get to Amarillo by morning. Having your mechanic look at the car right now.”
Saul’s face turned grave as he poured the coffee. “You sure I can’t get you anything to eat?”
“Just the coffee, thanks.”
“If it’s about the money, don’t worry about it. It’s on the house.” When Doris’ brow furrowed suspiciously, Saul added, “It’s just that a pretty girl like you ought not drive on an empty stomach, ya see.” He passed her the mug.
“No, thanks.” Doris said slowly. She sipped her coffee without adding cream or sugar. The wind shifted, the thumping of rain against the windows drowning out every other sound in the café.
When the wind shifted next, Saul leaned across the counter. “Please, stay a little while. Nobody ought to be out in that storm. Please.”
“Now look, what’s the idea?” Doris said, leaning back from the counter. “Whatever you’re selling, I ain’t buying. I said I’ve got to be in Amarillo and I meant it!”
“But this storm…”
“I’ve seen worse,” Doris insisted. “Now Saul, I appreciate you looking out for me, but you ain’t my dad. I can take care of myself.”
“Look ma’am, I meant no disrespect,” Saul said, “But me and Henry, see, we’ve seen some storms come through here. Bad ones. REAL bad ones.” He glanced down the counter at the other man’s still form. “You see…” He hesitated.
“I see what?” Doris said.
“Well, it’s Henry, see.” Saul said. “I don’t know him, and he don’t know me really. But whenever Henry comes into the Diner and sits on that stool…” He shook his head. “Remember that tornado we saw last month?”
“Sure. Killed four people, bless ‘em,” Doris said.
“Henry was here. And earlier in the summer when that bridge washed out during the flood, west of Dallas?”
Doris glanced down the counter. She pointed at the stationary, hatted man. Saul nodded.
“I don’t see Henry often,” Saul was whispering now, though he wasn’t exactly sure why, “But when I do, it’s storming. And the next day… I always find out about someone who got hurt, or a car that overran a flooded bridge, or a truck that hit standing water.”
Doris glanced between Saul and Henry. “Say… what is this? Is this some kind of joke, because it ain’t funny.” Her blue eyes were wide.
“No ma’am,” Saul assured her. He was busy behind the counter now, getting out the bread. “It’s just an awful bad storm. And I make a mean cheese sandwich. How about it? On the house.”
Doris glanced down the bar. Henry took a slow, deliberate sip of his coffee. He didn’t lift his head, didn’t say a word. She took a sip of her own coffee, but it did little to warm the chill that had settled into her stomach.
“You’re nuts,” Doris said finally. She slammed down her cup so hard that coffee sloshed over the side and burned her hand. She yanked her hand away from the cup. “You’re both screwy. What, this is how you have fun? Trying to scare innocent people with car trouble? You’re sick.” She pointed across the counter. “You’re lucky I don’t call the cops.”
“Ma’am, please,” Saul started.
Doris cut him off, her voice rising. “Don’t you ‘ma’am please’ me. I’m going to wait in the garage for my car to get fixed. At least the mechanic wasn’t trying telling ghost stories.” She stood up and strode to the door. She yanked her coat and hat off of the coat hook, sending a spray of water across the already wet floor.
Just as she reached for the door it flew open, wind and rain streaming into the restaurant around the stout form of a man. Doris stepped back as he thrust himself inside and slammed the door behind him. His denim coveralls were soaked through with rainwater, and his silvery hair was plastered all over his head.
“What’re you doing in here?” Doris said. “I thought you were working on my car!”
“I was,” the mechanic said. The nametag on his overalls said ‘Don’. “Until I saw that funnel cloud heading this way.”
Saul’s eyes were as large as silver dollars. “Everyone, come on. We’ve got to get into the freezer. It’s the only room without any windows!” He shepherded Don and Doris past the counter and into the kitchen. At the door, Doris said,
“What about him?” She pointed to Henry, who hadn’t moved from his stool. Hail was beginning to pelt the windows directly behind him.
“He knew this was coming,” Saul said gravely. “I don’t know how, but he did.” Then he turned and guided Doris into the kitchen, where Don waited at the door to the freezer.