This Commute Blows

Last night, my team left a couple minutes earlier than normal, hoping to beat the “extreme weather” we were getting notifications on our phones about.

So I walked out to my car, and was privy to the beautiful, incredible lightning storm, getting a little wet from the heavy drizzle that was coming down.

No big deal.

I got in my car, and noticed my radio was on the fritz again (it’s been doing this for a while, I need to get it checked out). No bother, at least now I can focus on the intense booming of the thunder above me.

Getting closer to nature and whatnot, that’s cool.

tornado map

So I left my office, and went down to Walzem Rd. Waiting at the light to turn left to get to Point 1 (Walzem and 35 access road), the drizzle continued, the wind slightly picking up. Hmm. I guess having a cigarette on the way home is out of the question. Oh well.

I turn left, get to Point 1, waiting to let the traffic from the left finish their turn at the light, it’s only about 3 cars, they’re all turning left to go under the bridge.

And then, just as I’m about to turn right and head up to Point 2 (the turnaround under 35 to get on 410), the rain kicks it up a notch.

Like, a few notches.

Like, I could not see the road 15 feet in front of me. I tried using my brights, but obviously that doesn’t work (it’s better to use fog lights since they cut ‘under’ the rain and light the road better).

I get off the access road on to the highway to turn around, a turn I have taken maybe a thousand times, during the day, at night, in my car, or on my motorcycle…

…and suddenly, for the first time, I can not see the turnaround’s concrete barrier wall. I could not see the small reflectors built into it, and I didn’t see the wall light up from my headlights like I always do.


Okay, no worries. I’ll just go extra slow and try to gauge my distance… I figure, if I tag it at less than 10 miles per hour, maybe my air bags won’t go off and disable my car, right? Right.

Let’s do this.

Luckily, I feel the slant of the road lean into the turn before I see the wall, and so I naturally follow it, slowly… and I keep driving… slowly… okay, I can see the shadow of highway 35 above me – I must be going in the right direction now…

Sudden silence.


…I’m under the highway. The rain is being blocked from pounding my car. That’s weird, I didn’t even see it before it happened.

I drive super slow under the bridge, figuring I could wait here and let the storm pass by. But then I remember, this particular section of the road tends to flood so quickly that almost every time it rains, cars get flooded at this exact spot.

And so I decide to move along.

And then my phone goes crazy in my pocket. I know it’s not necessarily the best time to be looking at my phone, but it’s screeching at me.

I take the phone out of my pocket, and read the Amber Alert style message:


Well, shit.

And I think back on my “close calls” with tornadoes… in Oklahoma, where one was brewing right above me as I rode around looking for a hotel to crash at, and asking the locals “why is the sky doing that circular cone movement?” and being told “ah, that’s just another tornado” matter of factly.

The New Orleans tornado, just a couple weeks ago, happening just a few miles from us and my friends. Getting to hear the incredible details of the story from a bartender, Rachel Lockett, who happened to be in the middle of the tornado just a few hours before Jasmine and I visited her establishment.

Now, I’m looking at my surroundings, I’m on 410 in the middle of February, and I’m trying to get home in time to catch the re-run of The Walking Dead.

There’s no tornado, that’s stupid. This is Texas.

Tornadoes only hit when I’m out of state.

So I put my phone back in my pocket, and I drive along, going about 20-30 miles per hour, since it is raining so hard that I cannot see the road. I can see the divider off to my left between the highway roads, so I hang out in the middle lane, giving myself room to hydroplane without sliding into the barrier if it so happens.

I turn my hazard lights on. My wipers are at full speed.

They’re doing little good, as it feels like I’m driving through an automated car wash stuck on the soak cycle.

Suddenly, it gets darker.

Darker, that’s an understatement.

Allow me to rephrase.

Suddenly, everything beyond 5 feet in front of my car and all around me ceased to exist, it immediately faded into utter black.

I was concerned the power had gone out, because the light poles on the highway seemed to have gone off.

Looking up, I could see in between the sheets of rain that were falling that, no, those lights were still on.

Except there was so much rain coming down so hard and so fast, that I could not see the light emitting from the poles’ bulbs. The road was actually dark.

I looked ahead, and could not see anything in front of me. I could not see the lane markers in the road directly in front of my car, I could not see the reflectors from the road, I couldn’t see the light of the buildings that I knew existed along the access road to my right…

…my headlights existed only to light the water that was flying horizontally past my car.

At this point, I knew I had to have just passed Perrin Beitel, but I saw no signs of civilization or anything that might have been considered a landmark.

My phone screeched at me again through my pocket, but I could barely hear it – I reached to turn down my radio volume, before instantly realizing that it had never been turned on – I was having trouble hearing my phone because of the torrential rain pounding on my car, and the wind quite literally howling as it blew past my car.

Still, no worries, it’s just a heavy rain. It’ll pass. I’ll be home a bit later, but still in time for the 11:40 rerun of The Walking Dead.

And then the lighting struck brighter than it had all night – the entire sky lit up, the bolt slashing through the air for what felt like miles and miles…

Off to my right, I saw the upper ledge of the highway wall. In the distance I saw a building.

Ahead of me, I saw a bridge about a half mile up, an overpass.

But when I glanced to my left…

…I saw absolutely nothing.

The entire sky was black. The ground was black. I could not see anything contrasting against the pale concrete of the divider to my left.

And it was night, I get it, but this was… ugh, to be cliche, it was “darker than night”. (Cue the *oooOOOoooh* ghost sound.)

Anyway, it was unnerving. Not because I couldn’t see anything, but rather because it felt like there WAS something there – something that the lightning couldn’t be bothered to illuminate.

And that was a weird feeling.

And then another weird feeling came.

My car started shaking, shaking harder than it had from the strong windy gusts earlier had caused it to.

Okay. So that’s happening…

But then, I saw cars ahead of me put their hazards on – one about 30 feet off to my right and a bit ahead of me, and another in my line, about a quarter mile up.

I hadn’t seen these cars earlier – I assumed they were driving with their lights off, because it wouldn’t make sense that they had their lights on and I couldn’t see them. That idea just didn’t compute in my mind at the time.

But this wind, it was intense.

It was loud, it was extremely close, it was having a competition with the noises that the rain was causing on my car.

Leaving the office, I had rolled the visor back on my sunroof so that I could see the lighting above me (I’ve always liked the way the interior of the car lights up when a strike occurs above me).

The rain was tapping against the glass incredibly fast and with no musical rhythm. I remember thinking that it was a little weird, that somehow there would be something akin to the “thousand monkeys and a thousand typewriters” theory with rain – that somehow, it would eventually make the rhythm of a song, something like the intro to Iron Man by Black Sabbath.

The thoughts that go through my head are weird like that.

So the wind, it’s picking up, and for the first moment, I believe that, hey – maybe there really IS a tornado going on.

I look at the rain flying straight across the path of my car, and it’s practically a solid sheet of water. But then I notice something that creeped me out.

It was the pattern of the wind, being shown on the rain, as if it were a wave across the surface of an ocean.

And it was spinning around me.

That was when things got weird.

I looked forward, searching for those hazard lights of the car in front of me. After a moment, I find them, and I focus on them. Not so that I wouldn’t lose sight of them, but rather…

… I was ready to bet all the money I had that this car was going to be lifted into the air.

And if that happened, I had to decide one of two things.

1.) Do I stop and put my car in reverse and try to back away from that tornado as quick as possible?


2.) Do I tighten my seatbelt, grip the wheel tighter, and floor it straight ahead?

Now, in reading the above, you would think that these points are comic relief.

No, I was legitimately considering point 2.

Those that are close to me, know how utterly aware I am of my own mortality. My whole life, I’ve been very… curious, I guess, about how things would end. At 12, I didn’t think I’d become a teenager. At 15, I didn’t think I’d get to 16 (driver’s license). At 18, I didn’t think I’d make it to 21. At 21, I was positive I wouldn’t make it to 25 (discount on car insurance, heyyy…). And then 30 hit, and I’m still wondering what in the world has allowed me to get this far.

Now I’m 31, and I really only hope I don’t die on the toilet. Anything else is fine, and I don’t think I’m really worried about dying or anything, it’s not something that scares me per se.

And I’m not depressed or anything, so please don’t worry about that – I feel like I’m totally fine. It’s just something that’s always on my mind (the end), but it’s not like I’m hoping to careen towards whatever that might be, you know?

So, here we are, potentially in front of a random ass tornado on 410 as I’m on my commute home.

And so you have to understand, that point 2 above is legitimately an option to me. I figure, if I tighten my belt and hold on tight, just brace my legs and keep my breathing steady, maybe this will be the ultimate ride, and I hope that if the tornado sucks my car into the air, that I at least get to do a full rotation through it, or that lightning will hit as I’m in the air, and I’ll get a full on badass aerial view of the Mother Nature Cone Of Death that’s about to end me straight into a wall at 120 mph.

Suddenly, my car begins to get pounded by something harder and heavier than the rain – hail is coming down.

I see what appears to be bigger rain drops falling in front of my car, lit up by the headlights, but then they start tagging my hood and my windshield and my roof and the trunk.

Okay, great. So now I have to hope I don’t get pummeled to death by hail when it shatters my windshield. That would just make things needlessly messy and annoying.

But then, I see headlights lighting up a wall off to my right.

There’s a car in the right side shoulder of the road, parked under the Starcrest overpass. This is point 3 on the map.

I pull off to the far left lane, get into the shoulder, and I keep my hazards and lights on, I keep the car running.

The rain has stopped pounding my roof, but it is still pounding my windshield – the water is flowing through the air straight through the tunnel that we are in – it’s not falling or misting, it’s straight up shooting through the air like a trillion tiny water balloons.

I crack the window open a tiny bit to see if it’s safe to have a cigarette, and immediately my face gets soaked. I roll it back up, grumbling about how much of a pisser that is.

Then, the howling gets louder. The wind is still shaking my car, despite being under this big bridge.

Hmm. I wonder if a tornado could suck my car out from under here.

I bet it can, and it probably will.

Time to take care of my affairs.

I take my phone out, and notice for the first time that I’m shaking.

It was a heavy cocktail mixture of being soaked, cold (I realized just then that my A/C was on, blowing at 60 degrees because when I went to work that afternoon, it was 80 degrees outside), completely jacked full of adrenaline, and from grasping the wheel so tight that the coating of it was starting to peel off and dot my palms.

I called Jasmine, worried she would be asleep and I would wake her up. I hate to call her when I’m potentially, um, not doing well (I had a heart attack scare a while back, and decided against calling her because I figured if I called her while she was at work and she couldn’t answer, and then I died, then she’d forever feel guilty for not taking that call – so I tend to just wait until the situation is in the clear to tell her about these things. She hates it.)

She picks up, and I tell her that there’s a bit of a rain storm going on, and now I’m parked under a bridge with about 15 other cars. She’s worried, but I tell her I love her and I’ll see her real soon.

Then I let her go, because I figure if things get bad, then I’m definitely not gonna be the one to give her nightmares because of my shitty call audio, you know?

Anyway, I get off the line with her, and note that my car is still shaking side to side, and there are more and more cars piling up beneath this bridge, on both sides of the highway.

I look at my phone again, and I call my mum.

I told her I love her, and that I’m sure this is nothing but a crazy rain storm with some badass special effects… but I also admit to her that despite all the close calls I’ve had with tornadoes in my past, this was the one time I’ve ever actually felt I could reach out and touch it.

I end the call telling her I love her again, and then put my phone back in my pocket.

The cars under the bridge all waited for about 10 minutes, and then slowly, one or two would venture out. I believe the rest of us decided to hold back and see if that car would get sucked into the air, but the rain was so heavy we couldn’t see it after 30 yards or so.

Eventually, cars begin honking, and as I’m blocking my lane, I decide to roll out as well. At this point, the wind was not howling any more, though the rain was still coming down heavily – but at least now, the highway was lit up again. The light from the lamp poles was again hitting the ground, and it felt much better to know that if there was indeed a tornado out here, we’d at least see it this time around.

I pulled over to park in the North Star Mall parking garage, and hung out in the first level for about a half hour. I smoked many cigarettes, and went to the fifth floor rooftop to see what I could see from that vantage point.

There wasn’t much to look at, it just looked like any old storm, but in the span of 10 minutes (my cigarette), I counted no less than 15 emergency vehicles rushing around all over the area (most were headed East, towards the direction I had come from).

The sirens of the vehicles continued on the entire time I was there.

A couple other cars showed up, and parked beside mine. The drivers got out, and we all shared our experiences of what had just happened.

One of the drivers had thrown their elderly mother into the passenger seat, and driven all the way to this mall, because they live in East SA, and had no protection or natural barriers against a storm like this – the driver mentioned her previous car had been totaled by the hail storms, and she didn’t want her new car to meet the same fate.

We hung out for a while until the rain let up, and then I got home around 11:55.

I had to wait until 2:15 to catch the re-re-run of The Walking Dead, can you believe that?

Lux in Tenebris : Part 1

“First time I’m late to a meeting in my entire goddamn life,” Connor Gregson muttered as he checked the time on the face of the Rolex Submariner watch on his wrist, “and of course it had to be today.”

Connor leaned over to look in the driver’s rear view mirror, raising his chin as he adjusted his tie for the fifth time since they had come to a halt half an hour ago.

“You can’t just get off the highway? Take the emergency lane, I’ll pay you extra.”, he begged the driver of his black car taxi.

“Sorry sir, I can’t do that. Besides, with the size of the wreck up ahead, there’s more than likely going to be an ambulance blocking that lane further up anyway.”, the driver apologized.

Fuck, this can’t be happening, thought Connor.

His hand dug back into his coat pocket, pulling his phone out.

Still no signal.

I can’t believe this shit.

Connor could barely breathe.

The mixture of exhaust in the air, black smoke pouring out of the overturned frame of the truck to his left, his shirt feeling two sizes too small, soaked in sweat.

Oh god, I’m an idiot, I forgot to loosen my tie, he thought to himself as he ran down the side of the highway.

Even his mental voice sounded out of breath.

Connor slowed to a stop, leaned over to place his suitcase on the asphalt, and loosened his tie. He undid a few of the top buttons on his shirt as well, just in case.

Taking off his suit coat, he looked over at the accident scene beside him.

Looks like there’s at least one casualty, he thought as he noticed the sheet covering a body on the ground. It was a small body.

The firefighters were still using the Jaws of Life to rip apart the passenger door of the car that had been flipped into the median. The policemen divided themselves between guiding traffic through the one shoulder of the road that hadn’t been affected by the wreck, and helping the firefighters hold the car steady as the one firefighter stood on top of the frame.

One of the police officers looked over at Connor as he stood with his arms braced against the car, shoving his sunglasses back up on his nose with his forearm.

“Hey man, move along, you can’t be out here. This is a dangerous area right now.”

Connor picked up his suitcase and threw his coat over his arm, waving at the officer. “Yeah buddy, I’m moving along!”

Connor continued running down the side of the highway, seeing the exit to the access road coming up. He took his phone out of his pocket with his free hand, noticing that there was still no signal. The phone still showed the correct time.

He still had fifteen minutes to get to the office.

Bursting through the doorway of the gas station at the foot of the hill, just off the road, Connor scanned the store quickly, turning his head as if it were on a swivel, searching.

“Phone! Where’s your phone?”, he shouted at the unseen station attendant.

From a back room, he heard a whisper of a curse, and the quiet giggle of a young woman. The sound of boxes falling over camouflaged further curses from the young man who stumbled out of the back room into the hallway leading out to the store, fumbling to button his work shirt back up.

“It’s outside, man, out the door to the left, right next to the dumpster”, the young man answered, flipping his long hair out of his eyes. “It’s out of order though,” he added as Connor turned to walk outside. “Some jerkoff ripped the phone thing off by the cable.”

Fuck!”, rasped Connor. He looked down at the kid’s name tag.

“Alright Timothy, you got a phone in that office I can use real quick? I’ll pay you.”, Connor asked.

“Uh, yeah man, but, like… customers aren’t allowed to use that phone, dude.”

“Come on kid, I’ll pay you twenty bucks right now if you let me use it real quick.”

“No way dude, there’s rules and shit, you know? I can’t be letting every dude that–”

“Timothy,” Connor said, taking a deep breath as he struggled to remain calm, “I’m telling you right now, if you don’t let me use that goddamn phone right now, I’m going to tell your boss,” he said as he looked behind Timothy to the back wall showing a framed photo of an elderly woman in the same red and black colored work shirt the boy wore, taking note of the name on the tiny plaque, “I’m going to tell Bridget that you’re banging random chicks in the storage closet. So are you going to let me use your fucking phone, or not?” Connor said, as he placed his suitcase on the counter, slowly draping his coat over the suitcase.

“Shannon, I need you to do me a favor and stall the board members for about twenty minutes, okay?”

Connor sat in the old office chair in the back room of the gas station, the landline telephone feeling sticky and covered in dirt and scotch tape. He could swear it smelled like a mixture of gasoline and rotten food, but the overflowing trash can beneath the desk obviously had never been emptied, so there was no telling where the smell was originating from.

“There was a wreck on the goddamn highway and I’m calling you from– yeah, yeah I know they’re important, okay? I know how serious this meeting is. I’m calling you from a gas station right now, and I’m going to try to get there via taxi or something– no, my phone doesn’t have any signal, I don’t know what the fuck is going on.”

The light in the office turned off, and Connor raised his arm and waved it in the air, trying to activate the motion sensor that must have sat unattended too long.

“Look, Shannon, just stall them if you can and I’ll be there as quick as I can, okay? Send that cute girl from Accounting in there with some water or something if you have to, alright?”

The office sounded quiet on the other line, the commotion from the other employees milling about on Shannon’s end coming to a quick quiet.

“Hello? Shannon. Shannon, can you hear me?”

Connor pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at it, wiggled the cord connecting it to the phone, and tried again.

“Shannon, are you there?”

Connor found the sudden silence more worrisome than a dial tone.

“Kid! Hey, Timothy! Your phone in here is dead or something, and your fucking light won’t turn back on. I can’t see shit.”

Connor stepped out of the office, stumbling over boxes in the hallway as he tried to navigate his way using the single ray of daylight peeking through the front door of the store down into the hallway.

“Hey, kid! Where the fuck are you?”, he yelled.

As he made his way into the store area of the building, he looked around at the freezer and the drink refrigerators. Looking back at the counter, he noticed out of the front window that Timothy and a girl were sharing a cigarette as they sat on the stack of pallets that were piled in front of one of the store windows.

Must be that girl I heard earlier in the back room with him, he thought.

Connor made his way over to the drink coolers, opened the door, and bent down to grab one of the larger bottles of water from the bottom. The cooler looked much more dirty and grimy without a working light inside.

Looks like all the lights in here are off, actually, Connor slowly noticed.

Connor twisted the cap off the drink, and took a long swallow, feeling the coolness of the water pour through his body. Letting loose a small sigh, he put the cap back on, and raised the cold bottle to his forehead, relishing it’s cold and wet refreshment against the sweat on his face. He leaned down and grabbed another of the bottles from the cooler.

As Connor walked back to the counter, Timothy noticed him walking around inside. He handed the remainder of his cigarette to his female companion, and turned to head inside.

“Hey, sir, you get everything taken care of?”, he asked.

“Almost. Your phone seems to have died, and the light in the office isn’t turning back on – the motion sensor is probably busted. Look, can I borrow your cell phone? I need to get a taxi, I need to get downtown in the next fifteen minutes.”

“Uh, what do you mean?”, the boy asked.

Now that he was inside and speaking to him, Connor noticed the scent of pot on the boy’s breath.

Great, now I’m going to have to explain how a taxi works to this punk kid, he thought.

“Kid, I just need a taxi to get me–“, he started.

“Naw man, I mean… we don’t have a motion sensor in there. That thing works with, like, a switch thing.”

“Oh, great. Well, let me borrow your cell phone, and then you can go change the light bulb, okay?”

“Oh, uh, yeah man, that’s fine, I guess,” Timothy responded, slowly taking the phone out of his pocket and handing it to Connor. “Uh, you got, like, light bulbs with you and stuff?”

Connor ignored Timothy’s question as he tried to unlock the phone’s black screen.

“Hey, kid, how do you unlock this thing? Does it need your fingerprint or something?”

Timothy took his phone from Connor’s outstretched hand. “Naw man, it’s just… hmm. That’s weird, it’s been on the charger since Carleen got here, it shouldn’t be dead already.”

Connor sighed and grabbed his suitcase and coat from the counter, and walked outside.

“Hey, miss, are you Carleen?”, he asked the girl with the braided hair just outside the door.

“Yeah, who the hell are you?”, Carleen snapped back.

“Look, I just need to borrow a phone, and Tim’s is dead. Would that be alright with you?”, Connor asked, hoping the look on his face was more pitiful looking than he thought it was.

“Yeah, I guess. But you run off, Tim’s got a gun behind the counter, so don’t be a dick, aight?” Carleen said.

“Good deal. I’ll be right here.” Connor answered as the young girl took her phone out from her back pocket.

“What the fuck, mine’s dead too?”, Carleen asked herself as she tried to unlock her phone, pressing the power button down as she tried to turn it back on.

“Hold on, let me go put it on the charger real quick…” she said, as she turned to go inside. Just then, Timothy pushed the door open, almost jumping outside.

“Dude, my phone is broken, man. My charger doesn’t work on it, and none of the chargers on the rack work either…”, Timothy exclaimed.

As Timothy and Carleen began bickering back and forth about who’s fault it was that their phones were broken, Connor suddenly realized how quiet it was outside.

Looking around, he noticed the air conditioner unit on the roof was no longer making the squeaking noise it was when he had arrived, nor was the ice machine that sat to the edge of the building making the high-pitched whine it had been.

But what stood out most to Connor was the fact that he could hear voices coming from the access road behind him, and the highway that loomed up above him.

To be able to hear voices from almost five stories up, all the traffic in town must have stopped at the same time, he thought.

There wasn’t any honking, or music playing. No constant roar of engines passing by, or even the squealing of brakes that needed changing.

To Connor, the thing that stood out the most was not even being able to hear the clicking of the street lights on the corner, their glass faces dark.

Connor began walking with a brisk pace over to the street, heading to the car stalled at the crosswalk, it being the first in the line of cars. Getting the driver’s attention with his hand circling in the air, trying to get them to roll down their window, they unclicked their seatbelt and opened the driver’s door.

Just as Connor was about to beg for a ride downtown, the rotund woman stood with her arm holding her door out, the other arm laying on the roof of the car.

“Hey honey, would you mind helping me push my car out of the way, maybe into that gas station over there? It just died on me all of a sudden, and I don’t know a darn thing about cars.”, the woman asked.

“Oh, uh… no, no I’m sorry, I think, I think all the cars out here are broken down right now,” Connor stuttered as he looked around at all the cars that seemed to be frozen in the streets, “It seems everyone on the road is at a standstill right now.”

As the lady turned to knock on the passenger window of the car beside hers, Connor turned to walk back to the gas station, taking another drink from his water bottle as he looked behind him, up and down the street.

What the hell is going on today?, he wondered.

There was a large man at the gas station, a burly man with a brown hunter’s vest and a red plaid shirt, his sleeves rolled up on his forearms. His dirty jeans looked as if he had been climbing around in a mechanic’s shop all day, his boots dusty but in good shape.

“C’mon kid, what do you mean your machine isn’t working? I just need five bucks of gas on pump three, what the hell’s the matter?”, the big man asked with a surprisingly gentle voice.

Timothy looked up at the big man sheepishly, almost nervous to say his piece again to the intimidating man.

Connor stood just in the doorway of the store, looked at the red gasoline canister in the large man’s hand, and back at the kid. The kid was repeating to the man about how nothing seemed to be working around here, that he couldn’t even call his manager to come fix it. Connor looked out the window, noticing the many people standing around in between the cars, talking to one another, asking what could have happened.

Connor reached up and placed his hand on the man’s large arm, saying quietly, “Sir, I don’t think your vehicle is out of gas. Look around, all the other cars… there’s no way they could all be out of gas at the same time, right?”

The big man turned to look Connor in the eye, looked down at his hand on his arm, and then back out at the window.

“Well I’ll be damned, I didn’t even realize everybody was stopped. I thought my truck had died and I was the one holding everybody up…”, the man said quietly, more to himself than to Connor, as he continued looking out of the window.

“What in hell do you think coulda done that?”, he asked in a southern drawl.

Connor, Timothy, Carleen and the big man – he had introduced himself to the rest as Hobby – all stood by the front counter, talking amongst themselves as to what could have happened.

Connor had given up on trying to flag a taxi down, seeing as there must have been a good half dozen yellow cabs within a block’s radius, all stopped and stalled. Getting downtown on foot would take the better part of a day and a half, maybe more if the whole town had been affected by this mass vehicular breakdown.

Carleen sat with her legs crossed, her back up against the store window, as she listened to the men talk about their theories.

Timothy continued to simply stare at the flame of his lighter, holding a cigarette – a real cigarette this time, Connor noted – between his fingers and flying it through the flame in slow motion.

Connor and Hobby continued their discussion.

“Yep, I was just heading downtown to go pick up my son.”, Hobby explained. “It’s my weekend to have him, and we were gonna go hunting for his first time. I been taking him down to his grandad’s land to sight in the rifle I got him for his birthday last June, and we were gonna go down this time and pack up a few deer, since the buck-to-doe ratio is all screwed up this time of year, y’know?”, Hobby said, taking a moment to spit some of his chaw juice out.

“But there I was, getting off the 10 and trying to get down here to get some gas, and while sitting there with that light turned red, my damn truck died.” Hobby said as he scratched his bearded chin. “Come to think of it, though, I don’t quite remember any of them lights working or not in the first place…”

Connor rolled up the sleeves of his pale blue oxford shirt until they met his elbows, and took another swig of water from the second bottle he had taken from the cooler. The sun was starting to lower, and it was finally cooling off a bit.

“So, Connor, right? You say there ain’t a damn phone around here that works, is that so?”, Hobby asked.

Connor replied, “Yeah, it seems the office phone and the kids’ phones are all dead. My phone wasn’t getting a signal for a bit, and when I looked again, it had died too. I think the power may have gone out in this building too. I don’t know if there’s a backup generator or anything out here–”

“There ain’t.”, piped up Timothy, not looking away from the cigarette in his fingers, the whole thing nearly black from the flame of the lighter.

“Yeah, so, I don’t know what we’re gonna do in the meantime. I figure someone’ll have to come by and…”, Connor let his sentence drift, as his eyes drifted back to the line of cars.

There were a lot of people still sitting in or on their vehicles, some standing by them, others sitting on the ground with their backs to the vehicles.

There must be a couple hundred people out here, Connor thought. And they’re going to need food and water soon.

Connor turned back to the gas station, turning his head to look up and down the street.

“Hey, Timothy. Hey kid, do you know if there’s any other gas stations, or convenience stores in this neighborhood?”, he asked.

Timothy let go of the fuel trigger on his lighter, and looked up at Connor with a confused expression.

“Other gas stations?”

“Yeah kid, are there any other stores like this around here?”, Connor asked, beginning to lose his patience.

“Uh, no, I don’t think so, not any that, like, I can remember. Why?” Timothy slowly asked.

Connor looked back at the line of cars and the masses of people, noticing a few walking down the access road from the bridge of the highway, and a few others walking over to the gas station from the street, about fifty yards out.

“Hey guys, let’s get inside real quick, okay?”, Connor suggested.

“Timothy, listen to me, kid,” Connor said.

“There’s a few hundred people out there right now all sitting in their cars and they’ve been there for a while. There doesn’t seem to be anybody coming this way for the foreseeable future to do anything about this mess, and for all we know, maybe the whole city is at a standstill like this.”, Connor added, looking out the window at the people walking around the cars. He found himself focusing more on the few that were headed towards the gas station.

“Those people are probably all very hot, and they’re going to be thirsty, and obviously some are gonna need to use the bathroom. Once everyone out there sees a few of them walking this way, seeing as this is the only gas station around, the rest of them are going to follow, and things have the potential to get messy very quickly if we don’t stay on top of this, okay?”

Carleen was walking up and down the aisles of the store, looking through the various bags of chips and snacks, finally settling on a bag of cheese-powdered fries. She made her way to the counter, and flashed the bag at Timothy as he nodded his head at her and winked.

“Timothy, listen to me, man. Those people probably don’t all have cash on them, so you’ll probably want to make a big sign that says you’re only taking cash right now, alright? And, uh, Hobby, if you wouldn’t mind hanging out with the kid behind the counter? You might be useful in keeping people on the level if they come in here with an attitude.”

“That’s no problem, mister. I’ve got a bit of door-man experience from the bar back home, it’ll probably be the same thing as that. Are you planning on rationing out water and stuff for those people?”, Hobby asked.

Connor nodded as he replied. “Yeah, there’s nowhere near enough food or drink in here for all the people out there, and without a GPS or anything, it’s going to be a pain in the ass figuring out where the next nearest store is. So let’s just try to help these people out and keep everyone calm the best we can.”

Connor looked over at Timothy, who seemed to actually be paying attention to what was being said. Timothy made eye contact with Connor, and upon catching his eye, he picked up off the counter a sign he had worked on.

POWER OUT – CASH ONLY was written on the cardboard sign.

“Good job kid, now go ahead and put that on the front door. Hobby, would you mind helping me move the drinks from the cooler racks over to the ice chest outside? Might as well use that ice to keep things cool before it all melts.”

Hobby nodded and walked to the back of the store, grabbing an ice chest off the shelf. As he began to move drinks from the cooler racks to the ice chest, the front door opened, just as Timothy was walking back to the counter.

A man popped his head inside, holding the door open with one arm.

“Hey guys – any of ya’ll have a phone I can borrow for a moment?”

As the day went on, dozens of people had made their way to the gas station, most of them looking for a phone to use, or to buy some water and light snacks. Everyone used the bathroom while there.

While most had actually left shortly after learning that the phone was out of order, a handful had stayed behind. There was a group of people standing in a circle to the side of the building, some smoking cigarettes, others talking about what they were doing when everyone’s vehicles suddenly ceased to work.

Some of the children were sitting on the curb of the small sidewalk in front of the store, occasionally walking over to the ice chest and placing their cheeks on the metal doors, enjoying the cool surface against their warm skin.

Connor came back outside with a makeshift tray – one of the flatter drawers from the office desk in the back room – with a few plastic cups of water he had filled from the water fountain inside. He had been surprised to find it still working, but chose not to bother jinxing himself with wondering why it hadn’t been affected by the power outage just yet.

As he walked among the group of people, handing out water to those who seemed on the verge of passing out from the heat, he listened to their conversation.

One young man in a camouflaged military uniform was talking to the group at the moment.

“…and I’m just thinking, it could’ve been what you said – you said your name was Nick, right sir? – it could’ve been what Nick said earlier, an EMP blast.”

Another member of the group spoke up, a lady with a baseball cap on.

“But we didn’t hear no blast at all, everything was normal except for being stuck in traffic – I sure as heck didn’t see no explosion or nothing.”, she said.

The young man in the uniform turned to her.

“Well ma’am, that’s just it – an EMP blast is an electromagnetic pulse blast, it’s not quite the same as a missile blowing up. It’s more like an electronic bomb that, when it goes off, instead of blowing up buildings and roads, it short-circuits electrical items. That might be why nobody’s phones are working, and why all the power seems to be out.”

The ballcap woman spoke up again.

“But what about my car? It runs on gasoline, don’t it?”

The soldier responded, “Well, yes ma’am, but most cars for the last fifty years or so have all got computers inside them. The computer in a car is like the brain, it controls how the vehicle handles fuel, changes gears, even just letting the car turn on. If that computer is fried, which I’m pretty sure all of these are, then the car is just a big paperweight, ma’am.”

The lady furrowed her brow and turned away, taking a sip of water from the plastic cup in her hand.

“Hell, I don’t even know if my insurance covers electromagnetic PMPs…”, she mumbled as she walked away.

Connor watched her walk away, and turned back to the young soldier.

“Hey son, you sound like you have an idea of what’s going on out here, yeah?”

The soldier turned to face Connor, taking off his hat to wipe his forehead.

“Well, no sir, I’m not sure exactly what could’ve caused all this,” he said, placing his hat back on as he turned to face the highway, “but whatever it is, it had to have been something pretty damn big to hit this whole city.”

“Have you received word from the city?”, Connor asked with hope in his voice.

“Who, me? Oh, no sir, I just… I mean, listen for a second, will you? You can’t hear anything from downtown, you see? I mean, hell, I haven’t even seen any birds flying by since earlier this morning – and even commercial airliners, I don’t even remember the last time I saw one today.”, the soldier said.

Connor looked at a few grackles sitting on a fence post, squawking to each other.

Birds. He means jets. He’s probably Air Force, stationed at the base on the south side of town, Connor realized.

Looking at the young soldier’s stripe pattern on his sleeve, and reading his name patch, Connor asked the soldier another question.

“Tech Sergeant Mosco, is it? Were you sent here for any reason, or…”

“Oh, no sir. I was actually caught in traffic right down there, too.” Mosco answered, nodding his head down towards the access road. “I was just coming back from seeing my girl down in Wimberley while on leave, we’re having a baby next month…” his voice drifted off, a smile on his face.

“Anyway, I saw these people walking up to this station, and I decided to join them since my phone and car were both dead, and it seems like we’ve all got a bigger problem on our hands now than any of us realized.”, Mosco continued, the smile gone from his face.

Connor picked up the conversation, asking “Well, Sergeant Mosco–”

“It’s alright sir, you can call me Brady.”

“Alright, Brady, nice to meet you, son. I’m Connor Gregson.”, he said, as he shook the young man’s hand. “I was just talking to the kid that works in this store, his name is Timothy. Now, he seems like a good kid, but I’ve been thinking…” Connor lowered his voice, looking around at the group of people around them, all focusing on their own conversations.

“Actually, come here for a moment, if you don’t mind…”, Connor whispered. The two men walked closer to the outside wall of the store, Mosco looking at Connor with a raised eyebrow.

“What’s on your mind, sir?”

“Call me Connor, that sir shit will get old pretty quick.”, Connor said with a chuckle.

“Sorry sir, just…”

Connor looked over at the young man in the military uniform.

“Ah, yeah. Military, almost forgot for a second.”, Connor said with a wink.

Connor continued, “So I’m looking at all these people on the highway and the streets, and I’m starting to wonder what they’re going to do if, I don’t know, help, or the police, or whatever, don’t show up soon… We’re over here at the only gas station for who knows how far, and there’s not a damn place around here within walking distance that likely has a working phone.”

Brady added, “And my radio isn’t working either. So it isn’t just the cars and cell towers, but it really does seem to be all electronics. Which means that more than likely, even the police stations and the base on the other side of town are affected just as badly.”

Connor nodded. “Exactly. And once everyone starts to realize that there isn’t any way to contact anyone for help, or for anything, there’s going to be a wave of panic that’ll start to wash over everyone.”

Brady placed one hand on his waist, taking his hat off with the other and wiping his brow on his sleeve as he looked out at the lines of vehicles, squinting against the sunlight as he watched the bobbing heads of people walking back and forth between the vehicles.

“Yes sir, I think you might be right. I really don’t know what’ll happen once someone out there decides they want to try and control the situation to their advantage. You ever seen Mad Max?”

The two men laughed a bit, though it came to a quick close as they realized that the fictional Hollywood chaos may not be too far from reality.

Connor took another look at his watch, hesitant to say how much time was left before the sun were to set.

“Brady, I think we’re gonna need to get ourselves sorted for this thing before night falls. Once these people realize how dark this area can get without a streetlight on every corner, they’re bound to show a little bit of panic.”

“I agree.” Brady said. “Um, sir?”

“What’s up?”, Connor asked as he stopped to turn around.

“How is your watch still working?”

Connor brought his bent arm up, showing the Tech Sergeant his watch.

“It’s a Rolex, son. They’ve never used batteries in their watches.”

Brady looked at the watch with wide eyes.

“Wow… dang, sir, I’ve never seen a real Rolex before.”

Connor chuckled. “Don’t be too impressed, Brady. Even with this damn thing, I was still late to my meeting today.”, he said with a wink.

A long line of people had formed in front of the gas station, leading in through the front doors. A large crowd of others waiting to get in line huddled around the gas pumps.

The full moon provided enough light to see decently in the dark night, though a small group of people had broken down one of the pallets from in front of the store window, and created a small campfire a safe distance away from the gas pumps.

Those huddled around the fire sat discussing their ideas and concerns about the sudden event earlier that day, while others in the group under the raised roof of the gas pump area had settled on playing rock-paper-scissors to determine who joined the line next.

Connor stood inside the store with arms crossed, looking out the front window at the group of people, occasionally leaning over to peek over at the campfire spot.

Timothy had surprised him by making an executive decision to stop charging everyone for the food and drinks. He had told Connor that his boss, Bridget, was a good woman and would have been okay with the decision, considering how many people – especially children – had been affected.

In the later hours of the evening, people had come from out of the surrounding neighborhoods to see if they could find more information on what had occurred that day. Many stopped by the station to purchase goods, but as most were without cash, they ended up going back home. A few had decided to stick around, feeling they would be safer in a group.

A fight had broken out just as the sun was setting. An elderly man attempted to take a gallon of water from a woman pushing a stroller with a baby only a few months old in it. Timothy had initially suggested storing all the gallon jugs in back, and had brought it out when he saw she had a baby.

A few others standing in line had stood up for the woman, telling the man to relax and not be so selfish, there was a baby involved. When the old man kicked at the stroller holding the child, the men arguing with him snapped and began attacking him.

Hobby had stepped in, towering over everyone, and seemingly plucked the men off of the old man like pulling apples from a tree branch.

“Sir, we’re going to need to ask you to leave. We don’t have room for people that aren’t gonna be civilized out here.”, he had said.

The old man grumbled, kicking at the dirt as he walked away toward the highway, rubbing his shoulder from where he’d landed after being tackled to the ground.

Connor looked over at Hobby now, seeing him sitting on the sidewalk in front of the store, laughing as he joked and played with the children running around him.

The guy is the epitome of a gentle giant, Connor thought to himself, remembering how intimidating Hobby had appeared when he was asking Timothy for gas earlier that day.

Connor turned to look at the few people still in line within the store, everyone dimly lit by the candles that had been taken off the shelf and dusted off for their new purpose in life. The drawing of the Virgin Mary on the outside of the glass jar housing the candle lit beside Connor caught his eye.

Good to see these Jesus candles getting some use in dark times, Connor thought, chuckling at his own pun.

Over at the counter, Timothy was handing out single bottles of water and soda out to the people one at a time, along with a bag of chips or a candy bar. Carleen had stepped up as well, bringing boxes from the back room to refill those beside Timothy as he pulled the makeshift rations to hand out.

The other half of the front door swung in gently, as Hobby walked into the store, taking a look around before he walked over to Connor.

“The kid’s doing a pretty dang good job, the way he’s organizing all this for everyone.”, Hobby whispered to Connor.

Connor nodded, “Yeah, surprising to see how much a kid can grow when you put him in charge of something, sometimes. Even his little girlfriend is doing a good job. I don’t even think she works here,” he added with a quiet chuckle.

“Hey, you never know, maybe he’s just doing all that so he can make a good impression on the gal.”, Hobby responded with a wink.

“You got any kids, Connor?”

Connor uncrossed his arms, reaching up to scratch the stubble on his cheek.

“I do. A daughter. She’s… god, I think she’s probably twenty… four, now? I haven’t seen her in a long time. Her mother passed away after our divorce a few years ago, and she moved into a house with a few of her friends, last I heard. That was… damn, that was last year already.”, Connor said quietly. He looked up at Hobby, who had a sad smile on his face.

“I mean, it’s not like we don’t talk, we do… I called her this past Christmas, but she sent me a text saying kids don’t talk on the phone anymore, texts are easier.”, Connor chuckled. “Sometimes I wonder what it would’ve been like if I hadn’t–”

Connor was interrupted by the shattering of the window in front of him, the sound of the gunshots echoing in the night air, drowned out by the screams of the people in line.


Fingers Meat Mouth

Author Note: This story contains graphic content.

“Don’t fall asleep, Sarah!”, Brenda yelled.

She pressed her hands down harder against the bloody shirt as she kneeled on the ground beside Sarah.

“Sarah! Talk to me honey, say something!” she yelled louder.

Brenda looked up from Sarah’s face as it continued to grow more pale. Her eyes scanned the interior of the fast food restaurant Sarah’s body lay in the center of.

Lifting one arm up, she reached to the tabletop next to her, grabbing the napkin dispenser off of it. The blood on her hands caused her grip to slip, a loud hollow bang sounding as the empty container hit the ground next to her.

“Shit.”, she muttered, as she looked back to Sarah, whose eyes were fluttering closed.

“Sarah, keep your eyes open honey!”, she continued to yell, shaking Sarah’s body as she pressed down with both hands again.

“Unnngh… what the… hell…”, Sarah groaned as her eyes fluttered open. She looked up at Brenda, a confused look on her face, her brow furrowing.

“Wh-what happened, B?”, she whispered.

Brenda let out a sigh of relief.

“Oh god, oh thank god, you’re awake. Sarah, honey, you just got shot, but you’re gonna be okay baby girl, just hang on, Bobby is getting help right now. Just stay calm–”

“What the fuck, I’m shot? What the fuck B?”, Sarah exclaimed, her eyes shooting wide open as she lifted her head to see Brenda’s hands pressing down on her stomach.

“It’s okay, it’s gonna be alright, you’re gonna be fine Sarah, just lay still, try and keep calm, for fuck’s sake”, Brenda whimpered. She looked up again, searching the restaurant again for something to help stop the bleeding, looking for anyone that might be able to help.

“Wh-where is Bobby, where’s Bobby, wh-where is Bobby?”, Sarah’s voice hoarse, breaking as she began to panic. The pace of her breathing began to intensify, beads of sweat shining on her forehead.

“He’s coming right back, it’s going to be okay baby, we’re going to get you out of here, I promise. Calm down baby girl, just stay with me for a little longer, okay, can you do that for me baby?”, Brenda asked, forcing a smile as she begged her friend.

“Motherfuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK!” Bobby yelled as he ran to the back of the building, already feeling winded. He dug in his pocket for the keys to his car with one hand, the other trying to press the buttons on his phone, the presses not registering, the screen smeared with blood.

“Fuck, I cannot fucking… believe this… oh my god…”The car alarm chirped as he disarmed the system with the key fob on his key ring. Bobby’s hand slipped from the handle of the car door, his hand still slick with blood. Trying again, he jerked the door open and threw his body behind the wheel, trying to find the ignition keyhole with the key as he looked at his phone.

Seeing the screen, he wiped the phone off on his pant leg, reaching awkwardly around the steering column as he blindly fought to get his key in the ignition. He wasn’t familiar with this the cheap phone’s screen layout, cursing as he fought to navigate the dialpad.

The car roared to life just as he hit the send button on the screen. Putting the phone to his ear, he slammed the car door shut, and reached across his body to put the car into gear. The line began to ring.

“Operator.”, said a calm female voice in a mute tone.

“My friend’s been shot!”, Bobby shouted into the phone as his foot pressed down on the gas pedal.

Stephen Belowski had been working at Fingers Meat Mouth for four years.

Working at the fast food joint was a terrible step down in the eye of his ego, after having been fired from his former bank daytime manager position for an interoffice affair with the loan accountant, but he was just happy to have a shift manager position again after two years of unemployment.

“It’s all going to be worth it”, he told himself as he got ready in the mirror every morning.

In just one more year, he would be approved to open his own Fingers Meat Mouth franchise. He had painstakingly saved up every dollar he could over the last four years, and his best friend Chad was willing to loan him the remaining five thousand dollars.

Stephen had taken great pride in his role after being in the position for six months. He knew every employee’s name, and had always made sure to learn something personal of each one, so that he wouldn’t have to be just another fake smiling corporate face – every day, he would ask his employees how their favorite subject in school was going, or how their families were.

He knew this restaurant inside and out, as he always made a point to never ask something of his employees that he hadn’t already learned how to do himself.

Now, Stephen Belowski sat on the ground with his back to the counter, his arms wrapped around his knees, beads of sweat rolling down his head from high up on his bald head ringed with hair.

His glasses were steaming up, and his tie felt much too tight.

He tried to control his breathing, as he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.

Stephen looked up at the CCTV monitor on the wall near the menu, it’s screen divided into four squares, each showing different camera angles from in and around the building. He saw the girl who had started screaming as her friend was shot beside her in the bottom left corner screen, doing what appeared to be CPR on the girl laying on the ground.

The upper right corner of the monitor showed a dark colored car – he couldn’t tell the color as the CCTV only displayed in black and white – quickly pulling out of a spot by the garbage compactor behind the building.

Stephen lowered his gaze from the monitor to the ground beside him.

Billy Johnson’s lifeless eyes stared up at the ceiling, his mouth hanging open at an unnatural angle. The blood pool around his body had seemed to stop growing, and it made it seem like Billy was floating on the surface of a black pond. The two dark holes in his blue polo shirt only had small rings of blood around them.

Stephen thought it looked strange to have such small holes and such little blood on the front of Billy’s shirt, when there was so much blood on the ground.

He looked at the small revolver laying beside Billy’s hand, it’s silver metal shining a bright contrast against it’s dark liquid backdrop. Billy had taken it out of the holster he carried on his ankle when the robber had turned to look at the patrons of the restaurant.

Billy had done it so quickly that Stephen never had the opportunity to tell him otherwise, to just stay calm, that it would all be over in a moment.

Stephen grimaced with a mixture of horror and sorrow.

He looked down to his right foot, and saw the pool of crimson almost touching the non-slip rubber sole of his shoes, and slowly pulled his leg closer to his chest, wiping away a tear rolling down his face.

“B, it’s g-getting fu-fucking cold in here,” whimpered Sarah, “Can you turn the heater up?”

“Yeah baby girl, it’s turned up, it’ll get warmer in just a minute, okay? Can you do me a favor and sing me a song, your favorite song?”, Brenda asked, her hands growing numb from the pressure she was applying.

“B-b-bitch, y-you know I can’t fu-fucking s-s-sing”, Sarah’s teeth chattered as she snapped at Brenda, almost laughing, until she grimaced in pain.

“I know baby girl, I know, just keep talking to me, okay? Bobby will be back here in a–” Brenda was cut off as the front door to the restaurant slammed open, Bobby almost falling into the room.

Bobby caught his balance, and looked around the restaurant, his outstretched arm holding the black pistol as it sweeped the room.

“B, come on girl, let’s get her up.” Bobby hissed, not making eye contact with either of the girls.

“Bobby, she got shot in the stomach, I don’t think we’re supposed to move her,” Brenda whispered loudly, looking up at Bobby. Her body felt so tired from kneeling in the position as she continued to press down.

“Well shit, it’s either get her the fuck out of here right fucking now, or she’s gonna bleed out waiting for the fucking cops to get here!”, Bobby yelled as he ran around the perimeter of the restaurant, looking out of the windows, expecting lights to start flashing at any moment.

Brenda looked back to Sarah, her eyelids barely hanging open.

“Hey honey, hey, listen to me. We’re going to get you out of here right now, okay? It’s gonna hurt like a motherfucker, but I promise you we’re going to get you taken care of right now, alright?”

Sarah’s eyelids softly fluttered open.

“Y-y-yeah b-bitch, I’m ready whenever y-you are.”, she said quietly as she gave a small smirk.

Brenda looked up to Bobby, holding his gun pointed down as he leaned out towards the window by the front door.

“Bobby, help me get her to the car,” she pleaded.

Bobby ran over to Sarah’s body, knelt down and slid his arm under her shoulders.

“Okay B, get her legs, put your arms under her knees, yeah, like that. Okay, on three, ready?”, Bobby instructed, sliding the pistol in his hand into his jeans near the small of his back.

Stephen Belowski stared at the monitor above him, seeing the young man who had come into his restaurant and demanded everyone’s money and wallets. The black duffel bags the girls had carried with them laid on the ground beside the wounded girl’s body, wallets and personal items sliding out to the floor. The CPR girl shoved the items back into one, picking it up as she grabbed her friends legs and lifted.

Stephen glanced over at Billy’s revolver, and reached out to grab it, his eyes glued to the monitor.

“Eighteen years at a bank,” he whispered to himself, “and not one fucking robbery.”

He clicked open the revolver’s cylinder, checked the rounds, and quietly closed it. Looking over at Billy, he reached over and gently ran his hand down his lifeless face, shutting his eyelids.

“I’m sorry, kid.”, he whispered as he placed his other hand down to brace himself as he got up to one knee.

Stephen stood.

King Nathaniel and the Apple

“But we don’t wanna go to sleep, Princess Pam is about to start!”

“Come on daddy, it’s no fair the other kids get to talk about it all day at school and we never even get to watch it not even once!”

Nathan stood in the doorway of the living room, looking at his daughters sitting on the couch, as they swung their feet back and forth.

“Girls, come on, it’s already past your bedtime, and you have school tomorrow. Look, I promise we’ll go get ice cream after I get home after work tomorrow.”

“But we don’t want ice cream, we need to know what happens to Princess Pam’s pet lulupop!”

Nathan crossed his arms, as he asked his older daughter Michelle, “What in the… baby, what is a lulupop?”

Tabitha crossed her arms over her face as she threw her body back on to the brown couch with a loud sigh of exasperation.

“A lulupop is a pappybon from Princess Pam’s planet, everybody knows that, daddy!”, explained Michelle. She looked down as she pointed to the cartoon image of a creature that resembled a furry starfish on her pajama shirt.

“Oh.”, conceded Nathan. “Okay, well you’re going to have to wait to see what happens to Princess Pam’s lulubon–”


“-sorry, the lulupop mystery will have to wait until tomorrow, honey. Look, how about if you girls get into bed right now, I’ll tell you a bedtime story, like we used to? You girls used to love that.”

Tabitha removed her arms from her face and tapped her cheek with a tiny finger.

“Daddy, we’re big girls now, we don’t listen to bedtime stories. That’s for little babies.”

Nathan fought to hide his smile, as he looked down at his beautiful baby girls.

“You’re right, honey. You’re practically a full grown woman already, but you’re still MY baby girl.”, Nathan said. He uncrossed his arms and leaned over, slowly tip-toeing to the couch.

“But if you don’t get into bed right now, the big daddy monster just… might… EAT YOU!” he growled, with his arms by his chest, his hands curled into makeshift claws.

Both girls screamed and ran down the hallway past Nathan, giggling as they bounded to their room.

As Nathan tucked the girls into their bed, Michelle looked up at him.

“What kind of story are you going to tell us, daddy?”, asked Michelle.

“Is it a fairy tale? I hope it isn’t a fairy tale, those are for babies, remember?”, whined Tabitha.

Nathan chuckled, reaching both arms out to the bed, squeezing the petite feet wiggling under the white blanket. His girls sure had their mother’s attitude and energy.

“Well, I was thinking about that, but… maybe I can tell you an adventure story. Something that is way more fun and exciting than… the lu-lu-pop”, he enunciated slowly, raising his eyebrows as he looked at Tabitha.

Her big grin, showing her tiny teeth and the small gap where her tooth had fallen out just a few days ago, was confirmation enough for him. She unwrapped one hand from her stained yellow teddy bear with it’s missing eye, and stuck her arm out at Nathan, a thumb sticking up from her tiny fist.

Nathan matched her seal of approval with his own thumbs up, winking at his daughter.

“Okay, well… here we go.”

Nathan cleared his throat, leaned forward, and began his story.

“There once was a brave young man, a very handsome man–”

“Was he a prince?”

“No baby, he was just a handsome young man, we’ll call him, Nathaniel. Hold on, don’t spoil the story, just listen to it for a little bit… So there was the handsome young man, laying in his chamber upon his great big bed. It was the softest bed in the whole kingdom.

But then, one morning, a tremendous noise awoke him. It sounded like the howl of a thousand wolves, as if they were all sitting within his chamber!

He opened his eyes, and blindly swung his fists around through the air, searching for the treacherous sound. Suddenly, he found the source of the howling – a tiny black box, glowing like embers with magical symbols on it–”

“What’s an amber daddy?”

“He said ember, stupid. It’s a piece of firewood.”

Daddy! Michelle called me stupid!”

“Michelle, don’t call your sister stupid. Tabby, yes, an ember is a piece of firewood, it glows when it’s hot.”

“Was the black box hot?”

“No, baby, it– just, hold on a moment, let me continue the story, okay?”


“Thank you baby. So, the handsome man, Nathaniel, he found the magic box glowing in the dark room, with the sound of a thousand wolves howling at him. He picked the box up, and he hit it with his very strong hand, and suddenly the sound stopped! Nathaniel looked around his dark room, and back at his bed. It was the best, most comfortable bed in the whole world, did I say that already? And then he looked across the giant bed, and saw his beautiful wife laying sound asleep in their giant bed. She could sleep through a tornado–”

“No daddy, no tornadoes!”

“Oh, sorry baby. I meant, she could sleep through a whole carriage ride. So, Nathaniel sat back down at the edge of the bed to go back to bed, but then he remembered, he had an adventure he had to get to!

So he stood up, and walked over to the hall of his castle. He saw a door that was cracked open, and slowly crept up to it. As he grabbed the handle, he slowly pushed the door open, peeking in without a sound. He made sure the princesses were sound asleep, surrounded by all the most beautiful dolls and dresses money could buy, and closed the door quietly–”

“You said he wasn’t a prince though!”

“Oh, no, he’s… Nathaniel is the king, Michelle. There isn’t a prince in this story, just a king and his queen and his princesses.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Okay, so the king, he walked back down the hall, and then he opened another door. In this room, the light was so bright, the king could barely see! He closed the door behind him, and all was quiet throughout the house. It was a magic door where all the noise inside the room never escaped to wake anyone else up in the castle.

A few minutes later, the king emerged from the room with the bright light, with the smoke from the water dragon he had just defeated billowing out around him. King Nathaniel looked more dashing than ever, as he walked through the house looking for his servants. Unable to find one at that moment, he decided he was hungry, and went to his chicken coop and gathered eggs. Then he walked over to the pig hut, and asked the pigs for some bacon, which they were very kind in providing. Then he walked over to his cow, Bessy–”

Nathan smiled as the girls giggled at the name Bessy.

“Bessy was a big, big blue cow, and she made the best chocolate milk in the whole kingdom. The King had so much food now, and he put it all on the very long table in the enormous dining hall of their big, beautiful castle. After he ate his share, he put the rest of the food in the refrigerator–”

“Did he have a big refrigerator too, daddy?”

“Oh, honey, it was such a big refrigerator, and he had enough food in there to feed the whole kingdom ten times ever! And they had a whole freezer room stuffed to the brim with ice cream and popsicles!”

“Wow!”, exclaimed both girls.

“So, King Nathaniel got his adventure bag ready for the day, and walked out of his castle down the road to the village at the foot of the mountain. When he got there, he found many people walking up and down the street, with carriages everywhere! He continued to walk down the path until he saw an old woman struggling to hang a sign on a hook screwed into the frame of her store.

King Nathaniel was a fine gentlemen indeed, and he ran over to help the old lady hang the sign up. Once it was hung properly, the old woman thanked him. King Nathaniel asked the old woman if she needed any other help around her store. The old woman said yes, she would love the help, as she didn’t have enough servants to help do the work she used to do herself. King Nathaniel asked her what he could do to help, and the old woman told him about how a mean old wizard had come by her store, and had put a bad spell on the outside of her shop overnight.”

“Oh, was it a curse? I bet the mean wizard put a curse on the nice old lady.”, whispered Tabitha.

“Yes, it was a curse, but luckily, the king knew some secret spells of his own that could remove the curse! So he grabbed his adventure bag and went around the back of the building, and saw the giant letters in a magical, foreign language, covering the wall on the back of the nice old woman’s shop. He dug through his bag, and found some magic water, and a magic blanket, and he splashed the magic water all over the spell on the wall. And then he used the magic blanket to wipe all the bad spell off.”

“It came off just like that daddy?”, asked Michelle.

“Just like that, honey!”, exclaimed Nathan, snapping his fingers in the air.

Nathan winced, as his fingers were still sore and quite raw.

“And so, once the bad magic spell was gone, the old woman was very happy, and she promised to tell all the other villagers how kind and helpful King Nathaniel had been for her. To show her gratitude, she went inside her shop and returned with a satchel filled with a jug of milk, and some bread and an apple.”

“Oh, we had an apple for lunch today daddy! It was a great big red one, and it was delicious. I meant to save you a slice, but I got hungry and ate it too…”, Tabitha admitted sheepishly.

Nathan reached over and squeezed her toe gently through the thin cotton, smiling at her.

“It’s okay, my baby. One day there will be so many apples in this house, you’ll feel like a queen yourself.”

“But daddy, we’re your princesses! Mommy is your queen, silly!”, Tabitha laughed.

“You’re right, Tabby. You’re such a smart young girl, I am so proud of you. Now go to sleep like your sister, she’s already snoring.”

“Okay daddy, I’ll try. But Michi snores like a big bear…”, Tabitha whispered with a grin.

“Ha, yeah she does. She gets that from your mommy.”, Nathan whispered with a chuckle as he blew out the old candle sitting on the milk crate beside the bed.

Daddy’s Girl

Over on the east end of town, the local watering hole that went by the name of “Daddy O’s” buzzed with activity. The locale was a small building with a wraparound bar, with a vast outdoor area populated with picnic tables and yard games behind it.

Out front, a crowd of men stood near a biker straddling his motorcycle, hollering as the rear tire spun in place, a plume of smoke and dirt flying through the air.

Over at the bar, standing between a pair of empty stools, Bethany leaned against the bartop. Resting on one elbow, her other hand cradling a beer bottle, her gaze washed over the many people sitting at the tables, seeing the couple at the end of the bar making out, the trio of ladies playing horseshoes, the guitarist and singer at the far end of the lot, singing a country song.

Her gaze settled on the bartender walking out on the floor, gathering empty glasses from tables in one arm, making small talk with the patrons as he walked between the tables. His gray hair came down to his shoulders, his leathery skin dark from days spent in the sun, his bright smile a contrast to his tan.

As Tommy walked back behind the bar with the towering array of glasses cradled in one arm, he looked up and saw Bethany smiling at him.

“I’ll be a damned man if that ain’t my baby girl”, Tommy mentioned more to himself than to her. “Bethy, get the hell over here and give your old man a hug, goddammit.”, he said with a smile.

Bethany righted herself, and walked down the length of the bar towards the passthrough, reaching over to put her beer down on the bar. Tommy handed the tall stack of glasses to the other bartender as he rushed to meet his daughter.

“Hi daddy,” she whimpered as Tommy turned back toward her. He leaned down as he wrapped his thick arms around her, lifting her off the ground in a strong embrace.

“Bethy, what are you doing here? You never come to the bar unless– oh, oh my baby, your eyes’ve been crying. Your makeup is all messed.”, Tommy said quietly, as he lowered her to the floor.

“Alright, what’s the bastards name and where’s he live?”, he asked as he reached under the bar to grab a baseball bat out from the low shelf.

Bethany laughed, “Daddy! I’m fine, I promise. Put the damn bat down, you’re going to scare the new bartender!”

Tommy raised an eyebrow and looked over his shoulder, yelling to the other bartender. “Chester, your sorry ass didn’t charge my daughter for this beer, did you? That shit’s coming out of your tips.”

The young bartender looked up from the glass he was pouring whiskey into, looking back and forth between Tommy and Bethany.

“Oh, ah, shit Tommy, I’m sorry man, I didn’t know she was your kid, man.”

Tommy looked at the whiskey that was overflowing from the glass the young man hadn’t ceased pouring into yet, his face semi-frozen in shock.

“Kid, you lost count. Now that shit’s coming out your tips too, and you’re cleaning the girl’s toilet tonight.”

“Ah shit. Sorry Tommy.”, Chester apologized, wiping down the counter with a white rag as he slid the drink across the bartop to the man standing in front of him.

Tommy turned back to face his daughter, looking her up and down, noticing her dress clothes. His brow furrowed as he asked, “Bethy, did you come from work? You never drink after work. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, daddy… I just…”, she trailed off.

“Honey, it’s alright, you can tell me anything. You ain’t never gonna be in trouble with me, you know that.”, Tommy reassured her.

“Oh, daddy… I… they…”, Bethany struggled to get the words out.

“They fired me, daddy. For something stupid as hell, I swear, I didn’t even do nothing wrong, it’s just that damn Ms. Galloway, she’s got such a huge stick up her ass and she pisses off at damn near everybody for any little damn thing, and I don’t mean to be mean, but she can go straight to hell, you know, I mean, she just isn’t a nice person, not at all daddy, not one little bit, and I hate her for it…” Bethany’s voice trailed off as she noticed her country accent starting to flare up, as it usually did when she was riled up about something and began to ramble.

She dabbed at the tears welling up in her eyes with a napkin she grabbed off the counter.

“Aw dang, honey, is that it? I’m real sorry honey, I know you really liked working there. I remember your ma calling me when you got the job at that mechanic shop, she wouldn’t shut up about how proud of you she was. I think she really just took a big jolly out of it, trying to remind me how I didn’t have nothing to do with it.” Tommy sighed. “Is that Willy guy still running the place?”

“It’s a mechanical engineering lab, daddy, not a shop. And his name’s Wayne, daddy. Wayne Welding, and yes he is, he’s the CEO, remember? Though I think even he’s more afraid of Ms. Galloway than most of the other employees. She has to be the worst HR lady on the whole damn planet.”

“I ever tell you I went to school with him?”, Tommy asked.

Bethany’s wide eyes answered his question.

“Yep, the two of us, we went to the grade school together, even played on the same damn baseball team.” Tommy pointed to the bat on the shelf under the bar. “Hell, that’s his bat, if I’m lying I’m dying. He gave it to me after he hit his first home run. Said I’d need to study it to learn his secret, the smartass.” Tommy chuckled.

“But yeah, he went off to the college, and I started working here with your grandmama right before…” Tommy’s voice trailed off, his eyes misting at the memory of his mother. He coughed to clear his throat, and looked back at Bethany.

“So tell me honey, what in the hell are you gonna do now? You need some money?”

“No daddy, I’ll be fine. I saved up a lot of the money I made there. Actually, I wanted to talk to you, and I really meant to stop by before, you know, it’s just been real busy lately and… well…” Bethany’s voice trailed off as her attention was captured by the two men yelling at each other in the patio area.

You son of a bitch, I know you were hitting on my wife!”, yelled the tall man in the cowboy hat.

The other man, shorter but obviously in better shape and covered in tattoos, took a step forward to the point his chest was touching the tall man’s.

“You skinny pendejo, I wouldn’t do some shit like that, I fucking work here. I was telling your wife how you knocked her purse on the ground when you were getting up to go back to the bar, now, you calling me a liar, cabrĂ³n?”, the short man hissed.

A loud bang echoed across the bar grounds.

The sudden sound silenced the band, and all conversation stopped. The biker turned off his motorcycle, as he swung the kickstand out with his boot. All eyes turned to face the bar.

Tommy raised the baseball bat off the bartop, a deep dent in the wood beneath it.

“Ruben and Taylor, you two sons of bitches BETTER SIT THE FUCK DOWN, RIGHT NOW GODDAMMIT, OR I SWEAR TO THE HIGH JESUS I WILL BREAK YOUR ASSES IN HALF! “, Tommy boomed from behind the bar.

“I’m having a moment with my daughter.”, he said with a quieter voice, as he pointed at Bethany.

Ruben turned his gaze back to Taylor. “Alright, seriously man, it wasn’t a thing.”

“Yeah, no problem man, I… I’m sorry for being a dick.”, Taylor muttered to Ruben as he tipped his cowboy hat.

Tommy’s voice rung out again, “Now you two shake each other’s hands like men, and get back to your friends.”

“De nada, man. You go have a good night with your lady.”, Ruben said as he nodded his head towards Taylor’s wife, still sitting at the table, reaching his hand out to meet Taylor’s with a firm grasp and shake.

Tommy watched the two men part ways as the band resumed playing their song, and the bar slowly sprung back to life. He turned back to his daughter, a big grin on his face.

“See, I only work here because these are the only damn people that ever listen to me.”, he said with a wink.

“Oh daddy, shut up.”, Bethany laughed.

“So what was it you were talking about, honey, about wanting to stop by here before?”, Tommy asked as he put the baseball bat back on the shelf under the bar.

“Well, daddy, a couple days ago at the office, I heard some of the senior manager team, the people in charge, I heard them talking about how they’re gonna be building a new office, a real big factory type of place, and they want to build it out here on this side of town. And I’m pretty sure I heard them say they were going to offer to buy your bar out so they could tear it down and use the property to build their building out here…”, Bethany explained.

Tommy stood with his arms outstretched, one hand placed on the back counter on one side and the other planted on the bar, as he leaned down to hear his daughter explain the plans her former company had for his land.

Once she finished telling him what she had heard, and how much money they were willing to pay him for the lot, he held up a hand to pause her.

“Bethy, my baby girl, you know I love you, and I know how much that money would take care of us both. But honestly, your grandmama and granddaddy built this bar from the ground up on their own, and it’s all I’ve got left of them. And if you think I’m gonna make anything on the damn planet easy for the company that fired my baby girl, well, honey, I thought I raised you better than that.”, Tommy said with another wink.

On Monday morning, Tommy O’connor walked through the front door of the tall downtown building, not making eye contact with the secretary behind the front desk. He pressed the button on the elevator call panel, as the woman stood up from her desk, pulling her headset off.

“Sir, you- you need to sign in before you go up there!”

Tommy turned his head to the woman as the elevator doors parted, and winked at her with a smile, walking into the elevator cabin, holding the baseball bat at his side out of view.

With a furrowed brow and a sigh, Lucy muttered under her breath as she placed her headset back on as she dialed the line for security.

What an asshole.”

Snacks and Smokes

This post is a recounting of a true story. The situation detailed below occurred the morning of Tuesday, January 31st, at approximately 3:40AM, in San Antonio, TX.

So, I’m at the gas station getting some snacks and smokes, and as I’m walking out the door after checking out, the previously empty parking lot now has another vehicle parked there.

There’s a black SUV parked a couple spaces away to my right, but I don’t pay it any attention, aside from the fact that it was backed into the spot.

As I’m turning toward my car, and open the door, I hear a female voice say “Heyyy…”, but not necessarily in a flirtatious way. I ignore it, assuming it’s going to be one of those “Hey, my car just ran out of gas and I’m stranded here, can I have a few dollars for gas money” type things.

In a split second, I compute in my mind that, “Hey, wait a second, that doesn’t even make sense, because wouldn’t they want to park at a pump instead, to at least look the part?”

I turn towards the SUV as I’m almost fully inside my car, and look over at the woman in the driver seat right as she lets off another “Hey, hi…”.

She’s wearing a beanie, and was either Hispanic or had a dark bronzer on. She seemed pretty, but with the crap lighting in the lot, it was hard to see details.

I look at her for a second, and then look at the rest of the vehicle, which could have been a newer Jeep Cherokee or an Escalade – I wasn’t interested in the model at that moment – and notice through the dark tinted window the silhouette of a shape or two moving around inside. Big shapes.

As I was looking at the windows, I asked purely out of instinct “Hey, you okay?”

I regretted asking immediately.

The girl put her hands up to her face as she faced forward, covering it, and when she brought her hands down, she had a furrowed brow and a smile, which I couldn’t tell was an attempt to be endearing, or a smile trying to hold back tears.

She continues, “This just isn’t fair…”

At that point, I see the figure(s) in the back of the car move again.

I immediately think to myself, “I’m about to get rolled.”

I sit back into the car, and pull my Benchmade folding knife out of my pocket, and place it under my leg.

I look back to the girl before she continues, seeing her hands go back up to her face again for a moment, as I reach for the door handle.

As she looks back at me with that confusing smile, and just as she is about to say something else, I say a quiet, “I’m sorry.” and close the door.

I turn the car on, reverse out of the spot slowly, and pass by her car as I leave.

I turn down the road to head home, which is all of a minute’s drive down the road, about a quarter mile.

About a hundred feet down the road, I see headlights pull out of the gas station, remembering that there were no other cars in the lot, nor any getting gas.

At the first light I come to, instead of going straight through the light to go home, I turn down a different road. I drive just under the speed limit, figuring if it’s anyone else headed home, they’ll just pass me by.

And then the lights in my rear view mirror get bigger.

And they continue getting bigger, quickly.

I realize quite quickly exactly how long and dark this road is at night.

I hold my speed, get my gun out, and place it on the seat next to me. It’s an M&P Shield loaded with .40 caliber rounds. I am a very good shot in most cases, and scored perfect on my CHL test.

At the end of the road, there is another light.

There is a gas station here, but a quick glance shows that nobody is there.

I stay in the left lane all the way to the light until I’m about 50 feet away, and then quickly throw my blinker on and cut across the lanes to the far right.

I see the vehicle behind me slow to a crawl in the far left lane in my rear view.

I’m sitting here waiting to see what they do, trying to weigh my options.

My radio is off, and my window is slightly cracked open.

All I hear right now is the blowing of my heater, the idling of my engine…

…the running of the vehicle stopped a good 15 feet before the crosswalk of the light in front of us…

…my heartbeat pounding in my ears, and the repeating ticking of my blinker, as I move my head to look like I’m looking back and forth for traffic on this quiet road…

…keeping my eye on my door mirror to watch the doors of the SUV at my 8 o’clock.

I slowly grab the extra magazine from my center console, place it between my legs, and rest my hand on top of the pistol beside me, for some reason expecting to get rammed from my left side and not wanting the gun to slide off the seat.

The vehicle on my left is slowly inching forward, despite the fact that their light turned green, what seemed like minutes ago.

Just as their passenger window is about to line up with mine, I decide to pull out and drive off to the right.

As I slowly pick up speed, I’m watching the vehicle in my rear view, and see the passenger window of the black SUV rolling up, with a man large enough to fully block the female driver from view sitting in the passenger seat, facing my direction.

I took the long way home, driving slowly to make sure there weren’t any unexpected U-turns going on behind me.

I pulled into my parking spot at home, and grabbed the pack of cigarettes I had purchased just a few minutes ago, but felt more like hours.

The adrenaline that had been brewing up in my body released itself, as I sat in my car, packing the cigarettes, slapping them into my palm.

As I unwrapped the cigarette pack, and withdrew one of the cancer sticks from it’s light blue package, I looked over at the gun on the seat next to me.

I reached over, picked it up, and tucked it back into it’s holster.

As I took a deep drag from the cigarette, I pulled my phone out, and began typing this entire night’s excitement out, struggling more often than usual to type the letters out on my phone. Shaky fingers are a pain, but I knew the adrenaline would soon leave my system, leaving me tired – I didn’t want to chance forgetting anything or leaving out any details, as I’m sure I would if I were to fall asleep soon.

I am not the type of person to incite violence, nor do I boast about being a gun owner. I do not believe the world is a better place with guns in all hands, but then again, I also believe that evil is inherent in all people, and we must work and strive to be good, and to put more good out in the world than we expect to receive ourselves. And I am well aware that some people tend to take advantage of those who fall into the latter realm.

And so, at four in the morning on a long dark road, being followed very closely by a big vehicle filled with an unknown amount of people whose intentions are unknown, well, that is just not the right time to worry about being nice.