By Michal Morgan
Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved
At the encouragement of a friend I have decided to serialize this story, so here is chapter 2. Please let me know what you think.
— 2 —
Emma woke into the dark horror where the minds retreats when faced with an unanchored present and a future of probable destruction. A woman trapped, clinging to the roof of her house that has been ripped from its foundation and swept along a flooded river carried toward a bridge she knows is there. Somewhere. Waiting to smash the last spark of her existence beneath the immovable span, and grind her into the torrent. If she jumps now, she might be able to save herself, but the children…
She gasps herself awake. Cold sweat binds the bed clothes to her as she struggles to grasp for something solid to pull herself to sanity.
In a house.
An old man’s house.
Sleeping quietly next to her.
A sneaker rubbing against her shin.
Reality settled into place, and she breathed.
She had made the kids wear their clothes and shoes to bed. Too much glass and breakage on the floor if they got up in the night. Or if they had to run.
How could I let myself fall asleep?! Rage leapt upon her.
Self-doubt joined in. This man could have killed us!
But he didn’t. Reason had the final argument.
An old memory assaulted her, Coffee? And bacon? The rattle of a pan from somewhere in the house told her their host was already awake. Her stomach confirmed he was up to some insidious plot to eat breakfast without them.
The dim lamp light pulled her toward the kitchen. It was impossible to walk in the shattered remains of this man’s life without making noise, but she was still startled when he poked his head around the door frame, “Good morning! Breakfast in five. Y’all can wash at the pump out back.”
Emma started to go back for the kids before she remembered to say, “Good morning” in return.
Outside was pitch black, but they found the old iron pump about ten feet from the back door. A galvanized washtub was turned upside down under the spout and a bucket stood atop it.
The pump delivered shivering cold water as Jeremiah worked the handle up and down. “I saw this in a cowboy movie once,” he said.
“Let me try,” Caroline said.
Emma stepped in to head off the inevitable argument, “The bucket is already full. Come here and wash. You can pump the water when we wash the breakfast dishes.”
Caroline was surprised. “We have to wash dishes?”
“Yes. Mr…” She realized she did not know the name of their host. “Guests show their appreciation by helping clean up after meals.”
“Then we have a lot of work to do.” Jeremiah splashed water on his face, and spluttered through the cold shock, “His house is a mess.”
“Shhh! Jeremiah! It’s not polite…” Emma scolded.
“But he has a point,” interrupted Tom from the kitchen window. “Come and get it!”
They used the towel hanging on a hook by the door to dry off as they entered the kitchen. Some bit of normalcy had been restored to this small corner of the house during the night. Four plates were set out with silverware and linen napkins.
“Excuse me,” Emma hesitated, “but what is your name?”
The man looked surprised at the question, ”Huh. I guess I was more shook up than I thought last night. Tom Lewis. Pleased to officially meet you Mrs. Pitts.” He gestured toward the table with the spatula in his hand. The children lost no time, rushing forward and pulling out chairs.
“Eat slowly. You’ll make yourself sick,” Emma warned Jeremiah.
“Yeah, like two days ago,” Caroline joined in. “You threw…”
“Hush!” Emma scolded. “That’s not table conversation!”
Tom sat back and wiped the corner of his mouth, “When was the last time you had something solid to eat?”
“Two days,” Emma said around a mouthful of eggs. “We found a bag of dry corn in a feed store. I smashed it with a brick, and we had grits.”
“It was full of sand,” Caroline added.
Tom nodded, “You are welcome to anything here, but you need to get on the road again quick.”
“You’re kicking us out?” Jeremiah asked.
“No. I am not kicking you out, but it’s not safe here,” Tom slurped from his coffee cup. “Those people that came here yesterday. The ones that did all this,” he gestured toward the living room with his cup. “They’re staying at the Roger’s place, and I think they will be back.”
“Why do you say that?” Emma asked.
“I was out checking my lines yesterday evening, and when I got back, I saw flashlights moving around inside the house.” Tom set the cup down, “So I snuck in the back and surprised ‘em. Shot one of ‘em. That’s his blood on the wall in the front room. They know someone is here, and they know this place has not been looted, so they’ll be back.”
Emma’s mouth was suddenly too dry to eat any more, “How many are there?”
“I counted six when I stopped by the Roger’s place yesterday,” Tom scoped up a fork full of scrambled eggs. “The widow Rogers hasn’t been there since the lights started going out. Her son and daughter-in-law moved her up north to stay with them. I’ve been keeping an eye on her place since she left. She and her husband were always good neighbors to me, and since he passed, we’ve been very good neighbors,” Tom winked at Emma who stifled a smile.
Emma did not realize she could still blush until now.
Tom continued, “In any case I don’t want y’all caught in the middle, so finish up, and let’s get you goin’.
“You won’t come with us?” Emma asked, a rising note in her voice.