“You’re up early.”
Will turned from the Macbook on the kitchen table and saw half-opened eyes approaching him in the kitchen. Tricia wasn’t much of a morning person but he knew she’d gotten up simply to check on him. Their alarm clock was whichever twin decided to wander or run into their bedroom any given morning. Normally their eldest daughter woke up before anybody else, sometimes even as early as six, and headed downstairs to turn on the television and open up the family laptop to play Animal Jam. A little after eight Will would take Claire to school ten minutes away, dropping off his second-grader on the way to his office nearby.
This morning was different. Because of the dream, of course. And because of this feeling inside that felt more anxious than normal.
“Yeah, I couldn’t sleep,” Will said.
Actually I don’t want to sleep.
“The girls aren’t up?”
He shook his head. Will was already halfway finished with his cup of coffee, wishing he could get those images of the boots out of his head.
“Did you have another one of your dreams?” Tricia asked.
She said the word “dreams” as if she was talking about a faraway city with a foreign-sounding name. Will had never used the actual term “nightmare” with her simply because he didn’t want her worrying. But she knew, of course. She knew the dreams weren’t fun and interesting to talk about.
Will looked up at her from his seat, then offered a sigh with a “yeah”.
“What was it?” she asked, her voice still barely audible.
“You’d rather not know.”
“It’s because of those stories you write,” Tricia said as she checked her phone charging on the counter near the sink.
“I just finished a bio for a baseball player.”
He wanted to add that it had been years since working on a bona-fide horror story, but it didn’t matter. Will knew it was difficult for anyone to keep track of all his different projects, whether they paid or not. He usually just told Tricia about the ones that paid. Or the ones that might pay.
“It’s probably just the holidays and the stress,” she said with her back facing him.
Tricia had come down to check on him and found he was okay. He wasn’t foaming at the mouth or coloring with Crayons over the walls or roaming around in the backyard naked. Will realized that Tricia probably had none of these thoughts enter her mind when worried about him, but that was what he pictured insanity looking like. His wife coming downstairs to check on him and discovering him in a corner finishing a second bag of Cheetos with bright orange fingers and mouth.
If I’m gonna go nuts I’m gonna take some Cheetos with me for the ride.
The sound of a thud came from upstairs. That meant one of the girls was up, probably Claire since she loved bolting out of her bed like some kind of paratrooper hopping out of a plane. A door opening, another door closing . . . Familiar sounds both of them knew well.
Tricia walked into the family room next to the kitchen and turned on the television. Will had only been going through emails and hadn’t bothered checking any of the news sites or even any social networks.
“Hey—isn’t Columbia close to where your relatives live?”
Will looked up to the see the television screen and saw the phrase “Breaking News.” Then he read the information on the bottom.
Columbia, South Carolina. Over 100 Presumed Dead after F5 Tornado.
Suddenly he wasn’t thinking of those bloody boots anymore.
Will stood up and walked over to the television centered in the dark wood entertainment center. He let out a curse without thinking about it but didn’t get the usual “we don’t need that” from his wife. She was surely thinking the same thing.
“How close is Columbia to Greenville?” Tricia asked.
The scene on the television showed a reporter walking into a neighborhood that had been completely leveled. Everything was gone. Every single thing. Obliterated. Pieces of homes and furniture and belongings stood in mounds behind him.
Will thought of Aunt Nancy first. Then all the rest of his relatives.
“It looks worse than that tornado that hit Missouri years ago,” Tricia said. “Remember that?”
Will didn’t respond. He had gone back into the kitchen to grab his cell and call his parents. When he picked it up he noticed the three missed calls from MOM & DAD. He suddenly felt a bit nauseous and suddenly didn’t want to return their calls.
It’s not Greenville it’s Columbia so maybe they’re just calling me to let me know they’re fine.
It didn’t make sense. A tornado—an F5 tornado—in January? In of all places South Carolina?
Then again, the one-two punch of the twin tsunamis last summer . . . Yeah, those sure didn’t make sense either. Will had lost track of the death count for those, but it had crossed the 100,000 mark. Then there were the names of hurricanes bashing the eastern coast that sounded like a list of dates from hell. The death count was much lower, but the devastation was still there. One was heading straight toward the keys right now. The news had been covering that. Until now.
The phone felt heavy in his hand.
Breathe in. Hold on a sec. Prepare for bad news.
Will glanced over at the screen again. Wreckage. Ruins. Nothing but waste. Another day dawning with news of the world wreaking havoc on someone somewhere.
Staring at it, Will felt his skin crawl as he realized something truly terrifying.
The images he watched no longer scared him. They had become as natural as watching Dora with the girls. Just another natural disaster as routine as a morning cup of coffee.
He dialed his parents and waited for them to pick up.