Judy sat on the passengers side, wedged into the corner between the seat back and door. Normally she would be right next to him, but today she had opted to remain on her side. Wrapped in a heavy coat and woolen cap with only the worried expression on her face visible.
“Are you all right?” He asked for what felt like the hundredth time since they had left the house a half an hour earlier. A trip that in better conditions would normally only take ten minutes had already taken three times that due to the storm, and they weren’t even halfway there yet.
Judy remained silent, nodding in response to his question, her thoughts obviously elsewhere. There was something wrong. He saw it on her face. But as he had learned over the course of their three year relationship, when she was ready she’d let him know what was going on.
“We’re almost there.” He said as he flipped on the blinker more out of habit than to signal his intentions to the other motorists on the road. Theirs was the only vehicle moving. They were the only ones brave enough, or crazy enough, to be out on a day like this.
For Teddy there was no choice. Tonight was his first night as the second shift supervisor for Advanced Computer Services, a small call center on the eastern edge of town. The company provided help desk tech support for a software developer whose customers were defense contractors and manufacturers. Several call centers within ACS handled the flow of traffic so the loss of one was no big deal. But a number of the people on his team had not updated their contact information, meaning they had not received the call to stay home, forcing Teddy to go in on a day he would rather have stayed home with his feet up in front of a warm fire.
There were times when you did what you had to, not what you wanted.
The view beyond the windshield had taken on a surreal, almost alien appearance. A blasted landscape filled with unrecognizable blobs that rose from the ground like bubbles floating on the surface of a stagnant pond. For all he knew they could be on a distant planet fighting through an endless blizzard. A wretched place somewhere over a twisted rainbow that offered little hope of redemption.
“Hey, there’s somebody out there.” Judy said as she leaned forward in her seat to search the sheets of falling snow.
“I didn’t see anybody.” Teddy said.
“Right there.” Judy pointed at the side of the road somewhere in front of them, “I just saw them again.”
Teddy silently gripped the wheel as he tried to see through the blinding snow. He didn’t slow down.
“Aren’t you going to stop and help them?” Judy said.
“What makes you think they need help?”
“I don’t know, but they could, maybe their car is broken down or something.”
“Or they’re just walking home.”
“What if they’re lost? What if we don’t stop to help, and later learn they were lost and we could have saved them?”
“You want me to stop?” Teddy said.
“Yes, stop and help, or see if they need help.”
With a shrug Teddy eased his foot off the gas. He’d learned long ago not to argue with her. As the brakes grabbed the truck slid sideways on the slick surface of the road. Or at least what he thought was the road. For all he knew they were driving through someone’s back yard about to plow into their living room. Easing to a stop the truck came to rest with a final slide.
“If we get stuck.” He said.
“We won’t get stuck.” She answered with a confidence he lacked.
The wind rocked the vehicle as it shrieked through the narrow gaps and crevices of the undercarriage. Judy pressed her face to the window, her hands to either side, as she tried to see through the falling snow.
“Blow your horn, let them know where we are.” Judy said and Teddy hesitated. What if he didn’t want the stranger to know where they were?
“What’s wrong? Don’t you want to help?”
He did, but he didn’t. One part of him wanted to help in any way possible. After all it was his nature, but things he’d faced in his past after his parents death, had taught him to be wary around strangers. And in the current economic climate you really couldn’t trust anyone.
He tapped the horn, cringing inwardly as that brief blat of sound was lost in the rising voice of the wind.
“You gotta do it more than once.” She said as she leaned across the cab of the truck and laid on the horn.
Teddy experienced a brief moment of self loathing. He was acting like a little kid. Afraid of a stranger in a snow storm, it made little sense, yet he couldn’t deny the sensation that there was something more going on. It lay just beneath the surface of his subconscious. Like a name hidden right on the tip of the tongue. You knew what it was, but you couldn’t see it clearly because you were too focused on trying to figure it out.
“I don‘t see him anymore, maybe you should go see if you can find him.” Judy said.
“Me?” He said with an expression like that of a child tasked with a distasteful chore.
“Of course you. I can’t do it, what if he’s fallen down and needs help?”
She was right and Teddy knew he was acting like a child. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that stepping into the storm was the worst thing he could do right now.
“Hurry up, I’ll flash the lights on and off, and keep blowing the horn so you can find your way back.”
Along with whatever else was out there. He finished to himself.
Zipping his coat he leaned into the door and pulled the handle. At first nothing happened, the door remained firmly closed. Maybe it was frozen shut, he had time to think before it popped open, and the dome light behind his head came on.
A cold wind invaded the warmth of the cab as flakes of snow fluttered to the seat beside him, melting instantly. He pushed the door all the way open, allowing the storm entry as he spun around on his seat and slipped from behind the wheel.
Closing the door he stood next to the truck as the storm raged around him. The wind tugged at his collar, slipping down his neck to caress his flesh with a chilled lovers touch. He stood alongside the truck as the unmistakable sound of footsteps approaching through the carpet of snow came to him. A leisurely, measured sound, as if that which was walking towards him had all the time in the world.
He sensed on a deep, more primitive level, that whatever was coming was a part of the storm. A physical extension of a meteorological event. The footsteps stopped, somewhere to his left, an unknown distance away. For all Teddy knew whoever it was could be standing right next to him, and the thought sent a jolt of fear through him.
He spun around, trying to catch sight of whatever was sneaking up on him. There was nothing there. He felt like he was being watched. As if the storm itself were full of gazing eyes that observed his actions in a detached, clinical manner.
The sound of a footstep came from his right and he spun around in that direction. Nothing moved within the swirling snow. The sound came from behind him and he spun around to confront, nothing. He pulled open the door and clambered in behind the wheel. Slamming the door behind him.
“Well, did you find him?” Judy said.
Teddy shook his head as he dropped the shift lever into low and gently stepped on the gas. All four wheels spun as they pulled away from the curb, throwing up slushy snow in their wake.
“What happened?” Judy asked.
But Teddy remained silent. There had been something in the storm, something that had watched him from the falling snow. Something that he sensed on a primitive level that had no right to exist. Judy gave up her questioning and retreated back into herself as she settled into the corner of the seat with her arms crossed over her chest.
Usually it was a task to find a place to park, but tonight the lot was nearly empty. He glanced at Judy in the passenger’s seat. Wrapped in her winter coat she stared straight ahead. She was probably still pissed over what had happened earlier. And Teddy had to admit, with a bit of distance between now and then, that he’d acted like a scared little kid. There wasn’t anything in the storm that could hurt them
“Are you all right?” He asked again, more out of habit. Her response a silent shrug as she kept her gaze fixed straight ahead.
Maybe she knew what he had been agonizing over ever since he’d been promoted. She had been at the call center longer than he had so she was aware of the companies policy on fraternization. They had not done a very good job of keeping their relationship a secret from their co-workers. Teddy knew all too well, and he was sure that Judy understood, that it wouldn’t be possible for her to work for him while they were involved. An office romance between co-workers was one thing. But a romance between a manager and a member of his team was strictly forbidden. There were no two ways about it. He had worked too hard and too long to get where he was to throw it all away over a woman. She would have to quit her job or they would have to quit seeing one another.
“Have you ever thought about what it would be like to get married, settle down, and have a family?” Judy asked as she kept her gaze fixed straight ahead.
“Sure but that’s in the future.”
Teddy glanced at his watch and noted that they still had fifteen minutes before the shift started.
“We’ve got plenty of time.”
“You’re such an idiot.” Judy said before she flung open her door and slipped down from the cab.
He felt like he had just missed some important clue. He watched her cross the parking lot to the front door of the building. Once she’d vanished inside he shut off his truck and followed. His Uncle had always said women were nearly impossible to comprehend, an observation Teddy was slowly coming to appreciate.
With his head down, and his hands stuffed into the pockets of his heavy coat, he ran across the lot towards the front door of the building that housed the call center. Reaching the sidewalk that ran the length of the front of the building, he turned to look back at the falling snow. The wind whipped the snowflakes to and fro, shifting direction almost instantly. The action reminded him of the flocks of birds that would head south for the winter and how they flew as a group with one mind. Twisting and turning in an instinctive dance as they prepared for their long journey to warmer climes.
He was mesmerized by the almost hypnotic precision as the snow swirled about, taking on a life of its own. Slowly he became aware of a pattern. The snow flakes were no longer darting back and forth aimlessly as they were driven about by the shifting wind. They all began flowing in one direction, following a clockwise pattern as they were drawn into a vortex swirling around a very tight axis that slowly formed a snowy funnel. The swirling column of snow measured a mere five feet across at its widest point, narrowing to a tip that danced across the surface of the ground as the body of the vortex undulated above it like a snake. It grew taller, taking on substance and form, towering above him. Teddy was forced to tilt his head back as far as it would go in order to watch as the funnel rose towards the muted sky above.
His earlier feelings of unease returned, stronger than before. While fascinating to watch the action of the snow had an unsettling effect on him. Slowly he backed towards the door as the towering funnel danced across the lot towards him. A moaning cry drew his attention and he looked up to see the wide mouth of the funnel as its body nearly doubled over upon itself, and the black eye at the center of the funnel gazed down upon him.
It was at this point that Teddy turned and ran for the building, reaching the door as that inhuman roar reached a crescendo, filling the world around him with a shrieking cry of agonized anger as he swiped his card, and slipped into the safe confines of the building. He stood at the door for a moment, watching the storm from the relative safety of the building, that towering funnel having dissipated, and then he turned to vanish into the buildings depths.
Click here to go to Chapter 2
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