Supercell Headlines of an imminent EF5 tornado flashed across screens. The people panicked, frantically gathering their belongings, their hearts racing. The pressure over this small, isolated town was odd. Never before was there a threat so grand, a threat that challenged the long-lasting tranquility of SouthStone. Coleman Inn reflected the town’s status: Not the best, but kept in order. The walls were in need of a new coat of paint and the stair rails creaked after every small vibration. Through it all, the inn still stood, offering low prices fit for its quality. The entire building shook as dozens of footsteps stomped about, the thudding growing more violent each second. The sirens hummed, crescendoing into a sour blare. A man, awoken by the sound, rolled over to his window to make out a picture of monstrous clouds tangling together, reaching for the ground. It was far, but so close, close enough to invoke a sickening panic. His gaze was broken by a silhouette rushing past his window, then another, then another. He tightly gripped the wheels to his side and rolled over to the front door. He reached for the knob, feeling lightheaded. He paused for a moment, suddenly noticing a cold silence. He twisted the knob, letting in cool, moist air.
Outside his room he could see the nearly-cleared parking lot. Nobody was near, nobody was around. The man figured he should leave, so he struggled back inside, throwing anything he could find into an old ragged backpack. Once he was satisfied with what he had gathered, he set off for the elevator. The journey was slow and painful. The man’s arms strained, moving his weight felt incredibly demanding. He knew his body was breaking down, though he never wanted to give in to the thought. It wasn’t right for a man as young as he was to feel like a crumbling leaf. He was embarrassed, ashamed of himself for not being strong enough, but he knew he wasn’t useless. He knew that he was meant for something, so he never fully let go. He accepted that he was troubled, but he also accepted that he was sane, sane enough to recognize his worth.
He approached the elevator and stopped to fumble around in his backpack. Pulling out an orange keycard, he leaned towards the elevator. An ear-splitting boom knocked him back, leaving him wide-eyed and shaken. Rain started to pour, the wind sharpened, and the man held on to his wheels as if it was the last thing keeping him safe. He leaned for the elevator again, readying his keycard, ignoring the low roars of thunder in the distance. Another Crack! Another Boom! The building went dark, lit only by the warm yellow piercing through the clouds. The man stopped and looked around, spooked. He swiped his keycard for the elevator. Nothing happened, not even a red flash indicating an invalid card. He swiped again. Nothing. There was no power, and the elevator was useless. He tried once more. Nothing happened, and finally it had hit him.
He jerked his head around, watching the rain swirl around the mess of clouds in the distance, the thunder growling ferociously. The man looked about and squinted his eyes, fixing them on the staircase. Approaching them revealed its decay. They looked unstable, on the verge of collapsing. Both means of escape were closed off, so he took the next logical step: Call out for help. Nature’s beautiful monstrosity interrupted the man’s cries. He shrugged them off, rolling around the second floor hoping to find that one person who slept through all the ruckus. The dingy hall loomed with a presence, one that made the man uncomfortable. He tried to avert his eyes from the outside. The only protection between him and it were thin, silver rails. He felt a turn in his stomach, he was scared. He called out once more to be met with distant thunder.
He looked up a set of stairs leading up to the third floor. There was complete darkness, and the man knew for certain that no one was up there. With a great sigh he headed back for the elevator, only to hear heavy thumping behind a door, footsteps. He knocked, waiting impatiently for an answer as the strong petrichor passed his nostrils. The door swung open revealing a burly individual around the man’s age, unfazed by the distant growing chaos in front of him. Smiling, he looked down.
“Why did you knock?” the man’s voice dragged with a sorrowful tone. “The name’s Marco, by the way.” “Ben,” the other man replied. “As you can see, there’s danger not too far from here,” Ben heard his voice shake. He was intimidated by this towering figure. “The elevator’s down and the stairs aren’t exactly stable… I need some help getting to my car,” “Why do you have a car?” Marco chuckled. “You’re bound to that chair, how can you drive?” “I can move my legs enough to drive, sir. They’re just incredibly weak. Guillain-Barré syndrome, just a bit worse than usual,” “I can see that,” Marco smirked again and Ben felt a rush throughout his body. “So you want me to carry you down the stairs to your car?” “Yes, yes!” exclaimed Ben, relieved. Marco looked outward, eyeing the violent twist of clouds, the pale lighting, and the golden hue of the earth in front of him.
“Why should I?” “What?” “Why should I take you to your car?” Marco dropped his smile, pulling his eyes down to meet Ben’s shocked expression. “Sir, this is kind of an urgent situation, and I’d assume you’d want to leave too?” “Trust me, I saw that tornado way before you made me come out my room, I’m not leaving,” Ben raised an eyebrow, “You’re going to die, I suggest you leave–” “I’m not leaving, and that goes for you too,” The thunder settled to a soft rumble, as if it was listening. “If I help you leave, what good will it do you? After this storm goes by, what? What are you gonna do but struggle? If you think about it, no one came for you. Not a single person volunteered to come to your room and help you out. Really says something.” “I just want to leave–” “You’re not hearing me out,” Marco interrupted. “Listen, that tornado over there, that’s your escape. That’s MY escape, to be honest.” He looked out once more, a genuine look of admiration swept across his face. Ben moved back in a slow, careful manner, making sure his discomfort wasn’t obvious. “I’ll just leave you to yourself, Marco,” croaked Ben. “I can see how you view me, and I can understand, but you’ve got no reason to stay–” A loud thump passed his ear and his eyes darted in the direction. A rigid ball of ice had struck the floor. “You wanna know why I’m staying?” Marco raised an eyebrow, revealing a mad look in his eyes. “Do you want to know?” Ben remained silent, continuing to inch backwards from Marco’s doorway. “I’m staying because it’s pretty clear that I shouldn’t be alive,” he stammered with his words. “I’m stuck, and it’s been that way for a long time, but that’s gonna end in a few minutes,” A legion of hail crashed to the ground. “For once, I’ve let go.” The tornado touched the ground and sprinted for the Inn, tearing at the earth with a monstrous force. Ben, feeling a slight remorse in his heart, insisted that Marco leave. He stayed silent, leaning against the doorway. “You don’t listen, I’m not leaving. You’re staying because it’s for the best–” “I’ll just leave, by myself,” Ben interrupted. “Watch your words, don’t say you can do things that you clearly can’t do,” chuckled Marco. “That leads to disappointment. If you let this happen, there won’t be any more disappointment!” “I’m leaving,” snapped Ben. He started for the stairs and noticed the storm charging in his direction. “I hate your persistence,” Marco mumbled. “Ignorance gets you nowhere… I’ve tried, so fine, I’ll help you to your car.”
He walked back into his room for a moment, as Ben moved back towards his doorway. He peered inside the room, making sure Marco’s attention was somewhere else. He reached down for an unnaturally large, chipped piece of hail and stuffed it in his backpack. Marco came out of his room soon after, his trip seemingly meaningless as Ben noticed no changes at all. “Let’s go,” He picked up Ben from his chair, starting with his frail legs. His arm supported Ben’s back in an almost hesitant way. Marco slowly made his way for the stairs, eyeing the tornado every-so-often. Ben let his arm lay next to his side, bent slightly to line his hand up with his backpack. Marco stood at the edge of the stairs. The rails creaked as the wind pushed against them. In a jittery anticipation, Ben moved around in Marco’s arm, his freedom so close.
For a moment there was no movement, like Marco had shut down. The cold rain started to soak into Ben’s clothes, and he looked beyond at the disaster ahead. The dark clouds loomed over him, cancelling out the gold hue of before, eliminating any comfort from the sky above. Marco started to move again, but not in the way Ben expected. He was turning back. He said nothing as he quickly headed back for his room. He carried Ben securely now, as if was certain of his decision. “I’m doing what’s best,” he mumbled. Ben carefully maneuvered his finger around a zipper on his backpack, reaching in to feel the cold sting of the hail at his fingertips. Marco kicked the wheelchair aside, “I set up a spot for you, a nice comfy space until we’re taken away.”
Just then, Ben wrapped his hand around the ice, and with one swift and precise motion, he bashed into Marco’s forehead. He dropped him, falling to his knees, his hand cradling his head. As for Ben, he let out a yelp as he landed on his arm. His arms were shaking with an intense fear, but he knew now was the time to act. Ben began to crawl, struggling to pull his weight with his bony arms. He set his sight for the stairs and didn’t dare look back. Gripping the concrete floor left deep grooves in his fingers. His forearm was scraped, he was already out of breath, but he didn’t let go. He pulled himself forward, ignoring the loud claps of thunder, the hail, the heavy rain, the raging tornado headed his way. He remained composed, keeping his focus on his arms. Left, pull, right, pull. Before he realized it, he was in front of stairs. He headed downwards, pulling his body down the staircase. Each step poked at the skin between his ribs, a pain so incredible that he cried out every time.
Marco slowly stood up, trying to focus on something, anything. He had a severe concussion, wobbling around, trying to stand straight was futile as the incredible winds threw the man off balance. He stumbled towards the stairs, falling against the walls occasionally. Ben felt the heavy footsteps and peered back. Marco’s forehead had a visible dent in it, the blood flowing down covered his face. He wiped his eyes, spotting Ben, halfway down the staircase. Startled, Ben pushed forward, trying to ignore Marco’s low grunting as he struggled down the steps. Suddenly, he felt a grip on his leg. Marco held on to the flimsy rails and started to pull the frail man back up the stairs. A jolt of energy passed through Ben as he flipped around on his back and pulled himself up to his knees. He reached out for Marco’s leg but couldn’t get a grip. The thunder roared and more rain poured down as if it was on cue. Ben reached forward again, feeling a pop in his back. He winced in pain, but failed to notice his hand wrapped around Marco’s ankle. Marco looked back, a look of amazement in his eyes. Ben tightened his grip and pulled the ankle back with his upper body. Marco exclaimed as he started to tip forward. He glued his hand to the stair rails for balance, but they finally gave way. They snapped out of position as Marco fell face-first onto the final step, a loud crack following shortly after. His body rolled over to the sidewalk and Ben shakily let out a sigh of relief.
He put himself on his chest once more and resumed his trip down the stairs. The tornado was closer than ever, picking up a few trees across the street. Ben was finally off the stairs, dragging his way past Marco’s body and towards his car. He could barely see anything as the rain gathered on his eyelashes. He touched the front tire of his car and began to pull himself. And from above, a perfect ball of ice dropped from the sky, landing on Ben’s head, knocking him unconscious…
Ben woke up in the backseat of a car. He squinted his eyes but couldn’t make out the person in the driver seat. He made an attempt to speak but nothing came out. His head was spinning, and he felt a light throbbing. “You awake?” asked the driver. “Ben, right?” “Yeah, that’s my name, who are you?” “Oh sorry, I’m Caleb,” he looked back at Ben and nodded. “How did I get here?” “Oh, when the sirens went off and everyone at the Inn was rushing out, I came to your room to see if you needed some help.” “I don’t remember that,” Ben scratched his head. “It seems like you were just sitting in front of your door, and I apologize because I flung it open and knocked you out.” Ben blinked a few times, “You accidentally knocked me out, with my own door?” “I was a bit worried, just wondered how you’d get out. I see you from time to time going to work, and I just thought, during this crisis, you could use some help.” A smile wiped across Ben’s face. “I appreciate that, Caleb, thanks.” The two rode in silence for the next few minutes. Ben’s wheelchair was safe in the trunk, along with a mess of his belongings jammed underneath it. “I took the most stuff I could,” Caleb croaked. Ben thanked the man. Then, something hit his mind. “I must have been dreaming once I was knocked out, was there ever a guy named Marco back at the Inn?” “I don’t know,” Caleb thought for a second. “Tall burly guy, pretty young, kinda sad looking?” “Yeah, yeah exactly,” Ben’s mind raced. “I’ve never met him, I’ve never seen him or heard of him before my ‘dream.’” “That’s odd, what was he doing in your dream?” “Acting all strange and pitiful. He wanted to die, and tried to force that mentality on me,” Ben exhaled. “We had a fight, and the last thing I remember is darkness.” He sat back in his seat. “I never knew that guy, but I somehow dreamt of him?” “I got some drinks back there if you want to clear your mind.” Ben politely declined the offer. He leaned his head against the window, trying to make sense of everything. The golden sunset lit up the earth, the town was nowhere in sight. Ben was safe. “Where are we headed?”