By Martin Olson
Somehow, Jacob Wilde kissed Chastity Goldbern in his college dorm room, standing between the dresser, which hid bottles of liquor beneath its clothes, and the desk, whose drawers collected friends’ lighters and empty packs of cigarettes. Somehow he sat at her side and held her hand, even as she cried for his addictions and weaknesses and condemned his soul. Somehow he won the approval of both her midwestern parents and the majority of the ghosts of her ancestry, and somehow he settled down with her in Bantam, Nebraska, where she worked telling dysfunctional children Mommy and Daddy may be going to Hell, but there is still plenty of Jesus left for you. Somehow, they conceived and raised a child, Dennis Mitchell, to adolescence, and remained stable enough to serve as a loving foster family. But that is where their miracles stopped.
On the television, the afternoon news botched a convenience store robbery in Lincoln, shooting the clerk in the face before he even opened the register, then fleeing the scene empty handed, just to be killed in a confrontation with police less than a mile away.
In the kitchen one door removed from the television room, the faces of Denny’s parents looked at each other, eye to piercing eye. They did not look at him, but he was still uneasy.
The afternoon news stepped on a land-mine in Tehran, killing itself and three others, wounding eight soldiers and a civilian.
Two foster children, Albert and Alfred, giggled as Sammy, the family’s pet imp, flashed from grey skin to pink scales to green fur in between clouds of smoke. Shrieks filled the air. Shrieks of laughter, but Denny was still uneasy.
The afternoon news destroyed New York with a hypophotic plasodium bomb fired from the mothership orbiting Mars. Millions dead. War declared, fleets upon fleets of battleships, drones, and fighters readied, manned, and armed. Millions to die.
Denny’s parents baited each other. Not loudly, but sharply, their voices twisted around, back and forth, back and forth. The anger was latent, but Denny could hear it, and though it was not anger for him, he was still uneasy.
The afternoon news fed ducks bread crumbs in the park.
A glass shattered against the wall. Jacob had, quite accidentally, bumped it off the table, and, quite naturally, it fell to its demise against the wall behind Chastity.
The afternoon news slowly spun and gathered pressure in the Atlantic. The meteorological activity was alarmingly high for this time of year, and coastal towns and islands guarded against the possibility of the tropical depression becoming a tropical storm becoming Hurricane Dennis.
“Denny, dearest, come clean up this glass, won’t you, dear?”
Denny shut off the tv with a thought, then walked into the kitchen and scooped the glass off of the floor and into his hands. He dumped it into the household’s recycling tube, where it was whisked away for processing, then went outside.
Denny stood at the southeast corner of town, facing away from civilization. Only ten minutes walk from home, and there was nothing but fields. He liked that. The field of wheat in front of him lived such a pure life, unlike the messy humanity behind them, with their pettiness, with their arguments. The plants simply were. Sunlight, earth, water, and no pain! The plants truly lived.
Denny walked from the road into the midst of the wheat, letting this beautiful existence immerse him. Golden wheat about him, the golden sun above. In this golden world, Denny knew there was nothing wrong. All the problems in this world must be from outside. From above the sun, or beyond the fields: outer, foreign, alien. His was a perfect, golden world.
Far off, a thunderbird called. This meant rain was coming, or so they said. In actuality, the call could travel up to a hundred miles on the prairie. The rain would probably come somewhere in Iowa, instead. Purely by nature, rain wouldn’t come near him. Denny’s world was naturally warm and bright. His was a perfect world.
“Want one?” Brock lit a cigarette. He had already stowed the pack away in his backpack.
“I don’t smoke,” Denny said.
“Yeah, you do,” Brock said. “You’re in summer school. You’re a fuck-up. Of course you smoke.”
“Well, of course I’m in summer school. I’m not gonna sit at home all day.”
“No, fuck that.” Brock took a breath of smoke and started coughing. Denny turned around and looked at him. Brock’s left hand was clenched in front of his face, the other held the cigarette as far from his mouth and nose as possible. Several scratching noises came from out of his throat, then rumbles and bangs. He doubled over, his body jerking downwards as each cough pushed its way out of his lungs, then slowly tried and failed to rise before the fit continued. He had no control. He was helpless to this choice he had made, this thing he had done to himself. He was completely beneath to himself. Denny would never be that way, he would never be his own victim. Brock’s throat seemed to clear; the coughs subsided and he straightened up.
“Hey, man,” Denny said. “You okay?”
“Fuck,” Brock spat on the ground, wiped his mouth. “Yeah. Come on.”
They walked up from the school up Main to Oakley. They stopped.
“Last chance,” Brock said, offering the butt of his cigarette to Denny, who shook his head. Brock shrugged, turned, walked away.
Denny turned and continued along Main. He started crossing Oakley and noticed a tall, bearded man he didn’t recognize at the other corner. He looked down, away from the man, trying to avoid eye contact. He looked up cautiously, but the man was already looking into his face. Denny grunted an awkward greeting and tried to look away.
“Hello,” the man said slowly. His speech was oddly tonal. It sounded like a question. “Who are you?”
“Uh, I’m Denny.”
“Denny. You are a name,” the man intoned. “Well, Denny, I am not a name. I am not a George, or a Smith, or a Mason, or a Freeland. I do not even have a name. And do you know why?”
Denny glanced at him, looked homeward. “Um…”
“Because right now, I am everyone. If I told you I were a Rodney, I could not be a George, or a Smith, or a Mason, or a Freeland. I am not them, but I could be! Do you understand?”
“Um, I should–”
“No, you don’t understand. Ah, now listen! Imagine I told you I were Denny. I would not be me, I would be me and you. I would even be that hurricane. Ah, now you see.”
Denny stopped trying to excuse himself. What was the man saying to him? Questions forming in his mind, he looked up at the man.
Suddenly, as soon as Denny gave him full attention, the man was not on the corner in front of Denny, but in the middle of the road. Cars drove right towards him, as though he were invisible, then right through him, as though he were immaterial. A will-o-the-wisp. Of course. They always looked human in the daytime. Denny turned and continued home.
The afternoon news broke into a department store in Cheyenne, killed two guards, and made off with three thousand dollars’ worth of merchandise. Still at large, armed and dangerous.
One room over, Jacob played guitar limply and Chastity wholesomely sang something about Jesus to the foster kids. Denny tried not to listen.
The afternoon news was caught receiving oral sex from a page. Reporters eagerly mobbed its house expecting announcement of resignation.
In the other room, Chastity elbowed Jacob, and gave him a meaningful look. He began playing loudly, violently, drowning out her singing. Denny imagined he did not hear.
The afternoon news single handedly ambushed and devoured a crew of road workers in New Mexico, just before quitting time. Twelve skeletons were all that remained. Aggressive beast control policies implemented.
Chastity began singing louder. Her voice began to shake and crack, but it waxed louder. Jacob responded in kind. Denny pretended not to hear.
The afternoon news discovered scientifically, definitively, incontrovertibly, that psychic waves cause matter to cease to exist. Dissenting opinions from many notable scientists had already been given.
A guitar string broke with a loud twang, snapping down the neck and slicing Jacob’s hand. He grasped it and swore, the children stared, Chastity glared, Denny ignored.
The afternoon news poured on Denver and was expected to move east in the next couple days.
Silence roared. Denny strained to hear the news.
Tropical storm Dennis had officially been named a hurricane, and was obscenely powerful for so early in the season. It had caused significant damage on several islands, but as of yet no casualties. Dennis had made landfall in Texas, near to Louisiana, a few hours ago; mercifully no populations on the mainland had yet been touched.
“Children,” said Chastity quietly, eyes on her husband. “Give Mommy and Daddy a moment.”
Albert and Alfred went to their room and started playing in their Dimensional Investigatorion. Denny went outside. He thought he’d go to Brock’s house before dinner.
There was no afternoon sun today. There were clouds, grey empty clouds.
Denny walked down Main to Oakley. The air was charged. The hairs on his arm tingled and sylphs buzzed about stupidly and excitedly in the electric air. A storm was no doubt coming.
He turned towards Brock’s house and saw the silent flashes of lightning from a far off storm on the southern horizon, striking quickly and repeatedly.
Hurricane Dennis had flown through the Caribbean and already reached the mainland. How far would it travel? Could that be Dennis, far off on the edge of sight? Surely not. There were no hurricanes in Nebraska. Only Denny.
Brock’s parent’s were not at home. They were often not at home. Brock sometimes said Denny lived there as much as they did.
Brock sat down on his back steps and pulled out his cigarettes. The clouds seemed to be sinking lower, almost blanketing the stupid, human world.
“Can I have one?” asked Denny.
“I told you you smoke.” Brock took out two, handed one to Denny. He lit his. “Breathe in.” He lit Denny’s.
The smoke flooded his mouth, and Denny hurriedly coughed it out, grey and billowing up towards the afternoon clouds. He recovered, looked up and watched his breath winding slowly upwards like a moving shadow. Denny had taken more than he thought.
They sat together, breathing clouds into the sky, until the cigarettes were done. Denny said goodbye and walked back home, is breath still smokey, to eat his family dinner.
“Albert, pass the salt.” The young boy handed the saltshaker past Denny to his foster mother. She used it and placed it on her left by her son.
“Mommy,” Alfred chirped. “I’m happy Jesus loves us enough to give us salt.”
“Good boy, Alfred,” she replied. “Jesus loves you.”
“Jesus doesn’t give us salt.” Jacob reached over his wife and grabbed the saltshaker. “But he sure must love salty, fatty, greasy, all-American food. No doubt.” He used it, then reached back over her to replace it. “Jesus loves salt.”
“Chastity breathed in loudly, slowly, then let out twin streams from her nostrils. “Jesus loves you,” she said pointedly and punctuatedly.
“And you.” Adrian looked at her. “And you.” He looked at Denny. “And you.” He looked at Albert. “And you.” he looked at Alfred. “And you.” He looked at the corner of the table where the saltshaker had been, but it wasn’t there. It was in the air, falling the the floor where Denny had just thrown it in frustration. It shattered, glass clattering against the ground, and the salt spilled and scattered away.
The family looked to the seat where Denny had been, confused, but he was no longer there.
Denny stood outside of town facing southeast. He saw the storms ahead of him and light from the sunset behind. He saw no gold in the coming grey evening. All color was behind him, in the distance, fleeing with the sun. Denny’s perfect world had seen the storm. It had fled and left him behind. The world was not perfect golden sunshine and wheat, it was grey and empty pain.
He felt a southern breeze. He knew what that meant. There was a storm to the south, and the storm was coming.
The afternoon news was only Hurricane Dennis now. It had blown through the categories and blown through Texas and Oklahoma; it now danced persistently north. The only blessing it carried was its speed; it left the towns it attacked as quickly as it descended upon them, passing them almost purposefully as though it had an intent that was yet beyond its range. It continued across the land, defying all expectations of longevity and trajectory and power.
Denny’s parents were at home. He and Brock sat on a wooden playset in his backyard after class, swatting pixies away, pretending they didn’t feel the slowly strengthening raindrops from the livid clouds slowly darkening the sky.
“Gimme a cigarette,” Denny said.
“No, dude. Your parents.”
“We’ll just sit back behind here. They won’t see.” He walked to the far side of the playset and sat down behind it, out of sight of the back door of the house. Brock shrugged and followed him.
“Damn bugs,” he said as he stopped his swatting to reach into his bag. “We shoulda gone to my house. No parents, no bugs.”
“Same thing,” said Denny, accepting a cigarette and lighting it on Brock’s flame.
Denny breathed in, exhaled. What a thick, glorious cloud of smoke he breathed! Shadows, even in the clouded lack of sun. He looked over at Brock and the feeble tendrils worming their way out of his mouth. Denny breathed in again, deeper this time, and exhaled. His breath was a mighty cumulonimbus, majestic, almost, in its opacity. A king would breath such a cloud. Brock coughed out a small, pitiful puff. Denny looked away from his friend and raised the cigarette back to his lips. He sucked inward, feeling the warmth radiating through his lungs and permeating his body. He pulled in, and in, and in, and in, until he knew he was full, and he finally released, breathing out, and out, and out, and out. His breath seemed endless; endless grey clouds tumbled forth and ascended, blackening as they rose out of the small sphere of artificial light around the house and joined their rain-bearing brothers assembled in the sky.
Finally, the breath was done. Denny took several breaths of air before returning to the cigarette. The air was heavy, dripping with expectance of rain, and Denny drank it in. Revitalized, he raised his cigarette to his lips once again. Just as they touched, a pixie plucked the cigarette from his hand and threw it to the ground.
“Shit!” Denny said. “Damn bugs.” he leaned forward and picked the still glowing cigarette up by the middle, then flicked the burning end through the air. The coal missed the pixie and landed on the playset. Denny relaxed again.
“Shit, dude,” said Brock. “That’s wood. Maybe we should–”
A large, full raindrop fell on the ember, drowning it with a sizzle.
“We should go inside,” said Denny.
The backdoor opened. Brock and Denny entered the kitchen. Chastity looked up from the stove where she was stirring the insipid contents of a pot with a wooden spoon. “Hey, boys. Is that rain? Good. We could use some rain.”
Chastity sniffed. “What’s that smell, boys? What smells like smoke?”
“I don’t know, Mom.” Denny looked pointedly at the stove. “What smells like smoke?”
“Dennis Mitchell!” Chastity let her spoon down in the pot and crossed her arms. “Jacob! Did you hear your child?”
“What?” Jacob yelled from the living room.
“Hey, I’m gonna go,” Brock whispered to Denny as Chastity recounted Denny’s insult and smell. He opened the door and left.
“And?” yelled Jacob. Denny could tell from his voice that he hadn’t left his chair, hadn’t even moved. “Wasn’t it from your food?”
“Jacob Wilde!” Chastity proceeded into the living room but continued to shout, as though she still wanted Denny to hear her.
Denny knew better than to listen. Denny knew better than to pay attention to these stupid people. He knew who was his family and who wasn’t, and none of these people were. These parents, these foster brothers, they were not his, only each other’s. They didn’t belong with him any more than they belonged to him, and Denny knew he could do without. Not one of them could breath his dark, black smoky breath, which he knew demarcated him above them, the same dark billowing breath as his splenetic brother from the sea: Hurricane Dennis.
“Well, he’s not gonna just Jesus all his stress away!”
“Well, he can’t smoke!”
Denny walked to the stove and looked into the pot. Celery gratin. Dull, lolling, greasy celery gratin. He took hold of the spoon.
“Life is hard! Who hasn’t tried to get away now and then?”
Denny lowered the spoon into the flames beneath the pot. The thick, greasy butter coating it caught flame instantly.
“You’ve always held that against me, haven’t you?”
“Well, you’ve always had it there to hold!”
Denny could hear rain upon the house, but somehow it sounded wrong. He looked out the window and realized why: it wasn’t falling upon the roof of the house, but was being flung by wind against the side. Denny imagined the wind’s fierce ululations, the furious sound of pouring rain, random thunder heavily breaking into the constancies of the storm, marked also visibly by pure and unrestricted light; this glorious symphony blocked from him only by the feeble walls of this house.
Denny heard his family arguing in the other room, but he listened no more. His true family had come. Hurricane Dennis was here to induct him to a new world; not one still and golden, not one grey and filled with pain, but one of dark, black clouds, and a crashing, cascading power!
Denny wielded his spoon with power. He flung the gratin out onto the table, then brought the spoon down upon it. It cracked and caught fire as lightning struck gloriously , emphatically on the roof of the house. Denny ran to the living room as water poured into the now exposed kitchen. The two adults had been silenced by his wrath, but he was not done. He swept his spoon in a high arc, knocking back both of their faces and catching their shirts on fire. Denny! they cried, but he had no ears for them any longer. Denny! they cried, but thunder silenced them. Speak not, it commanded, for he is not yours!
Denny began to laugh. He dropped his torch to the carpet, knowing the flames would soon creep outward and soak into the carpet, sparkling with compressed imp fur, particles of human skin, dust and dirt.
Denny knew it was over. This house was done, it could not hold him. These people would fall, they could not call him. It all was nothing for Denny. He stood tall, taller than he had ever been before, taller than his body reached. He stood above this foolish world, feet upon the wind.
He flung his arms heavenward, sparks flying out from his fingertips, catching more and more of the house. “I am Denny!” he cried, and lightning struck the house, it’s guttural roar echoing round and round his voice, its frightful energy igniting the house, even as Hurricane Denny washed the fires away.
After flooding Bantam, Nebraska, Hurricane Denny turned sharply east, quickly petered out and dissipated. The experts all agreed it was inevitable. A storm that size was highly unsustainable. It could only last so long before its momentum gave up. It was quite frankly miraculous it had lasted even that long.
In Bantam itself, damages were remarkably small. Several fires had started, several roofs partially collapsed, cars were flooded, dozens injured, and one boy ruined a pack of cigarettes in the soaking rain, but somehow, only five were reported dead: the Wilde family, the only one unlucky enough to have a home fully demolished by the storm, though their pet imp had been found nearby, bedraggled and half-drowned, but alive. Somehow, only four of their bodies were found: Jacob, Chastity, and their foster children Albert and Alfred, while the biological son, Dennis, remained unaccounted for. His body had never been found. It was presumed that Denny had been drowned in the hurricane, then was taken by the flood waters, out of sight, out of town, and swept away.