“Well, I’ll be a wet match on a cold night – Felton, is that you?”
“How you doin’, Sam?”
The old man set aside his broom and hobbled over to Felton into a heartfelt hug. It must’ve been concerning for those observing to see the bear-of-a-man hug the scrawny old one, seemingly on the verge of breaking the latter.
“I was wonderin’ when Felton Banks was gonna swing by this ol’ lodge and give an ol’ friend some company. Can’t even recall the last time ya blessed these parts.”
The lobby of the lodge was big, well-lit by its many windows. It was cramped wall-to-wall with dated furniture, mainly comprised of leather comforters embroiled with creases that rivaled Sam. They were huddled in groups around chipped coffee tables like a campfire site. Every inch of the walls was heavily ornamented with old knickknacks and taxied animal heads that filled the air with a musty scent of pine.
“Well I’ll be. Look at ya all grown-up,” Sam said, eyeing Ruth. “Ya almost as tall as yer pa’.”
She grinned sheepishly at the compliment. She knew her height was nowhere near her father’s towering one, yet she still rendered a hug to the old man. “Hey Sammy.”
“Ya look like a stunnin’ reflection of yer mother too,” Sam went on, looking her up-and-down. “Felton whatcha been feedin’ her. I swear chil’ren bein’ growin’ too doggone fast these days.”
“Only the good stuff, but she’s been dyin’ to eat your grilled cheddars again.”
Sam scoffed. “I dun told ya the recipe how many times now? Ya still ain’t got it yet?”
“It ain’t the same, Sam. Nothing beats—”
“Excuse me,” Alex interrupted. “I hate to jump between this little reunion, but I need a phone so I can call the sheriff. I got places I need to be. Now do you have one or not?”
Sam’s brow tightened as his eyes bared a salty glare.
“Um Sammy?” Ruth chimed-in, hobbling in place, “Sorry to cut this short too, but I really need to use the lady’s room anyway.”
His face lightened. “Ya still remember where the bathroom is, right? On the second floor, darlin’. To the right on the end – just got it refurbished too.”
She thanked him and hurried off.
“Old man?” Alex interrupted again. “The phone?”
The scowl returned to Sam. He clenched his fist and started to walk towards him until Felton stepped in-between.
“Looky here, Sam. These two had a bit of a fender-bender down the road. You know how that can be? Even in the heat nothin’ can melt taut like that. If you give ‘im what he needs, he’ll be outta your hair before you know it.”
Sam exchanged a glance from Felton to the uptight prick and then sighed. “Phone’s on the second too – in the diner. Come on then, I can whip up some of them grilled cheddars and anything else ya want. Any of y’all gonna need a room?”
He led the group to a staircase in the back. As stated, there was a small diner at the top, housing several tables and booths. Off to the side was a miniature-sized room resembling the lobby with a few comforters and even more knickknacks covering the walls.
Sam pointed to the wall next to the counter. “There’s ya phone. Sheriff’s number is posted on the side.”
The suit stormed over to it.
Sam hobbled behind the counter. “So, I got two grilled cheddars for you and Ruthy – anything else?” he asked.
“Can I get a coffee?” a soft woman’s voice spoke-up.
Her presence startled him. “Sorry there, missy. Didn’t see you trailin’ the pack. One cup of java comin’ up. Pot’s fresh too. Oh, and that’ll be two-fifty.”
Felton glanced back to see her render a sheepish grin.
This was the first time he had really taken in her appearance. She was a short woman, rivaling Ruth in height, with golden locks nestling around her ears. She had a face plastered with freckles and eyes greener than moss. She was certainly a looker and a thin one – donning a minty green and white sweater. He noted the large stain of coffee on it.
“So, is it salvageable?” he asked. “The sweater, I mean? Coffee always seems drawn to shirts like a s***t on a neck.”
She glanced down at it and chuckled. “Oh this? Yeah, it’s a crock – my favorite too – but my mama knows a thing or two about stains. This’ll be nothing to her.”
“Your mama, huh? That why your cuttin’ through the Pass? Let’s see… From the way you hold yourself I’d figured you to be… a Nebraskan girl, am I right?”
She gave him an impressed look. “Am I that obvious? Or did you just look at my plates?”
He laughed. “I’m might’ve peeked at that,” he admitted.
She smiled, shaking her head. “Well, yeah I’m a Nebraskan girl: born and raised. And yeah, I’m on my way to see my mama. It was Felton, right?”
“Yes, ma’am, Felton Banks,” he said, offering a hand. “Carol, if I remember it?”
“Yeah, Carol Swan,” she replied, taking it. “You seem to know the innkeeper pretty well. I take it you’re from around these parts?”
“Somethin’ like that. Me and Ruthy used to come through here every year to do some huntin’.”
“Ruthy? I take it she’s your daughter?”
“Yes, ma’am. She’s sixteen years a-pain-in-my-a*s.”
“In all seriousness though, I love ‘er to dead. She’s my pride and light. Don’t know what I’d do without ‘er.”
“What ‘bout you? Any kids yourself?”
“Me? None. To be honest, I’d say I’m still a kid at heart.”
“Is that so?”
Sam set the mug of hot Joe on the counter and Carol quickly slid the exact payment his way. He popped it into the register and made his way back into the kitchen. Felton eyed her as she lifted the mug and took a small sip.
She smiled and took another one. “I’d say it’s damn good indeed.”
“You hear that, Sam?!” Felton called back to him. “Found you another believer!”
“Mighty obliged!” he replied.
Felton caught her staring over at Alex on the phone who was obnoxiously yelling at the sheriff, occasionally tossing a glance back her way like a guard dog.
“So, how you feelin’?” he asked.
“Still a bit shaken-up, to say the least. Most of it’s a blur now.”
“You gonna be alright?”
She nodded softly, taking another sip. “I’m starting to second-guess what happened out there. Thinkin’ maybe I dosed off and then slammed the brakes when I realized it. Thank you again, for stepping in – I know I already said that – I just… really thought that guy was gonna clock me or something.”
Felton chuckled. “Don’t you worry ‘bout him. A******s like to talk a big game, but he ain’t gonna touch you.”
“Ya damn skippy, that’s all they do,” Sam chimed-in returning up to the counter. “Lousy good for nothin’…”
“At least, I wouldn’t let ‘im.” Felton scowled towards Alex.
She chuckled. “So, is that your angle? The big strong guardian: checking up on everyone, fighting back one ‘a*****e’ at a time, stranger or not?”
He sneered. “We’re all people at the end of the day, jus’ tryin’ to make our own way. Some jus’ feel the need to b**t heads jus’ because. Me, I jus’ do what I can.”
“Well, what ya need to do,” Sam started, “is keep that kinda trouble away from m—”
His words were cut-off by a small tremor. The glasses and silverware started to rattle. Even the knickknacks on the walls began to shake. Felton turned to Carol to see her eyes widen in fear. It felt like the rumbling from an earthquake.
“What the…?!” Alex shouted, pulling the phone away.
The tremor escalated into a more violent shake like the entire building was encased within a snow globe. Suddenly, a loud thunder exploded in the air, forcing Carol to instinctively grab onto Felton as the lights started to flicker erratically. More lamps and other loose items continued to shake until they crashed to the ground, followed by tables sliding across the floor. The walls joined the choir of roaring, adding a deep moan.
“Sam, what the hell’s going on?!” Felton screamed, his voice barely carried over the thunder of noises.
“Not sure!” he shouted back. His eyes drifted over to the window. “Oh Shi—”
Yet, his words were interrupted by a heavy thud against the building which threw everyone to the ground. Several windows shattered from the impact, launching glass in all directions. The walls moaned even louder accompanied by the splitting of wood and furniture slamming up against them. Felton held on tightly to Carol on the floor as the chaos around them continued to erupt.
After several more seconds, the tremor slowly began to die. The rattling soon ceased, and everything settled.
Felton slowly looked up. Glass and other knickknacks from the walls were sprawled-out on the floor, a few tables overturned. He glanced down at Carol, who was buried in his chest.
“You alright?” he asked her.
She poked her head up, her face plastered with fear. “Yeah. W-what just happened?” she spoke softly; it was as if she was afraid her voice would kick-start another episode.
“Everybody else okay?!” Felton called out.
Sam poked out from behind the counter, eyes in a frenzy as he studied the damage around. Alex emerged as well cursing to himself.
“Ruth!” Felton called out. “Ruthy, are you okay?!”
There was a second of delay before her voice carried out from the halls in the back. “Dad!” she called out emerging. She ran up to him and into his arms.
“Are you alright, darlin’? Are you hurt?”
She had tears in her eyes. “No, I’m fine. What the hell happened? What was that?”
“Sweet Jesus!” Sam said out loud. He tore from around the counter and over to one of the broken windows.
Alex joined him, more curses under his breath. Curious, Felton made his way over too, not removing his grip from Ruth with Carol in tow. He approached the window and his heart dropped at the sight. For miles, snow engulfed the trees like a white ocean. Broken branches and uprooted trunks could be seen sticking out in the mix.
It was an avalanche.
The group stared silently in awe at the sight until a splash of snow from the roof drew Felton’s attention to the windowsill. He noticed the snow had stopped just a few feet below the opening. His heart sank even lower at the revelation: if the snow had reached this high, that meant their cars were clearly buried to hell.