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While many of the parents tended to their children, I decided Kevin was fine enough on his own. I joined Farlan who stood at the head of the lobby and watched a group of the old folks close the blinds on the windows and lock the door. They painstakingly moved each metal filing cabinet in front of the door until there was nothing to see in or out. There was a back door somewhere, but I was sure they’d already blocked it off too.
“I do believe they’ve lost their minds,” Farlan mumbled.
“You believe that now?”
Farlan threw me a glance. There were seven of the elders with weapons and only one of him. I knew he stood no chance against them. Besides, no one else was too concerned about leaving. Regardless of why we were all packed into the town hall building, they all felt they were safer inside. I guess it didn’t matter if we were hiding from bird creatures or tornadoes.
It wasn’t long after the last file cabinet had been moved, I could hear intermittent tapping noises from the aluminum roof. The old folks became agitated. They shushed everyone and even made one woman with her crying baby hole up in a closet until the baby calmed. The tapping was likely from hail prior to the tornado, though I had to admit I'd never heard hail fall as infrequently.
“You still think I’m a crazy old bat, don’t you?” Gerty asked me. When she smiled, the top plate of her dentures pushed down and out slightly, exposing the bare top part of her gums. Everything seemed to hang loose on her face and even her ear lobes sagged, though I couldn’t tell through the wrinkles if her ears had ever been pierced or not. Her hair was short and curly though it was very thin. Her mid section was swollen and she bent slightly when she walked. But through all these things that were dead giveaways to just how many decades she'd roamed the Earth, her eyes were a striking blue and looked fresh and young. They were paced, not bent and crazy like I expected them to be through all her talks of tall tales.
“I think you may believe what you say, so I guess that means you’re not full of crap.”
I suppose when you’re face-to-face with someone holding a gun, it’s best not to insult them. I was torn between wanting to live and not wanting to play into her delusion.
“Honey, I see a lot of who I used to be in you.”
Beyond my eyes being a shade of blue as well, I knew there was no way in hell she and I had anything else in common.
“Ah...” I said, trying to give off the impression of being attentive while at the same time trying to inch away.
“I had a little girl. Her name was Sara.”
I hadn’t known she had any children. I’d never seen anyone come around her house.
“Yup, she was about your boy’s age when those bird things came and carried her off.”
She really did believe all this bird stuff. If she hadn’t scared Kevin into nightmares the day before, I would’ve felt sorry for her. As it was, I despised the woman and I didn’t care whether or not she’d had one or ten fictional children carted off by mythical creatures. She had violated my child’s right to feel safe on our own property.
“And my husband used to beat me too.”
“Excuse me?” I’d never told her that. I wasn’t about to stand for her snooping where it was none of her business.
She read my startled expression. “I seen that look you got in your eyes before. I seen it looking in the mirror. You’re all tough now, ready to kill the sonuvabitch if he steps foot in your world. Tell me, is he a doper or a drinker?”
I was acutely aware of every beat of my heart. I could hear it drum in my ears.
“A drinker,” I muttered.
“Yeah, mine too.”
All I could do was look into her face while she stared off into the past. I had to swallow hard to keep back tears from horrible memories gone by.
My thoughts were broken by the sound of shattering glass from one of the offices. The old folks flew into a hushed panic.
“Get them kids into the courtroom!” Gerty ordered in a frantic whisper.
It was Ben who ushered the kids away while the rest of us listened closely. I nodded to Kevin to go on with the rest of the kids. I wasn’t about to be left out of the loop of what was happening.
Paper flopped, something fell, a chair sounded like it rolled...all typical sounds of the wind whipping around the room beyond the door. I was certain it was nothing more than debris having hit the window at just the right angle. A quick glance at Farlan told me all the talk of monsters had gotten to him. His hand quivered as it hovered over his side holster.
A horrible screech came from inside the office. At first, my brain only registered confusion. What the hell was that? The old folks rocked from one foot to the other, as though they all had to go to the bathroom. Farlan pulled his gun and threw glances at the rest of them. I backed up behind the line of geriatric defenders, acutely aware that every little hair on my arms stood on end.
Another screech. My heart pounded so heavy in my ears they hurt.
There was a loud crash before pieces of wood from the hollow door splintered out in all directions. I felt a piece slide by my face. I watched the event unfold in front of me as though in slow motion.
“Holy shit!” Farlan said, his gun coming up.
“Get ‘em boys!” I heard Gerty yell.
The door had not just been kicked opened but had literally been destroyed, remnants of it everywhere in the hallway.
The next screech was deafening, like a cover had been removed from a loudspeaker. In the gape where the door had been was a large black bird at least seven feet tall and as large as a grizzly bear.