The Wanderer: A Serial Story in Small Parts

The storm formed quickly over the mountains, as mountain storms sometimes do. Had there been a casual observer to this rising confluence of cloud and wind, they might have believed the storm’s coming was even preternaturally quick. The sheer power developing in the black gathering clouds might have given rise to flights of fancy that two heavenly angels were fighting among themselves, engaged in some great wresting bout. The tiny flicks of lightning within those clouds slowly gaining in intensity might have brought a wonder that it was God himself angry with some humanly misdeed, an ancient God. The smell of brimstone might have been detected with just a hint of the far away sea. A different kind of observer might have felt the storm was the result of some other worldly presence and somewhere beyond the cloud lurked a strange ship from some distant star. Whatever the source of this storm might have been, the eeriness was set off further by the sound of dogs barking, every dog on the planet.

            The focal point of this storm appeared to be a single location, that place where mountain and desert floor blend perfectly into one singular landscape.  As quickly as the storm formed, the breaking point was like a small bomb going off, intense, as sheets of rain, vertical and horizontal lightning flashed all at once. As with any desert storm, the desert floor soon became treacherous as every gully, dip and dry stream bed became raging floods within seconds. The storm was terrible in intensity and rather than diminish with the breaking maintained this awful power for some time drowning out the dogs who continued to bark from both everywhere and nowhere all at once.

            Out of the midst of this deluge, in fact, the very focal point of the preternatural storm walked a most ordinary appearing man. He might have been as young as thirty-five or as old as fifty. He wore a rumpled golden brown suit which hung about him carelessly. His hair was a wispy sandy color and upon his head was a brown porkpie hat. He carried on his shoulder a weathered backpack by a single strap because a single strap was all there was left. Despite the storm raging about him., he seemed quite carefree. He strolled to a small stand of scrubby aspen muttering that yes, they would do nicely, and there he sheltered. He lifted to inspect first one shoe and then the other, old brown oxfords.  Then he began to whistle a strange almost mournful dirge. He seemed to notice the dogs barking which caused him to smile which broadened when they suddenly stopped. Had they been there at all?

            This ordinary man in his rumpled sodden suit, was soon joined by a dog. The dog was completely normal, in color almost matching the man’s coat. He appeared like any Labrador Retriever, except for the yellow rain boots he wore. The man scoffed loudly when he saw him.

            “You again? Really? You’re the best they could do? Where did you get those ridiculous rain boots? You won’t need them. The storm is passing.”

            “Crikey,” the dog answered, or at least that’s what it appeared he might have said.

            “Well never mind, we must be off. I believe some distance that way,” the man said pointing away from the mountains, “we should find our road. Come along then.”

            The dog waited a moment and then followed, without the rain boots. The unlikely pair never looked behind. This was just their way. They had traveled together before, actually being quite fond of each other. Behind them though, the scrub aspen trees were lush and luxuriant offering ample shelter.

            About twenty-five miles away as the crow flew stood the small town of Cordova. Cordova was like many towns, having never been a boom town. One had to wonder why it existed at all. Exist the town did though, despite dips of misfortune and tiny successes occurring much like ebb and tide.  Located on the desert flat, the storm which had developed over the mountains had not been noticed in poor Cordova. Instead, children and teenagers had gone to school, the bank had opened, and the single teller had done a steady business. The drug store had opened, so too had the hardware store. People gathered at a few spots for breakfast and morning coffee and just to say hello to each other and spread the local gossip. This was small town life. Nothing out of place ever happened in Cordova. Yet the town did have some notoriety, some prosperity and attracted the odd tourist.

            One mile down the two lane black top which served as both highway and main street for Cordova, was Carlotta’s Café, the source of that prosperity, notoriety and of course the odd tourist.  Carlotta’s was much like any café. You could get just about anything at Carlotta’s from typical diner food like meatloaf, to Mexican food favorites to hamburgers and sandwiches. You could get breakfast anytime. The current proprietor was Maria, Carlotta’s granddaughter. Like her grandmother, and mother before her, Maria ran a tight ship. Everything was neat and clean, shiny clean. The kitchen sparkled and despite a steady business was kept that way because Carlotta had insisted. Maria was the third generation to run Carlotta’s Café, yet faced the same dilemma the first two had faced. No matter what was done, Carlotta’s Café served the worst food in the world.   The strangest aspect of this phenomenon was that Carlotta’s was still the local favorite. There were rarely empty plates at Carlotta’s. People came to be amused by how Carlotta’s could mess up even a simple hamburger, or a shaved turkey sandwich. There was a lot of chuckles at Carlotta’s. Maria, just like her mother, Dolores, who was just like Carlotta hated that no one loved the food. Maria was an excellent cook, like her mother and like her grandmother. 

            Over the years, Carlotta, Dolores and Maria had taken over the cooking duties themselves. They had all hired expensive chefs, experienced line cooks, invested in the very best of ingredients and nothing had worked. Maria had hired paranormal experts and discovered nothing. Carlotta’s had been the subject of countless cooking show specials which was the source of the notoriety and the tourism. The lengths in which people would go to amuse themselves knew no boundaries. Maria went home crying many nights and lately was contemplating her options. She was considering hiring someone retired from the military who had experience feeding many people. She was considering changing back to an experienced line cook or even a new chef wanting to find fame. Mostly she was considering closing this place that she really loved but caused her so much pain.  She was thinking this very thought, walking from a table of northerners who had traveled down to eat the bad food and make fun of the cozy café Maria called home when the bell to the door rang, and in waled the ordinary man from the storm.

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