First Published in Clever Magazine (2009) - read editor interview
Zachary struggled against the hurricane’s wind and rain to get to the shelter door. He reached for the handle, but a sudden gust hurled him two steps back. He turned his head away from the gale to catch his breath, regained his balance, leaned into the wind as if pushing a great weight, inched forward, grabbed the handle and pushed down. The door, propelled by the wind, flew open and launched Zachary off his feet and into the street. Stunned, he crawled toward the opening and watched as meaty fingers gripped the door and began to pull it shut.
Zachary tripped as he lunged for the entrance, yet managed to grasp the metal panel at the same time his chest slammed the sidewalk. He closed his eyes against the rain and battled to maintain his hold. Without warning, a hand seized his wrist and dragged him inside. As he crossed the threshold, an iPod fell from Zachary’s jacket and landed at the feet in front of him. He looked up ready to thank his rescuer, but stopped when he saw Sheriff Mumford looming over him.
“All citizens were told to evacuate,” the sheriff said. He spread his legs and placed his hands on his hips.
“Didn’t hear nothin’ about no evacuation,” Zachary said, getting to his knees.
“Right,” the sheriff mumbled. He bent down to pick up the shiny object. “Nice doodad you got here.”
Zachary reached for the iPod, but the sheriff jerked it behind his ear, out of Zachary’s reach.
“I found it,” Zachary said.
“Sure you did,” The sheriff’s eyes narrowed, and he tilted his head to one side. “Where was it? In somebody’s home or still in the store?”
“A guy’s gotta make a living.” Zachary stood. “Besides, the owner’s got insurance. It’s not like he can’t afford to replace it.”
“It doesn’t matter if the owner can afford to get another one. You stole it.”
“Gotta get some money somehow. Daddy needs his medicine.”
“Your daddy needs his daily bottle of Johnny Walker,” the sheriff said, shaking his head.
“We don’t have enough money for real medicine.” Zachary locked his eyes on the sheriff’s. “Ain’t got health insurance like you rich folks.”
“Ever try getting a job?”
“Hell, Momma’s got two jobs and barely makes enough to buy food and pay the rent.” Zachary leaned back against the concrete wall. “Daddy’s workers’ comp ran out, and he’s been waitin’ nine months for the government to approve his disability and Medicare.” He picked mud from a fingernail while he waited for the sheriff to respond.
“You know I’m going to have to arrest you.” The sheriff held up the iPod.
“Won’t be the first time.” Zachary smiled. “I’ll be out in a day or so.”
“You’re probably right,” the sheriff said after a taking a moment to think. He grabbed Zachary’s arm and pulled him to the exit. Fighting the wind, the sheriff forced the door open and flung Zachary into the street.
“You can’t throw me out in this storm,” Zachary shouted.
“Sure I can,” the sheriff replied. “I’m breaking the law if I don’t. See that sign that says Maximum Occupancy 250? We’re at the limit. I can’t let anybody else in.”
Sheriff Mumford closed the door and locked the deadbolt before Zachary could reenter the shelter. He ignored Zachary’s screams and the pounding on the door. Smiling, he hitched up his trousers, straightened his tie and headed toward the two men fighting over a bottle of water. He had work to do.