The shrill chorus of alarms resounded across every phone in the room. Each patron frantically trying to access their device and put it on silent. James looked at his screen, the notification sat in its smooth rounded square:
EMERGENCY ALERT – Tornado warning in this area until 11:30pm CST. Take shelter now. Check local media. More info: http://wxtx.gov/s…
“Aw man.” he muttered under his breath. It was almost closing time and only a handful of folks remained. He watched as the various customers frantically switched their gaze from their phones to the darkening sky through the old plate glass windows. The restaurant had been built in an old millinery, complete with bare brick walls and open ceiling. It took them months to get what crumbling features they had up to code with the city as well as the historical society. His manager walked up behind him, “Don’t worry Jimmy, the news is full of shit. We’ll get some rain and it will be over.”
James hated it when she called him that. “Yeah I hope so.” he said, stuffing a customer's credit card into a fake leather checkbook. By the time he made it to their table the entire dining room grew three shades darker. A loud plinking sound cut into the mumbling of the patrons. Pea sized hail softly tapped against the glass. He felt bad for the couple who had just finished their meal and were about to venture out into the weather. “Here’s your card sir, and I would wait for this to blow over a bit before leaving.”
“Thanks bud, but we’ll be fine.” the man said and scrawled his signature at the bottom of the receipt.
James watched as the two collected their things and headed out the front doors which the wind caught immediately as they pushed, swinging them wide open. Warm air rushed into the entryway and before the couple could reach their car the clouds ripped open and the rain began to pour. James went back to check on his remaining table, a group of forty something women who had been out shopping that afternoon and were eagerly collecting their bags.
“We’ll take it all on the one check sweetie.” One of the women said, pulling her wallet from a gaudy buckled purse.
“Of course.” He said and rushed to the back to print out the ticket. In the kitchen the guys were staring out the back doors. A couple of the cooks were soaking wet, having been caught out in the rain during their smoke break. The bus boys were scrolling through their weather apps to watch the huge splotches of red overlapping their location.
With the ticket freshly printed, James made it back out to the dining room floor just in time to start feeling something falling on his cheeks. His customers looked up as areas of the ceiling were beginning to drip. The wind was now blowing so hard that it was impossible to tell the difference between it and the rain. His manager rushed to the center of the room urging the customers to get away from the windows.
An eerie whistling sound rushed around the walls of the restaurant, rattling the windows. Everyone from the kitchen came running into the center of the dining room, the back doors having blown off completely. All the alarms and notifications were not wrong. The great storm was somewhere very close by. James and his manager helped guide everyone into the back corner of the building to the bathrooms, the only place with modern enclosed walls. Crammed in like sardines the lights flickered and the sound only grew louder.
Bricks began to blow loose from the walls. Glass shattered. The women screamed as the plywood walls around them began to shake, wind rushing up under the floor. Lights out. A crash that couldn’t compete with the wind burst in the dining room as the ceiling completely fell through, then the walls. Seconds or minutes or days, nobody huddled together cared once it all finally stopped.
One by one they carefully began to exit the tattered bathroom area careful not to step on any broken glass or debris. James checked on his customers and looked over at his manager. Her phone had rung. “Yes this is Emily’s. What's that?” She paused in utter disbelief, ”Yes, we’re closed!”