Choices

Submitted into Contest #58 in response to: Write a story about someone feeling powerless.... view prompt

76 comments

Adventure Romance Thriller

"If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans"


Woody Allen


Locals say it's a magnet for drifters but he just calls it home. It’s known as Tornado Alley, but most folks don’t go there to bowl; they go there to drink and forget. The foundation is original, but the building is not; it’s been rebuilt twice, once in 2009 and again in 2014. 


His small apartment sits just behind the office and has everything a single man needs. He has a comfortable chair positioned right beside a twin bed and in front of a flat screen TV. He has a refrigerator that sometimes has food, but always has beer. At closing time he cleans the mess from the drunks he never kicks out, restocks the bar and retreats to his sanctuary to wait to do the same thing the next day. He is alone. He is always alone.


In Moore, Oklahoma, everyone knows the sound. It’s high pitched, it’s loud and it’s continuous. Most folks hear it and rush for the cellar but not him, not tonight. He’s been destroyed and rebuilt, twice. It’s his business and his life and he’s not going to do it again. If fate chooses him tonight he will go willingly. Tonight he is Ahab. Tonight he is Leonidas. Tonight he’s a bowling alley owner at his breaking point. As the siren sounds he pulls the rag, ever present, from his back pocket and cleans the bar just as he always does at closing time.


The door bursts open and he sees her standing against the quickly blackening background. She is windblown and panicked. Her hair ruffled and unkempt. She isn’t pretty now but he’s sure most Friday nights she’s manicured and attractive. She’s dressed in a skirt and high heels. Even tonight she doesn’t fit in. She scans the room but finds no one but him. Her face contorts in fear. If she’s looking for safety, it's nowhere to be found. There is nowhere to hide, no protection from what is coming.  


A mind plays out all the scenarios in the space of seconds but in a moment she changes everything. He is willing to let destiny decide his fate tonight but that is his choice, not hers. Why is he responsible for her? He doesn’t know but he is. The cellar is too far. There isn’t enough time. There is never enough time. There had been women before, women he knew but in this moment there is only her and in this moment he is no longer Ahab or Leonidas, he is a father or a brother or a husband. 


His instincts take over as he motions her to follow him. Without hesitation she complies. No words are spoken as he leads her to the room behind the office. It doesn’t offer safety but it offers companionship; they will not face this trial alone. He leads her to the chair beside the bed in front of the TV and he coaxes her to sit down next to him. He knows she shouldn’t do it, she doesn’t know him. None of that matters, she follows his directions without question.  


In the chair he places his arm around her. He’s not sure why, he just thinks he should. In the chair she leans against his chest as if she is listening for his heartbeat. The only sound is the siren until it comes. A tornado is wind, only it’s not. It’s death. It’s a freight train. It’s the sight of things flying that don’t fly and the sound of things colliding that don’t collide. In the chair and without words they feel the rumbling of the building, they hear the destruction that surrounds them. He is painfully aware of his vulnerability and the consequence of his choice. He is aware his choice now involves her. He pulls a stranger close because a stranger is all he has. He is powerless, which is terrifying yet strangely beautiful. In an unexplained way he understands what it is to share only one thing with another human being. No past, no future, just this moment.


And then it’s gone. Death came for a visit but could not stay. The siren is silent, the wind has subsided and the danger has passed. The two strangers, as if waking from a dream, realize they are in a life-saving embrace on a comfortable chair in front of a flat screen TV next to a twin bed. A few frightening minutes, that felt like years, are over and real life is back, only it isn’t. She gathers herself and stands. He does the same. She fixes her hair as best she can and he puts his rag in his back pocket. She turns to him as if to say something, anything, but there is nothing to say. After a pause, almost longer than the trauma, she takes his face in her hands and kisses him.  


In his life he will never have another kiss like that one. Soft yet strong. Thankful and passionate. Loving yet anonymous. She turns to leave, he wants her to stay. He wants her to stay but he knows she won’t. He wants the moment to last, but like a tornado, a moment like this is here and then it’s gone and there is no way to stop it. He watches her walk out the same door she entered just a few minutes earlier and his mind fills with questions. Is it possible to meet the love of your life without words? Is it possible to see her just once and have her fill your heart forever? Is it possible to face death and find life? Is it possible she might feel the same?  


He will never know the answers to those questions, but he knows the bar won’t clean itself so he pulls the rag from his back pocket and starts to wipe. Everything is back to normal but nothing will ever be the same.


September 08, 2020 14:28

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76 comments

Zilla Babbitt
11:26 Sep 11, 2020

Um. Well, this is just great. Beautiful. Subtle. Silent and loud. I love that there's no dialogue. Both descriptive and sparse. Of the almost-nil things I'd change is make sure the reader knows that she's scared of the tornado, not JUST him. Other than that, this is brilliant. Seriously. Keep it up!

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Thom Brodkin
12:39 Sep 11, 2020

On the days when I'm struggling to write I'm going to come back to this comment for motivation. Thank you for the feedback and even more so for the encouragement. Kind words are the elixir for what ails the writers soul.

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Zilla Babbitt
21:11 Sep 11, 2020

You're very welcome! Other ways I was going to start the comment (but discarded because they were slightly blunt): "You liar. There's no way this is your first story, this is too good..." "Okay, look, I stand with the other commenters in that this is amazing, and also I think you're lying when you say this is your first. Too good." Obviously I don't think you're lying, but, well, wow.

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Thom Brodkin
22:12 Sep 11, 2020

I’ve never been so happy to be called a liar. 😀. That might be the kindest thing anyone has ever said to me. Thank you.

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Zilla Babbitt
14:42 Sep 12, 2020

Hey, Thom, go check out my bio... ;)

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Thom Brodkin
15:37 Sep 12, 2020

I am speechless. I started to write because I discovered it was my way to be heard, to be known. From my first day on Reedsy I knew your name. From my first time reading one of your stories I’ve admired your talent. You are an example of what writers should be. I guess what I’m saying is I’m grateful you took the time to recognize me because I value your opinion highly. Thank you.

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Scout Tahoe
14:37 Sep 14, 2020

Congrats on Zilla’s bio, Thom!

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Thom Brodkin
14:48 Sep 14, 2020

Thanks so much. She is the gold standard and to get a shout out form her is truly special.

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Doubra Akika
00:17 Sep 14, 2020

These were my favourite bits. He pulls a stranger close because a stranger is all he has. He is powerless, which is terrifying yet strangely beautiful. In an unexplained way he understands what it is to share only one thing with another human being. No past, no future, just this moment. Is it possible to meet the love of your life without words? Is it possible to see her just once and have her fill your heart forever? Is it possible to face death and find life? Is it possible she might feel the same? Everything about this was fantastic...

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Thom Brodkin
12:31 Sep 14, 2020

You are a super hero. Thank you for taking the time to encourage me so completely. Your writing is professional grade and to have you say such nice things about mine makes me want to write more. Reedsy is a community of writers trying to be heard. We understand each other and when we do it right we spur each other on to greatness. Thanks for taking part in my journey. I look forward to reading more of your stories and asking you to read more of mine. :-)

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Doubra Akika
12:45 Sep 14, 2020

Thank you for all the encouragement as well! I love this platform honestly. Meeting amazing writers like you! And all the encouragement as well has done wonders for my confidence. Reading your work was honestly a pleasure! Will definitely make sure to check out more of yours in the future. I’m sure I’ll love them!

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Jane Andrews
21:06 Sep 08, 2020

Heartbreakingly beautiful. Like Laura said, the repetition really works in this to create a dreamlike effect. "She turns to leave, he wants her to stay. He wants her to stay but he knows she won’t. He wants the moment to last, but like a tornado, a moment like this is here and then it’s gone and there is no way to stop it." It's lyrical and poignant and proof that a shorter piece can have just as much impact as a longer one. "Is it possible to meet the love of your life without words? Is it possible to see her just once and have her fill you...

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Thom Brodkin
21:47 Sep 08, 2020

This was my first short story ever. I wrote it on a whim for another contest. It’s what gave me the bug to write. I really appreciate you reading it and giving me heartfelt feedback. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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Elle Clark
17:31 Sep 08, 2020

Oooh, I like this one. Tornado warnings and waiting for it to pass is a such a specific experience and it’s (thankfully) one I’ve never had. Yet I found myself understanding something of it after reading this. Sharing such an intense one-off experience with a stranger is something that you see a lot of in fiction but I’ve not seen this version of it before. I thought this really worked. There was a lot of repetition which, by and large, gave an almost ethereal feel to this. It helped the narration have almost a dreamlike quality that...

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Thom Brodkin
17:40 Sep 08, 2020

Thanks!! This was actually my first attempt at creative writing and what sent me searching for a site like Reedsy.

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Elle Clark
17:49 Sep 08, 2020

Really? Well an excellent start then!

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Jonathan Blaauw
13:46 Sep 09, 2020

Wait, you mean you don't get tornados in London, Laura? Wow! You're missing out!

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Elle Clark
17:44 Sep 09, 2020

Just the ones that tear through government and then go ‘wuh woh’ with their blonde floppy hair flapping in the wind when thousands of people die. We’re in the verge of a second spike here. I’m feeling bitter. I’m sure I’m hiding it pretty well though.

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Thom Brodkin
17:50 Sep 09, 2020

I'm always glad to give you two a forum to chat. :-)

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Elle Clark
17:58 Sep 09, 2020

Haha! Sorry Thom! If it makes you feel any better, we do this on most people’s stories. We also love it when other people join in. Jonathan tends to just butt in and hijack my comments and then we go off on a tangent!

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Elle Clark
17:59 Sep 09, 2020

Also I just went back through your stories to like the ones I’ve missed (I always comment but forget to like) and saw that you’ve mentioned me in your bio! That’s so sweet - I’ve never been mentioned in someone else’s bio before and I’m honoured!

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Thom Brodkin
18:13 Sep 09, 2020

I love it when you guys highjack my feed. You both are hilarious and you deserve every kind word I can send your way. You have helped me immensely. 😀

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Julie Ward
22:29 Sep 13, 2020

This is an incredible story. I absolutely loved it. I could picture the bowling alley, the bar, the storm bearing down so vividly. The kiss at the end. Really, really well done.

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Thom Brodkin
22:56 Sep 13, 2020

Thank you so much for your encouragement.

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Julie Ward
21:40 Sep 16, 2020

Your writing really is engaging - would you mind checking out my story? I would love your feedback.

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Thom Brodkin
21:46 Sep 16, 2020

Absolutely. I’m on my way there now.

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Nusa Zam
18:58 Sep 21, 2020

One of the best last sentences I’ve come across! You really are a gifted writer; it’s a genuine pleasure to read your work!!

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Thom Brodkin
20:11 Sep 21, 2020

Thank you so much. This is actually my first story ever. Written for a different contest in March. It's what gave me the bug.

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16:37 Sep 21, 2020

I love this one too! Keep writing!

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Thom Brodkin
16:41 Sep 21, 2020

Once again thank you so much. It means more than you know.

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Jade Young
19:35 Sep 17, 2020

Whoa, this is some powerful stuff❤ I enjoyed reading every word and every sentence. Your descriptions were so good that I felt like I was living through the whole experience with them. I felt the bittersweetness of their parting. You're a very talented writer, and I can't wait to read more from you in future😊❤

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Thom Brodkin
19:41 Sep 17, 2020

Thanks so much and definitely rightbackatcha. Keep writing and stay safe.

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Rhondalise Mitza
20:55 Sep 14, 2020

Everything is back to normal but it'll never be the same. That last line is excellent. :)

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Thom Brodkin
21:19 Sep 14, 2020

Thank you. And thanks for taking the time to read!!

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Jonathan Blaauw
16:25 Sep 14, 2020

Thom! I see you have a new story! I nearly fell off my chair in excitement (true story!) I'm going to like it now so I can read it properly when I get a chance and comment with my full attention. I was tempted to skim it so long, but your stories deserve thorough reads for full enjoyment. Just wanted to let you know I'll be there asap.

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Thom Brodkin
16:32 Sep 14, 2020

This is so funny. I was just on my way to your page. (Also a true story). I’m looking forward to what you have waiting there for me. 😀😀😀

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Thom Brodkin
16:36 Sep 14, 2020

Where is my new story? I’m waiting!! 😀😀😀

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Jonathan Blaauw
06:33 Sep 15, 2020

Ask, and you shall receive. Eventually. Patience is a virtue. It's coming. Work is keeping me very busy this week, but I'm progressing on a delicious story. Thursday release date probably.

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Willow Bird
18:29 Sep 12, 2020

This story left me speechless. It was so simple, and yet so very complicated. The fact that you were able to put so much power into a story with no dialogue is incredible. You are an incredible writer, and I can't believe this is your first story. I can't express enough how perfect this was. Keep writing!

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Thom Brodkin
18:34 Sep 12, 2020

Thank you so much. Rightbackatcha. You have a gift. Keep sharing it.

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Willow Bird
19:10 Sep 12, 2020

Thanks :)

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Patricia Adele
03:55 Sep 12, 2020

This is a world away from last week's story. That one zapped me to attention while this is beautiful and soft inside wrapped up in a violent tornado. Your writing is just excellent. Good job!

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Kristin Neubauer
19:48 Sep 11, 2020

What an amazing story, Thom! It really makes you think. I mean, REALLY. I love how the theme melds so perfectly with the tornado metaphor. I think you could use the same story for the prompt this week about describing extreme weather without using weather terms....in fact, I thought that's what I was reading until I went back to the prompt! Just fantastic - one of those that will stick with me for a long time. I think I saw that about your stories almost every time....and they do!

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Thom Brodkin
20:29 Sep 11, 2020

Thank you so much. Rightbackatcha by the way. This is actually my first short story ever. I wrote it in March for a different contest but wanted to put it in front of more eyes.

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Kristin Neubauer
13:45 Sep 12, 2020

You only wrote your first short story in March? And that was your first? Wow! That is some kind of natural talent. I hope you won the contest!

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Thom Brodkin
15:39 Sep 12, 2020

Thank you so much!!! Yes, this was my first. It took second place in the voting and won the judges choice award. It definitely gave me the bug and sent me searching for a site like Reedsy.

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Kristin Neubauer
15:59 Sep 12, 2020

Congratulations! That's incredible. Definitely keep nurturing that talent - I bet we read a bestseller from you one day!

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Yolanda Wu
06:40 Sep 10, 2020

I loved the premise of this story, the start immediately hooked me. It was so well-written. I liked the descriptions and you used present tense really well, which is something I can't really pull off, but you did! Amazing work!

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02:49 Sep 10, 2020

The wordsmithing was superb. I especially liked the alliteration about flying and colliding. It summons very real memories of being a barfly in a small town, and the loneliness and malaise contained in those places and within the people who fill them.

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Thom Brodkin
01:36 Sep 13, 2020

Thank you so much for your kind words.

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00:37 Sep 10, 2020

This is so lovely. I love the combination of the violent tornado and the tender moment between two strangers. It read so smoothly almost like poetry. I didn’t find any typos or errors. Well done. Beautiful

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Thom Brodkin
00:45 Sep 10, 2020

Such kind words. Thank you so much.

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Hannah B
17:46 Sep 09, 2020

Well done! The setting is great and the description of the tornado is excellent. A natural disaster is perfect for a situation of powerlessness, especially something like a tornado that often comes out of nowhere. I especially liked the line about holding on to a stranger because that's all he had. The length was nice as well--short and sweet, no fluff or wasted space. Good job!

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Thom Brodkin
17:48 Sep 09, 2020

The original contest had a 1000 word limit. It really teaches you to maximize every word. :-) Once again thank you for the read, the like and the kind words.

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Jonathan Blaauw
06:25 Sep 09, 2020

Amazing that this was your first because it’s excellent! I immediately noticed the short, simple sentences. This can sometimes give a bit of a stop/start feel, but in certain cases, like this one, it can really enhance the story, making each sentence land with a power of its own. It feels stripped of all unnecessary fluff, which not only makes it read well but also, paradoxically, highlights the emotional turmoil the characters feel, mirrored by the storm raging outside. The Ahab and Leonidis lines, each a separate sentence, are perfect exam...

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Thom Brodkin
12:36 Sep 09, 2020

See I don't have a wait problem. :-) Your feedback is worth the wait. You hit the nail on the head. I don't know if my writing will grow over time but right now I consider myself an old fashioned story teller. Mark Twain not J.R.R. Tolikien. As I read your feedback it also gives me hope that I have something within me that isn't learned that will help make me a great writer. I don't think a lot about the mechanics of writing or how one sentence at the end of a story reflects back on the theme presented at the beginning. I just write ...

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Jonathan Blaauw
13:40 Sep 09, 2020

You definitely have something in you that’ll help make you a great writer – think about why you started writing in the first place! I doubt it was because you were bored and looking for a new hobby. Not with baseball season back in full swing. You’ve got the key element – the desire to write and the natural instincts for it. Technical bits you’ll pick up along the way. I often read a book and wonder why I enjoyed it, then go back and look for the little things I can learn from. Also, writing is the best way to improve writing. On the job tra...

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Thom Brodkin
14:02 Sep 09, 2020

I wish I could upvote this 100 times. You crack me up. :-)

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Christina Hall
05:24 Sep 09, 2020

Beautifully written. You've made it so easy to see the outwardly stoic guy doing what he has to do, but you've elevated it so the character feels real.

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Thom Brodkin
17:40 Sep 09, 2020

I always love your feedback. You make me want to write more. Thanks!!

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