Writing Prompt Wednesday

Found this one on Reddit first thing this morning.

New Orleans had been the site of more than one natural disaster, but the last disaster of this scale was Hurricane Katrina. Naturally, the city was built below sea level by several feet, and flooding was always a concern, but this time it really took the cake. Another Hurricane, named Michael, slammed into New Orleans at a raging class five, and then it sat there for days. Natural flooding came because the storm dumped fourteen inches of rain in a wide swath of damage, but that all focused inward as the levees failed, and water poured into the city at an unprecedented rate. Yet, somehow, in the midst of all this chaos, the sand-bagged Waffle House right on Canal Street still had power and still had patrons.

Very few people waded through the water on this, the third day of the storm continuing to pound the city with what seemed like relentless force. Most had followed the warnings and evacuated the city, even still, after the horrible turn out last time, others sheltered in place in the Superdome. Those who did walk, spotted this Waffle House as a beacon in the destruction — a place to get dry, get a bite, and move on.

Brandon LeRoux had lived in New Orleans his whole life, and he remembered getting ready to leave the city as the storm was hitting, but now he realized he had gotten side tracked, or found some bravery. His parents were in the Superdome, as a matter of fact. He pushed the door of the Waffle House open and wandered inside, wafting in the comforting fragrance of waffles, freshly cooking on the iron, bacon sizzling on the grill, and the smell of fresh brewed coffee. Brandon was soaking wet, but so were the other exhausted faces in the establishment — except for the staff. The staff were all clean and well-kempt, dry, and apparently in complete control of their emotions.

This newest visitor found his way to a table and sat down, squelching in his seat. Within seconds, his waitress arrived at his table. She smiled at him, “What can I get you before you go, hun?”

Brandon hadn’t had a chance to look at the menu, but he knew just by the smell. “Well, first, sorry for soaking your seat.” He chuckled. “I’ll have a coffee — the A/C is blasting in here! — a waffle, and four pieces of bacon, please.” He tried to smile back at her, but a forlorn feeling overcame in as he made eye contact with another patron, and left him unable to complete the simple task.

“No worries,” she said, smiling and gesturing to the seat, “looks like it’s dry already, anyhow. My name’s ‘Keran’ if you need anything.”

As she walked away he looked down at his seat, and felt his clothes. He was still damp, but the seat was, indeed, dry. He inhaled and exhaled deeply and let his mind wander. He was at home when the storm hit; like others, he had hoped that the storm would avert its path last minute, and he would be fine. Then, when the storm made land-fall and the roughest parts of the storm were beating down the coastline, he left his home. Suddenly, though, he found himself having difficulty recalling where he had been for the last day or so, and how he ended up on Canal Street and within sight of this Waffle House. He just couldn’t come up with a conclusion. He shook it off and attributed it to hunger. Another thing caught Brandon’s eye, however, and he watched as his waitress led another patron out the back door. She had done the same thing when he first walked in, and only now did he recall it.

He chocked it up the stress of the storm, until he bumped the cup of coffee that he didn’t remember her bringing back to his table. Brandon sunk his head in his hands and rubbed his temples. “Good Lord, what is wrong with me?” When he looked up again, the cook was sitting across from him and was sliding his plate of food across to him. “Yikes, man, you’re quiet!” He brought the plate closer, and began pouring syrup on it. “Thank you.”

The cook smiled at him, “No problem, pal.” He said leaning back in the seat, his name tag read Ezrael. “Name’s Ezra, how you doin’?”

Brandon stifled a chuckle, “I’ve been better.” He took a bite and gave an audible sound of enjoyment, and chased it with coffee. “This may be the best food I’ve ever eaten.”

“So, I’ve been told.” Ezra said, leaning forward on his elbows. “This one’s on us, since you don’t have your wallet. You take care of yourself, okay, Brandon?” He stood up and tapped his hand on the table. “No need to thank anyone, just let Keran help you out.” He smiled and nodded one more time, and returned to his grill.

Brandon reached down and patted his left back pocket, he didn’t have his wallet, but he’d never forgotten it before. Did he tell anyone that he didn’t have it when he came in? How did the cook know his name? Did he hit his head on something before he came here? He had so many questions, he had to stop and gather himself. “Alright,” he muttered out loud. “I left home, the flooding had already started, and bad. Then, the levee broke…” he took another bite, and talked with a full mouth, “then I remember…”

Keran showed up with the coffee pot and poured in just enough to warm up the black liquid. “Then you got swept away, hun.”

“That’s right, I–” he suddenly realized. “Am I dead?”

Keran nodded slowly, and sat down with him. Another patron came in, looking as bewildered as he must have looked before, and found a place to sit down just like he did. “She is, too. Everyone here, is.”

Brandon took what he realized was his last bite of food, and looked at Keran. “I didn’t think I would be, but I’m ready.”

“Everyone is, once they make it here. That’s what spirits do.” Keran said, nicely. She stood up and lead Brandon toward the back door. The door led through the back of the restaurant and past the manager’s office, with its mirrored tint on the window, overlooking the floor. As they walked, Keran slowly transformed into a robed man, who led Brandon outside. There, beyond the railing, Canal Street had been transformed into a literal canal, and sitting in the water was a small ferry. Brandon was the only soul loaded on board, as it always would be, and now his ferryman, Charon, would take him away. Brandon wasn’t scared, though, he was at peace.

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