The devil was in the fog that night. You could feel it with every gust of wind and droplet of moisture against your face. You could hear it as the courthouse clock struck midnight. You could see it in the dim light of the corner lamppost and the blinking traffic signals. You could sense it in the sound of the garbage truck feeding itself with the contents of the dumpster behind the drug store. It was a bad night to be walking rounds. But he had sworn when he set out that nothing could make him not complete his hourly rounds. He needed this job to offset his meager early retirement from when the mill shut down.
As he walked the fog was getting so thick, you could not see your hand in front of your face. The temperature was continuing to drop. In his mustache and beard, the condensation from his breathing was freezing. No other night watchman, he thought, dared to brave walking the rounds. The other two on duty huddled around the coffee pot. Telling lies about what they did in the war, the evils of corporate buyouts and forced retirements, and what they did with certain widow ladies in town to help them not be so lonely occupied their time.
From the distance the whistle sound of the 12:05 train from New Orléans filled the air. The horns of the boats out on the Mississippi River belched their warnings as they fought their way upriver, against the current, pushing their barges northward. Their sounds became clearer as he worked his way from the courthouse square down to the waterfront.
As he turned the corner onto Vicksburg Avenue, he could see two shadowy figures struggling down at the entrance of the Union Mission. Thanks to the backlight of the open door he could tell this was a life or death struggle. Damn, he thought, looks like two drunks trying to kill each other. I better go get the real police. Somebody’s going to get killed. He stopped. He was looking, staring. The devil must have been looking, too.
Suddenly, from the river was a massive explosion. A ball of fire was not only shooting up into the sky, but burning cylinders were being spewed from the barge like a giant July 4th fireworks display. Some were going straight up. Some were going upriver. My God, one went straight into the pilot’s window on the tug completely obliterating the superstructure. And, oh no! One was rocketing straight toward him.
The two men stopped their fighting in front of the Union Mission. They both yelled inside for help and ran up to the corner where the last cylinder impacted.
The smell of burning flesh filled the air. His upper body was at least ten feet from his legs. His intestines were spread over the distance in-between.
“It cut him in two and barbecued him at the same time,” said the first drunk.
“Who, who is he?” asked the second drunk.
The preacher from the mission had run outside and up the sidewalk to the corner during the commotion. “That was the night watchman,” answered the out of breath parson.
Jimmie Aaron Kepler