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Simon MacPherson just wanted to be liked. It wasn’t an unreasonable desire. He thought perhaps if someone actually liked him then he might be happy.

Simon knew why he wasn’t happy. Of that much he was quite certain. He could enumerate a painfully long list of the reasons for his general dissatisfaction in life, but people seldom asked him to. And those few that had didn’t ask twice. Chief among the reasons was his name. In a world full of stylish names like Dylan and Asher, Simon felt his name was well, dumb. When Simon was a child the other children were cruel, as they often are. “Simple Simon” was the most common jibe, but there were others.

As a youth, the moody hormonal storms did little to improve his outlook on life. He turned sixteen, wore his hair long, and listened to dark thrash metal music. He read books overflowing with angst and wrote endlessly about the injustice of life in spiral wire-bound notebooks. It rained a lot that year.

A few years later, he’d grown up a little. He came to understand that people weren’t interested in how he felt about his life. And while that didn’t change how he actually felt in the slightest, it did alter his public behavior and made him more bearable to be around.

It was a lovely Thursday in late spring of his Senior year of college. Simon was on track to graduate on-time after the typical four years. Plus, after months of coaxing and pining, he’d finally managed to schedule a picnic date on Saturday with the astonishingly beautiful Allison from his English Lit class. Things were looking up.

But Friday morning was a different story. Dire weather forecasts started to roll in — hail and rain of biblical proportions were expected for Friday night and into Saturday. Radar models showed the worst of it barrelling straight toward Simon and his romantic plans on Picnic Point in Madison, Wisconsin. Saturday’s date with Allison was doomed.

Simon poured over the forecast, the maps and the radar plots looking for any sign of a break. He wished he could somehow stop the storm. He wanted to force it to swing north to Green Bay or someplace. He thought if he could push it away then he could save Saturday’s picnic and his time with Allison. Somewhere in China a butterfly could flap its wings or whatever — he’d heard about that.

He glared at the radar images for hours. He even stood outside in the wind, facing the west while willing the storm to pass on his right. His heart’s destiny with Allison depended on it. He poured his mental energy into banking the storm, somehow believing that he could make a difference. His head pounded from the effort, but he was relentless. It was all for Allison — nothing else mattered.

Like Simon, the storm had increased in intensity. It spawned multiple tornadoes including an EF4 monster. Early season crops were flattened. Barns and silos burst, spewing last year’s harvest across the county. A few dairy cows were lost. The old lighthouse on Lake Winnebago at Fond du Lac took a beating, but was spared. Boats from the lake landed miles away, some whole, others in splinters. A few homes were destroyed, but since the storm missed Madison and the other large communities farther north, fewer homes and lives were lost then what might have been. Most rural folks rode out the storm in their cellars with battery-powered radios, blankets, and prayers — but not all prayers are answered. Tornadoes are the most savage storms known to man.

When Saturday finally came the weather was fine in Madison. But Allison didn’t show. She didn’t answer Simon’s texts or calls. He didn’t understand until later.

Mike, the resident attendant, came over to Simon’s table and gently closed the lid of the laptop computer. “That’s enough for today, Simon. You can look at the weather radar some more tomorrow.” He slid the computer across the table and walked away with it. Simon sat silently, without responding.

“What’s his story, Mike?” asked Juanita, the new intern. “He’s only like what — twenty-one, twenty-two?”

“Yep,” Mike responded sadly, “He had this girlfriend in college who died when a tornado took out her folks’ home while she was visiting. A farm up north around Oshkosh, I think. The kid was convinced that he caused her death. He had a psychotic episode and hasn’t recovered.”

“He claimed he caused a tornado? That’s messed up — even for this place.”

“Not caused, just believed that he steered the storm up north. But yeah — messed up. The docs think with luck and therapy he might mostly recover in a year or so.”

“Huh. Wild. Well, just in case he’s right,” Juanita suggested wryly, “you probably don’t wanna piss him off.”

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