Cletus was tired of everybody talkin' about the weather, nobody doin' nothin'. There was still time to make it to the television station. He yanked his plaid flannel jacket and lucky fishing hat from the peg as he headed out the door.
He parked the battered pickup in the alley behind the station and entered through the steel doors where he sometimes made deliveries. No one paid attention as he crossed the large, open studio, stepping over thick cables taped to the concrete floor. He walked down the hall to the offices, reading names on the doors until he came to the one he was looking for: Perkins. Cletus didn't bother knocking.
Andy Perkins, the television weatherman, looked up from his computer, mildly surprised at the sudden appearance of this ragged stranger in his office. Before he could ask, Cletus Bumpass answered the question.
"I'm here to do the weather, Perkins. Time folks got the truth about it."
"You know the truth about the weather?" Mr. Perkins asked the strange intruder, more amused than alarmed. "That's great," he said, "because I'm a trained meteorologist, and I seldom know the whole truth about the weather."
"You don't have to tell me that," replied Cletus, "you've ruined too many fishin' weekends. Anyway, I ain't here to discuss meteors. I'm here to do the weather, and you're gonna help." He put his hand into the pocket of his jacket with deliberate, threatening purpose. "Do you know what I have in my hand?" Cletus asked.
Perkins eyed the bulge in the plaid fabric and his forehead broke sweat. "Yes, I ... I think I do."
That's doubtful, thought Cletus, since what he aimed so malevolently at Perkins was actually an Almond Joy bar he'd forgotten to eat on his way home from work. The Almond Joy was perfect, Cletus realized, stiffer and therefore more convincing as something potentially deadly than a Mounds bar might have been.
"What do you want?" asked the nervous television personality. "Why are you doing this?"
"I guess it's because sometimes I feel like a nut," replied Cletus, to no one's amusement but his own. Perkins recognized the truth of that, or thought he did.
"I'm here to do the real weather," Cletus repeated, "so let's git `er done. Take me to the cameras," he commanded, menacing the frightened weatherman with chocolate, coconut, and a couple of high-caliber almonds.
When the situation was thoroughly understood by the news crew, everyone agreed that the safest thing to do until help arrived-and the best option for stimulating the station's ratings, by the way-was to let Cletus have his way. He was positioned in front of the cameras, given his cues, and the peculiar, impromptu broadcast began.
"My name is Cletus Bumpass," he addressed viewers, "and I'm here for all you boaters out there. You fishermen and water skiers, you families with pontoons and houseboats, I figger we're all tired of having 10 percent chance of rain come down on our heads. The truth about the weather is that no one freakin' knows. Um-can I say freakin' on the air?" There was no answer from the crew.
"Guess it don't really matter at this point," Cletus muttered with a resigned shrug. Everyone in the studio nodded grim agreement, prayerfully waiting for the SWAT team.
"Anyway, where's the maps?" A technician motioned to the forward monitor, and to Cletus's amazement an area map appeared magically behind him on the screen. Spying himself on the monitor, Cletus waved his arms in exaggerated, comical imitation of Perkins doing the weather. "Now see this water here on the map, where the boats go? That's where it's gonna rain. There's yer 10 percent right there."
"We studied that Dabbler radar," Cletus continued, smelling the chocolate in his pocket melting under the hot studio lights, "and we finally figured out that we don't actually know what the heck it is. Looks like a spaceship to me. I think it might be one."
"We studied them fancy pitchers from outer space, too," he continued, "and I guess that's where ole Perky Perkins's meteor education might come in handy. But we still don't know if it's good to take the boat out. You might go fishin' or swimmin' tomorrow, expectin' fair skies according to Mr. Weatherman here, when all a sudden, whoa, you ain't in Kansas anymore. Never expect the weather to follow the rules."
To prove his point, it began to rain in the studio. Warm water bathed his face, surprising him, and he opened his eyes.
Her paws on the sofa, Dolly, his faithful old coon hound, slurped him again, her breath smelling curiously of forbidden chocolate. As Cletus sat up, stretching and yawning, he spotted his favorite jacket on the floor, under the peg by the door. On the TV, an announcer suggested he stay tuned for Andy Perkins and the Weekend Accuweather Forecast.
Cletus just sighed, shook his head, and went out to buy bait.
Until next time,
My Best from the Stern,
Ted A. Thompson