It is late evening in mid-January. Outside temperature is deadly cold and dropping. Lanny, the resident drunk parked at the end of the bar, says it’s supposed to reach -50°F tonight but he’s known for exaggeration. The King & Lowry’s Saloon is mostly empty, only two other patrons remain quietly sipping their drinks, listening to the bartender, Jonathan King, discuss sleeping arrangements with the drunkard over the shriek of the growing blizzard outside.
“Yer welcome to the cellar cot again but you gotta promise to not make sick and work some chores around here tomorrow morning.”
Lanny grumbles a weak acceptance since other reasonable options seem unlikely tonight. Trying to make good on his agreement he staggers from his stool and tends to the dying stove near the bar.
King pours a round of whiskeys on the house. “Tonight ain’t a good night to be walking far in this weather. Once you sip that down… you fellas best be on your way.” Fred Weimer and Ron Marshall thank him and agree.
Lanny stumbles back up to the bar for his whiskey but misses his chair and falls to the floor inaudibly as the front windows are lit pure white, illuminating the entire bar like summer afternoon. Instantaneously the floor shakes violently and a deafening explosion leaves everyone’s ears ringing. The white light beyond the front windows dims as they shatter inward, bottles and glasses fall from the shelves, and the large mirror over the bar splits and shatters. Freezing air and snow fill the saloon.
King, Fred, and Ron run out the front door to see flames licking the sky from the direction of a railyard a few blocks away. Lanny stumbles up behind. Sleepy residents appear in neighboring broken windows and doors, standing dumbfounded in nightgowns. A few clothed men are running down the street shouting toward the pillar of fire. Over the wail of the blizzard you can faintly hear people screaming.
King tells Fred, Lanny, and Ron, to run ahead and see if you can help while he gets his keys and locks up.
The three patrons stumble up the street against the blizzard. Butte Hardware Company’s warehouse is a raging inferno. Bright flames illuminate the icy streets revealing they are littered with charred wood, screaming firemen, and human body parts.
An explosion from the warehouse sends everyone in the area to the ground. Flaming debris flies above your heads. A smoking leather boot lands in the snow with a hiss. Smoke and swirling fog begin to obscure the street. Fred and Ron glimpse Lanny sobbing, clinging to the corpse of a decapitated horse. His sobs turn into screams as his body is lifted into the air and disappears into darkness. The horse’s corpse gyrates and its legs twitch as though trying to run.
Frantic men, among them King, drag Fred and Ron away from the inferno. Another explosion cuts through the blizzard as the two remaining patrons babble incoherently about Lanny.