Monday, April 6, 2015


There was dust in the air, dust in the cracks of the leather saddle he sat on. Dust in his boots and dust in his eyes. Ears. Hair. The whole world had become dust and, as loud as he screamed, he could only feel the tearing of his own throat. The wind took the words. The dust swallowed everything, made the world swell-bellied with a cataclysm that belied catatonia.

It was Goddamn dusty.

And dust is a misnomer ... this was sand, so fine it floated, but sharp. There were no dust bunnies, there were swirling dust disasters that cut like drill bits. Blinded the cattle. Choked the machinery. The dust was referred to as dust because "dust" seemed manageable. Even hopeful. "Dust" seemed almost silly.

He wasn't laughing.

It had a smell, the dust. Some folks claimed it didn't, but it sure as hell did. Ephraim knew the smell - it was the smell of fear and heartache and dreams destroyed. The dust was hellfire. The dust made Ephraim question his faith. What kind of God would send them storms that could strip whitewash off a fence, blind the livestock, force them to hunt cabin-gaps until it became an obsession?

The dust had a taste when he coughed it up, too. That light iron aftertaste - the grit of it was worse than the blood.

Goddamn, but he hated the dust.

He hated the dust, and he hated the whole Goddamned mess. He should have known. He would always carry that. It had seemed too good to be true, he'd known that, and it had turned out to be exactly how he feared it would be - now, they were sunk in it. Drowning in dust.

The bank owned everything. It owned Ephraim, and he would have rather sold his soul to the Devil than Jep Peters, but there was nothing else to do except watch the fat man get fatter while Ephraim's stock died, while his daughter tried not to complain about her hunger. He could see it in her eyes, in the fevers that were coming more often. The dust was killing them all, and he might as well have been shoveling it into their lungs because he couldn't stop it. Every day, the dust was worse, and, every day, he lost any ground he'd gained, fingers slipping, trying to find purchase in an avalanche of "dust" - at first they'd hidden their fear in morbid humor. Shrugged it off. There was no hiding now. And not a damn thing to laugh about.


Ephraim stood by the freshly shoveled dust. His wife, beside him, spit into her handkerchief and cried silently, tears cutting fresh white swaths down her dirty face. Ephraim squeezed her hand. He thought she squeezed back. He couldn't tell anymore - where they stood - he couldn't tell about any of it. It was ludicrous. A word he'd kept and figured to never use. Mostly, he wished that the dust would just kill them all and get it over with. He was tired of waiting. Tired of burying friends. Tired of shooting his cattle. Tired of the whole thing. He'd taken to carrying his old Colt, and he didn't know why. 

Now, Annie. He couldn't live without that little face - he could see it clear as day, always smiling, always knowing that Daddy would fix things.

Goddamn it.

The preacher was doing good business, and it showed. The preacher and the mortician up to the city - both of them were doing real well for themselves. Lots of customers. His pulse stuttered.

The preacher had his sermon down now, you had to give him that. His words were fat and lofty. He did not speak the language of his parishioners. They humored him, figured that was the way God talked - all big words and theatrical flourish. Hell, when it wasn't one of yours going into the ground, it was almost a pretty good show. Almost.

Ephraim felt her weight shift, and he squeezed her hand one more time. He was hot. Not weather hot - hot from the inside. His heart pounded, and the wind screamed in his ears. He let the preacher's words wash over him, coat him like the dust. He knew it was winding down, and his hand was on the Colt before he had a chance to think about it. The weight of it felt good, true. He raised the gun as the preacher raised his hands. Tried to hold it steady, hands shaking. Tears turning his eyes to mud.

"So, we lay in one of your lambs, taken too soon. And we place our faith in the almighty goodness of God - God has a plan, and it is not for us to reason God's plans. So, we lay Annie into the ground that has nourished her these nine short years. We send her back to her maker with open hearts. Because we must. It is and always will be so. Ashes to ashes ... dust to -"

The gunshot was the loudest thing any of them had ever heard, but there wasn't one amongst them that faulted Ephraim. Some felt like cheering. It wasn't right, but nothing was right. They blamed the dust. They blamed those who could still say the word without feeling an empty sickness inside.

They did not judge Ephraim. You can't judge a man who already lives in hell.


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