The Storm

November 18, 2016

They said it was pneumonia. From the dust. It took over her completely, clogging her lungs and eventually stopping her heart. And it was over so quick, I didn't even know it was happening. The dust sneaks its way into every possible entrance, taking all that it can and then, when there's nothing left to take, it suffocates you. It chokes you, consumes you, until all you can see or feel or think is that god damn dust and there's no way out and everywhere, everywhere, is just dust. And just when you think it's over, it gets worse. There's no escape.
My wife has been dead for two weeks, and my youngest son, Charlie, has been having those same rattling breaths. Day in, and day out, all I can hear is my boy struggling to breathe. And I can't help him. Lord help me, some days I don't want to. The only thing that cuts through the dust is his coughing, and I swear I'm losing my mind. If it's not one problem, it's another, and I can't get away.
My other boy, Henry, is a fighter. Right now, that's all he can afford to be. Hell, that's all any of us can afford to be.
Some people are lucky enough to get the opportunity to up and drive away. They pack up their whole families and head out west, out to the farms. But me? I'd sooner get pneumonia like my wife and son then work for some big shot farmer in California. Pride is all I can depend on nowadays, and no one is taking it from me. I may be stuck in this hell, but at least I'm my own man. And I'm not giving up.
The boys and I are out right now, and it's all I can do not to scream at Charlie for coughing. Every exhalation is a violent one, and it stirs up more and more dust, clogging my brain at the one time I need to think. All I need is a way to plant again. But I suppose that's all anyone needs.
I'm wracking my brain, watching Henry looking at his brother with apprehension. The poor kid has been trying to take care of him since his mother passed, heal him as if that'll bring her back. But we’re all helpless here.
And that's when it starts again. A few grainy bits signify what's to come, and all-encompassing wave of grit and dust. The choking, suffocating, killing kind. The kind that you board up houses against, but it still seeps in. The kind that has no escape.
“Boys, let's go,” I yell. I wait for Henry to catch up, Charlie trailing behind, and we push our way forward. The wind is trying to haul us away, make us part of the dust. And I'm desperate to reach the house before the wave reaches us, desperate to get us all safe. But I know there's nothing I can do. And that's why I don't help the kid. There's no guiding hands on wayward shoulders, no scooping up the little one and carrying him to safety. I can hardly keep myself alive, and if they want to learn how life really works, it's better they start taking care of themselves.
I reach the shack first, and the door whips open with the wind, dust particles already finding their way inside. Henry is right behind me. We turn and watch Charlie, stumbling and coughing his way through the sandy air and over to us. He makes it, by some miracle, and for a half second I let myself believe that he's a fighter like his brother, like me. But he falls down coughing and spluttering ten times worse than before, and all I can do is close us in. The dust swirls in a terrible storm outside, and the sound of each granule hitting the siding of our rundown little home drives another nail into my brain. But we’re safe, safe as can be given the conditions.
Safe, and stuck inside with no escape.

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