Flash! Friday # 41

CLOSED! Whew. Good thing. I’ve been chewing on dirt all day, and my jaw’s quite tired. THANK YOU, everyone, for contributing your marvelous stories!!! Results Sunday.

Welcome to Flash! Friday # 41! One of the marvelous peculiarities of this planet and our humanness is we are limited in view to what was and what is. The world of what will be hides from our eyes. If that doesn’t get a writer’s imagination all fired up, I don’t know what does! Because one thing’s for sure: the future, dear writers, is coming. How do you imagine it? 

(Find the contest rules here.)

This week’s contest is judged by SVW member Patricia McCommas who says the future winning tale contains a full story with a really spectacular twist. Be sure to check out her judge page to find out more!

And now:

Word limit: 350 word story (10-word leeway) based on the photo prompt. 

* How: Post your story here in the comments. Include your word count (340 – 360 words, exclusive of title) and Twitter handle if you’ve got one. 

* Deadline: 11:59pm ET tonight (check the world clock if you need to; Flash! Friday’s on Washington, DC time)

Winners: will post SUNDAY 

Prize: A e-trophy e-dragon e-badge coming your way, a futurely impressive winner’s page here at FF, a pending personalized and fun 60-second interview feature next Wednesday, and YOUR NAME painted in giant block letters across time machines everywhere (so to speak). NOTE: Winning and non-winning stories alike remain eligible for selection for Monday’s occasional Flash Points. 

* Follow @FlashFridayFic on Twitter for up-to-date news/announcements/DIY dragon fire-storm kits.  And now for your prompt:

Dust storm in Stratford, Texas, 1935. Public domain photo by NOAA.

Dust storm in Stratford, Texas, 1935. Public domain photo by NOAA.

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115 thoughts on “Flash! Friday # 41

  1. I Wandered…
    @todayschapter
    342 words

    With the gentlest of whispers I was born. At first I was nothing but dust drifting in the faintest of breezes. I was young, full of energy and eager to travel. I wandered. I learned to dance, twisting and twirling across the prairie. Creatures would sometimes stop to take my picture, laughing and joking when I swirled around them. I was powerless, insignificant, afraid. I needed to try harder. I zigged and zagged, scooping up leaves, then branches, then entire trees, growing bigger and stronger with every passing moment.

    I met another. It was smaller, an infant. I tried to protect it, to nurture it, but it came too close. In a moment it was gone, a part of me now. I did not understand my power until it was too late.

    There were several more, but I understood my purpose now. I absorbed them all with merciless hunger. All I knew was the urge to grow. It consumed me, like I consumed all that stood in my path.

    The sirens started far on the horizon. I had earned their attention now. The creatures that had once seemed impossibly huge appeared so insignificant. They were the powerless ones now, there was no more laughter, only screams. I swallowed their homes one by one, tearing off roofs, smashing down walls, anything to add to my mass. I felt like I could swallow the world.

    It happened so gradually I barely noticed. I grew tired, weary, my hunger sated. I could not sustain the energy, the will to increase. I convinced myself I could spare that house, avoid that school. Soon I could no longer lift them. The creatures stopped running, they hid in their homes. I swatted at them ineffectively.

    I accelerated, outrunning myself. There was no escape, only deterioration. It brought relief. As I shrank I became lighter, faster, young again. I was reborn. I no longer feared the creatures. I danced once more.

    I did not see the other until it was too late, and just like that, I was gone.

  2. Family Ties

    Mama and Papa were the last ones to shelter themselves. Papa kept calling out for Betsy, but Mama pulled him in. Luckily, Randy had pulled Betsy in already. We huddled in the dark basement, all ten of us. Betsy wouldn’t stop mooing. Rover, annoyed at her, kept barking. Mama and Papa were yelling at us to fetch towels, bales of hay, rags, anything that would plug the gaps between the doors and windows plugged in. Randy was wheezing like a dying animal. I fanned him so hard that I couldn’t feel my hands anymore.

    Hope floats! A week later, we made our way to California. All of us, except for Randy! Betsy had to be loaded on the cart. She couldn’t walk with us, not with little Billy inside her. Papa said, we will raise Billy in the greenest valley in California and grow a big farm. We are farmers; we have livestock; we are not refugees and not immigrants like those Mexicans. This is God’s own country and we are the blessed ones. We will cultivate the land and we will groom our fortune. We are strong, the sons of the soil, me and my four sons. Mom sighed inaudibly, silently mourning her fourth son. No one dared to contradict Papa.

    The valley was the dream of any man or woman. Randy would have loved it. Every day, I ran through the wide open lettuce fields. I knew Randy was watching, so I faced the heavens and sang a song to Randy and came face to face with a taut faced, tanned young man. The puzzled expression on his face matched mine. “Una güera!” He exclaimed. “Soy Jose, un huérfano.” He told me. I thought he wanted to play, and so we did. “Sonya! Behave yourself!” Mama’s words pelted me like hail. Mama and Papa fumed, exploded for days. Jose kept coming and kept weeding the grounds, seeding the farm, and feeding the cattle. Randy was gone, and we had mouths to feed, and I fell in love with Jose, the orphan.

    We are not refugees or immigrants. We are a family of refugees and immigrants. A Happy one!

    360 words
    @needanidplease

  3. @StephenWilds
    “Scientific Method” – 360

    They all panic. They always panicked. All of them ran. A majority of them would scream. A half or so would cry to God, but there were only ever a handful that just accepted it. Death had come for them and there was no reprise.
    The wave of force from the explosion was shattering their homes, breaking about buildings and structures, wiping much of their existence from the face of the land. The large cloud of dirt, dust, and smoke that followed simply made sure that all who died there that day, including the land, did so shrouded and nameless.
    The disaster overtook all in its path, except for one. Tobin stood at the edge as he watched the place he had loved so much torn asunder and its people ripped away into the sky or broken in front of him. He did not flinch. There was no reason to move. He did not feel the shockwave and the cloud parted for him as he lowered his baseball cap further down with a loud sigh.
    The storm of destruction raged around him for a bit longer as it tired itself out. He brought up a pad from underneath his blue flannel over-shirt, safely tucked away in the eye of all of this madness. He watched as figures ran across the screen of the computer pad, then a topographical map of what the area looked like now. The 3D image came up off of the screen with all of the data he could ever want, but Tobin was just angry.
    After the browns and blacks from the clouds cleared the air, the sky was a duller blue than before. There were no longer the sounds of birds in the air or people moving about as there had been twenty minutes ago, instead an eerie silence loomed like after every time this happened. Large red numbers appeared on the screen: 32%.
    “How did we do on that one?”
    A muffled voice broke in from an intercom system. Tobin shook his head, turning away from the city he had created, defeated.
    “Shut up, Mikey, and reset the machine, we’re going until it’s right.”

  4. Return of the Old Gods
    356 words
    @jujitsuelf

    “Get inside!” Kit yelled, grabbing for Essie’s hand. “Ess…come on, what are you doing? It’ll hit soon!”

    “Leave me alone,” she cried, high and shrill. Wrenching her hand from his grip, she smiled at the coming maelstrom. “It’s them, the gods, they’re coming back.”

    “Ess,” Kit tried again, desperate now. It was a heck of a storm, clouds of dust roiled around angrily, the wind ready and eager to pluck the sturdiest of houses from the ground and toss it to destruction. Anyone out in it wouldn’t stand a chance, they’d choke in minutes and he shuddered to even think about being hit by that furious dust.

    “Essie,” he made another grab for his wayward sister. “Please, Ess, come inside. Nobody’s coming, you know that. Mom told you, all that talk of gods will get you in trouble. Please, Ess, please just come in the house.”

    Kit looked around, hoping to see his father striding toward them, ready to scoop Essie up and carry her to safety. But they were alone, nobody came to help.

    “Listen, Kit,” Essie called, her eyes glassy and unfocused. “Can you hear ‘em? They’re telling us they’re coming. They’ll take some of us, the believers. We’ll go to ‘em.” She whirled and stared into Kit’s eyes. “They’ll take me. Don’t wanna go without you. Come with me?”

    Dust stung Kit’s eyes as fear curled deep in his stomach. “Don’t talk crazy, sis. Mom’ll yell if she hears you.”

    “Mom doesn’t believe,” Essie spat. “She thinks I’m nuts.” She gazed suspiciously at him. “Do you think I’m nuts?”

    Yes, Kit wanted to say. “No.” He shook his head. “Come inside, please?”

    “Too late, baby brother,” Ess turned back to face the storm. “Say ‘bye to Mom and Dad for me.”

    Unable to withstand the wind, Kit ran for the house, expecting to find Essie following him. She didn’t. The last time he saw his sister, she was standing in the middle of a dusty whirlwind.

    A tall figure in glittering armor stepped out of the clouds before her. Essie smiled. The figure held out a hand. Essie took it and vanished.

  5. Outstanding In His Field
    By Brian J. Hunt – @BBI_GUMBALL
    356 words

    We saw the flash of light in the, unfortunately, not so far distance, and watched as the mushroom cloud formed.

    “Well shit,” was the most intelligent thing I could think to say. Even if we could have run, we were still goners. There was just no shelter in the middle of the south forty.

    “Out standing in our field.” Just how many times had we used that joke? And you know what? It was still funny.

    Bob agreed with my statement and nodded his head. “Why to you think they bothered to send one our way? Not much out here near Stratford.”

    I had to think on that one for a moment. I was straining ‘cause you know, everyone has always said I had a head full of straw. Then the answer came to me

    “Well if you ask me, I think it took a wrong turn on its way to Albuquerque.”

    That one shut Bob up for a moment. I could see he was trying to top it but to no avail. The corners of his mouth turned up, and we both began to laugh. We laughed until we hurt. We knew it was gallows humor, each guffaw a hammer blow on a coffin nail, but it didn’t matter.

    I looked over at my friend, we had only been out here together since the spring, but I’d never known a finer fellow.

    By then the roiling cloud of dirt was almost upon us. “Good working with you Bob,” I yelled over the sound of rushing winds.

    “You too Jerry” he yelled back. And then, the wall of debris hit us.

    I hung on for dear life, determined I wouldn’t leave my post. Nature, if you can call the aftermath of a nuclear bomb nature, wanted to pick me up and fling me along with everything else in the county, but I just wouldn’t let it.

    * * *

    Yeah, I took that photo. You know, the one of the only survivor of the nuclear accident near Stratford Texas.

    Just between you and me? Swear to god when I took the picture, I think that scarecrow winked at me.

  6. “The End” by Mary Cain
    Word Count 358 (not including title)

    “Mama, did Jack get out? Is he okay?” little Hannah asked, pulling at her mother’s sleeve. Mama’s held onto the phone. It was still ringing.

    “I…I don’t know, Hannah, but I’m sure he’ll be okay.” She embraced Hannah, holding onto her tightly.

    A voice on the other line made her eyes widen. “Jack? Jack!”

    “Mom? Are…you all right?” Jack asked, the connection fuzzy and fragmented.

    “Yes, I’m fine, I saw the news. The city was hit by an earthquake! Please tell me you made it out?” She asked, trembling as her hand clutched the cord.

    “N-Not yet. But…don’t….worry-.” The line was cut completely and Mama stood in the silence. The phone slipped from her hand, crashing onto the floor.

    “MAMA!” Shrieked Hannah from outside. Mama dashed out of the room to the front yard.

    “Hannah wha-“ She stopped as she saw the black cloud that stretched across the western horizon racing towards them. A thick shroud of clouds engulfed the blue sky, consuming it like fire.

    “Hannah, get inside.” Mama said, not taking her eyes off of the darkness.

    A foul smell rolled in from the west, traveling along side the clouds. It reeked of rotten flesh and bile. A strange shout or chant echoed across the plains, one that made the hairs on Mama’s neck rise.

    The clouds reached the barn, swallowing it whole, so thick she couldn’t see it. She rushed inside, making her way to the basement. Hannah was curled up in the corner with her stuffed rabbit. The terror in her eyes pierced Mama. No mother wants to see their child afraid.

    Locking the door, she made her way to Hannah and held her in her arms on the floor.

    “Mama, I’m scared.” Hannah said, crying.

    “Just close your eyes and sleep.”

    “But I haven’t said Prayers.”

    “Then we’ll say them together.”

    “Now I lay me down to sleep, Pray the Lord my soul to keep.”

    A chill ran through Mama as something slammed against the walls of the house.

    “If I should die before I wake.” Muffled footsteps from above made their way towards the stairs.

    “Pray the Lord my soul to take.”

  7. The Domestic Front

    My mother waged war against it. Barricades of wet cloth hung at every entrance.
    But it sifted in through nook and cranny. Outlines of ourselves lay sleeping on the bed sheets long after we’d risen up from veils of dust. My mother, determined to keep the dust from our mouths, devised ways of outwitting her enemy. News of Drought, Dust storms and Depression lay in print over the tabletop and stove- not as bleak reminders, but as weapons in her armoury. News stories of black clouds or red clouds, depending on the direction they came in, were spread out over the dinner table in a bid to keep the dirt out. Seconds before we sat down for dinner, the newspapers were rolled away (not pulled, for fear of stirring anything up). When they were placed to one side, she’d bring the pot to the table, and with deft coordination, bowls were turned and food poured simultaneously.

    My kid brother, Jake, died a casualty of dust pneumonia. It took him quick. Her sleeves rolled up for most of the decade, she still blamed herself. This had been her failing even in the face of an unremitting force.

    I saw her cry only once. It terrified me. I had come down to help with breakfast. My father was clattering around upstairs. I stood by her side at the stove. Her shoulders juddered and chest heaved in incoherent silence. As my father’s footsteps approached the living area, she stopped abruptly and rolled the newspaper from the stove. She never spoke of it with me. For the first time, I was scared that the dust would never lift, that the rains would never come and that the darkness might never give way to light.

    One day, I asked her if people were right saying God was bringing the world to an end, and she replied while beating the hell out of a carpet,
    ” ‘S not God doing this, Beth, it’s Man.”

    I still wasn’t sure if the world was ending, but it felt better knowing that God did n’t hate us.

    348 words

  8. Cover
    By: Allison K. Garcia
    359 words

    Helen scrubbed the bits of food off the plate with an uncalloused hand. Stretching her neck, she exhaled deeply. It had been a long day. She wasn’t accustomed to such hard work. Growing up in a penthouse in Manhattan, some would say she was spoiled.

    She loved city life. The anonymity of losing yourself in a crowd. The bright yellow taxi cabs, the towering buildings, the way the city is reborn at night. The subway trains clicking under your feet as you walk over the vents. The smells of the hot dogs, pretzels, and pizza. The snow. She especially missed the snow.

    Six months ago, Harris Grandle rolled into the city, with his thick Southern charm and swept her off her feet. Little did she know that after their wedding, she’d be packed up and transplanted to Stratford, Texas.

    Here less than a week, she had already milked cows, baked a pie, and met every person in this god-forsaken town. Everyone knew her before she even stepped foot on Texas soil. Harris’s new wife from the big city. She couldn’t walk down the street without someone stopping to smile at her and wave. The worst part was that she and Harris hardly had a minute alone since they got here. By the time night fell, they were exhausted.

    “Helen!” Harris yelled. The front door banged open.

    She dropped the plate and it landed with a crack on the floor, breaking into several pieces. Bending down to pick up the pieces, she cursed under her breath.

    “Leave it,” he called, grabbing her by the elbow and pulling her up.

    “What’s the matter?”

    His eyes were wide. “Dust storm. We need to go to the storm cellar.”

    They ran outdoors and Helen nearly fainted as she looked up to the gritty wall rolling towards them. Skyscrapers could not compare with this force of nature. On shaky legs, she hurried to the trap door. Harris pulled the light string and fastened the door shut.

    Helen squeezed Harris’s hand as the wind screamed outside. His blue eyes smiled into hers, and she kissed him. No time like the present to start their honeymoon.

  9. “An Interview with the Wizard of Stratford”
    by Dr. Mike Reddy (@doctormikereddy)
    [350 words]

    “I know why you are here…” is the first thing Frank says, pulling back the curtain that reveals his work space, but he declines to be photographed for the article. He is a wizened old man, dressed entirely in green; his favourite colour, he confides.

    Baum’s farm is dead centre in dust bowl territory, getting hit by tornadoes and dust storms four or five times a year. For other farmers, trying to harvest wheat or raise cattle, these events are devastating. For Frank, the self-styled “Wizard of Stratford”, and his family they are a Godsend.

    “So long as the farmhouse survives,” he jokes, “and it don’t end up in Oklahoma! I don’t, by God, want to live in Oklahoma!”

    Frank hails from Kansas, another area renowned for tornadoes. His small holding is the sole supplier of industrial grit in the whole of Texas. Others have tried to imitate his success, but don’t have the almost magical Baum gift of harvesting and selling the frequent weather deposits. To be honest, few (if any) really understands who buys his grit, or how he makes money. Frank keeps his customers in the strictest confidence, for obvious reasons. And several attempts at industrial espionage have all failed. Probably due to the Baum Farm being exclusively tended by people of reduced stature: dwarfs, pigmies, midgets and munchkins are all terms used by the ‘normal’ Stratford population..

    “These ‘little’ people are fiercely loyal, and ideally suited to harvesting the dust that settles here.” Jim explains, “They drop in all the time to help us send raw material to the Gale Processing Plant in Kansas, were it is environmentally treated before being shipped to its final destination.” Gale’s ecological motto is “Better Beyond the Rainbow”

    This link to his Kansas roots in dust farming stretches back to his Great Aunt Dorothy. “A remarkably well travelled adventurer”, Baum fondly describes her. Business must be extremely profitable, judging by the number of exquisite jewelled artefacts on display in the family home.

    “Dorothy was always fonder of rubies,” Jim remarks, “but I don’t, by God. Emeralds are my obsession.”

  10. Stormbringer

    Most nights, I’d dream about the cloud. Hard not to – I mean, it hung on the horizon, day and night, fair weather or foul, like the frown of heaven. Those mornings when I woke up feeling like I’d eaten my pillow, I could be pretty sure it’d been in my head all through the night, trickling in through my ears, through my pores. Settling inside me with every breath.

    When I was a kid I used to think it was like a thick black blanket over the Old World, keeping everyone beneath it warm and safe. I’d say this to Ma as she tucked me in at night, and sometimes she’d give me a tight little smile, and sometimes not.

    Nobody lives in the Old World now. How could they? No air to breathe, no light to see. It’s just us, over here. Far enough away to be safe, Ma said; close enough to be scared, is what she meant.

    Some days it boiled, the cloud, like it was stirring to move. Others, it just sat there, placid, looking well fed and sleek. Sometimes it rolled like the sea, stirred by an unfelt wind.

    ‘What is it, Ma?’ I used to ask, staring out our tightly sealed windows, across the miles of barren land that separated us from it. ‘What’s it made of?’

    ‘Hush, now,’ she’d say, dragging me away with her poker fingers. ‘Don’t ask questions.’

    There’d been lots of theories down through the years. ‘The will o’ God,’ some said; ‘the work of Ol’ Nick,’ said more. ‘The gover’ment,’ muttered others, ignoring the shushing noises from all around.

    I woke one morning with my mind full up. Houses emerging from murky, inky darkness; people inside like husks, sucked dry. The cloud retreating, drawing up its roots and pulling free. A roaring noise, an angry howling. Rocks and twigs and bones flying, whirling. Blackened skin, sunken eyes, yellowed teeth gritted in a final, pointless battle against an enemy that couldn’t be fought.

    I blinked the dream away and ran to find Ma, to tell her the cloud was coming, but she already knew.

    @SJOHart
    355 words

    • ‘Far enough away to be safe, Ma said; close enough to be scared, is what she meant.’ I loved the fluidity of this line.
      ‘Like the frown of heaven’ what a terrific image. Beautiful writing and what a very interesting, complex relationship you create between parent and child.

      • Thank you, Marie – I really appreciate your kind feedback! Haven’t had a chance to read anyone else’s story yet (a busy weekend awaits!) but I’m sure yours is wonderful this week, as it always is. Looking forward to reading it asap. 🙂

  11. Liberation Day
    Margaret Locke (@Margaret_Locke)
    350 words

    Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

    The preacher had spoken those words at grandma’s funeral. He’d liked it at the time, the image of being nothing. No more mama crying as she darned the same pair of socks for the tenth time. No more brother stealing his bread, the only food they had all day besides the ever-present pot of onion soup. Onion water, really. No more da sleeping off the moonshine he distilled himself. “Keeps me sane,” his da had claimed. “Man can’t stay sane with no work and all you yappin’ kids.” Bruises on his mama’s arms and the welts on his own back proved otherwise. There was no sanity here.

    When the cloud had appeared on the horizon, he’d fantasized it would whisk him off to a new life, like Dorothy in that wizard story. It hadn’t, of course. The dust had settled. Life had gone painfully on. Escape hadn’t come until his 18th birthday, and it’d come in the form of Uncle Sam, not some little old man behind a curtain. War was hell, they said, but he’d thought any place was better than Texas.

    He watched the skeletons shuffling by him. Empty eyes. Walking zombies. He looked at the metal sign hanging over his head. “Arbeit Macht Frei,” it said. “Work will make you free.”

    His captain pulled him over to a small building. “Gaskammer” read the placard. “Gas chamber”. “Look,” said the captain, chewing on his cigarette. “Claw marks where they tried to get out.”

    He ran back outside and vomited.

    There was no freedom here.

    He watched a young boy with a hollowed-out belly holding hands with his emaciated mother. Pain echoed in every step she took, but a fierce smile broke out over her face as they walked through the barbed wired front gate. She looked to the sky and blew a kiss from her hand to the heavens.

    He knew now that he’d known nothing of starvation, nothing of suffering.

    Clicking his boots together, he chanted, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”

  12. Storm’s coming
    @josettekeelor
    360 words minus the title

    He said the words so calmly I had to think at their meaning.

    “Storm’s coming.” It circled in my head before settling.

    “You tell by the birds. They try to escape before it hits.” He considered my expression. “Y’ain’t from around here.”

    “No.” We stood shoulder to shoulder watching black flapping specks flee across fields that seemed to hide no safety. “Why do you stay?” I hadn’t meant to ask, but there was no taking it back. It was too early for a question like that — our conversation wasn’t there yet — but now there wouldn’t be time to ask later. I imagined him turning, slamming his door or heading for his tornado shelter and leaving me to weather what might come.

    “Storm’s a funny thing,” he said. “Some’s worse’n others. It might swoop in and take out your house and leave again like it wa’n’t ever here. And across town, they don’t believe you when you tell ’em, until they see your house is missin’. Others…” In the pause only the stray neighs of horses and the rising whoosh of wind divided us. “Others are worse. It descends on you. Blocks out the sun, pickin’ up ever-thing from leaves to dust. It’ll be in your eyes, your ears, your throat. You cain’t see, cain’t breathe.”

    He cleared his throat.

    “But,” — he shaded his eyes against the sun — “afterward, your home’s still here. Jist got to make it through.”

    I wasn’t sure he’d answered my question, but I wasn’t going to ask it again. Move on, I told myself. But my mouth was dry. In one hand was the notebook I’d brought with me, in the other my recorder. I raised the notebook to my eyes to see what I hadn’t asked yet. This story had started as a “life on the farm” feature but had become something else.

    “Best be gettin’ inside,” he said. “This one won’t be bad, but you don’t want to be out of doors when it hits.” The screech of the screen door was nearly swallowed by the force of wind rolling in.

    “Come on in,” he said. “Got my mam’s sweet bread. Her own recipe.”

  13. Just a Boy
    355 words
    @hackerverse

    “It’s time to go, boy.”
    His body wilted like a daisy in drought, white hair glowing against the contrast of such a dirty face. “Please, Henry. Please don’t make me go today.”
    “I said it’s time to go.” Henry grabbed him by the shoulders and marched him outside. They stopped in the field and stared at the Darkness, figuring on the best place to begin.
    The Darkness covered the entirety of this new earth, an undulating, gelatinous cloud that permitted no one entrance, save the boy. Since the day he was found here, alone in a small clearing, that’s all anyone knew about him.
    “Please, Henry,” he whispered, “don’t make me go back in.” Silent tears ran down his cheek, etching lines in the filth.
    “Now boy, toughen up. The next group of settlers is coming soon, and we need more land. You know you’re the only one that can do this. Now go, before I get angry! There,” he said, pointing a sausage finger towards the cloud.
    The boy trudged to the edge, pleading eyes looking back often, but he knew there would be no reprieve. He held out his arms, held his breath, and stepped into the Darkness.
    It never got easier. Panic overwhelmed him, and he dropped to the ground, convulsing with screams and searing pain. Every fear he’d ever known assaulted him at once, binding every happy memory and warm thought deep within him, underwater and frozen for eternity. He struggled to his hands and knees, retching his empty stomach until it hurt worse than the hunger. He never knew how long he was in there. Nobody would tell him, and no sun ever presented to show the passage of time. His tears hit the ground as he got to his feet, and then it was gone. The pain, the fear, the Darkness. He stood in a new small patch of open ground. The cloud had receded.
    Henry came out of the house nodding and wearing a different shirt, and brought the boy a small loaf of bread and some water to drink.
    “Good work, boy. Very good. Now do it again.”

  14. The HPCTSBSD
    by A J Walker

    Zak shook his wife, ‘Miriam, I’ve got it. I’ve got it!’

    Miriam punched Zak, ‘Can’t it wait until the morning?’

    Miriam turned back towards the wall and got snuggly. She was snoring again before you could say “Eureka”.

    He jumped out of bed, ‘Love my dreams sometimes.’

    He rushed across the corridor to his study, picking up a book on electricity and another on minerals. He bound down the stairs like a teenager on his first date.

    After making a pot of tea – he could only work effectively with some Earl Grey warming his cockles – he strode confidently into his laboratory. ‘This is going to work. What a time saver this will be – and it should make me a bob or two.’

    Zak patted the half finished device full of pride. May have to change the name of the company after this one. ‘Zak’s Famous Water Magnet Enterprise Company Limited’ was such a mouthful and only reminded people of his biggest failure. He’d been adamant that a water magnet could work and how it would change the world.

    Now though he had his moneymaker within his grasp – he would call it the Household Perfect Cleaning Time Saving Brushless Sucking Device.

    He struggled through his dusty drawers and boxes trying to find his samples of Conundrum and Geraniumum. They were in the same drawer almost next to each other – it was meant to be.

    He slugged back some Earl Grey, freezing but he couldn’t stop.

    After some brute strength rearrangement of several of the pipes and cables on the device it was ready for the crystals to be fitted. It wasn’t neat, but this wasn’t for the sale-room.

    He connected the main cable to his ManPower device then started to pedal.

    For a while nothing happened but for a few flashes and bangs. He stood up on the bike and gave it his last big effort; it had to work – he was sure that his HPCTSBSD was perfect. Then it started: the dust came through the window – through the door – up through the floorboards – through the ceiling. So much dust. It worked!

    Zak Dyson’s body – or invention – was never found.

    (360 words)
    @zevonesque

  15. Dust Storm

    The winds came every day, and dust swirled in great clouds till the air turned black and gritty. The house shook, and though Ma had us stuff rags into every crevice, the dirt seeped inside till everything was covered in a fine layer of dust. It was black all the time, and the wind would shriek till we all thought we’d go crazy.

    Ma would sit in her rocker with baby Joe, his little blue blanket with the white flowers wrapped tight around him, and creak back and forth, her face frozen like she was in pain, but she never said a word. Sally and I knew better than to say anything and we’d sit on the floor in the parlor. Sometimes we’d play checkers, and I tried to teach her to play chess, but she never did get the hang of it.

    Every morning Pa and Daniel would tie ropes around their waists and go tend the horses, and we’d wonder whether they’d ever come back from the black.

    Ma just sat there rocking while the wind shrieked, and the dust swirled.

    Then one night Pa and Daniel didn’t come back, and Sally said, “We should get dinner started,” and Ma said, “Not yet.” So we waited.

    Sally and I went out to the kitchen and saw the ropes were untied from the door, just flapping in the wind. I heard Sally cry, “No, please,” before I ran out the door.

    Sheriff Michaels said Ma went crazy that day. Early in the morning she followed Pa and Daniel to the barn and shot them with Pa’s revolver he kept in the dresser drawer. She smothered baby Joe and stabbed Sally with a kitchen knife before she cut her own wrists.

    I don’t know why she let me go. That’s what I told Sheriff Michaels. He said I was a lucky boy. He also said dust storms made a lot of people crazy.

    My Aunt Lilly moved in to take care of me until I turned eighteen. Then one day she just up and disappeared. They never found her.

    Now I live alone. Just the way I like it. (359 words)

  16. Without Honour in his Own Country

    “… And welcome back to the final hour on this, Friday the thirteenth’s edition of the Nightrider, 666 on the medium wave band. It’s all new, all night and all right!
    So, for all you folks who have forgotten their lucky Rabbit feet tonight, our next caller, Isaiah Triplehorn, on the line from Stratford, has a new theory about it all. Isaiah?”
    “Well Nick, firstly, it’s not strictly accurate to call it a theory. I have based my predictions on extensive study and the most meticulous research. I have combed the archives of the finest libraries and universities worldwide…”
    “OK, Professor. I’m gonna call you Professor OK? I gotta remind you we’re off the air in an hour! Let’s get to it. Tell the folks out there in radioland what’s special about today.”
    “Very well. A study of recent events, the Chinese annexation of Eastern Siberia, and subsequent warfare between Russia and China…”
    “…Old news, Prof! ‘All new, all night, all right’ – remember? Where’s the new?”
    “…I am coming to that. If you add in the catastrophic failure of the Indian rice crop…”
    “Rice, schmice, what about your theory?”
    “… AND the spread of a virulent mutated form of HIV in the Congo, the signs preceding this Friday the thirteenth clearly predict…”
    “…Hallelujah! We finally get to it! What signs Professor?”
    “What signs? I have just listed them. The events that I outlined earlier are clear.”
    “Well not to me, or some of our more sleep deprived Night Riders. So how about you just spell it out – before we go to the break – or run into the breakfast show!”
    “He that has ears, let him hear. Were you not listening?”
    “For the love of God! – oops, sorry people!”
    “That’s it exactly! God. His writings actually. It’s all there…”
    “OK buddy, you’re outta here… call back Sunday…”
    “…Siberia represents conquest and war, India famine, and the Congo pestilence…”
    “What?”
    “…so, according to my research, if your listeners look East, towards the morning sun, they should see the next sign, ‘…the sun become black as sackcloth…’ right about… now.”

    350 words
    @nickjohns999

  17. Battle of the wind gods

    ***

    Mictlanpachecatl stood high upon his mountain, cupped his testicles with his hand and jiggled them as he bellowed insults in the direction of the ocean.

    “Where art thou spineless jelly? Open thy mouth, I shalt defecate in thy throat anon!”

    Vitztlampaehecatl looked up from the seas as he glided over the waters, punched the air with his middle finger and roared in defiance.

    “Fie! Come o’er here then, thou molester of goats!”

    Mictlanpachecatl’s eyes widened at that and his lips curled into a snarl; he took an atlatl from his belt, set a tepoztopilli into the hook and flung the spear with all his might. The projectile hurtled over the valleys and plains, whistling through the air at blistering speeds; the god of the southern wind saw this coming however, and dodged it easily.

    “Hah! Thou art as predictable as always, o blustering fool. Forsooth, why not meet me in battle like a real warrior?” goaded Vitztlampaehecatl.

    “Painted jellyfish! I’ll come at you anon and show you how ‘tis done!”

    Mictlanpachecatl leapt off his mountain and flew through the air like a rock flung from a tematlatl as Vitztlampaehecatl rushed to meet him. They both hovered over Nuevo Laredo and rose higher into the air, swirling about each other as they each drew their maquahuitl and prepared for battle.

    A vast cloud of dust leapt up from the ground as they whirled faster and faster, their obsidian edged weapons clashing as thunder and sending sparks of lightning forking intricately through the clouds of their breath. The god of the north wind was brutal and powerful, hammering away at his foe, yet the god of the south wind was shrewd and wary, and drove Mictlanpachecatl back with each parry and riposte.

    In Stratford, Texas, Mary Lou Johnson stood outside the church, talking to Reverend Peterson.

    “Better get indoors Mary, that’s some dust storm brewing there” he said, nodding at the veil of darkness appearing over the horizon.

    Mary turned around then paused a moment, stared at the roiling clouds of sand a while.

    “Do you hear that?”

    “What?”

    “Like…oh, never mind; just hearing things.”

    ***

    @theimaginator20
    353 words

  18. I Come Again.

    Thirty years ago, I gathered the air to me, all around my naked body, lifting myself off the ground. Warm gusts caressed every inch of my exposed skin, snaking around my limbs and my stomach. Dust billowing up into the maelstrom peppered my risen form, the contrasting gritty texture raising goosebumps on my flesh from head to toe.
    From my vantage point in the sky, I saw Mother and Pastor Hicks. They were good, the people of my quiet village. I turned away from them, away from home. Casting my sights to the untamed world, the savage many, I brought my storms to bear across the land.
    The great dust storm of 1983, that’s what they called it. They still don’t know it was me.
    I have been called Mother Nature. I have been called an act of God. I have been, and will be, called many things.
    Born a human, but somehow more, my purpose is to bring this unruly world to task.
    I have brought tornadoes, hurricanes and tsunamis. I have shaken the Earth herself. I have called down lightening to strike the mighty forests to purge the surrounding lands. Still, too many humans remain. The world cannot live under the weight of so many wicked miscreants.
    The great flood in the beginning times was God’s move, one he promised never to make again. I hold myself to no such pact, for it wasn’t I who made it.
    The moon holds the power to pull the tides that could submerge the lands once again. Twice each month, during the full moon and the new moon, Luna’s pull is strongest. The last super moon was on June 23, 2013. If my calculations are correct, the closest full moon of this century will occur on December 6, 2052. On that day, I will begin the new flood at the Bay of Fundy, exerting all of my considerable force to influence the high tide there.
    Only the chosen will receive this warning. Those who choose to heed the warning will survive. Those who survive will call me Revelation or Apocalypse, for indeed I am the wrath of God.

    @West1Jess
    357 Words

  19. THE DUST

    Thick, choking plumes of Dust roiled and billowed in the sky as itadvanced inexorably upon the house. A strange buzzing roar filled the air. “Get inside Sarah!” Tom ordered harshly. She obeyed like a good wife. Their clothing was dripping wet from the water he had pumped over them. They darted inside. Gloom fell over the house despite it being noon on a summer day. Heavy wet blankets draped the kitchen table, dripping onto the floor. “Get under there!” She ducked, and crawled between the wooden legs. The blankets turned the table into a dark, stifling cave. A match flared and Tom lit the kerosene lantern. He turned the wick low so there was only the faintest light. A bucket of water sat beside it. He wet two bandanas. He handed one to her. “Tie this over your nose and mouth.” He directed as he covered his own. The stinging particles of Dust began to filter into the house. Remember to keep your skin covered!” The Virus gets in through your lungs or skibn!” The Dust drifted under the table. Her eyes burnt and her skin blistered as it landed on her. T”This homestead has belonged to my family for five generations! No Biogenetic Weapon is going to drive me away! I’ll die first!” Tom shouted over the roar of the Dust. Sarah just bowed her head in obedience. Hours passed as they cowered in the meager shelter of the table. The skin on her left hand cracked and bled as a blister burst. A large piece of Dust landed on the open sore. She watched indifferently as it was absorbed into her blood stream. She covered the wound so Tom couldn’t see it. She felt a fever raging in her body. She turned her face away and bit her lips to silence the groans of pain. She convulsed as her form was rewritten. Sarah Changed. Tom stared at her in horror. His shaking hands reached for the gun at his hip. He shot at her and missed. She ripped out his throat. “Order obeyed!” Sarah the Werewolf growled.

    351 words
    @EmilyKarn1

  20. Sorry had computer problem It should finish:

    The skin on her left hand cracked and bled as a blister burst. A large piece of Dust landed on the open sore. She watched indifferently as it was absorbed into her blood stream. She covered the wound so Tom couldn’t see it. She felt a fever raging in her body. She turned her face away and bit her lips to silence the groans of pain. She convulsed as her form was rewritten. Sarah Changed. Tom stared at her in horror. His shaking hands reached for the gun at his hip. He shot at her and missed. She ripped out his throat. “Order obeyed!” Sarah the Werewolf growled.
    351 words @ EmilyKarn1

  21. The Price Of Paradox

    For The Project’s initial proof of concept, Strelnik 7 Stroke B had barred all but the most necessary technicians from the facility control room. This venture constituted the best and perhaps last chance humanity had for its continued existence. As such Strelnik could afford to take no chances with any external factor negatively impacting this momentous effort.

    The enfeebled husk that was his body hung suspended from a specially-designed harness offering him both an unobstructed view of the central display screen as well as allowing his cybernetic implants to manipulate the transfer matrix interface. While he had no doubts regarding the scientific principles of the experiment, he did harbor some niggling concerns as to the moral rectitude of his work.

    In simplest terms, environmental toxins, disease, and other factors had combined to ensure within two generations, humans would be at the point of non-sustainability. Since the present offered no solutions and future endeavors could not be depended upon, their only salvation lay…in the past. They would reach into Humanity’s past and bring to them an infusion of viable genetic material. Using a relatively-small sampling of “specimens”, the future of countless billions could be ensured. With so much at stake, moral sophistry could offer no objections.

    The preliminary subjects were to be taken from the early 20th century from a geographical region known then as Texas. Research had shown them to be strong, healthy specimens with virtually no cellular contamination. They would be little-missed in their own time and the chance of any paradox was deemed…minimal.

    By remote telecast, the entire world watched as the equipment achieved the required power levels and was activated. The monitors showed the vortex form only moments before the entire transfer matrix facility winked out of existence.

    It was most unfortunate that, in his desire to distance himself from the moral implications of transporting specimens without their consent, Strelnik 7 Stroke B failed to note one of the subjects to be harvested was his nephew 17 times removed. So, while the opportunity for paradox was minimal, in this case it was more than adequate to remove Strelnik from existence when his genetic line was so rudely…interrupted.

    360 words @klingorengi

  22. NOW THE WORLD IS ENDING (355 words)
    @ifemmanuel

    I kept hoping all they said will be false. They never get their predictions right.

    First came the cold.

    I kept telling myself it was just a strange winter in the middle of summer, that there’s a chance the Global warming nonsense was not just fake science after all.

    Then the cold got worse and the grocer’s stall seemed like a mile away. I didn’t mind though, Sam has been asking me about you a lot lately, the man just can’t keep his huge nose in his own business. I kept telling him you are fine and will come to see him as soon as you get better, but we both know that is a lie.

    Then they started to announce on the television that we should all move of town. Where do we move to? No, I wasn’t going to leave you; after all, I had no one to go to.

    I remember when you used to promise me trips to exotic places… Yesterday they announced that Africa would be one of the safest places in the world after all this and I remembered how you showed me pictures of the Safari in Kenya. All those promises ended when you put the ring on my finger and brought me to this hell-hole.

    Then you had the guts to get sick. A part of me thinks you married me because you knew you would get sick and needed someone beside you. What did you take me for? A nurse? The Doctor said the cancer started in your Trachea and was spreading to your lungs, and you transformed from a bully to a mute bully.

    Last week they started to show parts of the world that had become affected and I became convinced it was really going to happen. That moment I knew what I had to do.

    Finally the winds came, and went from little eddies to violent tornado in hours – just like they predicted. Yesterday the power lines got damaged and I lost my only companion – the television. Now the world is ending, and all I’ve got to talk to is your corpse.

  23. Sacrifice
    By Scott L Vannatter
    359 Words
    @SVBookman

    Monique watched as death settled upon the settlement of Criton. With only a few homes, about 18 people, two dogs, and three cats, Criton was more of a settlement, a burg, than anything else. She was not even certain it formally existed on maps, but she knew the people well; she had lived with, well, close to, them for all of her nineteen years.

    She said “close” because, since she was nine, Monique had not been allowed within the settlement’s limits; her mother had been outcast too, even her grave had to be placed well outside the area. She accepted that. She knew all about superstitions and curses and having a witch for a mother. It did not matter; her mother taught her to love even those who hated her; she was to always watch over and care for the unfortunate ones who only followed in the mortal way of life.

    Monique had been alone now for nearly six years. That first year had been the worst with nearly starving and all. Willow had been her salvation; she had left scraps of food outside for Monique to gather when food was tough to come by. Monique considered Willow a friend, her one and only, even though they had never talked.

    Now, Monique returned her gaze and attention to the oncoming storm; the dust storm was truly capable of razing Criton and destroying everyone in minutes. It would strip trees and bones alike. There was little chance anyone would make it without help. Monique stared. People saw death for what it was and screamed, unheard in the coming onslaught. Doors slammed, windows shut, the town grew silent as the maelstrom moved ever onward.

    Monique’s eyes went from deep blue to gray. Her hair lost its luster; her skin darkened its shade to almost umber. She began to chant.
    _ _ _ _ _

    Willow opened the door to her small wooden home. She had worried so about Monique, even while her own life was nearly taken. She never found her friend, only a few bones and remnants of clothing. The town had been untouched. A tear snaked down her cheek.

  24. Unto Dust
    _ _ _ _ _ _

    I heard the storm coming long before they did. My hearing is quite good.

    I’m not exactly sure what gave me away. My own fault, probably. It’s one thing to be seen only at night when you’re in a metropolis like Paris or New York. It’s quite another to live that way in rural towns like Stratford, Texas. Worse, it was only four years after that Hungarian actor had reminded the world that we exist, which gave the locals *ideas*. I was noticed.

    In the cities, people laugh at the thought that vampires might be real. Some of them have even began to romanticize us. Out in the sticks, unfortunately, people still believed.

    Not all of them, mind you. But enough. I could hear Reverend Meade banging at the door of my rented farmhouse with an ax, three of his devout followers no doubt holding crosses and holy water and wooden stakes. Luckily, it had been so dry, they wouldn’t dare bring torches. Being an atheist, myself, I worried more about the stakes and the ax. And the sunlight.

    The storm was closer, now. Soon, Meade and his bunch would hear it.

    I heard my front door give way and the men entered my house. Rude Americans. From their voices, I identified Tom Williams and Bill Thompson as two of the men. I didn’t recognize the fourth member of their group.

    “Check upstairs,” Meade ordered.

    Hidden in my secret closet on the first floor, I sneered. As if I’d be caught in a room with a window during the day. My sneer faded, though, when Meade said, “Throw open all the windows.”

    Finally, one of them heard it. Upstairs, Bill Thompson shouted, “Dust storm!”

    “No!,” Meade cried. “We have to finish this!”

    It was too late. His followers ran for their homes. With a curse that would have shocked his congregation, he fled as well.

    I emerged when the dust storm was directly overhead. It was over two hundred feet high and extended across the horizon for miles. More importantly, it blotted out the sun over the whole damned town.

    I smiled, letting my fangs extend. “My turn.”

    358 words
    @JMnumber6

  25. The Woman, and the Thunderbird.
    @EilisPhillips
    360 words

    Milo would stare at the image until his eyes hurt.
    Every evening after school he would sit down at the old computer that had been left to him when his uncle died. Milo’s mother had gone through every folder on the desk top, methodically deleting everything.
    “These aren’t for you to see,” she had said.
    “What is it, bad stuff?”
    “No, worse than that.”
    “What, like illegal?”
    “No, not like illegal stuff. Your uncle was an enchanted man, don’t think too much about it ok?”

    He hadn’t thought much about it. The only thing interesting about that old computer was the screensaver. He would sit and wait for it to flick on. He always had a system; he would look at the ground first, then follow it up to where the grass met the foundations of the houses. Then he would allow himself to see the figures. In his head they had names, one was simply ‘the woman,’ but the other shape reminded him of a carving on a totem pole, so he called it ‘the Thunderbird.’ It was this figure who intrigued him the most. Once Milo saw the Thunderbird, he would have to look up, and see the storm coming.

    Since moving away, Milo had made no friends. His father could not visit them anymore because of the restraining order, but sometimes the Spanish kid would come around. Milo would find him sitting on his little bicycle in their front yard.
    “What is that?” he asked Milo, as they stared into the screensaver together.
    “I don’t know. I keep thinking one day I’ll see a face in the clouds.”
    The kid nodded, in childlike imitation of his own father he said:
    “Cara a cara con Dios.”

    They stopped looking for Milo’s body on the seventh day of the search. They said he was probably just another run away. The computer stayed on all that week, until finally Milo’s mother had pulled the plug straight out of the wall.
    No one had seen the screensaver change, and that there were three figures now, where there had been two; their arms outstretched towards the storm, cara a cara con Dios.

  26. The One
    By Charles W Short
    @CharlesWShort
    350 words

    We watched the wave of volcanic ash and dust roll toward us. Ginger reached out and touched my hand.

    I was grateful for the touch. All the same, I wished she had gone home when I asked her to. I didn’t want to expose her to this danger. But she refused to leave. If anything happened to me, she wanted it to happen to her, too. Besides she trusts me and my calculations. She thinks I am a genius.

    I discovered a way to disrupt volcanic eruptions. If my theory worked then the wall of destruction would be abbreviated and disperse before hitting town. If I am wrong? Well, the evacuated town would have been wiped out anyway.

    I understood why she refused to leave me. I was so certain in my formulations that I placed myself in harm’s way. I was prideful, since I was right I would be safe. If I was wrong I might as well be dead and have my worthless theories consumed with me.

    It was approaching too fast, something was wrong. I flipped through the pages of notes, observations, and calculations. My trembling, sweating hand smeared some of the precious ink.

    I glanced at Ginger and saw tears welling up in her eyes. She already knew. Something was wrong and we were both going to die.

    I had dreamed of being a hero. Of traveling the world and saving thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people from the devastating force of volcanic eruptions. I pulled my sight back to the papers thinking this would be easier than watching Ginger die.

    I started reviewing the calculations to stave off the panic trying to overtake my mind.

    17 units of sulfur + 18 units of sulfur in the dynamite = 25 to the power of . . .

    Wait. There it is. 35. Not 25. Some genius I am, I forgot to carry the one! My theories may be right. But no one will ever know. They will be destroyed with me. With Ginger.

    I forgot to carry the one.

    I forgot to carry the One.

  27. Wrath
    358 Words
    @NomDeBen

    Mac and I saw the whole thing. We was out back by the woods and had just settled down to sleep. We wasn’t under the trees cause we wanted to see the show. His folks had bought him that fancy sleepin’ bag last year, but I jes grabbed my blankets. Ma yelled at me that if they comed back ripped, it’d be better if I ain’t comed back at all. But it’s been gettin’ colder at night, so I needed somethin’ to keep warm and there was no way I was gonna miss a chance to sleep out under the stars tonight. Not with all the fallin’ stars we’ve been seein’ the last few nights. Mac and I counted over a hundred of ‘em just last night alone before Ma called us back in. Well anyhow, we was laying down to sleep when the sky lit up like the sun comin’ up. We sat up starin’ at the sky trying to figure out what was goin’ on when Mac says it’s acause we was tellin’ those dirty stories. He says God’s gonna punish us. I figured it couldn’t be that. I heard Uncle Bud tellin’ them to Pa and there was no hellfire then. But there we was starin’ at a firey ball, jes like Mac says, hurling straight at us. Me and Mac started telling the Lord we’s sorry right fast. Preacher says it jes takes once, but with him throwin’ giant balls of fire at us we figured on playin’ it safe.

    Well I’ll be damned if it didn’t work. That ball of fire started breakin up and shrinking. We kep it up though, shouting sorry and halleluia and amens until it hit the ground. Obvusly it didn’t hit us. It fell short a good ways. But man did it throw up a cloud a wind and fire! The whole farm was covered in an inch of dirt for days to come. Shoot corn started sproutin up on top of the roof even. Anyways, come to find out later, it landed in Uncle Bud’s back fourty. Maybe them stories was a bit dirtier than I thought.

  28. Papaw coughed and dainty droplets of diseased blood and saliva spattered his patchwork blanket. The effort winded his elderly lungs and he desperately wheezed for additional oxygen. My Leigh’s heart longed as she watched him through the door slowly dying. More bitter still was the hushed, motionless form of our infant son, set to rest in an elegantly carved cradle-like coffin on our blackwood dining table. She wasn’t sure if she took comfort in the knowledge that she and I would be next.

    A great prophet once told us to be ready, to prepare ourselves, for our bridegroom was coming. Though the teaching was unclear, (future telling will never be otherwise until we have lived it) we waited and hoped, eager to see God’s deliverance.

    We had such apprehensive joy when the ship first appeared in our telescopes and communication was established. Yes, the aliens were quite foreign to us. They looked vastly different and “spoke” in another language. Yet, we were able to interact on a very rudimentary level; that feat alone bespeaks our great similarities. Through radio waves and video projected in the night sky, they made signs of peace and goodwill to us.

    We are not a weak nation. We have established space travel and seen far into distant galaxies with our technology. Though we have searched and searched for intelligent life elsewhere, we did not find it. Until they arrived. They are not, of course, God’s final incarnation, yet they are a race far advanced of our own. We were naturally eager to pursue this mutually beneficial relationship.

    Their giant space landers stirred massive clouds of dust for miles around. After checking their compatibility with our world, we gave them the grand treatment and many promises of peace and cooperation were made.

    Now, they have secretly invaded us, sent a corosive illness among us. Our aged and young were the first to succumb, but our strong and virile are falling too. I hear Leigh cough in the other room.

    I call all still able. Take up arms against these invaders from the planet they call Earth.

  29. (346)
    Charley_001
    Inherited lessons

    “I remember this really huge twister shot through our little prairie settlement and it was big enough to change your grandma! She was about your age when she claimed that it had taken her to Oz.

    Now she had many strange tales to tell of her experiences and although she grew to love the curious place she learned that there was no place like home and how to pitch in. ”

    The children sat comfortably round Grandpa’s chair in front of the fire and listened enthralled to his stories that his grandma had passed down to him from her Grandma Dorothy.

    Grandma Dorothy’s story was quite a legend. The children constantly hoped and dreamed that a twister or hurricane would burst into their scene so they might be in with a chance of an adventure to Oz. Holidays passed and were spent by the children playing Oz.

    It was during one such holiday that the children saw the most amazingly albeit slightly scary sight imaginable. The adults started to batten the hatches and attempt to round up their families and animals. The children had been playing their favourite game and dispelling the usual arguments that sprung between the two boys, as to who would be the all powerful wizard and who had a brain, when they’d heard it.

    It had started with a whistling wind followed by a loud crash as the roof blew up in the sky. Clouds of dust were billowing across the plains behind the house. Right in the middle was a young Grandma Dorothy, running along with Toto smiling as she followed the roof. Dorothy was returning to Oz.

    In the wake of the storm, everyone pulled together. They just picked themselves up. The destruction was very great but seeing Dorothy had pulled everyone into a sense of pride and belonging. Each of the children had volunteered for a rebuilding task with helpful, frightened smiles. This was their home and they had to look after it always. Grandma Dorothy’s legendary motto lives on for yet another generation.
    There’s no place like home.

  30. “Who won, mommy?” says Sally. She’s tall now, level with her mother’s shoulder. She doesn’t remember the last time; she was an infant. Slept through it.

    “We won’t know for a while,” says mother. “You get the other young ‘uns, and gather all up on the porch. Real quick, now.”

    Sally stomps with authority across the dirt. She knows all her brothers are within shouting distance even if she can’t see them.

    “Sam! Eli! Billy! Mom says we gotta get on the porch. NOW.”

    Sam pokes his head around the side of the house. “What? How come?”

    “In case we gotta go. Don’t mess around. Daddy’s got the wagon ready.”

    “What we need the wagon for?” asks Eli, four, who has appeared from beneath a pile of burlap bags.

    Sally faces her youngest brother, taking in his bewildered and fearful face. This is one of those times to take care with words. Don’t tell him they might have to flee for their lives. Eli will panic, and hide. And nobody will find him. And it will be her fault.

    A wild, distant shriek. Beams of light, a pair of them, pierce the dust and shine all the way up to the sky. What does it mean?

    “What you mean we gotta go?” asks Eli. Oops. Be careful.

    Sally bends forward and looks Eli in the face. “We might go on a trip, E. That’s all. When the dust clears. We’re all just waiting, to see who won. Okay? And then we might take a trip, to celebrate.”

    “That’s not true,” says Billy.

    “Shut up Bill,” says Billy’s twin brother Sam, coming up behind him. “Don’t scare E.”

    “Yeah Billy,” says Sally. She still calls him Billy. Keeps him in his place.

    Sally takes Eli’s hand. “Come on little E. To the porch.”

    The dust has thinned, a dark shape emerges like a mobile mountain from the horizon. Two shining eyes, enormous claws aloft, and a high-pitched scream splits open the sky. Victory. Victory over Mothra.

    Mother turns, smiling, tears on her face. “He did it, he won,” she says. “Godzilla saved us again. We can stay.”

    356 words
    @betsystreeter

  31. “The Daily Grind”
    @kmc_roa
    356

    The bedroom windows faced east. Caught the morning sun that way, the house creaked as it warmed in the early morning.

    Stupid dog was on the bed licking his face. Probably had to go out or something. That damn dog needed a breath mint.

    Rose, his wife of 13 years was still fast asleep next to him. That woman would sleep through kingdom come. Frank eased himself out of bed, and headed for the bathroom. He shaved, brushed, pissed, and moaned as his knees decided to give him trouble today.
    The dog was waiting at the bottom of the stairs when he got down there.

    He went to the front door to let the dog out and find the newspaper, a daily game. Thankfully the front door opened in, or else the wind would have kept it from opening. He found the newspaper stuck to the screen of the window to the right of the door… held there by a strong gale that was always pushing the morning paper someplace new.

    The wind ran hard and straight east to west here. The western side of the house was boarded up and closed off completely. Frank would occasionally hazard a peek around the corner of the house, but it was always gloomy when he did.

    After the first month, it was terrifying. The first year, bewildering. 7 years on… it was annoying.

    Who the hell ever heard of a permanent dust storm anyway? Time to make the coffee and feed the dog. Then off to work at the plant. If only he could find a route that didn’t involve facing that dusty beast on his way home every night.

    He should sell the damn house already, but who would buy?

    He was still better off than Bobby and Louise. Their house was just about cut in half by the storm. Talk about declining property values.

    Opening the newspaper, he came across an article about the anniversary of the dust storms arrival. There was a picture of him and Rose looking at the storm, wondering what happened to their old dog. 7 years. Oh well, off to work.

  32. STRATFORD, TEXAS, 1935.
    @CliveNewnham – 354 words

    Inside of a millisecond, Jane’s world had gone from madness to bedlam. The air around smacked her every which way; it pummelled and shoved, and blasted grit between her teeth and stinging dust beneath her eyelids. She couldn’t see a darn thing, but that was the darkness rather than blindness… she hoped. The winds beat and sucked at her lungs, her breath, her life. They clutched her clothing, lifted her skirt and flung her from her feet. Tears streaming, she patted the floor with her fingers, the uneven floor that now seemed to… was crumbling in her hands.
    “Herbie!” She coughed and spat more grit. The howls of the airs swatted her sounds away.
    Within the churning monster, murky reddish light began to pervade. A shadowy form staggered toward her whilst fighting its own elemental battle to maintain a point of equilibrium. It resolved into a man shape, bent down to her and grabbed her shoulders. His eyelids blinked rapidly just like hers, but the lashes were darker, fuller.
    “Jane,” there was relief in that voice, “Are you alright?”
    “What devilishness is this!” she shouted.
    He grinned and looked ten years younger. “I’m not sure,” he said. “But I’ll wager it’s no longer Tuesday 13th August, 1946.”
    And then suddenly the sun was shining. The air was still. Not a speck of dust was upon their dark clothing. He helped her to stand. Not a speck was on their… faces. The billowing wall of cloud was retreating.
    “Should it do that?”
    “Recede? Probably not. Probably a temporal effect of our travel.” The movement of the storm wall was slowing. “I think perhaps we could ask for shelter.” Herbert nodded toward the nearest house.
    The billowing movement had reversed. The storm was approaching.
    “But what happened?”
    Herbert took Jane’s hand as he led her toward the house. “I’d say that we’ve travelled in more than time.”
    “But?”
    Herbert nodded, only a little sadly. “Yes, the machine broke. Some component wasn’t genuine. I told them so. The damned fools.”
    He kissed her softer cheek; smiled.
    “I guess we get ten more years, maybe over and over.”

  33. The Queen of Clean
    By Laura Carroll Butler
    360 words

    It started out innocently as most games do. Boreas and Zephyrus were bored, it was a hot day and a speck of dust blew into Zephyrus’ sight. He blew it toward his brother who blew it back, picking up another dust speck. Around the heavens while Aelous was busy in another part of Earth stirring up a hurricane, Boreas and Zephyrus blew the dust around until they had a good size ball. Now the game was really challenging.

    Their game gathered more spectators and participants. Eurus, who had the least control of his power, was a bad addition. Shu waved off his sister Askit because nobody wanted to play with girls. The ball grew until it was too dense for the heavens and it dropped into Earth’s atmosphere.

    “Uh oh,” said Zephyrus as the ball, now free from the clouds gained momentum and threatened the mortal’s homes.

    Eurus wanted to leave and pretend he knew nothing about it. But Shu knew it was time to ask for help. He found Askit with Frigga.

    “Do you know why there is a giant dust ball in my atmosphere and on its way to Texas? Frigga asked Shu.

    He couldn’t lie with Askit staring at him smugly. “We were, um, playing a game,” he began not looking at the annoyed goddess. “Borus and Zephyrus started it!” he shouted, throwing his friends under the bus, hoping from some mercy from Odin’s wife. “Can you help us?” Shu asked.

    Frigga sighed. “Once it’s out of the heavens, it’s out of my control. We must pray that there is a mortal capable of defeating it.”

    And there was. She was called Michaela Rowe, but her nickname was the Queen of Clean. She possessed the power to tackle the dirtiest jobs. As the dust blew into the cracks and crevasses of her home, she gathered her weapons and prepared for the time when the battle would turn.

    She was only a mortal, but she would eventually pass her wisdom and weapons to her grandson Mike Rowe. He would give up a career as an opera singer to follow his true calling as the King of Dirty Jobs.

    *Thank you to my husband Chuck for the inspiration!

  34. Shelter

    Amanda dabbed at her forehead with the tip of an index finger. She replayed the priest’s words: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The smudge of ash was like a weight. She walked through the halls of school with her head bowed. Then it began to itch. But she dared not rub it off.

    Every other kid in the school had the same stain on their foreheads. Amanda watched them. They pretended it was like any other day. They appeared not to notice. They ignored it. The ash on Amanda’s forehead was like a brand, and everyone was staring at her.

    Her bangs covered the upper half of the priest’s thumbprint. She walked through the corridors pulling on her hair trying to lengthen it.

    “Hey, freak.” Lawrence always called her that. But today was different. His eyes zeroed in on her face. The ash burned, but she wouldn’t let him see her rub it off. Bad things happened when you brushed away the smear. Last year Sara Jensen’s father was killed in a car accident minutes after she erased it with the back of her hand.

    “Amanda, are you all right?” Mrs. Martin, the principal, never had anything new in her repertoire of stupid questions.

    “Why wouldn’t I be, Mrs. Martin?” Amanda hugged her science textbook close to her chest. The ash seemed to be slipping down her forehead, to the slope of her nose.

    “No reason, dear,” said Mrs. Martin, “you seem a bit nervous.”

    “It’s that kind of day,” Amanda said and hurried down the hall. Turning the corner she pressed her back to the wall, in the corner, out of sight. She listened to the slam of lockers. Classroom doors opened, then closed.

    A fine layer of dust sifted from her eyelashes. She began to sweat. Until it became unbearable, and at last she lifted her arm, and slowly wiped the ash from her forehead.

    And then the P.A. system jumped to life. Mrs. Martin was ordering everyone into the basement. A dust storm was imminent. They had no time to get home. They had to take shelter. Now.

    @B4Steph
    355 words

  35. ERODING AMERICA (True story!)
    It was May 11, 1934. Fifty-three year old Dr. Bennett cleared his throat and shuffled his papers. He was not accustomed to being apprehensive. “Big Hugh”, as he was called by friends and colleagues, was a jovial, outgoing man. He was an excellent public speaker, an accomplished scientist, and a skillful administrator, well capable of negotiating the tricky politics of the United States government.

    Someone in the audience stifled a yawn. He knew that his stalling technique would only work for a little longer. He cautiously looked at windows, which, as he had requested, were left open. Since air-conditioning had not yet been invented, this was not an unusual situation, but it was a critical detail for his presentation to succeed. He stared each and every member of the Senate committee in the eye, and returned to his report on soil erosion in the Great Plains.

    Then, finally, one of the Senators remarked, “It’s getting dark. Perhaps a rain storm is brewing.”

    “Maybe its dust,” said another Senator.

    “I think you are correct,” he boomed to the Senator, as he led the group to a nearby window.

    A copper-colored cloud rolled in along the horizon, obscuring landmarks and blocking out the sun. The cloud filled the meeting room. The group felt the grit on their faces and tasted soil which had travelled two thousand miles to get stuck in their teeth. They reached for water glasses, only to see them caked with mud. They realized the report had not been exaggerated. Something was deeply wrong in the country. It was not a natural disaster, but years of poor farming and ranching practices had destroyed the land, caused homelessness, unemployment, wide-spread hunger and overall economic depression. Citizens had brought this problem, called the ‘Dust Bowl’, upon the whole country; and the government had an obligation to repair and restore the Great Plains for themselves, their grandchildren, and even for today’s children.

    Public Law 74-46, the Soil Conservation Act, was passed by unanimous vote and Dr. Hugh Hammond Bennett founded the Soil Conservation Service as an agency in the Department of Agriculture. He and his team got to work. **358 words**

  36. Acid Rain

    “Auntie Em! Auntie Em!”
    Dorothy put a hand to her mouth and called.
    “Auntie Em! Uncle Henry!”
    The tornado brought to life by the impending storm kicked up dust around the small farmhouse she had called home for most of her life. Wind whipping around her skirts, she searched high and low for her aunt and uncle. “Auntie Em!…Uncle Henry!…”
    The whistling from the gusts around her drowned out her voice. Her desperate calls were useless.
    “Dorothy come on!”
    One of the farmhands, a young man about her age named John, held a hand out to her. She looked upon it, contemplating taking it and letting him lead her to safety in the cellar, but shook her head.
    “No! I have to find them!”
    John kept his hand out and urged, “It is too late! We must go!”
    “No!” Dorothy ran off, picking her way through tangles of branches and various debris caused by the tornado’s intensity.
    John growled in frustration and followed her, knowing that if she was harmed in any way her guardians would have his hide. If they were still alive, that is.
    Dorothy kept calling out, not wanting to go without them. “Auntie Em! Uncle Henry!”
    An unnaturally loud cackle stopped Dorothy in her tracks. John heard it too and stopped mere feet from the girl.
    “What is that?” John asked her.
    Dorothy answered back, “I don’t know!” However, she very well knew what, or shall we say who, it was.
    But…that was impossible. She…she was supposed to be dead.
    The cackling continued, growing even more ferocious with each passing second.
    Dorothy looked up, unable to speak, fear bubbling up inside of her. The tornado, one moment grey with dust, had turned a sickeningly ugly shade of green.
    A face Dorothy had not seen in years looked out at her.
    “Well, hello my pretty.”
    Dorothy subconsciously backed away. “W-W-Wicked Witch.” Her voice was soft and trembled.
    “You remember.” The Wicked Witch of the West nodded her head in acknowledgement, then continued. “I suppose you wonder why, or how, I have come to be here?”
    Dorothy did not answer, knowing that even if she did agree with the question, it did not mean she would like the answer any less.
    “Let me explain, then….I have come to exact the revenge you so rightly deserve.”
    Her cackling once again commenced as a fiery rain pounded down upon Dorothy and John. Their skin melted with each drop, the witch’s monstrous laughter drowning out their screams.

    Once again, too many words to submit. But when a story comes to me, I can’t stop. Enjoy!
    420 words
    @bookwormattack

  37. Alan was a vengeful god. The Miller family was one of great renown in the eastern desert, having been fortunate enough to have staked a claim on the only river that survived the climate change that followed Alan’s ascension to godhood. Those were heady days for Alan, winner of a cosmic lottery that he hadn’t even known he’d entered (it turned out that the user license agreements that came with his pirated copy of Civ V were even more comprehensive than he’d imagined), and even he would admit that he’d made some mistakes. Rearranging the mountains on the northern range to spell “ALAN IS THE BEST GOD EVER AND HAS A GREAT BIG” was an amusing idea that had come to him during a Mountain Dew-infused high, and like all such ideas, was not well thought through. He’d run out of mountains to finish what he was going to write, for one thing, and he forever changed the weather patterns on the entire planet. Millions died.

    Oops.

    But not the Millers. They prospered. Grew wealthy beyond their wildest imaginings. But did they pay proper obeisance to Alan? Did they sacrifice a goat, as he’d ordered them in a dream? Did they ask Katie, their eldest daughter, to bathe in the river unclad during a full moon? Did they act out the scripts to season two of Firefly that he’d carved into stone tablets?

    Well, they did that last one, but the acting was wooden, and the lead, one Mr. Joshua Miller, had none of the charm or devil-may-care attitude necessary to accurately portray the character of Mal Reynolds.

    The dust storm that Alan raised rolled across the desert like a marauding army, Sherman marching through the south if only he’d known about napalm. The Millers were going to pay.

    But first, they were going to have a chance to beg for their lives. Alan was a vengeful god, but he was also willing to be bribed. He stopped the storm mere feet from their home, roiling and churning like the front door of hell, and waited for his tribute. But not patiently.

    352 words
    @drmagoo

  38. Facing the Smoke
    @kristenafc
    352 words

    The landfill is burning. The smoke is visible from everywhere; the beaches, the highways, even way out here in the country. The landfill is a monster; the talk radio callers love to rant about it. Seagulls dive at the garbage heap, fighting for treasures in its belly. The odor of methane gas rides the wind; sometimes, we smell it in the little farm town where we moved to get away from the dirt of the city. It twists over the backs of Jersey cows, runs its fingers through the sheep’s fleece, flows up the nostrils of the Border Collie and swirls around the running feet of the chickens in my neighbors’ yard.

    Today, the landfill burns.

    I am watching the smoke advance toward the edge of our property while Samuel tells me he is leaving me.

    “It is for the best,” he says.
    I nod. The dark plumes swell and spread above the trees and houses.
    “We haven’t been happy.”
    They look ravenous, like they can’t help swallowing us.
    “We?” I scratch my head. How funny how ‘you’ can talk of ‘we’ with such authority. There was so much between the lines of those vows.
    “But don’t worry,” Samuel assures me. “The house – it’s yours. I wouldn’t do that to you.”
    “Do what, exactly?” I ask. The puffs are closer still. I smell the smoke. Can’t he smell it? He stretches both arms, palms out toward me in a “stop” gesture, as if I am about to become hysterical and he’s trying to quell it. Hysterics were never my thing. Suck it up. Face it. Keep calm.
    “Look, Annie,” he says, his hands still out straight and flipped up like fins. “There is no need to pretend.”
    “I wasn’t aware I’d been pretending.” My voice is soft.

    I keep my eyes on the advancing smoke, so I don’t see him fill up the car with the boxes I hadn’t noticed. He is behind me, rummaging, sliding crates, slamming doors, turning the ignition, backing out, driving away.

    I stand and hold my breath. Facing the smoke head on, as it inches ever-closer.

  39. The Cleansing
    356
    @mishmhem

    Reverend Martin was roused by the sound of his neighbors’ raised voices. He was new in town but he could tell something was very wrong.

    Rising, he looked out the window, and he knew he would be haunted by the sight he beheld: wave upon wave of sand and dirt billowed towards them. He had only heard of sand storms, but there was no doubt in his mind that that was exactly what he was seeing.

    He raced to the door, calling out, “quickly, inside the church, gather your children, there’s plenty of room inside.”

    He wasn’t sure if it would help, but it had to be better than just standing there.

    Quickly the neighbors gathered their families and began herding people into the church.

    As he was about to close the doors the reverend froze, watching in horror as a cloud of dirt and debris swallowed one of the town’s children, Johnny Miller, who had been late getting to the church.

    With a heavy heart, he offered up a prayer for the lad and sealed the door. There was nothing else he could do, save pray, and pray he did.

    He prayed as the wind made the building shudder and sand scoured the outside of the church. He prayed as a fine dust found its way inside and coated everything in sight, and when he could see nothing but the sand around him, he prayed, but more than anything, he prayed for Johnny and anyone else who had been caught outside in this nightmare.

    When the sky finally lightened, the reverend jumped to his feet and opened the door, afraid of what he’d find. To his relief, he saw Johnny Miller standing there with his hair merely looking tousled. If anything the lad looked cleaner than the reverend had ever seen him.

    They mayor joined him at the door, surveying the damage and sighed.

    The reverend gave him a confused look as he watched the others file out of the church, glaring at Johnny.

    “Sir?” The reverend asked not understanding.

    The Mayor shook his head.

    “That boy has got to learn to bathe more often.”

  40. Kicking up a storm – 360 words.
    By @vvordyvvise

    This happened the year Buffalo decided to take himself too seriously. As the youngest member of our family, he was irked that we were paying him no attention.

    But what else could he expect? We were two days away from the global apocalypse. People were building caves, dungeons and every conceivable kind of hideout so that they had shelter when the world ended. We were at it too, creating an underground bunker out of our basement.

    Dad fortified the electric connections while Mom stocked food and drink. I made sure to store lots of cup noodles. After all, if I am destined to die, it better be aided by gastronomic gratification.

    But Buffalo could not understand what was up. As a dumb goat, he was perplexed how a bunch of humans could be so hysterical. He bleated his complaint that we were blatantly ignoring him, but no one bothered.

    He was likely furious at the negligence – and decided now was the time to unravel his magical prowess.

    You see, Buffalo was no ordinary goat. He had been gifted to us by an Indian mystic. “Take good care of him, and he will protect you,” he had said. Mom had tittered – a Batman of a goat? Still, we kept him. If nothing else, the milk would do.

    At midnight on December 21, we descended into the bunker, blissfully oblivious to Buffalo. He had been upstairs, watching everything.

    I think that was the moment he kicked up the storm.

    Before we knew it, a giant cloud of dust descended on the village. It was a sight straight out of the movies. We could not see what was happening but we could hear the roar, and it was frightening. We were convinced this was indeed the end.

    An hour later, Daddy ventured out of the bunker. The house was wrecked beyond recognition. It would take us months to make good the damage.

    Turns out we were the only ones to experience the ‘apocalypse’. Nothing happened anywhere else!

    As I write this, Buffalo is nibbling some tender green in the backyard. Unsurprisingly, not one blade of his precious grass was uprooted that day!

  41. “Oops” is a Bad Word

    Edward lived on a farm just outside of town. We call it a farm because of the wide open space and barns, even though there never has been a crop or any livestock. Most people call him “Crazy Eddie” and wonder what he does out there. His reputation for eccentricity isn’t helped by his appearance. He frequently scorches off his eyebrows or half his beard, but is always cheerful and friendly when he comes to the store. His shirts always have holes burned in them. Stains of every color in the rainbow stain his fingers and boots. I call him Uncle Eddie, though, and he’s not crazy. He’s just rich.
    Uncle Eddie was an airship engineer when he was young. His crew would capture lightning higher than the rainclouds. They flew over land and sea, and no place was out of reach. Uncle Eddie stayed below, keeping the engines going. When they captured a loaded spice freighter from Siam, he never worried about money again.
    He never quit tinkering with engines, though. Instead of sitting on the porch, he spends his time in the barn experimenting. One afternoon, something happens while I am visiting. He runs out of the barn, shirt smoking, and bursts into the house. Before I can stand, he carries me through the front. Over his shoulder, I can see the barn’s fate.
    The barn is flattened, and a green pillar of fire reaches into the sky. It seems all the wind from spring has been bottled up, and is suddenly free. It rages out, howling in joy. By the time it passes us, it has scooped up dry prairie dirt and leaves us covered with dust. When the wind reaches town, it holds so much dirt that the sun itself dims. As it sweeps through town, it knocks grown men off their feet and shatters windows.
    For years, people give Uncle Eddie a disapproving eye, and we still find grit in strange places. He has a new barn, and though he’s promised to never use as much sodium again, I still keep a close vigil when I visit him.

    353 words, @BryantheTinker

  42. “She’s been standing there for sometime.”

    “Uh-huh.” The blacksmith stood, staring at the huge cloud of dust that was getting closer to the community buildings. His goggles protected his eyes but the dirt that passed by scoured at his skin.

    “What are we going to do? They aren’t moving. What is she doing?” The little man next to him fidgeted. “We should go inside. We don’t have anything to drive them away, Rory. We’ll just repair the damage.”

    “And how many times before they wipe everything out, including us.”

    “Uh, but they don’t eat people.” The major shook and put a hand on the man’s arm. “Please, it’s no use. She’s not doing anything. It might have been a bad idea to hire her.”

    They both looked to the woman who stood in front of them, facing the billowing cloud of dust, not moving even as the wind blew the duster she wore wildly around her legs.

    Rory glanced at the timid little man before striding over. “Miss, if you’re going to do something now, it would be much appreciated before the buildings are wiped out.”

    She glanced over at him, chomping on the end of a cigar before her teeth flashed in a wide grin. “Of course. I need to earn my money, correct?” She shrugged out of the coat and tossed it at him, striding towards the cloud. Gloved hands rested on the large guns hanging off of her hips.

    “W-what is she doing? Is she crazy?”

    Rory stared after the woman as she stopped by the edge of the cloud. The creatures were getting louder. Even he could hear them in the clouds that they stirred up. They were worse than locusts. The little nanobots deconstructed everything in their path. “I think she is.”
    Sparks of lightning flashed in the guns she held.

    Rory grabbed the mayor and ran towards the smithy. “She is definitely crazy!”

    319 words
    @solimond

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