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Stuck in the storm

Two people, a father and son, rode in a boxcar on tracks that rattled doors, joints, teeth and was as empty of cargo as their pockets were of cash. The two may not have had money, but they had memories and when that’s not enough, they had dreams. The door rolled off and feet dangled above the blurred ground of an eastern Texas landscape shrouded in a cloud of dust that dimmed the sunlight and squelched hope. “That dust is gonna go non-stop, ain’t it?” said Jeb, the son of father Joe. “Naw, it’ll go away any day now, you just wait ‘n see.” Joe wiped dirt from his forty-year-old weathered face. In the morning the two opened the door. The sun shined brighter, and the sky appeared bluer than they had in months. Hope rose, dreams took place of memories, and the two talked long about all the possibilities before them. They passed the time sitting in the doorway or resting on their blankets. In the early evening, the train slowed to a stop, gave a final hiss and went quiet. “Let’s go see what’s goin’ on”,” said Joe. “Maybe they’re takin’ on more water.” They marched past the cars, each one identical to the one before. They were surprised to see so many people standing in the open doors. “I don’t think there’ll be space for anybody when this train heads back east”,” said Joe. “Every one of them cars’ll be packed with things that you and I got.” On the ground around the train, a tractor and plow stood untouched, unused because the topsoil was gone and the earth would no longer produce a crop. The police and engineer stood beside the westbound tracks in front of the locomotive pointing to the northeast. The two passengers stare between cars and took in more and more of the plains, empty and nothing, except for an occasional farmstead. Then their view was sometimes blocked. The cloud hugged the earth and grew to what seemed to them to be an impossible height. It was not the fluffy white of a cloud nor the dark gray of a towering storm, but blue-ebony. And the weirdest and dangerous looking thing about the spectacle was that the storm was travelling directly toward them. Father Joe and Jeb sprinted back to their boxcar and climbed inside. The sound of the door being slammed shut was repeated over and over again along the length of the train. They used their blankets to fill in the spaces around the door, then waited for the black Godzilla to strike. Joe approached the door. “What are you doin’?” “It’s the end of the world, son. May as well watch it.” He opened the door again. The storm was close enough for them to look at and that it wasn’t holding its shape like a normal cloud but was rolling and tumbling across the landscape, a tumbling mountain of destruction. “Look east, Joe, and in all directions. It’s endless. You’re right. The end of the world is here.” The wind arrived first. The two had to stand behind the protective walls of their boxcar and watch out at an angle. Then arrived the birds in a cloud of their own, tons of them with nowhere to go except to stay ahead of the storm. The bigger and stronger ones had a chances to make it, but the small birds fell exhausted to the ground and were buried under the dirt. They had a hard time closing the door, but the scene outside froze them where they were. The land was alive, moving, not the tornado of silt and sand, not the jumping tumbleweeds but thousands of escaping jackrabbits that ran under the train cars where many remained, taking advantage of their best hope of survival on the plains with nothing. The two managed to fight the door closed just before the black blizzard hit and went back to their places to wait. “Dear God, protect my kid and me”,” Joe prayed. “In a few minutes, I’ll see my mother again. Father, just think of it.” The wind picked up. The boxcar raddled like a building in a earthquake. For fifteen minutes the soil of the plains found its way in through every little crack and non-sealed hole, seeking at the least to choke them, if not to bury them alive. Then it was over. They pulled open both doors. A new layer of sand covered the ground outside. The tractor and the plow were buried except for a steering wheel. Topsoil had drifted like snow in winter along the length of the train up to the doors of the boxcars. The whistle blew. The train crept and slowly moved forward along the buried tracks. Jackrabbits, those which had survived and lived beneath the cars, fled into the surrounding devastation where no food nor water nor protection awaited them. “My family”,” said Joe. “We gotta keep goin’. That’s what we need now more than ever.” “I’d be surprised if California is any better. Seems to me the whole world just perished.” “But some way, we survived.” Jeb took off his jean shirt. “It’s like God meant it to be like this.” “God could’ve stopped the storm just as easy as he got it to start.” “But He didn’t. So there’s got to be a reason.” “A reason for all this?” Joe spread his arms out wide toward the lifeless void. “We can’t just give up hope. We got to go on.” “On to California? To The Promised Land? Milk and honey and all that?” Dust poured out of the open doors. “Let your fears and doubts blow away, Father. If we still have our dreams, we still have hope.”

Other essay:   The storming night

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