The remnant of chalk flipped from Bea’s fingertips, falling to the thick grass. Bea jumped to the ground, bent over, and retrieved the stub. When she stood to face Sara, her face went ashen. Bea had a flair for the dramatic, but enough was enough. “Who is Sally?” Impatience edged Sara’s voice.
Bea looked over Sara’s shoulder. She mouthed the words Turn around. The remnant of chalk flipped from Bea’s fingers, falling to the thick grass. Bea jumped to the ground, bent over, and retrieved the stub. When she stood to face Sara, her face went ashen.
Bea had a flair for the dramatic, but enough was enough. “Who is Sally?” Impatience edged Sara’s voice.
Bea pointed beyond Sara’s shoulder. She mouthed the words. Turn around.
Sara glanced to the northern sky.
An impenetrable black wall took up a quarter of the northwestern horizon, dwarfing distant objects. Faint wisps of smoke curled within the rising curtain.
It looked like the end of the world.
“God help us.” Sara heaved herself to her feet, holding her side. She couldn’t run, but a brisk pace should get them home before the cyclone rolled over them. “We need to get back to the house. Get your basket. I’m not leaving all our work behind.” As they neared the road, Sara grabbed her container, but the weight of the basket astounded her. She let it drop. “Let’s get moving!”
As the two hustled, Sara kept a wary eye on the approaching storm. It was increasing in speed, coming faster. They needed to hurry. Sara took the flower basket from Bea and tossed it to the ground. “Leave it.”
As they hustled, Sara’s side stabbed with each step. The good news was they were half way home.
From the west, hundreds of birds approached. Maybe thousands. They filled the darkening sky, making no calls as they flew. The flapping of countless wings sent shivers down Sara’s spine. Geese, songbirds, bats, hawks, and a pair of eagles soared past, trying to escape the coming maelstrom.
Sara pointed ahead. “Run home. I’ll be right behind you.”
Bea shook her head, motioning back and forth. We stay together.
Sara nodded. “Come on. In three minutes, we’ll be home.”
A large goose dropped from the sky, falling in front of Beatrice. What would do that to a bird? Fear? Exhaustion? Bea slowed to inspect the creature as it lay convulsing on the road. Sara pulled her away. “No time. Keep going!”
They were nearing Carriage Road. In two minutes, they would be safe. But they had to hurry. The black curtain covered more than half the sky, rising higher by the second. The race would be close.
An ominous calm settled around them. But not silence. There was a tremor, more felt than heard. Like a train coming. Icy fingers stroked Sara’s back. A horde of creatures approached, pounding down the center of the road.
She gasped. This wasn’t fair. They were so close. They could have made it.
Deer, coyotes, fox and other wildlife fled past as Sara and Bea crept along the ditch. Like the birds, they made little noise, but the fear in the air was palpable. One coyote carried a pup in its mouth. Several raccoon kits clutched the back of their mother. No creature paid them any attention. All concentrated on fleeing from the rolling black cloud.
This was no cyclone.
Sara pointed a trembling finger before grabbing Bea’s hand. “Run! It’s a dust storm!”
They took off. She gritted her teeth against the flaring pain. But the idea—drowning in dirt—made the sting almost laughable. Get to the house. They’d be safe. The earth trembled as the granddaddy of all freight trains was coming through at full speed, carrying a whole lot of dirt. At the base of the black wall was a tumbling wave, like a long cyclone flipped on its side and rolling on the ground. Cold dread replaced the little stitch in her side.
What if they didn’t make it?
A large deer hurtled toward Beatrice, striking her in the shoulder and knocking her into the ditch. Sara ran to the still figure. Please, Dear God. Don’t let her be hurt. She bent and assisted the dazed woman to her feet. Bea grimaced with pain as Sara helped her onto the road. Blood ran from her shoulder and down her left arm. Sara stepped back, biting her lip to keep from screaming. Bea needed help, and shelter was less than two hundred feet away.
“Lean on me. We can still make it.” She hoped it was true.
A distant horn blew, a long, drawn-out warning, getting louder. A farm truck bore down on them, the young driver motioning frantically for them to move aside. Sara and Bea leaped for the ditch as the huge truck roared past. Behind the vehicle swirled a fantail of fine powder, a faint imitation of what was to come.
Sara climbed onto the road on hands and knees, pushed herself to her feet, and helped Bea up. The air thundered. Darkness drew around them like an enveloping cloak.
Bea took a step and collapsed. Sara heaved her up, wrapping her arm around Bea’s waist. “Come on! I’ll help you. The driveway is just ahead!”
They set off with Bea leaning on Sara’s shoulder, pacing in sequence like joined runners in a three-legged race. Falling birds, stampeding wildlife, a hurtling farm truck—they surmounted all these obstacles. With time all but gone, they left the road, entering the curving driveway. The wind grew louder. Sara glanced up. The steps were just around the curve. But even as they neared the porch, the storm rushed upon them.
A black wave surged around the tenant house and obliterated it from existence. Before Sara could scream, a blast of cold air gave her goose bumps, and dirt pelted her like buckshot.
Sara and Beatrice were trapped inside the belly of the storm.