“Incident at Shady Acres” by Luanne Castle

When the sun disappeared, he glanced up. The sky had been clear and blue as a freezer pop for weeks. Now a dark uneasiness moved overhead from the south. He flipped his beaten-up skateboard against the side of their trailer and leaned next to it. The trailer was at the back of the park, and he looked out over acres of vacant cotton fields. They had been burned to stubble last year but never replanted. He imagined it had something to do with money. Everything always did. The boy’s upper lip, still hair-free, held a mustache of beaded sweat and drops drooled down from his temples. No sun, but still hot as a habanero.

An old truck raced up, spinning dust from the wheels, and stopped in the dirt that met with their concrete pad. A stocky man, clothes greasy with labor, flew out the door. “See that sky, boy? Thunderstorm or haboob, I’m not sure which, but help me cover the back windows.” Nobody had put new glass in the windows after the stepfather had taken potshots at them when he was too drunk to give up his gun. The man and boy worked together to fasten a tarp over the windows to keep out the elements. “I think it’ll be a storm. Looks like rain.” The boy knew that meant that the rain would clean the dust off everything, the rickety front porch, the webbed lawn chair that sat out there, old toys and tools, even the geranium he was trying to keep alive. He wouldn’t wake up coughing at night, at least for a while.

The light gray above deepened to a darker shade, and the truck, even the lawn chair, took on an eerie glow. The man called to the boy to come inside, and the boy brought his skateboard with him. They stood at the kitchen window looking out at the sky and waited, wondering. The man made up his mind. “Get the super soakers. I think we’ve got us a haboob on the way.” Each of them filled up their huge water gun in the shower. The trailer went black inside, and the boy had to feel for the bathroom light switch.

As the massive wall of dust and debris moved in, outside turned blacker than any night. Even the mercury vapor light over the park had been blotted out as the dirt blew in with all the power of the devil. The boy heard fierce blowing and the terrifying rattling of trailer siding and porch. His eyes stung, and dust coated his tongue. He struggled to swallow. His stepfather lightly touched the boy’s shoulder and said, “Don’t drink any water yet. It’ll turn to mud.” Then he coughed as if his lungs would rattle out of his chest. “It’s okay. As soon as it stops, we’ll clean everything with the super soakers.” The boy tried to sound as if he were sure. But it seemed that the dust cloud would never move from over the trailer park, which might be an illusion because the haboob was over fifty miles long. The boy knew this. The stepfather knew this. The wind hooked a corner of the tarp and whipped it off the windows, and dirt poured into the trailer, covering the table and bottle of Cholula on top, then over the ratty carpet. The man and boy had no choice but to run outside into the dark cloud and invisibility.

Luanne Castle’s award-winning poetry collections are Rooted and Winged (Finishing Line) and Doll God (Kelsay). Her chapbooks are Our Wolves and Kin Types, a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. Luanne’s Pushcart and Best of the Net-nominated poetry and prose have appeared in Copper Nickel, Bending Genres, River Teeth, and other journals.