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07 May 2012 @ 06:30 am
Dust Devils: Howjadoo (Chapter 5)  

February 14, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma


Dust Devils

Chapter 5

Howjadoo

**O**


February 14, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma

Florabel hugged herself as she surfaced from her unsettled sleep. Sitting up coltishly, she wobbled and burbled as she reoriented herself. Still lying on the cold, hard floor outside the bedroom door where Mr. Hetfield had been dying last night, she wiped the sludge from the corners of her mouth and coughed up some sooty grit. Blinking the dusty crust away, she focused on the now-closed door before her.

She listened for movement or any sign of activity coming from within, but she heard only sad silence. Florabel's shoulders bowed with the weight of her dread as she stood and opened the door. Shivering in the doorway with her bare legs knocking together from cold and nerves, she peered in.

Her mama sat in the old rocker wrapped in a shawl, her head resting against her shoulder as she slept. Old Jeb sat slumped in the corner chair, legs outstretched and crossed, one over the other. He snored into his knobby hands that lay steepled on his chest. Florabel padded to the foot of the bed and forced herself to look. Mr. Hetfield lay stiff and still, a blanket draped up to his chest, just like her papa on that awful day last summer. She remembered her mama walking her into the room right after he had gone to Jesus so she could kiss his cold forehead and say goodbye.

The child's chest constricted with sorrow, her breath hitching and rumbling as she looked at the man. A tear dripped down her cheek. When she wiped at it, her fingers came away brown from all the dust on her face. As she fought grief she wasn't supposed to feel for a stranger, her eye perceived a small movement. With a snuffle, she swallowed and stepped close enough to get a better look. There it was again. The blanket covering Mr. Hetfield's chest moved.

Mr. Hetfield was breathing.

She tiptoed around the bed and leaned close, her innocent hopes rising like sap in a spring thaw. She put her little hand to Mr. Hetfield's brow. It wasn't hot with fever. It wasn't cold with death. It was warm with sleep. It was warm with life.

"Florabel."

Turning, Florabel saw her mama shake her head, telling her to leave the sleeping man alone. Emma pressed a finger to her lips then smiled, tiredly opening her shawl, inviting her daughter to join her. The child scampered into her arms and received a crushing hug that revived her, more refreshing than rain. She puddled in her mother's embrace and together the two women rocked and watched the sleeping man.

"He looks peaceful and quiet," Florabel whispered.

Her mother's lips moved as they rested against the top of her head. "His fever broke about two hours ago," she whispered back. "Your poultice is savin' his life, baby girl."

Florabel felt a warm breath and a kiss graze her ear, and she turned and buried her face into the soft, welcoming flesh of her mother's neck.

"You saved him, too, Mama." She gazed into her mother's serene face. "I heard you, Mama. I heard what you said to Old Jeb. The world is a good place to be, Mama," she said. "Mr. Hetfield didn't want to go to Heaven, even with all them diamonds and gold on the gates. He decided to stay put where he was, so I reckon it's gotta be purty good here, too."

"I reckon you's right," Emma said with a smile.

The two women rocked together until their eyes closed. Florabel snuggled deeper into her mother's arms and let sleep roll over her. Mr. Hetfield was alive. Everything was going to be fine, now.

She'd never felt more contented and safe.



**O**

The jackrabbit twitched and screamed in his skeletal fingers. Slaid squeezed harder. The house remained asleep as he crossed the dusty yard, and he wondered when they were going to order him to dig that big grave. He needed to hurry before they called for him. He slipped into the barn with his tithe.

Slaid lifted the trap door and descended into the noisome root cellar. Laying his fresh offering on the grizzly altar, he lit the lamp and removed his clothing. The lamplight did nothing to revitalize the pallor of his skin as he stood naked and shivering in the musty, fetid air. Taking a jagged knife from the altar, he slit the rabbit from end to end and, with a greedy eye, watched the blood pool on the slab of wood. He swirled his fingers in the blood and lifted them to his mouth, delicately savoring each warm drip onto his tongue.

He'd found the innocent thing in his trap, had taken his time wringing its neck, each bleat and scream causing pulses of pleasure to shoot up his spine and into his cock. Watching the spark douse in its eyes had thrilled and aroused him—had purified him. He'd be worthy to receive the Hala's blessings soon. He was sure of it.

Summoning the wind-demon had been the easy part. He still couldn't control it—couldn't harness its power and energy. Not yet. It would take more than a jackrabbit to make him worthy, but he had to start somewhere. Once he had its power and energy, then everyone in that house would bend their knee to him. Do for him. Live for him. Die for him if he asked. The woman and little girl had never taken note of him, no matter how hard he'd tried to show them how much he wanted them, how much he loved them. And the little one, she was frightened of him now, ever since that night just before Christmas when the monster inside him had escaped. But one day soon, once he'd taken the Hala's stormy spirit as his own, once he was worthy enough, she would no longer run. She would love him. She wouldn't dare not love him.

Bending his head until it touched the blood on the altar, he prostrated himself, uttering monosyllabic grunts of devotion. He played with the rabbit until his hands dripped with gore. Touching his chest and nipples, he left a sensual trail of horror as he worked down his belly and grabbed his hard dick. With a gurgle of excitement, he used the slick rabbit-blood and entrails to help satisfy himself.

"Soon—soon—soon." He synchronized his hoarse, lustful whispers in time to his ravenous strokes. Soon he would be worthy. They would love him, belong to him, worship him. He stroked himself faster and faster until his whispers ended in the high-pitched, jerking hiss of release.



**O**

February 16, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma

He awoke to the sound of whispering. He'd learned enough to know what that was. He'd spent a couple of…somethings…days…listening and learning, or relearning maybe. He wasn't sure which it was. After some odd flashes, he'd begun to think it was the latter.

At first there had been nothing but whispered commands and a black, vicious wind that threatened to rip him to pieces. Then there'd been pain. Absolute agony. After that there'd been a complete blank, the absence of anything he'd experienced—wind, whispers, pain—all of it gone. He'd been fine with that, too, to be honest. Finally, absence gave way to something, or, well, someone. There'd been two people, a…small thing…a girl…and an attractive woman. They'd given him something…water…and it was the best thing he'd ever known. He couldn't get enough of it. The woman always pulled the thing…the glass…away before he was near done. It had been so disappointing that he'd whimpered. The woman wouldn't give him more water, though. Instead she stroked his head, which felt amazing, sure, but it wasn't water, so he'd whimpered some more. She'd whispered things to him, but he hadn't learned what words were yet, so he just listened until things got dark again.

He learned the meaning of words from the little girl who sat next to him every day. She talked a lot. Like, a lot. So when things started connecting or reconnecting, maybe, he heard all about Molly and Penny and how it wasn't very fair that Lizzy Crawford had been born with beautiful raven curls and this little girl had been cursed with straight gold. But since she was supposed to be grateful Jesus made her that way, she wasn't allowed to fuss about it. Though, he thought, technically that might qualify as fussing; he wasn't sure. When she wasn't sitting in the…rocking chair…next to him, she would clamber right onto the bed with him and nestle into the crook of his unhurt arm. She'd do that when she was holding a thing…a book…upright for them to read together. He couldn't read, so she told him all about Mrs. Wiggs, the cabbage patch she lived in, and her dutiful son, Jim. The little girl read to him until his eyes closed no matter how hard he tried to keep them open.

He'd learned a whole lot in the short time he'd been laying there, and most of the words spoken to him meant something, now. Yet, whenever he tried to reach further back in time, beyond the bed—beyond Mrs. Wiggs and the little girl, he saw and heard only that black, coiling wind and the frightening whispers. So, now, when he woke to whispering, he'd been alarmed at first. The more he listened, though, the more he realized it was just the little girl, and her whispers were not terrifying like those carried by the black wind. Besides, she'd been one of the people giving him water, so he liked her on that score alone. Maybe if he opened his eyes she'd give him some. That would be so fucking awesome! Wow, a new word he didn't even remember learning. Progress! He strove to open his eyelids, but they were so heavy and comfortable where they were, he let them be and listened to her whisper, instead.

"It ain't the Measles, Mrs. Fuller!" she said in a hoarse, crabby whisper.

"Are you sure, Doc? Ain't them the pox spots right there?" said the same voice, only a much higher, more anxious version.

"Them ain't spots! I'm a Doctor, I know these things. Git a hold of yourself, woman! Them things is just freckles," the huffy one said.

"Praise Jesus! But he ain't said a word. He ain't deaf is he? Oh, please don't say it Doc. Don't say it!" came the soft whispered cries.

"Well, let's just see, here." The raspy one smacked her lips.

The bed bounced and something small and wet penetrated his ear canal. It wiggled around and…tickled. His eyes got really light then, and they flipped open in surprise.

The little girl noticed him and pulled her finger out of his ear. She scooted back to the chair, face sheepish, rocking and swinging her legs with placid nonchalance. The two of them watched each other for a moment.

Noticing the glass on the stand, he glanced from the water to the little girl, trying to get her to give him some. But the ceiling now held her full attention, and she studied it while she rocked and….whistled. He thought for a moment and decided to give speaking a try. If she could do it, he should be able to. He cleared his throat and blew out a breath with words in it.

"Water?" It sounded like tires on gravel, but the word was unmistakable.

"You spoke!" The little girl's eyes lit up. "Hey pal, you spoke!" She came close to his face. "Can y'say anything else?"

He gulped some more air and tried again. "Can I have some water?" he asked and then remembered another word. "Please?"

A huge smile creased her face. "You can talk! Holy mackerel!" She grabbed his good arm and bounced up and down in excitement. "We was so worried, you just cain't know! You nearly went to Jesus more'n once. You got shot up, bad. Who done that to you, anyway? My name's Florabel. I'm so glad you ain't deaf. You ain't is ya?" She never stopped for breath.

He wondered if he'd said it right or not. He stared at the little girl and then made a small nudge toward the water and looked back at the little…thing…at Florabel.

"Oh! Sorry, pally. Here y'go. Just a few sips, now. Mama says you'll pitch it all back out if'n you drink more." She held the glass to his lips, and he drank as much as he could before she took it away. He tried to follow the glass as it moved out of reach, but a jagged pain in his shoulder and arm stopped him. "Lie on back now. You'll hurt yourself." The little girl put the glass down, tucked some stray hairs behind her ear and then wagged a finger at him. "You can have more in just a little bit. Let yer tummy sit."

"More?" he said. "Please?"

"Not yet, pally." She gave him a sympathetic pat. "Just a few minutes, an' then we'll see if you pitch it up or not."

When he was well enough, he swore he'd drink all the damn water he wanted. He couldn't do that yet, though. Even a small move sent spikes of pain up his neck and scalp and then all the way down to his fingertips. He collapsed against the pillow from the pain.

"You okay, Mr. Hetfield? You in pain?" She smoothed his hair. "Mama's sleepin' a spell. She been up all night with you. I think Old Jeb is catching us some more jackrabbits. I cain't give you no Laudanum. Mama said I ain't allowed, only her and Jeb is." She bit her lip, worried.

"It's okay." As long as he didn't move, the pain in his shoulder was bearable. "Water?" he asked again.

"Land sakes, you really like water, don't ya?" She dragged the rocking chair closer and sat. "I'll give you more in just a minute. How'd you git shot?"

He didn't know he had been shot. But a sudden image flashed behind his eyes. He saw a dock and water. Lots of water. He heard a loud pop and then he saw himself clutch his shoulder and drop into the water.

"I fell."

"You didn't git that by fallin, pally. Someone shot ya. Who done it?"

He thought about it, but all he saw was darkness and water. "I don't know."

"Don'tcha remember?" She grabbed the water and let him drink. He drank until she took the glass away again.

He shook his head, but the movement stretched his shoulder, and a small groan escaped before he could stop it. "I don't—I don't remember."

"Don't ya remember nothin'? Do you remember your name?" she asked, wide eyed.

She had called him something, but he'd already forgotten the last name. Nothing sounded familiar. What was it she'd called him?

"Pally?"

The girl laughed and slapped her thigh. "No, no, no!" she giggled. "That means ‘friend'. You know…a pal." She continued to laugh. "Your name is Mr. Hetfield. Mr. Dean Hetfield. But I'm gonna call you Pally from here on in." She stuck her finger in the air to lend weight to her declaration.

Dean Hetfield. The last name meant nothing. The first name, though…that did. Dean. A giddy, nauseating sensation rolled through him. He could hear someone calling that name, screaming it in terror. The same someone held him tight, until a sharp crack sent him tumbling into a twisting, dark storm. When he came out of the cloud, Florabel was talking a mile a minute.

"If y'need to pitch up, do it here." She shoved a small bowl under his chin. "You okay, Pally? Oh my goodness." She whimpered to herself, wiping away some sweat that had beaded on his brow. "Don't fret, now. It'll be all right. There, there…" She parroted the other woman's sayings. "Don't take on so. Deep breaths." She rubbed his cheek fast and hard.

"M'okay." He brushed her over-enthusiastic hand off his face. After several breaths, the room stopped spinning so much.

"You remember anything at all?"

He grimaced and thought a moment. "Nothing but a black wind. I saw some flashes, but I don't remember anything."

She nodded and sighed. "Your fever got too high. Mama said your brain got cooked ‘cause of the fits." She looked at him with sad eyes. "You might'n be an idiot, now, too." She gave him the bad news along with a sip of water, which he accepted gratefully.

"I don't remember any of that."

Florabel nodded again. "You wouldn't. You was so sick, though, Pally. Fever was burnin' you up. You was hotter'n a whore house on nickel night." She set the glass on the stand. "Anyway, that's what Old Jeb said when we was wipin' you down together while Mama slept."

"Awesome." He rolled his eyes, embarrassed. "Good times."

"Wasn't awesome at all. It was a cruel, hard time." She furrowed her little brows. "We was all worried. But then my poultice finally started workin'." She beamed and pointed to the bandage resting on his shoulder. "An' your fever broke two nights ago. You been sleepin' a lot since then, but Mama has to dose you up with medicine when she tends your shoulder, ‘cause you git to wailin' so bad with pain. Laudanum makes a person mighty happy and sleepy."

They were quiet for a moment. There was so much he needed to know, but he didn't know where to begin. "Where am I?" he asked at last.

"You's in my grand-papa's old room, but he don't need it no more. He died when I was real little. I don't ‘member him much." Florabel rocked herself.

"Uh, okay, but where's here? What is this place?"

"It's our farm, silly Pally." She squinted at him as though trying to figure out just how much of an idiot the fever had made him, maybe. When she spoke her words were slow and extra loud. "We live north of Boise City. Why, that's just the biggest city in all of Cimarron County," she said and then laughed. "But then the only other town is Keyes and that's smaller 'n Boise City by far." She studied his blank expression. "In Oklahoma."

"Oklahoma?" That name had a ring of familiarity to it, but he didn't remember anything about it. Like the word ‘chair', it held meaning for him, but no specific flashes accompanied the word like they did for ‘Dean'. His location didn't spark any reaction, so he tried another question. "How did I get here?"

"You got shot and came to our barn to rest a spell, I reckon. I dunno how you got shot, though, or who done it. Old Jeb was hopin' you'd be able to say, ‘cause he thought you was a bank robber or a G-man or somethin'. He's gonna be fit to be tied when he finds out you don't know," she said. "An' you broke our barn, too. That weren't very nice, Pally. It's gonna take a lot of work to fix it, and Old Jeb's arthritis is purty bad."

"I'm sorry, I did what?"

"Our barn is all cut up inside, and they was even some stuff there that weren't ours, wood and big beams. We found you in the middle of the mess. Maybe it weren't you, though. Maybe it was the bad man who shot you. Dunno for sure. Maybe when you's better you can help Old Jeb fix it."

"Who's Old Jeb?"

The little girl grinned. "You ask a lot of questions! Folks always say I do, but I think you ask more," she said with a snicker. "Old Jeb. He's our farmhand. He used to live a few farms over, but then his wife died of Dust Pneumonia. After that the bank come and took his farm back. And that's an odd thing, Pally. ‘Cause his house and barn—they's still right there, but everyone says the bank took it away from him. Anyway, he cain't stay there no more, so he sleeps in our bunkhouse now. We used to have a dozen farmhands, but when it stopped raining and the dust come, most'a them farm-boys all left and went on their way. Weren't no more crops to bring in anyway, and the cattle was all starvin', so a government man came by, gave my mama a little money and shot ‘em all dead. It was real sad, Pally. Some of them cows was my friends. Then the last few boys who was here left when President Roosevelt gave ‘em all jobs with the CCC."

"The CCC?"

"I dunno what it is, but Mama says all them boys, Grumpy Joe, Short Bill and the others, all live somewhere in Washington State or someplace, now. They's buildin' stuff. But Old Jeb was too old for the CCC, so he had to stay put. He fixes little things for Mama and he's nice. He brings us all the jackrabbits we can eat. It's just Old Jeb and Slaid, now."

"Slaid?"

Florabel eyed the ground and fidgeted. "He's our other farmhand." Her face turned dark. "But you just stay clear of him, Pally." She pulled her knees up and hugged herself, nervous energy rocking the chair back and forth, back and forth. Dean raised his eyebrow at her. She bent close, shooting paranoid, fearful glances around the room. "I don't think he's human. I saw him change into a monster, Pally, and it was the scariest thing ever!"

"A monster?" As he said the word he had that nauseous, whirling feeling again. He shut his eyes to try and right himself, but a sudden burst of images spun around him as though he were a lone spindle tethered by countless threads. He heard himself moan as the stuttering scenes churned and overlapped before him: he saw himself lying in a puddle of water as a mountainous, growling monster approached. He fired a gun that sent out a thin, coiling wire, hitting the thing and sending streaks of white light jolting through both of them. Next, he was in a dark place…a cave or shaft of some sort…a starved, pallid monster roared at him. He pulled another trigger and an explosive flare of fire lit the creature up. Another image: he and two others ran through an orchard chased by a scythe-wielding scarecrow. He flinched as he watched the monster run its scythe through another man and walk off with him. He felt a small hand tapping his face. It was the little girl, and she was scared.

"Pally! Wake up! Wake up!" she called, slapping his cheek. He opened his eyes and brought his right hand up to stop her. White-hot pain in his shoulder stole his breath away.

"I'm okay. Stop, please."

Florabel eased off of him. "I thought you was fittin' agin, Pally. Please be okay. I don't want you to have another fit. It scares me when you thrash about." Her blue irises pooled with worry.

"I'm fine." He drew a lungful of air as Florabel offered him water. He took a drink and then tried to lie still so his shoulder would stop throbbing. "I saw something."

"What didja see?"

"I—I think I saw a monster, too. A few of ‘em. Are there lots of monsters in the world?"

"Mmm, I don't rightly know. I think most monsters hide purty well. My friend Lizzy says they was a big one under her bed, but no one but her ever saw it. And how big can a monster be that lives under your bed? I think maybe Lizzy was mistook. But Slaid is definitely one, so don't make him mad, Pally."

Dean ran his hand over his face and scratched the thick stubble on his chin. It didn't feel right. It didn't feel normal. Nothing made any sense.

"Try to lie still and calm. Once Mama wakes up, she'll give you some medicine. Try and hang in there, Pally. It'll be all right." Florabel stroked his hair, and he had to admit it felt nice. His eyelids grew heavy.

He let her soothe him a moment before opening his eyes again. "So," he asked, confused. "Just you and your mother live here? Where's your father?"

"Just me and Mama now." Florabel's face fell and her eyes kindled with grief. "This was my grandpapa's farm, my mama's papa. And I think it was his papa's homestead before that. Why, my mama was born right in this very room, in this very bed." She patted the mattress. "Then she and my papa got married and they worked the farm with Grandpapa. And when I was born my papa said it was one of the best days of his life, ‘cause the wheat was in the ground and I was out'a Mama's tummy." She smiled at old memories.

"It was a big farm, Pally—one of the biggest in the whole wide world, thank you very much!" Pride pushed out her chest. "They was lots of people workin' here and lots and lots of wheat and barley—lots of cows an' horses, too. They was me and Mama and Papa and baby Henry. He was my little brother. He was born when I was five, and boy did he give slobbery kisses." She laughed at the memory and even wiped her cheek as though she'd just been hit by one. Her small hand curled around the kiss she'd wiped off and held it to her heart.

She sobered. "But then the dust came, and last summer my papa took real sick with the Dust Pneumonia. He got caught in a black blizzard walking home from town, and he breathed in too much dust. So then, Old Jeb and Mama lathered him up with lots of skunk oil and turpentine and tried to git him to cough up the dust, but he couldn't breathe no more. And he died, Pally." She rocked and looked at the wet sheet covering the window.

"And we had to go to town and stand around his grave. The Preacher talked about my papa. But I could tell he didn't really know him, ‘cause he didn't talk about how his whiskers tickled when he held me tight or how he'd play the fiddle for me, even when his fingers was stiff and cracked from diggin' up caliche rocks. He knew how much I loved hearing him play. The preacher didn't say nothin' about that. He didn't say nothin' about how he'd put me on his shoulders and I'd be tall as a silo or how he knew right where Mama's ticklish spot was. Preacher just said what a good man of God he been, even though I heard my papa cuss enough to make baby Jesus weep with shame. He wouldn't stop even when Mama fussed at him."

"I'm sorry." Dean felt horrible that he'd touched off her sorrow. He wished he hadn't asked, now.

"I miss his whiskers. You got some whiskers now, too." She pointed to his chin. "Maybe mama can shave ‘em off for you tomorrow, if'n y'want."

He touched the spiky hair growing on his face. "I think I'd like that."

"My papa died last July, and it was the worst thing." She went on. "I didn't think I would ever see my mama so sad agin, but then baby Henry took sick with the Dust Pneumonia, too. Him and his juicy kisses. He kept a-coughin' up brown dust, but he couldn't eat nothin'. If'n he did eat, he'd just pitch it right back up. Mama never ever stopped trying to make him better. Then November 14th came along and I was sittin' on the bed watchin' Mama hold him and rock him right here in this chair. She sung real nice for him, tellin' him how God and Jesus was gonna help him git better. I was sittin' real quiet when I saw my mama look at Henry, and she just…" She stopped rocking and folded her hands in her lap.

She picked at her fingers a while and then spoke again. "She just started screamin' his name, and she held him so tight, Pally. I ain't never seen nobody hold something so tight before. She bent down, cryin' and screamin' into his little chest. I ain't never heard Mama make those kinds of sounds before nor never since. I don't think those sounds can come out of folks on just any day. I ain't never gonna forget it as long as I live. Old Jeb tried to calm her down so's he could take baby Henry from her, but she kept pullin' his little body back and she was screamin' and cryin' so fierce. She even hit Old Jeb for touchin' Henry when she was trying to hold onto him. I never seen Mama hit anyone before. It was the worst thing I ever did see. I don't never want to see my mama sad like that agin, no how."

She rocked for another quiet moment, studying her legs as they pumped the chair into motion. "She couldn't even go and stand by his little grave they dug up right beside Papa's. Just me, Old Jeb, Lizzy Crawford and her Mama and Papa, and our church friends was there. And you know what, Pally? It snowed that day. It snowed right on his grave, and I thought how much Henry would ‘a liked that. He ain't never seen snow. But they was such big flakes, and it made the dust all thick like paste, but it was purty when it was fallin' that day. People was sayin' it was a miracle an' that the drought was over. But it ain't snowed or rained since then. So I think the angels was just cryin' with my Mama and them tears just froze on the way down to Earth."

She stopped rocking. The little girl tensed and spoke to the ground. "After that, Mama got sick and couldn't git out ‘a bed for two weeks. She wasn't sick in her body, though. Old Jeb said she was sick in her heart from watchin' my brother pass. Old Jeb stayed with her that whole time." Her voice sunk to a raw whisper. "An' that's when I seen Slaid turn into a growlin' monster. It was a bad awful time, Pally. We ain't even been back to church since Henry passed away, ‘cause I think Mama is mad at God, maybe. She don't think it's fair God has my papa and Henry, both. That's why she worked so hard to keep you here. She didn't want God to take you, too. So she yelled at Old Jeb and tol' him to shut up about you dyin' an' made him work extra hard to git you through the night. And here you is."

The room became quiet. Too quiet. "Thank you for taking care of me," Dean said, finding his voice. "I'm sorry about Henry." He didn't know what else to say. Florabel nodded, agreeing, no doubt, that words were pretty useless sometimes.

Dean tried to relax a moment. He was still as confused as ever, though. He had no recollection of how he came to be here, what he had been doing or even who he was, but these people had surely known worse suffering than he had. Who was he to complain about not being able to remember things right off the bat? He knew the images he'd seen were important, but when he tried to remember more, there was nothing there beyond a black cyclone. The whispering had been so pervasive he could still hear the strange incantation echoing in his mind: Én itt beidéz, Hala. A szél az Ördög! None of those whispered words were at all close to the words spoken by the little girl. He was mulling it all over when the door opened.

"Mama!" the child called. "He's awake agin. He can talk, now, too!" Florabel sailed off the chair and ran to her mother, nearly tipping over the tray she carried.

"Careful, Florabel!" She got a better bid on the tray before it fell.

Florabel pulled her into the room. "See, Mama…he's awake, but he don't remember nothin' from before he woke up. I don't think the fever left him with much sense. Hurry! Come see!"

"Gracious, Florabel, mind your manners." She gave Dean an awkward smile, setting her tray on the bedside table.

"He don't remember his own name, Mama. I had to tell him what it was."

"Florabel, don't you be talkin' about him like he ain't even here." She scolded her daughter and turned to Dean. "I'm sorry. She's just excited. My name is Emma Livingston. I'm real glad you's awake. You been real sick. How do you feel now?"

Dean felt awkward and out of place. He didn't like people looking at him, didn't like being the center of attention. "I'm fine," he said and then winced when he tried to shift himself in the bed.

"Mmm, I think you's fibbin' a little," Emma said. "Here, I brought you some broth for you to drink before I take a look at your shoulder. You's startin' to waste away some. You just sit back an' let me do the work." She raised a spoonful of the hot broth to his lips. It was mostly water, but it was hot and hearty. It was pleasant enough and, more importantly, it was wet, so he accepted it without a word. "You don't remember how you got shot, Mr. Hetfield?" she asked in between spoonfuls.

"You can call me Dean. I think I like that better."

"All right, Dean," she said, her eyes shy in her pretty face. "You don't remember who shot you?"

Dean hesitated. He didn't want to talk about himself, but she stared at him, holding the spoon back until he answered. "I don't remember anything. I'm sorry. I saw some flashes of monsters, but that's it," he said, hoping it would be enough to get him some more broth. Florabel's eyes bugged as she stood behind her mother's shoulders, and she shook her head, indicating he shouldn't have said that.

"Monsters?" Emma blew out a dubious huff. "Them were just fever dreams."

He spotted Florabel nodding like crazy, telling him to go with that. "Uh, I guess," he said. "But I—I don't remember anything else."

Emma gave him some more broth. "Your fever was high. You was convulsin'. Might'n be things got rattled wrong. Maybe you'll remember as you heal." She didn't ask him anything else. When he finished, she put the bowl on the tray and grabbed the brown bottle and a spoon. "I need to clean your wound, now. I'm gonna give you some Laudanum, so's you can tolerate me touchin' it. Florabel will git you some water to drink after. It'll make you sleepy, but I'm sure Florabel talked you near to death, anyhow. A nap'll do you good." She poured some brown liquid onto the spoon. "Open up." She opened her mouth in demonstration.

Dean cringed the moment the bitter liquid hit his taste buds. He was pretty sure he'd never tasted anything worse than this in his life, fever be damned. No way he'd have forgotten the taste of something so foul no matter how bad his memory may be. It tasted like ass with a hint of cinnamon. His stomach lurched as he swallowed. "Guhhh." He shivered with disgust.

"Keep it down, Dean." Emma rubbed his good arm empathetically. When it appeared it was going to stay put, she relaxed and let Florabel give him a few sips of water. "It'll just take a few minutes for it to work, and then we'll git you cleaned up. Last time I looked, your shoulder was already doin' much better. As long as we keep it clean and the poultice moist and sproutin', you should heal all right. Ain't sure what use your arm will be when you's healed if'n more damage was done on the inside, but they ain't nothin' we can do about it. We'll just have to hope for the best. Once you've healed some, we can rub your arm and work it so it stretches back out. For now keep it still."

Dean had no feeling in his left arm beyond the ferocious pins and needles in his fingertips and a jagged jolt of pain in his elbow if he moved his shoulder or head at all. The limb didn't obey any command to move. After a few minutes, though, it no longer worried him. The room began to aspirate the most amazing colors, and hazy raindrops of light fell around him, mesmerizing and enchanting. The ceiling rippled with beautiful patterns, and the big sheet over the window billowed and wafted seductively—like a fuckin' tampon commercial! Awesome, dude! Just need ‘Revolution #9' playing and it'll be a party.

Random thoughts flitted through his head, the origins of which he had no clue, but it didn't much matter. He grinned at Emma. She returned the smile and caressed his forehead. She looked hot. Like a smokin' Playboy-bunny—Farm-girl Edition—hot. Like, hot as fucking hell—hot. Gorgeous blue eyes with pale skin, dark blond hair falling all careless around her neck. Like, holy fuck, that bitter, brown shit is amazing! He could see the little girl talking away, but he couldn't make out a damn word. He loved her spunk, though. Cute kid. I'd love to have a couple of my own one day just like her. I'll name them all ‘Florabel', too, even the boys. Fuck yeah, I will. What a kick-ass name.

He turned his head back to the hot chick. She spoke to him—no words, just a soothing cadence that made him feel sleepy and loved. He beamed at her and tried to tell her how fucking beautiful she was and how awesome he felt, but the only word he could get out of his sloppy mouth as he wilted with sleep was an exuberant-but-groggy, "Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude!"

To Be Continued…

Back to Master Post

Continue to Chapter 6

 
 
 
Rince1windrince1wind on May 7th, 2012 02:49 pm (UTC)
"Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude!" hahhaahahaha! Now I'm sure he'll be okay! :)
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 8th, 2012 01:02 am (UTC)
Ha! Oh yeah...our Dean is in there somewhere. Just going to take a little time to coax him out, I think! Thanks so much for the comment. I appreciate it so very much!
nimrodellnimrodell on May 7th, 2012 07:19 pm (UTC)
Oh, adorable!!! Florabel and Dean are adorable!!!
I LOVE it!! This story is perfection. It got everything right, everything. Thanks so much for writing!
Hugs ^_^
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 8th, 2012 01:04 am (UTC)
Thank you SO much! I really did have a blast writing Florabel and Dean together. They are an odd couple...but they totally work. I honestly and sincerely appreciate the comment and the encouragement. It means the world to me. Thanks much.
beckydaspazbeckydaspaz on May 7th, 2012 11:15 pm (UTC)
This is my favorite chapter (not that the other chapters weren't great, cause GOOD GOLLY, they were) but this is just...perfection. Dean waking up, his first interaction with Florabel and Emma, his reaction to Laudanum, it's all just perfect. This is wonderful work my friend, simply stunning. :D

Nice to see a little bit of 'Dean' even if he is all drugged up right now. :P
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 8th, 2012 01:09 am (UTC)
Thanks Puddin' head!!! You know I'm a fan of loopy!Dean, so I slipped it in whenever possible. LOL. I really should do a fic one day that is all Loopy!Dean all the time. Hah. It'd be fun.

Thanks for the comments and your support and your friendship!! Florabel told me to tell you "If'n you was here, I'd stick a marble in your nose for keepsies from me to you! You's the best, Becky! It ain't a surprise that Kat cottoned to ya!" Aw...Florabel thinks you're awesome, too! ;)

Thanks again! /hugs!
tifachingtifaching on May 14th, 2012 12:22 pm (UTC)
Everyone waking up with amnesia should have a Florabel there to fill them in on things. She's a pip, that one!

And Slaid...what's he going to have to sacrifice to come into his power, I wonder?

The dust and its effects are so pervasive and so wonderfully written. I loved that it snowed on Henry's grave and Florabel's take on it.

And Dean on laudanum is awesome!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 14th, 2012 09:28 pm (UTC)
Yay for consciousness! LOL. Yes, Florabel is quite the fount of information, huh? She definitely has no hint of social anxiety! So that's a plus!

I'm thinking Slaid is going to have to graduate from jackrabbits to something more substantial, and that's a terrifying thought!

You know, happyily-crocked!Dean is one of my kinks. Heh. I have such fun with writing Dean on a happy-high, that it's hard for me to stop. It's so rare (these days, at least) for him to be happy, that I'll have him try anything!

Thank you SO much for your comment and kind words. I totally appreciate it!
fangirl29fangirl29 on June 6th, 2012 02:06 am (UTC)
A truly amazing chapter! You sure ran us through a gauntlet of emotions! I cried with Emma at her determination to shield her child from the horrible heart aches of the world, I shivered at Said's creepiness (ewww!), and I laughed at Florabel's imaginary characters & the resurgence of Dean's libido thanks to the laudanum ;) On a serious note, I cannot imagine the horrible reality of this period in American history. I know that people have lived through hardships & tragedies since the beginning of time, but I can't help but feel for the children who lived through the dust bowl. What a dark & miserable world it must have been.

Please know that I am now on sabbatical & I shall spent it reading your wonderfully riveting story!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on June 6th, 2012 10:17 am (UTC)
Yay for time off!!

You know, one of my betas is a girl in her early 20's. Way back when this story was just an outline and summary, she read it and then did a little of her own research on the web, since she really had no knowledge of the events. When she sent her notes back to me she stated something like..."Wow, we are fuckin'-A pussies today compared to these people!" And she's so right! In fact, with her permission I totally stole that line and used it much later on in the story. Heh! But, um...yeah! Very hard times. Very tough people! I watched this one documentary and they interviewed a woman who was a child back then and she said something like, "We (meaning the children) just thought that's what life was all about. There was nothing but DIRT."--something close to that. I can't imagine.

I'm so glad you liked this chapter! Ha, I couldn't resist Dean on laudanum! /snort. My own inner kink coming out, I'm afraid.

Thanks so much for the comment. I appreciate it so, so much!