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31 May 2012 @ 06:30 am
Dust Devils: Better World A-Comin’ (Chapter 12)  

April 14, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma

Dust Devils

Chapter 12

Better World A-Comin'


April 14, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma

"Oh Mama." Florabel's eyes widened with awe. "You's so beautiful!"

Emma blushed with meek delight. Florabel watched from the bed as her mother sat at the dresser, getting ready for their big day.

"I ain't never seen your cheeks so shiny before. You look happy, Mama."

Emma pumped a bottle of perfume and leaned into the spray. "C'mere baby girl."

She smiled and squeezed another pump in Florabel's direction, watching the mist fall on the little girl, her chest thrown out, arms spread wide. "There, we both smell like roses." Setting the precious bottle on the dresser, she picked up the seldom-used tube of lipstick and applied a light coat to her lips. Daubing some on her fingers, she rubbed a tiny amount on her cheeks, smiling at the results.

Florabel hopped off the bed and leaned against her, her voice breathy with pride. "You look just like a movie-star, Mama." The two of them touched foreheads and their smiles met in a kiss. Emma spread the shared lipstick over her daughter's lips, and they admired the results in the mirror, striking movie-star poses and giggling like schoolgirls.

"Now we both do." Emma tickled her.

She took the clips from her hair and smoothed the stylish finger waves at the top of her head then plaited her braid into a loose psyche's knot. "There." Emma assessed herself, primping in the mirror. She felt alive, eyes twinkling with anticipation and hope for the first time in years.

"Pally won't be able to look at nothin' but your face all day, Mama."

Emma laughed. "Mmm, I think other things will have his attention," she said, mysteriously. "Now, c'mere Birthday-girl." Emma knelt by her hope-chest, hinges creaking as she opened it and lifted out the precious item. Florabel's stunned eyes popped wide.

"This is my present to you, Florabel. I hope you like it." Emma held up a dress, displaying it for her little girl.

Florabel's jaw worked soundlessly. She petted the white dress, lace edging the embroidered collar, wide pleats falling from the shoulders with mother-of-pearl buttons running down the front.

"Mama! A fairy queen dress!" Her voice hitched and she went mute again. Her brows pinched. "But…how?"

"Do you like it?" Emma asked, though she could see the answer all over her daughter's face. "I thought you needed to have something pretty for special days." She unhooked her daughter's overalls.

"Wherever did you git it, Mama?" Florabel asked, astounded. "Only rich people has things this beautiful. Not even Lizzy!"

"I made it from my wedding-dress," Emma said. "It weren't doin' nobody any good sitting in my hope-chest." She drew the dress over Florabel's head and situated it on her. "My goodness, you look like a princess. Here," she said, reaching for a pair of new socks with lace sewn at the ends, "I polished your shoes for you last night, too. Now you's all set for the picnic."

Tears rimmed Florabel's eyes. "I cain't thank you proper Mama. There ain't words."

Emma hugged her daughter. "Don't need no words, baby girl. You's welcome, my love." She wrapped her arms around Florabel, soaking herself in the warmth of her daughter's embrace, releasing her before she lost her motherly composure. Swallowing the lump of love in her throat, she smoothed her hand over the child's shining cheeks.

"Let's git you all fixed up." Patting the seat, she settled Florabel and began brushing her hair. "Your Pally ain't gonna know what to do with hisself when he sees you." She winked at the girl.

Florabel sat lost in thought as she watched her mother fix her hair. "Did you ever think we was gonna be happy agin?" she asked at last.

Emma straightened the collar of Florabel's new dress and pressed a kiss to her ear. "I didn't." She shook her head.

"Me neither." Florabel watched the two of them in the mirror. "I'm mighty glad we was wrong."


Dean flexed his bruised knuckles a few times to ease the stiffness. They hurt like a bitch, but nothing was broken. He went through his internal to-do list, making sure he'd done all of Florabel's chores for her. Chickens fed, eggs collected—check. Water from well, cow milked—check. Other than the girls' bedrooms, he'd dusted the whole house during his sleepless night. He could do Florabel's room, but Emma's was still off limits since she and the kiddo were having some kind of mother/daughter bonding experience in there. He'd heard them giggling earlier and got the hell out of there as quick as he could. He'd needed to grab Florabel's presents from the barn anyway.

He stretched his neck. Watching for Slaid two nights in a row had left him numb, and he wasn't sure how much longer he'd be able to keep it up. He was going to have to sleep sometime. Slaid hadn't returned, but Dean assumed it was too much to hope that he never would. Even after last night, he expected it would take considerable effort to convince Emma to evict the farmhand—unless he told her what he'd done to Florabel. He didn't want to break the child's trust, but he had no right to keep it from Emma, either. He sighed. He needed to tell her after the weekend. Right now, his sleep-deprived brain couldn't process properly. Maybe he could catch a short nap this afternoon. He squinted at the sun, guessing it wasn't yet mid-morning.

The sun. It shone down from a piercing blue sky—the first such day Dean recalled seeing. There'd been vague flashes of other days in other times, but, as always, they weren't true memories, only disconnected images. But this day? This was something special. The sunlight had warmth to it, and the day promised to nudge 80 degrees by the feel of it. The windmill cranked slowly, the breeze barely stirring it. It was a perfect spring day.

Dean watched the windmill rotate and wondered if perhaps he and Jeb could rig a way to irrigate a field or two. It would be a huge undertaking, but he had the time, now. There wasn't anything preventing him from staying. More than that, though, he was tired of feeling alienated and alone. He wasn't sure if that was due to Sam's betrayal or his inability to remember his past. Maybe he'd always been isolated from people. He didn't know. In any case, he didn't want to be cut off from life anymore. He wanted to be here—wanted roots. He wanted to make plans for the future, and giving the girls a crop would be a good start.

They all needed better food. They couldn't subsist solely on jackrabbits for much longer. Dean had noticed how small Florabel was compared to the other children at the dance. He was worried about her. Her friend, Lizzy, towered over her and had a good fifteen-twenty pounds on her, and they were the same age.

Walking past the windmill, he ducked into the barn and retrieved Florabel's gifts from the loft. The brown bag would have to serve as wrapping paper. He had nothing better. Pausing at the root cellar's hidden trapdoor, he pulled out the gun to make sure Slaid wasn't skulking in there. He descended a few rungs, peering inside. The gun in his palm felt comfortable, like it belonged there, and he swept it up, down, and around in effortless, instinctive maneuvers, checking every corner, daring Slaid to be there. Other than the noisome stench, however, the room was empty.

"Dean? You in here, son?" Jeb's voice startled him from above even as he gagged again.

Fuck. Dean weighed the gun in his hands, disturbed and confused by how much he enjoyed holding it. Pocketing the weapon, he jogged up the ladder.

Jeb turned as Dean surfaced. "There you are. What're you doin' down there? They sent me to look for you."

Dean waved the bag, closing the trapdoor. "Just grabbing Florabel's presents." He cleared his throat and made his way toward the barn door.

"The girls is almost ready. I borrowed a camera from Roy Atterbury. He owns the Boise City News and plays a mean saxophone. Been a good friend for years. Told me if'n I git it to him today he'll develop the picture straight away. Thought it would be a good present for Florabel to have her picture took on her Birthday. C'mon. They's waitin'."

"Let's go, then." Dean matched strides with the old man.

"So, I hear you was quite the do-right last night." Jeb grinned. "I was out back with Doc Dawson and the other old timers rollin' reefer cigarettes and missed all the fun," he said. "You think Slaid'll dare show his face back here?"

Dean stopped and gripped Jeb's shirtsleeve. "That reminds me, Jeb. Listen," he said, feeling guilty, "I was worried about Slaid coming and causing trouble for the girls last night. I hope you don't mind, but I borrowed your gun—just for protection."

Jeb's eyes widened. "I don't think you'll be needin' that, son. It ain't near come to that."

"No, I know. I just felt better having it with the girls in the house and Slaid as hot and pissed as he was. I ain't worried for myself. I just wanted to make sure they were safe."

Jeb stood there a moment, watching him with worried concern. "Just don't be pointin' it at no one, not even Slaid, Dean. He wouldn't really hurt the girls."

"Tell that to Emma."

The older man ran his hand through his hair. "Yeah, I hear you." He glanced toward the house. "Just be careful, Dean."

"I will." Dean heard the screen door creak open and watched Emma and Florabel emerge from the house. "C'mon. Let's go take Florabel's picture."

The two men jogged to the house, then stopped short. "Land sakes." Jeb whistled, long and loud. "Look at the two a'you! First they's this wing-dinger of a day and now it just got a whole lot brighter. The both of yous is all sparkles and pixie dust!"

Florabel swayed shyly. Her white dress fell to her knees, lace frills everywhere, pearly buttons and small flowers embroidered on the collar. Dean'd watched Emma work on it every night for weeks. The little girl's gold hair cascaded over her shoulders, collected in a big, floppy bow high on her head. Even her socks had lace on the edges. Emma stood beside her, flushing, her fair hair rippling in a series of soft waves in front, the rest pinned in the back, natural, soft curls kissing her neck. Her pale peach-pink net dress with embroidered flowers and leaves, dripped in layers down to her mid-calf.

But it wasn't their lace frills, giant bows or shiny hair that struck Dean. It was the sunshine hitting their glowing faces. It was the way their eyes shone at him, their smiles expectant and shy and full of promise.

Dean forced his words around a lump in his throat. "You two are the prettiest things I've ever seen in my life." And he meant it.

Florabel leapt off the stairs and into his arms. "But you ain't seen a lot that you remember."

"I wouldn't forget seeing something so beautiful, that's a fact." He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. "So I just ain't never seen it." He caught Emma's sparkling eye as she descended the stairs, and he had to fight the desire to pull her in, too. "You both look gorgeous." He smiled and set Florabel on the ground.

"All right, all right," Jeb coughed, "let's git a picture of this momentous occasion." Jeb situated the tripod where he wanted it. "Florabel, you and your mama stand in front of the house, now." Dean moved behind the camera with Jeb, watching him set up the shot.

"Pally needs to be in it, too!" Florabel waved him over.

"Uh-huh…" Dean paced away. "This needs to be with you ‘n your mama."

Both girls scoffed at that, beckoning him to join them.

"Come on, Dean. You don't want to upset the Birthday girl," Emma said.

"Ugh. I ain't wearin' anything but dirty overalls." His limbs flopped in sluggish protest as Florabel dragged him toward the porch.

"We don't care, Pally. You's family. I want our pictures tooken together." The three of them got into position; Dean standing with one arm around Emma's waist, the other on Florabel's shoulder as she stood in front of the adults.

"Ain't you all so handsome," Jeb said. "Now say ‘cheese' and hold it!" He took the photo and clapped his hands. "There! Now I'll git this to Roy and when I git back tonight it should be all done."

"Ain't you comin' on our picnic, Old Jeb?" Florabel asked as she ran up to inspect the camera.

"Naw, I reckon I'll let you three have a day to yourselfs. I'm headin' off to church and then Hazel Johnson asked me to Palm Sunday dinner." He smiled a cheeky, self-satisfied smile.

"Dinner with a lady? Jeb, you sly dog." Dean thumped the older man's arm, grinning.

Jeb threw his head back and cackled. "You ain't the only one who has a way with the ladies." He returned the thump. "I do believe all these bright smiles is contagious. And on a day like today, you cain't do nothin' but expect the best. Things is definitely lookin' up!"


February 12, 2007—Boise City, Oklahoma

Sam knocked on the trailer door. "Gerry, it's Sam Ulrich. I need to talk to you a moment."

Gerry opened the door and eyed Sam up and down. "Good." He stepped away so Sam could enter. "I need to talk to you, too."

Gerry led Sam to his desk and offered him a seat. He gave Sam a stiff nod. "So, Mr. Ulrich, what can I do for you?"

Sam shifted in his chair. "I've talked to my superiors. And I've been given instructions to close the site until we finish our investigation."

"S'at a fact?" Gerry drawled, unconcerned. "And where's the ‘we'? Your partner still ain't showed up?"

Sam twitched and fiddled with the amulet. "Um, not yet, but headquarters will be sending some other agents, soon. I'll need you to cease operations until we're finished."

"I see," Gerry said. "So, I take it you'll be wanting this back?" He reached down and slammed the sawed-off on his desk. "You left this last time you was here." Sam stiffened, stunned into silence, but Gerry continued. "Y'know, I thought it mighty odd OSHA investigators would carry weapons. So, when we found this in the mess you boys left behind, I decided to give OSHA a call this morning." Sam swallowed. "An' don't it beat all, but they never heard of Sam Ulrich or Dean Hetfield."

Sam sat up. "I can explain."

"Son, you think I just fell off the turnip-truck, do you? You think because we're a small community we're hayseed idiots, too? So what kind of scam are you running?" He squinted at Sam.

"Just…just hear me out." Sam rose. "I know it sounds bad, but you've got to believe me. My brother and I came here to try and help you."

"Your brother? So the other ‘agent' is your brother?" Gerry rolled his eyes. "Well that explains some of it."

"He is." Sam hesitated, trying to find the right words to get the contractor on his side. "And he's missing. We were investigating the activity at the site and something happened. Gerry, I'm not trying to scam you. But you have a dangerous situation here, and until we figure it out, no one is safe."

"Investigating activity? What the hell do you mean by that?"

Sam stammered a moment, hoping to hell the truth would work. "Gerry, you have a serious problem. You've got a couple of ghosts that are gonna keep hurting people if …."

Gerry choked on his incredulity. "You kidding me, boy? A ghost? Jesus Christ, you spent too much time with Matt didn't ya?"

"It's true." Sam tried to persuade the man. "I know how it sounds, but you've got to believe me. We came here because my brother and I deal with this kind of thing regularly. I'm telling you, Gerry, if you don't shut this site down other people could get hurt or killed."

"Oh son, you need to sell this shit to the SciFi Channel, not me." Gerry smirked at Sam. "They might buy it. Add in a few man-eating ants, while you're at it. They'd snatch it right up. That way you wouldn't have to try and scam innocent folks," he said. "We done right by you two, and this is how you treat us? If this is how things work in the big cities, then I'm glad I ain't a part of one. We may be simple here, but we ain't thievin', scammin', looney-toon dipshit assholes." Gerry took the gun and removed the shells. "Now you get your ass off my site. If I see you around here again, I'm callin' the Sheriff."

"Gerry, listen to me, please." Sam tried one more time, knowing it was futile. The young hunter caught the gun Gerry tossed to him.

"I've heard more ‘n enough, son. You go drag your brother out'a whatever hole he's lurkin' in and you get yourselves out of our town. I don't want to see you around here again, we clear?" Gerry opened the trailer door, motioning for him to leave.

Sam lingered briefly at the doorway, trying to think of some other avenue or tactic that would make a difference. But Gerry's face told Sam it was over. He and the other hunters would have to find a way around the workers. Sam sighed and nodded as he left.

"Freaks!" Gerry spat his parting shot and slammed the trailer door.

Sam sighed. "That went well."


April 14, 1935—Boise City, Oklahoma

"What is this place?" Dean asked.

They'd walked a good mile north of the house and settled next to a trench or old, dry creek bed. The sun warmed him enough to make him sorry he'd worn his union suit, and he scratched at a bead of sweat trickling between his shoulder blades. Sunshine dazzled the silica in the dust, making the ground glitter. However, the contrast between the brilliant sky and the vapid landscape, Technicolor vs. monochrome, bewildered Dean's sleepy brain. The clashing views gave him a vague sense of vertigo. He knuckled his eyes and tried to focus.

Emma surveyed the land, her face coursing with memories. "I used to come here as a girl, but the creek only ever ran part of the year, even back then. There ain't been so much as a dribble in the past four or five years." She spread a blanket on the ground. "Used to flow into the Cimarron River north a ways. I'd always come here and hunt lizards and cool off in the summer. Maybe one day it'll run agin. If'n we could only git some rain." She opened the basket and surprised them with fried chicken. "I wish you both could'a seen this place the way it used to be. It don't seem like the same world."

"It's still a good place for a picnic." Florabel jumped on her knees and gave the food a melodramatic sniff. Emma pulled out the Birthday cake she made. Florabel's eyes went feral. "Mama! A cake! Oh boy!" She clapped her hands.

"That ain't all." Dean sat with them. "I got you a little somethin'." He showed her the brown paper bag, lifting out the striped bags of candy. "One for each of you." Florabel's high-pitched squeal made his tired head hurt, but he laughed anyway. Emma's eyes went round and wide in surprise as he handed her a bag of her own.

"Pally! Holy moley! Candy! This is the best day ever. Ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER!" She dove her hand into the bag, but Emma stopped her.

"Lunch first, baby girl." She wagged her finger her. "Then you can have one piece of candy. That a-way you can have some each day and it will be more special." Florabel sniffed mournfully at the bag of chocolates. She didn't protest, though.

"And…" Dean continued, "I also got you this. Sorry. I didn't have no proper wrappers." He squished the bag around the small doctor's kit trying to make it look more present-like.

She held the gift in her hands, huffing and puffing frantically. "Oh boy, oh boy!" She opened it and pulled out the small satchel, studying it with curious excitement, trying to figure out what it was.

Dean laughed. "It's a doctor's kit." He showed her the toy stethoscope and thermometer. "See? Now you can practice, so when you go to medical school you'll be leaps ahead of everyone else."

Florabel stared at him. "You think I can? Even though only boys is doctors?"

"Who says?"

"Old Jeb says there ain't no such thing as a girl doctor."

"Well it ain't against the law, is it?"

"I don't think so." Florabel ran her fingers over the leather kit.

"Well then, you can go be a doctor if that's what you want." He smoothed the bow on her head. "Don't ever let folks tell you otherwise. Here, let me see it a sec." He opened the bag. "Yeah, I forgot these." He grabbed the netted sack of marbles. "Now we can have double matches."

Florabel's face crumpled with raw emotion. She threw herself into his arms and held on for dear life. "I love you, Pally." She burrowed into his neck. "I cain't believe it. Thank you so much. I ain't never been so happy, ever." Dean caught Emma's glistening eye as he held Florabel. Emma swallowed and nodded her silent thanks.

Dean succumbed to the hug and held on tight. "Me neither, Florabel."

"All right you two. Break it up." Emma cleared her throat and dusted off her hands. "This food ain't gonna eat itself."

After lunch, Florabel insisted Dean submit to his first official check-up. Between the warmth of the sun, the gentle breeze, the food, sweets and pure exhaustion, Dean fell fast asleep. Florabel had spent so long examining him, listening to his heart and checking his temperature that he drifted off without knowing it. He woke to Florabel prying his eyelid open.

"You cain't sleep on my Birthday, Pally!" her big lips said to his eyeball. "You was startin' to snore!"

"Ugh." He sat up, scratching his head and yawning. "I'm blaming the candy and cake." He shook himself awake, but inside he ached to roll over and go back to sleep. He shoved the thought aside, though, when Florabel begged him and Emma to explore the dry creek-bed with her.

After exploring and playing several games of tag and Miss Mary Mack, Emma declared it time to walk back to the house around four o'clock, but Florabel was not ready for the day to be over, yet.

"Mama, cain't I stay here for a little while longer? I ain't never seen the sun so big before." She raised an authoritative forefinger. "Besides, you ‘n Pally should go on an' have a good talk together. Ain't that right, Pally? Don't you want to give me the present I want the most?"


"What's all this? Emma raised a suspicious brow as she folded the blanket. "You two keepin' secrets?"

"No Mama," Florabel said. "I just reckon you two ain't spent much time together. Me an' Pally play marbles all the time." She scraped her foot in the dust, swaying. "I think it's good for grownups to—you know—talk and whatnot."

"Mmm hmm." Emma cocked her head at Florabel then looked to the sun, considering. She pointed to the sky. "When the sun gits there, you come on in." She picked up the picnic basket. "And don't you dare git that dress dirty."

"I won't, Mama." She ran to Dean and motioned for him to bend down to her. "She likes you, Pally," she whispered. "Don't be scared none! She won't be mad if'n y'kiss her…" She released him but then tugged him back down, remembering to add, "…On the lips this time. Cheeks don't count, Pally! It's gotta be the lips!" Dean shook his head and poked her in the nose.

"More secrets?" Emma feigned offense. "I feel left out!"

"You have a silly daughter." Grabbing the basket from Emma, he patted Florabel's head. "Don't stay out long."

Florabel cross her fingers on both her hands. "Remember, Pally!"

Dean couldn't help but chuckle at her, waving her off. He turned and picked his way through the scrub with Emma, heading toward the house. As they walked, Emma plundered her bag of candy, offering Dean a piece and taking one for herself.

He laughed at her. "I thought you told Florabel to make hers last."

Emma giggled and shrugged. "Are you kidding me? I've wanted to put my head in this bag the entire time." She examined the piece of candy. "I ain't had candy in years. Thank you for making the day so special for Florabel. And for me. Times has been so hard I forgot what it was like."

"Forgot what was like?"

She tilted her face to the sun, soaking it in with a contented sigh. "Livin'."

Dean thought a moment as they walked. "I'm sorry things have been so hard for you two," he said. "This land has definitely been raked over the coals."

She swallowed her candy and folded the bag. "I wish you could ‘a seen this land before all this." Strolling along, she gestured to the landscape. "You know, I was born in that house." She pointed to the farmhouse in the distance. "My mama died the night I was born, and Papa? Well, he never remarried. I guess the farm became his wife, his passion. And he was good at it, too. This farm grew wheat and barley. So much grain we was swimmin' in it. And, oh, the fields, Dean! When papa turned that soil, it looked just like chocolate."

She held up the candy bag, shaking it. "And then he'd plant his seeds. You should'a seen the fields of the blowin', billowin' wheat. It was like a golden lake the way it rippled and waved in the wind. There was green prairie grass and flowers everywhere. I used to make daisy-chains and wear them in my hair." Her face glowed with the memory but then dulled. "It ain't right Florabel cain't do that. She's missin' out on so much. I don't know as she's ever seen daisies for real." She sighed. "Anyway, my papa built this farm to be something we was so proud of. He hired several farmhands and bought tractors and threshers. And cattle and horses. My god, I loved the horses. When I was a teen I would ride and ride."

"It sounds amazing." Dean imagined Emma's hair flying in the wind as she rode through the waist-tall grasses.

She smiled wistfully, her eyes wandering around but not seeing what was really there, lost in her memories. "It was." She walked over to a lone, bare-limbed tree, its pale roots clinging to the earth like talons. "Now see that?" she said. "See the crow's nest in that dead tree? It's entirely made of barbed wire."

They looked at the nest of tangled wire resting amid dead branches. "There ain't no vegetation for the birds to use no more, so they make do." The spark in her eyes faded and they walked onward, pensive and silent. Dean laid his arm around her shoulder and held it there. Emma glanced at his hand and leaned closer as she walked.

Arriving at the farm, they continued to wander around as Emma told him stories from her childhood. They wound up in the barn, climbing the ladder into the hayloft, sitting on bales of hay and admiring their handiwork.

"Then after Red and I got married, Papa was dead set on wiring the house for electricity. That was about the time the market crashed in '29. We wasn't scared at first, because we didn't have no stocks. It was them city folks who was jumpin' out'a buildings, not us. We didn't think it meant anything for the folks ‘round here. But then the following harvest we sold our crop for only a fraction of what we'd sold it for the year before.

"Papa, he didn't rightly know what to make of it. All that work and he didn't make half of what it was worth. But he weren't broken over it. Not yet. He figured we'd just make it up the next year. He tore up more land and planted double crops of wheat and barley, figuring since it would only net half, if he planted double and worked double we'd come out all right. Problem was, everyone else was thinkin' the same thing. So the prairies got tore up more and more from folks tryin' to just stay afloat. The next harvest sold for even less. The crops started to rot in barns and silos. We couldn't give the stuff away. Fact is, we's still eatin' that wheat to this very day. We trade folks some of the wheat for cornmeal, beans and a little coffee, just to have a change, but we been eatin' that crop for years now. Dunno what we'd do without it." She picked a piece of hay out of her hair and twirled it in her fingers.

"So you never got your electricity?" Dean asked.

"Mmm?" Emma twitched, startled from her reverie. "No. Papa started sellin' livestock and furniture to pay the banks for the equipment and taxes on the farm. Thank god the farm itself was ours, so we don't owe no bank for it. But we still owed a lot on the equipment. And then in ‘31 it just stopped rainin'. Papa fell ill and died a'worry, I reckon. Doc Dawson says he had an angina an' he just faded. But I gotta wonder what gave it to him. He was fit and sound until the farm fell apart." She leaned into the bale.

"When the rains didn't come, people stopped tryin' to plant the crops, an' all that land, all them millions an' millions of acres that'd been plowed after the crash to try and make ends meet, it all just laid bare, and those winds that always blowed so fierce came like always and kicked up the land and carried it away. Weren't no grass nor crops tetherin' it down. Ain't no tellin' where it all got to. Newspapers say some of them dusters reached as far off as Chicago and New York City.

"The whole thing became a big, rollin' mess. Weren't no means to feed the cows an' horses. Weren't no hay left. The horses was sold to pay taxes a few years ago. We hung onto the cattle as long as we could, but they was starvin' to death. The government finally come ‘round and bought ‘em just to shoot ‘em dead. But at least now I got enough to pay taxes for a year or two. Ain't no tellin' how long it'll take to set things right after it starts raining agin. Even if it were to start rainin' today, ain't no way to put a crop in the ground except for my grand-daddy's ol', rusty plow. Ain't even got a horse to pull it." She closed her eyes, shielding them from the gravity of her hopeless situation. She opened them again, and there was defiance there.

"But folks is tryin' to hold out, makin' do the best they can. Those who cain't, most usually head west an' try to find work in California an' Oregon. Though, we hear tell things ain't any better there. Ain't enough jobs to go around. Folks who live there is tryin' to make laws sayin' you cain't hire folks from Oklahoma and Kansas. They don't want us there."

"Jesus," Dean said.

Her eyes blazed with a weary fury. "Things is bad. I try to remember what it was like. I try to think of the golden fields and believe those days'll come agin, but right now we's eatin' dust three times a day. I sleep with it every night, I wake up with it between my teeth. It's in my water—it invades my dreams. I hate it so much I could scream. I hate the wind. I hate that Red and Henry died for no damn good reason." She stopped herself and blinked, startled at her outburst. "I'm sorry, Dean. I shouldn't ‘a said all that. I git tired of fightin' sometimes. I don't mean to seem like a surly child. I shouldn't be so weak."

"Emma, you don't need to apologize. I can't imagine how hard it's been for you. You ain't weak. I think you're incredibly strong to have gotten though the way you have."

She rubbed her chin, embarrassed. Masking her pain, she stretched and brushed her fingers in the air, scattering her memories like dandelion seeds in the wind. "And what about you, Dean? You think you's gonna be able to find your friend, Sam?"

Dean shut his eyes and shrugged. "Don't think so. I ain't lookin'."

"You shouldn't lose hope. It ain't been that long, Dean. I bet if'n you give it time enough you'll remember things better, and then you can go find him, maybe?" Her voice was smooth, but there was something in her tone that made Dean wonder if she really meant or wanted that.

Dean joined her on the hay bale, sitting close enough that their shoulders touched. "I remember enough, now. I don't know, Em. I'm thinkin' maybe I wasn't a good person before I got hurt."

"What utter nonsense."

"No," he said. "I mean it. I don't remember things the way other people do, but I know Sam was my brother, and he…" His voice trailed off.

Emma's eyebrows shot up. "Your brother? When did you remember that?" she asked, turning on the hay bale to face him.

"The other day."

"When you was so upset?"

Dean nodded. "But I saw other things, too. Things that make me think I lived a dark, bad life. Every flash I ever get is violent and twisted, Em. And the only thing that ever made any sense at all was Sam. I dunno, it's weird. I felt him so strongly. So bonded and attached. And then I saw…" He faltered, studying his hands with a sigh.

"Saw what, Dean?" Emma moved closer, lending him her strength.

Dean shrugged and palmed his face. He was so fucking tired. Too tired and too broken to hold back. His eyes met hers and then darted away. He cleared his throat. "I saw him shoot me." He tapped the scar on his shoulder. "Sam's the one who done it. I don't know why, but I saw how much he enjoyed it."

"My God. Dean…" She rubbed a slow circle on his back.

"So, I don't want to remember. I don't want to know who I was. I don't want find out I done so much wrong that he'd have reason to do that. I don't want to be the person I think I must ‘a been. I don't want that life, Em." He dropped his head in his hands.

Emma shook her head in confusion, pressing her hand against his to get his attention. "I don't know what you saw, but I'm thinkin' you ain't seein' the whole picture. I ain't smart, Dean. I married Red in my senior year an' that was that. I never finished high school. But I know a few things, and I know you's a good man. I know whatever you done you must ‘a done because there weren't no other choice or because you had a good reason. You cain't remember it right now because your fever mixed things up, but I just won't never believe you done anything to deserve gittin' shot. It don't make no sense that your brother would hurt you, but maybe in time you'll remember things better and see the whole picture instead of just catchin' a glimpse of the corner."

"Maybe," he said. "But I don't want to remember anymore." He searched the rafters of the barn. "It's funny, but I'd rather deal with the dust and the drought than go back to that life. I cain't…the things I've seen, the pictures that play in my head sometimes, Em, you just wouldn't believe. I don't want it. I don't want none of it."

Emma stared at him, saying nothing for a time. When she spoke, her voice was no more than a whisper. "Then what do you want, Dean?"

Dean took his time to consider the question, but when he spoke there was resolution and conviction behind his words. "I want Florabel," he said. "I want you." Emma turned to him, her eyes wide with too many emotions to name. "I wanna help you get the farm up and running, and I wanna put down roots. I don't think I ever did that before." He suddenly felt naked and raw, and he cleared his throat, switching gears. "I was thinkin—I was thinkin' maybe Jeb and I could work to irrigate a field or two, huh? Might be a good summer project."

"What if'n your brother comes lookin' for you, even if you ain't lookin' for him?"

"I'm pretty sure he ain't a-lookin' for me, Em. And I wouldn't want him to find me if he did. I ain't goin' nowhere." They sat in silence for a moment longer.

"I'm so glad to hear that, Dean."

He watched Emma's eyes flood with promise and joy. There was no telegraphing, no awkward approach, no thought given even to Florabel's Birthday wish. Their lips simply locked and mingled, gritty lips connecting in a dusty kiss, each soothing the other's abrasions while sharing a hope for a better world for them and for Florabel.

Emma's lips parted, soft and plump with arousal. She watched him through dark eyes, both hungry and profound. Her hand caressed the back of his head, her fingertips barely brushing the nape, sending shivers of warmth through him. Dean experienced his own polar-shift as they melted together, an acknowledgement that he was not merely settling; he was making his own choice. He wanted this life and no other—flesh and blood, not ghostly vestige and residue. He tilted her back until they both lay tangled together in the hay.

When Emma coaxed his hand toward her small breasts, he felt a thrill ripple through her as he feathered his hands over them. Dean smiled when he heard the cow shift and huff as he and Emma lay twined like jigsaw pieces. Emma explored the contours of his chest and back while he unbuttoned her dress, kissing her neck and rubbing his tongue over her bare breasts. His teeth found her nipple, and she bucked against him as he grazed her tender flesh.

Their insistence and need surged, each coated in a light, tangy sweat. The heady, feral scent set Dean off. Fighting with his buttons, he prowled his way up to her mouth, stifling her soft moans with a demanding kiss. This time a blue spark of static electricity sizzled as their lips met.

"Sparks is a-flyin'." Emma snickered, rolling with the residual tingle until she straddled him.

She continued to work on his buttons as their tongues darted and explored. The cow thumped and mooed plaintively in response. Dean thought he heard the chickens also kicking up a chorus of gossipy clucks in their yard. He smiled against her kiss.

"I think we's excitin' the animals," he said and went back to kissing her, meshing his fingers in her hair that had come unraveled.

Stiffening, Emma cut off any response she intended to make. She rose to her knees and glanced behind her toward the open barn door below, her senses tense and alert.

Dean looked past her, but there was no one in the barn with them, nothing to see. When he leaned up to kiss her again, she distractedly pushed against him.

"Shhh." She held her hand up, listening to Penny groan in agitation and turn in her stall.

"Penny will keep our secret, Em." He teased her, but she paid no attention. She sat on her heels, buttoning her dress with hasty fingers.


She cocked her head, still listening. A puff of cool air filtered through the barn. When Dean tried to coax her back, she slithered from his grasp, her sweat-coated skin soapy slick. He levered himself up on his elbows as she descended the ladder without a word.

"Uhm…Em?" Confused, he followed her, buttoning his shirt and latching his overalls as he went.

A lone crow cawed as it flew overhead somewhere. Emma ran past the barn door and froze. When Dean reached her, he noticed the chickens running in mad circles while dozens of jackrabbits scurried through the barnyard, heedless of any peril from humans. Emma stood motionless, eyes fixed on the sky, drawing Dean's gaze. Flocks of birds dashed to the south, shrieking frantic warnings as they went. Wondering what had the birds on the run, Dean followed the line to the north as a tremendous gust of wind rocked the barn.

Out on the horizon, a colossal, black cloud billowed and roiled like smoke as it devoured the prairie. The storm towered several thousand feet into the sky, barreling directly toward them, performing deranged somersaults and cartwheels along the ground as it came.

"Jesus Christ." He watched the oncoming cloud. "What the ever loving fuck?"

Emma hands trembled as she held them up, shielding herself from the outer bands of wind that hit them. "Black blizzard," she said, horror-stricken. "Black blizzard!" she repeated, a wild note of hysteria rising in her voice. The storm could not be more than few miles away, now, Dean figured. It would soon consume their picnic spot.

Emma must have been thinking the same thing. "Oh God, Florabel…" She staggered a few steps, searching the horizon. "Florabel!" Her voice cracked. "My baby!" She ran toward the oncoming storm. "FLORABEL!"

Continue to Chapter 13

Back to Master Post
tifachingtifaching on May 31st, 2012 10:19 am (UTC)
You are an evil, evil woman.

Another wonderful chapter, though I knew the blue skies were too good to be true. I was kind of expecting them to find Lizzy on the picnic. And I'm a little surprised that Dean left Florabel out there in the first place knowing Slaid was still on the loose.

Damn it! I love how happy he is, how happy Emma and Florabel are. But it's so awful how he remembers his old life.

And the cliffie! We have to wait until Monday now?
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 31st, 2012 10:37 pm (UTC)
I know...what the hell was he thinking! Oh...well...he is completely exhausted, so I'll cut him some slack. And perhaps he was thinking that if Slaid came looking for them, he'd start with the farm and not the open prairie. OR....perhaps the idiot author never gave it a thought. /averts eyes guiltily.

The cliffie...I know, right?! Shameful. Light your torches and hoist your pitchforks. I'm sure I saw the author run.... --------> that a-way!


Thanks for your very kind and generous comments! I appreciate it is so, so much!
tifachingtifaching on June 1st, 2012 01:08 am (UTC)
LOL! I'll go with the Dean was exhausted explanation. And no pitchforks or torches. If that happened we'd never find out what happened!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on June 1st, 2012 01:17 am (UTC)
Good, because that's my story, and I'm stickin' to it! (no pun intended!)

Yay for no pitchforks. I'm kinda flabby and I'd totally pull a hammy.
deangirl1deangirl1 on May 31st, 2012 11:51 am (UTC)
Wonderful chapter - but to get Dean and Emma so, so close... GAH!
And now Florabel is lost in the blizzard!!!! Nooooo!
I'm waiting for Sam to come across that picture in the present... or maybe Dr. Florabel will produce it when Dean shows back up in the present??
This wonderful chapter deserves MUCH more love but I have to run to catch a plane!!!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 31st, 2012 10:40 pm (UTC)
I know...poor Dean and Emma. What could have been...

The photo...hrmm....I wonder...I wonder if we'll see it again. /ponders

Hope your flight wasn't too bumpy! Thanks so much for your comments! I appreciate them so much!
tifachingtifaching on June 1st, 2012 01:06 am (UTC)
Oh, yeah, the photo! Sam's totally gonna see it. *hopes*
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on June 1st, 2012 01:16 am (UTC)
/thinks really, reeeaaaalllllyyyy hard. I can't remember. I am just not suuuure.....
tifachingtifaching on June 1st, 2012 01:24 am (UTC)
See? Evil. I've got to tell you, I haven't had this much fun with a WIP since Zatnikatel was posting her epics of Dean bashing. I love leaving comments on each chapter and guessing what's coming next!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on June 1st, 2012 01:45 am (UTC)
Aw, well now, that is high praise, indeed! I'm a frothing, raving, nutter of a Zat fangirl. /snort. I can't quite measure up to her, but I'm glad you're having fun with the guessing game!

And as for what's coming next...why a big stinking black cloud, of course! ;) But then, yada-yada...there's a bunch of other shit that happens too. But...I can't remember right offhand...
jpgr: SPN Family Businessjpgr on May 31st, 2012 01:05 pm (UTC)
Oh what a marvelous build-up! The sweet, calm beginning to that ending...

If you were to cast this, how would you? Ho do you picture your "supporting cast"?
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 31st, 2012 10:46 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm so glad you liked the build up. One grumpy reviewer in ffdotnet said it was worse than a lifetime movie. /clutches heart. But I guess SOMEONE watches lifetime movies...so maybe it'll appeal to them saps. /shrugs. I did want to kind of give Dean this one glimpse of *paradise* (even with the horrendous backdrop) and have him make a grab for it...you know...before I completely changed everything again. Heh. So evil.

Huh! My beta Becky asked me that question once, but I honestly don't know enough about current actors to really give a good answer. There is ONE character that I have always pictured as a fairly well known actor...but... we haven't met that character yet. I'll have to tell you that after chapter 14 when we meet. ;)

I know I'd cast Jensen Ackles as Dean. ROFL. But yeah...dunno who really fits. Who do you see? Oh...I know...for Jeb it would be Richard Farnsworth (if he were still alive). That's all I got.

Thanks as ALWAYS for your encouragement. I honestly appreciate it so very much.
Rince1windrince1wind on May 31st, 2012 02:43 pm (UTC)
Very good chapter! Though I'm now worrying about Jeb having seen Dean looking down below in the barn, and him admitting to worrying about having been a bad person before, just as Fl's friend has been killed by Slaid. They can't blame Deeeeeeaaaaaan!!!!!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 31st, 2012 10:53 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, Jeb seeing Dean come out of the root cellar...that can't be good, huh? Hrm...

Naw...that would never happen. Right? Right??!!


Thanks for the comment. I am so freakishly grateful!
beckydaspazbeckydaspaz on May 31st, 2012 04:29 pm (UTC)
What the ever loving fuck is right!
So...you did it again. Made the first part of this chapter so appealling and lovely and heartwarming and sweet and then towards the end I was a tiny bit sick to my stomach. Oh God...

You totally are like one of those people who has something shiny and/or distracting in one hand and then while I'm busy looking at said shiny thing, you sucker punch me in the gut.

And I love that so much about your way of telling a tale that I can barely stand it, another lovely and thrilling addiction to a wonderful and unique tale. Thanks SO much for sharing it with us. :D

*mad respect...or something :P*

sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 31st, 2012 10:56 pm (UTC)
Re: What the ever loving fuck is right!
Aw, thanks so much Puddin'! Now, if you wouldn't mind looking at this nice, shinly little pendant for a moment...


I'm glad you're enjoying this...A SECOND time. Hehe. Wow...you get total brownie points. You're so awesome. What would I do without you?

Meridiancmsserenity on May 31st, 2012 05:41 pm (UTC)
I refuse to hold my breath waiting for the next chapter ... but only because I would drop dead long before it arrives. Some here have called you evil, others state you hold shiny things in one hand an punch them in the gut with the other - Hehe. I agree with them!!

Still, our love of this story is no less.

Spectacular pacing. Wonderful take on a mother's instinct - because it will, can and does override absolutely everything else at moments such as those. Also - so close and yet so far... what a delightful tease.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 31st, 2012 10:59 pm (UTC)
I'm ebil and wicked and crool and mean-spirited! /satanic-disco pose

I'm glad you are still loving this story. Oh yes! Emma's motherly intuition completely came out there. How could it not?! Love her fierce love for her child. You know it has to be deeper than the deepest sea for her to push Dean Winchester out of her arms! /snort!

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for your comment. I can't express how glad I am that you are enjoying the story!
(Anonymous) on May 31st, 2012 09:29 pm (UTC)
God, how I love this story! I'm looking forward to every Monday and Thursday now, knowing we'll get a new chapter of this fascinating tale. The Hurt!Dean of the earlier chapters was wonderful. You have done a superb job of keeping him as "Dean" as possible even while he can't remember most details of his life. Your main OC's are intriguing characters in their own right, which is quite a feat to accomplish, particularly in this fandom. We care so much about what happens to Emma and Florabel because you have made them as real to us as Sam and Dean. It's so hard not to root for Dean and Emma, even though we know it can't work out in the end.

This chapter was spectacular, as were the others. I loved the way you wove the real history of the Dust Bowl era into the story through Emma's memories. Your descriptions of the happiness of the day made me grin, even as I prepared for the dark twist I was sure to come at the end of the chapter. And you did not disappoint there, either. Is it Monday yet? ;-). Great job with this. Thanks so much for sharing it with us all!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on May 31st, 2012 11:15 pm (UTC)
Oh thank you SO much. I definitely love my some hurt!Dean. Enough that there will be a crap-ton more...because I'm just that way! Kind of had to have him healthy enough to become invested in the folks...lol. It's so HARD to really get to know people when you're half dead. But it's cool. He knows 'em now. So...let the asskickings begin! ;)

It really was a challenge to keep Dean *Dean* without his proper memories. I straddled having him be Classic!Dean and...well...Oakie!Dean quite a bit. Some people have noted how he started to pick up their vocabulary a bit, and that's true. I did have him somewhat adopt their "accent", especially in the last few chapters. I think if he were to spend much longer in the Dust Bowl without his memories, he'd probably be saying "cain't" and "you's" very soon. We'll have to see if he stays that long or not! Yet with or without a 1930's Oakie accent, I tried to keep him *Dean*. He's protective and loyal and lethal all at the same time. I'm glad that it worked for you!

I do confess that I was a little self-indulgent in this chapter with the Dust Bowl info. But I found it SO fascinating. And, too, I wanted Emma and Dean to share their stories with each other and take comfort in one another, so it seemed right to put the history there without seeming TOO documentary-ish.

Thank you SO much for taking the time to let me know what you thought and that you are enjoying! I appreciate it so very, very much!