Kristina R. Mosley 4,765 words
P. O. Box 434
Kensett, AR 72082
Dust to Dust
Dry Springs is a good name for this place, Constable Casey Robbins thought as he walked down the town’s deserted main street. The town had never been a big one, but when the bank closed, the rest of Dry Springs did, too. The fact that it hadn’t rained in months didn’t help matters. Everyone who was smart had already left.
The town never had a proper mayor, and it was too small and isolated to have any kind of police force. Twenty-four-year-old Casey had been the only real authority in Dry Springs since he was elected constable three years earlier. It wasn’t a tough job: the most he had to do was send a drunk home. He didn’t even need to carry a gun.
His footsteps echoed as he passed Bell’s General Store, one of the few places still in business. Just as Casey stepped in front of the doctor’s office on the other side of the store, someone bumped hard into his shoulder, so hard that the straw hat popped off his brown head. He staggered but managed to grab the person’s collar.
“You should be more careful,” he growled. He realized that he had Woodrow, the thirteen-year-old son of Hubbard Jones, in his grasp. He let go of the boy “Where are you going in such a hurry?” he asked. Casey knew something was wrong from the fear in the boy’s green eyes.
“Paw’s real sick.” Woodrow huffed, trying to catch his breath. “I gotta go get the doctor.” Sweaty red hair stuck to the boy’s forehead.
“Did you run here?”
The boy ran off, and the constable followed. By the time he caught up, Woodrow ran out of Dr. Lindsey’s office with the short, white-haired doctor in tow. Dr. Lindsey carried a large black bag.
“Casey,” he said with a nod.
“Doctor, can I have a word?”
The doctor stopped next to the constable. Woodrow glared at them from inside Dr. Lindsey’s green Chevrolet.
“I didn’t think Hubbard Jones was that sick,” Casey whispered.
Something’s not right here, Casey thought. “Mind if I tag along?”
The doctor gestured to his automobile. “Be my guest.”
Dr. Lindsey and Casey got in the car and headed to the Jones place.
After three bumpy, dusty miles, they arrived at the tiny wooden shack in the field of dirt. Hubbard’s older son, Floyd, and daughter, Mae, stood outside. Mae hid her face in her apron while her brother tried to comfort her.
The three got out of the automobile, and Dr. Lindsey ran ahead into the shack. Woodrow rushed to his siblings. He spoke to Floyd, but Casey couldn’t hear what he said. The older Jones boy shook his head, and Woodrow looked to the parched earth.
The constable nodded at Floyd Jones as he took off his straw hat and entered the home. It was dark, a sheet covering the only window. A thin layer of dust coated the furniture. Hubbard’s wife, Leona, sat at the small dining table, her gray-streaked red hair in a messy bun. She looked up at Casey, tears running down her heavily freckled cheeks.
“How are you, Mrs. Jones?” Casey asked quietly.
“He’s gone,” she sobbed. She put her face in her hands.
Casey felt like he should comfort the woman, but he didn’t know her well. He didn’t want to impose. After a few moments, Dr. Lindsey called from the other room. “Casey, could you come in here, please?”
The constable sighed and walked into the room. A thick layer of black dust covered the meager furnishings except for what was probably Leona’s side of the bed. Grime obscured Hubbard’s features, creeping into the man’s nose and mouth. Gray skin stretched over the bones of his desiccated body.
“I haven’t seen Hubbard in a while, but he wasn’t that skinny last I did,” Casey said.
“I saw him three days ago. He had lost weight, but not this much.”
“What was wrong with him?”
“Lung problems.” Dr. Lindsey reached up to brush the dirt away from Hubbard’s face. The dead man’s nose snapped off and fell onto the bed.
“That’s never happened before,” Dr. Lindsey said, wide-eyed.
“I wouldn’t imagine so,” Casey whispered. “What’s wrong with him?”
“I don’t know. It’s as if he’s been dried out.”
“What would cause that?”
The doctor shrugged. “I think I’ll take the body back to my office. Maybe I’ll discover something.”
Casey nodded. “Good luck.”
“Would you care to help me get him back to the office?”
The constable’s jaw dropped. “W-Why do you need me?”
“I’m an old man, Casey. I can’t lift him by myself.”
Casey sighed. “All right.”
“Thank you. I’ll drop you off at home after we’re done.”
“Well, let’s get to it,” the younger man replied.
Casey waved as the doctor drove away. Upon entering his small gray house, he took off his hat and placed it on the table. His wife, Clara, stood at the black stove, her back to the door. She didn’t turn around, so Casey snuck up behind her and planted a kiss on her ivory cheek.
Clara jumped. “Casey, you’re going to be the death of me,” she said after turning around.
“Oh, you love me,” he said, smiling. He reached a hand into her short blonde hair and pulled her close. He kissed her hard.
After a few moments, she pulled away. “What’s gotten into you?” she whispered.
She turned back to the stove. “Supper’s almost ready.”
“All right,” he said and sat down at the table. He couldn’t help but think about Hubbard. What illness made him dry out like that?
Clara placed a small bowl of brown beans in front of Casey and sat down.
“Thanks,” he said, trying to get the awful thoughts out of his head. He cut himself a piece of cornbread from the cast iron skillet on the table. He took a bite of the cornbread. It was gritty. There was dirt in the food, but he didn’t say anything to his wife. It wasn’t her fault that dirt was half of what he ate nowadays.
Clara chewed on a piece of cornbread. She grimaced and glared at the skillet. “How was your day, Casey?” she asked, straightening her face.
“Strange,” he said through a mouth of beans.
Clara raised an eyebrow. “Did you hear about Hubbard Jones?”
“That’s what I was talking about. Hubbard’s youngest boy bumped into me in town when he came to fetch the doctor. Dr. Lindsey thought things peculiar, so I tagged along.”
“Hubbard was dead by the time we got there.”
“Oh no. How were Leona and the kids?”
“They were taking it best they could, I guess.”
She put down her spoon. “He died from his lung problem, right?”
Casey shook his head. “Dr. Lindsey doesn’t think so. I tend to agree with him.”
“First off, the doctor said Hubbard wasn’t that sick. Second, the body didn’t look right. It was gray and all thin and dry, like something left out in the sun too long.” He shuddered, remembering Hubbard’s nose falling off.
“How did he die?” Clara asked, her eyes wide.
Casey shrugged. “Dr. Lindsey doesn’t know. He had me help him get Hubbard back to his office so he could figure things out.”
Clara was quiet for a few moments, the only sound being metal spoons scraping against ceramic bowls. “I was talking to my cousin Dora today,” she said finally. “Her cow, Lula, died. Dora said she was awfully skinny.”
“Did the cow starve?”
“Doubt it. Dora fed Lula better than her own children.”
“I think whatever got her cow got Hubbard, too.”
Makes sense, Casey thought. “Sounds likely. I just wonder what it is.”
Clara shook her head slowly, and the two finished their meal in silence. She stood up. “Are you finished, Casey?”
He looked at his empty bowl. “I guess I am.”
She took his bowl and walked away from the table.
He sat there thinking. If Hubbard Jones were the only one to die, Casey would’ve assumed that the sick man’s death was natural. Strange, but natural. That didn’t explain Lula’s death. It could just be a coincidence, he thought. Then again, Casey Robbins didn’t believe in coincidences.
Clara began placing the dishes in a white enamel pan. Casey went to help her. As he filled the pan, his stomach twisted in knots. He couldn’t help but feel that Hubbard’s death was the start of something bad.
He tried to shake the thought from his head. “What?”
“I asked if it was all right if I make something to take over to Leona and the kids. I know we don’t have much, but they have even less.”
“Yeah, that sounds nice,” he replied absentmindedly.
“Are you all right?” Clara asked.
“Something’s bothering me about Hubbard’s death and the death of your cousin’s cow. I know it’s probably just some disease, but it’s suspicious.”
She put a hand on his arm. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”
He sighed. “I hope you’re right, Clara.”
Two days passed. There were a few more animal deaths, and two more people had died. Casey knew that neither Lois Smith nor Lymond Cartwright were sick before they met their ends. The constable was sure something bad was happening in Dry Springs. He just didn’t know what.
Casey knocked on Dr. Lindsey’s door, the sound echoing off the vacant buildings.
“Come in,” the doctor called.
He entered the office. Dr. Lindsey sat at an oak desk, worry apparent on his lined face. “How have you been?” the constable asked.
The doctor gestured to a chair in front of his desk. “Confused, Casey, mighty confused. I take it you’ve heard about Lois Smith and Lymond Cartwright?”
Casey shifted in the hard wooden chair. “Yes, sir. They weren’t sick, were they?”
Dr. Lindsey shook his head. “No, they were not.”
“Did they look like Hubbard?”
The doctor nodded.
“You do know what it is, though, right?”
Dr. Lindsey threw his hands in the air. “I’ve combed over every medical book and journal I have. There’s no disease described in any of the texts that matches what’s going on here.”
Casey’s brow furrowed. “Bugs?”
“All the crops are dead, so the bugs are trying to find food in folks’ homes. Lord knows how many locusts Clara sweeps out of the house each day. Spiders, too.”
Dr. Lindsey shook his head again. “There aren’t any bites. That wouldn’t explain the dust in people’s noses and mouths, either.”“Poison?”
The doctor shrugged. “I don’t know. Who’d poison them? The victims have nothing in common: they’re all different ages, different sexes. Never mind the animals.”
Casey looked off to the side, staring at the wooden floor while he thought. Dr. Lindsey was right. The three dead people didn’t really have any connection other than living in Dry Springs. “I don’t know what it could be,” he said quietly.
The doctor didn’t reply.
The younger man stood. “Well, I best be going. Good luck, Doctor.” He held out his hand.
Dr. Lindsey shook Casey’s hand and accompanied him to the door. “Thank you for the well wishes, Casey. I know I need all the help I can get.”
“Bye, Dr. Lindsey.”
Casey had one foot out the door when he heard a woman scream for help. He gasped and ran down the street. He guessed from the footsteps behind him that Dr. Lindsey followed. Before the men stood Clara’s cousin, Dora. A dark dust devil swirled around her, whipping at her dress and tangling her long blonde hair. She swatted at the air, but the funnel didn’t relent.
“Help!” she screamed.
Casey began to charge toward Dora, but Dr. Lindsey held him back. The doctor pointed at the woman. Her skin shrank back and cracked loudly, clinging to her bones. Her screams hurt Casey’s ears.
Then, the screaming stopped. The cloud drifted into the air. Casey picked up a rock and threw it at the haze.
“That’s a cloud of dust,” Dr. Lindsey said flatly.
Casey turned his gaze away from the sky and saw Dora’s body on the ground. He and the doctor ran over to her. She was gray and dried out. Black dirt covered her nose and mouth. She looked like Hubbard Jones.
Dr. Lindsey knelt beside the body and lifted her left arm. He felt for a pulse, shaking his head gravely. “She’s dead,” the doctor proclaimed.
“Of course she is!” Casey yelled. “Why the hell didn’t you let me help her?”
“Did you see what happened to her?”
“Yeah, I did. She shriveled up and died.”
“Did you want that to happen to you?”
“Well, no,” Casey said, anger draining from his voice. “So, how’d she get that way?”
Dr. Lindsey shook his head, then his eyes widened. “The dust cloud.”
“Think about it, Casey. There was dust all over Hubbard Jones’s house, all over Hubbard himself. There was dust in Lois and Lymond’s houses as well.”
“But the stuff’s everywhere, Doctor.”
“Not like that. Have you ever seen it that thick?”
“Only after a dust storm.” The constable thought for a moment. “When was the last time we had a dust storm, anyway?”
“I believe it was the day before Hubbard Jones died.”
Casey gasped. “But what does it mean? Why didn’t Leona Jones die? She was in bed next to her husband.”
The doctor sighed. “I think there’s something…wrong with the dust. It’s killing people selectively.”
Casey squinted. “That means it would have to think or something, right?”
“How’s that possible?”
“I don’t know, but the people of Dry Springs need to know.” Dr. Lindsey walked back up the street.
Casey put out a hand to stop him. “Whoa there. Are we supposed to tell everybody that the dust is killing them? They already know that.”
“Well, I don’t know what you’re going to tell them, Casey, but I need to get a stretcher and get Dora’s body out of the street.”
“Me? Why me?”
“You’re the only law this town has. It’s your responsibility.” The doctor turned around and entered his office, leaving Casey staring at the corpse.
Dora’s family didn’t take her death well. The citizens of Dry Springs didn’t take the news of what killed her well, either. Every day, Casey saw more trucks and wagons headed out of town. He couldn’t blame them.
On the Sunday after Dora’s funeral, Casey and Clara walked to the small white church on the edge of town. They noticed a familiar Model T driving toward them on the road out of Dry Springs. A few trunks and pieces of furniture were tied to it. Casey flagged down the vehicle.
When the car stopped, Dora’s widower, Martin Ruckman, looked back at them. Their daughters, Martha, Mary, and Mabel sat in the car. Looking into the girls’ gaunt, dirty faces, Casey noticed how much they looked like their mother. He then remembered how Dora would drag her family into church each week and sit on the front pew.
“Where are y’all going?” Casey said, trying to sound casual.
“We’re leaving,” Martin muttered.
Clara gasped. “Oh goodness! Why?”
Martin’s dark brown eyes bore into her. “Why do you think? We were about to lose the farm. Then, after what happened to Dora…” He looked down.
“You still have family and friends here,” Casey offered.
“There’s nothing here but bad memories now,” Martin replied coldly. “It’s not safe. I suggest you and Clara leave, too.”
Martin’s tone took Casey aback. He merely said, “Best of luck.”
Clara looked to each of her cousins. “You girls take care of each other.”
The girls nodded and muttered that they would.
“We need to get a move on,” Martin grumbled. The car pulled away, leaving Clara and Casey in a cloud of dust.
Casey coughed and shook the dirt from his clothes.
“I think he’s right,” Clara whispered.
“We should leave. Lord knows when the dust’ll get us.”
“It won’t get us, Clara,” he said. He placed a hand on her shoulder to reassure her.
She shrugged it away. “You don’t know that, Casey. Dust is killing people. Nothing here makes sense.”
“You know what? I already have some folks out west.” She looked at the trail of dust that still hung in the air. “Well, I guess I’ll have a few more. We could move out there, too.”
Casey sighed. “People are having trouble finding jobs out there.”
“It’s better that we starve to death there than be killed here,” Clara whispered harshly.
After a few moments of silence, Casey noticed the church doors closing. “I’ll think about it. Now, we need to go.” He linked arms with his wife and walked to the church.
The old doors screeched when he opened them, and the parishioners inside snapped their heads back to leer. Casey sheepishly led Clara to a pew at the back of the dark church and sat down. Stuffy air filled the constable’s lungs. Even though it was late spring, the church’s windows were shut. I’d rather have dusty air than no air, Casey thought.
After a few songs and the passing of the collection plate, Brother Winthrop Jefferson walked to the pulpit. He opened his Bible and tapped his notes against the podium. As he spoke, Casey’s mind wandered. He’d never seen the church so empty. One way or another, the dust would make everyone leave town.
He wondered if he and Clara should be the next ones to go. She was right: the dust could get them at any time. He needed to protect his wife. What about the rest of the town, though? He was the only constable. Besides, he thought, Dry Springs was all he and Clara knew. How could they just move somewhere else? Before Casey could make a decision, the preacher’s booming voice shook him from his thoughts.
“These are wicked times,” Brother Jefferson said. “The Lord is punishing sinners. Just as He punished the wicked of Noah’s time with the flood, He’s now punishing the wicked of our world with drought. As it says in Deuteronomy, ‘The Lord shall make the rains of thy land powder and dust: from heaven shall it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed.’”
A woman in the church cried out as Brother Jefferson pushed his silvery white hair out of his face.
“The drought wasn’t enough punishment, oh no. The Lord is acting more directly now. The dust is everywhere: in our businesses and in our homes. ‘Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.’ There is no escaping the scourge of God!”
A man yelled out, “What do we do?”
“I’ll tell you what you can do, brother,” the preacher replied, looking to the congregation. “The Bible tells us, ‘the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ The only thing you can do is repent. Get on your knees and beg God for forgiveness.”
The church fell silent, and Brother Jefferson pulled a silver pocket watch out of the pocket of his trousers. He flicked the watch open and checked the time. “Well, that will be all for today. I hope to see all of you next week. God bless you all.” He stepped down from the pulpit and walked to the front doors of the church.
The parishioners slowly stood up, wide-eyed, and made their way toward the doors. Brother Jefferson shook their hands as they left. Casey and Clara remained seated, in no hurry to wait in line.
“Doctor, I’m surprised to see you,” Brother Jefferson said.
“Well,” Dr. Lindsey replied, “I figured it wouldn’t hurt to come.”
“I hope you come back next week.”
Casey looked toward the door. What was the doctor doing here? he wondered. The physician had never been to church in the whole time Casey had been alive. Did he know something about the dust?
The constable stood. “C’mon, Clara, we have to go.”
“Why are you in a hurry?” she asked standing.
“Dr. Lindsey’s here. I need to talk to him.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Well, let’s go.”
Casey grabbed Clara’s hand and pushed past the few remaining people in line.
“Why are y’all rushing off?” Brother Jefferson asked.
“Sorry, we’re in a hurry.” Casey called back.
They stepped into the blinding sunshine. Casey’s eyes adjusted, and he found Dr. Lindsey walking away from the church.
“Dr. Lindsey!” he yelled, running toward the man. He still held his wife’s hand. She struggled to keep up, keeping a hand on her light blue hat so it wouldn’t fly away.
The doctor stopped. “Good afternoon, Casey.” He turned to Clara and nodded. “Afternoon, Clara.”
“I never took you for a churchgoer,” Casey said between breaths.
Dr. Lindsey smiled sadly. “These are trying times.”
Casey leaned in close to the doctor and whispered, “Do you know something else about the dust?”
The older man looked to Clara. “Are you sure we should discuss this in front of your wife?”
“She knows what’s going on.”
Dr. Lindsey sighed. “I spoke with a colleague over in Colton. He said a similar thing is happening there.”
Clara’s jaw dropped. “But Colton’s on the other side of the state.”
The doctor nodded gravely.
“Well, what do we do?” Casey asked.
“Have you two thought about leaving?” Dr. Lindsey wondered. “You’re young. You could make a fresh start.”
Casey shrugged. “We talked about it. Clara already has some folks out west. Maybe with all those people moving out there, they could use a lawman. If not that, I can do something else. I’m not too good to get my hands dirty. I just don’t know, though.”
“What do you mean?” Dr. Lindsey asked.
“This town’s all Clara and I know. I for one am not too keen on leaving.”
Clara sighed but didn’t say anything.
“What about you, Doctor?” the constable asked.
“I’m too old to pick up stakes.”
“Nonsense,” Clara offered.
“You’re just being nice. I have a duty to this town. I can’t leave everyone without a doctor simply because I’m afraid.”
The three stood in silence for a few moments.
“Well, Doctor,” Clara said finally, “I think it’s time for us to go. My husband and I have some discussing to do.”
“I’m sure you do. Good luck, Casey. Good luck, Clara.”
“You, too,” Casey muttered.
Dr. Lindsey walked toward his office while the Robbinses headed toward their house.
“Why do you want to stay?” Clara snarled.
“Someone has to be the law here,” Casey replied. “And you heard what Dr. Lindsey said. If this stuff’s happening in Colton, what’s to stop it from heading out west, or even back east? There might not be a place on God’s green Earth that’s safe.”
They were just a few feet from their front door now, and Clara stopped in the yard. “I’m just so scared, Casey,” she whispered.
Casey lifted her chin so that he could look in her eyes. “I know you are, dear. When we got married, I promised to protect you, and I don’t break my promises. Nothing’s going to happen to you.” He kissed her forehead. “Now, I think it’s time to find something to eat,” he said and opened the door.
The next morning, Casey walked into the kitchen. The air was heavier than usual, humid.
Clara looked out the window. “Come look at this,” she said.
He walked over and peered out the window. A big, gunmetal gray storm cloud was moving in from the west. “It looks like rain, doesn’t it?” he said, amazed.
“Dear Lord, I hope so.”
He sat down at the table, and Clara handed him a bowl of oatmeal. She sat at the other end and slowly ate her breakfast.
“I’m thinking we might leave,” Casey said.
She raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Yeah. After what the doctor said, the dust might get us anywhere, but we should at least have a fighting chance.”
Clara smiled slightly. “So, when are we leaving?”
“As soon as we can. I just want what’s left of the town to try to find someone new. I mean, big shoes to fill…”
They finished their meals, and Casey stood up. “Well, time to make my rounds.”
Clara took his bowl. “Oh, I’ll go with you. I need to pick up a few things at the store.” She put down the bowl and took off her apron.
“All right.” He grabbed his hat off the rack by the door. Clara picked up her purse, and the couple left the house arm-in-arm. They were in the center of town within a few minutes.
The streets were busier than normal. Casey supposed people were trying to complete their errands before the rain came. Or maybe, he thought, they wanted to be out when the rain started so other people could tell them they weren’t crazy. Brother Winthrop Jefferson and his wife Louise greeted the Robbinses as they walked down the street.
“Why hello, Casey.”
The younger man nodded, and then tipped his hat at Mrs. Jefferson.
“Looks like it’s about to rain.”
“It certainly does, Brother Jefferson.”
Thunder rumbled in the distance.
“It surely must be a gift from God.” Mrs. Winthrop offered.
“Must be,” Casey muttered.
“Well, we’ll leave you to your work.”
“Have a good day, Brother Jefferson.” He turned back to Mrs. Jefferson. “Ma’am.”
The two couples separated. A steady wind began to blow.
“What’s that?” Clara asked, pointing.
Casey saw an enormous black cloud, darker than a moonless sky, barreling down on Dry Springs. “It looks like a dust cloud,” he whispered.
“I-It could be a regular cloud,” his wife stammered.
The constable looked to the nearby storm, then back to the cloud of dust. “No. It’s moving against the wind.”
“What do we do?”
“Run!” he screamed. “Everyone run! There’s a dust storm!”
Lightning flashed ominously. People screamed and scurried in all directions.
“Get inside!” Casey yelled over the thunder.
A smaller dust cloud flew past Casey and caught Mrs. Jefferson. She screamed as the dust dried her out and left her a lifeless husk on the ground. The preacher stayed near his wife’s body. “Lord, take me, too!” he cried.
“If you don’t get inside, He will!” Clara snapped.
Brother Jefferson gasped and ran into Bell’s General Store.
More of the dust devils attacked people, killing them almost instantly. Casey and Clara looked at the wall of dust, which was almost at the town.
“What happens when it hits?” she asked.
“I don’t want to know.”
Thunder grew louder as more small dust clouds flew past the husband and wife. One traveled under the closed door of Mackey’s Funeral Parlor. Several people ran out the door, only to be struck by more dust.
“Maybe the buildings aren’t so safe after all,” Casey muttered.
A door screeched open. “Casey, Clara, get in here!” Dr. Lindsey said.
“Okay,” Casey said. He and Clara ran toward the doctor’s office. A small dust cloud swooped in and attacked the older man.
“Dr. Lindsey, no!” Casey screamed.
After a few moments, the doctor’s body fell in the doorway.
“Oh God,” the constable whispered and fell to his knees.
Clara tugged on his shirt. “Casey, we have a bigger problem right now.” She pointed to the east of town. The wall of dust was no more than twenty feet away. “We need to get inside.”
“I’m tired of running, Clara. I want you to go in, though.”
She shook her head. “I’m not leaving you out here to die.” She knelt beside him.
He put an arm around her. “I love you, Clara.”
“I love you, too, Casey.”
Thunder boomed loudly above them. Casey looked up. The gray storm clouds collided with the black mass. Something dark fell from the sky. He covered Clara’s head and tried to hide his own.
Rain fell on the couple, soaking their clothes. Casey cautiously looked up. Black mud covered him and his wife. Clara looked up a few moments later.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think so. What happened?”
“I-I don’t really know.”
He stood up, then helped his wife stand. The couple stood in the middle of the street, watching the mud fall from above. Townspeople slowly milled out of the buildings.
“I-Is it over?” Brother Jefferson asked.
“I have no idea,” Casey said, looking to the sky.
Kristina R. Mosley lives in Kensett, Arkansas, a tiny place no one has heard of. Her work has been featured in numerous publications, including Micro Horror, Fiction on the Web, Dangerous Dreams, We are Dust and Shadow, and Silent Scream. She recently published her novelette Strange Days on Amazon. She tweets too often at twitter.com/elstupacabra.