Dust

Towers of dust spiraled upward. The cloudless sky disappeared. Nafareah felt her chest tightening, stinging. She didn’t bring a particle mask—too hard to come by these days.

Another dust storm approached. This wasn’t an ideal time to search the dunes, but the scout team’s report was clear: water, plenty of it, is below the ground’s surface.

The team’s probes could be off, Nafareah thought. It’s possible that they didn’t calibrate them. But they have no other leads, anyway. This could be the only source of water for months.

The team would extract Nafareah from the probing location in one hour. At her current pace, she would be too late. The dust was remorseless. It scraped across her face like sandpaper.

Nafareah’s bloodshot eyes met his eyes for only a moment—a man in a white tunic. She could read his facial expression: he knows about the water.

The groundwater extraction drill was too heavy. She couldn’t outrun him. But she couldn’t leave the drill, either.

“What are you doing here? Who are you?” Nafareah’s voice bounced off the dunes.

“Same as you—surviving,” the man in white dragged his feet forward, keeping his eyes glued to hers.

Nafareah sidestepped to her right. She wrapped an olive green scarf around her nose and mouth. The dust storm intensified. Visibility declined. She could only see 10 feet in front of her.

“You didn’t answer my first question.” Nafareah pulled a knife from the leather sheath strapped to her waist, careful not to reveal her movement.

 

“There’s nothing here—nothing left. Why do you still take from us?” The man in white stood sentinel.

“Everyone takes from everyone now. There isn’t a choice anymore. Maybe before it all but not now.”

“No. Before, too. Our land was pillaged. Robbed. All of our resources were stolen before we even had a chance. Now, we have even less. And those that stole from us before are again to blame. We can’t breathe, we can’t drink the water, we can’t have peace.”

Nafareah listened, not revealing a word. Her heart felt heavy.

“It’s the same situation where I come from. It’s the same where many of us come from. We all know hardship—all that’s been taken from us. We know there is clean water here. We know how to collect it. Please, let me show you. We can collect it together. You have family? Let us share it with you and your family.”

Nafareah’s hands shook. Her whole body shook. Blood rushed to the muscles in her arms and legs.

The man in white inched closer. She watched him fumble around in his pocket. Whatever he pulled was shrouded in dust.

The wind picked up speed. All visibility disappeared. Nafareah no longer saw white—only dust.

“Are you th—” A hand gripped Nafareah’s shoulder. She pivoted to her left and thrust her knife forward. She felt a warmth rush down her hand. Red radiated outward from the man in white’s abdomen. He let out a gurgle that Nafareah would never forget.

A yellowed photograph drifted into the dust: the man in white and two

children with slight smiles standing before a dinner table.

Nafareah strained to read the words on the picture’s border, but she could not see them.

When the dust cleared, the words became visible. It read he and his children’s names: Yasin, Chaima and Yani.

Fault

The boy felt a tremor beneath him like a train running deep below the earth. The shaking nearly threw him out of his bed. He had never experienced this feeling before. The boy rolled over and turned on the green lava lamp on his bedside table: What is happening?

The earth began to creak and moan, swaying back and forth. His heart began racing—it seemed almost as loud as the earth under him. Then the kitchenware began to fall. The noise of shattered dishes and glasses pierced his ears. This made him cringe.

He desperately wanted his mother with him. He felt like he couldn’t breathe. It felt like his throat had closed and he could no longer swallow. The boy’s body became numb. Tears flowed from his small hazel eyes.

She had talked to him about these “shakes” before. “Crawl under your bed and stay until you stop hearing the loud noises. You’ll be safe—I promise,” she had reassured him. “These things are ordinary—for us at least—because of where we live.”

He enjoyed living in the Oakland Hills. The fiery pink sunsets and watching the fog roll in on hot summer days were some of his favorite things. The shipping cranes were pleasing, too. He loved to pretend that they were dinosaurs emerging from the bay to search for prey.

The boy grabbed his stuffed black cat beside him and shoved off his tattered duvet. He dangled his feet off the bed, searching for the ground.  Although somewhat bumbling, his feet finally reached the cold wooden floor.

 

Falling into a push-up position, the boy quickly crawled under his bed amid the nebulae of dust bunnies.

He heard a slight movement. The sound of a door creaking open. His door. Light penetrated through the cracked opening. The boy’s mind raced with thoughts and anxieties. The gears moving inside his head generated infinite scenarios.

What if this is different?

What if this isn’t a “shake”?

What if his home has been infiltrated?

What if something has come to kill him?

What if those cranes were dinosaurs and they’ve thrashed about and eaten his mother?

He decided he would have to run. He would have to leave his room behind. His mother should be home by now. Where was she?

The earth was still shaking vigorously. He would have to move carefully, balance himself

The boy slid his body toward the edge of the rusted bed-frame, avoiding the metal slats above his head. He surreptitiously peaked his head out from under the bed and quickly glanced around his room. Nothing there.

He sprang to his feet and sprinted past the bedroom door. As soon as he reached the hallway outside his room, the lights shut off. He stopped abruptly. He stood still, but the earth still moved him. Terror penetrated his mind. Coldness saturated his body.

The boy began to wildly move his arms around in front of himself. Feeling for something, anything, reaching for light. He feels the wooden picture frame hanging on the wall. He grasps the wall’s corner. Slow, move slowly.

The boy feels through the darkness and into the living room.

Still shaking.

He hears a whisper—a voice beckoning. His mother. What is she saying?

She knows he is there.

“Momma,” the boy mumbles. He hears the same soft whisper. It comforts him. He finds solace in it.

Follow the voice—the beacon. The boy scoots his feet across the carpet, grasping anything tangible.

The coffee table. The corduroy couch. The storage cabinet.

No, where is the storage cabinet?

He inches forward as if walking along the edge of a cliff. He feels the soft wood of the cabinet press against the skin of his big toe. It has fallen. The boy bends down and glides his hand across it. Closer now.

His hand skims over the cold metal knobs of the cabinet drawer, searching. He stops. Liquid. Thicker than water.

Still shaking.

The boy drops to his knees. He tries to move his hand under the cabinet, but what he feels freezes him. The cold skin of his mother.

He moves his hands up across the sleeve of her cotton shirt and holds her head between his tiny hands.

“Momma…”

“Brave of you to come find me, honey,” his mother coughs weakly. “I was runnin’ to your room after the earthquake started. Looks like I didn’t quite make it there. Wanted to make sure we were together.”

“It’s okay, Momma, I’m with you now.” The boy presses his wet face against his mother’s head and holds her tightly in the darkness.

He respires his anxieties and fears, and they disappear into the ether. The earth is finally still.

Flood

pexels-photo-709542.jpegThe opaque water rushed under the door, saturating the beige carpet. The winds whistled like a siren. Vee jumped to her feet. The storms had taken everything from her, and now it demanded more.

Vee wondered if things could have been different. If only we had listened to the Earth’s admonitions. If only we had not been so complacent. That was the folly of humans, she thought. We believe we are the progenitors of the universe. But this was not the case on that day—or any day. This wasn’t the time to think, though.

Vee’s body became automated. She had become accustomed to this routine—almost like doing dishes or brushing teeth.  Slow the flow of water, gather personal belongings, and run.

She leapt out of the window and onto the inundated lawn. That was her third “home” this month. Since federal aid to climate refugees was stymied, people began moving out of state to seek stability elsewhere. Dilapidated houses were abandoned like aged smartphones.

This year’s hurricane season had been exceptionally destructive. One right after another. Scientists estimate over 100 trillion gallons of rain has been dumped on the state so far.

A Category 5 freight train was approaching her. 63rd Street, Vee thought. The old red and white basketball stadium—reinforced walls, a titanium roof—would be her safest option.

It was a straight shot. A 45-minute walk at most. Vee rose to her feet and began sprinting. On the corner of Gilman and Hearst she began to hear a cacophony of shouts from a mauve and blue trimmed stucco house. Violent winds had forced a Live Oak through the terra-cotta roof. “We’re stuck!” “We’re stuck!” the voice screeched. “Please, help!” “Please!” another tiny voice pleaded.

If I stop, I’ll almost certainly be swept away by the floods, Vee thought. The murky waters were already accumulating. A thin layer had concealed the pavement below.

What would her daughter have said? Her daughter had only been six, and yet, she had emotional intelligence far beyond her years. Her daughter had watched coverage of the recent tsunamis in Southeast Asia—thousands were killed and millions were without electricity for months—and had sobbed for nearly two days.

“Mommy, we have to help those girls,” her daughter would have said. “They would do the same for us! What if it was us in that house?”

It was us, though, Vee thought. It was you. The waters had consumed you, swallowed you whole.

Her decision was predestined. Vee rushed toward the house and forced open the door. The fallen oak tree and other debris had created a dam—obstructing a portion of the hallway in which the girls were ensnared. Rain and turbid water pooled into the hallway. “Can you hear me?” Vee shouted. “I’m gonna try to dislodge this, but when I do, you have to get out immediately.”

The girls were crying. Their big brown eyes swelled with tears. “What do we do now?” The two asked anxiously.

“Move to the opposite side of the wall—away from the debris so nothing falls on you.” Vee replied.

Vee began plucking branches from the top of the debris, careful to avoid collapsing the structure. This reminded her of a game she once played with her nieces in San Antonio. The rules were the same here, albeit much more was at stake than an arbitrary collection of points.

The debris began to creak and shift. An infinitesimal hole began to form. The girls would have to crawl through it—they must, she thought. Any more movement of the wood and the structure would come crashing down like an encroaching tide.

“Hurry! You have to come now.” Vee demanded. “You’ll have to crawl through.”

The girls scaled the splintered woodpile making their way toward the exit. For the first time Vee saw the first girl’s face, peeking through the branches. Her face was familiar. Perhaps she had seen her around town. Perhaps it was in a different world. A world in which her daughter was still with her. It would have been at her daughter’s school at the front entrance under the green awning. The girl would have on a denim JanSport bag—staring at the ground and waiting to be picked up.

“Lady? Lady?” The girl shouted. Vee regained focus and pulled the child to safety. She was so light—almost ethereal. The girl plopped down beside Vee in the soupy living room.

The other girl was next. Twins, Vee thought. They each shared deep brown eyes and freckles splattered across their faces like paint.

The second girl had something the other did not, though. Her right arm was an amalgam of reds, blues, and purples. Her hand was contorted, twisted—unrecognizable. It must have happened when the tree fell on the house. Why wasn’t she screaming with pain? Where are their parents? Were they with them when the storm made landfall?

Vee grabbed the girl’s uninjured hand and pulled her toward her chest. For the first time in months, Vee felt a semblance of meaning in her life—a freeing from the suffocation of this hurricane season. Something present that had been lost in the waters.

Lifting the two girls onto her shoulders, Vee navigated the transient sea that had formed in the living room, and headed toward the mauve front door.

Vee and the twins stumbled out of the house and into the flood.

A ringed kingfisher perched on a slanted telephone line—its feathers iridescent in the sliver of peach sunlight. Their eyes locked for only a second. Although it would not be the last, the storm—like this moment—would soon pass.