- A Small Room at a Hot Time of the Morning by Davis
- The Lion's Noose by Lloyd
- This Side of the Rainbow by DeMoss
- Grandpa's Bluetooth by Fowler
- Down Low by Long
- Crayons by Adams
This Side of the Rainbow
Narrated by Bob Eccles
Two years after the twister carried Dorothy from Kansas and back again, everything in the world changed. The rain stopped, the topsoil blew away to the east. The land failed then, and when it died so did Aunt Em and Uncle Henry's dream of farming. For Henry, it wasn't much of a dream in the first place: somewhere he could get away from landlords hounding him for the rent, where he could drink a bit without any temperance woman casting him the evil eye.
Henry and Emily packed up everything they could carry — a few sticks of furniture, four tin plates and a set of utensils taken from Henry's time in the service — into the back of a rusty Ford truck. They weren't Okies, by God, but Henry pointed the truck west just the same. West into the wind, toward California.
Dorothy found a place in the bed of the truck, between the upturned legs of the kitchen table. The cows had grown so frail that before they died, they looked almost like this table, flat as the prairie, legs brittle and stiff.
They left the farm hands, Hunk, Zeke and Hickory, stunned and staring at the truck as it receded into the horizon, becoming at last as small and insignificant as the numberless tumbleweeds, blown by the wind across the road and into whatever fate awaited them.
There was nothing left for the farm hands in Kansas, and yet they were farm hands in the first place because they knew how to be nothing else.
Hunk, still skinny as a scarecrow, was the first to say goodbye. He'd never liked the farm, and only stayed to be near Dorothy until she was old enough to see him as a man. He especially hated the pigs. It killed him that, in this dead land, they alone found the will to stay alive. It was as if they had learned to take sustenance from mud, and when the water ran out, from the desiccated earth itself. He cursed them as he crossed under the gate and set off on foot, following the rutted path left by the truck's narrow tires.
Hunk knew how frail that truck was, how it could hardly make it through a week without something giving way. More importantly, Hunk knew Henry. It wouldn't be long before a tire or a gasket blew, and when that happened, he'd holler for one of the men and sit down on the running board, pull a flask from his back pocket. He'd ignore Em's pleas, and he'd wait for someone to come and fix things. Someone always did.
By the time Hunk reached Fort Hayes, two weeks later, he figured he'd been wrong about the truck. He took a room and a job washing dishes at a diner by the railroad station. Two years later, he received a letter from Zeke, who'd heard Dorothy had run away and was living in a slum house in St. Louis. That day, he folded his apron and placed it on the spotted, steel countertop of the diner's kitchen, and stepped onto the next train going east.
He never wrote back for his pay or sent an address to forward his mail. Zeke's letters came back unopened.
When the world began to tense for war, Zeke saw his path out of Kansas. Hitching to the county seat, he made his way to the recruitment center. He was no coward, though Dorothy used to tease that he was afraid of his own shadow. He imagined he'd look sharp in army green, and was ready to kill a kraut or a jap, or anything else Uncle Sam told him to.
By the time there was something to shoot, Zeke had been in the army four years and made sergeant. In the army he found a father and mother, more real than his own parents, and more than Henry and Em had ever tried to be.
In 1942, Zeke packed his men on a train, and then a ship headed toward Africa. The krauts had better watch out now, he thought. His optimism and his swagger never faltered, even as the U boat had him in its sights, as its captain ordered the torpedoes release, and as they ripped into the hull of the vessel that held his life in its fragile hands.
The explosion knocked Zeke off the deck and into the frigid Atlantic ocean. How odd, he thought, and how pleasant to be taking in the smell of the ocean, even more pleasant than the smell of women who frequented the bars near the base. How joyous to be flying, unencumbered by the weight of gravity and responsibility. Zeke's last thought was that it was better to die in water than to suffocate on the Kansas dirt that passed for air.
Hickory didn't care where he went, as long as it was green. His first idea was to head east, but the silver dollar that was the last of his wages from the farm disagreed. And so he headed toward the west, on foot. He took his time, working where and as he could, saving enough to make it to the next stop on the highway.
When he reached the ocean, he turned north. One day, at the top of a winding road, in a place named Oregon, he found a town that lived in fog. The thing about fog, Hickory thought, is that you never know what's coming toward you. After years of looking toward the horizon, not knowing if you're facing the future or the past, this sounded like a pretty fine way to live.
One day, the fog lifted and he saw a girl on the sidewalk across the street. He wasn't sure she'd looked in his direction, but maybe she had, and maybe she was smiling so sweetly just now because of that.
Hickory had never been lucky in love, but for once, he didn't stop and wait for his heart to tell him what to do. Instead, he marched toward her, or as close to marching as a boy from the prairie can come. A kind of rolling motion, like the wheels of a baling machine, arms windmilling up and down as he went.
She smiled wider as he got closer, and before he was halfway across the street, laughed full out. "Where are you from, farm boy?" she asked.
"Kansas, ma'am," Hickory said.
"Well, Kansas," the girl said, "you're going to have to learn how to walk if you want to keep from falling off the mountain."
Hickory didn't know what to say after that, and so he let her walk away. But she looked back and smiled as she turned the corner. The thing about love, he thought, it's a lot like fog, but that's not all bad.
Mark DeMoss writes from the concrete plains of Texas, basking in the brutal heat of a near-tropical summer. His fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Bartleby Snopes, Right Hand Pointing and other venues. This story came to be in the weekly flash challenge at ShowMeYourLits.com