Theirs is a lust to outlast the ages. It's a hell of a ride!
"Paw," the oldest boy called through a dusk-littered doorway, "some others have come up from Turley. They want to know if Mister Feathers is goin' to say the words in time."
"Same as the rest," mumbled Paw, who most folks in Pecan Groves, Texas knew as Albert Fineas, short for Fineapopoulopolus. The middle-aged farmer mopped a wrinkled, weather-worn brow with the gnarled back of a rough hand, flinging a feverish sweat across the dirt floor of his one-room home. "Tell 'em… tell 'em Mister Feathers ain't well. Tell 'em… same as the rest."
"I already done that, Paw, but they keep askin'," whined the thirteen year-old.
Albert grumbled deep in his throat, and he pondered the boy's silhouette, where he lingered in the open doorway. Behind his lithe back, the Texas sky shined with the death of daylight. It oozed listlessly on the horizon with the colors of buttered honey and plum jam; with the colors of fatted flesh and fresh blood.
"It's the dust," he whispered softly, his attention momentarily distracted from Mr. Feathers' prostrate form, drawn as it had been by the tableau sky. "It's the dust that colors evenin' so. It's goin' to kill us all, but, God help me, it's beautiful in the comin' dark."
"How's that, Paw?" When his father refused to clarify, the boy added, "Them folks from Turley… they don't seem too happy."
Paw cleared his throat and raised his voice. "They're frightened, boy. Same as the rest. We're all scared yellah."
"So I tell 'em Mister Feathers ain't well? That's all?"
"For now. I'll be along directly to send 'em all home again, if I can. If I have to."
The boy had been instructed, yet he lingered still. "Paw?"
Albert turned to the shadow-strewn corner where his bed stood. On it reclined a living corpse. The farmer's gaze returned to the old man's sunken, wasted countenance. Paw grunted, "Yeah, boy?"
"Mister Feathers is goin' to say the words in time, ain't he? Ain't he, Paw?" When his father failed to answer after several hot, dusty breaths, the boy added, "'Cause it's blowin' somethin' fierce out there, already, and we can see a dark cloud far off to the west."
"It ain't no cloud, boy, that's for certain-sure," returned Albert. He listened intently to the old man's racked and labored breathing, how it came and went with uncertainty of hope, how it faded with the surety of death. Eventually, the boy went to do as he had been told.
"Mister Feathers," asked Albert, once he noticed the old man's eyelids flutter spasmodically, "are you awake again? Mister Feathers? Can you hear me?"
Ponderously, the living corpse's tissue-thin eyelids dragged across his yellowed, cataract eyes with an audible rasp. His rancid tongue chased all-but toothless gums with the sounds of serpent's scales dragging gravel stones. Skeletal, his right arm rose and fell listlessly. The old man had awakened, perhaps for the last time.
"We need you to say them words again, Mr. Feathers. We need you real bad." When the old man's eyes rolled and he appeared to mentally totter toward sleep and, perhaps, eternal rest, Albert hastened to add, "The wind is rising, you know. Can you hear it? Soon it'll be a howl beneath the eaves. Tonight, it'll bury us. It'll bury us all."
Slackly, the corpse nodded. He understood. He could hear the wind, and he knew it well. Having long lived at the foot of the Great Plains, he knew that wild, West Texas wind all too well. He whispered something that Albert could not hear.
Mister Feathers repeated, "She… comes,… the devil."
Albert Fineas grimaced. A quick check showed the doorway and tiny home to be empty save for the two men, one dead and the other dying. He nodded and simultaneously pealed a layer of quilts away from Mister Feathers' emaciated body.
"You're wasted down to nothin'," he informed the old man solemnly, his voice cracking with sorrow and fear. "I never thought I'd see you this way. It shames me."
Mister Feathers struggled to tilt his shell-like skull back and forth atop the coarse blankets. "No… fear. No… sorr-ow. No… shame."
"We're all scared, though, Mister Feathers. Real scared. And us all big, bad men come west from eastern wars. All of us, we fought and killed when ordered, and ain't none of us cowards. Still… we're scared like little girls. It's comin' again, after all these years, and it's comin' bigger than it ever has before. It's bigger than all them other storms rolled into a single batch! It fills the sky! Can you hear it?"
Indeed, the wind rose in strength and speed, and the din of it began to fill their ears to the exclusion of all else. Mister Feathers licked his lips. He tasted West Texas there. He tasted Oklahoma. He tasted Kansas. Nebraska. The Dakotas. Way down deep in the bitterest, coldest heart of the wind's wicked flavors, he tasted Canada and Arctic tundra. Elk droppings and polar bear shit.
Albert's eyes rolled the roots dangling from his sod roof, and he licked his lips, his throat bobbing whiskers with the movement. His pale face waxed whiter. "About you, Mister Feathers?"