I have a fascination with the Dust Bowl, as an event and as a symbol. It comes to my mind often as a setting for stories. Usually it feels too big for flash fiction, but I went with it last week because I had no other ideas. I got a runner-up nod for this story, which surprised me, as I thought the conflict wasn’t dramatic enough, even though it may have been deep.
The old jalopy sputtered to a halt. Tim was grinning like he’d swallowed cream. That boy had been nothing but trouble all day.
“What the hell,” Herb said. “Tank’s half full.”
“Maybe we ain’t going to California after all,” Tim crowed. “Won’t be picking beans in Fresno.”
Herb frowned. Tim might not like it, but this drought brought tough choices. Herb got out and checked the engine.
Tim stepped onto the parched land, so dry even dust wouldn’t settle here.
Herb stared at the damage. The accelerator cable had snapped—that couldn’t have happened without help.
The boy stood, a dark, stubborn shadow beside the last living tree in western Texas. He’d set their single valise beneath the tree, as though he already knew the car was busted.
“The hell’s wrong with you, boy? This ain’t no game, marooning us in the goddamn desert!”
Tears streaked Tim’s face. “I ain’t leavin’, Uncle Herb. I buried my momma back home. I’ll hunt jack-rabbits, and when the rain comes—”
Herb covered his face with his hands. “What rain, dammit? It’s gonna be a long, dry walk back to the farm, but we got no choices left. You win.”
Tim slipped his hand into Herb’s. “We’ll make it.”