Friday, June 18, 2010

A Bowl of Dust

I'm cheating again. A while back the prompt was:

Charles Dickens: American Notes for General Circulation

'He had ordered 'wheat-bread and chicken fixings,' in preference to 'corn-bread and common doings'.'

I got halfway through with my story then got stuck. I saved it in my folder of bits and bobs, and promptly forgot about it. I was today looking through that folder, reread the piece and realized it wasn't too shabby. I also saw right away how it could fit with the latest prompt:

H. G. Wells: The war of the Worlds

'There was something fungoid in the oily brown skin, something in the clumsy deliberation of the tedious movements unspeakably nasty.'

So here we go:

A Bowl of Dust

Sam could feel the weariness down to his soul. He’d been driving all morning, but was still many miles from Canaan when he felt his skin prickle with that familiar and terrifying anticipation. He glimpsed into the rearview mirror: The darkness behind him stretched out over the horizon and was gaining on him fast. He couldn’t outrun it. He pulled over and killed the engine. The air was deathly still, but it wouldn't last. He cranked up the windows, though that would help little.

The storm overtook him with a deafening rumble, and there was darkness all around. Sam imagined hell would be like this - far worse than fire and pitchforks. He held a rug to his face and squeezed his eyes shut, but there was no escaping the coarse dust. It was everywhere; in the creases of his clothes and skin, in the marrow of his bones, in his lungs. As if the barren earth was trying to reclaim him one breath at a time.

Maybe he passed out, maybe he dreamt, but when he opened his eyes, the storm was gone. He clambered out of the truck, slapping his overalls, brushing dirt from his hair. He hawked and spat up mud.

The sun was high in the sky by the time he reached the edge of town. He stopped at the gas station to fill up the truck. Attached to the station was a dining establishment. The few patrons inside were men with worn faces. The menu was written with white chalk on a blackboard behind the counter. He had ordered 'wheat-bread and chicken fixings,' in preference to 'corn-bread and common doings'. Once he finished his lunch he didn't linger. He still had his errand to finish, and get back to camp, preferably before darkness.

The address led him to the wrong side of the tracks, although, they were both wrong, this one just more so. An older Mexican man opened the door. He'd been waiting for Sam. With a jerk of his head he motioned to the shed deep in the junk-filled yard.

Sam peered through the door first dubiously, then appreciatively. Finally, one of Shorty's leads was paying off. The boy was an honest to goodness freak. With his twisted limbs and deformed hands he could be their star attraction - more popular than the Dog-faced boy, or Violet The Human Torso. Sam crouched down to take a better look at the shuffling figure. There was something fungoid in the oily brown skin, something in the clumsy deliberation of the tedious movements unspeakably nasty. Yeah, he'd work out all right. All the good folks in their Sunday clothes will line up to see him, to shudder and gasp in revulsion, and then tell all the other good folks, who’ll line up too.

After a brief haggle with the older man, Sam and his new acquisition were on the road. Lobo The Lobster Boy would have a long and lucrative career ahead of him in sideshow business.


I must admit I was hugely inspired by the HBO show Carnivàle. By the way, I know the person who made the drawing for the Devil card for the opening sequence. I have a signed, limited edition print of it hanging on my wall.


  1. Woah, Vanda, this is totally brilliant!
    Wonderful, evocative writing; I can taste the dust in the air.

    Being a huge fan of Todd Browning's "Freaks" my heart leapt with joy as much as Sam's must have done at the sight of Lobo.

    I take it you already know Tom Waits' "Eyeball Kid", probably the best ever freak show song, but check out Ry Cooder's wonderfully wistful 'My Dwarf Is Getting Tired' from the 'I Flathead' album. It's a portrait of Sam and his 'family' some way down the road.

    Thank you again. Boy howdy, I love this story. You totally rule.

  2. My knowledge of Tom Waits is far less exhaustive than you credit me. He's a fascinating character with an unignorable voice, and keeps popping up in Jim Jarmusch and Wim Wenders movies.

    I love "Freaks". Such an unexpected movie.

    I'm glad you liked the story. I'll check out the songs.