DESTINY IN THE DUST STORMS
My Name Will Never Fade - Book 1
© 2019 Michael Winstell
The Oklahoma Panhandle
"Mama! Mama! Lookit!"
Ginny's excited voice jolted Destiny Wilcox awake. She rubbed her eyes and squinted in the bright sunlight.
"What is it, darling?" she mumbled, thankful that Ginny hadn't awoken her two younger siblings sitting on Destiny's lap.
Ginny pointed her finger out the window.
Destiny leaned down to peek out the window on the right side of the truck. Her husband Charles was driving and he also took his eyes off the road for a moment to look.
A giant billboard stood tall above a clump of dried brush. Bold letters proclaimed: "BOISE CITY–A Fertile Place to Grow Your Dreams!" Beneath the words was a brightly painted image of stately homes beneath lush, green trees that lined a pristine street. The vivid colors of the sign contrasted sharply with the drab, board-like flatness of the prairie that stretched from horizon to horizon.
Destiny looked at her ten-year-old daughter and gave her a gentle smile. "We're almost there."
"Almost," Charles agreed wearily. Destiny gave his arm a comforting squeeze.
"Think it'll look like the picture?" Ginny asked.
Four-year-old Charlie stirred, which caused Kristine, two years older, to stir as well. Destiny held her breath, hoping the two little ones wouldn't wake up and fuss. She didn't have the energy to deal with hungry, irritable kids right now. Luckily the children didn't open their eyes.
Destiny gave Ginny a stern look. The girl's smile wilted, making Destiny feel a pang of guilt. She lifted her hand slowly so as not to wake the little sleepers resting against her bosom and stroked Ginny's dark auburn hair, which was now the same color as her own, despite Ginny being born blonde like her siblings had been.
"I'm sure it will be beautiful," she said softly.
Ginny's smile returned and she touched her mother's hand. A gentle warmth sparked inside of Destiny's heart. Sometimes she felt she was looking into a mirror when she gazed into her eldest daughter's sparkling eyes. She looked down at the two sleeping angels huddled together between them. Charlie was the spitting image of his father inside and out. Kristine was a dainty flower, fragile as a snowflake and just as beautiful.
Destiny looked at her husband next to her. She noticed his keen blue eyes scanning the landscape and she knew that he was taking in every detail in an instant, analyzing the color of the sky and the soil, tasting the dry, dusty wind that blew in through the open windows, listening to the rattling sounds of the truck's unreliable engine, all while singing a song in his head. Charles Wilcox could do a dozen things at once and still appear as calm and cool as if he were sitting on the front porch with a glass of lemonade in his hand.
Love and admiration for this wonderful man swelled in her heart, and Destiny focused her attention on the lines of his strong, sturdy neck and the close-cropped hair that she meticulously sheared every month. At thirty-seven, he was nine years older than she was. There were times when he seemed as old and wise as her father had been, and other times when he would giggle like a schoolboy. And there were also times when the night air was cool and the blankets were warm and–
Charles wrenched the wheel to the right. The truck swerved hard and jostled everyone in the truck. Charlie bolted awake and Kristine started bawling.
The warm, mushy feeling evaporated and Destiny smacked the back of her husband's head.
"You woke the kids! And don't cuss like that!"
Charles shot her a cross look. "See what we almost hit!"
Destiny leaned over her children and poked her head out of the window. A rotted cow's carcass lay across the road behind them, nearly taking up both lanes. Several tire tracks curved around it, indicating that many other cars had been surprised as they were. She sat back in her lumpy seat, trying to shush little Kristine.
After a minute, she pressed her cheek to Charles' neck.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
He smiled and touched her face. "You're tired. We all are. But don't you smack me again."
Destiny gave his ear a quick peck before the kids noticed. "I promise. For today, at least."
Charles snorted. "Ginny."
"Look out the window and check them blankets are still tight."
Destiny reached over and held onto Ginny's dress as she leaned out to get a look at the pile of furniture and crates in the back of the truck. Blankets and rugs were stretched over everything and held down with taut ropes.
Ginny sat back down. Destiny exhaled with relief.
"Still good, Daddy," the girl reported.
Charles nodded. "All right then. Won't be long now."
Ginny grinned at her mother. Destiny smiled back, though she couldn't keep the melancholy glimmer out of her eyes. Ginny didn't notice it, but little Charlie did. He noticed everything, just like his father.
"What's wrong, Mama?" he asked.
Destiny shook her head. "Nothing, sweetheart. Just thinking about the place we left behind. About the people we won't see no more."
"Boise City sounds a lot better than Clover Cliff," Ginny chimed in. "It's got big trees and big houses. Kansas got none of that. I want a big ol' farm. Our old farm was too small."
"Wait till you see our homestead," Charles declared, pointing his finger in the air like an orator. "The way that real estate feller described it, we'll have so much crop, we won't know what to do with it!"
Destiny sat quietly, watching the endless fields roll past. None of them looked particularly fertile, at least not more than the fields in Kansas.
She tried to hold her tongue, but she couldn't.
"If Cimarron County is such a paradise, how come the land was so cheap?"
Charles' brow furrowed.
"I reckon it's 'cause they got so much of it," he said. "Farmers are rooted people, tied to the land that their daddies and grandaddies farmed. Ain't many folks got the pluck to strike out in search of something better. That's why so much of the land out here ain't been plowed yet, but it's just waiting, like the gold out in California in the '50s, just lying in the river, waiting for someone to come along and pick it up."
Charles threaded his fingers in hers.
"I'm telling ya, Dess," he said with a sparkle in his eye, "this is gonna be the start of something wonderful for us."
Destiny let go of his hand and pulled her children close to her, running her fingers through their sweat-soaked hair as she stared out the window. A gust of wind stirred up a cloud of dust that blew back the way they had just come.
After passing a few more signs welcoming visitors to Boise City, Destiny started to wonder if they were ever going to get there or if it was just a fantasy land that existed in brightly colored paintings.
And where were the trees? Every advertisement Charles had showed her about the city and Cimarron County featured rows of thick-crowned trees and tall hedges boxed like walls. Of course, none of those pictures were actual photographs. They were just drawings.
A drawing could be anything...
Charles squinted and leaned forward over the steering wheel.
"You see that, Dess?"
Destiny narrowed her eyes. A town was on the horizon at the end of the road. It had to be Boise City, but something felt wrong. Destiny had always had a good sense when things weren't the way they should be and she was getting a powerful feeling right now.
"Charles," she said quietly, keeping her voice steady so as not to worry the children, "I think we should pray."
"Yes. We should thank the Lord for bringing us this far and to prepare us for what's ahead."
Charles nodded. "All right. You want to or you want me to?"
"I'll pray." Destiny circled her arms around Charlie and Kristine and folded her hands. Ginny followed her, and Charles folded his hands above the steering wheel. Destiny closed her eyes.
"Lord in Heaven, thank You for keeping us safe. Thank You that we are almost where we want to get to, and we pray that we'll be happy with whatever we find here. In Jesus' name, amen."
"Amen," the children chimed together.
"Amen." Charles looked over at her with a smile that quickly vanished. "You okay, Dess?"
Destiny swallowed hard and lifted her chin. "Yes. I'm just a little anxious is all."
"Me too," Charles said as the smile returned. "I'm itchin' to see them big trees like in the pictures and figure out how they grow 'em like that. Farming out here's a bit different than back in Kansas, I reckon. Don't know why it ain't full up yet."
"I don't know either," Destiny murmured, staring out the window.
No one in the truck spoke as they approached Boise City. The dark blot on the horizon grew larger and more details became visible. Destiny watched it materialize, like a mirage shimmering in the dust. Charles stared intently through the windshield, the children too.
When they reached the edge of town, the truth became clear. A heaviness descended upon the cramped cab of the old Chevrolet truck. Destiny looked at her husband, and he looked at her.
Boise City was nothing like the pictures.
There were no tall, regal trees. Hardly any trees at all. Dust covered nearly empty streets, and instead of elegant buildings with marble facades, the roads were lined with rickety wooden buildings that looked like they might blow down in a strong wind.
Ginny made a face. "Is this Boise City, Daddy?"
"Reckon so," Charles said, scanning the signs on the buildings.
"Where are all the trees, then?"
"Don't know, darlin'. Maybe in another part of town."
Destiny looked down the main road and saw that the buildings seemed to stop after about half a mile. There was no other part of town.
This was it.
Heaving a weary sigh, Charles pulled over in front a general store. He put the truck in park and left the engine running. Destiny reached over to take his hand. There was a look in his eyes that made her heart wilt.
The look said, "If this was a lie, then what else is a lie?"
She squeezed his hand hard. "We made it," she announced.
Charles held her gaze for a long moment. Then he nodded slowly, as if he were trying to make himself believe it.
He looked out the driver's side window and gestured to the store in front of them.
"I'll go ask where the bank is."
Destiny held her children as she watched him go inside the weather-beaten building.
Lord, help us. Please.
A few minutes later, Charles came out and got back in the truck.
"It's just over yonder," he said as he eased the truck back onto the road.
Destiny frowned as she studied his face. "What is it?"
Charles shook his head and kept his eyes on the road. Destiny fell silent.
After taking a right and then a left turn, Charles parked the truck in front of Boise City Union Bank. Destiny noticed a few other trucks similar to theirs, their beds piled high with furniture and boxes. None of them were unaccompanied, mostly with women and children while the men presumably were inside the bank.
"I need to go, Mama," Charlie piped up.
"Me too!" Kristine cried.
"Me too!" Ginny added.
Destiny exchanged glances with Charles, who waved his hand toward the gas station across the street.
"Take them kids yonder. I'll wait here with the truck and go in when you get back."
Ginny opened the passenger door and hopped out, followed by Charlie and Kristine. When Destiny's feet touched the dusty street, she stretched her weary limbs and felt numerous joints in her body crack and pop. It felt good, but her heart sank rapidly when she surveyed her surroundings.
There was nothing about Boise City that couldn't be found in a hundred other towns back in Kansas. If anything, it was worse. The biggest difference was that it was far more dusty out here, and that wasn't a positive feature.
Destiny tried to stifle the voice of doubt chattering in the far corner of her mind, but one question broke through.
Is this a mistake?
Charlie tugged on her flower-print dress. "Mama! I have to go now!"
She gathered her children and hurried them across the street to the gas station. Two outhouses stood behind the shack next to the single fuel pump. A portly man in overalls and a battered wide-brimmed hat glared at them from his rocking chair by the front door.
"Hep y'all?" he called out.
Destiny managed her most charming smile. "Good afternoon, sir. I was wondering if we might make use of your privies. We've been on the road a while and the children need to heed nature's call."
The man closed one eye and widened the other. "Them's for payin' customers."
Destiny hesitated for a moment. "Well, my husband is at the bank across the street. I'm sure we'll need some gas before we head out to our homestead."
A low rumble sounded in the old man's throat as he settled back in his chair. He looked at her and the children for several moments, and then swept his hand in front of him.
"Go on, do your business. And be quick about it."
"Thank you, sir," Destiny said with relief. "God bless you."
"Not likely," the old man grumbled.
Destiny scooted the children to the outhouses. The stench was atrocious and the boards were half-rotted but it was a small price to pay to empty their bladders. Destiny realized that she had forgotten to bring scraps of paper but fortunately the children only had to make water. When they were finished, she sternly commanded them to wait right outside for her while she relieved herself.
As she stared at the dark confines of the wooden box that was barely three feet across, she felt the tears starting to well up. She clenched her fists and bit her lip.
Not here, not now.
Not with three precious children waiting for her outside the door and a husband whose heart was probably breaking just like hers, even though he would never show it. But he needed her strength just as much as she needed his.
Wiping away the single tear that had managed to escape, Destiny straightened her dress and strode out of the outhouse with her head high. She nodded her thanks to the old man on the rocking chair. He just glared at her and the children like an irritable old dog.
Charles gave them a weary smile when they got back to the truck. "You and the kids wait here," he said.
Destiny could see the nervousness in her husband's face. She placed a gentle hand on his stubbly cheek.
"What is it?" she asked.
Charles searched the ground for the right words. "I...I hope we're doing the right thing, Dess. I hope I'm doing the right thing."
"We're all in God's hands, Charles. All we can do is trust Him to get us to where He wants us to be. And right now, that's here. So button that top button and go in there and get our farm. We've already paid for it anyhow."
"S'pose you're right."
Charles smoothed his clothes and buttoned his collar like he was told. Destiny swatted his shoulders to get the dust off, and then she gave him a kiss on the cheek. Charles smiled at her and the kids and headed into the bank.
"Stay close," she told the children, picking the little ones up and setting them on the bed of the truck. Charlie scampered under the pile of furniture and Kristine followed. Ginny sat on the edge and swung her legs.
"I don't see no trees, Mama."
Destiny squinted as the wind blew dust into her face. "I know, sweetheart."
"Is this the right place?"
"Looks that way."
"So the sign lied?"
"Signs don't lie. People that make 'em sometimes do."
"So why'd they lie about the trees?"
"I can't say for sure. Maybe they wanted to make the town seem more attractive so folks would move here. But you know what?"
"Even if the people who made the signs and the advertisements lied about them trees to bring people like us down here, it might turn out all right after all."
"How do you mean?"
"More people means more jobs, more money. Right now this place looks a bit slight but in a few years time, it might turn out to be a jumping little town. Then we might get to see those trees."
Ginny looked off into the distance. "That'd be nice." A frown darkened her face. "What if we don't like it here? Will we move again?"
"Don't worry about 'what ifs.' The only thing that matters is 'what is.' And until the good Lord tells us to pack up again, this is going to be our home."
Destiny gave her daughter's arm a reassuring squeeze and glanced at another truck a few yards away. She didn't know much about vehicles but she could see that it was a Chevy like theirs was. And just like theirs, it was piled high with furniture, crates, sacks, and blankets. Two fair-haired twins, both girls, sat in wooden chairs in the back and a woman was in the cab, nursing a baby. She turned and looked at Destiny. Her face, which had once been very pretty, was lined with years of hardship and worry, and her eyes were sunken and dim.
A fearful thought pricked Destiny's mind.
I don't look like that, do I?
She resisted the urge to peek in the truck's window and examine her face. She knew that vanity was one of those sins that she just couldn't shake, but she was also proud of the face and figure the Lord had blessed her with and she wanted to nurture those blessings as best she could. She told herself that it was for her husband, though she knew the real reason: she liked getting smiles of admiration and envy. Maybe in a big city, people wouldn't give her a second glance, but out in farm country, she drew men's and women's eyes wherever she went.
Of course, life on a farm would take its toll on Venus herself. After eleven years of marriage and giving birth to three children, Destiny knew she wasn't the picture of beauty anymore. But she hoped she looked better than that weary soul sitting in the truck over yonder.
You're on the brink of starting a new life and you're worried about your purdy little face? Stop being a fool.
She was a bit startled at the terse tone her conscience took, but it was right, as always. There were a million things more important right now, like what was she going to prepare for her family's first meal at their new home. She had no idea what state the house would be in so she had to prepare herself for the possibility of an unusable kitchen, at least in the beginning. But after being on the road for so long, her family deserved a hot meal. Perhaps a stew cooked over an open fire?
She stared down the barren, dust-strewn road.
Lord, give me strength...
"Daddy!" Charlie cried out.
She turned and saw Charles march out of the bank, a broad smile splitting his face as he held up a piece of paper.
"We own a three hundred-acre farm in Cimarron County, Oklahoma!" he announced, scooping Kristine into his arms. Destiny's frustration melted away when she saw the joy in his face, and she gasped when he pressed a jubilant kiss to her lips.
"Charles Wilcox!" she stammered. Her cheeks flushed red but she couldn't hide her smile.
Charles grinned as he looked at his family. "Ready to go see our new home?"
"Yes!" the children cried as they scurried back into the truck. Charles drew Destiny to him once more, staring deep into her eyes.
"I love you," he said softly.
"I love you too," she whispered back.
This time, she leaned up and kissed him. The children groaned from inside the truck cab and Destiny smacked the air at them before climbing inside, trying to get as comfortable as possible on a hard bench seat with four other people.
At least the journey was almost over.
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