How to Survive a Sandstorm


Written for the Worst-case Scenario Challenge. Tthank you dreamcatcher for catching those mistakes.


“What are we doing in rural China again?” asked Brian.

“Adopting a child,” said Justin.

“Oh yeah. Ted owes me free taxes forever after this.”

“He already does both of our taxes for free.”

“Okay, then he should forgo his salary. Except then he wouldn’t be able to support Ted Junior. Or maybe Thea Junior.” Brian grimaced.

“You like Ted,” said Justin, smiling slightly.

Brian shrugged. “Tell me when we get there.” Brian pulled his fingers away from where they’d been obsessively stroking the hairs on Justin’s neck and took out his cellphone to check his email. Again.

The ancient taxi rattled to a stop quite a ways outside of town, probably because the road sort of disappeared. The equally ancient taxi driver waved to them, smiling toothily, and Justin handed him more Chinese money than it technically cost for their ride, mostly because he had given up trying to do the exchange rates in his head. He used two of his five Chinese words, all learned within the last week to say, “Wait, please.” Then he got out and marched into the small town, knowing that Brian would be along eventually.

It was an odd mix of old and modern--the buildings were old, but they had powerlines. The streets were unpaved, but the houses had concrete walls. The meeting house was the largest building in town and that was where the adoption would take place, where the Chinese officials were supposed to meet them, and where Justin and Brian would sign papers on Ted and Blake’s behalf, thus--according to Brian--indenturing Ted for life.

He heard Brian’s footsteps before an arm hooked around his shoulders. “Where are they?” Brian asked glancing up and then glancing back down at his phone, relying on Justin to guide him. Their feet continued to crunch with each step as they strode across the gravelly dirt.

“I don’t know. It does kind of look deserted.” Kind of, as in totally. Where were all the people? He hoped this wasn’t some sort of bizarre Chinese horror film they’d inadvertantly wandered into.

Brian poked him in the arm, and Justin brushed his finger away in annoyance. “What?”

“Look,” Brian pointed at his cellphone screen. It was a weather alert. For a sandstorm. Headed for the nearly non-existent town they were standing in. Justin looked west and saw a brown cloud, very small and low, but growing as he watched.

“Holy shit, Brian!”

Brian grabbed his wrist. “The town is closer than the taxi," he said, in the deadly calm voice that meant he was freaking out.

So they sprinted to the meeting house. The cloud got closer, the wind got louder, and by the time they were pounding on the door, it was nearly impossible to to hear their own knocking. Justin found himself swearing a little hysterically under his breath, Brian’s fingers digging into his forearm while Brian pounded and shouted ineffectually at the locked door.

“I know what to do,” shouted Justin after several deep breaths. He had read in one of Daphne's coffeetable books about surviving a sandstorm--and a train crash and a bank robbery, which had seemed more likely at the time.

Justin dug around in his messenger bag and pulled out the baby blanket Lindsay had given them for Ted Junior. Then he pulled out a small tube. It wasn’t vaseline like the book had recommended, but it was all he had. Brian’s ridiculously expensive silicone lube was better than nothing, right?

One glance over his shoulder at the approaching cloud, then he shoved Brian--who was eyeing him strangely--against the wall. When he snapped open the lube, Brian raised an eyebrow and said something that sounded like, “Now?” but subsided when Justin rubbed the lube inside his own nose and then handed it over to Brian. Hesitating only a second, Brian did the same. Then he towed Justin by the strap of his bag to the most sheltered side of the building. He separated the strap from Justin’s chest and loosened it to make room for himself, the bag holding them chest to chest. Justin arranged the blanket over their heads and put his hands around Brian’s neck to hold it in place. Brian copied him, and firmly backed him up against the wall. They leaned their foreheads together, breathed shallowly, and waited.

Gradually came the curious noise of billions of particles of sand hitting every surface for miles, including each other. It was like a long, rough sigh, with a touch of waves crashing or maybe a hard rain falling, but so very dry. Sand tickled up through Justin’s sleeves and his pants and after a while it started to sting. He had his eyes shut instinctively and it was odd living in a dark, sighing little world, Brian’s breath brushing his chin. Or maybe it was like being blind in a room with a television tuned to static. It made his brain feel blank, scoured like the buildings, and he lost track of time, counting Brian’s breaths instead.

When he got to one hundred and twelve, the noise started to die down. By one hundred and forty-five, it had stopped blowing hard enough to sting. Brian pulled away slightly and coughed.

“Ted Junior had better grow up to be a genius and support all of us in our retirement,” said Brian. “I think I have sand in my ass.”

“Me too.” Justin let his arms drop and the blanket came free, raining sand everywhere. “And this lube smells funny.” The door to the meeting house cracked open.

“I promise it won’t be anywhere near your nose when we get back.” Brian shook himself and rained more sand. “Now let’s get this baby and get the hell out of the Grapes of Wrath.