Unger pulled his pocket watch from its home in his coat, glanced at its face, and scowled. "She'll be comin' 'round the mountain, as they say..."
Zachary Goatflirter and Whiskeyblood Willie Sot scoffed in unison.
Unger looked again at his watch. It read six-forty-two and a half, the same time it had announced for the past four years, since it had been run over by the famed Wabash Cannonball and rendered useless as anything more than a pocket weight. Truthfully, "run over" is misleading. The watch, which had been placed on the tracks by an angry woman who said it was either gonna be Unger's prized possession - or a quick stabbing, had actually shot out from under the leading wheel of the Cannonball and smashed into a telegraph pole. But it looked like the train had run over it, so let's just say it was run over.
"She'll be here," he sighed.
"I'll believe it when I see it," Zachary sneered.
"Her," Unger corrected.
Willie Sot cleared his throat. "Where did you say you met this supposed sweetheart, again?"
"Don't say 'supposed,' you old drunk. It's judgemental," Unger complained.
"How do you figure?"
"It means you think I've invented my dear sweet swain, and that you judge me to be batty."
"Huh. Alright, drop the 'supposed,' then," Willie said. "Where did you and your lovely bride meet? Zach's heard the story, but I haven't."
Unger smiled up at the deepening purple of the Arizona dusk. "It was two years ago - right after Roosevelt's third inauguration. I was walking the Southern Pacific rails southwest of Phoenix, near what's left of Papago. I'm sure you've heard of Papago. It was the largest city west of Chicago, before the haboob hit..."
Zachary Goatflirter held up a stop-hand. "The what?"
"Haboob," Unger repeated. "You know - dust storm..."
"Gee whiz. Just say 'dust storm,' man," Willie groaned.
"Anyway," Unger continued, "Folks say that dust storms turn day into night, but I'm here to tell you, that ain't so - not at first, anyway. I was mostly looking down as I walked, that day, and the first thing I noticed was the glow. The rails started to glow. I stopped and looked around. Everything was glowing. Damnedest thing I ever saw. The sky - the whole world - was a bright, golden-brown. It was like the sun had been plucked from the sky and replaced by a million electric lights behind a universe-size screen of dirty yellow glass..."
"You talk funny," Old Willie Sot interrupted.
Unger glared at the drunkard for a moment, then continued. "As I was saying, it got super bright for a half-hour, before the glow became something else. It darkened, and it started to have features, like a wall of thick yellow-brown smoke, billowing toward me, across the scrubby hills. I stopped and stared at it and said a prayer, one hundred percent certain that I was about to die..."
"You do talk funny," Zach said, nodding at Willie. "Plus, Papago? Bigger than Los Angeles? San Fran? No way."
"Until the dust storm, I said! Ask anyone! Now let me tell it."
"Oh, for the love of Pete - please continue."
"So I'm standing there like an idiot, gawking at this big ol' fist of a sky, and I look down the tracks to the point where they disappeared into the brown cloud blowing toward me at the speed of hellfire, and she... she just sorta jumped out of the dust and ran toward me..."
"Faster than a dust storm," Zachary said flatly.
"Yes, faster than a dust storm. Shut up! I could tell she was a hobo. She had dungarees and a jacket more torn-up than mine, and a ratty little pack of whatever slung over her shoulder. Her hair was flying like copper-colored flames around her, and she clutched an enormous blanket to her bosom. She reached me a half-second before the dust, unfurled that big ol' blanket, threw it over my head and hers, and tackled me like a Notre Dame linebacker."
"I like this broad," Willie laughed. "Tough one."
"She ain't a broad. She's a woman," Unger growled, looking again at his pocket weigher-downer. "Anyway, we rolled down off the track-bed and into a ditch, and ended up face to face, wrapped up in that blanket. Before it went dark - and boy did it go dark - I saw the face of an angel, and looked into the smiling, starry eyes of true love..."
"That's it," Zachary declared. "I ain't listening to any more of your oddball description. Sand storm. Mystery girl. Blanket. True love. Saved your life. Blah-de-blah. All I know is, you talk funny. Now, Is she comin' or not?"
"She's coming, but you know what? I don't think I want you two bums around when she gets here. You ain't worthy to put your mean, dirty eyes on her perfect face. Now go on - get..."
Zachary Goatflirter put an angry finger in Unger's face. "Watch who you're callin' a bum, mister."
Willie tugged at Zach's coat sleeve. "Lookit - someone's coming up from the gully. Think it's a woman. Say, is that her, Ung?"
Unger fixed his gaze in the direction of Willie's gesturing. "My love," he sighed.
Zachary squinted, struggling to get the woman to come into better focus. Willie did the same. Unger walked toward her, meeting her some thirty feet from where his two fellow hoboes stood staring. Willie and Zachary shared a moment of simultaneous recognition, then alarm.
"Unger!" Willie shouted. "Get back - that ain't no woman..."
Once again - I was prompted! The words du jour at Our Write Side's Two Word Tuesday were "swain" and "sweetheart," and what do you know - I used both!