Earthrise

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Chapter 16

WHEN DRINKWINE WOKE, ALL was calm. The first light of day was flooding into the hall through the bank of windows. The storm had vanished. The turbulence of the night, with its unnerving violence, had been calmed to absolute stillness. Curled up on the floor, Drinkwine’s immediate thought was that he was surprised he’d managed to sleep through the storm. Perhaps it had all been a dream? How could this be the same place that just hours before had been in the grip of such mayhem? Getting to his feet he looked out the window at Mars. It was as calm as the bottom of an ocean. The streets were thoroughfares of deep sand, immaculately combed with perfect dunes. Not a thing moved. The broom men would be useless against this flood of red. They will have assessed the situation and gone off to secure a proper plow. The undulating mounds of sand were casting beautiful shadows from the rising sun. It was quiet beyond quiet. As he rubbed the scratching grains from his eyes he saw where the red sand had fanned out from under the door, glistening in a fine covering across the carpet.

The ornate handle turned easily enough but Drinkwine could only manage to get the door opened a sliver before it wedged itself against a wall of obstructing sand on the other side. Using his shoulder he gradually forced the door open, each effort resulting in a cascading of sand into the hall.

Squeezing through the narrow opening, Drinkwine labored to climb the sand that had been raged into the room through the shattered window. He surveyed the penthouse suite—it had been transformed into a surreal wonderland of miniature red dunes. The sand shrouded everything with muting brilliance, effectively suffocating the opulence in a supreme burial. The glass of the big window was gone save for several lethal shards that hung precariously. The air outside was as still as could be imagined, with no trace of the virulence that had tried to kill him the night previous. Yes, Drinkwine was certain, the wind was trying to kill him.

Drinkwine saw the corner of a piece of paper protruding from the sand. He grabbed hold of it and gently pulled it from its burial in the dunes. It was one of the many precious pages of notes he had so ardently collected. Digging through, Drinkwine assessed that the majority of his investigation had been stolen away by the prying winds and swept out through the open window, tossed into the endless nowhere of Mars. Perhaps more disturbing, Drinkwine discovered the cellophane wrappings from one of the remaining packs of Hollands. The winds had cruelly robbed him of his one pleasure, sucking his precious cigarillos out the window and scattering them over the desert. He anxiously dug through the sand in hopes of finding a few salvageable smokes. Nothing. He felt urgently for the pack in his inside jacket pocket. Two Hollands. That was all he had left.

Given the circumstances, he drew one of them out and placed it in his lips. He lit it with his silver lighter and sucked the cigarillo to life as he surveyed the room; a strangely beautiful desert of miniature red dunes that butted against blue floral wallpaper. From one wall of the shredded paisley pattern to the other, the delicate dunes had drowned every aspect of anything man-made. If not for the loss of the cigarillos it would almost be cause enough to laugh. Drinkwine just shook his head at the oddness of it all. Happenings according to its own weird.


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