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ISFDB.org Magazine Entry




AS our author states, "this old earth has passed thru some pretty severe crises in its long and fruitful career," and so has the human race, for that matter. We have won what civilization and comfort we now possess only by the bitterest struggle for millions of years against the onslaughts of nature and other forms of life. And even what we have now we hold by a thread. Our life on earth is so uncertain that it would need only a very minor change in physical conditions to wipe us from the face of the globe. A change of a relatively few degrees in temperature either way, a change in the composition of the atmosphere; a minor solar disturbance are all things that are unimportant in the cosmos but totally disastrous for us.

Mr. Miller is no pessimist but he treats in a new, original and refreshing fashion of some of the troubles that might befall our old race and globe at any time. He shows, too, that inside of all of us, even the most callous there exists the hero and the martyr. Given the chance we would be willing to protect and save the race from any disaster, though our efforts may mean a terrible agony and even death! This is a most unusual story!


THIS old Earth of ours has passed through some pretty severe crises in its long and fruitful career as a minor planet—burning up the road between Stanton and Norfolk and had stopped for gas about ten miles from the latter city, not far beyond afflicted with a variety of life—but never has its danger been so great as in the frantic weeks following the inverted cyclone of August 23, 1967. I was near Norfolk when it happened; I was one of the little group that saw the thing through to the end, and now that it is over I am attempting a narrative that will set forth in a fashion more readable than technical the story of the "death-dust" from the Moon—the green dust of destruction.

In 1967, Norfolk, Nebraska, was a city of perhaps twenty thousand people. No one knows why the Dust struck there first, but the fact remains that it did. The Things had probably been experimenting for some time with a sort of sliding-scale of frequencies before they hit on what they were looking for, and there is ample evidence of extreme auroral activity and atmospheric fluorescence for years hack. The day before, Tuesday the 22nd, I had been motoring west on a canvassing trip, and I remember that the radios of eastern Nebraska were raising a brand of Cain that even my patent static eliminator could not iron out.

At 8:37 on that Wednesday morning I was burning up the road between Stanton and Norfolk and had stopped for gas about ten miles from the latter city, not far beyond Stanton, where I had miraculously filled my sales quota during a lull in the interference the day before. The Moon was well past full, hanging low in a cloudless sky. I remember talking with the proprietor of the gas station about the rocket that Norfolk's favorite son, my old pal, Dick Haverford, meant to aim at the Moon in a week or so, as soon as he gave it enough test-flights in "the upper atmosphere. I jokingly said that I was willing to throw over my job if he would take me along, and the proprietor called me a fool and flooded the fink over, effectively transferring the compliment.

I was sunk to the back teeth in what is generally called a horselaugh when out of the west came a flash of blinding light, followed by a shattering crash of sound that rattled my windshield and splintered the closed windows of the gas station. Then from the east came a wind—the wind—and like a man in a dream I watched my hat scale off down the road toward a murky pillar of smoke or dust that was vomiting into the sky over Norfolk. The station was sheltered by a low hill of sorts, but in front, at the side of the road, grew a real old New England elm, over a hundred feet tall, shading the station with its great green umbrella.

Now, as I watched it, the green leaf surfaces turned to show their pale under sides with the coming breeze. Then the twigs began to bend and let their leafy ends stream out toward the west, not with the fitful tossing of a brewing storm, but slowly, steadily, as if a mounting force were drawing them out. And now I saw that the great upper branches were twisting and bending, to give way to the wind. Slowly, like a weary laborer bending to his load, its mighty green crown drooped and the six-foot trunk took on a taut curve. And then it broke. With a white flare of splintered wood, it went bobbing off down the road like a giant stalked tumbleweed, while the shattered stump screamed aloud with vibration above the sullen roar of the rising wind.

Sand and gravel splattered the back of the car, and I looked around to see that the top of the little cut that sheltered the station was being torn down by the wind. All manner of things were tearing past and overhead—roofs, uprooted or broken trees and bushes, the tops of autos—and still the wind mounted with its droning roar, a queer unreal quality of leisurely, sleepy growth in its tone. As the wall of the cut wore lower, great air currents ripped nearer my car, where I sat in a sort of daze. I could detect now an ugly whine lurking under the sullen roar.

Everything happened at once. There was a new crash from beyond the edge of the cut and the fat proprietor fairly dove into my open car as a huge bushy maple popped over the rim and crashed full into our rear, driving me headlong into the open. In an instant the tempest caught us, the open top flapped forward and off with a snarl of ripping fabric, and I was bowling down tho open road with the owner of the gas-station gripping my neck in a frantic stranglehold.

The wheel was no good for steering—it was of use only as a pillar, a post to which I could cling. The road ran straight for a mile or so, and for maybe a minute We swept smoothly between stripped fields where the grain clung in a mat to the ground. Then we struck a curve and the Buick took a wire fence below the level of the road like a racing greyhound, struck in a swampy meadow, and somersaulted end for end. I felt the garage man loosen his grip; then sensed a changing perspective of earth and sky, and my own grip loosened and I was being carried bodily by the wind. The other man was now a blurred form in the air ahead.

OUR tattered clothes offered little gliding surface, and gravity very soon asserted itself. A second fence loomed, probably the other side of the field. The other fellow cleared it with a foot to spare and vanished in the dust beyond, but I met it fair and square, and with a crack of rotten posts and screech of freed wire was rolling head over heels through the water-stripped mire of a small pond. With an ominous buzz of splintered fibers another elm whipped past me, butt first, and struck they opposite bank of the pond, driving deep into the mud.

In the fraction of a second that its course was checked, I found myself firmly wired into the heart of the mass of stripped branches, and then my strange steed was upending it across the fields, filling me with a wholesome fear of death every time its mighty crown struck the ground and new splinters sang around my head. Then there would be a breathless, rising glide—a heart-shaking swoop—an instant of crashing limbs and flying branches—then on and up again.

I can't even start to describe that race with the wind, straight across Nebraska for ten fearful miles to the devastated city of Norfolk. My tree was a big one, and for a large part of its trip it traveled crown foremost, dragging the heavy butt, but every now and then it would drop, up-end, and drive like a dart until it struck some obstruction with a shattering crash and spun end over end for a new start. I know that we drove clear through the walls of a farmhouse where people still clung for shelter, and that we hurtled through a brief grove of splintered tree-stubs that were screaming madly above the wind with shrill vibration. I knew, too, that the wind was falling somewhat, for its throaty roar was growing deeper and lower. But when the trunk of my tree snapped off and we hit Norfolk I cannot tell. I was probably unconscious.

* * *

A rising sun found me plastered amid debris of tree and fence and city against the still-standing wall of a bank-vault, up to my neck in a fluffy green dust that was piled in great drifts and dunes all along the remaining walls of Norfolk. To a keener sense, it might have been gritty, for it seemed angular and crystalline, and on my tongue it felt granular, but to eyes and fingers it was merely a fluffy emerald powder that seeped and drifted through and into everything and everywhere. It was light enough to retain considerable air, except where it was packed in a thin crust along the walls, and when I felt something squirm against my feet I was able to burrow in and drag out the man still alive and kicking.

He was a physical Hercules, but the wind had stripped him clean; for, unlike me, he had had no buffer. It was a miracle that no bones were broken, though his mighty muscles were purple with the ruptured capillaries of great livid bruises. Around his waist still hung a cartridge belt and automatic, and in that instant I recognized the face behind the tawny uncut hair and stubble of beard. He was "Red" Brockton, tramp and bank-robber, whose pictures and fingerprints adorned the post-office wall in Sheldon. He showed signs of coming around, so my discretion prompted, the transfer of his little arsenal, and my valor consequently survived a rather abrupt depression.

I do not know how or where he had gone to sleep, but he woke with the fine green dust in his hair and his ears, and the barrel of his own gun centered on his stomach. I had read somewhere that such a target often secures a moral hi...

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