The World Is Painted Red
D. Winters Browne
“As time moves, so does the world we live in,” said an aged, retired voice, “Whether we step backward or forward, time will always be shifting, people will always be changing. What is this driving force that binds us to hate one another? Only when the world has flashed before our eyes have we come to understand…”
* * *
A desert storm rolled through red soil in an unfamiliar land. Fifty astronauts marched through a barren wasteland molded by ice and dirt. The wind was heavy, the soil soft. It had been one month since they migrated here for colonization.
“Captain,” a woman spoke, panting, “There’s a cave ahead. We have to take shelter, we cannot turn back now.”
The captain, ignoring her, made no response. He’s a gray-bearded southern fellow. Around six-foot five, skin caramelized by the sun. He doesn’t care too much to take orders—or listen to anyone for that matter.
“She’s right Cap’ if we turn back we won’t be able to complete this mission for another month.” a man reiterated. This man’s name was Jon and he was one of the few who believed the woman was a valuable squad leader.
“Okay, you heard the man. Jon’s right, we’ll push forward. Keep those arms locked,” said the captain. This made Jessie, the woman, turn sour.
The Astronauts formed five horizontal lines, all marching to a small cave only but one mile away. The sand storm grew stronger, darker. The astronauts’ heads rattled inside their suits from the massive vibrations created by wind and sand. They could hardly hear each other over their radio. Mobilizing on Mars is extremely difficult due to the low gravity-well. Consequently, each gust of wind, no matter how strong, would swipe out an astronaut’s feet with ease.
The storm brewed above them. The sky turned brown and black. The sound of the beast became deafening. It shook their heads until it felt like their brains were splitting open from the holes of their ears. Sweat soaked their spacesuits, but the Martian air was turning cold, -180 degrees cold. Night was in the midst. The swarming clouds casted a shroud of darkness over the astronauts, and soon engulfed them in a cloud of sand.
“March men,” the captain yelled. “Keep your strides in rhythm and those arms locked.”
The wind began to whistle and the storm began to scream. The dirt scratched and crunched as each squad line trudged forward in unison.
A massive cyclone shot down at ten men in the back of the march, they became detached from each other.
“Squad E has detached,” Squad E’s leader, Ron, shouted. The line in front of them broke into groups of two, both splitting in half to catch the men behind them.
“Squad D and E have linked. We’re good.” Jon nodded and said, “I gotcha’ baby-bro.”
Ron rolled his eyes in embarrassment.
“Keep your feet down and your heads low,” Ron shouted, trying to assert his dominance as squad E leader, “Jessie how much farther?” Jessie was in the front line, Squad A.
“We’re just a quarter-mile out, hang in there.” As she spoke she heard the dirt shift and saw it kicking up in front of her. It was blasting into the air like an apache was bombarding the soil. “BRACE!” she yelled. The wind sliced through the first two groups and splashed Squad C into the sky. Their bodies soared over the men behind them. Screams of panic and repeating gasps for air overwhelmed the radio. Voices plead for help, but help was a lost cause…
Those men had vanished into the dark plume of sand surrounding them. They were inhaled by the storm. The radio fell quiet.
Ron heard all of them crash behind him. He felt as though he had swallowed his heart, his asthma started to kick in. “If you have to, let go.” He said to his brother next to him. Jon shook his head rejecting Ron’s words.
“BRACE!” yelled Jessie once more. Another gust came soaring in, whistling through the air. Jon’s group was struck backwards. Ron was ripped from right out of his brother’s arms. Without a yell; without any sound but wind and struggle, he was gone. Jon’s heart sunk, his throat closed, his legs collapsed, and he dropped to his knees.
“Get up,” his squad yelled. This was no time for grief. And another gust came crashing down.
“BRACE!” the captain shouted.
The wind stomped the ground leaving an imprint of a boot-like shape. This time every man fell to their backs. It was as if the storm was toying with them. The sand around them started to cave in, sinking into what used to be a small crater. Jessie was knocked headfirst into the crater, but she stood up fast. She turned around only to see most of her group missing or limbs buried in sand. Jon was submerged; everything but his hands and head had been compacted into the dirt.
Fortunately, the crater masked the astronauts from most of the wind. But most of them needed to be shoveled out.
“We lost ten more; half of both squads D and E are missing. Squad C is gone. ” the captain said. His voice was monotone, as if he wasn’t in any shock. “Huddle close, let’s count our numbers.”
Jessie scattered to Jon, he was senseless. She called his name over and over, “Jon! Jon! Stand up Jon.” She grabbed his hand, but his body was limp. His eyes were open, gazing at the great storm that circled above them, preying on them. Not a single tear was crawling down his face. Shock had stripped him of his soul. What mattered now to him was nothing. The four men who held him while he dropped to his knees had vanished too. Guilt overwhelmed his heart. His eyes remained still, set on the storm.
“He’s in a state of shock, captain. What should we do?” Jessie asked.
“If he doesn’t snap out of it, it’s best we just leave him. Dead weight.”
The group broke out in a yelling match over what the captain had just said. Red dust splashed and poured over the lips of the crater. The storm roared a shrill screech, sand blasted over their heads. Jessie became nauseated by the rash words that were being spoken, she yelled in an outburst “I’ll carry him, myself.” The crowd went quiet. The storm went silent. It was as if, in that very moment, time had stopped. Everyone looked around at each other with stares of confusion. They all felt like they had been released from a sort of spell the storm had conjured, pulling their strings like puppet-work. But now they had been cleansed—released. The captain, however, remained unpleasant.
He nodded his head, “Good, it’s settled. Jessie will drag the dead man. Ah, and would yah look-at-that, the storms passin’ by; I was just takin’ a likin’ to it too. Reckon all good things must come to an end, eh?” The crew cringed at the staleness of his humor.
Jessie slung Jon over her back, hoisting him by his leg and arm. The gravity made for an easy carry. The heavens above opened up, not in a ray of light, but in a bright orange clouded sky. The wind settled; however, its noise lingered close by. Mounds of sand could be seen getting chopped and splashed in the distance.
When they made it to the cave the sky had quickly fallen dark. The temperature of Mars drops significantly at nightfall. Their space suits can only withstand -250 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature would fall below that, their insulated heating system will fail.
“Everyone, oxygen check.” said the captain.
To be continued…