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by Mercedes Lackey
Description: A pragmatic engineer discovers that just because something looks like a cardboard box doesn't mean that it is one.
eBook Publisher: Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust, 1990 Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine #9
eBookwise Release Date: October 2007
38 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [15 KB]
Reading time: 6-9 min.
A gust of wind hit the side of George Randal's van and nearly tore the steering wheel out of his hands. He cursed as the vehicle lurched sideways, and wrestled it back into his own lane.
It was a good thing there weren't too many people on the road. It was just a damned good thing that Mingo Road was a four-lane at this point, or he'd have been in the ditch. A mile away, it wasn't, but all the shift traffic from the airline maintenance base, the Rockwell plant and the McDonald-Douglas plant where he worked would have put an intolerable strain on a two-lane road.
The stoplight at Mingo and 163rd turned yellow, and rather than push his luck, he obeyed it, instead of doing an "Okie caution" ("Step on the gas, Fred, she's fixin' to turn red"). This was going to be another typical late spring Oklahoma day. Wind gusting up to 60 per, and rain off and on. Used to be, when he was a kid, it'd be dry as old bones by this late in the season, but not anymore. All the flood-control projects and water-management dams had changed the micro-climate, and it was unlikely this part of Oklahoma would ever see another Dust-Bowl.
Although with winds like this, he could certainly extrapolate what it had been like, back then during the thirties.
The habit of working a mental simulation was so ingrained it was close to a reflex; once the thought occurred, his mind took over, calculating wind-speed, type of dust, carrying capacity of the air. He was so intent on the internal calculations that he hardly noticed when the light turned green, and only the impatient honk of the car behind him jolted him out of his reverie. He pulled the van out into the intersection, and the red sports-car behind him roared around him, driver giving him the finger as he passed.
"You son of a--" he noted with satisfaction the MacDac parking permit in the corner of the rear window: the vanity plate was an easy one to remember, "HOTONE." He'd tell a little fib to the guard at the guard shack, and have the jerk cited for reckless driving in the parking-lot. That would go on his work-record, and serve him right, too.
If it hadn't been for the combination of the wind gust and the fool in the red IROC, he would never have noticed the strange behavior of that piece of cardboard in the median strip.
But because of the gust, he knew which direction the wind was coming from. When the IROC screamed right over the center-line, heading straight toward a piece of flattened box, and the box skittered just barely out of the way as if the wind had picked it up and moved it in time, something went off in his brain.
As he came up even to where the box had been, he saw what the thing had been covering; roadkill, a dead 'possum. At that exact moment he knew what had been wrong with the scene a second before, when the box had moved. Because it had moved against the wind.