The land lay prostrate and barren in great swaths, but the air was full of life. This morning the dust played in circles and drifts all around. Little swirls and great ran sweeping across the landscape mocking the dead earth with its liveliness, choking the atmosphere with particles. Even the few plants still surviving on the sparse water rations afforded by the miserly clouds were struggling to push their way past the layers of dust that built up on the rocky soil. Once it may have been snow that buried the heads of flowers and the evergreen’s spikey branches. Now only the most scrabbly cacti and hardy palms dared raise their heads as the sun came rising above the mountains.
A small town lay a few miles from the mountains forming a bowl. Sometimes it could be said in the valley that the land formed a natural lens for the sun, magnifying the heat and burning a hole in the center that would one day lead straight to hell.
On the hottest days (which made up most of the calendar year) old men were so boldly wry as to suggest that day had come, greeting their neighbors with jocular, “Well, today’s the day! Hope you’re ready for that fiery furnace below.” And the neighbor would reply casually enough and by rote, “No better practice than livin’ up here, is there?”
Not many animals, besides mankind, still subsisted on the meager offerings of this land. But outside the town a few small creatures, baked by toil in the sun and hardened by the weight of the earth they dug under, would scurry about early mornings. One such creature had paused however on its morning errands.
An armadillo sat on a rock on the hill outside town as the first tip of the sun pricked the purple sky. So still the armadillo sat, you would think he was watching the sunrise. Every sun rise still bore beauty. This particular morning as the dawn broke out flashes of amber and rose and deep cinnamon exploded out and illuminated the whole valley with color. It was the only time of day where color could still be seen. This was usually the time of day when more sensible animals would burrow back into their caves beneath the earth, but that armadillo seemed completely at his ease watching the sky.
With the light, came the rising dust jubilant in the morning. Forming a circle, the dust danced across the armadillo’s line of sight, twirling in a tornado of fine grain. The armadillo watched all this with detachment, his eyes focused solely on the rays of light pointing their fingers upward over the mountaintops.
The tornado swung across the armadillo’s line of sight, arching and bending as it rushed to meet the sun, picking up dirt in its path. Just as the sun arched over the very tip of Mount Boreal into the Sugar Bowl below the spinning dust captured the rays of light and flung them shimmering away as the tornado broke down, settling as if under the sun’s weight. The flying dust, now a chaotic cloud, near blinded the curious armadillo in the storm. He blinked his eyes in pain, but that only made it worse as his eyelashes captured more dust with every twitch. In frustration he scurried away to hide and rub his eyes.
There was no one to see what followed. As the dust spread it cast a golden glimmer over the whole side of the mountain and for a moment, it was beautiful.