I’m in the van listening to Nina Simone, my over-coffee’d bladder just beginning to throb a warning that will see us at a rest stop in the next twenty-or-so minutes. The landscape here can’t make up its mind; we drove out of a snowstorm in Colorado to hit the plains and see the snow-covered ground end abruptly, as if there was a line drawn on the ground by God’s own spacecrayon. We pass Las Vegas, NM, a two-story town that commands three whole exits off I-25, that would fool only the most naïve of unguided foreign travelers into believing that they had reached the West’s mecca of sin. As we move on from the silver twinkie-covered lost Vegas, the terrain shifts again, straw-toned sere vegetation abruptly covered with dark green bushes and stunted trees, the evergreen hiding the never-green, making a secret of the yellow grass and the reddish dirt it covers.
This is where I am when the sky catches fire.
About an hour and a half before, we had stopped to fill up the van and empty ourselves, but since nature hadn’t called me, I opted to grab some coffee instead. The girl behind the counter looked like she had been sweet once, maybe about ten hours beforehand when she was just beginning her shift. Now her smile was thin, but sincere, just barely reaching her tired eyes. I ordered a medium drip and as she turned to grab it, she made small talk.
“You guys on a road trip?” she asks.
“Yeah, we’re a band on tour, headed to Vegas.” She perks up a little at this.
“Oh, what type of music do you play? Do you want cream and sugar?” I nod and tell her that we do a mix of Stax soul and post-punk. She hands me my coffee and rings me up, I pay her and as I’m about to walk out to have a quick smoke before piling back into the van she asks, “Are you driving?”
Weird, I think. I answer in the negative and wish her a pleasant day. She smiles fully and nods goodbye.
Cut back to: The Fucking SKY being ON FUCKING FIRE.
The landscape just changed to more Yellowstone-y, evergreen-covered foothills when off in the distance, I see what looks like a larger version of a hobbyist’s homemade hi-fly rocket jump into the air. Its ascent slows as it gains altitude and I’m imagining some geeked-out boy scout troop off in the distance watching its trajectory so they can race to the spot where they think it’ll come down, to salvage what they can and possibly get in another launch before sunset. The object reaches the arc of its climb and hangs for a brief moment. It glints in the sunlight then sends out a wave of bright flame. An orange curtain spreading out from this thing, whatever it is, and separating the ground from the blue sky.
A silver hatchback about an eighth of a mile ahead of us swerves suddenly into the ditch between the eastbound and westbound lanes. BT, who’s driving, is also jolted by this sudden weirdness but keeps a steady hand on the wheel. We come to a none-too-abrupt stop and get out of the van, the four of us racing toward the hatchback but staring at the sky. Despite all I just told you, we don’t seem to be in any immediate danger; the curtain of fire doesn’t seem to be descending, just spreading out to the horizon in all directions.
Andy was the first to reach the still-upright hatchback, but it had broken its front axle on a rock jutting from the median-ditch. There was a girl attempting to climb out of the driver’s seat. She had split her lip on the wheel and had blood all down her front. Besides the blood and the swollen lip she was pretty, she had dark hair, and was a little too skinny, wearing a grey men’s polo shirt. Kev got to the passenger seat where there was an older (mid-fifties) white lady staring up at the sky through the windshield. She looked over at Kevin, then over to the empty driver’s seat, noting the blood, then back up at the sky. Kev tried to open up the door, but it stuck and she quickly elbowed the lock down, announcing her intention to stay put.
“R-Rosa,” she called out, “are you alright, honey?”
I looked toward Rosa, whom Andy was supporting by her arm as she unsteadily bent down to look at the lady still in the car. Her chin was smeared with the blood she had wiped away with the bottom of her shirt. Her lower lip was tucked gingerly into her mouth as she sucked away the still-flowing blood and she attempted to answer without first untucking it, which resulted in a barely intelligible “M’okm”. She smiled a bit at this, slight embarrassment peeking out as she looked toward the nice young man who had rushed to her rescue and was still holding her arm with concern-painted eyes.
She took in breath to begin again, but before she could speak her passenger began a shriek that was drowned out by a deep, but unbelievably loud humming that seemed to be coming out of the air around us. We all turned to follow her line of sight, but before we could even understand what had changed about the landscape around us we were bathed in a harsh, deep-red light. The fire curtain above us had taken on a more uniform texture. It looked less like fire and more like a seething plane of maggots or locusts. And it was descending… – JCB