The long road to Vegas was filled with speed demons and tired truck drivers.
Most drove somewhere close to 90 m.p.h. as they roared northeast up the I-15 Freeway.
It was empty; as vacant as a freeway should be at the twilight hours before the sun begins to rise.
Jack eyed the clock and figured the east coast was beginning to wake up and hear the news about the invasion.
He shuffled through stations hearing nothing of interest just rock n’ roll or highway country music. No cut-ins mentioning anything about that tilted bowl situated outside his apartment complex.
It took him nearly 90 minutes to get past Victorville and the temperature lowered with each foot of elevation he ascended in the high desert. He clicked button after button on the radio eager to hear the latest news.
There was nothing.
“It happened, right? I’m not crazy.”
Another half-hour and he was pulling into the Mobil in Barstow. A brightly lit canopy showcased twenty gas pumps. Two were taken with an RV and a cheap sedan with a rusted passenger-side door and more miles than the earth to the moon.
Jack exited his car and headed inside the mini-mart.
The doors slid open and he was immediately met by a woman who sat behind the counter – she was probably too young to drink the 40’s she sold out of the cooler. She stuffed her face with Doritos and watched a horror film on her tilted iPad.
The chainsaw growled to life and the female character screamed – she wasn’t going to make it out of that scene alive.
The woman had no intention of lowering the volume or pausing to take care of her customer.
Jack grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator and walked to fill up a large coffee from the pot on the heater.
“Is this old?” He asked hoping to engage the cashier.
“How old is it?”
She shrugged her shoulders keeping her eyes on the iPad.
Wanting the caffeine, Jack poured it and tossed French Vanilla creamer.
He picked up trail mix on the way to the counter.
“Have you heard about anything strange going on?”
Finally the cashier looked away from her movie for more than a half-second.
“In Barstow, at this time, I only see strange things.”
“Like anything alien?” He hesitantly followed up.
“Alien? Like space alien or illegal alien?”
Jack pointed skyward.
“That kind of alien.”
She shook her head.
“Not lately. I had someone come in two weeks ago swearing he saw a UFO fluttering over the desert and wanted to use the phone to call the police.” She rang up Jack’s order. “The cops took the report. I think it annoys them.”
Jack held back any further comments.
That seemed expensive but Jack opened his wallet and decided to use the credit card thinking that cash may be a commodity soon.
Before exiting, he went to the ATM and inserted his debit card. He took out $200, $203.95 with the service fee, and headed back to his car.
He pumped a full tank and continued northbound on I-15.
The clear night gave way to the bright light of the Luxor illuminating the sky; a visible accomplishment from nearly 100 miles outside of Vegas, faint but still visible on a cold clear night.
Distance, Jack thought, was key when outrunning whatever was behind him but he was dog-tired and losing steam in spite of the caffeine kick he ingested just fifty miles back.
He crossed the California/Nevada line and pulled into Whiskey Pete’s, one of the three casinos set up at the border town of Jean to entice those headed to the city of sin to lose their money here or grab the last bits of coin before the gamblers raced back to their owed rent in southern California.
Jack parked and, as he yawned, pulled his seat back.
There was no comfortable position and he twisted and turned; his body refusing to get the much needed rest. The caffeine ran through his blood which did little to keep him awake but just enough to prevent him from closing his eyes for more than a minute.
“Damn it,” he kicked open the car door and headed through the doors of the Whiskey Pete.
It smelled like a casino – smoke billowing from the old ladies pumping dollars into slot machines and beer belly, suspender-wearing men hunched over three card poker tables.
Machines called out their siren ding-ding-ding and an industrial vacuum moved slowly along the dark carpet; its weary operator bored with the mundane work.
Jack walked up to the bar and was greeted by a young man, arms crossed as he passed the idle hours of the early morning. He had a mustache which curved on the edges like he belonged in an Old West saloon.
Jack looked at the TV’s above the bar. Sports, all sports.
“Would you be able to turn on the news?”
“The news?” The bartender replied raising an eyebrow.
The bartender surveyed the area perhaps wondering if it was protocol to clear it with a manager.
“Any particular station?”
Jack shook his head and pulled out his phone. He started scrolling for news but came up with nothing of interest.
The bartender turned on CNN which was coming back from commercial.
“I can’t turn up the volume.”
“That’s fine. Thank you.”
A meteorologist was explaining how a classic Nor’easter was projected to slam New England in the coming hours and how the city was urging people to stay home.
On the scrolling feed at the bottom, Jack caught a glimpse of a report that only stated:
LADWP reporting approx. 1,000,000 customers without power in Los Angeles. Still investigating cause.
Jack headed to the registration desk and inquired about a room asking for a cheaper rate hoping he could get a bed for a few hours.
Forty bucks got him a queen-sized bed on the first floor and a late check out of 1pm.
Minutes later he was basking in the darkness of the room and the comfort of a stiff bed. He closed his eyes and a flood of images swirled in his exhausted brain.
The meteor that wasn’t a meteor.
The scrolling feed on the news station.
These thoughts whirled in his head but his body finally lost the fight against exhaustion and he fell into a long, deep sleep oblivious to the world and anything going on.
Until the knock at the door.
The rapping knuckles caused his eyes to shoot open and he lifted his heavy body into a seating position.
He hadn’t moved an inch. The bed was still made, the sheet unruffled.
Just the indentation in the comforter of where he had collapsed.
“Housekeeping.” It was broken English at best.
He heard the lock give from the opposite side of the door but the bolt prevented it from opening at all. Jack assumed that was the only clue she would need.
What time is it? Jack wondered.
He searched the dark for the alarm clock.
There was no further knocking and Jack pondered how a hotel wouldn’t clue its staff in on late check-outs. They always seemed to assume that people were up and out the door by 9 and that’s when they started on their rounds.
Jack fell back onto the bed and closed his eyes.
This time it didn’t work out so well.
His curiosity was beating out his desire to fall back asleep.
He stood up and walked to the blackout shade. Whipping it open, he was nearly blinded by the desert sun beaming down from a bright blue sky.
Jack groaned and turned around to find a remote control for the boxy television locked down on the dresser.
The TV came to life.
“How old is this?”
There was a soccer game on and so he started pressing the arrow button to move upwards in channels landing on a cartoon, then a Korean language game show of some kind, then sports, and then more sports, and then more sports, and then a cable news station.
And there it was.
“…What’s the role of the National Guard and law enforcement in Los Angeles at this moment?” Louis Greer, the commentator with bugged eyes behind hipster glasses and a full head of white hair, asked.
Responding was Lester Bemis, LAPD communications according to the graphic; he looked tired. He had a young face and the onset of a silver fox running along the sides of his hair. “We’re still determining the cause of the blackout and the mysterious meteor-type structure that seems to have fallen in the San Fernando Valley,” he answered.
“Could this be terrorism?”
“We’re not ruling out anything at the moment.”
“But do you think it’s terrorism?” Greer pressed.
“I really don’t have that answer.”
“Because there’s been terror cells disrupted recently in London and we’ve found that oftentimes when a terrorist thinks they’re about to be discovered and arrested, they’ll strike.”
“I can’t comment on that,” the city representative frustratingly answered. “What we know is that something is disrupting our system making it so the electricity and communication isn’t able to flow freely out of the affected areas.”
“Can law enforcement talk with one another through walkie-talkie?”
“Communication is limited.”
“That includes footage from news feeds and social media. Generally we see videos or commentary uploaded to Twitter but that’s not the case.”
“Has footage been able to be shot and then taken out of this so-called dark zone in which it can be viewed?”
“We’ve had agents go in and shoot footage. It will be analyzed.”
“When will it be made public?”
“As soon as it can be.”
“There’s been rumor of an object that landed near Sherman Oaks. Can you comment on that?”
“Everything is still in the initial investigation stage so I really can’t comment on it.”
“Okay, thank you, Lester Bemis from LAPD communications,” Greer said and then looked directly into the camera. “More updates on this strange occurrence happening now in Los Angeles when we come back.”
As the blood pressure medication commercial started, Jack walked back to the window and stared out at the desert. Nothing unusual seemed to be taking place nearby but there was still a part of him that felt the urge to run.
North, he thought. Then east.
And soon, he didn’t want to be snarled in a traffic jam from the others he believed would be fleeing too.