In that ethereal world between waking and sleep, I hear the low, crescendoing rumble of an airplane. The power is out; has been out; the darkness is profound. The power-outing storm swells against my window. If not for the growing roar, I would hear heard the pit-a-pat of white wind-borne pellets of frozen atmosphere, being rebuffed against my window.
Don’t be absurd, reasoned the half-waking mind. It’s just a big truck–like a UPS truck, a semi–driving down the road. But then, while these thoughts were still forming I felt it, intensely, more than I heard it. Impact. Collision of a huge and incredible force against terra-firma, deafening, shaking my bed, shaking the heart within me.
Suddenly wide awake. My god. What was that? It’s dark–pitch black–so I grope my way to the window, where my hands find the cord and pull open the shade. I’m cold, in my boxers. I look in vain in to the black oblivion, expecting to see flames and burning wreckage. I see is blackness. Profound blackness. Maybe it’s out of my field of vision.
Headlamp. It’s by my bed, someplace. Grope my way to the bed. Grope blindly through the clothes on the floor. Gotcha. Light. Thank god. Wow, that’s bright. Already, I feel so much better.
But what was that? I wasn’t dreaming. I know I wasn’t. Something crashed. Let’s go. Pants. Check. Shirt. Christ! Oh, just lightning. Sweatshirt. Check. Cell-phone, to call help. Check. Camera, to document. Check. Keys. Socks. Beanie. Ok, let’s go.
Headlamp lights the way, piercing the darkness. Pull the cord, drag open the heavy garage door by hand, breaking the seal against the blowing white ice and wind. Start the car, turn on the headlights (thank god! light!), back out. Get out, re-seal the garage, back out of the driveway.
A solitary car, two beacons of yellow-light, in a snowy tempest. The incongruity is almost palpable: the only light, the only life in a post-apocalyptic, war-of-the-worlds world. It’s eerie, the utter lack of life. In my car-capsule, warmth, light, I’m sealed against the outside world. The only survivor in an otherwise dead empty and black landscape.
I drive toward the direction the explosion came from. Brilliant bursts of lightning occasionally illuminate the deserted, lifeless landscape, in the midst of the tempest, heightening the effect.
At the top of a ridge, I stop to look out. There’s light from the direction of the military base. Of course. They produce their own electricity. And as I look, in an instant the landscape is illuminated and I’m struck blind. The only thing I can see is the white outline of the bolt of lightning, seared into the coronas of my eyes, fading. In the absence of sight, every other sense is overwhelmed by the terrible explosion of thunder. This too, felt more than heard.
Some hours or seconds pass, and I regain my sight. My headlights once again push back the oppressive darkness, and I drive on. I circle the neighborhood, and note a candle. It’s darker now, as the frozen heavens fills the space between with even greater intensity. The lightning’s illumination is lessened. Not satisfied by the absence of an obvious source of the crash that pulled me to a cruel and surreal reality, I slowly turn toward the highway to continue my search.
Again! Illumination and blindness, and an explosion so close and powerful it loosens the lashings of my soul within me. Again, the seared image of immeasurable power, but this time so close: the next ridge over, and no further. I regain hold of reality, but now in the iron grip of fear. Self-preservation kicks in. My hands grip the wheel, and turn my car towards safety and security. Somnambulating, Mark and car pull slowly into a driveway; the cold surrounds but doesn’t touch him as he once again breaks the seal of the garage, cold fingers forcing a gap between garage-door and ground, room for hands, break the seal, open the door.
Wake up in my room. My headlamp still wards off the darkness. It must have been lightning, I reason. Wake up in my room, sunlight streaming in through the window. The shade is still up. Must have been thunder, I reason.
But I’m still not satisfied. I’ve been haunted on these high plains by sounds unnatural, powerful and inexplicable before.