They came out of the blue sky.
I had lookout duty. Most of us hated it, because we stayed up late with the music and the meditation and the feast. While I won’t claim to have enjoyed getting shaken awake and creeping through camp to my post, there was something to be said for the early morning quiet with a turkey leg from the night before to munch on, the cup of instant coffee — albeit cold, because there was not hot water, and besides, who would want the ordeal of spilling hot coffee on oneself on the climb up the rope ladder to the top of the sycamore?
It was rough those mornings it rained, the cold winter mornings made colder for the cloud cover. But days like this one, when the sun was mostly up, when the sky was clear, and I had the earth and the birds’ chirping and the last remnants of the campfire smell to myself — it was almost good.
And then they were there.
Dark masses. The way they spread their wings, you might have thought they were bats, or birds of prey. They seemed to grow longer as they glided closer. Gliding on the wind. Our wind. As they loomed close enough you’d think it was night.
It was my job to wake camp. To announce they were coming — The Glorious Arrival that had been prophesized.
But in the moment, I could not connect their arrival to glory, to what I’d hoped for. I knew only terror.
They missed me, obscured in leaves and branches. They descended upon camp, hard and fast. Fell like blankets, a dozen tents each, their mixture of swallowing and smothering. Their feasting.
I ran for Cecily, for Cecily and the girls, but there was no distinguishing them. The Arrival had already turned to The Assimilation, as they connected, more than blankets but one unified tarp, a field, an ocean, a sky, all blackness, all glossy.
I should have joined them. Forced my way, underneath, inside. I know.
But I ran. Stayed on earth, rejoined society, if just the fringes. A job pumping gas at the edge of civilization, the last stop before a hundred miles of desert, working swing shifts that felt like lookouts themselves. I took my pay under the table. A mutual agreement that meant I took less money and there were no questions about my name or where I’d come from.
The manager told me I was free to read the magazines. Because most nights, it would be quiet. I could help myself to coffee, to the fountain sodas, too. The rule was to not fall asleep. That was inviting shoplifters. Somehow, they knew when there was no one to stop them. They would come.
I didn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. I watched the road for oncoming lights, for descending darkness. For them. For Cecily. For someone else who survived. Certain, one day, they’d arrive. Praying this time, I might be ready.
Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and is an alum of Oregon State’s MFA Program. He won Bayou Magazine’s Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction and has work published or forthcoming in journals including The Normal School, Passages North, and Hobart. He works as a contributing editor for Moss. Find him online at miketchin.com or follow him on Twitter @miketchin.
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