VI: THE CITY
They got back onto the road after a hasty exit from the darkened shop, and Jake watched as the building grew smaller in the distance. When his eyes came back to the front dash, Jake noticed a bright, yellow light emanating from the fuel gauge, shrouding Creek in a phosphorescent glow as he drove. Barreling the truck down the highway, Creek looked over at Jake, who was already looking at him. Jake sighed hard enough for both of them and said under his breath, “I’ll be on the lookout for a gas station…heck, I’ll be on the lookout for anything.”
The truck they had left just minutes ago was now swallowed by the darkness. Its gas tank was bone dry. Against hope, they hadn’t passed a gas station or another car, or even another soul on the road, for that matter. They didn’t get very far, but they got far enough from the shop that they didn’t feel like they were in any immediate danger, and that was good enough for the moment. When the thirsty engine started its death rattle, Creek had used the last remaining juice in the headlights to coast the truck off the road to the far side of a large rock, hiding it the best he could. He took the keys from the ignition, pocketed them, and paused for a moment.
“How’s the head?” He asked Jake with concern.
“I’m alright, boss,” Jake said unconvincingly. “Only hurts a little.”
“As my grandpa would say, ‘If I had a head like that, it’d hurt, too,’” Creek jibed.
Jake let out a breathy laugh.
“You good to walk for a bit?”
Jake followed in Creek’s direct footsteps as he crunched along quickly in the coarse desert sand ahead of him. It was an unconscious game Jake was playing with himself, trying to match Creek step-for-step. But it was keeping his mind from wading into those dangerous waters of thought—where the mind immediately goes to the ones you love more than yourself, wondering what might be happening to them, when all-the-while you can’t even begin to conceive what is happening to you. As the desert night consumed the two like an irreverent black hole, the only sounds to be heard were footsteps and labored breaths.
Creek slipped his backpack from his shoulders while he continued to walk, digging deep into the front pocket. His hand emerged with two small flashlights. He gave one to Jake and slipped the pack’s straps back up onto his shoulders.
“Be sure to kill the light quick, if you see a car coming or hear anyone or anything,” Creek said. “I don’t know what’s happening, but I don’t want to take any chances.”
Jake affirmed with a quick, “Ok.”
Some time passed with more walking in the silence of the night that was now broken up by shards of light swaying along the roadside.
“You think that shopkeeper is gonna be okay?” Jake asked quietly, slightly concerned despite the fact that she just held a gun to his head.
“She’ll be fine. She’ll come to soon. Besides, we cut her loose before we left and locked the door behind us so no one could get in.”
“Think she’ll try to contact somebody or come after us?”
“Nah, we’re miles away now. Besides, with the power out she may not be able to get in touch with anyone.”
“Yeah, what was the deal with the power dropping out? What do you think they were saying on the T.V.?”
“I’m not sure, but I know it wasn’t good. It looked like some major, catastrophic event had happened. The picture was too fuzzy and glitchy to make out before the power dropped. I couldn’t tell where the footage they were showing was from.”
“I don’t like being this far from home without any earthly idea as to what is happening,” Jake said, his voice starting to fail him as he began to think of his wife back in Indiana.
“Don’t go there in your head, man. You don’t know anything until you know something. And right now, we don’t know anything.”
Creek deviated from the direction he’d been heading in. It was only now that the day’s traumas began to dissipate, and Jake realized just exactly what he was doing—stomping through the harsh terrain of a foreign landscape in the middle of the night with little food, little water, and no means of transportation.
“Where are we going?” Jake asked in a slightly overwhelmed tone.
“This road will get us to the border. That’s our priority right now,” said Creek.
“Walking though Tijuana doesn’t exactly give me the warm-fuzzies,” Jake laughed with a hint of concern.
“Same here,” said Creek. “And we may not have to. Once we get closer, we’ll figure out what moves to make.”
In that moment, there was a small crack of thunder in the distance.
“Great. I suppose you didn’t grab some ponchos or garbage bags at the store?” Jake asked.
Creek looked around and veered quickly from the direction in which he’d been heading and made straight for a rocky rise in the distance.
“C’mon,” is all Creek said to Jake.
“What in the world…” Jake said in a tone that questioned Creek’s actions.
“I don’t think that was thunder,” is all Creek said.
Jake got quiet and fell back into his pattern of following Creek’s movements. The two scaled the large, rocky hill in front of them, slipping on loose gravel and sand and inching up a steep climb on the rock face at the very top. Exhaustion had set in long before the two conquered the climb. They were both running on fumes, but they had made it to the top. Gathering his breath, Jake looked up. Tijuana loomed in the distance. Jake squinted hard and concentrated, looking in the direction of the border city. Against the backdrop of the star-encrusted desert night, the city seemed to glow, faintly. It was mysterious and beautiful.
“What is that?” Jake asked with equal amounts of confusion and awe.
Creek let out a hard breath of pure bewilderment and replied, “The city…it’s…on fire.”
“Now we know something,” Jake said in awestruck horror, watching Tijuana burn like a single candle in a vast, dark room.