Two figures glimmer in the waves of heat rising from the dry lakebed. Stretched before them, the Bonneville Salt Flats, a vast expanse of white, blinding under the merciless Utah sun. No shelter or shade for miles. The only sound is the rhythmic crunching of their shoes on the crumbling surface, and the distant booms of rockets and guns and war.
The girl trudges glassy-eyed across the barren landscape. Her plump brown cheeks stained with dried tears. She wears jeans, a blue t-shirt, sneakers.
The man wipes his forehead, erasing one of the cakey-white contour lines that map the exhausted topography of his face. He glances at his fingers. The tips are covered in the salty residue of evaporated sweat. He wipes them on his expensive suit.
Extending for miles behind them, two sets of footprints, carved in the crusty layer of salt. Beyond those, columns of thick black smoke roil in the stagnant sky.
An explosion booms, the reverberations snake through earth and air. Behind them, another inky tower spirals upward.
The man and girl shamble in silence, not looking back, keeping their gaze on the horizon, towards the mountains.
The man stumbles and falls. He lands on all fours, then rolls to a sitting position. The girl keeps walking. He squints as she shimmers, shifts from a child to a blue bird, back to a blue girl. He stands unsteadily, and with a few long strides, catches up to her.
An engine whines in the distance. They turn to look at it, wary. A silver and blue bus emerges from a cloud of chalky dust. It skates across a pool of water toward them.
A mirage the man thinks. He remembers the last time he was here, when he witnessed the incredible feats of human engineering. A man broke the land speed record in a jet-fuelled car shaped like a rocket. And there was the diesel-powered truck, leaving a trail of thick black smoke…
The bus stops, an impossible oasis on wheels. Emblazoned across the side: SLC Salt Lake City International Airport and the SLC logo – an abstract purple mountain and bird flying over it. Several bullet holes pierce the bird.
The front doors swoosh open.
The man looks at the bus, then to the endless expanse before them. He steps inside, the girl follows.
A thirtyish woman sits in the driver’s seat. She’s wearing green hospital scrubs. Her nearly imperceptible nod acknowledges them.
Propped against the cracked windshield is a cardboard sign: Welcome to SLC. Your driver is Javier Vega. Have a great journey! It’s accompanied by a smiling photo of Javier, a bald man in his sixties.
Four passengers are peppered across the moulded plastic seats. The door closes, the bus moves. The man and girl walk down the aisle trying to keep their balance.
An elderly woman in beige overalls smiles at them. She hugs a chicken. It clucks. Lounging on the other side of the aisle, a young black man sizes them up, are they a threat? He crosses his arms, returns to staring out the window.
At the back of the bus, two teenagers, conspiring. The one in a high-school cheerleading outfit whispers something to the other, a girl in a colourful hijab.
The man slides into the row ahead of them. The girl sits next to him. His eyebrows rise, momentarily creasing a salty contour line.
“Hey, you want some water?” The cheerleader hands a small bottle to the girl.
The blue bird girl takes the bottle, opens it, gulps.
“I’m Ruby,” the cheerleader says, “that’s Nazima.”
Nazima smiles, offers a small wave, asks, “Where’d you come from?”
“I-eighty,” he says.
“What’s it like?”
A series of images flash in his mind before he can quash them.
He pounds the leather steering wheel of his BMW, swears at the stalled semi-truck blocking his view of the road ahead.
He storms away from his car to get a better view, farther into the scrub at the side of the road. As far as he can see, turtled traffic heading West on Interstate 80. Behind him, to the East, the distant rumble of rockets and explosions.
A girl in a blue t-shirt emerges from the scrubland, waves to someone in a beat-up pickup truck, skips towards them.
A high-pitched whistle. An eardrum-splitting explosion.
The twisted, blackened, blazing metal skeletons of trucks and cars and buses.
People running past him, screaming, on fire.
The man blinks, shakes his head, replies, “It was a logjam, thought I’d walk.”
“I had to pee,” the girl says.
The man blows out a long breath, turns toward the girl. She gives him the water bottle. He drinks.
“We’re going to Wyoming,” Nazima says.
“Jackson Hole,” Ruby adds.
“You ever been to Wyoming?” Nazima asks.
The girl says, “I have to pee.”
“My brother works in Jackson Hole.”
From the front of the bus, the chicken squawks.
“I have to pee.”
“Can you hold it?” the man asks.
The girl shakes her head. The girl and man stand, make their swaying way to the front of the bus.
“We need a comfort break,” the man says, gripping a pole next to driver to keep his balance.
The driver shakes her head. The girls hops from foot to foot.
“Stop the bus, man. She gotta go,” the young man says.
The driver grimaces, drives on.
“Yo driver. I gotta go too. Probably everybody do. Some of us been on here since Salt Lake City.”
The chicken squawks.
The driver shakes her head. But she slows down. The bus rolls to a stop.
She opens the doors, says, “I’m leaving if you’re not back in two minutes!”
The man and girl step out, followed by the young man and the elderly woman, and lastly the teenagers.
The driver watches as the passengers scatter in pairs. She closes the door and revs the gas pedal, looking at the intended path ahead.
“Shit!” she mutters, as she kills the engine. She gets out, walks past the front of the bus, heading North.
A loud, high-pitched whistle.
Racing across the sky toward the bus is a small missile.
“Down! Get down!” the man screams.
The young man runs to the elderly woman, huddles her to the ground. The teens pancake themselves to the salty surface. The driver dives and lands with hard thud.
The man turns to protect the girl. She’s sitting cross-legged on the lakebed, gazing placidly to the North and the mountains beyond. He crouches over her.
A tremendous explosion rocks the earth. Flaming pieces of twisted metal shoot in the air, plummet to the ground.
A section lands next to the man and girl. It’s the SLC logo from the side of the bus: the purple mountain, the edges of the metal are charred, smoking.
The man scans the sky for more rockets. The only sound, the crackling of the bus as it burns.
The young man helps the elderly lady stand. He asks, “Everybody okay?”
People nod, brush the salt from their clothes.
The chicken pecks near the elderly lady's feet.
“Damn, that was close,” he mumbles.
The man and the girl watch flames lick the remains of the bus.
“I had to pee,” the girl says.
The man nods.
The passengers trek across the lakebed as the sky turns orange then pink with the setting sun. Behind them, a column of black smoke rises from the ruined vehicle.
They walk toward the far horizon, to the purple mountain.