JULY 8, 2011
Andrew Morgan was pretty sure he was still on Earth, although the number of extraterrestrials surrounding him made him wonder. To his left was a six-foot-tall gray alien with bulbous black eyes that reflected the glare of streetlights overhead. As an alien, he would have been more believable if he weren’t handing out fliers for a barbeque joint two blocks down the main drag. And the woman with green skin, an extra eye glued to her forehead, and a pair of wire antennae sprouting from her coal-black hair would have been more convincing if she weren’t wearing a worn pair of New Balance sports shoes.
Morgan had expected to see people dressed in homemade costumes wandering the streets of Roswell, New Mexico. He had done his homework, and like everyone in the United States, he knew about the 1947 alleged UFO crash in the nearby desert and the ensuing cover-up.
Entertaining as the tourists were, and fascinating as Roswell’s history was, Andrew didn’t care. He wasn’t there for aliens or crashed UFOs. He cared nothing for such nonsense. His mission was serious. He had come because the end of the world was less than a year and a half away. Then the world would change for him and a few billion others.
December 21, 2012, or 12-21-12, would arrive, and everything would be different—assuming anyone survived.
Sixty-three years earlier, a flying saucer supposedly crashed seventy-five miles outside of town—all UFO aficionados knew the crash was closer to Corona, New Mexico. Roswell, however, got all the credit. Over the last two decades, the city of less than 50,000 had become Mecca to every kind of oddness, cult group, and paranormal adherent.
Morgan had been to the town before, but never during the annual UFO festival. Watching the costumed tourists crowding normally quiet streets made Morgan shake his head. Roswell could well be remembered for many things. Rocket pioneers did much of their work here. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach played football at New Mexico Military Institute. Demi Moore, John Denver, and other famous people were born in Roswell. Does anyone remember that? Nope.
Morgan was a man of science as well as business. Being CEO and president of Morgan Natural Energy made him wealthy and able to pursue his passions, a passion that narrowed from a spotlight to a laser beam. He enjoyed mysteries, and he had done his share of investigation in UFOs, cryptozoology, and other fringe subjects. He didn’t believe the stories, but he did find them entertaining. That was before he learned the world was coming to an end. Such truth tended to push other thoughts from the mind. He had many thoughts he wanted pushed away.
Struggling to move through the crowds, Morgan pressed forward like a salmon swimming upstream. He reminded himself to be patient and enjoy the ambience. He was a man on a mission.
Five blocks from the parking lot where he left his Beemer, Morgan arrived at a movie theater built in the early sixties. This week, Morgan imagined, the owners were making far more money renting the facility to groups bringing in experts from the far regions of the world (and of reason). One, however, was different.
Morgan was here to see Robert Quetzal, the last Mayan priest.
Marcus McCue was a drunk, but he was a dedicated drunk. He took to drinking like Mozart took to music—like Michelangelo took to canvas and marble. Rare was the man who understood his skills and his limitations like Marcus understood his. Marcus had many limitations but only one skill: He could hold his liquor, at least most nights.
It was still early in the evening when Marcus pushed open the marred blue door leading from the Tavern on the Green bar and into the Arizona evening. The door was the only thing in Tacna, Arizona, that bore more scars than he.
Marcus glanced at the bar’s sign: TAVERN ON THE GREEN. The name always amused him. There was nothing green around the bar, and aside from the occasional lawn in front of some home, there was no green in Tacna: just sandy dirt, pitiful-looking desert plants, dust roads, sidewalks, and tumbleweeds.
Overhead, a bejeweled, cloudless sky returned his gaze. This part of town had few streetlights, allowing the stars to shine without interference. The only art Marcus could appreciate was that created by the constellations.
As a boy, he spent many of his evenings staring through a telescope at the twinkles in the sky. The small refractor lacked enough power to render the rings of Saturn, but that didn’t matter. Marcus’s imagination filled in what was missing. The warmth of memory rose in him, and he smiled at the moon. Good times. Good times until the old man got home.
Marcus’s father had also been a dedicated drunk. Marcus came by it honestly. He started drinking when he was thirteen, following an especially severe beating from his dad. At first, he would sneak sips from his old man’s stock, but Marcus Sr. would catch him, and he would communicate his displeasure with his fists.
His mother, a saint with graying red hair, begged him to stay away from booze. He promised to do so. That was when he became a dedicated liar. She left six months later, and he never heard from her again. His father said she died in Phoenix. He had no idea if that was true. Forty years later, he wasn’t sure he cared.
His gaze drifted across the street to the auto repair shop he inherited from his father. He hated that shop. He hated its origins. It smelled of his father. Still, it provided enough income to pay for his mobile home, frozen dinners, and Jim Beam. He worked during the day, just as his father had, in a slight fog and with a persistent buzz. He had been staining his hands with grease since he was sixteen.
“Too many years,” he told the night.
He felt depression coming on. He scolded himself for the thought. Of course he was depressed. He’d been depressed since his eighth birthday when he realized his family was nothing but trash. Drinking a depressant didn’t help.
“You ain’t so bad.” This time he mumbled to himself. “You kicked drugs, and you didn’t bring any kids into the world that might turn out like you. Nope, you ain’t so bad. Just two more battles to win.”
The first battle was his chain smoking. Marcus had quit smoking many times. He was quitting again, just as soon as he finished this last pack of Marlboros. Maybe after he finished the carton. The last battle would be the booze, but there was no sense taking on too much at one time. He had time. He had nothing but time.
He pulled a cigarette from the pack he kept in the front pocket of his stained overalls and placed the filtered end in his mouth, and then he drew a lighter from another pocket and flicked on the flame.
The glow seemed brighter in the dim light. He squinted, blocking out the glare and the twisting smoke of tobacco.
He released the lighter’s starter, but the glare remained. Odd.
A distant glow in the sky captured his attention. A falling star? No. He took a drag on the cigarette then pulled it away from his lips, his eyes frozen on the greenish light hanging in the sky.
“Nova. That’s gotta be it.”
Marcus thought he heard a distant roar. That’s when he realized the spot of light was moving—and growing.
“It can’t be.”
Over the years, Marcus had seen meteors streak the sky. It was one of the few benefits of living in a town that was little more than a wide spot on the road. The kind of place people passed but never visited.
He had only been drinking for a few hours, so most of his brain cells had yet to be pickled for the night. There should be a tail. Where’s the tail?
As if on cue, a short green and white tail appeared. So did fiery globs that dropped from the moving object and trailed behind it, creating their own tails.
Should be longer. Tail’s too short.
A boom rolled along the desert as the object broke the sound barrier.
Yup. Tail should…be…longer.
A frightening realization wormed through the alcohol-induced haze: The tail wasn’t too short—Marcus couldn’t see it because the object was coming right at him.
Nah. Can’t be.
A second later, he changed his mind.
“Boys. Boys! You gotta see this.” A voice in the back of his mind tried to remind him that no one in the bar could hear him over the raging country music and loud conversation.
Another boom. This one rattled the bar’s blackened windows and the blue door. The light had grown from distant star to plummeting fireball. Smaller pieces rained from the main body.
“Hey, Marc, what’d ya do? Bump into the building?” It was Gary’s voice, a trucker who broke up his routine drive with two beers every night. Not even Marcus was that stupid. “If you can’t stand on your own two feet…What is that?”
“Meteor.” His voice was so low he could barely hear himself.
“It’s a UFO, ain’t it?” Gary stepped to Marcus’s side.
“Don’t be a fool, Gary. It’s a meteor.”
The light doubled in size. “It looks like it’s headed right for…” Gary was gone. Marcus heard the blue door open and shut. A muted shout that sounded a lot like Gary pressed through the walls and windows.
The object was close enough that its light blocked out the stars.
What remained of Marcus’s instinct for survival screamed in his head. “Uh-oh.” Marcus threw himself to the ground, pressing himself against the wall. If he could, he would have started digging through the concrete walkway.
He could hear it approaching. He thought of a train. The ground shook. Or maybe it was Marcus who shook.
He felt it. The concrete seemed to lift a foot off the ground. The sound—a bomb-sized explosion—stabbed his ears and vibrated through his body.
There was light.
There was heat.
There was ear-pummeling noise.
So this is it. This is how I die. Drunk. On the ground. Crushed by a big rock from the sky. At least it has class.
Marcus didn’t die. He lay curled like a fetus, his hands covering his head, arms protecting as much face as possible.
Glass broke. A thousand bits of space shrapnel pounded the parking lot and pummeled the wall next to him. It sounded like someone had pulled the trigger on an automatic rifle and refused to let go.
“Marcus! You okay, dude?” Big Bennie the bartender stood over him. “Talk to me, man.”
Slowly, Marcus opened his eyes and then sat up. Behind Bennie stood the rest of the pub’s patrons.
“You hurt, pal?” Gary’s voice. It sounded distant. Marcus’s ears rang and felt as if someone had packed a pound of cotton in each ear.
Without speaking, Marcus stood, wobbled, and looked at his auto shop across the street. Its roof and two walls had collapsed. The sheet-metal wall facing the street that separated the bar and shop bowed out.
Turning, Marcus saw dozens of holes in the wall of the bar and several broken windows. Fragments had hit the wall like pellets from a shotgun blast. That raised a concern with Marcus. He looked at his arms, legs, and body. No blood. No pain.
“It missed me. Not a scratch.”
“You’re one lucky drunk,” Bennie said. “You fared better than my bar.”
“Not so lucky, guys.” Gary pointed at the shop. “You won’t be salvaging much from that mess, Marc. That big rock ruined you. What are the odds?”
Marcus felt something well up inside of him. It took a moment to realize what it was. He bent and placed his hands on his knees. His shoulders began to shake. His head bobbed.
“It’s all right, dude.” Gary put a hand on Marcus’s shoulder. “Let it out. Ain’t no one here gonna blame you for crying.”
Marcus straightened, unable to hold back the emotion. A loud guffaw erupted from deep inside him.
“What’re you laughin’ at?” The bartender seemed offended. “Maybe you’re drunker than I realized.”
Another roaring laugh filled the night. Marcus wiped a tear from his eyes. “Don’t you bums get it?” He pointed at the burning remains of his shop. “I’m rich, boys. I am rich.”