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PARNELL AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE: MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE, USA

[Gavin Blaire pilots one of the D-17 combat dirigibles that make up the core of America’s Civil Air Patrol. It is a task well suited to him. In civilian life, he piloted a Fujifilm blimp.]

It stretched to the horizon: sedans, trucks, buses, RVs, anything that could drive. I saw tractors, I saw a cement mixer. Seriously, I even saw a flatbed with nothing but a giant sign on it, a billboard advertising a “Gentlemen’s Club.” People were sitting on top of it. People were riding on top of everything, on roofs, in between luggage racks. It reminded me of some old picture of trains in India with people hanging on them like monkeys.

All kinds of crap lined the road—suitcases, boxes, even pieces of expensive furniture. I saw a grand piano, I’m not kidding, just smashed like it was thrown off the top of a truck. There were also a lot of abandoned cars. Some had been pushed over, some were stripped, some looked burned out. I saw a lot of people on foot, walking across the plains or alongside the road. Some were knocking on windows, holding up all kinds of stuff. A few women were exposing themselves. They must have been looking to trade, probably gas. They couldn’t have been looking for rides, they were moving faster than cars. It wouldn’t make sense, but…[shrugs].

Back down the road, about thirty miles, traffic was moving a little better. You’d think the mood would be calmer. It wasn’t. People were flashing their lights, bumping the cars in front of them, getting out and throwing down. I saw a few people lying by the side of the road, barely moving or not at all. People were running past them, carrying stuff, carrying children, or just running, all in the same direction of the traffic. A few miles later, I saw why.

Those creatures were swarming among the cars. Drivers on the outer lanes tried to veer off the road, sticking in the mud, trapping the inner lanes. People couldn’t open their doors. The cars were too tightly packed. I saw those things reach in open windows, pulling people out or pulling themselves in. A lot of drivers were trapped inside. Their doors were shut and, I’m assuming, locked. Their windows were rolled up, it was safety tempered glass. The dead couldn’t get in, but the living couldn’t get out. I saw a few people panic, try to shoot through their windshields, destroying the only protection they had. Stupid. They might have bought themselves a few hours in there, maybe even a chance to escape. Maybe there was no escape, just a quicker end. There was a horse trailer, hitched to a pickup in the center lane. It was rocking crazily back and forth. The horses were still inside.

The swarm continued among the cars, literally eating its way up the stalled lines, all those poor bastards just trying to get away. And that’s what haunts me most about it, they weren’t headed anywhere. This was the I-80, a strip of highway between Lincoln and North Platte. Both places were heavily infested, as well as all those little towns in between. What did they think they were doing? Who organized this exodus? Did anyone? Did people see a line of cars and join them without asking? I tried to imagine what it must have been like, stuck bumper to bumper, crying kids, barking dog, knowing what was coming just a few miles back, and hoping, praying that someone up ahead knows where he’s going.

You ever hear about that experiment an American journalist did in Moscow in the 1970s? He just lined up at some building, nothing special about it, just a random door. Sure enough, someone got in line behind him, then a couple more, and before you knew it, they were backed up around the block. No one asked what the line was for. They just assumed it was worth it. I can’t say if that story was true. Maybe it’s an urban legend, or a cold war myth. Who knows?

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