The calculations had been long and elaborate. Erudite texts from Assyrian caves, astrological casting, and channeled messages from the Earth Mother were in agreement: The Earth would end in the year 7315 of the Wyronian Calendar. Those of us at lower levels of enlightenment understood this to be 2032 A.D. Wiccans of all kinds and even Gnouribian Christians agreed: March 21st was the spring equinox, and in this extraordinary year, this date coincided with the full moon and with Easter Sunday. The Rapture was imminent.
Precise details about the event were more difficult to divine, and it was on these matters that differences arose. Without dissent, it was understood that a hole in the Universe would open, sinners would be swallowed up, and the righteous would rise to glory. It was less clear where the cosmic energies would first reach the surface. On this subject, astrology was no help, and unfortunately, portions of the ancient scrolls that might have been useful had suffered damage − cockroaches were suspect. A search of the surviving papyrus revealed the characters san . . . , cact . . . , and . . . ake. After suitable study, these were interpreted to be sand, cactus, and snake. The event would occur somewhere in a great desert. Wiccans held seances to reach the divine power of the Universe (properly referred to with the pronoun they), and these efforts were more productive. Of course the Rapture would begin in California and would occur at sunrise. The energy flux would reach the Earth’s surface south of Death Valley and precisely 3.27 miles north from Shoshone. The channeled spirit was less exact about where the measurement of 3.27 miles was to begin. Throughout the enlightened world, excitement rose to a fevered pitch as preparations got underway.
As the date approached, motels were full from Barstow east to the state line and north to the Longshore Casino. Amazon offered a discount on white robes but quickly ran out of supplies, and in Vegas high rollers were accepting exorbitant odds. Bleachers were assembled along highway 127 for spectators, and needless to say, there was considerable competition to reserve the best seats. Two mountaintops were separately claimed to be cosmic epicenters, and it was unfortunate that otherwise reasonable parties sometimes quarreled bitterly. Wiccans denounced the religious for their stultifying orthodoxy, while Gnouribians railed against blasphemous heathens. It should be noted that the local community, while not entirely in sympathy, was not unaware of the commotion.
The brewery in Tecopa quickly adapted and soon did a brisk business in “Old Glory,” a dark beer with fifteen percent alcohol. Connoisseurs remarked approvingly on a delicate bouquet of sulfur. Steak and Beer added a lunch item called “Heavenly Special,” advertised at the shockingly low price of $33, and the Charlie Brown store ran out of toilet paper. Not all services were directed toward physical needs. An itinerant pastor offered baptisms at the borehole hot spring, and although Saturday evening music continued as always on the stage beside the Bistro, it was noted by some that Paul Barnes and Ryan Thomas sometimes passed the hat between songs. All of this, of course, was in anticipation of the grand concluding spectacle.
Early on Saturday evening crowds gathered along the highway in anticipation of climbing the mountain (one or the other) for the sunrise event. Signs at some campgrounds extolled “Excelsior.” Others proclaimed “Biker Dudes for Jesus.” Dress among the throng ranged from tie-died bedsheets, to motorcycle leathers, to Polynesian saris, to chain mail, to tuxedos, to . . . nothing at all. At midnight, with a full moon directly overhead, a faint cloud gathered on the western edge of the Amargosa Basin. It grew and darkened and within an hour the moon was no longer visible. Worse yet, rain began, a sprinkle at first and then a torrent. Water poured down the canyons, tents collapsed, the faithful (all kinds) scrambled for cover, and mud poured over the roads. As morning arrived, the rain stopped, the clouds parted, and the sun rose in the east, warm and comforting.
At first, the congregants spread out their clothes to dry, but then they realized that the world was still present, and that they were still standing on its surface. It was terribly embarrassing as the crowd streamed back into town. The preachers and the seers equivocated. Some declared that the change to daylight saving time had disrupted their calculations, that the presence of the Wiccans (or the Gnouribians, depending upon your viewpoint) had unbalanced the energy sphere, or that cockroaches (or channel interference) had distorted the message. Of course, the faithful were more concerned about finding something to eat.
The Crowbar Café was doing a brisk business selling coffee and offered a new menu item called Sunrise Omelet. After placing my order, I heard someone at a table behind me remark: “This was really pretty cool. We should do it again next year.”
Craig Deutsche is a retired high school teacher, a confirmed desert rat, and a frequent visitor to Shoshone, California. The places in the story are real, although the event is not anticipated until 2032.