Jonathan glanced at his new friend, a fellow traveler like him with no place to go. The thin wool blanket he’d pinched from a nearly cleaned-out hardware store was the only thing between him and freezing to death on this barren Colorado plain. He held his hands over the fire as the two men huddled close together. “What kind of power?”
“Don’t know.” Mark shrugged his thin shoulders. “Ain’t been up there yet.”
“Then how do you know?”
“Seen the lights. They ain’t comin’ from campfires.”
“Go on. You mean they’ve got electricity?” He hadn’t seen electricity since the big quake took the life of Connie, his wife of thirty years and flattened the hills of Santa Barbara.
“Don’t know. But it glows like ‘lectric power.”
“I haven’t seen cities with electricity in years.”
“What tribe you from?” Mark drew a thin windbreaker close around him.
“Santa Barbara,” Jonathan said.
Mark shook his head. “Whatcha doin’ all the way out here?”
“I’ve got a brother here–least I had one. The plague got him.”
“Too bad. You married?
Jonathan swallowed the lump in his throat. “My wife died in the big quake. I was at work. The house shook to pieces. I found her body in the kitchen, buried it in the back yard.”
His empty gut churned. “Two, but I don’t know what happened to them. My daughter was in San Francisco, my son in San Diego. I couldn’t get through the gangs in either city.”
“Tough break. How’d you get outta California?”
“Took a week to walk out.” He shuddered, seeing the destruction in his mind again.
“Been a while since the big quake. Whatcha been doing since?”
Jonathan bristled. “What is this, twenty-one questions?”
“Take it easy.” Mark held up his hands. “Just passing the time. I meant no offense, friend.”
He felt his back relax. It had been a long time since he trusted anybody he’d met on the road enough to talk to them about losing his family. “I’ve been wandering, keeping one step ahead of the gangs.”
The last gang had captured him, wrested his shotgun and Sig Sauer away from him. They didn’t find his Rocky Mountain knife or snub-nosed .38 strapped to his calves. Thank God. He wouldn’t have eaten without them.
Mark appeared thoughtful for a moment then sighed. “Hard to do. No matter where you’re from. They’re vicious.”
“How about you? Are you from around here?”
“Nah. Started out in Houston,” Mark said with a quick shake of his head. “Made it up to Kansas City, stayed there for a while.”
“Cedaredge is a long way from Kansas City.”
“Yeah. Friend ‘a mine said gangs won’t come up here.”
“That’s what I heard.” Jonathan leaned back against his backpack. “I’m tired of running for my life.”
“Walk all the way?”
“Every night. I had to stay off the main roads.”
“What’s left of them,” Mark huffed.
“That made it easier to find food. You know, in old farmhouses and such.”
“Not at first. Everyone that walked with me from California voted to stay in Grand Junction. The city still has some semblance of law and order and not many gangs.”
“Funny, I didn’t see you there.”
“Lots of tribes staked out in different parts of the city. I tried to avoid most of them.”
“Yeah.” Mark got a faraway look in his eyes. “We pretty much kept to ourselves, too.”
“So why haven’t you gone up there yet?” Jonathan pointed toward the mesa with his chin. It was getting dark, but the prominence of the Grand Mesa was clear to see.
“Been thinking about it,” Mark said. “Gettin’ up the nerve I guess.”
“I hear they’ve got some sort of special protection.”
“I don’t know. Someone said they saw aliens or something coming down from the planet when it got real close.”
Mark looked incredulous, snorted. “You believe in that stuff?”
Jonathan kicked at the burning log, sparks flew heavenward. “I don’t know what I believe any more.”
“Me neither. Nothin’s the same.”
Both men fell silent. The last pink glow of sunset faded behind them. With the sun rays gone, the glow from the top of the mesa reminded Jonathan of old Las Vegas before the dam collapsed. He pulled his blanket tighter around him.
Mark’s eyes were locked on the glow against the dark sky. “Look. There it is again.”
Both men stood on their feet.
“Ain’t that the darndest thing,” Mark said in an excited voice.
“I’m going up there,” Jonathan said. He had to know what was going on.
“What, now? Must be ten miles up the road.”
“I don’t care. I want to know if the rumors are true.”
“Maybe,” Jonathan said, his mind made up. “I’ll starve if I stay here. Are you coming with me?”
Mark frowned. “Why not? Got nothin to lose. Let’s go.”
The two men walked north in silence. They left Highway 65 a few hours later to pick their way through the sage brush and scraggly grasses.
“Hang on a second. I need to catch my breath,” Jonathan said, puffing hard because of the altitude.
“Yeah. It’s gonna to be a tough climb from here.”
A drop of sweat rolled down Jonathan’s back. “I swear it’s getting warmer.”
“And the glow is getting brighter.”
“Do you feel that?”
“Don’t know. Like what?”
“I can’t say. It just feels … different.”
“Yeah. I guess.” Mark shifted his weight.
“I feel … lighter, if you know what I mean.”
“Let’s head for that bright spot. They’ve probably got food,” Jonathan said with more confidence than he felt. He was terribly hungry, couldn’t remember the last rabbit he’d caught and skinned.
“That’s a steep climb. You up for it?
“Yeah. I feel better. How about you?”
“It’s weird.” Mark scratched his head. “Like somethin’s drawing me up there.”
“It less than two miles up the Old Grand Mesa Road to the first reservoir,” Jonathan told his new friend. “I remember seeing it on a map back in Grand Junction.”
They trudged on. The road was steep, full of switchbacks. It was nearly midnight before they arrived at the reservoir. Mark paused, leaned over to catch his breath.
Jonathan rubbed his hands together, astonished they were no longer freezing. He paced forward a few more yards.
“Hey, get back down here.” Mark called out, frenzy in his voice. “There’s someone standin’ in the middle of the road up there.”
“I see him.” Jonathan reached down for his .38. It was still there. He hoped he didn’t have to use it. “It doesn’t look like he has a gun.”
“He’s looking right at us. I think he sees us.”
“Well, I don’t care. I’m starving. Let’s see what he’s doing here.”
“You’re crazy. He’ll shoot you for sure.”
“I don’t think so.” Jonathan felt only warmth and peace. “I swear it feels like he’s expecting us.”
“Go ahead. I’m stayin’ right here.” Mark crossed his arms over his chest, held his feet wide apart.
Jonathan marched the hundred yards separating them from the stranger.
“Hello, friend,” the stranger said before Jonathan reached him. He wore a long white robe open at the neck leaving his chest bare. Jonathan wondered if the man was cold without a coat. But he could have sworn the man and his robe glowed.
“Hello,” Jonathan said. “We didn’t expect to see anybody up here so late at night.”
The man smiled. “Why don’t you invite your partner to join us?”
“Do you have any food? We’re starving.”
“There’s plenty to share.” The man gestured down to Mark, “Come.”
Mark hesitantly hiked toward them. The stranger handed them both a simple loaf of bread from a cloth bag hanging at his side. They ate it quickly, thanked the man.
“Looks like you were waiting for us,” Mark said. “Did you know we were coming?”
“This is a common entry point to the mesa,” the man said. “We have watchers here every night, hoping …”
“Hoping for what?” Jonathan asked.
“Hoping more will be courageous like you. We hope more will come join us.”
“What?” Mark asked. “You got an army up here for protection?”
The man’s smile was kind, easy. “No army. At least not in the sense you mean it.”
“What then? We’re tired of running from the gangs.”
“The gangs won’t bother you up here.”
“I’ve heard they tried a couple times a few years back,” Jonathan said.
The man shook his head sending his longish hair swirling around his head. “Yes, it’s true. Those were sad days. So many troubled souls perished from their own foolishness.”
Mark shot Jonathan a quizzical glance. The stranger offered no additional details. That worried Jonathan.
“My name is Abraham,” the man said
“I’m Jonathan from California. This here is Mark. He’s from Texas.”
“Come. Let us go to the city. There is a place for you there.”
“What do you mean?” Mark asked. Abraham led them toward a nearby clump of trees.
He spoke over his shoulder. “There is work to do and plenty of food. You’ll have a warm place to stay. There is much to learn.”
“How far is the walk?” Jonathan asked, rubbing his sore thigh muscles.
“We have no need to walk. My vehicle will carry four comfortably.”
They entered the small grove of trees. Jonathan saw a car unlike any he had ever seen before. It looked like a cross between a DeLorean and a space shuttle from Star Trek.
“Where are the wheels?” Mark asked when he looked closer.
“Get in. You shall see we have no need for wheels.”
Gull wing doors opened when they approached, closed after they climbed inside and sat on comfortable leather seats.
Jonathan noted Mark’s eyes seemed big as saucers. Felt his probably looked the same.
Abraham waved his hands over some controls. The vehicle lifted silently, effortlessly.
Mark held tight to the straps beside him. “Who’s driving this thing?”
“I am. But it knows where we want to go. We’ll be there in a moment.”
The vehicle rose higher, sped through the air, headed toward the brightest area on the mesa. A glowing city opened up beneath the hovering craft.
Jonathan knew the city couldn’t be seen from below the mesa, but it was huge and teamed with life. It covered the finger of the mesa from side to side and for miles back.
Mark glanced at Jonathan. They both shook their heads in amazement, then turned away to stare out their windows. So this was the source of the green glow they saw from Cedaredge. The Mesa commanded a view of the surrounding countryside for miles around. They could see the campfires of Grand Junction fifteen miles to the northwest.
The vehicle came to rest without any noise or dust in a small clearing between pristine white buildings. Jonathan could see the entire mesa had been built with buildings in a uniform plan, with grassy areas every few blocks.
Every building seemed to glow. Some blue, some red, most were green.
“Why are the buildings of different colors?” Jonathan asked.
“The homes are green,” Abraham said. “Meeting halls are blue, work centers red.”
The gull-wing doors opened after they landed. Mark and Jonathan disembarked from the flying car. A small group of men, dressed in white robes similar to Abraham’s greeted them with benevolent smiles.
A tall man with short dark hair held out his hand. He glowed too. He smiled at Mark and Jonathan.
There was something about his face that looked familiar but Jonathan couldn’t place it.
“Welcome to Zion.”