Sage Warner is a freshman at PLU, majoring in History. She loves looking at unique perspectives on history. Her favorite flowers are daffodils and her favorite fruits are raspberries. She loves art and reading, and her favorite movement is the Romantic era. Sage struggles with long-windedness and often exceeds word limits.
A Light in the Desert
It is dark. The breeze presses against her ears. Gusts rustle sand and sagebrush, muffling every other noise in the desert backdrop. Erin imagines that the shifting dust sounds like steps, masked by the wind. Her hands grow clammy while dwelling on this.
Erin averts her attention from the landscape, observing Austin as he works at his photography, taking pictures of Madison. This is why they are out there, in the windy, cold, late fall desert. Austin needed images with interesting lights, and that was only achievable at night. So there they are, in the oppressive darkness, off the side of an isolated dirt road. They had props, bringing with them glow sticks, a “lightsaber” -photography equipment that was a light-up rod that changed colors, and several multicolored glowing spheres.
Madison poses effortlessly, and Erin admires her confidence as a model, especially in contrast to Erin’s awkwardness. Even as an assistant, Erin can’t help but stand uncomfortably, and she keeps shiftily looking out into the darkened scenery. Austin catches her attention, trepidation making her absent and distracted, directing her to hold up the lightsaber just so.
Erin’s hands shake from the cold and nerves. Madison and Austin are absorbed in their tasks, but Erin cannot help being distracted by her fears. She tries to join in, laughing and smiling when it is appropriate. Austin directs Madison to hold a blue-lit orb, and Erin takes a step back as Austin focuses the lens. Madison looks ethereal, blue reflecting off of her eyes, and Austin moves efficiently, capturing images, giving brisk directions, in his element.
Erin notices a light.
There are many stars, of course. They are miles outside the city, and the moon and stars and planets and satellites fill the sky. But this light is different, and it is glued to the horizon. Something about it makes Erin’s head buzz with fear. It shines like an LED bulb, a spotlight, upstaging the stars around it. It doesn’t resemble any device or vehicle Erin can think of. It almost appears green.
“Hey! Erin! Can you help me?” Austin calls out. She looks at him, and he must see in her expression that she is frightened because he asks, “Are you okay?”
Is the light low in the sky, or on the crest of the hill? Erin can’t decide. She accepts the latter. After all, the darkness and wind were making her paranoid, and she’s probably just trying to further justify it. But it triggers her desire to run, to escape, in a way that is different from everything else concocted by her anxiety thus far.
“Erin! Do you need anything? What’s wrong?” Austin awakens her from the spiraling thoughts.
She gives him a fake smile. “Oh! Sorry, I was just zoning out.” She shakes away her fears, and she turns from the mysterious glow, pushing away lingering dread.
Erin devotes herself to engaging with her friends, throwing herself into the photography work. Be in the moment, she thinks, and it becomes a mantra. Erin holds the phone flashlight or glow stick or orb with greater zeal, trying to chat naturally with her friends. She manages to feel the energy she was previously jealous of, nerves only on the outskirts of her thoughts. She enjoys her friends’ company, wandering through the barren wasteland.
Austin tasks her with dancing with glow sticks, moving as much as possible. Erin had modeled for him before, but it never came easily to her. Now, though, caught up in the spirit of her friends and skating delicately above her paranoia, she commits to it. She spins and leaps, curving around the bushes and kicking up dust. Austin takes his long exposure shots, encouraging and capturing the swirls and swoops of light.
It’s exhilarating. Erin is free, running through the desert, talking with the people she cares about. The jubilance outweighs her fear, and the otherworldly lights fade into the background, as she dances in her own multicolored glow.
Erin takes a moment to catch her breath; everything falls into focus. Including the light.
Cold washes over her.
Is it larger? Closer? Probably not.
Maybe it’s a cell tower. Or something.
They continue their work, but Erin feels stuck.
Moments pass and Austin notices the light.
“Do you guys see that?”
“Yeah, it’s been there for a-a while,” Erin’s voice quavers through her poorly constructed mask of calm.
Madison sees the glow and her face pales, eyes widening as she takes in the light that is fundamentally wrong in some indescribable way. “What is it?”
“I’m not altogether sure,” Erin admits. It’s definitely greenish. She can’t categorize it, and it has definitely moved closer, but she decides against sharing this.
Austin turns away, mirroring the resolve that Erin recognizes she possessed earlier. She misses that feeling. It was like hope. Or ignorance. “I just need a few more minutes.” He fidgets with the tripod and glances back at the hill. “Then we can go.”
Madison and Erin agree, albeit reluctantly.
After another few minutes of nervous, rushed work, Madison gasps.
Erin and Austin instantly turn to the light, and all three stare, shocked as the light descends the darkened hill. It moves smoothly, flawlessly zigzagging downwards. Erin considers how the terrain must be rough on whatever path the light is on, but she is unsure of what use that information is, or what it entails.
“Maybe we should leave. Like now?” Erin asks, finally dropping any facade of cool. She is antsy to flee, though she doesn’t know what they are escaping.
Austin nods absently, as he watches the light reach the base of the hill. It’s hard to say how far away it is. He begins packing his equipment. The light barrels towards them.
The wind has died. Previously, this may have brought some relief to Erin, since it caused so much anxiety before, but now she feels more alarmed. Whatever the light is attached to is completely silent. There is no roaring engine or rumbling earth as it draws closer.
Austin packs his camera bag meticulously, which is understandable considering the value of his equipment, but Madison and Erin are much less careful with their cheap props. They gather them as quickly as possible, shoving them into a tote bag.
The light rushes nearer, looming over them.
They begin walking briskly back to the car, parked maybe one hundred feet away.
About halfway there, the light picks up speed, green right on their heels. They wordlessly begin sprinting, and Erin’s heart pounds in her ears.
The light is overhead. They are all caught in it, as is the area surrounding them. The car is only twenty feet away but Erin knows it’s hopeless. They stumble to a stop. Erin is between Austin and Madison and she thinks she might be crying, and she clings to them, filled with terror and disappointment because they almost made it. They were so close.
All three of them look up into the light.
Everything goes dark.