Everyone talked about the crazy stuff that was going to go down after the New Year. There were those who even stocked up on food and bought guns. But when the digits turned, nothing happened. The stock market didnít crash; the government did not declare martial law. Oh sure, there were a few blackouts but nothing major. And the riots that broke out on the west coast were resolved in a matter of days. And besides, nothing that exciting happened back home anyway. The Iowa winters were far too cold to be out looting in. By the time February came Ďround, everything was pretty much back to normal. And when spring arrived, everyone forgot their millennium jitters. The only thing that really changed was that now people dated their checks and such with the full four-digit year. My guess is they just liked to see all of those zeros.
Then came the summer. Nothing out of the ordinary here either. People complained that it was too hot when it was above 90° and bitched about how cold it was when it dropped below 70°. The farmers were never satisfied either. When it rained, it was too much for the alfalfa to handle, and when it didnít, everyone feared the corn would curl up and die. Nevertheless, it was a special summer for me. It was the first summer I didnít go home. I lived in an apartment in Iowa City with some college friends and worked full-time as a monkey-boy in the universityís physics department. When a bunch of my high school friends called me up and asked me to go to an amusement park, I couldnít turn them down.
There wasnít anything extraordinary about the day: sunny, highs in the 80ís, mid-summer, maybe late July. I really canít remember. There were five of us: Russ, Joe, Sara, Jenny, and I. I was never one for amusement parks, I usually ended up getting sick, but I had fun catching up on old times nonetheless. Everybody at the park was so happy. In a way, we were the fortunate ones. We didnít see it coming and nobody in the whole park seemed to care. We were all wallowing in our blissful ignorance.
I learned later that the news was covered in shit that afternoon. If there would have been at least one real TV in the park, we might have known. But there wasnít. So while the rest of the world sat on the edge of the sofas, knelt in prayer, or gathered in their basements, we rode the Silly Silo and shrouded ourselves in gaiety just so the park owners could make an extra buck.
It was about 3:00 in the afternoon, the time that your shadows start to point eastward. Sara wanted to ride the Ferris wheel and since the rest of us had gotten our fill of sickening rides, we all agreed. It was kind of a rickety looking ride with a stream running behind it. I think it was supposed to give the impression of an old water mill. Thankfully, there were no safety bars or cages to keep us from falling out during the ride, just an open carriage big enough to hold all five of us. We were put into the red one, and I noticed the paint was chipped. The ride started but we only went around once, maybe twice, and then the ride stopped. Someone in the main office of the amusement park had been watching CNN and finally decided that people should be moved to safety. So they began unloading us from the Ferris wheel, one carriage at a time. Joe and Russ, totally oblivious to the reason behind the premature unloading, were complaining about the shortness of the ride. I just sat quietly and picked at the paint. Our carriage was still about 20 to 15 feet off the ground. Then there was silence. I looked up. Joe gazed blankly to the east, and Russ muttered, ďWhat the hell?Ē
I turned to my right and saw it. The girls (and everyone else in the park) screamed and Joe was still locked in his stare. Sure, I had never seen a large wall of fire blazing over the horizon either, but I didnít just sit there like an enchanted moron; I jumped.
The landing was hard but sound, and my knees absorbed the shock. Slightly dazed, I got up and ran west. I heard a thud and a familiar cry behind me. I turned to look, but only for a moment. Russ had jumped, too, but his landing wasnít as good as mine and he broke leg. But there wasnít any time; the flaming wall was already closer. I was beginning to feel the heat.
I remembered something someone once told me about Hiroshima: people survived by diving into their swimming pools and staying underwater during the blast. It was my only chance. I dove into the cool stream and held my breath. The water reflected the brilliant red and orange light and the water soon became uncomfortably warm. I held my breath as long as I could, and then I held it some more.
It was then that I blacked out.