Writing Competition: Electric Rocking Horsefly
The first and last paragraphs were provided; I filled in the middle...
Electric Rocking Horsefly
No coverage, not even one bar, the battery was dead anyway. It was still daytime, but there was an overcast and the sky had a perfectly even dullness, so there was no way to tell what time of day it was, much less which direction was north or south or anything else for that matter. A two-lane blacktop road snaked up into the distance and disappeared into some trees, or a forest if you wanted to get technical about it. It also snaked down toward some lumpy hills and disappeared there as well. What sounded like a two-stroke chainsaw could be heard in the distance, but it was impossible to tell whether it was up in the forest or down in the lumpy hills. This had been happening more often lately. Two different ways to go, with a dead battery and no bars, and nobody left to blame.
Far in the distance a cloud began taking shape on the horizon. The low hum of a motor came into earshot as the plume of dust grew larger. Out of the haze a vehicle emerged, cruising down the street. Standing on the side of the road, two hitchhikers put out their thumbs and flagged down the approaching car. They had no cash, but in exchange for a few lines of blow they were soon climbing into the backseat of an archaic silver Tercel. Duke offered his name to the driver as he got into the car, then pulled out his small blue leather-bound journal and began scribbling down his racing thoughts before they dissipated like the smoke trailing the car. Duke wasn’t his real name but he was assuming the role of Raoul Duke in homage to gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. A kind of method acting, but for a writer. His companion Wilson raised an eyebrow at the alias but didn’t blow his friend’s cover.
The driver, who introduced himself as Ray, didn’t ask where his new passengers were going and Duke and Wilson didn’t offer a specific destination. Ray assumed anyone on this road could only be headed to one place- Electric Rocking Horsefly. The Tercel headed towards the hills and was still accelerating from its stopped position when the skies opened and rain began pouring down. Now loaded with blow, Ray felt compelled to share his wisdom and life experience. He chatted away at his passengers, hardly bothered by the fact that neither was answering. Duke continued writing furiously while Wilson took inventory of his carefully cultivated and recently harvested assortment of weed.
Ray’s wide pupils took in the passing road as he prattled on about how Electric Rocking Horsefly posited itself as the best music festival around. He recited names of high profile performers, told them of the yoga and meditation tents, and all about the interactive art installations. With his mildly pressured speech he described the festival as Burning Man-esque, or rather, the lazy man’s Burning Man. All the perks of a secluded location, lots of costumes, and plentiful drugs, though instead of having to be self-sufficient the masses are provided with a multitude of boutique overpriced food and water vendors. Ray paused to take a breath after summarizing to his uninterested passengers that he need only to arrive with cash and the rest will be provided for him.
After about an hour the Tercel caught up to the festival traffic. Only then did Wilson look up from his newly organized collection of baggies and notice the steep terrain rising up on either side of the road. Precariously perched old wooden farmhouses stood out against the vast green grassy knolls. A single road led to the festival, which dead-ended at a remote lake, at the bottom of a valley, far from civilization. The Tercel took its place in the line of vehicles. The smell of weed and the sounds of blasting music from other reveler’s cars wafted in through the windows.
Duke watched curiously as Ray pulled a laminated purple entry ticket out from his glove box. Ray inquired which tier of ticket Duke and Wilson had bought, trying to calculate the monetary value and potential connections of his new companions. He quickly learned though that the only thing Duke and Wilson were useful for was their stash of drugs. After a quick discussion of options, and adding a gram of blow to the price of their transport, Duke and Wilson climbed into the miniscule trunk of the car to ride out the rest of the journey. From the darkness of the trunk they repeatedly heard locals yelling from their yards and demanding that the music from the cars be turned down, followed by the menacing sound of chainsaws cutting wood, and heavy thuds as the wood was thrown into piles. The sounds of yelling and the chainsaws were drowned out as the music was simply cranked up louder.
After what seemed like an eternity of crawling along, they stopped at the festival’s security booth entrance where Ray avowed that he was traveling alone. Continuing past the entry gate, the Tercel parked steeply on one of the many hills that had been converted into a makeshift parking lot for the festival. The thousands of people milling around them were all so entrenched in their own worlds that no one noticed when two slightly disheveled white guys vaguely resembling James Franco and Seth Rogan casually climbed out of the trunk. Wilson gave a small nod and smile to his companion with a look that implied that Duke should never have been worried in the first place. After hitchhiking around for the past several days, Duke had growing concerns that his breakout story as a modern-day gonzo journalist would be nothing more than a several day drug binge in central California. Excitedly grabbing their backpacks they made their way towards the festival grounds without bothering to acknowledge the parting with their driver turned human smuggler.
The rain had stopped and the sun was peaking out through the clouds, illuminating the sparkling blue lake before them and the steep hills surrounding the valley. They noticed the entry road to the east, cutting through a mountain pass and at the mouth of the pass sat the small security booth they had surreptitiously snuck through. Next to the road was a large shimmering sign that read: Welcome to Electric Rocking Horsefly Festival! All the cars were being directed to the hilly parking areas located south of the road. The road continued on towards the lake, now swarming with festivalgoers, gradually turning north and transforming into a boat ramp as it descended directly into the lake. As they neared the festival grounds a glittery sign displayed arrows pointing west for the VIP tents, east for general ticket camping, and straight ahead for all the stages and exhibits. Glancing at their ticketless hands, they shrugged and turned towards the general camping area overlooking the southeastern end of the lake.
At first glance they thought they were entering a refugee camp. Thousands of tents of every color and size were butted up against each other, with small walkways creating a maze of paths in front of the entryways. Each tent displayed the personalities of the owners- fancy REI tents, cheap plastic tents, some tiny, some large enough to fit ten people, some had psychedelic tapestries hanging from them, others featured LED lighting or pirate flags. The heavy base from the nearest stage could be felt pulsating up through the ground and shook their feet at they walked. After wandering past several blocks of campsites they found an enclave of shiny and spotless brand-name tents. They happily conspired that this plot of tents likely hosted a group of rich kids who bought all new gear for the festival and would have plenty of dough for drugs. Duke pulled a small, second-hand backpacking tent out of his bag and they enjoyed a joint while setting up camp.
A peacock materialized majestically out of the cloud of pot and queried if they were part of a group. On answering no, the peacock smiled while shaking her auburn hair out of her green eyes and rustling her tail feathers. Carefully situated peacock feathers covered her breasts while a plume of feathers fanned out from the back of her black micro tutu. Next to the peacock suddenly appeared her Adonis, in all his blonde-haired blue-eyed splendor, wearing nothing but a batik sarong tied low on his waist. The four chatted while the peacock and Adonis grilled dinner over their tiny camping stove. The cocaine had worn off and the pot was taking over, causing a deep and gnawing hunger pain. Duke was jotting down a description of their neighbors while Wilson had the foresight to exchange some Molly for a few hotdogs.
While munching away on dinner Duke and Wilson watched the peacock’s tail feathers fade from view as she and her Adonis held hands and rhythmically danced away to the Molly and the music back towards the main stages for the nighttime concerts. After dinner they met Scotty and Angel, two college kids at the festival with a large group and staying in the nearby fancy tents. Angel probably wasn’t her name but she was dressed in a shimmery white spandex leotard and sporting a large pair of iridescent wings on her slender back so Angel was close enough. Scotty was the quintessential generic appearing frat boy- white with brown hair, kind of tall, kind of fit, and kind of attractive. He was wearing a tie-dye shirt and hat, with reflective sunglasses and high top converse, absentmindedly holding a ukulele. They saw that the college kids had set up an improvised hookah lounge between their tents, underneath a collapsible canopy. Piles of pillows and blankets were layered about and LED lanterns illuminated the sitting area. After Angel and Scotty left, Duke and Wilson killed another joint at the hookah lounge with a chaser of a few lines of coke to keep them awake for the night’s festivities.
They wandered from their tent to explore their newfound home away from home. The smell of weed wafted through the air as they walked. People of all shapes and sizes passed by in a parade of neon colors, glitter, and flashy costumes. Strolling along the tents they came across a structure called the Crow’s Nest, situated on the west edge of the general admission campsites and close to the road. Pieces of wood appeared to be haphazardly thrown together in a crop of trees, creating a string of purposefully dilapidated appearing tree forts and ledges, connected by wobbly walkways like a Pinterest Fail version of a Pete Nelson Treehouse Masters project. Markers hung in buckets from the lower branches and on the wood were messages of hope and inspiration, scribbled in festival-fueled expressions of love and togetherness. Situated throughout the higher branches were actual crow’s nests and the birds peered down on the festivalgoers with savage eyes. Duke shared the fun fact that a group of crows is called a murder, which did not seem like a fun fact to Wilson. It seemed like a terrifying fact to him as he was high and paranoid that the birds could read his thoughts and were plotting his demise. Distracting himself from that thought, Wilson looked away from the crows and at the people hanging out on the different ledges engaging in various activities ranging from discussing the world’s problems to playing dominoes to having sex.
Just as any cognizant drug dealer would do, Wilson noticed a few for-hire security personnel scattered throughout the festival grounds. They seemed entirely unconcerned about the open drug use; they were probably just there to break up fights and protect the high profile acts and celebrities in attendance. He interpreted this as his cue to start making some sales. While walking up a hill Wilson yelled out to the crowd about having mushrooms, weed, LSD, Ecstasy and cocaine for sale. To which someone promptly yelled back, how about a hug? Wilson laughed and ran over to the dreadlocked guy who ordered the hug, gripping him in a big bear squeeze to the amusement and delight of the onlookers. After a couple of shows and losing track of which drugs they sold and which they did themselves they headed back to the their tent. Walking back, they passed underneath a large tree adorned with dozens of handmade metal and wood wind chimes. The wind rustled the leaves and the suspended tubes of the various wind chimes, adding an ethereal element to the atmosphere. Stopping for a moment to take in the scene, they marveled at their luck of stumbling onto Electric Rocking Horsefly.
Back in the tent Duke grabbed his journal and jotted down snippets of conversation he overheard from those passing by. One woman confided in her friend about her struggle to balance making money with happiness. A group of guys contemplated walking around and begging for food, as they had apparently already spent all their money on drugs. The sounds of drunken sex that was not very well muffled drifted through the thin tent walls from the direction of Scotty and Angel’s tent. The most randomly enjoyable statement was made by a guy proudly stating that he was getting his PhD in paleoclimate research. Duke and Wilson were still trying to figure out what on earth that meant when the sound of a drunken girl sobbing loudly and incoherently came into earshot. Duke drifted off to sleep as he was recording a conversation about a Shaman something or other event tomorrow.
Duke awoke in the late morning to find what he thought were his carefully transcribed conversations were actually illegible scribbles that he could make neither heads nor tails of. Shrugging, he turned his thoughts to breakfast and woke up Wilson. Strolling from their tent they headed towards the main stages and all the vendors. Browsing the festival shops, they came across everything from original artwork to festival-inspired leather and spandex clothes to yoga mats to branded Electric Rocking Horsefly tee shirts and stickers. The guys had walked nearly a mile since leaving camp and yet were barely halfway across the area that the festival encompassed. A gentle hum became apparent and the guys followed the noise until they came across the festival’s tattoo shop, called Caterpillar Ink. Freshly inked yin-yang signs, Buddhas, mandalas, and other acculturated symbols of peace and love appeared courtesy of expensive guest tattoo artists who were almost as high profile as the main concert headliners.
Atop another hill the smell of barbeque cut through the cloud of weed and dust. Just past the merchant area there were dozens of food trucks and stalls set up. Lines of people were queued up, patiently waiting for orders. Their mouths watered at the thought of baby back ribs and other meaty goodness. Once Wilson made some sales the guys planned to feast on some serious barbeque. The food vendors and artisans all had long lines- but the longest line was to get into an area called the Fly Pit. Peaking in through the open wooden frame surrounding the hexagonal shaped area, Duke and Wilson could see a dance floor in the middle, set in front of a small stage that had been erected opposite the main entrance. To the left of the stage was a large bar populated by gorgeous festivalgoers being served handcrafted drinks by famous mixologists, while a small farm to table café was situated to the right of the stage. Multiple secluded seating areas, draped with lightweight textiles and loaded with plush pillows, were situated near the entrance. They overhead chatter that all the festival performers hung out in there, along with the celebrities and rich folks who could pay for VIP tickets. For the four nights of the festival, the Fly Pit became the most exclusive club in California.
While scheming how to sneak in, Duke and Wilson were nearly knocked off their feet by an explosion emanating from the east, barely heard above the din of the music. They exchanged quizzical looks. Music was still blasting from the stages in all directions and most people in the area were too high or too close to the speakers to have heard the noise. The guys headed back towards the road to investigate the source of the noise. Climbing to a high ledge atop the Crow’s Nest they could see the smoldering remains of the festival gate in the distance. The narrow mountain pass into the festival appeared to have caved in. Shocked and speechless, they looked at each other. Were they now trapped at the lake? A young guy decked out in a sparkly thong, unicorn horn, bow tie, glitter, and a smile, saw their concerned looks and climbed over to them. He shared the rumor that one of the fuel trucks, here to resupply the vendors with gas for their grills, had exploded right at the gate. The blast triggered a rockslide that barricaded the road. The festival was now essentially cut off from the outside world. The unicorn’s shimmering body sparkled in the dappled sunlight coming in through the branches as he mused aloud that the trucks could probably continue selling food through dinner, maybe through lunch tomorrow if it was one of the less popular trucks. He concluded that someone better clear the road quickly or everyone will be in trouble. Mr. Unicorn started to look panicked at that thought but after dabbing some Molly under his tongue his face relaxed and his previous thoughts melted away as he began focusing his attention on a nearby stallion.
Duke and Wilson walked slowly back to their tent, noticing how a few people looked concerned but most appeared completely oblivious. Maybe they didn’t know about the roadblock. Maybe they didn’t care. The sun was now high in the late afternoon sky and it was turning into a scorcher of a summer day. Wilson felt it would only worsen the situation to verbalize the fact that they hadn’t brought any food, they had no water, and now they had no way out. Duke concocted the hopeful scenario that the afternoon supply trucks will simply turn around at the roadblock, then drive home and report the problem. He assured himself that a road crew will be sent to clear the road, and everything will be fine in a day or two. Tops.
After a dip in the lake and a blissful nap they geared up for an evening of music, deciding to not worry about the road just yet. At sunset they left their tent and roamed from stage to stage, enjoying a variety of musical acts. Wilson made sales along the way and Duke occasionally stopped to jot down some insights or reflections in his journal. They trekked behind a group of Steampunk pirates in search of their airship, ending up at the highest point of the festival, a hill at the southwest corner, overlooking the entirety of the festival grounds. From this vantage point they saw the spacious VIP tents at the southwest edge of the lake, the multitude of stages, and the masses of people endlessly crossing the grounds like so many ants at an unsupervised buffet table. Strobe lights from the stages pulsated up to the heavens, illuminating the sky with rainbows of colors and drowning out the natural light of the stars.
Heading down the hill to the nearest EDM stage, Wilson sold a small brown glass vial to a group of Care Bears. He watched the pink Care Bear delicately untwist the top, squeeze the plunger, and gently release a dropper full of LSD under the tongue of the orange Care Bear standing next to her, who then returned the favor. Everyone danced in their own worlds, letting the repetitive beats and flashing lights invade their minds and take over any thoughts or worries from back home or from the explosion earlier in the day. As they were walking away at the end of the set a blue Care Bear ran past them screaming at the top of his lungs about how the moon was chasing him. The moon was chasing him- fangs and all- and there was nowhere to hide.
Morning broke on day three with a horrifically overpowering smell invading their noses. On exiting the tent the hot, dry air hit them in the face. While trying to locate the source of the smell they noticed the peacock and Adonis sitting next to their tent, deep in discussion. The peacock, no longer dressed as such, whose name happened to be Silvia, and her husband, named Ash, stopped speaking as Duke and Wilson approached them. With sleep still clouding her eyes, Silvia asked if they heard about the road being cut off. They nodded yes in silent reply. She had gone exploring during the morning, learning that the majority of the vendors had run out of food last night. Due to scant storage space on the food trucks, most of them rely on daily deliveries to restock their ingredients. With the road blocked, no trucks can get through to deliver fresh supplies. While near one of the coffee shops she watched a fight break out over the remaining cup of joe, resulting in a broken nose for one person, a scald burn on the other, and caffeine headaches all around. She lamented that the sanitation trucks can’t get in either so the porta potties are a mess, having not been emptied yesterday afternoon, causing the sickening smell. Sighing, she laid back in her camping chair, contemplating the situation.
By late afternoon the atmosphere in the festival had changed. The musical acts were barely attended. The VIPs and celebrities were staying at the Fly Pit where security was still stopping those without VIP tickets from entering. The food trucks were almost all closed due to either lack of food or lack of propane, and the peace loving hippies of the night before were rapidly morphing into anxious, hangry mobs. People were no longer leaving their tents unattended, worried that anything they brought might get ransacked. Wilson did some bumps of blow to tamper his growing hunger while enviously watching Ash heat up water for lunch while Silvia lazily sipped red wine from a collapsible plastic wine glass. The couple sensed that they were being watched and retreated into their tent.
Wilson stopped by the Crow’s Nest again, which had become an impromptu meeting place for updates given its vantage point close to the road. Two guys were crushed to death when they tried climbing out over the roadblock and accidentally caused a small rockslide. Now security was stopping people from trying to climb the unstable rubble. The marker-strewn messages had taken an eerie turn. Messages about missing persons and pleas for help and food were now scribbled on the structure, as well as requests for volunteers to join parties that were planning to hike out, either by the road or through the hills. One cryptic message read: Protect yourself- join the Crows. People seemed to be teaming up, forming allies and groups. In stark contrast, there were still people milling around in a complete daze, blissfully unaware or untroubled by the unfolding events.
Thinking of the messages scrawled on the Crow’s Nest and the value of allies, Wilson returned to Silvia and Ash’s tent. They had been hiding in there all day so he politely requested that they come out and chat. Hesitantly, the couple came out of the tent… possibly out of fear? Wilson stood a respectable distance back, demonstrating his status as a non-threatening entity. Politely and clearly, Wilson proposed the idea that they band together as a team. He offered that he and Duke would provide security and drugs for them in exchange for food and free sharing of any information or leads about escaping the lake. Silvia opened her mouth to reply, hesitated, and then requested a moment to discuss things with Ash in private. As she turned away they heard a slightly muffled but nearby voice yell in earnest, wait, wait! I want in too! The foursome looked around – who the hell was speaking? A dejected looking guy emerged from the closest tent and approached the group.
It was Scotty. His angel of a girlfriend had apparently gone into the wrong tent on the first night and banged the guy in there, without bothering to stop when she realized it wasn’t Scotty. A fight ensued and they broke up. Scotty was now flying solo and looking for a new band. He called out Duke and Wilson for only wanting to team up with Ash and Silvia because they have their own food and water and scoffed that offering so-called security was a lame excuse for teaming up. Scotty stopped speaking mid-sentence when Wilson lifted his shirt and revealed the Diamondback 9mm pocket pistol he was carrying as an explanation for what he meant when he had offered Ash and Silvia security. Oh, Scotty sighed, slumping to the ground, a crestfallen expression on his face. Duke gently offered him a joint in hopes of cheering him up. The foursome faced each other, Silvia and Ash no longer needing time to determine the best course of action. They had food and water, but possessions are only useful if they can be protected and they realized the safest course of action would be to join forces with Duke and Wilson. As for Scotty, the four of them faced him as if he was on trial for his life and they posed one simple question: why? Why should we let you join us? What can you offer us?
Scotty sputtered on the joint and looked around, exasperated. Suddenly his eyes lit up and he yelled, my car! You can use my El Dorado! Duke was about to point out how useless a car would be in these circumstances as they couldn’t actually go anywhere but Scotty looked so pathetic and so desperate that the group agreed to let him join anyway. The five decided that the safest location was inside Silvia and Ash’s tent, as it was the largest and slightly set back from the walkway. They unanimously agreed that they would all stay safely within the tent after dark, while during the day the guys would go out and barter for additional food, water, and information.
As the night crept on Duke and Wilson happily munched on PB & shroom sandwiches while Ash and Silvia split a joint. Duke sat crossed legged with his journal on his lap and began jotting down these new developments while Scotty played his ukulele. Duke’s words morphed into scribbles and sketches as the shrooms took effect. He watched with interest as his sketches came to life and played out as little movies on the pages in front of him. His favorite was about a fearless sword-wielding knight though the one about the alien invasion wasn’t too bad. He wasn’t a fan of the one about flying pigs as it just made him hungry. Duke giggled to himself, engrossed in the television set that only he could see. Scotty kept strumming his ukulele, a sad, brokenhearted tune, while the others drifted off to sleep. His music was gentle, but loud enough to mask the noise of chainsaws in the distance.
Duke went out to assess the food situation on the morning of the fourth day. The others stayed behind to watch the tent and the rest of the stash. Starting with a pit stop at the Crow’s Nest he immediately noticed a larger group than yesterday was present. To his dismay, no trucks or rescue vehicles had appeared. The latest gossip floating around was that several festivalgoers tried to hike out at night, thinking it would be safer than trying to hike in the heat during the day. Barely out of the festival grounds, a group of crazed chainsaw wielding maniacs allegedly appeared and chased them back towards the lake. Duke scoffed and thought that sounded way too ridiculous to be true. Believing it to be hype and exaggeration, he decided he’d keep that bit of news to himself.
A tattoo artist wearing a cropped black leather vest, her long, Manic Panic Cotton Candy pink hair in twin braids running down her back, her tattoo guns resting casually in her leather gun holster as if they were real pistols, sauntered over to Duke and greeted him with a sly smile. Eyeing his face, and then eyeing his ink-free skin, Candy asked whether or not he was a Crow. His confused look was enough of an answer for her. She absentmindedly ran her fingers over the gun in her right holster, starting to explain about the Crows. Duke was distracted by the many rings on her fingers, mesmerized on realizing that each ring was a tiny pigment holder for the different colors of her tattoo ink. Her left hand lifted his chin, redirecting his eyes back to her face. She took a step closer and began talking about banding together, collecting resources, and sharing all of their supplies. She was so convincing, pulling his chin closer to her face, almost whispering, and Duke was getting lost in her voice.
A guy accidentally knocked into Duke’s shoulder as he walked by, breaking Candy’s spell and drawing Duke’s gaze to the guy’s arm. The guy sported a tattoo of a black winged bird in flight on his deltoid, sitting on a base of raw, red skin – a telltale sign of fresh ink. Candy was still talking about joining the Crows, but Duke’s eyes were now rapidly examining the bare skin of those around him. Some subtle, some not, but without fail, every person at the Crow’s Nest was sporting some iteration of a crow tattoo. There were stunningly detailed geometric designs, simple silhouettes, as well as watercolor splashed images; some were menacing and aggressive creatures, while other were feminine and poetic, drawn daintily with a light touch. Duke heard a familiar humming and glanced upwards into the trees. Tattoo artists were perched on the various ledges with clients sprawled in front of them, each one in the process of being branded a Crow.
Candy stopped talking, now running her left fingertips up and down his arm. He shuddered at her touch and was having trouble forming coherent words. She cooed in his ear about showing solidarity with the crows, and that all it would take was a little crow tattoo, to prove one’s commitment. Perhaps right here, she suggested playfully, while cocking her head to the side and tracing the lines of an imagined crow on his upper arm. Duke realized that a small army of newly minted Crows had been eavesdropping on the proposition and were awaiting his response. He feared that he would not be allowed to leave easily if they did not like his answer. Replying as casually as possible, he informed Candy that he would go grab his friend and that when he returned she could have both of them. This seemed a satisfying enough reply for her. She took a step back and blew him a kiss, stating that she’d be ready and waiting for them. He then quickly backed away from her, nearly doubled over in pain from raging boner pulsating in his shorts.
While Duke was at the Crow’s Nest, Wilson ventured out to make some sales for the day. Most of the trucks in the vendor area had closed down, and many appeared to have been vandalized overnight, displaying newly broken windows. The three remaining food trucks each had lines several hundred people long. Suddenly, the middle vendor shouted that they ran out of food and quickly slammed their pick-up window shut. Those still waiting in line erupted into a mass of yelling and shouting, some screaming desperately how they hadn’t eaten anything in two days. Yelling and shouting turned to pushing as the heat-exhausted mobs began to turn on each other. Wilson hastily retreated back to camp as people started coming to blows. En route back to the tent he was amused by the microcosm of festivaliers that appeared entirely nonplussed by the whole event. Some groups continued playing in the lake on giant blow up floats, while other groups held jam sessions by the various art installations. Shimmering hula-hoops lazily looped around and around the arms and necks of a group of girls at the top of one hill. Under the tree with all the wind chimes there now sat a lone wolf with a sign proclaiming: Will trade blow (any kind) for food. How quickly this utopian world deteriorated, Wilson thought sadly.
The sun blazed on, not a cloud in the sky to provide any respite from the heat. The interior of the tent reached over a hundred degrees, forcing the crew outside. With the college kids nowhere in site, the group lounged at the hookah tent. Duke reported back about the tattoo artists recruiting a gang calling themselves the Crows, and Wilson shared his discoveries about the dire food situation. Divvying up their rations, they hatched a plan to go down to the lake in the morning to collect more water. It would have to be boiled and sterilized on the little camp stove, but that would be a small price to pay for avoiding heat stroke. People arguing and the sounds of fighting reached their ears. They realized they could only now hear these distant scuffles because the festival music had stopped completely.
Wilson and Ash headed out to the road for one last recon before dark. Security had given up trying to prevent people from climbing over the wreckage. Actually, security was no longer trying to do anything as they had essentially disappeared. They watched a small group try to climb out but give up quickly, not having the rock climbing skills to manage the mountain of unsteady debris. A few successfully made it over, which was initially interpreted as a good sign. However some of them came fleeing right back over the pile, with reports of finding empty delivery trucks with busted wheels from spike strips that booby-trapped the road. Anyone trying to get in or out of the festival was evidently being stopped in their tracks. This disturbing news hung over them as they made their way back to the tent. Turning a corner they were greeted by the horrifying scene of a young woman in a neon blue fairy costume halfheartedly pouring a bottle of dirty lake water on the head of a sunburned guy who appeared unconscious from heat stroke. They watched in stunned silence as two people grabbed the guy and flung him off the path and into the shade of a tree before wandering off. Disheartened, they trudged back to their tent. Once back, Duke was only able to jot down a few words in his journal before falling into an uneasy sleep filled with images of people trapped in boxes and the sensation of drowning.
At dawn they slowly made their way to the lake, trying to look as nonchalant as possible. Fortunately, most people were still sleeping, making their journey blissfully uneventful. While filling their water bottles a dense thicket of people weaving in and out of the tents unexpectedly appeared in the distance. A sharp, high-pitched scream broke through the morning light, echoing off the lake. The screams began to multiple, with half sleeping festivaliers stumbling in confusion and fear out of their tents. The group froze in stunned silence. Tents began collapsing and the situation became clear- the Crows were attacking. Spreading throughout the campground they were systematically slashing the tents, causing the inhabitants to flee or fight, and then taking the provisions inside. A few ran screaming from their tents towards the lake, which galvanized the group into action. They ran west along the lake with a bunch of other campers, heading towards the main stages and hoping to find a place to hide. A few Crows spotted them running and began to chase after them.
A group of Crows being led by a mohawked thug with a crow tattooed on his neck caught up with them. His follower’s eyes were glazed over, mob mentality having been quickly and densely cemented into their heads. Among the group appeared a familiar dark haired guy holding an open pocketknife and sporting a large crow tattoo spread across his bare chest. After a moment of staring, Duke and Wilson realized it was the driver, Ray, who had smuggled them in just four days earlier. Ray sensed he was being watched and turned his head to meet Duke’s gaze. He looked different, gaunt, fueled by hunger and withdrawal, appearing like the character of the same name from Stephen King’s book The Long Walk. Ray savagely screamed out about Wilson’s stash of drugs and pointed to Wilson’s backpack, turning everyone’s attention towards the bag. Ray’s dark eyes were wild and feral, like a shark smelling blood and preparing for a feeding frenzy. Ray charged at Wilson, knife in hand, his eyes glued to Wilson’s backpack. Wilson reached for his gun but was knocked to the ground before his hand could grasp the handle. Ray had Wilson pinned and was raising his right arm up, knife in hand and ready to strike, when Scotty swiftly ran over and tackled Ray off of Wilson. While tumbling over, Ray’s arm came slicing down, landing with a thud and deeply embedding the knife in Scotty’s left side. Everyone gasped as Ray pulled the bloodied knife back out. Ray snapped out of his drug-fueled rage, his eyes clearing and focusing on the knife, stunned at what just transpired. Breathing hard, muttering some inaudible words, he sprinted towards the lake. The Crows halted momentarily, calculating their next move. Wilson pulled the gun from his pants and took aim at Mohawk, daring him to take a step closer. Mohawk turned and ran full speed towards the lake after Ray, with the rest of the Crows quickly following suit.
Scotty looked panicked as a warm, red puddle began spreading across his dusty tie-dyed shirt. Wilson, Duke, Ash and Silvia spewed feeble reassurances at Scotty as the blood quickly drained from his face. They had to get him somewhere safe- out of the sun, away from the Crows, away from the roaming, hangry mobs. They couldn’t return to their tent as the Crows had overtaken that section of the campground. Scotty reached a shaky hand into his pocket and weakly held out a set of car keys for Wilson. He tried to mouth something but no words came out. Wilson pocketed the keys and nodded. He then bent down, securing each of Scotty’s legs in the crooks of his elbows. Ash and Duke then each took one of Scotty’s arms over their shoulders and they all lifted. Slowly and steadily, they eventually made their way to Scotty’s El Dorado, laying him gently across the back seat.
Slumping on the ground outside the car, covered in sweat and grime, the four quickly weighed their options. Their tent was now in Crow territory, along with most of their food. Duke and Wilson decided to head out to gather news and to hopefully barter for any remaining food. Silvia began trying to get into nearby cars to loot any potential finds. Ash stayed back to protect Scotty and their new mobile home. Wilson and Duke first ventured out to the blocked road. No one was attempting to climb the rubble but far in the distance Wilson thought he could hear vehicles on the other side. Perhaps he wanted to hear vehicles so badly that he was hallucinating the sound of engines. Or perhaps he was hallucinating because of the heat. Or perhaps from the shrooms he ate in lieu of lunch. It was too difficult to tell so he gave up and followed Duke to their next stop- the Fly Pit.
They approached the Fly Pit from the west, hiding behind a large sculpture of a white rabbit once they got close. A group of Crows was circling the entrance of the Fly Pit like prey waiting to attack. The smell from the Fly Pit was tantalizing and their stomachs rumbled. A heated argument was taking place between the Crows and a tall guy who was blocking the entrance. Three of the Crows unexpectedly grabbed the guy, forcing him to the ground. Candy appeared out of the crowd, pink braids blazing in the sun, and straddled the guy who was now pinned to the ground by the three Crows. Duke felt a pang of jealousy, wishing that he were the one laying under her. She lifted a tattoo gun from her holster, loaded her needle with jet-black dye from one of her many rings, and leaned down over the guy. His screams echoed over to their hiding spot as Candy forcibly inked a small crow onto his bare shoulder. She stood triumphantly upon finishing her piece of artwork, callously declaring that her victim was now a Crow, meaning that what was his now belonged to the gang, too. The Crows rushed the entrance while cheering wildly about successfully commandeering the last of the festival’s food and clean water. Streams of celebrities and high profile musicians came thundering out and fled for the safety of the VIP tents. As the Crows filed into the Fly Pit, Wilson watched intently as the varied avian tattoos wretched themselves free of their owner’s bodies and flew into the sky. Once airborne they mingled with the real crows, all of them flying off together in a murder.
On approaching the El Dorado they caught the unmistakable smell of barbeque and find that Silvia has been skillfully grilling up tarantulas she found roaming in the brush. She gamely offered up a toasted arachnid to Duke who nearly died from fright. Wilson laughed and pointed out that Duke had just recently mentioned wanting barbeque. Wilson eagerly reached out for one but on getting ready to take a bite of his lunch the spider suddenly looked up at him, its many sparkling eyes pleading, don’t eat me sir, please don’t eat me sir. Wilson simultaneously threw the tarantula back into the hills while swearing off shrooms. Duke lit a joint for Scotty to help ease his pain and then sat with his journal. He paused for a second, his blue ballpoint pen poised in the air, and then forcefully vomited his mind clear of the day’s unexpected events onto the blank, unsuspecting pages before him.
The hills were scattered with people hiding in their vehicles as many realized that locked metal provided more safety than a canvas tent- even if they couldn’t travel anywhere. The group watched with interest as a bunch of festivaliers approached the hills, trying to hike out. Less than thirty minutes later they heard the roar of chainsaws and the group came back screaming, panting and raving about maniacs hiding in the hills. A dense, uneasy silence hung over the festival grounds as darkness fell. After the relentless heat of the day, the cold evening air initially refreshed them but soon left them all chilled and shivering. A restless night passed slowly, and the group spent the following morning debating and trying to come up with an exit strategy. No good option presented itself though.
While preparing lunch a short, shlubby college kid approached the El Dorado, lured to the area by the smell of barbeque. He approached them cautiously, interested to see what was being cooked up. His Polo shirt was covered in mud and the kid wearing it looked like he’d just crawled out of the lake. Turns out he had. Polo had been jumped by some of the Crows after refusing to join them and after they took his weed and water bottle he was tossed in the lake for good measure. After trying to beg for a free handout and failing spectacularly, Polo reluctantly went back to his campsite and returned with small black rectangular piece of electrical equipment. Polo traded Wilson his top of the line Goal Zero portable solar power charging station for two joints, a small baggy of Molly, and two freshly toasted tarantulas, all the while muttering how he couldn’t use his phone anymore anyway as it was now at the bottom of the lake. The solar panel charger was placed flat on Wilson’s backpack like precious matzo being carried by the Jewish people as they escaped captivity in Egypt. They took turns using the charger and slowly their cell phones came back to life though to their dismay there was, of course, still no service.
Another wretchedly hot day passed slowly as they hid near the El Dorado, keeping a close watch on Scotty. They stopped barbecuing, concerned that any more cooking would attract additional hungry visitors. In the distance they could see the marauding groups of Crows wreaking havoc throughout the campgrounds. The air finally turned cooler, the sun began to set, and the sky started to darken as the sound of chainsaws revved in the hills. Oddly, the sky then started becoming brighter again, as if the sun was traveling in reverse. The light on the horizon grew brighter and they eventually realized that it was because the VIP tents were burning. The Crows had finally made it to the western section of the festival and had set the tents ablaze. With nowhere else to go, the VIPs ran towards the hills, the Crows in hot pursuit.
The five of them panicked and looked around for an escape but they knew they couldn’t abandon Scotty to run and hide elsewhere; they had to stand their ground. Wilson took out his gun, Silvia gripped her small Swiss Army Knife, and Ash and Duke prepared to fight anyone that approached the El Dorado. Several people from the VIP tents ran towards the hills and away from the fire. The group watched in horror as silhouettes of people holding chainsaws appeared on the horizon. The fleeing VIPs rapidly turned back, running from the chainsaws, now trying to find refuge in and among the cars. The armed locals approached the vehicles nearest them, slashing tires and breaking windows while brandishing their chainsaws. The Crows meanwhile pillaged the cars closer to the lake, using the festivalgoers that were trapped between the two attacking groups as a human barrier. The Crows approached from the north, a growing fire blazed to their west, the chainsaw wielding crazies closed in from the south, and the blocked road sat to the east. They were trapped.
Festivaliers began fighting back against the Crows and a growing battle waged in the hills overlooking the lake. The onslaught from both the north and south continued, slowly advancing on the El Dorado. The fire raged on the dry brush and acrid smoke started to fill the air. A small group of Crows set their sites on the El Dorado and advanced towards them. Glancing briefly at each other, they braced themselves for a fight. Wilson took a deep breath and looked to the sky to collect his thoughts for a final moment and realized he had started hallucinating again. Oh shit not now, he groaned internally. He watched three far away crows flying towards them in V formation morph into three Blackhawk helicopters. As the crows flew closer, he realized that everyone was watching the crows with intense interest and that these particular birds really were approaching choppers. Silence fell over the crowds and everyone waited expectantly. A few moments later, when the choppers were nearly over the festival grounds, emergency trucks and rescue vehicles finally broke through the rubble blocking the road with an earthshaking boom. The rescue crews were met with an equally explosive welcoming roar from the crowds.
The locals, chainsaws in hand, turned and started to run back into the hills but the Blackhawks followed them. They were all corralled and brought down to the police cars where they were placed in custody. As soon as the rescue vehicles began pouring in the Crows almost instantaneously ended their assault, too. Recognizing that help had finally arrived, they quickly snapped out of their mob mindset. They dispersed themselves among the startled crowds and tried to innocently blend in. The police were briefly apprised of the situation with the Crows and they began rounding up anyone they could spot with a Crow tattoo. As for the festivaliers, some ran towards the rescue vehicles, some sat down crying; some roamed around in a daze, unsure what to do next. All were covered in dust, grime, sweat, and some measure of glitter.
Duke and Wilson approached the rescue squads and could hear the locals, now in police custody and being handcuffed, yelling about the festival and how it pollutes their lakes, poisons their blissful quiet community, and destroys their hills with litter and drugs. They had crazed looks in their eyes and persistently defended their actions of trying to keep people from getting help or escaping. Duke and Wilson were shocked to hear one of the locals being placed under arrest on the charge of intentionally blowing up the gas truck and terrorizing the trapped festival attendees. While the handcuffs were being placed the guy bellowed how festivals have to be stopped and that demolishing the truck was the only way. He did not stop screaming even after he was locked away in the backseat of the police car.
As the cops continued their arrests, ambulance crews were simultaneously evaluating the sick and injured. Paramedics safely transported Scotty into the back of one of the first rigs to the immense relief of the group. As Scotty was being secured in the gurney he professed deep thanks to the group for not abandoning him. Wilson winked at Duke while producing the keys to the El Dorado from his pocket and jingling them in his hand. Scotty started to yell for his keys but not a moment later the ambulance doors closed and the rig was driving out. Just then, Duke and Wilson unexpectedly began hearing small beeps, chimes, and buzzes all around them, realizing that some of the beeping was coming from their own pockets. A mobile emergency communications unit had set up a wireless network, covering the festival grounds in a blissful cloud of Wi-Fi. Duke and Wilson’s fully charged cell phones happily chimed into service.
People streamed towards their cars, getting in line to escape through the freshly unblocked road. Crowds left the festival en masse, abandoning most of the ruined tents. Wilson went to open the door of the El Dorado but then spotted Ash and Silvia in the crowd, standing next to their own SUV and waving. Duke and Wilson left their newly attained car for a moment and walked through the throngs of people to bid farewell to their new friends. With a laugh and a sigh of relief, they all hugged and exchanged goodbyes and well wishes. Ash inquired about where Duke and Wilson were off to next. Wilson replied that it was time to head back towards Interstate 15 and to civilization. Traces of leftover glitter shimmered on Silvia’s face as she wished Duke luck with his book and promised to read it once published. Silvia and Ash settled into their SUV with a final wave goodbye. Duke and Wilson paused for a moment to appreciate the Electric Rocking Horsefly welcome sign that was now partially burned and collapsing, the sparkling letters illuminated by the lights from the still raging fire and the many rescue vehicles.
They made their way through the crowd, and back to the El Dorado. And as they approached it, a crow flew directly over their heads and landed on the hood and then looked at them. They stood some distance away and watched the crow watching them. Another crow flew directly overhead and landed beside it. The first crow squawked and then both flew away. They watched the crows disappear, looked at each other, and then got in the El Dorado. Only one way to go this time, with five bars and full battery.