It was a beautiful sunny afternoon at Lake Mead Recreation Area located in the dusty Nevada desert. Families were gathered around picnic tables under the shade of old oaks. Bathers were dunking and children frolicking in the warm waters of Boulder Beach. Frisbees and tennis balls flew through the air, caught by giggling teens and slobbering dogs. I was walking along the path near the parking lot when I noticed a few wispy clouds low on the horizon to the east, glowing pink and orange. I thought “that’s odd, they shouldn’t look like that at this time of day.” I reached in my bag for my camera, keeping my eyes trained on the clouds. Through them, I noticed the outline of what appeared to be a building. The clouds swirled then dissolved right as a guard tower shot up into the sky, growing hundreds of feet tall. Men in military uniform were perched on a ledge near its top, brandishing rifles.
Feeling dizzy, my stomach in knots, I shot pictures while crying out “Oh my God! Do you see this?” I glanced around but no one would look up at it. Everyone had halted right where they were, keeping their heads bowed to the ground. I slipped my cellphone from my bag, started to make a call when a man yelled to me, “you can’t do that.”
“What do you mean I can’t do that? I just want to call my mom.”
I felt the air growing thick with a menacing tension and put my phone back in my bag.
Suddenly, bunkers the color of sand rose from the earth, three-sided, half open to the elements. The picnickers and frisbee throwers obediently walked over to the rows of tables inside, to commence work on their validation papers. I looked up the guard tower, saw the soldiers keeping a close watch on us. Police in crisp black and white uniforms were filtering through the crowd, their rifles in hand, eyeing me with suspicion.
I jiggled the arm of the middle-age man beside me and said, “you know what is happening, right?” He laughed wearily, avoiding my eyes. I walked around and cried out to everyone, “you know what is happening, don’t you?” People were speaking in hushed voices, avoiding my entreaties, my mounting panic. A policeman, a thin, young white male with rage in his eyes, grabbed me by the arm and shoved me toward a table.
Just then, the bunkers began to groan and morph into Disneyland-like rides and edifices. Gaudy castles, pink and blue. Carousels and game booths. Elephant and mouse-shaped hedges. The breeze suddenly cotton candy and fried-food scented. I made eye contact with a tall black man who, with a weary smile, said quietly, “see. We live in the happiest place on earth.”
I glanced around then rose from the table. When I felt sure I wasn’t being watched, I climbed a ladder on the side of a castle up to the roof. Crouching low in a corner, I turned my camera on me, set it to video. I looked into the lens and whispered “something terrible has happened…”
A voice called out. I looked over to see policemen rushing the ladder. I jumped up and sprinted across the roof. I leapt, running as fast as I could, from one roof to another. Landing on the fourth and most treacherous roof, narrow with vents jutting from its floor, I realized that I didn’t have a plan and that would be my undoing. Several stories below me, the ground was thick with the milling, obedient crowd. I spied a fence nearby, about forty feet tall, with polished black official SUVs parked beside it. I clambered down to the ground and ran toward it in a crouch. I grabbed at it when a bathing suit clad mother holding her child’s hand hollered “no!” and pointed. I saw infrared lasers on the other side of the fence, sure to trigger an alarm if I were to pass in front of them. I dropped down, tried to look nonchalant then hurled my camera with all my strength over the fence way off into a patch thick with sagebrush. I prayed that someday, someone, perhaps an archaeologist, might stumble on the remains of my battered camera, and through its SD card, learn what had become of us.
I heard a loud pop ring out. I turned, felt a pinch in the side of my head and crumbled to the desert floor.
– Angel La Canfora