The Parking Lot
YOU ARE IN a modern, open air parking lot. You stride along the ornate granite walkway, admiring the elegant beds of rosemary and asphodels. Gleaming luxury rentals, some hooked to EV chargers, are neatly parked over the smooth black asphalt in spacious slots delineated by vibrant white lines. The air is clean, and the ascending sun casts a gentle glow, imbuing the automobiles with a cheerful radiance.
You pause below one of the curving futuristic poles, which is adorned with a security camera, light fixture, and ambient soundscape speakers. Digitally displayed on the fiberglass pole is the row letter and number.
You reach into your wallet, rifling through its pockets and searching among your many credit cards for the parking coupon. It’s not there. No matter, you will surely chance upon your car soon.
You walk deeper into the lot. In the distance, you discern the steel fence enclosing the parking area. You had no idea this lot was so vast.
The walkways have terminated. You find yourself walking on bare concrete, which judging by the spidering cracks, is due for repaving. The sun has strengthened in its ascent, and a bead of sweat rolls down your underarm.
You stop again to rummage for the location slip only to realize there are no more poles in sight. What good would the receipt do now? On the coarse concrete beneath your feet are faded paint runes that must have once indicated row numbers.
You trudge onward, woozy from the heat, disoriented from the expansive monotony. Glancing back in the direction you came—wait, was that the way?—you realize the perimeter fence is no longer visible. All you see is strip after strip of steel malevolence, the vehicles now packed so tightly that only a child could squeeze between them.
The farther you venture, the more dilapidated the vehicles. Now they’re mostly jalopies, many coated in a thick film of dust as if abandoned for months. In a moment of bitter humor, you scrawl “GODFORSAKEN” into an especially grimy windshield.
What were you thinking, parking here? This place is a disgrace. You will demand a full refund.
Under a fierce sun, you slog on, desperately scanning for your car or a way out. Scrappy grasses push up through the gaping cracks in the concrete. Many of the vehicles are now wrecks—bodies corroded, tires flat, broken windows duct taped over.
Why in God’s name did you park in this junkyard? You lean against the rusty hood of a Toyota to wipe your brow only to jerk up from the scalding metal.
Your arms, your face, and the back of your neck are starting to burn. There’s no evading this murderous sun. You consider crawling under a car, but to what end? Thirst has seized you. You must escape this place.
You do a 360, scanning the horizon, but every perspective offers the same desolate view. You are stranded in a desert of cars.
Is this even a parking lot? It feels like a car cemetery. You haven’t seen a single person yet.
The ground under your feet is no longer paved. The air is suffocating, laden with dust. You cough weakly. Even the grasses have wilted and browned in this scorched earth.
You crouch against the blasted tire of a gutted minivan, trying to squeeze into its meager sliver of shade. The sun assaults you. Keep moving, you must keep moving.
Your shirt clings to your back, your tongue feels large in your mouth. The vehicles are now scattered haphazardly, as though abandoned in haste. Where is your car? Actually—never mind that—what is your car. You can’t even picture it anymore.
The blistering heat has addled your brain. You shake your head, trying to throw off the sunstroke. You better find someone soon.
You stumble on through the wasteland, past ruts and pit holes, past crushed and upended vehicles. The air warbles before you. In places, the charred ground smolders. You gag as a sickly stench permeates the air.
Just as you are about to give up hope, you round a derelict school bus and encounter a small crowd. They are huddled tightly, their backs to you. Despite their eerie silence, a thick mushroom of dust rises from a commotion in their midst.
You rush over to get someone’s attention, first asking, then shouting, and finally tapping shoulders and clutching arms, but to no avail. They are singularly engrossed.
Were such a dense huddle of bodies static, it would be impenetrable. But this one pulses and surges like a living entity. You wait for an opening, then enter the mass. You are at once swallowed up in a miasma of people.
You begin worming your way to the center. As if in a mosh pit, you are heaved to and fro as you press in. The faces whirling around you display an array of expressions—desperation, hate, fear, rage, sorrow—but in each, the eyes are tightly shut.
You’re confused by the depth of this human vortex: it looked smaller from the outside. Despite the silence of the perimeter, it grows noisier as you near the center. The din of cries and grunts and screams soon grows overwhelming.
At last, you reach the thunderous heart. Amidst the dust cloud, a woman lies on the ground, curled in protective fetal position around a child, possibly her daughter. Both are bloodied and caked in dirt.
Men and women, their eyes tightly shut, encircle the woman and child, punching and kicking at them. Some wield sticks upon them. The deafening bedlam of the assailants drowns out any cries of pain from the victims, who writhe and twitch under the blows.
One of the assailers, a woman, is weeping as she raises her stick above them. You clutch her arm. “Stop this!” you shout into her ear. “This is madness! This is evil!”
The woman hesitates, her closed eyes turning up to the sky as if yours were the words of a higher power. “What else can we do?” she cries out, her face contorted with grief and confusion.
“What else, tell me?” She pauses momentarily, then, as if remembering the righteousness of the cause, her face resolves. “We warned them, we told them to leave.” Then, wiping away her tears with a bloodflecked forearm, she resumes striking them with renewed mission.
You fall to your knees. “This is horror, this can’t be—” you cry out, but your words cut off as you are yanked backwards, dragged away from the wretched, thudding center. You don’t resist.
You crawl back out, sobbing, through the mass of gnashing teeth and stomping feet and flailing fists. You are pushed and stepped on and elbowed as you retreat but the physical pain is eclipsed by what you witnessed.
You manage to crawl free of the circle, back into silence and searing sunlight. A trio of older men with stern, unyielding expressions are standing before you, watching. You stagger up to your feet.
“Help me,” you say, hoarsely. “There is a woman and child in there…” You pause, your breathing ragged. “They are beating them… to death….”
The eldest among them narrows his eyes. “You dare speak to us about them? After what happened?”
You stare at them in stupefaction. “I don’t understand… The child can’t be more than five…” But the trio merely glare at you in zealous disdain.
You try to hobble off, but another entourage blocks the way. You reel back in the opposite direction only to be again thwarted. There are dozens, no, hundreds, suddenly streaming toward you from every direction.
You stand paralyzed as they close in around you. Your pulse thuds in your neck. Their faces are varied like those around the mother and child, except here their eyes are wide open and trained upon you. But as they start encircling you, their eyes begin to shut, first one at a time, then in waves.
The elder bends down and picks up a jagged lump of rubble. “Blood on your hands if you do not support us.”
You take a step back. The crowd takes a step in. They are almost upon you, silent, waiting, poised.
The elder extends the debris to you. The sun rages overhead.
You take the chunk of concrete. Clenching your eyes shut, you turn and step into the vortex.
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