Imagine this: It’s a hot day. You are driving through the desert on an interminable ride in an interminable heat. You have rolled down the window of your car and dangled your arm into the breeze, but even the air is hot, the breath of a living thing. You are driving mechanically when your route vanishes from your GPS.
IN 300 FEET, it drones, TURN RIGHT OFF HOLY GROUND.
You laugh sharply, out of surprise and disbelief. You laugh until your hair begins to stand on end.
You try to touch your screen, but you cannot see the next instruction.
You try to ignore the GPS’s directions, but it simply reroutes.
TURN LEFT OFF HOLY GROUND.
DO NOT COME ANY CLOSER.
MAKE A U-TURN.
You cannot pass through.
TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES, the GPS says.
GET OUT OF YOUR VEHICLE, it intones. The voice is changed now, but you cannot quite place how; you do not even think it is in English anymore; you do not even know how you can understand it.
Your GPS glows brightly, the screen pops and fizzles, and you shield your eyes. Your car stalls to a halt. The main road seems leagues away now, hazy, as if you are seeing it from underwater. You blink again and you cannot see it at all; you cannot remember which way you came from. You cannot remember the last time you saw another vehicle. You are alone. Something glimmers in the distance, but you cannot see it through the windshield; part of you suspects that even the film of your corneas would be insufficient.
Even though the screen is dark the voice continues, surrounding you, edging inside you, rumbling in your chest with its hard consonants and round tones.
GET OUT OF YOUR VEHICLE.
TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES.
THE PLACE YOU ARE STANDING IS HOLY GROUND.
You remove your sandals, placing them in the passenger seat along with your sunglasses, your bag, your keys. Your car dings lamely as you step outside, and you do not close the door behind you.
It is a hot day. The asphalt burns the undersides of your feet as you pad closer, heat hazing through the air in waves. The highway stretches for miles in both directions, but you cannot see past the hills; you can see the world laid bare but cannot spot another living creature. The wind whispers. The dirt envelops your toes, clinging to the puffy skin, hissing through the gaps.
Something smells like it is burning. You wait. Minutes? Hours? Years? Are nations fallen, wars ended, your people brought out of Egypt? For you it is a moment, suspended out of time. You have always been in this desert. You have always been in this waste land.
The voice speaks. A vision swims before you: a man engulfed in flame, a burning one, he has six wings, eyes covering every surface of his body, as they blink his form shifts, as they blink they can see through you but you can see nothing clearly, he is reaching his hand toward your lips, so close that the heat is starting to dry your skin and burn your tongue . . .
It is a hot day. You have waited, but you are not ready; you will never be ready. He is sending you all the same.
Cover image by Cecile Hournau.