The blaze consuming the Tesla with a hungry roar is so bright, so utterly spectacular that I stare at it, mesmerized. I forget to run away. Michael grabs hold of Browny and pulls both of us into a ditch. I lie flat by his side, panting, under a shower of sparks. Debris rains from the sky, landing all around.
Opposite us, the four men in camouflage don’t seem to notice our presence. At first, I fear they’ll set fire to my Escape as well, just for grins. To my surprise, they simply ignore it—all but one. He glances at it, then waves a hand in dismissal as if to say, Forget it. Not my job. Turning their backs to the clunker, they pat each other’s shoulders, a camaraderie of evil celebrated at our expense.
The leader of the pack gives a thumbs-up as the other three climb into the unidentified van. He lowers the driver side window, takes the wheel and, while making a U-turn, smiles broadly at his handiwork, the burning thing that used to be a Tesla. The tires have begun to melt, smoldering on one side. Black, acrid smoke is beginning to reach us. Soon, it’ll be hard to breath.
As the van passes by the ditch, the man says something to the other three—it sounds, oh, I don’t know, like Voola?—and they burst into loud, rolling laughter. Which is a good thing, because it covers up my dry croak.
Have they noticed it?
My teeth are chattering uncontrollably. The sound is maddening to me. Have they caught it? Will they come back for us?
No. The van rambles down the road and turns around the bend. A moment later, it’s gone.
Are we safe?
I raise my head. The flames soar overhead, licking higher and higher into the night sky. Billowing smoke starts to thicken around us. It drifts over the trees and across the road, creating an intermittent view of the mountains. The wind picks up and feeds the fire.
Blowing in my face is a wave of heat. In spite of it, I shiver. “W—why—what was that all about?”
Michael rises to his feet and gives me a hand. His chin is set, his face—pale. “That,” he says, darkly, “was a warning.”