1. Morrison, Colorado: Saturday, May 17
It was an ordinary night, nothing more sinister in the air than a cool breeze. A spindly man in his late fifties ambled down a red dirt path just outside of town, cigarette in hand. He had a slight limp in his gait, somewhat balanced by the heavy binoculars slung over his right shoulder on a thin leather strap. He was two hours into his nightly walk when the sun approached the horizon, and he knew just where to watch it go down.
The sprawling public space he now inhabited was settled in the foothills just west of Denver, and was the site of Red Rocks Amphitheatre, alive in the distance with all the joy and bustle of a rock concert. When he was close enough, he left the path and hiked up a hill behind the theater so he could people-watch during the sunset.
Situated a hundred yards or so behind the venue was a flattop boulder near a fir tree that he used often. He made it just in time to catch the oranges and pinks in the height of their brilliance, smiling at the perfect view before sitting. He took in one last drag of his cigarette and smashed it into the grass with his good foot, the right one, and settled in to watch the day fade.
He’d moved to the area nearly five years earlier, shortly after a workplace accident in Denver resulted in the partial loss of his foot; a settlement thereafter produced enough money to live on, albeit modestly. He knew exactly where he wanted to live out the rest of his life in quiet solitude, just a stone's throw from this very park. It was a tourist trap, sure, and a little more populated than he cared for, but there was plenty of solace to be found. He loved this place, never got tired of it.
He thought of it as one of earth’s great seams, the site where the Great Plains met the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Red Rocks Park was also a site of a phenomenon known as the Great Unconformity, where two rock formations existed side by side, formed 1.4 billion years apart, such that there was no geological record of the time in between. Two crusts of the earth had been sewn together at this site, forged over billions of years and bringing together two separate ecosystems; the amphitheater was just an acoustically perfect side effect. He wasn’t a college-educated man, but he was smart enough to appreciate this.
Looking from where he sat, he often imagined a super-colossal angel had fallen from the sky and landed face-first in the rocky terrain, dying and then petrifying there at the unconformity. Now she was grotesquely and beautifully frozen in time, red and dusty, looking over the city below as concertgoers sat on her back, enjoying the superb acoustics of her solidified remains. Massive wings still stabbed upward from the ground unevenly, half-buried by time, straddling the seating area. Her ginger hair was forever flying in the wind, unmoving behind the stage in a leftward splay.
Henry lit up another cigarette and watched the crowd sway as darkness met the fir's shadow and engulfed him in secrecy. From this spot he could hear the music reasonably well, but was invisible to anyone with human vision. That’s where the binoculars came in handy—he loved the feeling of seeing while unseen.
A million yellow dots had outlined the sprawling suburbia in the distance and twilight was nearly over when the first band finished and the crowd began to swirl. Between him and seating area was a back patio where people went to smoke or make phone calls away from the noise; Henry focused his binoculars on a squabbling couple there, imagining what they might be fighting about.
They were drunk of course, especially the young lady, and she fell backward into an unsuspecting man behind her. He was leaning over the ledge and dropped his cell phone below. Henry’s heart leapt a little as he watched the phone disappear in the darkness. The man panicked and spent some time frantically reaching for it before jumping the barrier, only to slide down the steep hill behind the venue and fade into the shadows himself. Someone started talking onstage, and the remainder of the concertgoers evacuated the back patio to watch; the drunk couple and anyone else who’d seen him jump were already gone. Henry briefly wondered if he shouldn't go help the young man, but his thoughts were interrupted by quite the terrifying sight.