Chapter I
 
November 15: 20—A.D.
City: El Paso, TX
Home of the Coronado Thunder Birds

 
The day was hot and dry. It was the kind of Texas day that sucked the sweat from you before it could filter through your hair and drip down your face--the kind of day that was perfect for a contest.

Navy-blue and gold uniforms made their way across fields and parking lots, their planned rendezvous an area of blacktop behind the band hall. Black and brown cases of varying sizes housing convoluted contents were appearing from the band room as the musicians retrieved their instruments. Slowly, they began assembling in their ranks as buses pulled up outside the chain link fence that surrounded the school.

“Chris.”

“Ooooh!” The moan came from a hunched over figure in the saxophone rack.

“Chris!”

“Don’t yell. I can hear you!”

Bruce laughed at her, his pot belly bouncing up and down.

“Chris has a hangover. Chris has a hangover…” he taunted.

Chris stood and glared at him, cutting him off.

“What did you let me drink that whole bottle for? You could have told me. My parents were very upset this morning because I didn’t come home.”

“Me! You were the one who wanted to party. I didn’t know about the tequila any more than you did. It was the only thing left in my parents’ liquor cabinet that they wouldn’t notice missing. And it wasn’t the whole bottle, it was a third.”

“Oh, Bruce…!” The two turned as a pale face stumbled up to them. “I feel sick! What was that nasty stuff we had last night? What was it?”

“Tequila,” grunted Chris. She didn’t care much for this person.

“Dawn looks bad too,” continued Susan. “She hasn’t said a thing all morning. She just stands there.”

“We need to get in ranks; we’ll be late,” announced Chris, trying to get away.

“But I just don’t know what to do. Do you think she’s mad at me?” Susan proceeded as if she hadn’t heard. “Do you think I insulted her or something last night?”

“We’re going to be late,” repeated Chris, grabbing her case and hat, and leaving Bruce with Susan.

“Maybe she thinks I’m getting stuck up again? You know, like that last time when she liked Roger but thought….”

“Susan!” scowled Bruce, bending and grabbing his trombone from the rack and following Chris.

“Well--I can’t help it, Bruce; I’m worried,” added Susan as she ran after him.

“Does the word hangover mean anything?” he threw over his shoulder.

Susan clutched her flute case under her arm, her sudden silence causing Bruce to roll his eyes as they filed into their squad.

It was an unfortunate turn of events that George Alm had come down with mono. Not only did a flute player look stupid in the middle of a trombone squad, the flute player was an alternate. The end of the row contained the flute section where Susan should have been, would have been, if she could have kept her mouth shut. Her impulse for chatter however had not only caused a disturbance, it had gotten her demoted to alternate, her job now to fill in vacant spots.

“No, what is it?” she admitted finally.

“I’ll explain it later.”

Chris’s saxophone squad stood next to Bruce’s. “A purebred squad,” as Chris often teased her best friend Bruce, while reciting “One of these is not like the others….” In response, squad-mates Nick, Jimmy, and Dawn would smirk and hold out their horns to show they all matched.

But today, the mood was more serious, the concentration of the band running high despite the low murmur running through the ranks. It was the freshmen’s first contest and the only real conversation that could be heard were the upper classmen criticizing defects in uniform… and Susan.

“I want to know now!”

“Shut up!”

Susan’s face fell into a pout. She turned away from Bruce, causing Bruce to shoot Chris an exasperated look. Chris could only shake her head at him, the drum major directing the line into one of the buses. Bruce was the first to see the order.

“Go!”

He gave Chris a push, the movement passing to Nick, and then on to Jimmy, and Dawn. They grappled in unison for their cases, even their step taken in unison. A strange unison, a skipping unison, like the flick of sticking film, everyone taking notice that something wasn’t right. Then the film froze and gaped into screaming flame. The group sank and grabbed their midsections as the upheaval hit, the ground lifting in a massive flash of light. Chris’s insides exploded into fire, her body bracing for impact, but in the disorienting tumble her consciousness was ripped from her.