I didn’t say much as I drove in the direction of I-80 and Orinda, but as
the blocks slipped by I grew more and more angry. "We have laws, you know," I
said to him.

He didn’t respond and I felt
compelled to go on. "Just because we don’t obey all your laws, doesn’t mean we
don’t have any of our own."

"I know all about your laws," he
said, a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "Thou shall not cook your fries in trans
fats; thou shall wear your helmet at all times; thou shall not insult, deride,
denigrate or impugn any protected group or subgroup, or broadcast or print
anything which could be construed as such; thou shall not use plastic shopping
bags or incandescent light bulbs; thou shall not mix your recyclables in with
your trash…" He sneered at me as he disconnected his seat belt, "Foolish crap
laws for ignorant, empty-headed fools!"

I felt an intense frustration,
knowing he might be right about some of that, but not everything. "Your punishments
are over the top," I said, "smiting people for things that are human nature;
that people can’t help doing sometimes."

Zargon glared at me but said
nothing. Emboldened, I went on. "Why do you have to be so harsh? Can’t you show
a little mercy, maybe give people a warning or something before lighting them
up like a Roman Candle?"

"A timeout?" he said, "Yes,
that’s a good idea." He chuckled and poked his finger painfully in my ribs.
"Yeah, I like that. Maybe have them stand in the corner."

I shook my head and stared
straight ahead. "That’s lame," I said, "really lame." A block ahead I saw the
big green sign for the Bay Bridge and Interstate 80.

"Pull over," he said.

I did.

"Now get out."

Zargon got out after I did. He
came around to the driver’s side and got in. Rolling down the window, he looked
at me. "You think I have no mercy?"

Of course I did, but I didn’t say
anything.

His eyes were full of anger and
it was hard not to look away.

"The fact that you still draw
breath is proof of my mercy." He put the shift lever into drive and sped off.

*

I walked the block to the freeway on ramp. Finding a cardboard box on the
side of the road, I tore a square piece off and took out my pen. I scratched
ORINDA on it, using up all the ink in the pen to darken it enough so that
drivers could see it. I stood there for over an hour as car after car passed
me. All the drivers ignored me as if I wasn’t there; only the occasional child
met my eye. I couldn’t give up, though. I had to get there before Zargon did.
Maybe, I thought hopefully, he’ll see some unmarried couple kissing on the side
of the road and smite them. That would draw the rubber-neckers, cause a traffic
jam and maybe slow him up a bit.

An old Toyota pickup truck came
rolling up the ramp and slowed. Two guys that appeared to be Undocumented–they
were wearing cowboy hats instead of helmets–sat in the cab. The driver nodded
his head toward the truck bed and I climbed aboard.

As we drove up onto the elevated
freeway I saw the distant glow of two fires, big ones. One was in the
Tenderloin; that would be the massage parlor. The other was out in the avenues,
the mosque. The night air was full of sirens. We crossed the bridge and started
climbing up into the hills. I saw the lights of a helicopter hovering up in the
sky in a fixed position–a news chopper. When we reached the entrance to the
Caldecott Tunnel, a California Highway Patrol car was parked broadside across
the road, blocking traffic. The driver pulled off the road and I jumped out. I
waved thanks and walked up along a line of parked cars. In one, the radio was
blaring and the news was on. I nodded to the old gent behind the wheel and
stopped to listen:

"Today in Orinda," said the excited commentator, "death came down from the skies. A terrible
explosion ripped the downtown area. Speculation is rife as to the cause. Some
reporters claim it was a ‘directed energy beam’ weapon, a secret military test
gone awry. Others said it was a missile strike from Kim Young Moon.
Imprisoned-for-life religious figures believe that it was the wrath of God,
directing fire and brimstone down onto the sinful.
"

Troubled, I walked on, intending
to talk to the CHP officers standing outside their car up ahead. I couldn’t
believe that all of Orinda was one big cinder. Perhaps it was only the
neighborhoods. I was most fond of the downtown and the park.

I had walked past five cars when
I spotted mine on the other side of the highway, parked in the little
cul-de-sac of the scenic lookout. I crossed the street and walked up to it. I
could hear the whir of the helicopter overhead as I looked inside. The keys
were still in it. As I opened the door I saw Zargon coming out of the bushes
that lined the trail leading to the lookout. A couple of undocumented people
followed along behind him. I quickly pulled the door closed.

My face still hurt like hell and
my jaw felt like it was broken. I started the car, concentrating on the task at
hand–my escape. I turned to look back. He saw me. I drove out onto the gravel
on the shoulder of the road and was attempting to turn around, when I looked in
the rearview mirror and saw him raising his staff. In a panic, I floored the
accelerator. Then I realized that I couldn’t possibly hope to outrun what was
surely coming. Pushing the door open, I threw myself out onto the road just as
the car exploded in a ball of heat and light.

I slid along the gravel shoulder
then tumbled into the bushes as debris rained down on me. When it stopped I got
slowly to my feet. My clothes were burnt and shredded from the blast. I touched
them and they fell away in tatters.

My hip hurt pretty bad, but it
didn’t seem broken, and I had a helluva raspberry there and on my right knee.
What was left of the car had come to a stop about ten feet ahead. The top of it
was blown clean off and one of the tires lay beside it on the road, still
burning. I looked back to where Zargon had been but didn’t see him.

Strangely detached by my own
nakedness, or perhaps in shock, I went over to the car, not caring if anyone
saw me. I got a look at myself in the broken passenger side mirror. My helmet
was gone, my face and body blackened with soot, and my hair looked wild. I
looked inside the car and saw that the front seat cover was intact, except for
a few holes. I pulled it off and put my legs through two of the holes and
looped the other end over my shoulder, fashioning a crude, caveman-like garment
out of it. Turning round, I stepped on something. It was the brake pedal,
shaped like the jaw of an ass. I knew this because I had once seen a picture of
one in one of the bibles in the Hall of Hate Literature. I picked it up. It had
a good heft and fit to it and would serve handily as a weapon.

I went over to the bushes on the
side of the road and peered out across the bay at The City. It looked like half
of it was on fire, with columns of smoke rising high up into the twilight sky.
The bridge was intact. It would take me an hour to get to the entrance and then
another hour and a half to cross. I realized I could walk back to my place. It
would take me most of the night, but it was possible. Then, after resting up, I
could maybe figure out a way to get to Orinda, maybe through the South Bay.

As I looked at the fires I
thought of the chaos over there and the fact that somebody might get in my way.
I gripped the brake pedal tightly. Well, if they did, they were going to pay a
helluva price.

I started walking.

2038: San Francisco Sojourn: The Wrath of God is one of fourteen sci-fi/fantasy stories in Paul Clayton’s collection Strange Worlds.