The farm road that provided the quickest route to Edie’s farmhouse intersected Nord Highway 400 yards south of the meteor’s projected impact point. As “luck” would have it, Bob’s ‘98 Lincoln and Frank’s speeding Ford Explorer arrived at this intersection almost simultaneously. The intersection brought the two roads together at an acute angle, and when Frank decided to ignore his yield sign, a collision was almost inevitable. Bob instinctively turned away and hit the brakes. His car did a 180 as it left the road, flipped on its right side, and skidded backwards into the shallow irrigation canal that ran parallel to the highway. The initial impact created a curtain of water and mud thirty feet high.
This wasn’t the first time Frank had played chicken, and he was going eighty-five when the Meteor hit twenty yards behind him. The blast wave crushed the back half of his car and initially increased his speed to 110 miles an hour. The pavement disintegrated in an asphalt wave, and he (and what was left of his Explorer) came to rest after breaking off a telephone pole 200 yards from the meteor’s impact point.
Bob couldn’t see the sky or the ditch. The only light was mud-filtered. That was particularly annoying because he was disoriented and suspended over the passenger side door by a jammed seatbelt and a left foot stuck behind the brake pedal. And his neck hurt. He decided that the best thing to do was to go back to sleep.
Edie had just opened her front door when she saw fire descending from the sky. She later described it as “what the children of Israel must have witnessed when God destroyed Elijah’s sacrifice and altar on Mount Carmel.” Seconds later the shock wave hit, and the floor bounced as she was struck in the chest by an invisible fist. She didn’t hear anything at the time, but she was deaf for almost half an hour after she picked herself off the floor. The front windows of the house shattered, and the porcelain figurines on the mantle broke when they hit the hearth, but the glass in the picture frames on the piano survived the fall. Edie called 9-1-1 at 11:20.
Because the dispatcher notified the volunteer fire department in Nord as well as local first responders, help arrived for both men at about the same time. Bob’s injuries were considered minor. He had sustained a mild concussion, sprained neck muscles, and deep bruises on his left shoulder and right hip. He left the hospital under his own power after two days, wearing a neck brace. On the other hand, Frank needed immediate life-support and almost died on the way to the hospital in Red Bluff. It might have been better if he had.
Jane never learned what happened to Frank. She knew him as George, and when he failed to show up, she wrote him off as just another bum who would tell a girl anything just to get into her pants. She kept the wig and donated the faux zebra-skin coat to the Salvation Army Thrift Store, where it was purchased for fifty cents by a homeless woman passing through town on her way to Seattle. A week after being “stood up,” Jane met a recently-divorced psychology professor in a local bar and married him six weeks later in Reno.
The Meteor took grim satisfaction in the fact that the impact hole was twenty feet deep and fifty feet in diameter, and debris—ranging in weight up to a pound—landed 500 yards away. (He had almost exactly calculated the ring of destruction.) Unfortunately for him, not only was The Luckiest Man in the World still alive, but the Meteor had gotten himself into deep trouble with a very senior colleague.
The fact that Frank was now a quadriplegic made it impossible for him to participate in a long-term project designed to impeach the President of the United States and to provoke a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel. The “accident” reduced the probability of the successful implementation of the plan to less than 12%, and it had to be abandoned. As a consequence, the career of one of Frank’s very senior colleagues suffered a major setback, and the Meteor found himself—along with his boss and his boss’s boss—back in the mailroom with “absolutely no future prospects for advancement.” (It was obvious that communication between the departments of World Chaos and Human Disillusionment needed improvement, but a 200,000-year history of bureaucratic wrangling prevented any substantive changes in policy regarding future information sharing.)