The glow ahead of us grew, and it lit Jonathan walking in front of us, so we could clearly see his dark form until he entered into the light and the hubbub of the meadow. Most of the glow was coming from a pit. Flames leapt into the sky. The pit was right in the middle of the meadow. On our side of the meadow, some of the glow was coming from Tavern On The Green. People flooded in and out of the restaurant like ants, but far more people milled around the meadow itself. It was like walking up to a carnival.
Sheep Meadow really had once been a place for sheep. From 1870-1934, sheep were decorative features of the meadow. They were driven in and out of the Sheepfold twice a day by a shepherd. I imagine they were great lawn mowers, but I also imagine that their shit made the lawn useful only for sheep. They also held up traffic, which became a bigger and bigger problem after cars were invented. The sheep were banished to Brooklyn. In 1934, Brooklyn wasn’t real popular. The Sheepfold had been turned into Tavern On The Green, which was real popular.
Sheep Meadow had been a testament to meticulous grounds keeping. It was normally a wonderful place for a picnic. The grass was never too long or two short. It was always a just right place to plant your butt and throw out a blanket. But, that was before.
Now, the grass was churned up by a few days of constant foot traffic and the tires of vehicles that once hadn’t been allowed. Of course, there was also that big fire pit dug right in the middle of the lawn. I could see that there were actually two pits. They couldn’t be very deep, because the bedrock of Manhattan lies close to the surface, sometimes exposed in the form of big boulders. The second pit wasn’t in use. It was probably in rotation with the other pit, so it could cool and then emptied of ashes while the other one burned. Both pits had hastily constructed chain link fences around them. I supposed the fences were either for slave control or to keep drunks from wandering into the flames.
There was a carnival atmosphere. The new macabre purpose of the meadow had drawn the creatures of the night. People had set up make-shift booths where they sold different goods and services. I saw one that said, “Bird Repellerant. GURANTEED.” Another one promised, “Voodoo Curses Placed and Removed, Zombies Made.” I silently determined to keep Mike away from that one. There were food booths, too. I wondered if Jaye had moved her rat snack business uptown. I also wondered if anyone could eat, here. The entire meadow reeked of smoke and the smell of burning pork, except it wasn’t pork.
People capered around in wild costumes. Post-apocalyptic was in. As a society, we’ll never move beyond Mad Max and Blade Runner when it comes to End Of The World fashion. Leather hip-high Kiss boots were the cool footwear, never mind that ankles were being twisted left and right as people stumbled around. People sported newly shaved mohawks and skin tight leather pants and jackets. Accessories were anything that looked like a holster or a bandoleer, even if you didn’t have a weapon or ammo to put in them.
A lot of people did have weapons, though. Kitchen knives were visible on belts everywhere because they are the weapons that everyone has access to. Some former foodies and professional chefs had broken out their meat cleavers. Several people had sharpened broomsticks into spears. I assumed that a few people, like us, had pulled pistols from under pillows and tucked them into pockets. The only people who had the big guns, guns you could see from far away, like rifles, were the people who were working near the pit.
There were what appeared to be several organized groups. The Native Americans Don had talked about were doing their big bird dances in their big bird costumes. A couple of them had collapsed, probably from exhaustion, and their friends danced right over them. A group of Hindus were less athletic, but they had a big bird man looking statue with them and a sign that said, “Welcome Garuda and Your Rider Vishnu!” A group of people were running around in a long, sinuous paper Chinese dragon costume, but then one of them tossed a firecracker into a small crowd, and the dragon was ripped to pieces in the ensuing fight.
It would have looked like a fun place to be, any other time. We would have planned to go for weeks, and gotten together a big enough group that we could have the illusion of safety. This was for real, however, and we had to do more than survive the party. The three of us looked at each other and shared a moment of silent support. Then we stepped into the meadow.