First thought: Oh, fuck, that stupid Mayan calender bullshit again.
This is one of the best things about being an atheist: I don't sit around shit-scared of "ancient prophecies." Not that I did before - after all, I lived in central Arizona for many years. You know what's in central Arizona? Overwhelming woo.
I lived in Sedona when the spaceship that's hibernating in Bell Rock was going to emerge and take everybody away to the stars. How does the woo crowd know there's a spaceship in Bell Rock? Just look at it:
It's shaped just like a flying saucer!!1!11!!
Or a bell.
Or a fucking big chunk of sandstone eroded by millions of years of wind, rain and blast-furnace quality sun.
Everybody flocked to roadside rock stands to buy quartz crystals at outrageous prices so they could summon the ship. Nobody wanted to miss the bus. I was going to buy a crystal myself - I like quartz, it's pretty - but I couldn't find anything larger than a microdot that was under $30. While I was pawing through the bins in a vain attempt to find something visible yet affordable, the woman next to me waved a fistful of quartz at her friend and babbled, "This one was cold, and this one was kind of warm, but this one's hot!"
I left forthwith. There's only so much rampant stupidity you can tolerate in a day.
The big day came. The ship didn't. The woo-woo crowd had to slink home the next morning clutching their now-cold crystals (funny how quartz cools down when it hasn't been baking in the sunlight, innit?). I'm not sure how they explained to themselves why the ship didn't emerge, but they were all out there again years later, where this time, a ship was supposed to land in Chino Valley and take them all away, just like Calgon.
It's important for the purposes of the story that you know what Chino Valley looks like:
Note the brown stuff. That's not dirt, it's dead grass. The hills are covered in brittle, dry, and above all extremely flammable grass.
It gets pretty tall sometimes.
So. This herd of very silly people drives out there, having sold their possessions and prepared themselves to fly away to the stars. They park in a field, troop over the hills, and wait.
And pretty soon, there's a glow over the brow of the hill. The ship! The ship must have arrived!
Or it could've just been that the hot muffler of the VW bus had come into contact with some of that brittle, dry and above all extremely flammable grass. The fire consumed every last car. The spaceship never came, and these fuckwits had to hike back to town.
So here we are, in the year 2008. There's a whole new crowd of silly fuckwits selling off their possessions, spending all their money on survival gear, and blathering about how the Mayan calender ends in 2012 and the sun will line up with the galactic center for the first time in 26,000 years on the last day of the Mayan calender and the winter solstice, and of course that means the end of the world!!111!!1!
Not that they'll listen, but even AOL calmly debunks that, and there I'd been convinced the staff would believe anything:
Experts laugh off these notions. "These prophecies of doom really don't have any basis in what we know about the Maya," said Stephen Houston, an anthropology professor at Brown University and an expert in Maya hieroglyphic writing. "The Maya descriptions barely talk about this event." He said the Mayans saw their calendar coming to an end on the date, but then starting over without any catastrophes.
So. Because of the vagaries of astronomy and the fact that a bunch of Mayans decided to leave the rest of the calender for later (there's a party on tonight and we've got headaches from all these calculations), we've got a whole new opportunity to witness a bunch of doomsday freaks make complete and total asses of themselves.
I can hardly wait.