We were in the backyard, sipping coffee and listening to the crickets and the thrum of I-80, me reading another Stephen King novel and you working one of those sudoku puzzles, when great Wormwood fell. The third angel – third in a week, you said quietly – slipped gracefully through the third heaven with a silver trumpet in his hand. And he blew that accursed horn so loud it shook the whole heartland. 18-wheelers on the long haul shuddered and screamed, skidding to a halt, burnt rubber tracks and tire shreds flying out in smoke behind them. Cars and minivans veered for the shoulders, dived into the ditches, their radiators steaming, engines ticking and little kids screaming in the back seat, crying with red eyes and snot bubbles under their noses.
We watched with slow wonder as that great star began its descent, falling from orbit, its signal lights twinkling normally at first, as if nothing was wrong, five-by-five on orbital path. Then suddenly faster and faster as it plummeted, plunged to the earth, down into the sea, somewhere in the North Pacific. A spray of mist came over us there in the yard, more than four thousand miles away. And that fine spray of mist was bitter – not the shock of ocean salt water, mind you, but bitter.
It was the bitterness of acrimony, the bitterness of despair. It was the bitterness of petty officials who get their way, not because they’re right, but because of an abstract authority, acting in spite and venom. It was the bitterness of stifled dreams. Of every whispered threat. Of anxious worries. The bitterness of wrongs left un-repented and unforgiven. A third of the waters of the Earth turned bitter like wormwood oil, and many people died because of its poison.