Sure, I’ll play, Brian thought as he climbed over the small fence.
There wasn’t much else between him and the series of low crumbling walls near the bank of the river. To an uninformed bystander it would’ve looked like a pointless exercise.
Jumping a fence to look at a bunch of undistinguishable rubble.
But, Brian knew better.
These ruins were unique, and undisturbed. The person on the other end of the rifle now aiming at Brian knew that too.
“Hey, over here!” Yelled the person now tracking Brian’s movements.
Shocked, Brian froze.
“We put that fence up for a reason.”
It was like I had seen a ghost.
The picture was taken more than a hundred years before I was born, and yet there I was looking into the camera lens in 1880.
And, there I was again, looking back into a camera again in 1918, just a different lens.
And, again in 1945 and then in 1981 too.
Every time, the same age and almost the same expression.
How was that possible? I hadn’t even been alive for any of those pictures, and yet there I was, clear as day, looking back at myself from one hundred forty years ago.
“It doesn’t seem like a good idea, is all.”
“That’s because it isn’t a good idea,” she replied.
There was a long silence between the two.
“Wait, what?” Her exclaimed her future codefendant. “Then why the hell are we doing it?”
“For the thrill of it, and because we’ve already dragged ourselves all the way up here,” She replied.
“What does that have to do with anything?” the future codefendant asked.
“That’s easy. Dragging ourselves and all of this gear, back down the way we came would be ridiculously difficult. And besides we’re out of water,” was the final argument.
It’s a dangerous thing, when laziness and incompetence are rewarded by fortuitous circumstances. It can lull you into a sense of validation.
At least that’s how I felt as I looked at the growing pile of unaddressed paperwork on my desk.
The engineering firm wasn’t even open when this was due, closed for the pandemic. I thought, as I stared at the past due dates for required inspections.
No one is even around to notice that we’re behind, my brain mused.
“So, is this stuff even late?” I asked, aloud, to no one in particular.
“Nope, it’s not,” I replied.
There’s a mark on the window, one that hadn’t been there before yesterday.
How’d that get there?
Maybe it was a slug, climbing its way down from the roof. But, I’ve never seen a slug near our house.
Was someone up on the deck?
And why would they draw a half circle on our window?
Maybe I’ll erase it today, or should I see what happens if I leave it up?
Is it a test to see if we’d notice?
Is someone watching us?
Are we in danger?
I don’t like that line, but I’m scared to take it down.
Captain Brian Younger waited patiently on the pier for his new assignment to arrive.
Universal Lines oldest ship, the Andromeda, was due at the old cargo pier in Golfito within the hour. Although the Andromeda was the shipping company’s flagship, Brian knew this was a demotion.
“She’s the oldest, slowest and least important boat in the Universal Lines fleet,” was what he told his former First Mate, when he got news of his upcoming transfer.
The flagship title was in name only, because the owner had a connection to that small port town.
Otherwise, it was a career ending billet.
It had worked, at least for a time.
He had turned the tables on the small group, and unbeknownst to them wrote each right into his plan. It wasn’t a subtle project either, it didn’t have to be.
They aren’t paying attention, he thought.
And he wasn’t wrong.
As the days and weeks progressed, he continued with his scheme. Carefully incorporating each of them into his work. Never once raising the slightest of alarm.
They weren’t paying attention, he was right.
With the first set completed, he immediately started working on the second.
But one of them had caught on.
It was a subtle hint, and totally deniable.
Maybe it’s a coincidence, he thought.
For weeks, the plan was a success, conducted out in the open while everyone looked the other way. To him, it seemed unlikely that someone would suddenly start paying attention now.
“What if he did notice?” Michael asked, aloud.
There was no reply, he was alone in the room.
But the possibility plagued his mind. If someone had figured out his plan, how would they react? Could they foil the plan, or was it too late for that?
I must be over thinking this, he thought.
“Without the economic system, they wouldn’t be construction workers, and without construction workers there would be no housing market to control,” said his opponent coolly.
“You mean, the economic system that’s causing a sixth mass extinction,” he replied.
She calmly considered this attempt to deflect, to change the subject, before responding; “yea, that’d be the same system.” She paused before punctuating her rebuttal, “it’s not without drawbacks.”
The crowd in front of them gasped.
“Drawbacks!” His face grew red as he tried finding the words for a response.
“Yes, drawbacks. Now, please respond to the question at hand,” she said.
The sky was golden yellow as the sun prepared to sink below the tranquil September Pacific horizon.
“Do you think they have any idea what’s about to happen to them?” She asked.
“Nope, none at all,” replied her partner.
Sitting on the bench on the ridge above the small coastal town, the two watched as a steady stream of cars barreled south on Highway One.
“That’s probably for the best, honestly.” She said, turning towards her partner. “It’s not like they could do anything about it even if they knew.”
“Ignorance is bliss, at least when it looks like this.”
His footsteps echoed loudly in the empty passageway.
The ship had been abandoned by its crew long ago.
As he walked forward, along the port side of the cargo holds his four gas analyzer regularly chirped. Science’s way of letting him know the stagnant air was still safe to breath. The crew’s rapid departure from the ship was so immediate that tools and equipment were left as they had been.
As if the machinists would return from lunch shortly.
As if the ship would spring back to life any minute.
But, that wasn’t going to happen.
They were all dead.
The houses were all nestled into the steep hillside, it was a winding road leading up to the crater of the quarry.
How could I have missed this my whole life, I thought.
The initial road was mostly vanished, under sand and dirt. A set of newer railroad tracks completed the bisection, rendering it impassable. Eventually I got caught in the dead leaves and branches tangled around the web of concrete frames holding up the tracks.
That was where I encountered a rogue stray dog and then found the nearly abandoned creole restaurant.
It was all so out of place.
But, before long I had made it to the main road leading up to the old steel factory and surrounding town buildings. At its summit the road forked to the right, around the remnants of the Beaman Industries building.
The wind blew harshly there, and the sky seemed frozen under an impenetrable grey canopy of New England clouds.
This place had been abandoned, by society at least.
But, I had the feeling that some residents still remained tucked away inside the boarded up houses and stores.
A few scattered cars were left along the street, left to the slowly rot.
Walking further along, I could tell I was nearing the center of the town, a tall apartment building was off to my right and row of disheveled storefronts were on the left.
I walked in the middle of the road, knowing that no car would interrupt me.
The place seemed dead.
Until that glowing light interrupted the desolation. Behind me was a carefully parked old Nissan Sentra. I had only noticed the light by chance, some distance behind me.
A flicker of unexpected light.
What the hell was that, I thought, desperately searching for an explanation.
So I turned back.
“What the hell,” I said, aloud.
There was a dark silhouette in the parked car. It was backlit by a dull light from inside the vehicle.
The figured moved, suddenly and sharply.
“Shit!” I exclaimed. “How the hell’d I miss that!” Nervous, I crossed to the other side of the vacant street and took shelter behind another abandoned looking parked car.
A cold gust of wind blew some old shopping bag up the street.
That’s when I saw it, another dark silhouette. This one in a window of the building above the car.
And then another one.
I was surrounded.
The bleak gray light was quickly fading.
There was only one road out of the town, I knew it was nearby. But the sky was growing darker, and couldn’t make north from south. Every turn I made brought me back to the turn before.
Somewhere below the defunct Beaman Industry building I saw a shadow race across the sidewalk.
Maybe it was a bag blowing in the wind.
Maybe it was a stray cat.
So I kept walking, praying that the next corner would lead me to a way out. It was getting cold, and I was getting tired.
“No, I hadn’t imagined that it was going to be easy,” he said, bluntly.
“Then what the hell are you doing it for?” asked Frank. “It’s not like you need the money, or job security.”
There was a brief pause between the two, as the dead grass blew in the wind.
“I saw the blood in the water, and knew everyone else would be running from opportunities.”
“But, the next two years are going to suck because of this,” said Frank.
“Maybe, but the pay-off afterwards will be well worth it. Besides, I’ve been comfortable for too long,” he replied.
A low porch wrapped around the remote board and batten cottage.
Shaded under the deep awing, she sat comfortably in one of the heavy wooden chairs looking out over the sagebrush covered valley. She could hear a set of heavy footsteps approaching along the cedar planks behind her.
It had been a long week, a long year even.
Maybe she should’ve turned around, to face her opponent.
But, she didn’t.
Let her come to me, let her cast the first stone, thought Maria.
As the heavy boots drew closer, she tensed up in anticipation. Soon, it would all be over.
“I thought you liked staccato?” he asked.
The ship continued to toss in the heavy seas.
“Yea, sure I like a good staccato, at the symphony,” she started. “Just not over channel 16 when we’re searching open water for a missing crab boat.”
“Oh, come on, nothing like a little Shostakovich sounding clatter on the radio to ease up a tense situation,” said the Chief.
Captain Alvarez was not amused, as she struggled to capture details from the broken calls for help.
Somewhere, over the choppy horizon a crab boat was struggling to keep afloat in the cold Bering Sea.
It was an obscure turn-off from the main highway through the valley.
If you weren’t already looking for it, there’s no way that you’d find it. Hell, even if you were looking for it, you’d probably miss it.
The sign to Hope Valley had been removed long ago, and no one from the town bothered to replace it. They liked the obscurity, the inaccessibility of the place.
The lack of visitors kept their pristine alpine valley clean, and quiet. Free from the wasteful disruptive habits of outsiders.
It also allowed them to handle problems quietly, and without fear of consequence.
A car started outside.
Who the hell gets up at this hour? He thought.
Getting up from his chair, he quickly made his way to the side door of the building.
“Oh shit!” He yelled, realizing that it was his car that had started.
Running towards the dark vehicle, he lost situational awareness and tunneled on one objective; stopping his car. He was so focused on the car and its driver that he missed the shadow approaching him from behind.
“Hello,” said the shadow.
Without thinking, he turned around shifting his focus from the car.
That’s when it hit him.
The fog lifted as they sailed around the break water at the entrance to the small harbor. In the distance, the bright red pub stood silently on the hill.
“Closed for business, my ass,” said Jordan as she faked the mooring line out on the deck.
“Ha, yea. More money runs through that place now, than it ever did when the locals were boozing up over there,” replied her shipmate Vicky.
“This coast is a gold mine right now, like eighteen-thirties California,” said Jordan.
“Wasn’t the gold rush in the eighteen-fifties?” Asked Vicky.
“Yea, that’s when it got tapped out.”
I didn’t know what to say.
Everything seemed so hopeless then, so bleak.
I checked the numbers, and then the formulas. Everything was correct, the data didn’t lie. This was going to be a long fall, and there was no evidence of a speedy recovery.
But they didn’t know that.
They held on to their hope, to their optimism.
It was an unfounded optimism, there was nothing but pain and suffering in their future. No glimmer of hope, no rest for the weary. While they were clinging to anticipation of a better tomorrow, the good days ahead continued to vanish.
A rusty old chain clanked against a steel fence post at the top of the path.
Evidence of previous human habitation.
We walked forward with cautious determination, listening for voices in between the loud gusts of wind.
“Do you think there’s anything left inside?” I asked my partner.
“Probably not,” she replied. “But we can get out of the sun for a while.”
As we reached the top of the path, we could see around the corner into what was once the parking lot.
A shiny black sedan sat in repose, it couldn’t have been there long.
Countless low waves
glowed in the faint moonlight.
A soft whisper
Of the water echoed
As it splashed against
The ship’s hull.
Or was it the pier
Tied to the shore
So many years
Has it been
Since I’ve wandered
The wide ocean.
That I couldn’t
Quite tell you
Of the sea.
On the docks.
Like a wave
On the rocks.
The faint noise
Of the ocean,
As if echoed
And that’s when
I will hear it,
“By this time next week, they’ll all be cleared out of here,” said the Superintendent as she looked out at the shipyard from the quay wall.
The immutable clamor of a needle gun reverberated through the busy space between the ships.
“Not if they don’t get the zincs for the Z-Boat we’ve got blocking the lift,” replied the Dockmaster.
“They’ll get those zincs,” said the Superintendent, sharply. “We don’t have a choice.”
“I hope you’re right.”
The needle gun paused, in anticipation of the morning break whistle.
“You just worry about the rodeo to get these ships off the lift.”
Sun came up just past six in the morning, and the cool night air was still lingering around the camp.
With a slight wind, the brittle oak leaves rustled as the tree swayed.
It was pleasant now, but I knew that was ephemeral.
When the sun rose over the mountains to the east, it would bring with it scorching heat. And we’d need to take shelter as best we could.
But with so few trees in the long valley, that shelter seemed unlikely at best.
So, I sat there and took in the last lingering breath of cool night air.
“There’s just so much to do right now,” said Brian.
“I don’t care,” replied the Chief Engineer, unapologetically.
The ship rolled heavily to port, forcing Brian to brace himself against the engine room bulkhead.
“Great, but unfortunately your concern is not a motivating factor for me.” Said Brian, coldly, as he turned his back on the Chief and walked towards the ladder leading out of the engine room.
“Hey, wait,” the Chief attempted to call back, only to be drown out by the loud engines.
The ship rolled back to starboard, causing the Chief to brace himself against the bulkhead.
I was simply too comfortable before, and it was starting to make me complacent.
Sure, we had it good and didn’t want for anything.
But, like a shark I need to keep moving forward if I’m going to survive.
So, when the whole world seemed to be collapsing around us, when everyone was looking for shelter.
I smelt blood in the water, and like a good shark, went into a frenzy.
Being on the attack is risky, but the feeling of water, of life, rushing past my gills is invigorating. Now I’m hungry for more, for better.
So, what’s next.
It was early, and I shouldn’t have been awake.
At least that’s what they were thinking as they dragged the heavy canvas bags across my property. The dusty dry soil being kicked up down by the fence line was the first indication that someone was down by the old wash.
People kick up a lot more dust when they’re dragging something behind them.
Grabbing my Remington, I quickly headed out and down the hill towards the dried out wash. Down to where I could see a steady series of light brown puffs of dirt drift into the air above them.
“Those look pretty heavy,” I said, surprising the pair of darkly dressed smugglers.
“Oh, shit,” replied the taller one. “Where the hell did you come from?” He asked, while reaching towards his right ankle.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about my socks if I were you,” I said to him as I raised the Remington up to my shoulder.
He froze, waiting for me to make the next move.
I stepped closer to them, shotgun still at my shoulder.
“Those look pretty heavy,” I repeated.
“They are,” replied the other smuggler. “And we’ve been dragging them for a long time.”