There is a fine line where the water has crept through the rust brown carpet, soaked into the plywood floor of the building and begun again the process of mildew that will leave clothes and body alike stained with the stench of rot. The office is sinking.
When you step onto the floor the water will cause the soles of your boots to squeak like trapped and dying mice. I am concerned about the electrical socket on the far wall as it is low enough to be affected by the telltale swelling of the fiberboard wall covering. With detached interest I wait for the first sputter and inevitable smell of burning wires that every astronaut fears.
In the afternoons I run through the trees on the Marin. The smell of heavy diesel fuel washes past as we fly into the dead quarry past the apartments and on toward the utility line access road. Chain whispering softly through the gears we blast through the sand at the bottom of the first gully and up the washboard on the other side. Lactic acid is building in the muscles as I push toward the top of the hill and on into the narrow wedge between the two halves of the forest. Lungs burn. Heart pounds. Breath comes in ragged tatters only loosely linked to the rhythmic motion of the legs and pedals.
“You’ll need to sign this,” IS2 (Intelligence Specialist, Second Class) Posts softly intones as he slides the form across the desk, “here and here.”
“Here?” The sound of the pen scratching across the paper is something like listening to the low notes from a piano fugue in an empty concert hall. It is the sort of thing that echoes not so much around you as through you, pulling at that melancholy pendulum. Twisting in and gently sliding the time spent between cycles farther and farther apart.
“Yes. There and there.”
“Standard non-disclosure agreement?” Asking helps, just prevents having to spend the five minutes required to read standard verbage.
“Yeah.” Leaning over to deftly slip the paper away and back into a folder, Posts looks up and smiles subtly in the filtered sunlight washing though the vertical blinds. He has the face of a priest, someone holy and forgiving that you trust with the secrets that no one else could hear. Sequestered safely behind the locked combination door of Intel office he is the pastor of a classified flock, yet another clergy member in the church of perpetual silence. “The next part is a required brief. You are forbidden to discuss operations, capacities, capabilities, deployment missions and squadron intentions. Furthermore the following information is considered sensitive and therefore not to be discussed at any time outside of squadron spaces.”
All it takes are ticking seconds.
Lexington Park is a strange mixture of the cutting edge of the United States Navy’s aviation assets and low-income housing. Washington D.C. and Baltimore ex-patriots flooded into the area after the state of Maryland turned what was once condemned Navy officer’s housing into rent free tenement houses. You don’t go through the Flattops at night without good reason and a trusted friend. For such a trusted friend I would recommend Mr. Colt or better yet (personal preference) Mr. Heckler and Mr. Koch.
They languish along Great Mills Road in the morning near the hotel advertising “FREE ADULT MOVIE AND AIR CONDITIONING” with glazed eyes and half-empty forty-ounce bottles of beer. Condensation from the bottles travel through the thickening early morning air has collected in the bottom of the thin plastic grocery bags the citizens use to carry their entertainment. Piss yellow liquid sloshes against an invisible barrier as another dazed drunk lurches into motion. This one spins and shuffles forward, pulled by some atomic force beyond the comprehension of modern science and reasoning. Pirouetting unintentionally on a worn Nike causes his cohorts to laugh at the now stable man. They are dead to the traffic passing, unaware of the coursing world past the painted line at the end of the hotel driveway. Another microcosm, contributing to the whole.
The Flattops as they are referred to is another small universe amidst the remaining background. This is the nucleus of shit in Lexington Park, a festering pit of avarice and fucking enough to give any inner city in the Western Hemisphere a run for it’s money. Some of the houses are missing key structural components like walls and doors and roofs. Some of the houses are missing windows thereby allowing the encroaching forest to grow in through the windows. Piercing the tattered remains of newspaper curtains and the history of abuse to expose the true face of poverty as if anyone really cared to know.
What I find incredible is that people actually voluntarily cooperate with nature in such an amazing way. I mean, where else in America (some sections of Los Angeles excluded) can you find people tolerant of trees growing directly into their bedroom windows? Amazing stuff folks, and this is all the unclassified part.
We are nearing the crest of the third hill now, this section of the access road dips toward the water table and then rises enough to burn the energy saved during the last coast to the trough off completely. The trail winds through a series of sine waves toward the south. Undulating through the trees enough to make you wonder about West Nile Virus every time you slide through muck at the bottom of the hills. Spinning slower toward the top of the hill I shift gears and the chain skips several teeth which elicits a fair stream of cursing directed primarily at the rear derailleur. Establishing the same unity between breath and pedal stroke takes a few motions, however eventually we’re back at it again. Sun flashing through the trees as something crashes through the brush.
Three, two, one geyser. The five figures are running through the sand at night, attempting to escape an American artillery barrage. The ground suddenly explodes into a fountain of fine dust mixed with dissolving flesh.
Four figures. Numbers flash as the impact is recorded and the add/left figures for fire correction are passed to the battery. More sand erupts into the night.
Three figures. Someone in the room yells to blow the fuckers away. Again an artillery round impacts and pushes the soil skyward. More numbers and three figures, the FLIR is tracking pretty well and it must have been damn cold that night because you can almost see their footprints a step or two behind in the sand. You can’t hear the rounds but you can certainly see where and when they hit.
Three left. They’re running for something that you can see off to one side of the picture, something that looks like the doorway to the bunker. Someone else in the room mockingly announces that the bastards ain’t goona fucking make it unless they pick up the fucking pace. They don’t.
The boy is standing in the middle of the trail armed with what appears to be a large steel pipe. Something torn from somewhere and now held as a katana. There is no sign of a tanto or wakizashi which leads me to assume that he is definitely pre-dating Musashi’s school.
No shirt, a pair of shoes worn almost through and rubbed black with dirt to match the ragged blue jeans encasing the fragile waist. I manage to skid to a halt on the other side of the hill as he raises the pipe and unleashes a ragged shriek.
Charging toward me for panicked seconds the boy abruptly stops and then cackles maniacally. He drops the pipe behind him from where it was held at the ready over his head and then sprints into the woods. I can briefly hear the sound of branches and undergrowth snapping beneath his weight before it recedes past the point of my damaged hearing and the blood still pounding through my head. Dust sparkles around the pipe left lying in the middle of the trail in the late afternoon light, these the only signs betraying the existence of my underage samurai.
I sit there stone silent, amazed that something like this happened outside of California. I thought for the longest time that the Golden State had a lock on all things surreal. Sinking offices and indigent ronin wandering the woods. Unmanned aerial vehicles driven by wooden propellers and decaying buildings home to the exiled hustler no longer welcome on their own soil.