YOUNG LIEUTENANTS


As I ran against the crowd the intensity of the gun fire increased. I had to ask myself why I was not going in the opposite direction with the rest of the crowds. It was not a question worth asking at this point since I had to get back to the apartment and get the rest of the family. The city was under fire from the rebels and I was determined to get the entire family out before the rebels took control. I was a known government employee and my family had always been loyal to the government. We would not be safe under the new regime. I had promised to get every family member out of the city. I had made the mistake of getting my parents out before meeting my nephews who lived closer to the front.

My brothers were on duty at the front and I was responsible for the safety of the rest of family. At first it seemed like I was doing the logical thing. I got the sick and the older relatives out and left the fit and young for last. I was hoping that they could run faster than the crowds. We were a fit family, we were a military family. All the young men were expected to join the service so we were always ready for war.

I pushed through the crowds and made it to the apartment complex. The sound of artillery was deafening, but there was no sight of combatants. The gates were open and the courtyard was empty. I stopped to catch my breath hands on knees. As I recovered from the run it hit me that the fighting must have entered the city proper. I never though things would get this far, but we were prepared. The sun was moving toward the horizon and night fall would arrive within the next 2 hours. I had to pick up the pace before nightfall. The red indicator lights were blinking. It was soon going to be really dark in the neighborhood, the mains power was out. I swiped my card and gained entrance to the complex. I would have to take the stairs since the elevators were powered off during emergencies. As I started the climb to the 5th floor a projectile crash through the door. I crouched along the stairway as what looked like a small recon drone scanned the room. As an intelligence officer it took me seconds to recognise the drone. It was a rebel recon drone. It scanned the room and moved toward the courtyard. I used the opportunity to continue climbing, there would be a few more drones moving soon.

I moved as quickly and quietly as I could. I finally got to the apartment breathless and sweaty. I knocked and the door opened quickly. The boys were ready. Backpacks were filled with food, water and weapons. They were well prepared for a fight. They handed me a survival kit. I was proud of their preparation but Max and Taylor were a little too eager for the fight. I repressed the thought and slipped my backpack on and told them about the drone. They had more information than I realized. They had seen the drone and had been watching as the fighting got closer to the neighborhood. It was not the ideal time to introduce them to the brutality of war, but it had to happen at some point. It took less than 5 minutes for us to debrief , plan and move out. I felt like I was a young lieutenants leading a small recon team. I was long pass those days but I too was itching for the fight. The family was safely away from the front and it was time for us to find the rest of our team.

SNOW


Living on the 22nd floor was great, but I felt a need to get out of the house. I had not left the house in about three days. It had been warm in the apartment and the closest I had gotten to the blizzard was watching from my window. For the first time in a long while I did not have to shovel a sidewalk or spread salt. It was a wonderful feeling. I was even happier with my decision to sell my car last summer. The last few days were even better that classes had been cancelled and my pantry was stocked and prepared for a long stint inside. It was going to take a special event to get me out of the house.

The view from the 22nd floor was glorious. I sat in the front of the apartment and sipped my cocoa tea and enjoyed what I saw. The apartment was in the front of the building overlooking the street and across from my favorite park. It was a great place to live in the summer and I was about to find out how much fun winter could be. Well not really, I was here for the summer not the winter. I had thought my research would have been complete before the first snow but it was not even thanksgiving and a giant snow storm had already stalled the city. My hope for a short winter without much snow was already headed in the wrong direction. I was still hoping but not hopeful. The old timers were certain that it was going to be a cold snowy season. I should have followed my instincts and taken the assignment in South Florida. But the draw of the city was too much. I convinced myself that another year in the cold would be ok. Only 2 months in and all my assumptions had already been proven incorrect. I was hoping I was going to get at least one prediction correct. It was not looking good.

Well, I did get one thing correct. The stray cat I had adopted was still around. Kitty was with me at the window enjoying the view. She was curled up by the heater with her face against the glass. The glass was cold and the floor warm, so I was lost as to why she was in that position. She was a cat after all, there is no making sense with them. Maybe she just needed to make sure there was an actual barrier there. The window was a giant pane of glass, it was in fact the entire front wall of the apartment. We had a postcard view. We sat in silence for what seemed like forever until she suddenly jumped up unto my lap and demanded my attention. I was not fast enough for her it seems so she started to lick my face. I started to pet her but she was not satisfied. She jumped off my lap and was back at the window and looking down intently. I followed her gaze. She was looking into the park. I gazed into the park just as intently as she did, but all I saw was a blanket of snow covering my running track.

I got back into my comfy seat and tried to get back to my mug. That did not last. Kitty was back in my face showering me with saliva. I followed her to the window, she was trying to show me something I assumed. I still only saw snow. I backed up to my seat and as I was in the motion of setting I noticed some motion in the tree line beyond the 400 meter track. There was just enough movement, but I could not tell what was moving. It was not windy so something other than the wind was causing the movement. I would have ignored it, but the streets were empty and the track was covered in snow, no one should have been out there. So I decided to go investigate.

I WILL NOT BE DECIEVED.


I could feel the heat of the morning sun sneaking through the crack in the heavy curtains keeping my room dark and cool. As I tried to hide from the heat the cacophony of bird chirps irritated my ears. I was usually an early riser but I had a little too much fun before going to bed. I dragged myself out of bed and pulled the curtains open and my eyes were assaulted by the brightness of the early morning sun. Ben was still asleep, neither the light nor the audio assault of the many birds stirred him. I could not sleep anymore. It was time to start my day. There was only one problem. My head was paying the price for the excessive of the night before. It came on slowly but I was definitely nauseous and the room was spinning faster and faster the longer I stood. My stomach felt like it was lodged in the back of my throat. My salivary glands oozed increasing quantities of fluid. I had not felt this poorly in many years.
I slowly backed up and rolled back into bed. I closed my eyes tightly, but there was no relief. Suddenly my stomach blew up like a tense balloon followed closely by the release of its contents up my esophagus and through my oropharynx and out my mouth onto the floor. The taste was not as bad as I thought it would have been. The back of my throat relived the bitter taste of the IPA I had had too much of the night before followed by the saltiness of the fries. I was happy not to locate the taste of the fish, it was not that good. It was a very fast review of my last meal followed by another quick reminder. After the third time I had had enough reminders. The bed had collected the last two explosions and the smell had gone from beer to unbearable.

The room was spinning and the light of the sunrise was burning my cornea. I closed my eyes tightly and remained still. I was not rewarded. The room continued to spin and the volcanic activity in my stomach continued. I lost count of the explosions, but the worsening taste did not escape me. I was certain that my stomach was empty but the expulsions continued. It seemed as if my duodenum was collapsing under the force of the attempts to pull the fluids from my small intestine. Closing my eyes did not stop my world from spiraling down the drain. Ben did not move a muscle. I felt as if I were dying a long slow death. I was too weak to get up and was now laying in foul-smelling cold vomit. All I could remember was my grandma, Mama, quoting the bible “Wine is a mocker, he so deceived is a fool”.
Next time, I will not deceived.

LONG COLD NIGHT.


I could just hear it, that clatter. It was like my head was about to explode. I tried to get up but it felt as if I was being held down by a bear. The weight on my chest was immovable. As I struggled I felt a burning sensation in my left arm and leg. As I struggled to get free of the weight that held me in place, the clatter became a pounding. My head was pounding and my stomach suddenly wanted to explode. The weight on my stomach became unbearable and I could feel the on coming eruption. I stumbled trying to get to the bathroom. With the urge to empty of my stomach I overcame the weight and stumbled to the bathroom and emptied my stomach onto the floor. There was an awful smell and the eruption just continued. I tried to reach the commode but stepped into the erupta and fell. My stomach continued to erupt. I smashed my head against the commode and felt a jolt of pain piercing through my body.

My eyes opened, but I did not see the commode. I was not in my bathroom. All I could see was white. That awful smell was still there and the taste of vomit in the back of my throat was pungent. I was cold and the world seemed upside down. I was upside down. It was my seat belt that was holding me in place with the deployed airbag in my face. There was vomit every where.

As I came to my senses I realized that it was the middle of the night. I was upside down in a ditch. I had had too much to drink and tried to drive home in the snow. I should have known better. Suddenly the pain in my left arm and leg became almost unbearable. I could not move my arm and I could see what looked like bone sticking out of my leg. It was going to be a long cold night.

BEACH


The cab was waiting as I ran back into the house for the third time. I had forgotten our passports. I ran upstairs to our bedroom and the passports were on the bed. It was in the same spot I had left them earlier. It was supposed to be the start of a long-planned trip. It was more than three years in the making and I was running late for the easiest part of it. I was usually the early bird, but not today. I was too nervous. Mike was shouting from the cab and I was ignoring him. I was nearly down the stairs when I tripped over one of Amy’s toys and fell flat on my face. As soon as I hit the hardwood floor I could hear the crunch of my nose and the wetness of blood soon followed. Mike was there in a flash and helped me to my feet. He got a wet towel and cleaned my nose. The cabbie was not as patient, he started to hunk.

Mike, not easily intimidated, shouted back at the cabbie. I had not heard Mike curse in a long time, but the expletives came thick and fast. I squeezed his hand to let him know I was fine. The cabbie was shouting back and unloaded our bags and drove off. It was all going badly so fast, it seemed our long-planned Tanzanian vacation was going to be over before it started. I was already disappointed.

Mike collected our things as I cleaned up. I called another cab. The cab arrived before Mike could get all our luggage back into the house. He was annoyed that I had called a cab, but he was happy that I was still up for the trip. I had assessed that my nose was not as bad as it seemed and I was not going to lose thousands of dollars for a bloody nose. The cabbie was efficient and we were packed and on the move quickly. Fortunately for us we always left early for the airport in spite of living within 15 minutes. Traffic was light and we made it to the airport in 14 minutes. We made it through security easily and got to our gate with time to spare. As I took a seat I remembered that I had not taken any allergy medication. It was too late. I would have to get something once we arrived in Tanzania. I did not tell Mike that I had left the allergy medication. I was too embarrassed since I had misplaced so many things already today.

Mike had just gotten comfortable when the boarding announcement was made. We had first class seats and were in our seats with drinks in our hands long before most of the passengers had boarded. The service was wonderful and all I could think of was finding a beach on the Indian Ocean. The rumbling of the aircraft engines made it real. We were going to be in Tanzania soon. We both were looking forward to the beach and the mountain. Kilimanjaro was the goal. We both had always wanted to climb Kilimanjaro and meet because we had mutual friends that knew of our interest in Kilimanjaro. We were starting our dream vacation.

As the plane rolled down the runway I closed my eyes as I always did on takeoff. The rumble of the engines were ever-present and my headphones were not a real barrier. I had my takeoff routine and Mike had his. His was to squeeze my hand. I could feel the acceleration and Mike’s grip became tighter and tighter. As we started the accent there was a loud bang and the plane fell rapidly. It felt as if I was being pulled from my seat. The seat belt held me tightly and then there was a second bang as we crashed into the water. Mike got his seat belt off and was urging me to do the same, but I was in a dream. We had gotten to the beach a lot sooner than I had hoped.

KILL SHOT


The room was still dark, but the gentle climb of my alarm could be heard. It heralded the last job of my trip. The near return to reality was welcomed and abhorred in equal measure. I rolled over to find an empty bed, just the way it was when I got in. The thought of coffee was driving me to get out of bed. Unfortunately my nostrils were not tickled by the usual morning scent of my strong coffee brew. It was a reminder that I was in a lonely hotel room. I missed my own bed, but more so I was missing my automated coffee maker. My alarm had stopped and restarted before I could get the energy to pluck myself out of bed. Suddenly the room and bed were not as warm. The combination of cold room and comfortable bedding was keep me static. I finally convinced myself and reach to get my phone. It was just out of reach forcing me to face the cold and get out from under the warm canopy. The warmth of the plush cushioned carpeting was reassuring and the cool feel of the phone was comforting. I really missed waking up in my own bed, but this was not as bad as I had imagined. Waking in a strange bed had become a familiar process but I still had not gotten the ‘hang’ of it. Bills had to be paid and this was how I got it done. As I opened the heavy drapes the brightness of the morning sun was comforting and exhilarating. I was expecting to see snow, but the joy of seeing the desert and mountain was a real treat. I could feel the heat of the rising sun on the large window panes. I could feel the darkness falling away from my cloudy head and the joy of the new day rising. This was going to be a wonderful few days.

This was the first morning of the new contract and it was important that I started on the correct footing. I had gotten the timing correct, it was 0630 local time. I had gotten in late and went straight from the check-in counter into bed. As I looked around for my bags I noticed that someone had made a every costly error. They should have booked a one bedroom. This looked like the largest one bedroom  or I was in the wrong suite. It turned out to be a three bedroom three bath suite. I finally found my bags in the living room, but could not remember placing them there. Everything looked intact and that is all I could ask for. The suite was more than enough for me and family, but I was alone. I was missing my princesses, but I had to get the this last contract done before I could get home. It was day thirty-one and hotel number seven.

I had the same routine every morning. I unlocked my phone and confirmed my location and started my morning play list. It was my routine. I had learned from my mentor that starting the day with your favorite music was essential to the trajectory of the day. “Great music makes the day”, he use to say. Unlike the other many things he had tried to teach, this was the only one I really took wholeheartedly. I was religious about it. I had a 15-minute play list that was my morning companion. Only thing missing was my cup of coffee. I turned the music up to maximum and jumped into the shower. The water was just above room temp and was invigorating. It was a glass enclose stand-up shower with only one facet. There was no hot or cold. There was just a single tap and shower head. It was adequate.

I heard a loud bang and felt heat moving down my back. I had never been shot, but this must be what it felt like. I was usually the shooter. There was shattered glass on the floor and I fell into it with cool water pouring over my legs. This was a kill shot. I closed my eyes and wished I could have given my girls a hug.

THE GIFT OF WORDS


There is a time and place for everything is a saying that is banded about often. For me, Sunday morning is a time for words and words are key to opening the world. I learned my appreciation for words from my father and grandfather. Both read a lot and gave me the desire to read. The power of words are in their ability to transport. Unlike any other medium words are all-powerful. They transport both in time and place. How far we get transported is determined by our willingness to grasp the full meaning of the words we encounter. There is no short cut to getting to full understanding. All understanding comes via a dictionary. I had to learn that the hard way. I wanted to get the words without putting in the dictionary time. I resisted examining the meaning of unfamiliar words. My resistance stifled the growth of my vocabulary. Over time I have come to the understanding that a dictionary is an essential tool. I now check my dictionary as often as I can and am the better for it.

Sunday morning is my special day. Sunday morning is my newspaper day. Getting the Sunday paper and reading for hours is my joy. The importance of reading cannot be underestimated. I want to read for fun and encourage all to do the same. Sitting in a comfortable chair with a coffee and the Sunday New York Times makes my weekend. The feel of the paper between my fingers. The sounds and pictures created in my mind are always a joy. Giving that joy to my children is my goal.
Giving the love of words to our children is the most vital gift. We must give them that gift without reservation and allow them to express themselves. They will surprise and delight us. I love words because they have opened the world to me. They bring the outside in and the inside out. They transport and uplift. They transform and elevate. Giving the power of words transmits great expectations and challenges the receiver to greatness.

Let us challenge the children in our life with meaningful words. The love of words will open to them the broad expanses of life’s possibilities.

ARNOLD


We had the smallest office in the community work space we shared with three other local start-ups. It was my turn to prep the office for the day. We slept little and worked a lot, but the weekend was sacred, so we all went home. Under a bright full moon I fumble just enough with the keys to notice that there was an open window in the building adjacent to ours. I ignored it  but I did notice the slight irritation of chlorine in my nostrils. I ignored that too, and while opening the door noticed that it was heavier than usual.

I pushed the door open expecting to find something blocking it, but there was nothing. I checked the hook on the back of the door and there it was, a winter coat. It was a heavy-looking neon orange winter coat. Even in the Florida winter such a coat would be out-of-place. The slight hint of chlorine was more pronounced, but I ignored it.

We called our building the gym, since it was just a large industrial building divided into work spaces. In a previous incarnation it was a dance studio. The floor was made of wonderful material and felt great under foot, so most of us walked around bare footed. I ignored my intuition, took off my shoe and placed them on the shoe rack. The shoe rack was the water cooler of our office. We all wore shoes made by the Shoe Company. It was the first local start-up to make it big and we were all proud to show off our latest wears.

We were proud to share space with them. They had long pasted the start-up phase, but they still had that feel. Most mornings  I would go visit their sector to see what cool designs they had on display. Mike, one of the co-founders was always first in the office and we would share coffee and catch-up. He still slept in his office many nights and worked like a dog. Recently he talked about slowing down. He had gotten engaged and it was time to play more than he had been.

Mike and I were the coffee people and I was going to miss him discovering exotic blends. We had a deal with the coffee importer on the second floor. We rigged a shoot that delivered the latest coffee to us each morning. We had a coffee treat everyday. Coffee from the heaven we called it. As per our arrangement a new flavor was awaiting me. I did not hear anyone in the office but assumed that the heavy coat belonged to Mike. I setup the brew and decide to check Mike’s office and tease him about him having a winter coat in the Sunshine State.

As I opened Mike’s office that subtle scent of chlorine became a dense fog clogging my eyes and nose. I called for Mike but there was no response. As I caught my bearing I noticed that the office was a wreck. It was as if a hurricane had passed through. There was no sign of Mike, but I did notice several brown spots on the floor.
The six desks in the office had there draws out and the pictures from the wall were on the floor. The chlorine was choking and so I opened the windows. I hurried out of the office to avoid being overwhelmed by the smell.

I ran to the front door and opened it to get some airflow. On the way out I noticed that the other spaces looked just as I had left them last Friday. No one was to have been here over the weekend. My office was the only space containing any valuables so I went to check our safe. All I could think of was that we had been robed, but why the heavy chlorine smell. Once into my space I noticed it was essentially untouched. I called Mike’s number and I heard a phone ringing in the office. I followed the ringing to the community restroom and noticed his phone was on the window ledge. Mike was nowhere to be found and it would be another two hours before anyone else was expected in the office.

The state of Mike’s office, the smell of chlorine and Mike’s phone being in the bathroom was all suspect. You, Arnold, was the first person I called.

FOG


The slow climb of the fog over the hillside was fascinating to watch. Sitting in a rocking chair on a wide veranda was almost comforting. However, I was in a hurry to leave town before I had to make any more decisions. The smell of rot was deep in my lung and the feeling of isolation heightened with every passing minute. The sun tried to rise about the fog but it seems as if the fog had a mind of its own. It was as if it was racing to catch up with the rising sun. There was a race to keep an eternal dawn. I could see the problem but the beauty of the orange sun piercing the white fog was irresistible. I stood there and enjoyed the view for much too long. Enjoying the view distracted me from the facts, I was fired from my own project.

I was so distracted by the beauty before me that I did not hear the low whine of the electric scouter until it was just meters in front of me. I noticed the flash of orange against the thick white of the approaching fog. Her hair was red-orange and floated like streams of diluted red ink in a fast flowing river. Marcia was in a hurry. As she jumped off the scouter and ran into the house she shouted, not quite intelligibly, for me to come into the house. I had never seen her in such a state, so I dutifully followed her. She disappeared into the darkness of the house as I closed the door. She was still shouting and I still could not understand what she was trying to tell me.

As I tried to understand her I heard a high-pitched whistle. I turned and opened the door and notice that the fog had moved with a 100 meters of the house. What was creating the noise was not clear. As I stood there a sharp, small blob hit me on the left cheek and without thinking I slapped my face and crushed the small device. I instantly recognized what I was seeing and her babble became intelligible. It was our creation. It was a cloud of nano-bots. I slammed the door shut and for a second was paralyzed by questions. My back was pressed into the door and my eye fixed on the clock about the archway to the dinner room. The second-hand seemed to be moving in slow motion. I had many questions. Who is controlling them? We had designed the system to be a directed cloud. I did not notice, but I was shouting. I could see Marcia running about but I could not hear what she was saying. I felt my body move but had no control. I was moving without purpose then suddenly there was a loud bang and my brain started to function. I pinched myself and it hurt. This is not a dream. I started to see and hear her. From the clock only about twenty seconds had passed.

Marcia slammed the back door shut and started to spray silicon sealant around the door. My daze lifted and I grabbed the canister Marcia offered me and started sealing the door and windows. We got all the windows and doors and them focused on the few bot units that had gotten into the house. Being apart of a hive brain they were lost outside of the cloud so they were easily destroyed. As Marcia caught her breath she started to tell me that an experiment had gone bad and the nano-bots had escaped. It must have shown on my face, since Marcia tried to comfort me. She knew what I was thinking. We did not design autonomous bots, so who is controlling them?

FOCUS


The gentle shake that awoken me became a loud bang and turned into a cascade of light and sound. I did not feel any pain but my head was spinning and I could see my glasses vibrating to a quarter note beat. The tremor became a staccato as I watched my glasses slide off the desk toward the floor. I did not see it hit the floor because the ringing in my left ear was so distracting. As I cupped my ear I could feel my heartbeat in my head. I could not think, but I was sure I was dreaming.

I tended to have vivid dreams but had gotten really good at directing them into something more pleasant. This time all my attempts at direction fell short without any effect on the trajectory of events. I was supposed to be in the safest city in the world and there was no earthquake threat, so I was confused  as to what I was experiencing. I felt alone with my thoughts, but out my right ear I could hear a faint whine. The whine was unmistakable, it was the sound of a helicopter starting up.

The whine cracked the code. I was in a hotel on the waterfront next to the largest heliport in the city. At anytime there would be thirty to forty aircraft and it sounded as if they were all starting up. The ringing in my ear was deafening and made it hard to concentrate. I just tried to breathe. It seemed as if time stood still, then I found myself on the floor. The ringing in my ear had disappeared, but all around me was a blur. I could not feel my glasses and I felt some relief. I called out and someone answered. It was a nurse and she informed me that I was in the safe house and that my op was a bust. I was disappointed.