The Hafwit’s Diary — 22

April 15, 2021

A notification appears in a small box at the upper right corner of my computer screen

I am informed my daily average screen time — the time my computer is linked with the Internet — is 10 hours, 12 minutes.

I close the box.

It’s dry in Siberia With a View.

Scary dry.

Meteorologists and foresters confirm what residents have known for a while now: the southwest corner of Colorado is experiencing severe drought, and has for several years.

It’s dry, and we’re ready to burn. There’s fear in the air. A neighbor tells me he smells smoke every morning, and says he regularly sees swarms of bats take flight at mid day.

The majority of land in the county in which Siberia With a View is located is National Forest, much of it designated as Wilderness Area, untouched by fire mitigation efforts. A great deal of the remaining wooded acreage was clear cut a century ago, with pines replanted so closely that, now grown, they resemble old-style wood matches packed in a box, kindling stacked upright in a fireplace. The loggers who planted the trees intended to return and harvest them. The market tanked, and it never happened. They stocked a very big fireplace, then went off to labor in abattoirs in Denver and Greeley, their skills with ax and saw of use to the flesh barons.

There’s plenty of fuel available for a major wildland fire. We’ve had some stunners in the past; another, bigger one seems likely if a tourist from Oklahoma gets careless with a cigarette butt, or fails to extinguish a campfire after a feast of franks and s’mores, and ember ignites grass, branch, and bough.

The area in which our house is located is in the middle of the fireplace.  The house is built into a hillside, its deck jutting even with the midpoint on the trunks of the tall ponderosa pines that surround it.

Many a visitor enters our front room, looks out the bank of windows, and says, “Oh, my, it’s like you live in a treehouse.” They say this in a light, chirping tone, adding to the tweet-full avian environment just beyond the deck.

When a fire starts, the birds fly away.

Kathy and I can’t fly.

We’re fucked.

My response: “Yep, it’ll be a perfect spot from which to watch the flames as they rip through the trees on the way to destroying the house and everything in it. I’m going to have to be really loaded in order to enjoy it.”

It’s dry here in Siberia With a View.

Scary dry.

It’s spring; the wind kicks up in the afternoons, tapping moisture from ladder fuels beneath the trees. Red Flag Warnings are issued. The Forest Service posts a fire danger warning on a sign downtown, with a cartoon Smokey Bear pointing a crudely rendered paw at the word “Extreme.”

It is Extra-Extreme here at the tree house, and I don’t need a cartoon bear to tell me.

The snowfall this winter was sparse here in the ass end of the San Juans, a region once renowned for extreme dumps. We need spring snow, and a lot of rain…pronto!

We wait for a series of low pressure systems to slowly track a hundred miles more or less to the south of us, bearing moisture from the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez upslope to where clouds meet Divide a few miles from the Tree House…and dump a load.

Chances are not good.

Call me “Cassandra.”

So, it’s time for Cassandra to hustle his/her ass to Wal Mart and purchase large, plastic bins. I bought four of them last year. I figure I need at least four more.

I need to fetch the bins soon, since spring awakens and motivates muddled churls hibernating in broken down trailers and storage sheds in the far reaches of the county, and soon they’ll be out and on the hunt for containers in which to store the poisonous byproducts drained from their crude meth labs. When these freaks enter a Wal Mart in groups, it’s anybody’s guess as to what kind of mayhem will ensue. I plan to beat them to the punch. The last thing I need is to be caught in a melee in Aisle 3.

Once I secure the bins, it’s time to decide what valuables go into them, to be toted away if and when the conflagration threatens.

I have to be ready. A fire can overtake a person and property quickly.

I’ve witnessed wildland fires surge through stands of trees — the pros call it “crowning.” It happens fast. On one occasion I stood with a crew manager across a meadow from a tree line and listened to the fire roar as a 40 mph wind rushed the flames through the tops of the pines, the terrifying sound temporarily drowned out when a four-engine aerial tanker swooped down and hit the area in front of the fire with retardant, covering the manager and me with a mist of pink crud. We were fortunate to be at the edge of the drop; a full-on hit would have killed us. We were merely pinked. There are many ways to be pinked. This is one of the more dramatic of the ways, and one of the least pleasurable.

Cassandra needs bins.

The four bins stored at the house are filled with small paintings. Since I’ve worked small for the past couple of years, I have more than enough inventory to fill four additional tubs. I can fill ten bins and still leave plenty of small canvasses to the fire. I have self-congratulatory painter friends who would cull “masterpieces” for transport. In my case, it’s whatever fits in the damned bin.

The big paintings, at least two hundred of them, will be lost. I’ll revisit their images a few years from now when I kick back on the veranda of Restful Acres following my lunch of crackers and Ensure, and review photos on an out-of-date iPad.

I decide to fill at least two of the new bins with paintings and drawings. What else to save?

I read and watch news accounts of wildfire evacuations and notice a theme: people save things like the family photos no one has viewed in decades, birth certificates, social security cards, passports, the kids’ Little League trophies, the lock of baby Bitsy’s hair, pets, diplomas, tax and financial records, the family Bible, and the like.

I have no pets, and my family never owned a Bible. I mistakenly rolled and smoked the baby’s hair. Financial records are of little use since there’s no money in my bank account. As a result, I can’t afford to travel abroad once the pandemic ends, so I have no need for my now lapsed passport. As long as I get a monthly check from Social Security why worry about the card?

What else is there?

  • a shitload of old photos, stashed by Kathy in albums that we never open. If we save them we can relive Aurora’s and Ivy’s kiddie birthday celebrations, Christmas dinner 1978, and a number of swim meets and junior high volleyball and basketball games.
  • albums that include Kathy’s photos of her mom and dad, of other beloved relatives now gone.
  • quite a few mid 90s snapshots of buildings in London, Paris, and Amsterdam. The photos of the front of a canal house on the Singelgracht perk the memory of fellow guests on the third floor, with whom we shared a bathroom: a Belgian couple, an enormous man at least fifty years of age, his companion a chubby, red-cheeked lass, no more than 16. I don’t believe they were related. They rarely left their room and the noises they made in the middle of the night were maddening: loud groans, shrieks, hisses, wild laughter, sobbing, the grunting of mating zoo animals. When they used the bathroom, they left it in unspeakable condition. I had a measure of respect for Belgians before I opened the door to that bathroom.
  • a very old and fragile album of mine, containing ambrotypes taken in the 1860s of unidentified ancestors who traveled from Cleator Moor to Whitehall in order to be immortalized on glass.
  • an antique black pasteboard box, a clasp holding it shut tight to protect photos of members of my maternal grandmother’s family, the photos taken in Central City, Colorado, 1890-1914. One of the photos is of my grandmother, Minnie, age 14, standing in front of a tall stone wall, the slabs dry laid by Cornish masons. Minnie is dressed in black, a black bow in her hair, a somber expression on her beautiful face. The photo was taken after her father’s funeral. My great-grandfather, Isaac, committed suicide, shot himself. My grandmother was sent to fetch her father for dinner and found his body up the mountain, bloody and slumped next to a mine’s head frame.
  • a bundle of post cards, the fronts of which feature grainy photos taken of terrain occupied in and near Vladivostok by the American Expedition Force, 1918-20. The 7,000-plus troops were there, alongside soldiers from a Japanese army, to assist the Czechoslovak Legion and to support the White Russians in the battle against the Red Army. Most of the photos record evidence of frigid temperatures and frightful storms — frost-covered locomotives, rivers choked with huge blocks of ice, frosted soldiers wearing fur lined, hooded coats and fur-lined boots, the Yanks standing knee deep in snow. One of the frosted soldiers is my grandfather, Everett. The back sides of the postcards are blank. My grandfather was not allowed to correspond with his bride, since the government was keen to hide the fact that American soldiers remained in harm’s way following The Armistice. The letters Everett wrote were confiscated, edited by Army censors, and given to him upon his return to the States, along with the postcards, in a bundle tied with twine. The bundle includes love letters from my grandfather to my grandmother, words, lines, and the occasional paragraph obscured by black ink.
  • a number of Japanese postcards from the campaign. The images on the fronts of the cards appear to be reproductions of hand-colored woodcuts. The Japanese soldiers are, like their American allies, covered in frost. There are several cards bearing images of frosted Akitas.
  • a sheaf of letters sent to my mother by my father from North Africa and Italy during the next Great War. Nothing censored, nothing in a bundle tied with twine, the missives sweetly naive. My father’s nickname for my mom was “Pudge,” which I’m certain prompted her obsessive consumption of Metracal, Obetrol, and Diet Pepsi.
  • my parents’ yearbooks from South High and the University of Denver. My grandsons might someday be interested in a record of a pre-Internet time when so many youngsters remained sweetly naive. I have my doubts.
  • my desktop computer, Kathy’s laptop, an external hard drive that stores years of written material, and a stack of CDs that include digitized photos of artwork I’ve produced over fifty years time — most of the artwork to be offered as a sacrifice to the inevitable fire. These are the photos I’ll view on an outdated iPad as I lounge on the veranda at the nursing home, my chest hair littered with Saltine crumbs.
  • passwords.
  • If there’s time once the fire approaches the treehouse, and if my 1994 GMC pickup starts and its tires aren’t flat, I’ll try to muscle one of Kathy’s five electronic keyboards out of the house and cart it to safety. I’ll make a note reminding me to include a power cord so Kathy can plug in wherever we land, and entertain fellow refugees with a bit of Sondheim. Nothing restrains a potentially riotous occasion like a bit of Sondheim, perhaps a medley from Into The Woods.

I have a plan. I feel in control when I have a plan. Life requires numerous delusions in order to proceed in a somewhat comfortable fashion.

It’s a shame I can’t plan to have it snow and rain.

I think about this as I relax on the deck, chasing a Cheeba Chew with a tumbler of Tito’s Handmade Vodka. I remember someone who claimed he could make it rain.

Franz not only claimed…but promised.

Where is Franz when we need him?

Well…he’s dead.

For several years now.

But, not forgotten. I remember him as I scan the stands of dry trees and oak brush from my perch on the deck. A Steller’s jay lands on one of Kathy’s hanging baskets not five feet in front of me, looks at me, cocks its head in a clear “fuck you” gesture, then tears off a hunk of the fiber basket liner and flies away. The repulsive bird is going to a lot of effort considering its nest is going to burn. Serves the little asshole right.

But, Franz.

I first encounter Franz several years after I begin work in the legit news biz.

I am at my desk in the news room, the nerve center, when the intercom buzzes. Betsy calls from the front office, and she is at Threat Level Red — not an unusual condition for a receptionist at a small town newspaper office, in particular a newspaper in a town being suddenly overrun by flag-waving right-wing retirees, chiropractors, virtue-swollen humanities grads, life coaches, real estate brokers, exiled rajneeshees, open carry evangelicals, meth cooks, and square dance fanatics.

Betsy takes a long lunch break each work day and recharges her battery with a couple boilermakers at The Throwback before she returns to her station. If she is alarmed by a visitor or caller after 2 p.m., it is advisable to take her reaction lightly. If, however, she freaks out before noon…the game is on.

It is 10 a.m.

The game is on, and it will continue for two decades.

Betsy whispers: “There’s a strange, old, little man here who wants to see you. He’s wearing an ascot. Something’s not right about this guy, I know it. Not right, I swear it. I know these things. Remember what I told you about my boyfriend in college, and that night in a motel in Columbus, Ohio, with the litter of shar pei puppies?”

How bad can it be?, I think.

“Send him back,” I say.

I turn to the screen on the Mac and continue with a rewrite of my 14-inch piece detailing the deep despair experienced by members of the high school volleyball team and their parents following the squad’s elimination from the state championship tournament.

My court-side interview with the middle blocker immediately after the team’s loss was heart-wrenching, but unproductive. The young, unusually tall ectomorph was unable to control her emotions and produce a complete sentence, so I am forced to guess at her answers to my questions. I labor to make her remarks as poignant as possible. I wanted to include the girl’s unusually tall mother in the interview, but she was busy tearing her program into tiny pieces, hurling the pieces into the air, threatening the referee, and being dragged screaming from the arena by security personnel.

As I type, I hear shoe heels click together.

I look up to see a man standing at attention next to my desk, very close to my elbow. The guy is little more than five feet in height. He stares at me, he does not blink. He has a large manila file folder jammed under his arm. His sharply creased khaki pants are held up by a belt cinched three inches below the bottom of his sternum, an exquisitely crafted enamel Prussian Royal Eagle fixed to the front of a large belt buckle. The man wears a starched, lined, long-sleeved tan shirt with an abundance of pockets, and he sports a teal-colored ascot.

“Herr Isberg, I presume,” he says with a pronounced German accent. He does not blink.

“Yep,” I say, “that’s me. Herr Isberg.” I blink.

He does not blink, and responds: “Isberg, eh? I know a Swedish name when I see one. I have always thought favorably of Swedes: a somewhat pure, yet strong and simple people with a love of vigorous activity, and a clear sense of their place in the species hierarchy. Such a culture as theirs rewards loyalty, discipline and dedication. I admire that. You can be proud of your lineage.”

He extends his hand, his arm rigid as he bows ever-so-slightly. “I am Franz Dietrich, and it is my great pleasure to meet you.”

Franz shakes my hand vigorously, then snaps back to attention.

“Would you like to sit down, Herr Dietrich?” I ask.

“No, he replies. “No, thank you. I prefer to relax while standing. I have just returned from a volksmarch at high altitude, and I am invigorated.” A deep breath, a loud exhalation.

“Most of my fellow hikers were of my age and I set a crisp pace in order to encourage them. The weaker members of the group fell behind, several returned to their vehicles at the trailhead. I doubt they will attend again, no? We must always push against our limitations, strive to improve ourselves, don’t you agree? I do not wish to slow my metabolism by sitting. I have many things to do before the day ends. Do you mind?”
I blink. “No, “ I say, “not at all. Stand as long as you want.” I know better than to offer him a hit of Jameson’s from the bottle I keep in my desk drawer. No reason to shake this fellow’s cage.

Franz puts the folder on my desk, snaps to parade rest, feet apart, hands clasped at the small of his back. He stares at me, and does not blink.

He nods at my Mac, one side of his mouth elevating slightly in what passes for a knowing smile.

“I see you utilize the latest in technology. A wise idea, Herr Isberg. Use of the finest machinery affords the greatest opportunity for quick success. Deliberate, slow activity is acceptable only when one seeks rest; in critical circumstances, speed is necessary. You know, despite what anglophile historians claim, it was Germans who created the first modern computing devices, as well as what were the finest tracked vehicles and aircraft of their day. If not for unfortunate timing, and flawed strategy … but, as to the purpose of my visit.”

He goes silent and fixes me with a hard stare. I realize I am supposed to inquire about said purpose. He does not blink.

I blink, and speak. “Well, what can I do for you?”

It is a question I should not have asked. It opens to a twenty-year relationship, and to more than I ever wanted to know about rain.

Franz forcefully taps the folder on my desk with the tip of an index finger. He stares at me, unblinking, with pale blue eyes.

“It is not what you can do for me, Herr Isberg, it is what you can do for our environment, for the future, for our town, for skiers who love to come here, for anyone who needs water. I’m sure you know that we all need water. Our bodies demand it. We must drink. We must shower or bathe daily, don’t you agree?

“You bet I do. Hygiene and hydration are top priorities in my neck of the woods. I wish I had a steam room. I’ve got a load of contaminants to sweat out.”

“And we would all be in better physical condition if we learned to ski,” he says.

“You have a point there,” I reply.

Franz raises his chin and, for the first time since his arrival, he closes his eyes, transitioning quickly to a reverie. He sighs.

“I learned to ski as a boy, “ he says in a wistful tone. “Such joy, such freedom. Each year, my father took the family by train to the Black Forest, to ski at Feldberg. I won many youth races there. My twin sister did equally well. We were so very happy on the slopes, and at the inn nearby. There was a delightful little rathskeller in the basement. We were perhaps never happier. My sister was also an outstanding musician, a cellist of the first rank. Unfortunately she married a bookkeeper, and that was that. She retreated to simple needlework, and never again challenged the heights.”

His chin comes down, his eyes open, he does not blink. He taps the folder on my desk.

“But, I am not here to reminisce. I haven’t time for that. I bring information to you, Herr Isberg, vital information. I have read many of your contributions to this newspaper, and I have come to the conclusion there is a chance you are intelligent enough to recognize a desperate situation and, with sufficient attention and education, to understand that a solution is at the ready. You will learn, then you will write, and we will have water!”

Again, the knowing smile.

“You possess enough skill as a writer to convey my complex ideas to simpleminded readers,” says Franz. “Your American public education system is sadly lacking when it comes to developing reading skills in students, much less a talent for analysis of complicated materials. As a result, people do little else but listen to loud music, and watch silly television programs produced by homosexuals, communists, and careless cynics.”

“Well, that’s very kind of you to think that I …”

“Together, Herr Isberg…we will make it rain! With your words in print, those in power will recognize the value of my ideas, and they will act! They refuse to listen to me when I speak at council and commission meetings. They stare off and joke among themselves as I attempt to educate them, then cut me off when their ridiculous five-minute limit is reached. On one occasion, when I was compelled to finish the outline of my plan, I was escorted from the council chambers by an officer of the law. These so-called community leaders are dull, bored, uninterested. I believe this is the result of exposure to television programs, and residual prejudice; they refuse to let bygones be bygones, if you know what I mean.”

“I sure do. In fact, I know quite a few people who …”

“With my plane,” he says, “my knowledge, my chemicals … I can make it rain! The fools here believe they can create rain with cannons fired from the ground. With artillery! Ha! No, Herr Isberg, you must fly.”

He makes a sweeping gesture toward the ceiling, then returns to parade rest. “You must fly in a strong and powerful aircraft to the coldest part of the most dangerous of the clouds. A man must have strength and courage to properly seed a cloud. He must have a plane, a good plane, a strong plane, the right chemicals. He must have experience, he must have a vision.”

Well, darn it, I think, I’ve always been a fan of employing the right chemicals, and plenty of ‘em. I’m sold.

An hour later, after standing the entire time he drones on about secret formulae, about a technique perfected when he seeded clouds in Madagascar in 1963, and his expertise as an aviator, Franz looks at the 1940’s Manual Winding Military watch strapped to his freckled wrist and says, “I must go. Gerda is preparing dinner for two visitors from my past. They are old, older than I. They must eat at the prescribed time, as we all should. Rouladen, mit spaetzle. A favorite. It is tempting to overeat, but I remain in control, as we all should. Read the documents I leave with you! Remember everything I’ve told you! Everything! I will communicate soon.”

With that, Franz snaps to attention, clicks his heels, extends his hand, shakes my hand vigorously, does a crisp about face, and strides purposefully from the office.

I tell my pal Russell, the undersheriff, about Franz’s visit as we slouch in a booth at The Pit Stop convenience store.

“Different little fucker, ain’t he?,” says Russell as he offers me half of his personal-size pepperoni pizza and lights a Marlboro.

“A bit odd,” I reply. I take a bite. I chew. I struggle to swallow. “You know him well?”

Russell exhales a cloud of smoke and says, “Hell, yeah, I know him, met him when I got here from N’orlins. Met his wife, Gerda, first. Nice woman, a bit stern, quiet, a nurse don’t ya know? I was in for a checkup cuz the spot where that lowlife shot me in the butt during a bust in the French Quarter was givin’ me trouble. It acts up now and then, and makes sittin’ difficult. After that, I met Frank. Don’t call him ‘Frank’ to his face, though, he ain’t up for that. He’s comfortable here, but he ain’t no American. Doesn’t wanna be. Can’t be.”

“He told me he’s a pilot,” I say, as I chew and swallow another hunk of flabby crust. “So you two have something in common.”

“Hell yeah, we do. Told him ‘bout flying Steermans when I was a kid, over the fields near Gueydan. Lots of crop dusters, lots of Steermans in them parts of Lousiana. Bunch of ‘em hit power lines over the years, guys never made it back. You gotta pull up hard at the end of the field, or you’re finished. That’s evolution for you, but it’s a damned shame to lose a plane. That Steerman’s one fuckin’ great aircraft. Frank and me bonded right off. He told me about flying ME 109s.”

“Messerschmitts?”

“Yep, little guy was a Luftwaffe pilot near the end of the war. Signed up as a kid, says he was sixteen. Did stretchin’ exercises to make the minimum height requirement. Got up on the roof of his parent’s house three times a day, strapped heavy weights to his ankles, hung himself over the edge. Probably stayed the same height but, by then, the fucking Germans were desperate. He’s pretty short, if you didn’t notice, perfect size for a cockpit in them days. Flew 109s, flew a Focke-Wulf 190 a few times. Rode one to the ground, crash-landed the sucker in ’45 when he was shot down over Poland. Got hisself captured, ass carted off to a camp. No love lost for commies. Don’t get the little fucker get started on Stalin, you’ ain’t got enough time. Turns red in the face, puffs out his cheeks, swears a lot, mutters under his breath in German, a good two hours ‘for he calms down. Tough little mother, that Frank. But don’t call him ‘Frank’ to his face.”
“Holy shit, ” I say, sensing an oncoming attack of acid reflux.

“Not a Nazi, per se” says Russell. “A Prussian, by his account, tradition-bound, honor and all. Man’s a straight shooter, level-headed. If he tells you somethin’, you better believe it, he ain’t lyin’. Seldom ever blinks. You notice that?”

“I’ll make sure not to use the term ‘Jerry’ when I’m around him,” I say. “Not many people left who are aware of how our fathers employed the term during WW Two. I remember once, in Denver, as the punk wave began to crest, a swarm of pinheads formed a band called “The Jerrys.” The lead singer had a teensy Hitler mustache and thrashed around screaming and spitting on stages at scuzzy little clubs while wearing a Wehrmacht greatcoat and a swastika armband. A bunch of the old guys at the Leydon-Chiles-Wickersham Legion post got wind and decided to show up at one of the clubs and make a show of force. It wasn’t a few minutes after the blustery old farts arrived that they were confronted by a phalanx of studded, leather-wearing geeks with spiky hair and bad breath, and they had to beat it out of there and hastily retreat to the Post and huddle, impotent and confused, in the shabby bar at the back of the empty, dark building. They calmed themselves with tales of past valor and banquet cans of cold Coors.”

Russell uses a napkin to wipe a glob of pizza sauce from his shirt, stubs out the Marlboro, and lights a fresh one.

“Yeah, probably not smart to lay a Jerry on the man.You notice the scars on the sides of his head,” he asks, “the S-shaped scars above his ears?”

“No.”

“Check ‘em out next time you see him. He tries to keep his hair long enough to hide ‘em, but it don’t always work, ‘specially now that he’s old and thinnin’. Burned into his skin when that 190 went down. Metal in his flying helmet heated up and scorched him. Tough little mother. Don’t ever say anything nice about Russians around the man, not even about their food. I know how much you like them pelmeni, but don’t say nothin’ bout ‘em and, whatever you do, avoid the word ‘Stroganoff.’ Don’t  say ‘Jerry’, mention Albert Speer, or call him ‘Frank.’ For that matter, don’t ask about anything before 1950. If he wants to tell you, he will. It always pays to play it safe with this type of guy. You never know when they might snap.”

“Does he always wear an ascot?”

“Yep. Hides the burn scars on his neck. Hard as steel, that man, but a bit self conscious. Seldom ever blinks, and can’t tolerate spicy food. Had him and Gerda over one night, Miss Joan and I fed ‘em crawfish etouffé. Frank could barely deal with the stuff. Etouffé, can you imagine? Said it was too spicy. A-two-fucking-fay! Got coughin’ so hard he had to go out in the driveway for a spell. Can you fucking believe it? Imagine what he’d do with a hit of your green chile? That shit’d kill him. But he’s always a gentleman, even when he’s chokin’.”

“That’s the late-in-the-game Luftwaffe for you,” I reply, chewing another chunk of some of the worst pizza in the American West. “After the Battle of Britain, and the arrival of the Thunderbolt and the P-51, the Jerry fighter jockeys had to tone down their act, introduce a bit of humility. Add a crash landing, and you get a polite Prussian who makes rain and can’t tolerate a jalapeno. Let’s go over to The Throwback and get a drink. I need something to help me forget this pizza.”

Franz never made it rain in Siberia With a View.

I wrote several short articles about his theories and suggestions, coupling the information with reports of the utter failure of the county commission’s make-it-rain cannon project. The commissioners didn’t care that they failed; Freudians to the end, they loved everything about cannons.

Now, Franz is gone.

We need him.

I sit on the deck, even with the mid-point on the trunks of the ponderosa pines in the yard.

The jay returns, gives me the look, squawks, then mutilates the basket liner and flies off with another wad of fiber.

I’ve had enough of this motherfucker. Tomorrow, I’ll borrow my pal Ronnie’s Mossberg 500 12 gauge with the twenty-inch barrel, and a few rounds of his Federal Premium Mag-Shock. I’m going to wait for this vandal to taunt me again, then eliminate her. I’ll have a round ready in the chamber, since the noise of the pump will frighten the little shit and she’ll fly off before I can blast her. I’ll wait patiently, for hours if need be, fortify myself with a few cocktails, and when she lands on the basket I‘ll vaporize her. The vile creature will be reduced to a mist of bird goo and a flutter of shredded feathers.

I make a mental list of things to buy at Wal Mart. Besides the bins, I figure I need a couple rolls of duct tape so I can wrap the bins to make sure the lids don’t pop off as we speed away from the blaze. I’ll get a new hanging basket for Kathy, since there isn’t a basket made that can withstand the awesome power of a Mossberg 55 and a load of Mag-Shock absent the distance necessary for a good spread. I also need a tub of Bueno Roasted Green Chile (Hot), a tube of Super Glue, a 12-pack of Mac’s silicon ear plugs, and a black sweatshirt, size xxl.

On my way home, I’ll stop at Bob’s Pawn and Gun Shop, since I’m looking to purchase a Springfield Armory Ronin 10mm. I won’t be able to keep Ronnie’s 500 for more than a day or two, and the Springfield 10 will come in handy when I’m forced to do crowd control at the wildland fire evacuation center. Fellow refugees will be in a panic, especially the flag wavers, and Kathy’s Sondheim medley will hold their attention for only so long. I need to be ready when the rabble come for the bins of paintings and my album of ambrotypes. A few rounds fired into the ceiling of the high school gym should do the trick. If not, I am ready to take the next step. These fruitcakes must be kept in line. When the social fabric begins to unravel, someone must operate the loom.

The weather forecast on last night’s television news showed a low pressure system moving slowly from west to east, traveling south of Siberia With a View.

I spot the tops of clouds beyond the Colorado/New Mexico border, maybe fifty miles from the treehouse. Perhaps this is it. Perhaps there’s moisture in the clouds, ready for release.

If only…

I imagine that a plane lifts off from our small airport. I watch from my perch on the deck, cocktail in hand, another Cheeba Chew down the hatch with one at the ready.

The engine noise during the plane’s takeoff is unmuffled, loud. As the aircraft climbs, I see that the fuselage is dark gray, with a black and white checkerboard design encircling its nose, just behind the prop. The image of a Prussian Royal Eagle is painted in bright colors on the fuselage, just below the canopy.

Once in the air, the plane first dips its left wingtip, then its right, then banks left and heads for the tops of the clouds south of us, in New Mexico. The pilot doesn’t blink.

It’s dry.

I gotta get to Wal Mart.

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