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The astronauts underground

I walked back. What did you expect? I had to return home, after my long walk. That’s how it worked. But on reaching Stanford Street, I could see, clearly, my eyes were fine, the whole block was bustling with some indeterminate activity.

I went forward, nonetheless. Forward. Ducked under a police tape. An officer came to me and blocked me, said, “Sir, we’re asking that everyone just stay back-”

“But I am trying to get to my house,” I said, explaining. “Over there. On Fargo.” I pointed in a general direction, generally. Smoke blocked the view. Or was it fog? I reached for my wallet. My ID. To show him, you know. He’d see… But he waved me past, let me on through. He did not seem to take an interest in my ID.

In the place where my house had been was a mud hole. Four feet deep. In the place where my mailbox had been were sandbags, piled high, all around the edge of the hole. I double-checked the street sign to confirm.

The officers in the hole were not officers. They were soldiers. They were caked with mud that was grey so I could not determine the color, the original, I mean, the color of the uniforms. To me, all uniforms were the same. Their helmets looked like upside down soup bowls, I thought.

The soldiers, in the hole, where my house used to be, they scurried round the trench hole. They held long guns. They took turns pointing the long guns through breaks in the sandbag stacks, to shoot.

My house was nowhere to be seen. “Excuse me,” I said, not loud, somewhat guiltily, for it seemed the wrong time to mention it, “What about my house? My… my…” I stammered.

My bamboo plant?”

“My underwear?”

“My… spare contact lenses?!”

O, eleven years and not much to show for my stay, it seemed. Still, I needed a nap. How can one mention a nap in wartime? To soldiers soldiering?

The cold hurt my fingers and I heard explosions in the distance. Probably George’s Country Sports Bar, I thought, gone at last. It was all so inconvenient. I walked over and a little bit further back, to where the green block of townhomes used to be. There were some bleachers there and I saw cheering people, clapping people, families of the soldiers in the hole. From the looks on their faces, we were winning, it seemed. Good. I wondered who “we” were.

One woman wore a big foam finger. “Did you see where they took my house?” I said. “The one that was here? Before?” She did not make eye contact. She was watching the trench. She was smiling. Very engaged in the war, of course. “You’d have to ask Jamie about that,” she said.

Jamie?” I said, irritated, now. “Jamie hasn’t lived here for five years! Does she have my house?” But applause broke out, in the bleachers. The soldiers in the trench had had a success of some sort and no one wanted to talk about my house. I worried that Jamie’d seen the condition of my house. The bottles. The ashtrays. I’d have to stop her from going inside.

Behind the bleachers were standing stones. Very tall. Maybe granite, I don’t know. Little fissures in the rock and ants crawling through the fissures and very tiny twigs in their mandibles, all. A whole network of the things. You could stand there for ages, if you wanted, just watching these ants, in the fissures, with their twigs. I nearly forgot about my house.

On the standing stones, someone had gone and chiseled runes, and the longer I looked at the runes and the fissures, the more sense they made. It was as though they wriggled before my eyes until I could read, “Here lies the astronauts.”

How was it I had missed all this on the news?

Leaving the war behind me, I set off again, in search of my house, and Jamie, and my bamboo plant, and my spare contact lenses. I really needed to take that nap. 

Comments

  1. Damn, Harry, what about your third amendment rights?

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    1. Haha... A few eyars back, when Obamacare got passed, some political commentators were saying it violated the 3rd Amendment. I had (non-attorney) friends who asked me about it. I had to say we never studied the 3rd Amendment in law school because there'sonly one modern Supreme Court case on it.

      A family got home to the farm after a vacation or something to discover that the Army was conducting some sort of war games on their land.

      So now that you mention it, this does have some similarity to that.

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  2. I'm sure a great many people from Grenfell tower feel the same way, although many lost their families too.

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    1. We had a huge flood here two months back, and it occurred to me that I wouldn't lose much if my first floor became a total loss (I didn't end up flooding). This might have come from that. I live light.

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  3. Things can change in the blink of an eye...or while you are out walking. I would think not being able to have access to your home would be a living nightmare. Go have that nap.

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    1. I'm so set in my schedule that when something (relatively) catastrophic happens, I end up thinking, "Well, this is really going to throw off my schedule!"

      I backed hard into a tree last week, and it was the first thing I thought. "Man, how many hours is this going to require on the phone?"

      I need my naps.

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  4. Are you sure you weren't napping already when you dreamt this up?

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    1. Quite possibly. I love stories that are just sort of dream logic wanderings (Anna Kavan, Michael Cisco, Alfred Kubin) and would write this sort of thing all of the time if I could. So much more rewarding to me than the typical blog fare of "Here's what i think about the Al Franken scandal!"

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  5. Is that where one of the latest batch of cylinders from Mars landed?

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    1. Mars? That sounds like it would be part of a crazy fiction story, whereas this, of course, completely happened.

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    1. Thanks. I never know. This one didn't seem to have a real purpose outside of being a writing exercise, but once I get an idea stuck in my head, I have to go with it.

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  7. "How was it I had missed all this on the news?"

    With such breaking headlines this week as 'Trump Drinks From Bottle of Water', I think it's fair to say that no one had any time to hear about the burrowing soldiers and the war they were waging on buried astronauts.

    Though, if you wanted to tell us what brand of shoes the soldiers were wearing and accompany it with a wacky but relatable GIF, you might get some more publicity.

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    1. One day, one of my pieces is going to go viral. It won't be this one...

      ...unless I go back and title it in such a way that people believe it contains the rumored pictures of Trump with those Russian prostitutes. Then it would go viral.

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  8. /The soldier elements in your story reminded me of rumors that floated around my National Guard unit in the weeks after 9/11.

    One rumor had unknown individuals at a North Carolina water treatment plant spotted by a deputy sheriff doing his nightly patrols. The deputy confronted the men and they said they were from some federal agency. The deputy mentioned it to his boss several hours later and after a few phone calls it was discovered that federal agency didn't have any of their people in the area.

    Another rumor had folks living along a sections of the Potomac River reporting a Coast Guard boat that was acting suspicious. The local Coast Guard office was called and they said they had no assets in the area.

    In hindsight it was obvious the stories were BS but I often wonder where they started and by whom.

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    1. They're better stories if it's mystery men doing unknown things while pretending to be Coast Guard or federal workers, aren't they?

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  9. I don't remember the soldiers, but where is my house and who are these people? Reality is so refreshingly altered. Were the astronauts from this world?

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    1. I'm not sure. I got the title first and it seemed to be a completely inappropriate place for astronauts to be. Once you've got that, though, the rest falls into place.

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  10. You nabbed my attention with the title. Loved the humor. Then I got into the surrealistic vision. This is like a dream. Was this really one of your dreams? Whatever, it was entertaining to me.

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    1. Thanks, Arlee! I never remember my dreams - ever - and that's probably why I'm so fascinated with dream logic. The idea that this stuff just pops into most people's heads while they sleep is something that makes me so jealous.

      Although I suppose in theory, I must dream.

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  11. It is strange, isn't it? How the (seemingly) insignificant things become so important when we feel we might've lost them forever.

    This was so wonderfully told, Harry.

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    1. Thanks, Magaly. Everytime I vary from my usual formula, I think, "Well, no one is going to get anything from this one!" Yet usually, people get something out of it. Whatever I was trying to do here, I feel likeI succeeded.

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  12. Did you find your house?? Bamboo plant? Spare contact lenses??? I hope you got your nap Harry!!

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    1. Some heroes/protagonists go on a journey for the grail or for the girl or the dragon. My struggle is for a nap.

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  13. I agree with the above comment about "little" things such as a messy room when we are confronted with incomprehensible situations. Your astronaut reference reminds me of what Scott Kelly wrote in his book about being up in space for a year. He recorded the dreams he had up there. One dream had him trying to put out a fire on the space station but when he looks closely he notice the station is made all from wood and there is no hope to save it.

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    1. I was reading a Richard Dawkins book tonight where he discusses the difference between weight vs. mass. He says in the space station, things would have no weight, but they would have mass. So if you got hit in the head with a bowling ball in the space station, the bowling ball (and you) would have no weight, but you'd still experience pretty serious head trauma.

      I'd probably have had a dream about that tonight even if you hadn't brought up the space station.

      The trick is to remember the dream.

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    2. Apparently the trick, is not the 'how' ... but 'why'???

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    3. Why is always the better question, probably.

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    4. ... from an unimagined place, 40 thousand years ago,half a planet away ...

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  14. Your poor contact lenses! And bamboo plant! I'm sure they miss you. :)

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    1. So much lost. I once took my nephew around my wreck of a house and said,"Look around you. One day, all of this will be yours!" I'm sure he was thrilled.

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    2. Is that like my great grandmother bequeathing a faux pearl necklace on me? One that was falling apart?

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    3. If it's all she had, then yes it is. It's like a house full of items of strictly sentimental value except without the sentiment.

      Hey, you were thought of, if only symbolically.

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    4. It always amazed me that I was included at all.

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