During the morning drive from camp to the fire, all three of us in the back seat fell asleep: Deon, myself, and my skinhead hotel roommate with the cross tattoo. As we dozed, my hotel roommate’s head kept creeping slowly to my shoulder, but I was too tired to care.
The previous night we had suffered a thunderstorm. Around 1am, the sky exploded three times and then the rain came, plopping loudly onto our tents. I had to resort to earplugs. Up by my head my tent was taking in water so I consolidated all of my stuff in my red duffel and crammed it by my feet. I managed to sleep somehow, all the while getting misted in the face because of the my tent’s inadequate rain fly. But my sleeping arrangements, damp though they were, were downright comfortable compared to how others slept…
As I was getting situated, shadows darted past my tent. In the morning I found out that the shadows belonged to another crew from our same company, except these guys and gals were all based out of Boise. Their crew boss, a fierce, fit looking gentleman with black hair, tattoos, and glasses, has a reputation for being more than a hard-ass. The Boise crew had just arrived earlier that evening, and even though the forecast had suggested rain, this crew boss didn’t bother having his crew set up tents. So the crew got rained on, hard, in the middle of the night. They scattered and found solace under a covered area, on top or under picnic tables, probably struggling to stay warm in their sopping sleeping bags. Later in the week two members of that Boise crew got up and left in the middle of the night. Given what we’d gleaned about the Boise crew boss’s shoddy leadership, no one was surprised. Interestingly, one of the deserters was a boy and the other was a girl. Everyone in our crew assumed they were be lovers. I pictured the two of them whispering plans, getting the guts to go through with it, then sneaking away like the kids in Moonrise Kingdom. The whole affair made for a bit of juicy gossip.
Back at the fire… I snatched some last minute sleep in the truck and dreamt about old 70’s era photos of my father. I realized I was dreaming but before I could take agency and start lucid dreaming, I fade into consciousness.
It started raining again as we arrived at Zulu, the area of the fire we would be working that day. An engine drove past, destined for the bottom of the hill. The woman who was driving was scared because her rig could get stuck in the mud if the rain kept up. Apparently they had gotten stuck the day before. Once she drove past, my hotel roommate made a comment about how women can’t drive and I have to rebuke him with a “don’t be sexist, dude.” Me the great moralizer. I was 23 and he was 19 so it felt appropriate for me to display some moral authority.
We all hopped out of the rigs and grouped together to be debriefed. The crew boss trainee was last to get out of his truck. He looked around the group for a second, then tossed blue pill bottles to three new guys. Drug tests. The guys chewed these cotton swabs for a full minute, gnawing and smacking and absurdly and complaining of the toilet paper taste. Tony was one of the unfortunate chosen ones. When we were talking later, he pointed out that two of the three picked to take the drug test were Mexican. He was half-joking, but he had a point.
After the usual safety debriefing and breaking up into small groups, the crew boss trainee continued his siege and called out me and Deon for leaving our line packs in the back of his truck overnight. We were supposed to throw them in the cabin before we went to sleep, but it had just slipped our minds. The packs are expensive and could be ripped off. But in this case, our packs just got wet from the rain. The crew boss trainee laid down his punishment: “One of you has to write a play, and the other has to perform it.” There were eager oooo’s and laughter from the crew and it was quickly decided that I would be the playwright and Deon the actor.
I hiked carrying a dolmar (fuel can). I’ve gotten in the habit of grabbing one every morning. Not only does it make you strong, but you get to hike in the front of the line with the guys carrying chainsaws, which means you only have to choke on dust kicked up from two or three guys rather than 15. But the light rain was keeping the dust down. Instead, the challenge was hiking in boots heavy with mud.
We arrived at an area with a huge plot of white ash and proceed to stir it up to release the heat. Then we gridded informally, but there wasn’t much in the way of hotspots because the ground was wet. The job felt pointless.
We took more than an hour for lunch. Some people nap, others amuse themselves by throwing rocks and pinecones at each other. There is a cheer every time a projectile bonks the helmet of an unsuspecting someone. I busy myself by writing this sci-fi stage drama in my small notebook. It is transcribed here for your entertainment.
UNTITLED SCI-FI STAGE DRAMA
RUSSIAN CYCLIST– Brent
RUSSIAN SCIENTIST 1– Brent
RUSSIAN SCIENTIST 2– Brent
NARRATOR: It was the final day of the Tour de France and Randy still held the lead. But, with 20 miles to go, the two Russians had moved up and were within view. Randy checked behind him nervously. He’d won the last seven tours and was not about to give up his rein, especially when tensions were so high between the Russia and the USA. His entire country was counting on him, or at least all those who give a fuck about professional cycling. Digging hard for the final sprint, Randy thought he was pulling away, but as they rounded the final corner, he saw that the Russians had moved up. Soon they were on either side of him, taunting him.
RUSSIAN CYCLIST: Give it up old man!
NARRATOR: Randy doubled down and pushed himself harder than he ever had in his life. The finish line was in view. Panting and still in the lead, he began seeing through tunnels. His window of vision slowly faded until everything went dark.
NARRATOR: He awoke with his hands tied. Two men were speaking in Russian.
RUSSIAN SCIENTIST 1: Ah, you’re awake.
RANDY: Did I win?
RUSSIAN SCIENTIST 1: Unfortunately for you, yes. Welcome to our space station, Bolshevik Prime.
NARRATOR: He was lead to the window while he got his first view of Earth from outer space. He gasped.
RUSSIAN SCIENTIST 2: Because you’ve proved yourself superior to our Russian athletes, we’ve decided to use you as a donor. Our plan was for you to mate with our top female Russian athletes so in 20 years or so it is us that will have the Tour de France title eight times over.
RANDY: That doesn’t sound so bad. I get to shag female athletes. Just like home.
RUSSIAN SCIENTIST 2: But unfortunately for you, the space shuttle delivering the Russian athletes was hit by one of your American missiles.
RUSSIAN SCIENTIST 1: But we have a plan!
NARRATOR: He led Randy to a tank. A man was floating in it, hooked up to tubes.
RUSSIAN SCIENTIST 1: Behold, project Z. He’s been injected with our special Russian superhuman serum.
NARRATOR: He held up a syringe.
RUSSIAN SCIENTIST 1: As you know, two men cannot mate. But we have the best doctors in the world aboard this space station. and we are prepared to do what is necessary to create a super athlete.
NARRATOR: He held up a knife.
RUSSIAN SCIENTIST 1: Yes… we will turn you into the child bearer.
RANDY: YOU CANT TAKE MY DICK!
NARRATOR: He shoved one of the scientists and dove into the syringe. He felt the super serum surging through his veins. He roared. As guards and scientists pushed in, he remembered his Krav Maga training. He snapped a scientists neck and broke another’s back over his leg. He was mad with his own power. He yanked open the door and tore down the hallway until he reached the escape pod bay. He hopped in one, fired up the controls, and, using his now hyper-intelligent brain, launched the vessel out of the evil Russian space station. But there was trouble. Anti-spacecraft turrets surfaced on the station and opened fire. A lucky shot hit the wing of his spacecraft and he lost control and spiraled down through earth’s atmosphere and crashed into the ocean. Thanks to his new powers, he survived the impact and surfaced. The water was freezing but it didn’t matter. He spotted land in the distance and began to swim, faster than he’d ever swam before, unknowingly on towards Russia, where he would singlehandedly take down the entire government and become the greatest triathlete the world had ever known.
At last the workday was over and we were back at camp, gathered up for a debriefing. I had my little notebook in my breast pocket, ready to be pulled out and performed. I hadn’t shown Deon the script because he wanted to be surprised.
But, consumed with some trifle with Division (the people in charge of the incident) the crew boss trainee forgot all about our little punishment. “Is there anything else?” He said at the end of the debriefing. I wasn’t going to say anything. I looked around and saw one of the crew look up at Deon expectantly. Deon looked back and shook his head, eyes wide with warning. He simply wasn’t in the mood to clown around. So my little morale booster of a play was never brought to life. At least I didn’t have to struggle through all of that exposition in a Russian accent…