First Night: The Conflict Between Hope and Cynicism
Story by Dr. Lee Brazil
Foreword and Epilogue by:
Written by Ron Breazeale, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved
December 16, 2019, 1:00 A.M.
Hope: Eating the air on promise of supply.
Lee had gotten home late. His wife Liz was already in bed. He had a restless night. Crop circles, a melted car, a disappearing patient. He needed to get out of this business completely. He kept thinking about the young woman in his patient’s dreams. Theo . . . Pleading for her life.
Theo. Short for Theodosia he wondered? Lee slipped out of the bedroom without turning on a light and into his study. He thumbed through the bookcase and found it. The Bermuda Triangle by Adi-Kent Thomas Jeffery. Theodosia was the daughter of Vice President Aaron Burr and the wife of the first governor of South Carolina. She had a tragic history, with her mother having died when she was a young girl and her father being exiled after his fatal duel with Alexander Hamilton. She was on her way from South Carolina to New York City to be reunited with Burr when the small sailing ship she was aboard, The Patriot, disappeared in the Atlantic in the Bermuda Triangle.
Go back to sleep, he had told himself, and he finally did around 3:00 A.M. But morning came very quickly. Brown Island Light flashed in the distance. A lobster boat moved across the dark water. To the east, the sky was starting to brighten. Shades of red and orange. The weather was clearing.
Lee rolled over and looked out the window of their bedroom. It had snowed again in the night. It was still dark, as it always was in December. Lee rolled over again and closed his eyes. Some mornings he would wake up with a start, confused, afraid. Lee understood the power of dreams.
Sometimes they took him back to the gray cell he once called home for a year. He had been released and returned home to Winterpool five years ago. No charges pressed. No apology given. No comment to the press. “Just the way the government wants it,” his attorney had said.
Lee’s nightmare began when he had returned to the South he had grown up in to work on a book about the atomic energy industry. He had lived near the plants in the 1950s. His father had worked there. Lee had grown up without a left hand, a birth defect. Accidents occurred in those days that weren’t reported. He was sure his father had gotten a good dose of something — radiation, mercury? God knows what — before Lee was conceived. Lee blamed the atomic energy industry for his birth defect.
Just as he was getting ready to return to Maine, an accident occurred at one of the Department of Energy plants. A major accident. Lee was caught up in the ensuing chaos and implicated in what was initially believed to be a terrorist attack. He was detained, but with the help of a homeless man, he managed to escape from the detention facility. He began his trek back to Maine and, along the way, found a number of unlikely allies. A woman trying to run away from the memories of her family and her dead son; a truck driver still fighting the ghosts of Vietnam; and Jean, the lost love of his youth. But before Lee could reach home, he was detained again by FBI Agent Jennings. Jennings, who Lee would describe as a “real piece of work” was a burnt out FBI agent and a cancer survivor. He had a temper, and he probably drank too much. Even though he had been instrumental in Lee’s detention, the two over the course of time had developed a strange friendship. Lee couldn’t think of another word that described the relationship.
The day of Lee’s release in the spring of 2014 had come as a surprise. Lee had not been told of it until Jennings appeared at the door of his cell late one morning and announced that Lee was going home. Lee had learned not to question good news. He quickly packed his clothes and notes into the two shopping bags the government had provided and put on the old gray trench coat and plastic boots Jennings offered. Jennings drove Lee to the train station to catch the Downeaster to Brunswick, Maine.
Lee and Jennings had not talked in some time. After the first couple of months that Lee was in detention, they found they had little left to say to one another. That morning, there was an awkward silence that lasted all the way to the station. Jennings finally broke the silence as they approached North Station.
“You will remember the agreement we have, won’t you?”
“It would be hard to forget,” said Lee.
“Mum’s the word. There will be no comment from our side and there had better be no comment from yours,” said Jennings, as he stared sharply at Lee.
Lee nodded and mumbled under his breath, “Yes, master.”
“Well, it’s good to see you’re still the cynical, sarcastic son of a bitch I’ve grown to love over the last year,” said Jennings.
Lee smiled and tried to laugh, but he couldn’t. He turned to Jennings. “Well, I appreciate your help in arranging this.”
Jennings wasn’t sure what to say. They both felt uncomfortable. They shook hands. Lee boarded the Downeaster and took a seat by the window facing forward. He sat by himself. There were only a few riders at that time of day.
Since his return, his faith in the U.S. government had not been restored. Indeed, the events of the past five years had only seemed to further undermine his trust in government, a Congress whose members seemed only willing to represent their own interests and that of large corporations and politicians who believed that character assassination and mud-slinging was a fine way to conduct the business of the country.
Add to that the exponential growth of technology. Data collection and dissemination systems were far outpacing the ability of the people or their government to monitor and regulate. Lee had often thought about his time in detention, but this morning there was no time. No, he had other things to think about. A missing patient. Where the hell was Frank? And the White’s cabin and crop circles — at least he guessed that’s what you called whatever it was in the field. And, of course, all of this happening before the vacation he had planned for months. Great timing, he thought.
The alarm sounded as Lee was shaving. This morning he had forgotten to switch it off. He was almost always awake before it rang. Lee needed to get up this morning. Most morning he didn’t need to. He hadn’t needed to get up this early since his daughter had started driving herself to school in the old Subaru that Lee and Liz had bought for her in her senior year in high school. And since Lee had retired — well, semi-retired — he didn’t need to be in the office until 10:00. But old habits die hard. Lee was usually there between 7:30 and 8:00 A.M.
Liz was still asleep, as she was most mornings when he left. Lee always showered and shaved in the morning. The same routine he had followed for most of his life. A breakfast of high-fiber cereal that tasted like what he imagined ground cardboard might taste like. It was boring, but so were a lot of his meals. He tried now more than ever to watch his diet. He had developed high blood pressure while in detention and had been taking medication since his return. As he finished the last of the bran cereal, he paged through Time Magazine.
There was an article about Beta 17 and TransSea’s plans to mine the asteroid. Beta 17 was a large rock, about the size of Delaware, part of the asteroid belt. It had been discovered by astronomers in 1992 and was now hurtling toward a close encounter with earth. A collision with our planet would, of course, result in the extinction of life, as we know it. But readers were assured that this was not going to happen. At least not this time. What was going to happen was that Beta 17 was going to pass very, very close to the Earth, within just nine-hundred and fifty thousand miles, and TransSea, an “Energy Corporation,” would take this opportunity to launch a mining probe that would land on the asteroid and begin to take core samples from the asteroid’s crust. Observations made by another TransSea probe suggested that the asteroid contained a number of very rare minerals that were being depleted on Earth as the number of electronic devices manufactured and used increased exponentially. The asteroid’s closest approach to the Earth would occur during the first week of January. There were also articles about the Democratic presidential challenger, Senator Clayton. This time the Democrats seemed more united. A rare thing for Democrats. He would give the lady credit. If she could get the Democrats to stop fighting with each other, she must have something going for her.
“All right, I’m out of here,” Lee said to an empty room. He hated eating alone, but he did most mornings. He headed up the stairs to kiss his wife goodbye. Liz was just opening her eyes.
“Hey, lady, how are you doing this morning?” Lee said, trying to sound cheerful.
“Tired. I didn’t sleep that well. I don’t know what I’m going to do on this trip.”
“It’ll be fine,” said Lee.
Liz rolled over and closed her eyes. “Lee, how many times do I have to tell you that saying things like that isn’t helpful?”
“Oh,” said Lee, with a shrug and a smile, “probably a few hundred more.”
“What time will you be home?”
“I should be out of the office by three or three thirty. I’ll see you by 4:00. We’ll figure out dinner. And I’m sure you’ve got more packing to do.” He smiled and kissed her. He always kissed her.
This morning the wind was up again, blowing from the north. The snow had stopped. He opened the garage door and backed the car with some difficulty onto the street. His driveway hadn’t been plowed yet, and the city, as usual, had plowed him in.
“Another day in paradise,” mumbled Lee, laughing to himself. He frequently laughed at his own jokes.