Also this week I had a special guest while I was recording my one year old who was not feeling so well. He snores through must of the recording but that should not be a reflection on the story quality.
I talk about my blog post / podcast on Talking Hites on ways to improve and promote this podcast.
|Great Hites # 38|
|A Spectacular View By: Krista Heiser|
|December in Modesto By: Norval Joe|
|This Machine Is Broken By: Guy David|
|Cold By: Jeffrey Hite|
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A Spectacular View
By: Krista Heiser
The cold was shocking. Not because it was unexpected, but because I wasn’t quite dressed for terrain exploration. My job was to stay inside the extra-terrestrial exploration ship, ETES for short, and keep an eye on things. Watching my team’s vitals and monitoring the uncharted planet’s climate were among my top priorities. They explore and I keep the logs, store the samples, and basically do all the grunt work for the team.
I’m also their only hope of rescue if things go bad. And it appeared things had gone very bad indeed. Certainly bad enough to motivate me to leave the relative comfort of the ship, something I preferred not to do.
Marjorie’s vitals had spiked nearly twenty minutes ago. Dangerously so.
Seconds later Brent’s had shown a similar anomaly. Only his hadn’t stayed high and irregular for long. His had flat-lined before I could raise either of my shipmates on the Comlink. I don’t know how long I stood there staring at the monitor with his name on it. It could have been minutes or hours. Seconds perhaps.
“Chloe,” Marjorie gasped. “Chloe, Brent’s dead.”
It must have been shock that prompted her to tell me the obvious. She knew my job as well as her own. On some level she knew what the screens looked like and that the alarm sounding in the background had already alerted me to his passing. “What happened? Are you alright?”
Her mic cut in and out, her ragged breathing filling the sterile, safe room I stood in. It took her several minutes to tell me what had happened, not because the story took long to tell but because her equipment had been damaged.
They had been caught in an avalanche. She was trapped and needed my help.
Locating them had been easy – their locators were still functioning – but maneuvering the ship onto the mountainside had taken precious time. Marjorie’s vitals didn’t look good and I knew time was running out.
Armed with little more than a shovel, my ComLink, and the position of their locating devices, I stepped out of my comfortable little home away from home. The cold sucked the air from my lungs. Shivers coursed through my body. I huddled into my thin jacket and braced myself against the wind. I had to hurry or I’d end up hypothermic myself.
Positioning myself above Marjorie’s location, I dug. I pushed myself to keep moving when my fingers and toes felt brittle enough to break. I ignored the numbing cold seeping up my legs and down my arms. As the low temperatures drained me of my natural heat, I broke through and found the first body. It moved when I prodded it, raising a few tentative fingers to let me know she still breathed.
It took precious time to dig her free. Pulling on her, refusing to cry the tears my burning eyes demanded I release, I realized we would have to leave Brent. The cold was too much. We needed to get into the ship’s small medical bay.
Marjorie threw her arms around me and rested her head on my shoulder. Her weight nearly pushed me over, but somehow I stayed on my feet. “You’re okay. It’s okay.”
“We have to leave him,” Marjorie said, saving me the pain of saying it aloud.
“Let’s go,” I said, shivering against her. “We can come back later for him.”
Marjorie shook her head and forced her legs to move; together we stumbled back towards our ETES. “It’s a fitting burial spot. As good as any other we’d have found here.”
It was true. Despite the bone-chilling cold, the view was spectacular. The vista might have been painted by some great artist of past centuries or generated by the most advanced gaming programmers in the galaxy. Brent would have approved.
December in Modesto
By: Norval Joe
December in Modesto was foggy and cold. He shivered in his light jacket, standing outside the entrance of the hospital, directions to the Gospel Mission crumpled in his hand.
He couldn’t believe that he had left Los Angeles . It was warm there, in Mid October, when he had set off to the north.
Traveling north had been painfully slow. Travelers were hesitant to pick up hitch hikers these days; especially old ones. He remembered the days of his youth with fondness, hitch hiking with friends around the country, eventually arriving in Southern California. He fell in love with the ocean and warm nights on the beach instantly.
In a short time all of his friends moved on. They went back to college, or to their home towns or just to work.
He had tried to work; odd jobs. But something, or someone, a co-worker, or a customer, something would get under his skin and make him angry and he would blow up and break something, and he would be back on the street.
But the street was good. It was open and uncomplicated, and there were no walls to press in on him, no people that would require him.
He might have to ask for spare change to get a drink now and then, but there were always people on their way somewhere, or nowhere, to make panhandling worth while.
But he was old now. How old was he? fifty, sixty? He remembered Kennedy getting shot, LSD and Viet Nam, and all that was in the 60’s.
It was getting harder to sleep, too. His neck and back hurt him all the time, so every night he had to find a comfortable place to sleep; couldn’t just sprawl out on the sand. And it was getting dangerous too. Kids, teenagers, they don’t hitch hike for a thrill anymore, they beat up old men.
He was heading north to Sacramento. He had a brother there, or he did years ago. He had to go there and find him.
He made it to Bakersfield in the back of a pickup with a load of old tires. He heard the driver talking on his cell phone while getting gas at a station where he often pan handled. He hadn’t truly decided to leave L.A. until he heard that driver. “Yeah Buddy! I got this load of tires I’m taking over the grape vine to Bakersfield. Meet me there and I’ll take you all the way to Sac.”
The driver said he was going all the way to Sacramento. He had a brother there! Here was his chance and he took it. He squeezed in among the tires, not thinking past Bakersfield, where the tires were going to be unloaded.
In Bakersfield he was quickly discovered among the tires by the unsympathetic driver, who ranted about the fines he would have received if the man had been noticed by the highway patrol, riding in the back of his pickup. When he asked the driver if he could catch a lift to ‘Sac’, to find his long lost brother, he was told to take a hike. He stood in the gloom of the setting sun, in the parking lot of a west Bakersfield service station, hundreds of miles from the beach, and his destination.
He started to walk north. He thought, ‘The guy told me to take a hike, maybe I’ll just walk all the way there.’ He soon found, however, that his shoes, worn with out socks, wore blisters on his ankles, his back started to pain, and he got hungry and tired quickly. He had to find another ride, he would die long before he could walk that far.
He was in Bakersfield for weeks, and with each passing day it got colder. He found a Good Will collection station. People would drop off bags of clothes, and trash, during the night knowing that the store staff would have to deal with it when they opened the doors in the morning. He waited in the shadows and then rummaged through each bag that was left there until he found two coats; one thick and warm, and the other, light but waterproof. He also found a comfortable pair of boots and even a pair of socks.
The week of thanks giving arrived to find him asking for spare change at the northern end of town. One man, about to give him a dollar, changed his mind and told him he would take him to lunch, so that he wouldn’t ‘drink away’ the money he would have received. That was fine, he was hungry enough, and during the lunch conversation the philanthropist introduced himself as a Pentecostal Minister of a small congregation just north of Fresno, and was returning home after doing some charity service in northern Baja California.
The man explained his plight to the minister who replied that he would gladly take him as far as he was going for the small price of ‘listening to the Word of God’.
He rode in the ministers 1986 Plymouth K car and listened as the Word of God deteriorated into a discourse on the evils of this world, from mostly innocuous to the most vile. And it became clear that many of the evils that the minister found the most reprehensible were some that he had the most personal experience with. But he dozed and listened as they traveled north past each of the small towns, the minister pontificating on social injustices and the lack of moral response. They finally reached the small town a few miles past Fresno, the minister pulling the K car into the gravel parking lot of a long rectangle of a building that served as both, the ministers home and meeting house.
From the parking lot of the church he could see the highway and began to walk toward it. Reaching the frontage road that parallelled the north bound lane of high way 99, he stopped. His feet and ankles ached with arthritis. He sat on the edge of the asphalt road, with his feet resting in a shallow ditch, the dead dry grass of the long ago spring broken off and blown away by the wind, a thin carpet of short, new grass, beaded with moisture from the valley fog. His mind returned to the beaches of Southern California.
He used to surf all day, and then sleep under the piers next to his surf board. There were bonfires on the beach, and barbecues, and even women looking for companionship. He could be companionable for a short time, but then even the most pleasant woman would start to get on his nerves, and he would spend a day surfing and working his way north or south along the coast, and find a new place to hang out.
Surfers always shared food with him, if they had it. And if they didn’t he could walk between the beach towels, and blankets and coolers until he could find something edible to swipe. He never tried to take money or valuables, that could land him in jail, but no one would call the cops over a bite of food. He could flash a winning smile that would lite up his darkly tanned face that would win people over and they would give him a beer to go with the sandwich he just tried to take.
He couldn’t surf anymore and the stumbling old bum drew too much attention to surreptitiously spy out food in the baskets and coolers of swimmers and beach loungers.
He looked through the wire fence that ran between the freeway and the frontage road and watched the light fog swirl and eddy along behind the cars and trucks. To the north was an overpass for one of the small country roads where it met the freeway. He could see that there was a minivan parked under the overpass, and the various sized people of a small family were milling about the vehicle.
He found a hole in the wire fence and crawled through, and walked the hundred yards to where the family gathered to watch him approach. The mother was speaking to the children in Spanish. He had surfed with enough Mexicans to know just a few words, and thought hard to put a question together. “Va norte?” he finally asked. They began to speak among themselves much faster than he could follow, but eventually it appeared that they agreed to take him on as a passenger. They waited for him to climb in the back seat and sit next to a broken out window that was taped over with a plastic sheet. The noise of the plastic sheet increased, the wind threatening to tear it from the van as the driver accelerated onto the highway. Accordions and tuba blared from the the AM radio, and children laughed and fought with one another all to the rhythmic flapping of the plastic sheet of the window.
Suddenly he was waking up as the car was pulling off the freeway. The driver pulled over and wished him, ‘buena suerte’, ‘good luck’, and opened the sliding side door of the mini van to allow him out. He watch the car disappear into the fog in the distance as it headed for the families home.
He walked back over the overpass, looking for a comfortable place to panhandle or try to hitch another ride, when he saw that the freeway was crossing over a river that flowed through the center of this town. The fog was getting thicker and a cold drizzle was sticking to his hair and beard.
He followed the side of the freeway toward where the river flowed underneath and found that there were others that had also sought refuge from the damp fog under the bridge. There were three men sitting around a small fire which they fed with bits of wood broken from wooden pallets that they had stolen from a nearby storage yard. He greeted the men and approached to warm himself at the fire. They eyed him with calculating glares. Crouching close to the fire, the warmth quickly penetrated his thin trousers, and he began to feel much more comfortable, if not entirely welcome. He hadn’t known that there was a forth man in the little party until stars burst across his vision as the unseen companion slammed a river rock against the back of his head. His consciousness was fading away, and he wondered if he was dieing, until he hit the water. The cold was shocking. The conspirators had stolen his two coats, his boots and his socks and thrown him into the Tuolumne River, assuming that he was probably dead, or would be soon enough.
The Tuolumne River, whose origins were high in Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, had much of its water diverted to provide drinking water for the San Francisco Bay Area, and for irrigation of farms throughout the central valley of California. By the time it passed through the city of Modesto it was usually a sluggish trickle, but recent heavy rains in the foot hills had risen its level and increased its speed markedly. Instead of allowing him to sink placidly to the bottom of the river, the rapid current quickly dragged him across the river where it made a sharp turn to the south and promptly lodged him in the brambles of the western bank.
In a haze of pain and cold he struggled up the bank, shoeless, to collapse on the road at the top. A grounds keeper from a nearby golf course saw the prone form laying in the street when the beams of his trucks headlights fell upon the old man. He covered the man with a blanket from the back seat of his Club Cab, and waited by the unconscious form until medical assistance arrived.
The nurse asked him questions as she cleaned the top of his head in preparation for the arrival of the plastic surgeon who would oversee the reapplications of much of his scalp. “Name?” she asked. “Um. Joe, I think.” She frowned, “Last name?” He paused, “I don’t think I have one anymore,” he mumbled thoughtfully. “Address?” she asked. He sighed, longing for the beach, “Los Angeles.” “And the street address”, exasperation sounding clearly in her voice? “Any one of them, just take your pick,” and he sighed, wishing she would stop asking him questions.
It was foggy and cold, the morning in Modesto, when they discharged him from the hospital, with a donated pair of shoes, a light jacket, and directions to the Gospel Mission.
He had a brother in Sacramento, or at least he used to, and he started walking toward the freeway.
This Machine is Broken
My hands are bleeding and my eyes are almost blinded by the bright white. I half walk now, half crawl in the endless snow. How long? Hours? Days? Weeks? It’s hard for me to remember now since my mind have gone half numb. I’m conjuring up images, images of warmth, a fireplace, hot soup served up by the most beautiful of nymphs. She kisses me softly, says “pain, be gone” but it doesn’t, I’m cold and frozen and I can’t move anymore.
Flexy Metal, the best money could buy, but almost useless here, lost in the snow. Scrap metal, that’s mostly what I am now. I might have once been human, I don’t remember anymore, so much time, but here I am, older then I should be. I had a good life, and if I die here in the endless snow, I’d know I’ve been there. I scan the snow with tired eyes, then, a light, nearly invisible in the blinding snow, but it’s there, giving me a new energy, I crawl towards it, is it a mirage? A dream? No, it’s real, it’s there, waiting for me.
I almost don’t make it. It’s a cabin, in the middle of nowhere. I reach the door, turn the knob, a clank of metal on metal, then I’m in. A fireplace, fire dancing happily, making small cranking noises, like it’s laughing marily. Only the nymph is missing. I sit down, warming my hands, slowly melting the cold away, trying to come back to myself, recall myself.
I almost fail to see the old man, standing there, smiling in hospitality, “come sit here, there’s more then enough room at the table”, pointing at a table of goods, a meal to please any man, but I’m somehow not hungry, I don’t remember ever being hungry, I just don’t remember. Strangely enough, there’s allot I don’t remember, like there’s a blanket across my mind. “Just, some sleep” I say. “Good” say’s the old man and offers me a bed. Everything goes blank.
I wake up to find someone has removed my arms and legs. I can’t move, can’t run away now. I’m at the mercy of this man who seemed so hospitable just a few hours ago, or is it days? Weeks? I have no perception of time now. The man comes from time to time, removes another part from me, takes it away, sales it I guess. I’m slowly gone. Only the unusable parts are left alone with my brain. “Scrap metal” the man says. “Would get a good price for your parts on the black market. To bad your brain is just… well… useless”, he laughs a vicious laugh. He just leaves me there. Days go by, months. I rust slowly. Finely, my brain gives in. I sleep. Just a broken machine.
By: Jeff Hite
Jack could not believe that he had volunteered for this. He didn’t even like the cold and here he was in Alaska trying to get his car out of yet another snow bank. That was the problem of course, he was driving a car, and not one of the large trucks that keep rumbling by. They were all heavy enough to get a grip of the road, where as his little car had the habit of floating on top of the snow at anything above twenty miles and hour. The problem was that he could not afford a truck. Not until he got paid, and he would not get anything more than his stipend until the job was done. That was another three months down the road. As he, toss yet another shovel full of snow over the side of the road, he swore that when this was over he would never come back up here, for any reason.
Twenty minutes later, with his face wind burned and his hands numb all the way up to his elbows, he got back in his car and was able to back in out in the road. Nearly and hour later, he made it to the shack, that three business men that had hired him, called the office. The building was little more than four concert walls and a roof. But it was heated and right now that was what he needed.
Jack waited for the coffee to finish brewing, before he moved again. This was going to be a long day and there was no way that he was going to get started without a full thermos of coffee with him. Once he had filled the thermos he started to get dressed for he long ride, by snow machine to the pipeline.
The Businessmen who had hired him were interested in a government contract to support and maintain the oil pipeline that ran across this great state. But before they were willing to take on even a small section of it, they wanted independent information about the it’s state. So they had hire him and three other people to go out and check it out. Since they could not do invasive testing they had to settle for, photographs and video of the pipeline. The video had been easy, and Wendel, had left for his home in Texas almost a month ago. He had hired a local snow machine driver, and brought his stead-cam rig. They drove slowly past each of the pylons and he shot the video for the whole two hundred miles that they were going to take over in under a month. Jack, on the other hand, was over a month behind him, and less than a third done. The contract, required that the evidence be back to the main office in California by no later than April 19th. At the rate he had been going, it was going to be tight.
He layered his gear on and prepared to go out. In two more days he would not be coming back here because the journey out and back would be more than the fuel capabilities of the snow machine. Then he would have to stay in local towns and even once use what the maps called an emergency shelter. But, for the next two nights at least he would be able to stay in the nice warm hotel room.
With all of his gear on he headed for the door. As he opened it the wind buffeted him, and it was strikingly cold. He didn’t start to worry about things until about six hours later when he could not get the snow machine started. He had check the fuel level and the battery was good, it just would not start. If he didn’t get it started in the next ten minutes he would have to call for help. He had his emergency radio, but was loathed to use it, because he knew it would cost him an arm and a leg to get the snow machine back to town, and that was money he didn’t have. Maybe one of the guys that came out could help him get the machine started, but usually they were just interested in getting you and getting back into the nearest town.
An hour later when the battery died on the snow machine, he knew he was in trouble. The sun never did really come up, that day but if it was possible it was getting colder as it went down. He had called on the emergency radio twice and gotten the local sherif, but had not seen or heard anything since the last call almost an thirty minutes ago. He didn’t want to use the radio again, but it he was starting to get worried.
That was when he heard it. At first he was pretty sure that he had imagined the sound. Then he was sure it was the sound of a snow machine drifting in and out due to the wind. But as he saw the creature, it was impossible to deny. It was slow in coming toward him, but it was coming toward him there was no doubt. He had no where to go, there was no shelter, and if he left the snow machine, he would sink to his waist in snow. He could plow though the snow but very very slowly, and as he watched the creature coming toward him, he knew that as slow as it was moving it would still be faster than him.
Jack blinked and rubbed his eyes, the creature was gone. Had he imagined it? No, that wasn’t possible. The thing had been no less that ten feet away from him. He strained his eyes to look at the spot where it had been. Nothing. He tried to look up the incline where the thing had come from, no tracks. He closed his eyes and shook his head. He didn’t feel cold. He had not felt cold all day, or at least not like he was freezing. Of course he was cold, it was minus 25 degrees, but he was not freezing to death.
He remembered his camera. He pulled it out of the case, and started taking pictures. The side of the hill the yeti thing had come down, because that was what it had to have been. The last spot he had seen it. Maybe the camera would see something he had not.
He had gotten about ten shots off when his radio squawked.
“Can you confirm the pipe segment you are near?” Jack swung around to look at the pipe line behind him.
“Yes, I am near 76-745.”
“Alright we will be there in about five minutes.” The radio went silent.
Jack turned back around look in the direction of the town and ended up face to face with the creature. It could not be more than two inches away. It’s ice blue eyes stared with out a trace of malice at Jack. He could feel the creatures breath on his face, it’s large hands on his arms. He wanted to scream but something in the way the creature looked at him prevented it.
The creature, just started at him for what felt like an eternity, and then reached one leathery hand up and touched the exposed skin on Jack’s face. He blinked again, and the creature was gone again.
A minute later he heard then saw the three other snow machines coming over the rise near him. He looked at the snow all around his machine looking for foot prints or something but could find no trace of the creature. But it had been there. He knew it. He has seen. He had felt it’s hands on his arms, the touch of it hand against his face.
“What seems to be the problem?” The deputy’s home town twang brought him back to the present.
“My machine won’t start.”
“Alright. Lets see if we can get it started, otherwise we will tow you back in.” He pulled along side Jack and reached across to the ignition switch. As he touched it, Jack’s snow machine came to life.
“but the battery was dead.”
“you have to hit the starter you know.” the deputy said starring at him meaningfully. “Follow us back into town, I got some paperwork for you to fill out.”