Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everybody!

I can't believe October is over and ten months of 2011 are over.  I'm not ready.  I'm on a roll with Nightmares of Katrina.  I had hoped to climax on Halloween, but I missed that.

I was trying to commute to work by bike 75 times this year before the end of October.  Though I went again today, my 73d and I will make 75 this year, I didn't do it before the end of October.  If the weather goes bad I'm done.  Then at the end of November we are being moved to a building who's only entrance is off a highway.  Once we move there I will not be able to commute by bike, period.

I did have a good health screening today, and I suppose I should see all this as the glass being half full.

Oh, and I have had more posts on this blog this year than any other year.  The funny thing is that even though my output has been tremendous, very little if any of it has been fiction.  I'm almost out of fiction practice.

My plan for November:  I am NOT doing NaNoWriMo this year.  I am going to edit one of the books I wrote in previous years and get it to a publisher by the end of the month.  I plan on spending as much time as I would have to write a new one, but I'm really not sure how not to cheat myself.

I can write garbage each year and do nothing with it or I can improve and better my output.  It's time to be an author not just a writer.

Oh, and since October is over, no more horror.

Happy Halloween!

Nightmares of Katrina 14

I only stood still on the porch of horrors a mere moment. A scream of anger, a wail of pain and a howl of effort ripped through the tiny house and jolted me into action, any action.

The only thing I knew I wouldn't do is go in the water. At the first beat of the bellowing I lept back to the porch from which I came. The reassuring dryness of the porch encouraged me to continue. I raced across that porch and lept to the next and the next, back to the house from which I began. The familiarity of the porch reminded me of my mission, to find my soldier and bring her back.

The confusion and indecision returned. Then I heard it, the singing. I paused, cocked my ears. It was the same as before, Islamic tones and rhythm, Gregorian progressions, but unknown language. I could hear that there were words now, but I couldn't distinguish what they were let alone what language they could be. There was something more as well. It was just starting, the sound of flutes, I suspect pan flutes because they didn't sound as sophisticated or as in tune as modern flutes.

I turned my head one way, then the other to zero in on the sound, to determine from where it came. On the second sweep my eyes slammed on the brakes of my head.

Across the street on the house facing me was a spraypainted X as we had seen earlier, but this one was queer. At first it was only a feeling I had, an unrightness about it. Then I realized. Normally they give a date at the top, the unit doing the search is identified in the left hand space, who they found in the bottom space and hazards in the right hand space.

This one had a date and time in the top space, an address on the left side, some gibberish words in the right side and on the bottom it said, "All!" The date was the day I was looking at it and the time. I couldn't be sure what time it was then so I looked down at my watch. The time on the X was the same as the time on my watch. As my wide, disbelieving eyes crept back up at the house with the X, and the distant choir grew louder my eyes caught a fleeting glimpse of a moving body, a moving, BDU clad female body splashing through the putrid water away from me.

"Brown!" I shouted at the top of my lungs, but she didn't seem to hear me.

I took a step forward, my instinct to go after her taking the initiative before my fear of the sewage slop covering the ground. My second step was hesitant so that I didn't quite launch myself off the porch, but tottered on the edge as fear lurched up and took hold of my legs.

My eyes darted away from Brown to scan the porch and yard before me. At just the instant I would have tumbled into the rancid dark waters I twisted and heaved myself toward the four foot tall fence that surrounded the yard. The fence was a sturdy wooden one with a wide handrail top. It took my weight with only a slight give. I danced along it like an NFL receiver trying to get to the tree that had fallen across the front of the yard from the parkway. Had I made the tree I might have had a chance of tip toeing along the unstable branches to the hood of a nearby car and onto another. Where I would have gone from there I knew not, but the matter was moot, since I could not even keep my balance all the way to the tree.

My arms and one leg windmilled, I gritted my teeth and strained every muscle within the planted leg to try to pull myself back upright, to no avail. As I fell my free leg seemed to have more sense than I myself had, as it instinctively found a solid, flat landing space and stuck it.

In an instant I found myself with one leg soaked and immersed to the knee.

The house of the horror released another bellow of anger from the occupant, the water moved in a tidal fashion and I put the second leg down, the better to jump back onto the fence.

I was so rattled and so anxious that I put all I had and did a standing vertical leap over the four foot fence, entangling myself in the small, downed parkway tree.

I grunted and struggled against the clinging, grabbing branches, leaves and thorns until something clasped my left wrist and wrenched me free.

I flew backwards through the air and out of the tree, yanked by some unknown force.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Nightmares of Katrina 13

"Crap!" Was all I could think. There was no use calling after PFC Brown to try to get her to come back. The look in her eyes said that she was gone, immersed in the hunt, with the thrill of a chase.

"I'll go after her," I told Chief Mac and handed her my radio. I kept my cell phone, though it was likely to get wet, and had spotty reception at best, it was still a fairly good communications link.

In hindsight, going after her was the worst thing I could have done, even though it was the only thing I could do. If only we had kept a closer watch on her, if only we had realized earlier how she had been affected by the proceedings of that day, the distortion of time and space, the confusion of direction and purpose. She clearly thought that we had plenty of time, that we had nothing better to do, that this was a good use of her time and that she was tacitly approved to aid in the rescue effort, a noble task to be sure.

I vaulted the rail and landed square on the tree both the PFC and LTC had traversed. In two bouncy steps I was on the porch. It gave a rotted, spongy thud with no ring of healthy lumber. It was a sickening thump, followed by dull creaky footsteps as I walked into the house. I really had no idea where to go once inside.

Stepping inside the house was like putting your head in an open pit latrine in mid-summer, that had had several loaves of moldy bread dropped in for good measure. It took my breath and choked me so that I couldn't get another. Everything was rotting and soaked. My eyes watered and my vision swam. As my ocular senses struggled my auditory ones sudden gave clear direction with the aid of a piercing scream.

There are animal noises and human noises. Speech sounds are distinct and uniquely human. This scream was not a speech sound, but it was somehow not animal. It was short and sharp, with a direction more clear than any others I had had that day.

I followed the sound out the front of the house, onto the front porch, across to the neighbor's porch, then the next, and into the third house. I found the source of the sound, and ...

The LTC was standing in the house stone still, his mouth open with no sound coming at all, though he had been the one from which the shocking sound had come. Before him, in the middle of the moldy, foetid, rotted room whimpered a creature like I had never seen.

A dog was involved, to be sure, but it was not, had not been the one he had been chasing. This dog was large and looked like it had been healthy, probably bullying others and leading a pack of feral creatures. Though it was upright it was not standing on it's own feet, though it was alive, with a crazed, terrified look in it's poor goggling eyes, it was not making a sound.

Through the dog, that's the only way I can think to describe it, had materialized another creature. I could not begin to guess how the creature had come to be there. It was partially through the dog, but where they met they seemed to be melded together, the dog getting the worst but not the only bad mix.

This must have been one of the creatures I had seen moving through the sewage in the streets. It was several meters long, or so I guessed it had been. It was almost as wide as the dog was high along it's whole length, but I somehow got the impression that it could equally be be oriented either horizontally or vertically. The dark hide was armored and covered in coarse fur like an alligator with a the pelt of a razorback. There were several sets of appendages of varying lengths and thicknesses arranged in an unknown pattern through the middle of the overall length. Each appendage seemed a cross between the chilatinous leg of a trantula and the barbed suckered tentcle of a titanic squid, ending in bifuricated digital tentacles.

The head was protruding from the side of the dog opposite the body of the creature. It seemed to be a collection of sensory stalks, eye, antenna, ear funnel, proboscus and tongue darting narrow mouth. It was from these aardvarkesque mouths that the whimpering moaned. The creature baefully turned it's eyed stalks toward us, pleading for what I could not begin to fathom.

Given no aid from us the creature lurched and scrambled it's limbs to try to raise itself. The tentacles gathered under it's bulk and tensed to lift, yet failed. It struggled again and this time the dog gave a tiny gasp of pain. The creature smacked the dog's face and continued to attempt to lift itself.

I grabbed the LTC's arm and pulled. "Let's get the hell out."

He followed mindlessly. "Wha - wha - what was that?"

"I have no idea what it is, but I need to find my soldier. Can you help me sir?"

He was clearly of no help whatsoever. I pointed him in the direction of the street, just beyond our view, and pushed. "Get back to the others, sir! Go now!" I shouted in his ear. He heard and obeyed more because of his training than of any concious will. He stumbled forward and in the direction of the vehicles.

Standing on the porch alone, with an unknown horror in the house behind me, I struggled to know where to go, what to do next, I only knew I had to go somewhere and get my soldier back.

Nightmares of Katrina 12

After the second sighting and after the haunting half Gregorian, half Mohammedan vocals in the distance, we turned down a street that went up.

The street in question rose from the partial flood mercifully and angled up to pass over another. I was nearly overjoyed to be out of the water, though I wasn't sure why I was so shaken by what clearly must have been my imagination. I clamped my lips closed in order to not speak at all. I felt sure that anything I said for a time would not convey any semblance of leadership or conduct becoming an officer. I fully expected that my speech would be strained, high pitched, rambling and nervous, if not blasphemous.

PFC Brown kept up an excited chatter that hid my coyness anyway. She was excited about the idea of passing very near a swimming alligator. I would have been too, since I had spent some time earlier in the month looking at any body of water I passed for alligators. I say I would have been if not for the fact that I was sure that whatever it was that I saw, it was definitely not an alligator.

As we crested the overpass we saw another party, the first we had seen in nearly an hour. There were four vehicles parked on the left side of the road, two hummers and two civilian pickup trucks. The pickups were both white with animal control markings on them, though I believe they were from different jurisdictions. Near the vehicles were about six military personnel and five civilians dressed in shirts and hats denoting their authority as animal control.

Brown mentioned them as soon as we crested the rise and the Chief looked up from her map, seemingly interested.

"Let's find out what they're doing," Brown asked.

"What the hell, might as well. We're not going to find that other warehouse," the Chief said, then she asked me if it were alright with me. I was fine with it.

This part of the road was still elevated above surface level and beyond the shoulder was a waist-high wall topped with a tubular steel guard rail. We pulled up facing the first hummer. We got out and walked toward the group who were all crowding near the guard rail. They were facing the houses that lay beyond. The top of the rail was even with the top of the doorways.

The closest person in the group was a young woman in a an animal cruelty polo shirt and a concerned look. I was walking a bit ahead of my compatriots and she turned to me as we walked up.

"He'll never be able to get that dog unless he climbs over there and gets it."

I asked her what she meant and she pointed as she explained. On the porch of the dilapidated house opposite the thickest part of the group, stood what I suppose was a dog. It only fit the most basic of the requirements to be categorized as a dog, and it was mostly on the strength of the previous comment about it being a dog, and the fact that it was clearly a domestic animal, but not a cat, that I decided it was a dog. It was sickly, mangy, jittery, wet, muddy, misshapen, and oddly bred. There was a Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) calling to it and reaching out.

"We're collecting up animals and bringing them to shelters," she said.

PFC Brown moved ahead to get beside the LTC. The Chief and I followed.

"He won't come," someone said.

"It's getting late," another said.

"What'll happen to him if you don't get him?" Brown asked.

"He probably won't last another night out on his own."

It didn't need to be said that his chances were a good deal less optimistic since Hurricane Rita was bearing down on us.

The LTC He was a fairly large man and despite his steel gray hair was in very good condition, I guessed he was a runner. He, like everyone else in the group was dry and fairly clean, showing that they had not been in the flood waters that day. He looked at his watch and clearly made a reluctant decision. He handed some things I surmise were valuable and/or perishable to someone nearby, grabbed the rail and hoisted himself up on it. In a few moves he was over the rail and into a tree that had fallen between the house and the street. The attitude of the tree gave him an easy passage across the tiny flooded backyard and onto the porch.

The sight of his movement made the dog freeze, shiver violently and then dart into the open back door of the house just as the LTC set foot on the porch.

"Shit!" The LTC said. He darted into the house after the dog.

The house was what could be called a shotgun. It was designed with a long hall from the front of the house to the back, all on one floor. It was small enough, so the saying goes that a shotgun blast could sweep from one end to the other.

The Chief and I watched intently to see if we could tell where the dog went. Suddenly it darted out the front, onto that porch and lept to a neighboring house. The LTC was still searching the first house.

"I don't think he's ever going to catch that dog," Chief Mac said. I was inclined to agree with her.

I said, "Okay, let's go. Where's Private Brown?"

It was only then that we both noticed that she had followed the LTC across the tree and was on the porch about to enter the house.

I called to her to return.

"I got to help catch that dog," she said and advanced, disappearing into the house.

"I'll get her," I said, and as I said it I began to regret the need for it. The regret would only grow.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Nightmares of Katrina 11

When we left the Convention Center the Chief was determined, anxious, confused and frustrated. She had planned this trip with plenty of time to do everything and now time did not seem to be on our side.

I was rattled. Though our radios and cell phones still did, the satellite phones didn't work and I didn't know how to get them fixed. I still wasn't sure where we were or where we were going, and how we were getting there. The heat had me soaked and partched, despite the fact that at each of our stops we had watered up with commercial bottled water. The thing I had almost seen kept nagging at my memory, I don't know if it was because I vaguely, hauntingly remembered glimpsing something like it before, or because it was wholly unlike anything I had ever experienced. I busied myself between the map and my watch. I wasn't about to be caught off guard by the time at least, or so I determined.

PFC Brown was different. She had been fairly quiet and attentive to the Chief. Wherever Chief Mac told her to go she went with hardly a comment, but a dutiful, "Yes, ma'am."

Now she brought up my aleged sighting again. "I wonder what that was you saw sir."

"I probably didn't see anything, maybe some floating Spanish moss."

She didn't seem to think so, "Didn't you say it swam away? Did it come up and down?"

I tried not to think about it, so I didn't answer her, but it didn't dissuade her from continuing the conversation without me. She suggested it was some sort of domestic animal, maybe a ferret or another more exotic pet. She told us of her pets at home. It was clear that she missed them. She was so young that she still lived at home with her family, and there were several more animals in the house, but a particular dog and cat seemed to be hers alone. She mixed wondering if they were being well cared for, with wondering if we would see my cryptozoophyte. She was excited to be trying different routes, most with at least some water on them.

I wondered aloud if going through the water were a good idea since we really didn't know how deep it was. The Chief agreed and said we wouldn't go down streets unless we could clearly see that we would not be swamped under.

We kept a sharp eye out. In a way it emboldened the Private to go down streets with water, where she avoided them as a rule. Now the rule had changed and she seemed to joyfully plunge forward.

After what my watch told me was just under an hour and my memory told me was far less we heard the distant sound of choral singing.

"Do you hear that?" The Chief asked. I was surprised because with my less than stellar hearing I couldn't at first and it was jarring that the Chief would mention something that so clearly did not advance her mission.

"It sounds like someone is going to church," Brown added while I still could not hear it.

When it finally crept up on my hearing like a train in the night passing far off, I recognized it. At least I thought I did at first. "I think it's a mosque," I said.

Chief Mac agreed that it had the tone and rhythm of Islamic Arabic, but she swore she didn't recognize any of the words. It was never loud enough for me to make out individual words, because almost as soon as I heard it, we turned down a different street and the ghostly a'cappella died away again.

"Is it close to nightfall?" I asked, wondering if it could be a mosque and since I really didn't trust my sense of time anymore, and I looked at my watch. It wasn't any closer to night as the sound had been audible for only a few seconds. "Odd," I said and as soon as I did, still looking down at my watch, a shape appeared in my peripheral vision.

"What?" Both women asked, but I made no reply, I sat stone still and without even turning my eyes focused on what I thought I was seeing.

In the wake from our tires, the water coming to just below where the door openings were, there was another bump in the waters. It was the kind of bump a submerged log makes in a river flowing swiftly over it. The watery disturbance was longer than the opening for the door and wider than my thighs.

The water flowed smoothly over it, then as it rose closer to the surface the water began to undulate as the texture of what lay beneath started to affect the flow. Just before it pulled away from us and plunged completely out of sight again I thought I saw something break the surface.

"Do you see it again?" Brown asked excitedly.

"It's bigger than I thought before."

"Is it still there?"

"No, it's gone - not near us now," I said as a shiver ran up my spine.

"It's not a dog or rat then?" The Chief said.

"No, it's too big. I dont' think it's a mammal at all," I said and pulled out my map. I wanted to think about something else, anything else.

"I know, it was an alligator!" Brown declared more excited than frightened, "There are alligator in the streets, wow."

"I'm sure it wasn't an alligator," the Chief said, I said nothing. I was sure it wasn't an alligator as well because I had seen part of it and I was sure alligators didn't have tentacles.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why, Oh Why?!

Why do people insist on cuddlifying Cthulhu?

Great Old One people! 

"It seemed to be a sort of monster, or symbol representing a monster..."
"... a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive. If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful."

"These Great Old Ones, Castro continued, were not composed altogether of flesh and blood. They had shape — for did not this star-fashioned image prove it? — but that shape was not made of matter."

"Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom."

Doesn't sound like cartoon or plush toy time to me.

Nightmares of Katrina 10

The route chosen between the University campus and the Convention Center was mostly straight, but it passed through areas that had been flooded and barricaded until recently. We had heard rumors that it was now passable, but there were a lot of rumors that month.

We turned down one street and found it at least partially flooded. There was no traffic control to tell us not to go that way, indeed we saw no sign of life at all, no occupied vehicles, no workers, no soldiers, no occupants, and stranger than all that, no animals. I didn't see a single bird in New Orleans ever for the whole month we down there.

This street was deadly quiet and still.

The water was clearly not that deep, as we could see where it came to on the houses, barely covering the crawl spaces under the small homes. This was a lower middle class neighborhood, with some fences here and there and mostly two bedrooms on one floor. I don't know if it had been a tidy place or not before nature's savagery, certainly when we went through it was littered with pollutants and flotsam. How much of it was thrown out by the storm and how much from wretches too poor to care, I couldn't tell.

We moved forward cautiously, our knobby hummer tires splashing excessively, despite our creeping pace. The doors were off and we all pulled tighter within the vehicle, wary against the stray splash of the foetid liquid. The smell was not at bad as had been reported very early in the month, but our churning probably brought up some odors that would have been better left to run off as the water level lowered.

Every house we passed had a spray painted X on it. They had all been visited and cleared by the Texas National Guard only recently. None showed hazards, Some had had bodies, some not. No live victims had been found.
Something caught my eye; something in the water. The glint of sun had been glaring up mercilessly and it had suddenly been disturbed. I turned to look, but the brilliance had returned and blinded me. I must have shouted or grunted because the Chief turned in her seat and demanded, "What, sir?" while Brown slammed the brakes.

"Nothing," I said. "I just thought I saw something in the water."


"No, swimming I think. It's gone now, I think." I tried to see it again, whatever it was. I pointed to where I had seen it.

"Was it a dog or cat?" Brown asked.

"I don't think so, it didn't seem the right shape."

"Maybe a rat?" the Private asked, but the Chief said that rats would have been noted on the houses, and none of them showed rats anywhere.

"It could have been a fish," the Chief said and I let the matter rest, but it wasn't a fish. If anything it had been dull, not shiny like the scales of fish, it may have been furry, or mossy, and it had to have been bigger than a rat, far larger.

We made it to the Convention Center without another incident, but I stayed as far inside the vehicle as I could while we traveled. The Center was a cacophony of activity. There were vehicles driving in and out, there were people everywhere, civilian and military. Fortunately or unfortunately the people we were sent there to find found us. I don't know how we would have known where they were in that disturbed ant-hill of a building, but as soon as we pulled inside there were people there waiting for us. They waved us to park near their vehicles.

The Chief never needed to get out of our vehicle. She discussed some thing with the Sergeant who found us and gave him the package we were to deliver. He complained to her about thing, and she to him. I could tell that they didn't get along, but mostly I could tell that the Chief was annoyed at the delay. The Sergeant was the sort of man who could drag out a simple answer or question for several minutes and Chief Mac felt that she had no sort of time for that.

I looked at my watch when we entered the building. I was preoccupied trying to think of what I could have seen in the waters outside. I glanced at my watch again and saw that far less time had passed than I had expected. I chalked it up to boredom and the reassured feeling I was having of being high and dry in a solid building. Finally when the Chief managed to break off the conversation and waved PFC Brown to move out again I glanced down at my watch again. I would have sworn only moments had past, but it had been well over an hour.

Now I was anxious. I jumped out of the vehicle to provide a ground guide through the building's parking garage and back out onto the street. As soon as we had passed the doors I jumped back in. I knew the Chief was determined to find her second warehouse, but now I wondered if we would get back before nightfall. There was something very wrong about the day and the waters still slithering through the half flooded streets.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Nightmares of Katrina 9

Having been forced from our planned route, my traveling companions and I decided to alter our itinerary, and alter it again, and again.

The places we needed to go included the Convention Center, two food warehouses, and the university campus where there were several logistics units bivouacked.   

We managed to wind and twist and fumble our way through the blocked and semi passable streets, alleys and highways.  The city seemed to be forcing us out and around.  PFC Brown was driving, the Chief was in the passenger seat and I was in the back.  I had the map in my hands because I didn't know the way.  I tried to keep track at each turn we had to make, but since half the time we were traveling the wrong way down a road so that the signs were pointed the wrong way, or they had been completely blown away, I spent most of the time spinning the map and trying to at least orient it correctly.

Though I didn't know it at the time, our judgement of time and distances would greatly suffer that day.  I've never been a great one for a sense of direction, but the Chief was, and shockingly she was lost part of the time that day.

The Chief was anxious.  She wanted to make sure she could visit her food warehouses before the storm blew in.  She was responsible for switching from the MRE based food source to a more normal, American way of eating.  She must have had trouble judging time too, as the whole blasted day she kept looking at her watch and pacing, when she wasn't actively badgering us about the goals of her mission.

Because of the ways we seemed to have to turn, and the constant divergence the city seemed to be demanding on us, the Chief decided to head for the first warehouse, which was on the outskirts of town.  We made our way to the modest commercial food warehouse where the owner had managed to save a good deal of his inventory, in part because they were mostly canned goods.  He was nervous because of the storm and anxious to try to sell what he had saved.  He would not be getting insurance money so he had to make his wares profitable.  The Chief made a deal with him and he bid us a fond, but nerve-wracked farewell, hoping that his corrugated steel walls and ad hoc generators would hold out against another storm.

As we tried to make it to the second warehouse, again just outside the city limits, we suddenly found ourselves being forced toward the city center.  Chief Mac asked for the map.  "We might as well head for the University.  It's right down this road.  Go straight to the lake."  She pointed and gave me the map back.  PFC Brown complied.

Along the route we went past washed out roads; water stained, and water logged houses; and swamped yards.  There were blown down signs, pieces of houses and vehicles of all kinds.  There were even a boat and an airplane washed onto side roads or parking lots.

We didn't have to drive through any water yet, but each flooded yard or road we past I would look down.  The water looked wrong, not just dirty and polluted, but greasy, tainted and just a bit too thick.  It didn't quite move right when disturbed and didn't reflect the way I would have expected.

We finally came to the University.  The campus clearly was lovely in better days, right on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain.  Chief Mac knew the campus well and once there she directed Brown with confidence and ease.  We pulled up to where the Logistics Unit headquartered and the Chief got out.  I stayed with the private and the vehicle, parked in a lot overlooking the lake.

I stopped to look out on what some consider to be New Orleans toilet.  I wasn't expecting any beauty.  Strangely enough I could clearly see how the lake could have been beautiful, had been beautiful so many years ago.  But I also saw it for what it was, poisoned with waste, churned by storm and battered by aftermath.  She reminded me of a drug abusing prostitute.  Finally I glimpsed something more, something not right, not right beyond any punishment that tortured body of water could have had at the hands of man or nature.  The water didn't move right, didn't reflect right.  It shined blue as reflected form the sky, but also too purple and too red somehow.  It looked like the spectrum thrown up from some puddle of unidentified auto fluid when you move your head.  Only I wasn't moving my head and there wasn't any sort of breeze to stir the too heavy air into shaking the prism of water.  It gave me a chill despite the insufferable heat and I had to turn away.  I never looked back on that cursed lake that day, and I hope never to again.

I instead busied myself with testing the satellite phones.  Strangely enough I could not make them work.  The codes were correct, and the system showed green, but I would mostly get a timing error.  When I did get through the distant end could barely hear me and there always seemed to be bleed through, cross talk from somewhere else.  It sounded surprisingly like myself, but it was out of sync with whom my fantasy self was speaking, and had no connection at all to whom I was trying to talk to.  Sometimes the cross talk was more clear and louder than my own voice.  It was unnerving.

I put them away when the Chief returned to the vehicle.  The unit had given us something to take to the Convention Center, which frustrated the Chief.  She had earlier decided to avoid the Convention Center since we were getting behind and she felt the other warehouse was more important.  When she got in she complained about the lateness of the hour and the detour.

"But we still have hours before nightfall and the skies are completely clear," PFC Brown told her confused.  This was true,  not a single cloud marred the blue sky which I had seen so crazily reflected in the lake.

The Chief stared at Brown a moment and then at me.  "What time is it?"

I told her.  She looked at her watch.  "Still, I'm not comfortable with this."

PFC Brown suggested a route that they had been meaning to try.  She seemed to think it was between the University and the Center.  The Chief sighed, looked out over the waters, shuddered and nodded agreement. 

We left to discover if the route to the Convention Center was passable, and despite ourselves we found much more than that.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Nightmares of Katrina 8

After the team had left to go west in anticipation of Hurricane Rita, I joined another team that was also traveling to prepare for the coming onslaught. I will change the names to protect the innocent and because I'm not sure they would want to have the memories reawakened. Just as I won't give the exact route or locations of that fateful Equinox Eve, so too I will not give the names. No one should try to find what we found, no one should try to follow us down to the, I hesitate to call them places (which you will see why as we progress), but I would not want anyone to try to contact my fellow witnesses.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 (CW3) Mac was heading into the city on a twofold mission, to confirm sources for food and to find routes. She was bringing with her one of her subordinates, a young female soldier I'll call Private (PFC) Brown. I thought that their efforts to find clear routes would give me an opportunity to check the satellite phones along those routes.

I want to mention something interesting about Chief Mac before I get too far into the narrative. We served in Afghanistan together, although assigned to different bases. I always heard good things about her service in country, and from times when we did work together I can personally attest that she was one of the best Warrant Officers I ever had the pleasure of serving with, always professional, knowledgeable, positive, and quick witted. I have nothing but respect and admiration for her, and I hope she feels the same toward me. When we were preparing to redeploy home from Afghanistan she confessed something to me. She had served with my father in a previous unit.

My father retired a few years earlier as a Brigadier General, one of a very few in the Illinois National Guard. I had always tried to keep my distance from him in order to be my own man, to stand on my own merits and not invite any sort of favor. I never introduced myself in any association with him when I met people, and in fact, only brought him up when discussing something that involved him personally, never if it only involved my relationship with him. Conversely, very often, almost universally, when I was introduced to someone they would ask about my father, or tell me that they had served with him. Certainly the praise and respect was universal, with one single exception.

Chief Mac was the only person I ever met who had served with my father who did not mention it on our meeting. As I said, we had served in Afghanistan for a year before she ever brought it up. She was also the only person I ever met who did not like him. The reason she didn't mention him to me was because she wanted to judge me on my own and not prejudge me based on my father. She did tell me after she gained some respect for me. She told me that my father teased and harangued her when she was an NCO on his staff about going to Warrant Officer School instead of becoming a candidate for a Commission. She never forgave him that.

Knowing my father, I'm sure that he saw her as a promising leader and a valuable Non-commissioned officer and felt that her talents in leadership would better serve the Army in a Commissioned role, but he overplayed his hand to the point of alienating her. Obviously for my part, I had no such prejudice against her since she was already a top notch Warrant Officer when I met her. As we shall see I have an undying gratitude to her as well.

We started in the late morning, I don't know if it was design, fate or mismanagement. It wasn't supposed to be a very long trip. Chief Mac had been in the city many times and she knew her way around very well.

No matter how well one knew the city though, that month made the solid, paved, straight roads into a constantly devolving, slippery, barely passable labyrinth. Whole parts of the city were blocked off, some because they were still flooded, some for security purposes, some I think, just because. Parts of the tollway and highway were open at some times and closed at others, ramps opened and closed daily so that you never new where you would be getting off or where you could go from there. Vehicles sometimes moved on the right and left side of the road, sometimes only on the right, sometimes only on the left. Once you were on the highway you had to be prepared to exit or travel in a seemingly random way.

That day the traffic was all on the right side of the divided and elevated tollway. We passed through the eerily vacant toll booths and crested the rise to glimpse the city, the battered buildings and the abandoned river. Our exit wasn't available, having been closed, so we moved on to the next and the next.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Nightmares of Katrina 7

As threats of Hurricane Rita approached so did the choas and the strangeness. Rita herself did not bring nor cause the problems, she was merely the harbinger, the bellwether.

We did not know it then. We feared the worst, that Rita would kick the already down city of New Orleans and be her final death blow.

As I said, we were camped out on the lawn outside our office building. As the storm grew in the gulf and slowly swung her massive power in our direction we scrambled to strike camp and move inside.

The weather service predicted that the worst of the storm, the eye, would pass to the west of us, but we didn't know how far, how much damage would be wrought further out, how much more could New Orleans take.

My unit put together a plan to send a team out west, to be ready to assess the needs and what we could do logistically. I was one of those chosen to go with the team, but this was our third week down there and I had only brought two weeks of blood pressure medicine. I would need more and jumping into a team that would be mobile in an area where pharmacies were not reliable open let alone would reliably have my particular medication was worrisome to me.

Oddly enough this sent me into a rage. Normally I'm contemplative and very difficult to rattle. For some reason my nerve was brittle. It could have been the horrifying dreams, or lack of sleep, or the heat, but somehow I don't think it was. I had been through similar discomforts in Afghanistan and never got that unhinged. It only took a few words from my boss to calm me down, talk me off the ledge, but I couldn't do it myself, I had to have help which isn't like me at all.

Instead of leaving with the team I took a different trip, ultimately a far more dangerous and bizarre one. Our satellite phones were really acting up and I needed to go into the city to find out why, and how to fix it. We would need the best communications we could get in the coming storm. I hitched a ride into New Orleans with a vehicle going that way.

I had been in the city earlier and was, I thought prepared for the sight. What touched me right away was something I saw as we drove over the crest of the tollway and could spy the superdome. The arena itself was the same as I had seen it before, but where only a few days before there had been a cruise ship an aircraft carrier and other navy vessels moored in the river, it was empty. They had fled to open water to ride out the storm.

It took me by surprise and shook me. It presaged the other startling events that would transpire that fateful eve of the equinox of September 2005.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Nightmares of Katrina 6

The unit with which I was deployed to Louisiana was in transition at the time.  Some might say confusion rather than transition.

The old 33rd Area Support Group was changing into the new 108th Sustainment Brigade.  The deployment put the transition on hold and we moved out as the Area Support Group.

We had already turned in all our old equipment.

We had already started to align our people for their new roles.

We had to take a faltering step backwards.  Slightly dazed and rattled.

Actually, I was deployed only with the Headquarters of the Area Support Group.

An Area Support Group is a very large unit, roughly equal to a Brigade in size.  A Group is an Army unit that is less well defined than a Brigade to begin with, but both are around 1,500 soldiers when at full strength and with all assigned units.  Combat Brigades are commanded by a one star General.

We were just the Headquarters of that larger unit.  The HQ was less than 150 soldiers and it had no vehicles, no equipment, no resources.  The HQ was the coordination center, the organization.  Our equipment was computers and communications, our resources were planning, experience and knowledge.  An Area Support Group, by the manual should be able to provide logistical support for an area roughly equal in size and population to all of Afghanistan.  The HQ runs that logistical support, and in a perfect world does it using Just-In-Time methods.

In order for modern logistical support to work it relies on analysis; planning; throughput coordination and control; and input and output communications.  We had all been trained for that, but we were a black box, unknown and unable to relate that ability to those outside the system who had no idea what we could bring to the table.

I should say, most of us were trained and competent in this kind of logistics.   

The connection of this black box to the outside world had to come through two channels, our command using personal contacts, and me as the communications officer.

In modern military units the staff is divided in certain set offices, each with a letter-number designation.  At our level the staff offices start with the letter S.  I was the S6, Communications.  My counterparts in a staff with a General commander were G6.  For LA's state staff (a joint services staff) it would be the J6.

I found many S6s and G6s, but never the overall J6, never an overall coordinated Signal effort.  The security was piecemeal.  Equipment was questionable.  People tried, I will say that.  We had Air Force help for our land lines.  We had help from the Infantry Division for our security.  We had help from the LANG for field phones our own Illinois National Guard provided radios and sat phones on a temporary basis.

The reason I say "the Infantry Division" is because I can't remember who came in and became the senior command.  That's part of the fog of that month.  Try as I might, I can see their faces, but I cannot remember the names, not the unit or the men.

Somehow the fog, the confusion of the situation, the whole month, affected our satellite phones as well.  The fact that what should have been our most reliable and flexible form of communications, our link from the Earth to space and back was hobbled and warped.

Communications was essential to the whole operation, not only to us who were trying to make sense of it all and to predict what would be needed and arrange for it's provision, but for those providing direct support.  In hindsight, that we were the ones who had to have that overall, underlying intelligence, that we had to make sense of it all meant that we would be the ones who ultimately came in touch with the super-reality of what was happening, of what would have had happened.  I moreso than anyone as my need to relay all this information, to communicate it meant that the horrible truth was sure to go through me.

The physical logistical units began operating as soon as they hit the ground, and they supplemented the efforts of each disparate unit's organic logistical assets.  Namely, they dumped supplies on everyone.  It was like the cargo cults of World War II's Pacific Theater, or the huge supply depots through Europe in the Cold War.  The idea was to provide enough food and consumable goods to keep any number of soldiers and civilians supported for any amount of time.  Since there was no real knowledge of how many, where or how long, this seemed the best approach.

At one point there were nearly enough MREs for all the residents of the city for 100 days supply out in New Orleans.  Small convoys of trucks would patrol the city with MREs, toiletries and sundries, giving them out to whomever approached and asked, like a big camouflaged Good Humor truck.  In fact these were called Ice Cream Truck runs.

Our unit, the ASG wanted to find out who was out there, where they were and what they needed.  We wanted to start providing hot food, collecting up the huge hordes of supplies and distribute them to those who needed, not just those who asked.  But to do it we needed communications and intelligence, two things that seemed to be lacking, confused or sporadic.

I struggled for weeks to get what communications I could and it seemed to be getting better by two weeks in, some cell service was returning, the lines seemed to stabilize.  Then as Hurricane Rita developed, grew and threatened it all went wrong.  Not all at once, it became spotty and erratic, unreliable.  The hurricane itself was only a coincidence, a microcosm of what was happening in the wider world, the wider universe.

A storm of universal proportions was boiling, brewing, churning, rising.  The shadow talk on the land lines, field wires blowing, satellite phones cutting out and even my dreams were the merest shadow of what we were headed for.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Dog Day of Cthulhu

I finished watching Dog Soldiers today, and I have to say it is now one of my top 5 werewolf movies.  The original Wolfman, American Werewolf in London are above it.  It think Ginger Snaps might be up there too.  I'm undecided on my fifth one, I'll have to go back and watch, the remake of The WolfmanAmerican Werewolf in Paris, the Underworld films, and Blood and Chocolate to decide.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Nightmares of Katrina 5

I've tried twice before to relate these, experiences. I hesitate to call it a story, because this isn't a story, it's something more than real.

I call it "Nightmares of Katrina" because this all happened while I was deployed with our National Guard unit to Louisiana for the relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, but in fact it had been building from long before that and culminated, apex-ed the day before the Autumnal Equinox of 2005, the day before Hurricane Rita hit the Gulf States.

As I wrote before, I had headed down to the New Orleans area the day after Katrina hit. We were ultimately stationed in Belle Chasse (officially, New Orleans NAS Joint Reserve Base - Belle Chasse, LA). At first we were billeted along the airstrip, then in the lawn outside the office building we were allowed to use.

We were each issued tent cots (like the one pictured). We also set up our own tents that we brought. The oppressive heat and humidity meant that, despite the stifling claustrophobia of the barely man-sized tents, they were still preferable to the heavy canvas tents overstuffed with men and women.

The heat and humidity were oppressive, but what made it worse were what I can only describe as fever dreams.

I've had these sorts of dreams when I was very young when I got high fevers. Things would seem out of proportion, the ceiling too close, faces too big, my arms and legs long and stretching out to the the end of my foggy vision. Nothing moved right, I would move my head in these dreams and my vision seemed to follow along sluggishly, like my mind was seeing through a thick, sticky ether. Then my vision would go off on it's own, undirected by the attitude of my face as if my eyes were swimming around in my skull.

In those dreams of my youth I would always dream that I was still in place, in my bed, on the couch with my mother attending me, though in strange and horrifying proportions and with a distorted, modulated, deepened voice that I could not quite understand.

The first night in my tent cot, I changed into my PT uniform (gray shirt and black shorts for exercising) and encased myself in the nylon sac like a spider's victim and tried to sleep. The exhaustion of the day made sleep come quickly, almost as if I had fallen off a cliff. The feeling of falling continued in my deleterious sleep. Where as in the flu induced fever dreams of my youth I had always at least been in a familiar and loving place, these dreams borne of the boiling nights of Louisiana were not. The first night I remember distinctly of falling, not far, but excruciatingly slowly and inevitably. Down I would go from some unknown, unseen initial point toward a seemingly innocuous and what would normally be, inviting scene, a covered pool on a moonlit night.

I fell in my dream, my arms and legs flailing, reaching, stretching, grasping for a hand hold, a foot hold, something to retard my descent. The sky was midnight blue, then paled to a too rich sky-blue as the bright, gray and yellowed moon brightened and heated to the searing yellow-white heat of the sun, right above my head, beating down. I could smell fuel, oil of diesel; and hair burning. I could feel my scalp burning, actually heating up like an electric coil and smoke billowing. I turned toward that terrible sun, though I have no idea, as we often don't about dream motivations, why I would want to expose my eyes to such torturous incandescence.

Sluggishly my head turned with my eyes moving at an entirely different rate and specific direction. Painfully I coaxed my vision to turn toward the glaring orb and slowly it did. As I struggled against the inertia and boson filled ether of my mind, the scene morphed back into the dark night, the moon returning as if she had been caught with her true light and heat exposed. A beautiful, though, no longer young woman regaining her composure. There would be time enough for raw anger.

Then I continued in reorienting my attention, struggling, wriggling as I fell; toward the direction of my descent. Below me, though for some reason I had the impression of it being above me and perhaps to the side or sides, there was the pool. Though it was dark and the heat of the day would have made any water seem inviting, this held menace. The cover was thin and green, impenetrable and complete. Below I could see the tiny bubbles forming, struggling to come into existence as the water heated to the boiling point. Down I plummeted at a crushing,unstoppable, glacial pace toward the cling-wrapped cauldron.

My heart raced, seemingly the only thing in the scene that had any inclination to do so, but it's velocity was not one that would bring about anything more swiftly except perhaps exhaustion. It thumped in my chest earnestly, desperately as if it wanted out.

The deadly, poisonous smell of chlorine rose in noisome tendrils like unseen vaporous tentacles wrapping around my head; and stabbed deep into my nostrils. It was accompanied, or perhaps replaced, my feverish mind couldn't tell, by the suffocating odor of chlorophyll-fueled methane like a hot, cooking compost pile covering my face.

Then I made contact, finally, with the cover of that damned pool. It was certainly no relief and the water below seemed to offer no buoyancy. In fact it didn't feel like the water was below at all. I was drawn toward it, into it, but not down. Gravity was more than complete, but somehow down was not the sensation I felt, and water resistance was not the slowing feature. It was as if I were being drawn like an iron filing, up through some gelatinous mass by an irresistible electromagnet.

As I moved, the cellophane cover wrapped around me, taking my spaghettified limbs, dead weight torso and unresponsively pivoting head all at once. There was almost no resistance from the water beyond the film, but my progress was slowed somehow. The encasement proceeded at a pace that would have made my unendurable fall seem breakneck. I could feel as the plastic bent and warped around every hair on my now naked and exposed body, every skin cell individually suffocated, smothered in an impenetrable cocoon of solid film that had no other sensible feature except closeness, tightness. The heat of the water beyond was palpable, and the filmy cover offered no barrier to it.

Suddenly my forehead was stabbed by some rounded icy point. It was sharp and distinct while also being blunt and fluid. I felt it again, and again. It dragged me back to consciousness, wrenching the switch of my hypothalamus from slumber to wakefulness.

I was in my tent cot, covered by sweat that provided no relief from the heat and being assaulted by drops of dew that had condensed on the inside layer of my nylon hot-box. My sleep borne flailings must have had a physical component or counterpart. During that first of many fitful nights, I must have touched the inside of the tent. Anyone who has done so can attest that you should never touch the inside of a nylon tent because they bleed.

Every night my tent bled, and because of the close quarters there was often no escape. I don't know if I touched the tent every night or if it never recovered from my first night. I do know that I never recovered from that first night, never getting enough rest I fell into irritability. I also don't know if my restless nights gave me nightmares or the nightmares ensured that I would have restless nights, probably they fed off each other in a vicious circle.

I did have nightmares each night. They were all similar, but different. One night it would be a covered pool, another night the membrane would be a dry cleaner bag, and another would be a collapsing bouncy castle like the ones rented for children's parties. Each night though I was drawn or pushed slowly into some suffocating layer. Sometimes I would almost break through, or pass through osmotic-ally, like a liquid passing through a molecular filter. I never did escape though.

These nights made accomplishing our mission, and my specific tasks immeasurable more difficult, as if the chaos of the situation and the complete lack of organization and overall, guiding leadership weren't bad enough.

Friday, October 14, 2011

What We Don't Know Can't Hurt Us?

There are some things Man is not meant to know.  There are things I know that Man is no meant to know, dark things, unmentionable things.

Shall we shine a light on them?  Should we?

What's out there in that flood?  Do we really want to know?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

GAH! Cthulhu Month Is Going On Without Me

It's been like crazy busy around me.  I have a couple more bike rides, I'm up to 72, but I've been having terrible technical difficulties.

Do you think it could have anything to do with this Cthulhu sighting near Tonga?

Anybody got a ship we can skewer him with?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Bike Commute 2011 - Day 69 - Cthulhu Day 4

Tricked ya.  That wasn't a tree in my route.  The one in this post is.
Tree of Death, eating some gardening implements
Click here for audio report.

Bike Commute Day 68 - Cthulhu Day 3

I'm going to combine my Bike Commute report with the Cthulhu Day today.

This report is for last Friday, 30 Sep 11.

The photo is of a spooky tree I pass on my way home everyday.  I call it, the Tree of Death:

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Listening to Cthulhu

I want to give a shout out to a site I've been enjoying lately.

These guys are very good and make Lovecraft discussions fun.  They have audio files of several stories and they podcast a literary discussion of both the ones they do and some other stories.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Let Cthulhu Month Begin

Let's gather around the elderitch fire pit and prepare for another Cthulhu month.  This is my third annual month of sharing Cthulhu images with you.

In the past I have combed the internet and found images as well as modifying a few in this vein, but this year I'm going to do my utmost to bring you original material that has never been seen anywhere.

I've been providing a regular report on my bike commute and I have seen a few things I want to share.

Blackie is ready for some scary fun

The first image is a fire pit I have seen in my travels.  I don't know what it is for, but he half moon shape and the charred remains speak of some unknown horror.

In addition to images I will be relaying my experiences from when I was deployed with the National Guard to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.

I hope you have as much "fun" as I do this month.

Bike Commute 2011 Day 66

This report is for Thursday, 29 Sep 11
Click here for audio report
Sans chain guard

New light holder and position