Category Archives: Fiction

Dry Run (fiction)

I remember lining up for my first race beneath dark clouds with the promise of rain. “Piano Man” played over the sound system mixing with the energetic announcer who counted down the time until the next wave of runners. I was corralled near the inflatable starting gate with my fellow participants bouncing and stretching to ward off the chill. There was a buzz of nervous conversation and eager anticipation. The annual Folsom Lake “Mud Run” attracted crowds from all walks of life, eager to get down and dirty. I looked around at the faces of strangers and felt a sense of kinship as we shuffled towards the starting line waiting to begin our adventure. Everyone joined in for the final countdown that ended with a long blast from an air horn. We were off.

Twelve years later, there is no place to go. All here is quiet and still. It would have been race time and already the temperature is in the low 80s, promising to be well above the October average of 84. If we hit the 90 degree mark they probably would have issued an evap warning, and cancelled the race anyway. That was just one of the many reasons the race might have been cancelled. I knew the chances of having one last race was slim but I was hoping to end on number 12. I always liked ending things on an even number. It just felt right.

That first race was in 2010 (I liked starting things on an even number too). The Mud Run wasn’t the longest or most difficult race out there. The emphasis was more on fun with a few challenges sprinkled in to keep things interesting. This was more my speed having not competed in anything since high school swim team, and never being a big fan of running in the first place. I was so nervous when that air horn sounded that my mouth ran dry and I almost hyperventilated before the first obstacle, a cargo net climbing structure.   Once I powered through that, putting aside any fear of heights, I was able to settle into the race and set a better pace going forward. Next up was the first of three mud crawls; vast pools of chilled chocolate colored water. I spider walked through the waves it to protect my knees from the gravely bottom, but still emerged dripping wet and coated with a thin layer of diluted mud. I remember feeling uncomfortable with the weight of the water on my clothes and the sticky mud caked to my shoes.

I would grow to miss that feeling more then I knew. The oil based mud they started using in the pits were predictably slimy but were meant to be easily absorbed by the skin leaving just a residue of colored dust. More often than not though perspiration would prevent absorption leaving it to clump in oily rivulets that were difficult to wash off and contaminated what was left of the lake water. Eventually the pits were lined with a gel bottom to simulate the texture of mud though without the muddy mess, or oil slicks in the lake.

If nothing else we knew eventually the Mud Run would have to be moved. After just my second year racing they had already started affectionately referring to this as the Folsom Puddle. The lake levels started dropping quickly as the drought worsened. Each year there was optimism that the rainfall would come to fill the lake and the snow packs would return to keep it stocked. But even the consecutive El Nino years in 2015 and 2016 weren’t enough to make up for the dry years and rising temperatures. By my third year they stopped bringing in the water tankers for the post-race rinse-stations. I remember the decadent use of water prior to that; miles of hoses snaking from a network of pipes, big inflatable structures set up like old car washes that you walked through to get clean under constant streams of liquid water. By my fifth year even the water cups they hand out along the race required purchase of premium wristbands, as well as a deduction of rations two years later.

My friend Luke started running with me on my fourth race. Though he was an avid runner he pretended to “bow to my experience” and let me set the pace. It was good to have the company after my previous solo runs, having someone to playfully mock and challenge along the way also pushed me beyond my own sluggish pace. I fared better with some of the more physical obstacles, such as the sandbag pulley or the medicine ball carry, but he was quicker over the walls and, of course, running between obstacles. Ironically the one destination Luke dreaded the most was the lake crossing. Having the lean runners build he was left with no defense against the mountain snow melt that filled the lake, and back then late October mornings would be chilly in their own right. As we descended down towards the lake shore Luke would begin his ritual of psyching himself out and sprinting in little circles trying to raise his core temperature. It made no difference in the end though, he would still squeal like a little girl as soon as he took that first deep step that submerged him past his private parts.

Each year, the course would adjust as the distance to the lake shore got further and further away replaced by fields of cracked earth broken up by the occasional tire tracks. The boat ramps once filled with recreational speed boats and jet skis were replaced by quads and dirt bikes.   On my 10th run the lake was officially dry. The lake crossing obstacle became the last real mud pit, however since it was covered in plastic to prevent evap it wasn’t much different from the gel bottoms in the other pits. It seemed fitting to make that my final race, and mark the passing of Folsom Lake.

Ironically Luke had a different reaction to the news and after a four-year absence he decided to run again the following year as a way to thumb his nose at the lake crossing that used to taunt him. He was convinced this would make everything better and I felt compelled to join him as long as he promised to do it the following year so I could end even. It was a rather poor performance for both of us as we were feeling our years. My unexpected entry hadn’t left me much time to train properly and Luke’s health issues had degraded his runners’ physique.   This left us with ample opportunity to laugh at each other as we struggled with even the easier obstacles; floundering over the short walls, getting stuck in the crawling tubes and drunkenly stumbling across the balance beams.   We got a better work out from belly laughs then from anything the course had to offer. We had fun doing backstroke in the gel pools and dancing over the fire strips, one of the new obstacles added to replace the mud. It was all well worth the price of admission.

Today was to be our last run. Tickets were just about to go up for sale when we heard about the plans to renovate Folsom Lakebed. They promised the event could continue, though probably by a different name, once the construction was complete. It made no difference; Luke’s doctor didn’t green light him for another race anyway, he thought it would be too much of a strain on his kidneys. Maybe it’s for the best though. The memories we made last year would be hard to match. Maybe that’s a more fitting end to our Mud Run days; to remember the better days of joy and prosperity and be optimistic for the rain to come. An optimism that would be easier if hadn’t ended with an odd number.


Spiral Paradox (part 1)

I stood in stunned silence staring at the broken box; the delicate pieces of machine work still skittering away from the fragmented shell. I froze in that eternal moment waiting for the fallout of what I’d done. I wondered what effect it would have on me or my surroundings. What effect had it held upon the universe that might now suddenly unravel? When it became clear that the few hissing sparks were the extent of the current fallout I expanded my worry beyond myself and wondered if Whitney had heard it from his position outside.

“What the fuck was that?!” Whitney hissed from the hallway, lowering his weapon as he peaked inside. “Please tell me that was not the Marque Device we were sent for.”

“Could have been” I shrugged sheepishly scratching at the back of my hood. “There’s a lot of crap in here, and I honestly don’t know what half of this shit is.” I waved my pistol at the assorted shelves and work-tables littered with gadgets, gears and machinery of every sort.

I knelt over the remains of what had just moments before been a silver box inlaid with golden symbols and spiral patterns. “I was just taking it all in after I cleared the room, but this thing was surrounded by some sort of field.” I prodded it with the barrel of the gun to confirm the field was no longer active. “It was sitting right over there on the table, and as I reach out it just flies off its stand and shatters like it was dipped in dry ice.”

Whitney moved to the indicated stand to get a closer look. He slings his pistol under his arm and kneels down to eye-level with the small digital readout on the base of the stand. “My Verian is bit rusty but looks like ‘time,.. no, waiting for,… er, awaiting a command or input’.”

“Well just back off, we’re not inputting anything. Question is how do we proceed? The mission files were vague on visuals and unfortunately that is not the only object here that could fit the bill. We can’t take it all will us and Granger will know something is up when he comes back and finds this mess.”

“I say we take some footage for the Geek Squad, and let them sort it out. If that was the Marquee Device maybe we can just ca-” Whitney jumped suddenly as the mechanical base let out a high pitch tone. Our guns were out in a heartbeat seeking any new threat. After a quick scan Whitney slowly eased back to visual range of the digital readout. “’Request in-bound,….’, ‘Agree,… er, confirm,… gate?’,… I’m not sure what this symbol is, but I think it’s asking for a response. Oh,… oh crap,… it repeated the question,… and now there’s some type of countdown going,… but these aren’t the Verian numbers I learned.”

“Let’s clear out, take what you can, I’ll transmit visuals for tech.” Another high pitch tone sounded this one softer than the one before. “That’s not good”. Another tone, again softer. “OUT! To the extraction point, now!” Whitey strapped up his bag which still appeared to be mostly empty, slung it over a shoulder and moved to the entrance pistol leading the way.

One last tone barely audible followed by a soft voice overlaid with a second voice translated to Tellurian. “Gate paradox. Spiral redirected”.

I exchanged looks with Whitney. “Mother is not going to be happy about this!”


<to be continued…>