Untethered, A Story
The boys were gathered haphazardly on the tabletop and benches of the park picnic table like crows meeting up around discarded food scraps. Payne smoked. Jeff carved his name in the tabletop with a pocket knife. Frank sipped an energy drink and Adam stared out at the lake. Connor warily eyed a white Chevy Blazer with decals that said “Homeland Security,” “Federal Protective Services” and “POLICE” as it slowed and turned off Lake Road into the parking lot.
The five were part of a loose and officially unsanctioned group of high school friends who called themselves the Uns, as in un-involved and un-interested in what went on within the concrete block walls or on the fenced-in grounds of District High School #6241. The group played “The Fives” over who would stay behind to carry their RFID embedded student ID cards to class, while the rest of the Uns played good old fashioned hooky. Jay was the one stuck back in class that day. Frank told them that as long as their badges registered as present in class for attendance the district got their money from the government, so the school administrators didn’t worry about whether they were really in Ms. Easley’s Phonics Ed class or Mr. Burn-out’s Social Justice Studies class. Frank’s dad was on the school board or something, so they believed him and it seemed to be true—none of the teachers or principals really cared. Otherwise, they would have used biometrics to keep track of the students.
The white government Blazer pulled into a parking spot next to the flag poles which surrounded an ancient artillery piece from some long-forgotten battle fought over a hundred years ago to make the world safe for democracy or something. It was placed there as a punctuation mark to the state designated name for the green space on the shoreline: Veterans Memorial Park. Connor had never paid much attention to the government vehicles from Homeland Security and the Border Patrol which paraded up and down Lake Road, until the night his father insisted that Connor and his mom go for a walk along the beach without their cell phones and he told them that there was trouble at the clinic: Medical Review Board officials were displeased with the fact that he sometimes treated people without the proper paperwork. It didn’t matter that he provided his services free and paid for supplies and medication out of his own pocket. Connor asked what it all meant and his father claimed he didn’t know, but Connor did not really believe him. A few weeks later, his dad was arrested. Before the trial could begin, he was found dead in his jail cell. Officials called it suicide. Connor and his mother felt differently, but they were careful to keep those thoughts to themselves. After that family walk on the beach, the Uns always left their cell phones in their lockers whenever they went off campus and Connor began to take notice of not only white government Blazers everywhere, but the many different colored uniforms mingling among people at shopping centers, restaurants or the mall: brown, blue, black, tan, dark green.
“Hey, Connor, let’s get out of here,” Payne said.
One by one the boys left the picnic table and scurried down the embankment to the rocky shore of what was once called Lake Erie. It had been renamed the Wilson Sea in honor of some dead President. All of the Great Lakes had been renamed, since building a new Mount Rushmore would cost too much, take too long and require so much effort. It was easier for the government to just take what was already there.
Connor eyeballed the Homeland Security SUV one last time, then followed down the hidden escape path that the Uns had scouted and used whenever their presence in the park was noticed by the authorities or nosy passersby.
Payne, Jeff, Adam and Frank cut up along Hellman’s Creek to head back to the school. Connor kept going along the shoreline towards downtown. He would meet up later with the Uns after school at Dutch’s Landing on the river and get his cell phone and school ID before he went home.
Dutch’s Landing was a sprawling resort with a marina, hotel, swimming pool, restaurant and an outdoor bamboo Tiki bar that sat on the bend the shoreline made as the Black River emptied into the Wilson Sea. According to the stories told by Connor’s mom and dad, Dutch’s Landing was once extremely popular and always alive with people partying nearly every night through the summer months. Folks sailed their boats up the river and docked right next to the Tiki bar to eat, drink and be merry long into the morning of the next day.
Now the resort was closed down and long ago abandoned by everyone except for the “Bridge People” and teenagers who played a game of human three-card monte with the local police and lazy Homeland Security guards, constantly moving around the huge property—the Bridge People to find a place for their tents for the night and the teenagers to find a place to hang out with some privacy. An informal alliance of the two trespassing groups had won this particular battle in the surveillance war by a scorched-earth strategy of destroying any and all video cameras the city put up anywhere and everywhere in Dutch’s Landing until the Municipal Manager and the City Council eventually lost interest and decided to divert those funds to other pet projects. Nobody really cared what went on at Dutch’s Landing after that.
Connor walked through the Tiki bar and tried to imagine the place as his mom and dad described it before regulations and cold, hard economic realities strangled it: full of life, noise, fun, music and happiness. Now it was spooky, though—like a ghost town. At first glance, the bamboo festooned bar looked ready for bartenders to show up for the night. The stage just needed a band to set up and play. Tables, chairs and bar stools waited patiently for patrons to fill them again to eat, drink and be merry. Lounge chairs and dead palm trees lined the nearby swimming pool for sunbathers and swimmers to surround with their umbrella-shaded drinks. But the swimming pool had long ago been emptied of any water except for dark rainwater clouded with algae and rotting leaves. The tables, chairs and bar stools were splattered with sea gull shit. The stage was tangled in cob webs. The bar was frosted with thick grimy dust, sprinkled with rodent feces.
“Hey there,” a man’s raspy voice called out.
Connor stopped dead in his tracks. The voice caught him by surprise, but its tone and tenor did not have the hard, blunt edge of authoritarian malice in it. His eyes searched the bar area for its source. He found a silhouette around the corner of the bar, occupying the last bar stool. The man raised a bottle to his lips. He savored the sip loudly as he set it back down on the bar in front of him.