Tower 147 by D.G. Harris
published in Volume 10, Issue 1 on June 1st, 2003Murray picked up a bottle of Knob Creek. He sat it back down on the dusty wooden table. He had on a heavy fur lined down jacket, and still the cold got in. Rob unscrewed the cap and took down a healthy glug.
"Damn, that's good."
"There's another, and a case of beer," said Murray. "Been saving the whiskey for something special, but I figure that ain't no more special occasion than tonight."
Rob winced slightly on the words. He had another hit. He stared out through the tower screen, out over the endless vista of cold green sunset Oregon forest way out to the distant cascades.
"How long you been a smoke spotter?" asked Rob.
Murray kicked his feet up on the edge of the table. He scratched at his beard. "Oh, let's see now, this is my 9th season working for the park service. Worked for the BLM in Idaho a few years before that. Only job I ever heard of where you can sit around and get stoned. If you can handle not seeing hardly another human being outside of the general store over in Ashland for months on end. It's a pretty fair deal."
"I done this for 3 seasons myself and I don't mind them putting 2 people to a tower now one bit. Gets boring staring out at that sea uh wood all day long. Nice to be able to share the load with someone else."
"Seems stupid to me," said Murray. " I done called in about 30 fires in my 9 seasons. The way I figure it, you don't have to be looking out hardly at all. Seems to me once you been doing it a while that you just get the feeling. You could be taking a piss over the tower edge facing the wrong way and you'd just know there was something sneaking up from the other direction. You'd feel it. You could be asleep. You could be stoned into a coma and you'd know."
"Maybe I just ain't done it long enough," said Rob.
"Yeah, maybe so."
Rob checked his watch. "It's a quarter to 7. Sun will be heading down soon. You think we'll see it when it happens?"
Murray sighed. "We'll see it." He stood and stepped to the downstairs ladder. When he returned he had more beer. "Let's see how many of these we can kill before it happens."
Rob didn't say anything. He popped a beer and took it all down. Murray did the same. Dozens of moments passed in silence.
"You think it'll hurt?" asked Rob quiet.
"Too quick. Don't think it will a bit."
"You gotten hold of anybody on the Ham?"
"Not since yesterday morning," said Murray. "But the last regular a.m. broadcast said it be up our way about 7 tonight. A few minutes till. That was yesterday morning too. Ain't been nothing but static over the ham or the radio since then."
Rob closed his eyes but aimed them at the ceiling. "They're all gone, ain't they?"
"Yep," replied Murray. Like a sigh. Like a leaf fallen down slow from somewhere way high.
"Who woulda thought," began Rob. "Who woulda thought."
Murray lit up 2 smokes. Handed one to Rob. "Man fucks around," said Murray. "Makes things that even nature can't. Man's always fucking around."
Rob picked up a pair and poured both into him. Murray drank the beer slow, but finished off the good stuff quicker.
Robs head began to float. "I ain't gonna look."
"You wont have to. You'll know anyway."
"It's coming up on 7."
Rob picked up and quickly drank down half the 2nd bottle of the Creek. He immediately puked all over the floor.
"Man, you got to slow down."
"Ain't no time to slow down."
Murray watched smoke rings blur up and around the lone bulb hung from the ceiling. A rush of wind breathed through the far off forest. He sat up."It's here."
Rob stiffened. His eyes burst wide. "What? How do you know?"
"It's like a clear fire. Like invisible smoke. And it's moving in fast. Real fast."
Rob looked out. He looked at his hands. He looked at his boots. "I can't see it. Don't want to see it."
Murray finished off the 2nd bottle of sweet brown. "I like drinking," he said. "Always liked being alone. Don't dig people all that much. But Rob, I'm glad you're here."
Now, Rob could hear it. Now he could know it. He tried to light a smoke trembling fiercely.
"Here, let me," offered Murray.
The forest began to bend. The trees began to be skeletons. They began to be dust. They were dust.
Ferns in the understory withered and blew apart. A slight fog came in, between the trees and everything.
"Here it comes," said Murray. "Just like a fire.
Rob stood and stood at the opposite tower screen, facing away.
Murray was watching. "Look at that baby come. Saw a fire move once like this. Only once. Had this storm of summer wind to push it.."
The moss hanging on the eaves began to wither and break up. Rob heard a gurgling sound behind him. A bottle crashed to the floor. He winced. He just didn't want it to hurt.