By J Alan Erwine


Chapter One



Erik stared out over the frothing, churning waters of the Gulf of Mexico as a lonely tear traced a path down his sun darkened cheek.  Somewhere out in the muck-infested waters was the gull he’d been watching just moments earlier gliding amidst the clouds.  The graceful bird had spotted a meal swimming in the churning waters of the Gulf, and had arced towards the water in a death-defying dive.  The bird skimmed along the surface at the bottom of its dive, but was suddenly ripped from the air by the man-made debris covering the surface.

Erik watched in horror as the creature thrashed about in its death throes, but he was powerless to help.  The bird was too far out, and there was no way he could get into the churning waters, no way at all.  A pitiful ear-piercing scream echoed across the beach in the warm, sticky morning air as the doomed bird fought against the debris.  The poor creature continued to sink as it struggled.  Finally, with one last defiant, desperate scream, the bird sank beneath the frothing waves.

Erik turned away from the Gulf and looked in dismay at the toxic-pink, smog-shrouded sun just one hour above the horizon.  Even amidst the muggy morning breezes, the thick cloud of choking death, brought on by countless oil fires over the years, had failed to clear.

The sun held his attention for a while.  He thought of the ocean, the sky, the city; everywhere he looked, he saw a choking death.  Half way through the twenty-first century, Erik was pretty sure humanity had condemned the planet.  A part of him hoped there might be a stay of execution, but the rest of him doubted it.  Another tear found its way to his already streaked cheek.  He let it fall.

A voice from down the beach tore him from his thoughts of gloom and doom.  “What’s with the long face, boy?”

A man that Erik guessed to be in his mid-forties was striding towards him.  The man was tall and thin, with two long braids of jet-black hair that hung over his shoulders.  The man’s complexion made it clear that he was a Native-American, or an Indian, or whatever the politically correct term was.  Erik really wasn’t sure anymore.

“I was watching the dance of a gull,” Erik explained, before blushing, feeling foolish for trying to wax poetic, and knowing that he’d failed.  “But the crap in the water pulled it out of the sky.”

“I see,” the man said.  His smile came easily.  “I often come here to watch the birds as well.  It always reminds me of what Liberation is supposed to be.  I’m Charlie Chases Crows,” the man said, offering his hand to Erik.

“Erik Singer,” he replied, taking the man’s hand.  Charlie’s was the handshake of a man accustomed to authority, and Erik released it quickly.  “I’ve never seen you before.”

“Tampa/St. Pete is a pretty big place,” Charlie said with a crooked grin.

“No,” Erik said, shaking his head, completely missing Charlie’s sarcasm.  “That’s not what I meant.  I’ve never seen you on the beach.  I come down here almost every day, but I’ve never seen you.”

“I don’t have the time to come down as often as I’d like.  I’m always busy; and besides, I spend a lot of my time in Tallahassee.”

“I’m sorry,” Erik said.  This time it was his turn to wear the grin.  “Why on Earth would you go to Tallahassee?”

“I’m an activist, or a lobbyist, depending on who you ask,” Charlie said.

Erik could clearly hear the man’s disillusionment.

“Although I feel pretty useless these days,” Charlie went on.  “There’s not much I can do for my people, or for the world.  We just don’t have the resources, and after the uprising of 2038, not many politicians want to help my people.”

A strong warm gust came off the Gulf, bringing with it the putrid smell of stale crude and dead fish.  Erik started to walk, shyly motioning for Charlie Chases Crows to follow him.  “You lobby for Indian rights?”

“Generally speaking, yes.  I was born Lakota Sioux, but now I find myself in Florida, because this is where the movement needed me.  After the ’38 uprisings on several of the reservations, the government tried to get a better hold on my people.  Now, I fight for Indian rights in general, because I’m not allowed to fight for the rights of the Sioux.”

“Why not?”

“Individual nations can’t pick their own lobbyists.  It was one of the conditions imposed upon us after the rebellions were…put down…”

The two kept walking, neither seeming to want to speak.  Erik didn’t remember the uprisings.  He’d been a toddler at the time, but he did remember reading about them.  All across the country Indians had risen up against the government, only to be put down in some of the most brutal ways possible.  It was the type of brutality other countries had perpetrated against their people in the late 20th and early 21st…the type of brutality that had led to their “liberation” by the United States.

“Now,” Charlie said after they’d walked several hundred feet, “I try to regain traditional people’s rights in the white man’s system.  In other words, we’re trying to use the white man’s law to regain what we’ve lost.”  He took a long look at the smog and sighed.  “I’m also an environmental lobbyist, but that’s about as fruitless of a battle as the fight for traditionalist’s rights.  How about you, Erik Singer, what do you do?

“I’m a writer,” Erik quickly answered.  “Well, sort of, at least.  I want to be a writer, but I can’t really write anymore, so I just wait tables instead.”

“Why’s that?”  The Lakota asked with what seemed to Erik to be genuine interest.

Erik’s mind began to race wildly as he thought of how to answer the question.  He could feel his pulse beginning to race as his heart tried to jump out of his throat.  His breathing became labored as his vision grew cloudy.  He couldn’t allow the memories in, not here, not now, not in front of someone else, but they came anyway.  Nothing he could ever do could stop them from coming.

*          *          *

It was a chilly May morning as Erik paced along the grimy sand of the once pristine beach.  His glance nervously fell to his watch; a look of trepidation crossing his face, as gulls screeched noisily overhead, hoping for a meal other than decaying fish.  His fingers caressed the communications headset in his hand as he paced around the receiver resting amidst a pile of rusty beer cans recently coughed up by the angry ocean.  The churning waters of the Gulf of Mexico lapped at his feet, while the wind playfully danced through his shoulder length brown hair.

“Erik, can you hear me?”  A voice said over the headset.  Erik quickly put the headset on, glad to finally hear the voice from the emptiness of the sea.

“Yeah, Jeromie,” he almost shouted, his voice trying to crack.  “You’re coming in loud and clear.  Where are you?”

“I’m about 150 meters from the buoys that surround the rig.”

Erik searched the waters for the oil rig, even though he knew exactly where it was.  When his eyes finally decided to focus on it, he smiled.  Soon, Jeromie, his older brother, would be getting the first accurate readings showing the extent of the defilement of the sea the oil companies were guilty of, information that they’d been trying to get for years.

A wave crashed into Erik’s knee, drawing his attention away from the communications set.  Waves buffeted the break wall further down the beach with an ever increasing fury.  “Jeromie, the water’s getting rougher.  Be careful.”

“I read you, little brother.”  Jeromie’s voice chimed with its typical optimism.  “I’m almost to the buoys now.  This is amazing, Erik.  There seems to be some kind of netting that drops below the buoys.  Apparently it’s supposed to keep the fish out, but it’s filled with all kinds of the poor things.  Remind me when we get home to check the Nets to see if this kind of thing is even legal.”

“You got it,” Erik answered, trying to echo Jeromie’s excitement, although his enthusiasm was fading.  He believed in the same environmental causes as Jeromie, but he was usually too afraid to act on those beliefs.

He looked up to the sun, shrouded in its ever present toxic-pink filter of pollution.  The circular patterns of the light made it look like something out of an impressionist’s oil painting.

Another wave crashed into Erik’s legs, throwing spray into his face.  The sting of the salt water in his eyes was accompanied by an increasing roar of anger.  “Jeromie, maybe we should call this off.  The surf’s getting really rough.”

“Don’t worry, bro, everything’s all right,” Jeromie said, although his voice seemed to be strained by the efforts of struggling against the surf.  “I’m starting to get some good readings.”  There was a pause, and Erik could only hear an odd grunting sound.  “Damn, bro, my leg’s caught in the netting.”

Erik’s eyes desperately scanned the rig, but it was too far away for him to see his brother.

“Erik,” an ear-splitting scream came over the headset.  “I can’t free my leg.  Jesus, the surf’s pulling me…”

“Jeromie!” Erik screamed at the roaring surf as tears flooded down his face.  He took two hesitant steps into the water, but stopped.  “Jeromie!” he screamed again.  The only reply from the headset was the dispassionate hiss of static.

*          *          *

“What is it, Erik?” Charlie asked, his hand resting on Erik’s shoulder.

Erik turned to look at him.  For a moment, he couldn’t recognize the man standing beside him.  Once his mind started to come back to reality, and the tears began to clear from his eyes, he realized where he was and who was talking to him.

“I was thinking of my brother,” Erik said, his voice quivering and barely audible.

“He’s dead?” Charlie asked.  The bluntness of the question shocked Erik.  He’d never had anyone ask him in such a matter of fact way.

“Yeah,” Erik nodded.  “He died right out there,” he said, pointing to the distant oil drilling platform.

Charlie nodded.  “Singer?” he suddenly asked.  “Was your brother Jeromie Singer?”

The name hit Erik like a blast of thunder.  He still wasn’t used to hearing other people mentioning Jeromie’s name.  “Yeah, he was,” he said, although his voice was quieter than he’d intended.

For no apparent reason, Erik began to tell Charlie the whole story; the story he’d never told anyone.  Charlie continued to nod and listen.  When Erik had finished, he noticed that Charlie was crying slightly.

“It’s a sad story, Erik,” he said, briefly looking up to the sun.  “Unfortunately, it’s only one of many.  Your brother, like the others, has been forgotten by all but a few.”

Erik couldn’t believe what he was hearing, and he just stared at Charlie for several seconds.  “How can you say that?  Jeromie hasn’t been forgotten.”

“Don’t be angry, Erik, but it’s true.  You remember Jeromie, and so do I, but not many others do.”

Erik shook his head.  “I guess you’re right,” he said in a dejected tone.  He didn’t like the fact that Charlie could be so rational.  No matter how hard Erik tried, rationality wouldn’t come to him.

“Don’t let it get you down,” Charlie said.  “You just need to go out and remind everyone of who he was, and what he meant to you…and what he cared about, and I think, what you care about as well.”

Erik looked at the Indian rights activist and tried to smile.  It was obvious that the man had a way of making anyone his friend, whether they wanted to be or not, but it didn’t matter.  Erik was pretty sure he wanted to be his friend.

“As persuasive as you are,” Erik said.  “I’d hate to lobby against you.  I’d imagine you get what you want most of the time.”

Charlie shook his head.  “Don’t fool yourself, kid.  It’s a tough world for those of us who believe in what’s right.  Most of the time, I feel like Don Quixote, tilting at impossible windmills.”

Erik nodded.  He could only imagine how hard it would be for the man to try and win what was right for those that deserved it.  He took another look at the ocean, and then back at the smog shrouded city.  People that believed in what could be right in the world never would have let it fall into the state it was in.


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