I re-told a classic story in the “After the Second Wave” world. The original is from Edgar Allan Poe, The Cask of Amontillado. Poe’s narrator lures an enemy into his family catacombs under the guise of inspecting a cask of Amontillado. Once in the catacombs, slightly drunk and coughing badly because of nitrates, the enemy is chained to a wall and entombed while still alive. The tale is spun by a cold, manipulative, and unreliable narrator… very Poe.
Writing a version of this tale in my world was interesting. As written, the story stays true to the original plot. And writing it was… easy? Fun? I didn’t have to spend cycles worrying about what should happen.
Poe’s style bled into my writing. He was from a different era, with a flair for the dramatic, a love of exclamation points and adjectives. In trying to emulate the feel of his narrator, an unstable man who committed a terrible act years ago, I wrote like Poe. It felt natural.. and one character is quite pompous, so this style befits his speech.
After completing a first version of this retelling, I’m worried it’s not interesting enough… and is just a copy, not a re-interpretation. Sure, the details are different, with new characters in a post-apocalyptic future (opposed to the nineteenth-century Italian setting of the original). But it doesn’t have any deviation from the original plot. Does it need… a different, more shocking outcome? When a story is “re-imagined”, how many does it need to deviate to be a unique work?
Often, when a story is said to be re-imagined, it’s just swapping the gender of characters, or setting the story in a different time and place. What is the dividing line… can updated details make the story new, or does the plot and ending have to differ as well?
In the end, I want to revisit this piece after a few weeks or months. I’ll pick up the story new and edit with fresh eyes, rather than trying to match how Poe set up his story.
Megs tried not to throw up on her keyboard, zero-early o’clock on Labor Day weekend, the morning after Margarita Madness. She swallowed hard and tried to focus. Her logins weren’t working, not the regular account, not the super-all-powerful admin account, nor the test accounts. She couldn’t get into the company’s main app.
Bobby, from over her shoulder, said, “See? See? We’re totally screwed. How did this happen?” He pounded the desk, sending Megs keyboard flying.
“Bobby, calm down. Now that I’m here, walk me through it again. You weren’t making sense on the phone.” Bobby had sounded hysterical, said she needed to come to work right now, and it didn’t matter she was at her friend’s lake house, two hours away. Hung over.
“It’s like I told you, I got this weird email. Then I tried to get onto our app and couldn’t.”
“Show me the mail.”
“I’ll send it to you.”
“No,” said Megs. “Let’s assume your emails are toxic.” More toxic than usual. “Show it to me, on your phone.”
Bobby thrust his oversized iPhone in Meg’s face. She pushed it away until the text came into focus and read it twice to comprehend the broken English.
“Robert Ugnaught, You have been pwned. App at Ugnaught Construction and Engineering are mine. Follow instruction below to buy and transfer $100,000 Bitcoin. You get 48 hours. Or delete everything.” Below the text were step-by-step instructions for buying Bitcoin.
“How did they do this? How did they get into UFA? I thought you and Ravi had locked everything up.”
“We secured what we could, but you wouldn’t let us lock down our system, remember? I wanted to buy those tools and restrict access to non-work-related sites?” Bobby loved to spend his afternoons on SnapChat, Among Us and other non-work sites.
“So is there something we can buy now?”
“No.” Megs rubbed her temples. Explaining technology to Bobby, the youngest brother of the family business, was hard under normal conditions. Talking to him through a pounding headache and dry mouth seemed impossible. “It’s too late. We should contact the FBI, or a firm that specializes in emergencies like this.”
Bobby stopped pacing and leaned on Meg’s desk. “We can’t let this get out. I mean, if we talk to the FBI or whoever, it will be public. And it will take too long to hire someone else, right? We basically have two days; we need everything perfect for Tuesday morning.”
“Or you could, you know, pay them and hope this all goes away.”
“I’m not paying ransom to a bunch of Russian kids. No way. And besides,” he said in a lower voice, “I don’t have that kind of money.”
Outside the window of their suburban office, Bobby’s Model S blocked the fire lane. In his reserved spot was his other car, a fully loaded Cadillac SUV. Bobby’s house, which Megs was forced to visit every Fourth of July for the big company party, was at least 5,000 square feet and had two pools.
“You hide it very well,” she said.
“Bobby, they aren’t looking for you to pay, right? It’s the company that got hacked, not you personally.” As long as we ignore you’re in charge of technology and security, and fired the CIO for disagreeing with you last year and never replaced him. “We should call Brad.”
“Listen,” Bobby said, “I think this is best if we just keep this between us. Don’t involve my brother. So, what do we do now?”
“Coffee. Why don’t you get me some? In the meantime, I’ll call Ravi and see if he has any ideas.”
“You think you can get him?”
“I don’t think they celebrate Labor Day in Bangalore. So, yea. Make it large with a splash of cream.”
Bobby raised his eyebrow. This may be the first time anyone asked him to run an errand.
“By the time you get back, I’ll have some ideas. Go, there’s a Starbucks a few minutes away.”
“Yeah, I could use some coffee. Be right back,” he said and pushed through the heavy door separating IT from the rest of the office.
The caffeine would help but getting Bobby out of her hair would help more. Ugnaught Construction and Engineering had moved their most critical app, Ugnaught Field App (UFA) to the cloud, servers that someone else owned and maintained. It let them lower costs and move faster. It also meant if their accounts didn’t work, they couldn’t use their cloud-based app and data. The entire firm, field engineers, back office, and the CEO, needed UFA to do their jobs. Megs tried her logins again, just to do something. Same result.
Megs felt helpless; she usually solved problems and kept the app running. Now some hacker from thousands of miles away was threatening their company and potentially their livelihood. Did they target Ugnaught, or cast a wide net? Did the hacker need money to pay bills and feed a family? Was it worth ruining our weekend, our career, our lives over this? When she was with Microsoft entire teams stood ready to handle this type of crisis. Here, we didn’t even have a CIO or proper network engineer. These hackers had Ugnaught’s fate in their hands. Megs clenched her fists, then called Ravi.
“Hey Ravi, do you have a few minutes?”
“Hi Megs, thought you guys were off this weekend.”
“We were supposed to be.” Megs filled him in on the details.
“I just tried my credentials as well. No luck. Do we know how this happened?” said Ravi, polite and helpful as always.
“Could be phishing, or we left something open on a server and they found it during a scan, or one of the software—”
“It’s almost always phishing, someone clicking on a malicious link, right? I can run a scan on emails from the last week or so and see if there are any likely sources. Luckily for us, we still have our network and email local, not in the cloud.”
“Will a scan help?”
“At least we’ll know how the hackers got in,” said Ravi.
“Alright, let me know.”
Megs stood, stretched, and shuffled over to a blank whiteboard. If they couldn’t get into their system and Bobby wouldn’t pay, they needed to rebuild. From scratch.
She wrote “Source Control”, “Data”, and “Backups” across the top of the whiteboard. The best choice is the backups, copies of their entire server made on regular intervals. Megs hurriedly re-dialed Ravi.
“Ravi, my mind is mush this morning. We didn’t talk about the backups.”
“Ravi, did you hear me?”
“Yes, I heard you. Do you remember where we put the backups?”
Oh shit. “We back them up to the same servers, don’t we?”
“Yeah. We can’t get to the backups either. We intended to fix it over the summer, but…”
But there were issues over the summer. Instead of working on the backlog of work projects, like backups, cleaning up directories, auditing accounts and killing old, legacy jobs, she spent most of July and August with Mom and Dad. Megs had moved back to New Jersey from Seattle five years ago and gave up a nice career at Microsoft; she was on a Managing Partner track. But the weekly phone calls with Mom became more strained, and Rodger, her brother, cracked under the stress. So, she left the fast-paced world of high-tech and became a jack-of-all trades, part sysadmin, part programmer for a mid-sized, family-run firm.
In July, Rodger announced he couldn’t handle the daily visits to Mom and Dad anymore and was broke. Two days later, he and his family moved to Philadelphia, leaving Megs to buy supplies, drive to doctors, pick up medicine and arrange nurse visits. After two weeks of continual care, Megs found a local nursing home. Which solved one problem and created another: a $15,000 per month bill, payable in advance. In cash.
“Oh crap. But we have the off-site tape backups, where we write all the database information to a tape and mail it somewhere secure.”
“Let me check,” said Ravi, followed by the sound of typing on his keyboard. “Yes, but we only do full backups to tape once a month. On the fifteenth.”
“So, we didn’t lose everything, then. How soon can we get the tape sent here?”
More typing. “Thursday. Assuming they pull the tapes and mail them Tuesday morning.”
That’s better than nothing; that’s most of the data. “But the source code, that’s in a separate place. In GitHub, a different cloud system.”
“Yes,” Ravi said, “that’s true. But we do our builds, where we assemble and deploy the source code, on the main server.”
“So? That doesn’t change the… oh. We store our logins to GitHub there, don’t we?”
“In clear text. Not encrypted, which was another thing on the summer list. If these hackers looked in there…”
“They could get to the source code and lock us out. Or wipe it. Or both,” said Ravi.
Megs jumped back in her seat and opened GitHub, furiously entered her login and password and held her breath while the icon spun. Then she exhaled; their source code was still there, filed neatly in branches. “I’m in Ravi, it’s all here.”
“Change your password, now. And disable the account that does the build.”
“Yep. You should login and do the same,” said Megs, smiling for the first time this morning.
“I may have found the phishing email,” said Ravi. “I’ll let you know when I’m sure.”
Megs leaned back in her chair. Like the tapes, something else tickled the back of her brain. Maybe closing her eyes would help.
The bang from the IT door jolted Megs out of her nap. Luckily, she fell asleep upright up in her chair, not face down on her keyboard.
“Here you go. Any luck?” said Bobby. He placed a large white paper coffee cup on her desk, light brown liquid escaping from the cap and rolling down the side.
“Ravi and I are working on it. Good news is we still have access to the source code.”
Bobby smiled. “We’re good, then? I meant to tell you, our app on my phone is fine.”
“They can’t lock that down. But, if you tried to connect to the server, you wouldn’t be able to. Remember how we have that set up?”
“Yeah, to let the engineers work offline. So, they have their own little databases on their devices.”
“That’s right. And, if they didn’t update anything, they could work for a day or two.”
“We could have some more time to repair this?”
“Kinda, it only solves the engineer part. The rest of the company, the execs, accounting, they all login to the portal which is on the cloud.”
“If I told Brad we were doing maintenance, and it went long, but the techs could still work… and we got it fixed by like Wednesday… then maybe they wouldn’t have to know.”
“Only if you hid the truth from them.” Megs shouldn’t have been so blunt. The best way to deal with this man-child was to nudge him in her chosen direction. She hastily added, “We can build the software, err, apps again. And set them up on a new server. But they won’t have any data. For that, we’d need to instruct all the engineers to upload their field data to the server and set up some rules for putting that stuff back in the database. If we get lucky, maybe we could restore half of the data. At least the most recent stuff. And then get the tape back by Thursday.”
“So that doesn’t help us at all. Shit.”
“It helps a little, it—”
“When the company comes into work Tuesday, when the engineers fire up their apps, when Brad sits his ass down at his desk and tries to pull up the monthly numbers, will any of that work?”
“The apps would be there, but no data.”
“So, they won’t work. Useless. I thought we had something in place to get backups. I see them on our monthly bills.”
“They got them, too.” No need to explain why they got them, at least not yet.
“Dammit,” said Bobby, flopping into a chair around the small conference table in the center of the room. “What else?”
“Ravi thinks he knows how they got in. He’ll let me know soon.”
Bobby pulled out his phone, slurped his mocha-colored iced drink through a straw, and turned away from Megs. Great, he’s going to stay.
“Are you sure we can’t call Brad and talk to him? Maybe he can negotiate with these guys?”
Bobby flinched at the mention of his older brother’s name. “No.”
“But we may not —”.
“No, we can’t let Brad or anyone else know. In fact, send out an email letting people know you took the system down for maintenance and they can’t access it today. In case some eager beaver logs in on their day off. Like Brad.”
An instant message from Ravi flashed on Megs screen.
Found out how they got it. Bobby clicked a fake FedEx link, and they got his admin credentials. Keyboard logger.
Megs opened her mouth to tell Bobby, then stopped. He was quiet. Better to keep him that way.
Great. Any other ideas?
No, will keep looking
Let me know, thanks.
What were the remaining options? Pay and get everything back. Maybe. Don’t pay and rebuild the system from scratch on the sly. Or come out with the truth and restore the apps with the company’s help.
Coming clean and telling Brad, CEO of the firm, made sense. He was an engineer; he’d see this for what it was, a puzzle.
“Bobby, this is where we are: we can rebuild the code. Probably take most of the day, but we could get the app stood up pretty quickly. We need to tell the users to connect to a different server… which isn’t hard.”
Bobby stared at Megs, expressionless. His hair looked matted, his eyes bloodshot and face puffy. Puffier than usual.
“And then we need to tell them to go into the settings of the app and do a one-way, err, push all the data they have to the new, empty database. Ravi and I could write some rules for what data to keep, what is most recent, that kinda stuff. But it won’t be 100%, and it may take us a few days to get the data straight. By then, we should have the tape backup. As long as it’s okay, we can piece together most of the data, probably with a few gaps from last month.”
“For which part?”
“Until everything is back to normal.”
“If everything goes like it should, and all the engineers followed the instructions… Friday, or early the following week?”
Bobby hung his head. “Not good enough. If I have to tell Brad about this… he’ll ask a lot of questions. And we’ll be screwed.”
“He might just choose to—”
“No chance. He’d rather shut down the company then pay a hacker. You know what he did the last time something like this happened? When a few computers and printers went missing a few years ago?”
“He ran a full investigation that cost more than the missing equipment. Questioned people for hours, put together a report, hired someone to help him. And got deep into everyone’s business. It was awful. Cost me a bonus that year also, ‘cus I run the office team as well as IT”
Megs stomach lurched again. Brad was intimidating; if he questioned how this happened, they’d have to tell him about the shitty backup plan.
“What else have you got?” asked Bobby.
“Right now, nothing,” said Megs.
He slammed his open palm on the table, rocking his latte. “Useless, you are useless. There has to be another way to fix this.”
“I’ll keep looking,” muttered Megs. She focused her attention on her monitor and randomly moused through her open windows. And tried not to shake.
This was Bobby’s fault. He clicked on the link and forced them to keep the system open. She could make Brad understand. But not having backups available was on her. Could she hide it? Brad, while analytical and fair, wouldn’t hesitate to fire someone over this. And he couldn’t fire his brother. Working at UCE wasn’t perfect, but the pay was alright and the hours, for IT, pretty manageable. And there weren’t a lot of other places she could work and still be near her parents. Megs now felt doubly trapped, by Ugnaught and these hackers.
Megs clicked on the window with the source code. Nothing new there. Clicked on the window with UFA. Her password still didn’t work. The only other system she had access to was email. Megs clicked on her inbox, her deleted mail, then on the separate folders she had in her inbox for something to do. Or at least to look like she was doing something. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Bobby drop his head into his hands.
One of Megs’ folders had 700 unread mails, named LegacyJobs. Great, another reminder of the work we didn’t do this summer. She clicked in the folder and gasped. There it was: “FullDBJob09032020-Complete”, the answer to her hung-over prayers, the thing tickling at the back of her skull. One of the legacy items, a job she set up when they first moved their data to the cloud, took a full backup of their database, compressed it, and sent it to their old server. The old server, the thing running in the almost-empty closet next to her desk. Here, all morning. The company’s data backed up as of two days ago sitting on a piece of hardware she meant to turn off weeks ago.
They could stand up a server in a few hours, quickly restore the database, and have a busy Tuesday morning tackling minor items. No one at the firm had to know. Bobby would get off scot-free again.
Megs sat up straighter in her chair. The buzzing headache receded and she felt whole, strong. They were going to get out of this mess. Or, at least, she was. Now Megs held the fate of the app, Bobby’s career and the health of the company in her hands. No one else knew about this legacy backup, not even Ravi.
If the hackers were going to extract a pound of flesh, why not Megs? The nursing home bills would ruin her finances for years, maybe for the rest of her life. But not if someone else picked up the tab. An extra $15k a month would change her life, for the better.
“Hey Bobby, we know how the hackers got in.”
Bobby raised his head out of his hands and looked over at Megs.
“You clicked on a bogus FedEx link, and they stole your password. You handed them the keys.”
Bobby, who was pale already, looked deathly as blood rushed out of his face. “I, uh, how…shit.”
“And they really got us. Too bad we didn’t have a CIO anymore to pin in on, eh?”
Bobby squinted at Megs.
“Maybe someone like that could get us out of this jam. And would have forced us to buy the right tools, earlier, and get serious about blocking phishing links. Probably pretty pricey, though.”
“What good does that do us? Oh my God, I’m so screwed. We’re all screwed.”
“Yea,” said Megs. She paused to pick her words carefully. Days later, while she admired her new office and nameplate, she’d wonder if the conviction of her next line came from deep inside or that fourth margarita.
The door from Ralph’s nightmares pulsated blood-red. But in the fading light of a fall evening, it was just a door at the far end of an empty cellar that reeked of mold and fuel oil.
The door called to Ralph the last time he stayed in this house an eight-year-old. Urged him out of bed, down the cellar stairs and through piles of boxes and old furniture. A voice like an old woman speaking underwater asked him to open the door.
Ralph shook his head. His therapist, Dr. Kincaid, thought this recurring nightmare was his young mind trying to process trauma. Real trauma, not a monster with tentacles that wrap themselves around little boys and keep them on the brink of suffocation, while probing their brain with a leathery proboscis.
But Dr. Kincaid never explained why his nightmares were so vivid, so consistent. Replaying the worst night of his life, over and over again.
And now he stood ten feet away from the red door. As an adult, he searched for the property online every week for unusual occurrences. Last month it showed up as a rental. Ralph booked the listing at once, took a few days off from work and flew to London. Imagined or not, he needed to come back to this cellar and face his worst fear.
And the door was here. Part of his memory was true. But the door wasn’t speaking.
“Nothing to say now, eh? Maybe you only speak to defenseless little boys,” said Ralph. Hopefully he sounded confident; his stomach wanted to empty over the dirt floor.
This was ridiculous. This stupid door had haunted him for twenty years. And it needed to end. Destroying it would end the nightmares. The years of lifting weights in his parents’ garage and practicing Brazilian Ju Jitsu gave him everything he needed to punch through the wood door and rip it apart. He wasn’t a scared little kid anymore.
But the thought of touching the door with his bare hands made Ralph shiver. Maybe he could use something, like a bat or crowbar. The cellar was empty except for a small metal cabinet next to the stairs. Inside was a set of small paint cans and a crusted brush. One can read Bright White. Perfect. Ralph popped the top, swirled the paint and positioned himself in front of the door. The paint was chunky, but this wasn’t for the aesthetics. Just cover the door, show his dominance over whatever had happened to him, and maybe he could sleep soundly for the first time in twenty years.
With a glob of paint, Ralph held out his arm in front of the door, closed his eyes, and swiped the brush. He cracked one eye; a white swath over the faded red. A white streak dripped down the door. But no voices. Ralph exhaled… this was going to work. Paint this thing and move on with life.
The last bit of day faded from the small cellar window. The flashlight on his phone would provide more light… but his eyes must have adjusted as the red brightened in the dark. Ralph confidently applied more paint to the top part of the door. Was the wood damp? The paint wasn’t taking well.
Ralph leaned in to look closer at the grain and rested his hand on the small metal handle, attached at the perfect height for an eight-year-old. The taste of leather and paint filled Ralph’s open mouth as the frigid tentacle dragged him back into the nightmare that had waited so patiently.
I’m pleased to announce my second published story, “The Inspector’s Legacy” in New Maps. First in print! The Inspector’s Legacy was one of my initial story ideas. Not the first story I wrote (that was an unreadable story called “Two Birds”), but it prompted me to pursue writing.
Back in the pre-Covid days, I commuted to Manhattan by bus or ferry/subway. While sitting in traffic outside the Lincoln Tunnel, I pictured a member of the working class commuting to post-apocalyptic Manhattan while the elite lived in tall towers. The streets and subways flooded and only the service class used them.
My first job out of college was as a health inspector (actual title: sanitarian); our hero would be one too. I wanted this health inspector to be exceptional; either a quasi-superhero or a bumbling idiot (I chose the idiot). I also wanted to show part of the job; the inspections, the bureaucracy, the conversation amongst other inspectors and employees. A lot of that made the last cut, although I reduced the detail. Turns out most people found it boring. Who knew?
And the story evolved from there. Set in a wet, caste-system Manhattan, with bankers, government officials and a small army of workers providing food, water and power. Our hero, Peter (when I worked in the Health Department, two co-workers, mentors and friends were named Peter), runs into a moral issue he may or may not be equipped to handle.
I wrote it last spring and submitted for consideration to final edition of “Into the Ruins”. It didn’t make that cut, but it was accepted for the inaugural issue of New Maps, for which I am eternally grateful. New Maps doesn’t have an online presence for the actual work; if you want to read the Inspector’s Legacy or any of the other delightful stories, you can order them here.
Which way to the transition area? I guide my bike with one hand, the other clutches a race packet. Which race is this again? What distance? Follow the other athletes in sweatshirts and unflattering lycra across the asphalt parking lot. A man with a prodigious beer belly and bullhorn barks at the stream of people, “…body markings…allowed to enter transition…” Look at left shoulder. 88 written sloppily on upper arm in black magic marker. The adolescent girls at the entrance to the corral nod as I pass.
Are spot assigned? Do they do that at this race? Choose a spot on the edge of a pathway, midway across the corral. Which way is bike in, bike out? Ah, it doesn’t matter. Don’t feel very aggressive today. Legs heavy, mind foggy. Maybe a caffeinated GU would help. Did I do the pre-race routine with the little optimizations, the easy bike spin, the quick run? This wetsuit feels heavy, swim cap tight, sand cool. Shoulder to shoulder with thirty men, restlessly shuffling feet. Stare out at a bright orange sun above curling waves. What distance is this race? Is this warmup or start? An air horn sounds. High step, high step, high step, dive under the wave. Still shallow, high step, high step, high step, dive. Deeper now, swim, a man bouncing off my hip. Thud. This fucker won’t give me space. Under a wave, lost my friend. Sight to the buoy, it came up quick.
Turning at the buoy. Water is calm, flat. Stroke, breathe, stroke, breathe. Breath to one side, need to keep the shore in sight. Distracting to breathe on both sides and see the endless ocean under an orange sun. Must be July for a sun like that. Stroke, stroke. It feels good, strong. Meditative. Must not be pushing hard enough. Sight. Where is the next buoy? Where is my wife? She said we needed to change, to break out of our rut. We agreed to change.
That must be the last buoy. I can see swimmers turning left and heading to shore. The water is flat. Will I do a fancy ninety-degree turn around the buoy, like I saw in that YouTube video? Or just pop my head up and hurl my body toward shore. Hands hit the gravelly surface. Keep swimming even though you can stand, gain those seconds. Swim past the suckers that stand too early. Can’t extend arm anymore, stand. Lightheaded. Run out of the murky pond, pull off my goggles and cap with one motion. Run, run past the fast swimmers who can’t move on land. Zip wetsuit to waist, run, run. The more running, the better. A long path, packed dirt with roots, through scrubby pines. Wives and kids, cowbells and signs for dad’s line the pathway. Sweatshirts and steaming coffee, to fend off the cool of the fall morning. Where are my kids? Farther down? Maybe they are waiting for me at transition.
Hop on one foot. The stubborn wetsuit sticks like glue to my ankle. I thought it was an Orca? This says Roka. Grab a pointed helmet. On the bike, pedal hard. Did my kids see me? Did I slap Brendan’s hand in transition? Is he still in preschool? Pass, pass, pass. Scary guy with a seven-grand bike setup grunts past. What is my wattage? Do I hold 250, 260? What was my last FTP test? Pedal, pedal, pass. Pedal, pedal, sip. Pedal, pedal, pass. Another guy cranks past, maybe eight k worth of kit. I’ll see you on the run. How long until then? I hope Maura holds a sign for me; she wants to race one day. But she is little now.
Man waving in street. Half this way, Olympic and sprint that way. Oh. What race is this again?
Run now. Did I nail the transition? Aggressive into dismount, feet on top of shoes, coming in hot? Running hard and tossing bike, slipping on sneaks with stretchy laces and Vaseline? Stride and pace feel good, shoulders back. Did I see Kim at transition? Did she look angry, were the kids cranky? Did they have to walk far from the car? Run, run, push, push. Hard for the first half mile then hold. No one else pushes hard this early, pass, pass, pass. Look down, Garneau top, DeSoto shorts, New Balance shoes. Did I finally get a sponsor? No, paid full retail, I sponsor them.
Run on the sandy Pine Barren trail. Pass the woman in the pro kit, squatting in the middle of trail. Swerve and avoid the deep puddle, when did it rain? Turn the corner onto a boardwalk, full of people. They scream and cheer as I turn. Wait. No, they scream and cheer for the woman behind me. Everyone cheers for first woman, no one for the eighth man. I see a parking lot; men with race numbers, walking with medals around their neck. The final stretch. Sprint, sprint, pass that guy stopping to grab his kid. Do they announce names? Yes, and places.
In the car. Bike in rear view, number flapping in the wind. I’m in a sweatshirt and I smell like swamp, ocean, sunscreen and wet sneaker. Did I stay for awards? Did I make the podium? Age group? The car is empty, just an empty cup from the morning coffee, a baggie that held a peanut butter sandwich. Where am I going? Is there anyone at home?
We hatched the plan at St. Patrick’s Day clan gathering. With stomachs heavy from Mom’s Irish Soda bread and Guinness, my brother, twin cousins and I planned a barnstorming tour of Ireland. # A crowded municipal bus took us into Dublin around 8am, Ireland time. We jumped off with our heavy bags and heavier jet-lagged legs. This was before roller bags were common, and a solid decade before smart phones. We walked down a crowded, cobblestone street. I wanted to soak in the atmosphere. Thick Irish accents, shops, bars and the energy of a young, vibrant city. Dublin looked ancient and foreign, yet everyone spoke English and it seemed inviting. My directions said to follow this cobblestone road, then turn right onto Murphy St. The four cousins walked down the street, half sight seeing, half fighting our tired bodies. I squinted at the cross streets. My cousin Matt noticed a shop that sold the Doc Martens he wanted to buy. Assumedly my brother was sleeping as we walked. He spent most of the trip napping in the car. We passed a few streets. I thought our not-yet-merry band should have found the cross-street already. Two Garda, Irish police, stood on the street. I waved to them. “Excuse me, can you please tell me how to get to Murphy street?” The two men smiled, most likely at my thick New York-American accent. One of them said, “Ah, of course, you head down to the next satellite, turn right. Grand.” I thanked them and went back to report to the cousins. “He said go to the next satellite and turn right.” “The next satellite?” Becky asked. “Yea, I assume he means a satellite phone store. That’s what they call it in Europe. Or, maybe it’s a statue of a satellite. No worries, we’ll find it.” We headed down the street, eagerly searching for satellites. We passed two more cross streets and didn’t see any statues of space machinery or satellite phone shops. Two more Garda appeared. I told the cousins I’d ask again for directions, left my with them and approached the pair. “Ah, excuse me, can you tell me how to get to Murphy street?” “Where are ya tryin’ to get to?” I pulled out the name and address of the hotel and showed the two Garda. “Ah, t’is easy. Go down to the next satellite and turn right. The hotel will be a few meters on the right.” I thanked them, took a step, then stopped. “Excuse me, I’m sorry. I’m an American and I just got off of a flight and haven’t slept all night. What is a satellite?” The two Garda looked at me. One asked, “Satellite? Whatchamean?” “You said go to the next satellite and turn right?” “Set-of-lights. SET-OF-LIGHTS.” We dropped our bags off at the hotel a few minutes later. I’m sure the Garda had stopped laughing by then.