By Brian Buckner
The darkness of the cool room remained inviting as I rustled under the covers in the early pre-dawn hours. I knew it would be hot and steamy outside, even early, since July had already arrived. The clock was reading sometime after 4:00 a.m. Before I could even consider the option of additional sleep, I dismissed it. I could feel my ‘carpe diem’ thoughts coming to my mental shore as a great tsunami. I leapt from my bed and donned some shorts, sandals and a thin shirt. The valet answered on the second ring and I knew Big Red would be purring curbside in just a couple of minutes.
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I grabbed a camera and a couple of lenses and my RRS tripod. No hotel elevator for me! I took the stairs and arrived quick enough at the front lobby area. Strangely, no one was there but Red did sit idling slowly in the darkness. It was 5:37 when he pulled away; his big HELA’s were cutting the darkness down to size.
The Starbucks I had been using appeared closed which was odd for this hour of the morning. The streets seemed deserted and the traffic lights were all out as I drove into the downtown area of the bustling city. A strange mist seemed to have settled over everything and the mugginess and heat were oozing from all dark corners of the early morning cityscape. My body was engulfed in a fine film of moisture as I rode on with the windows down and a damp breeze coming through the cab.
I parked and ignored the meter since they aren’t patrolled until after eight. I hadn’t seen a soul but, then again, it was early. I changed the lens on my camera body and attached it to a tripod which I subsequently slung over my shoulder. I walk a lot like this while working in the field as it keeps my equipment ready at a moments notice. As I walked it seemed I was going down in elevation. I wasn’t in some kind of subterranean area but in a low spot with concrete and natural features mixed together. I saw crazy water features, bridges and odd, old looking, buildings out on the horizon. Cypress trees dotted my surroundings as did beautiful and colorful flowers. I wandered slowly through this fantasy-like maze out of some cheap sci-fi thriller.
Dawn had finally come under a mostly cloudy sky. The heavens appeared ominous to me as if the sunrise was actually twilight. Thinking, thinking, thinking……what is this, where is this……..it is all so different than it was yesterday in the early evening when I thought to have strolled these same byways.
Screeching metal and the shaking of the terra firma on which I stood catapulted me from my thoughts! I felt deep fear forming in my gut. It was elicited by the unfamiliarity of the sounds that issued forth into the dawn and the great shaking that accompanied them. Something smelled like death; like a lot of it too, similar to a battlefield at dawn strewn by the bodies of the previous nights fighters. I ducked back under a small concrete bridge by a water feature and peered out.
A huge reddish-orange creature was herding something before it as Rowdy Yates might have handled a string of cows on Rawhide. I couldn’t see them but by their dying screams and cries, I knew they were humans falling victim to the powers of the creature that herded them on toward the stockades, that unbeknownst to me, had been erected south of the city. I could smell the metallic odor of blood high in the air.
There was only one thing to do or that could be done by me anyway. I’m not a guy who assumes that peace is discovered only by retaliatory behaviors but in this case, there could be but one reaction to the plight of my fellow humans who represented mankind itself. I had to shoot. I fired and fired as if my compact flash card of a clip would never run dry. The creature was robot-like and seemed to be made of metal. None of my shots seemed to have any effect on it but they all rang true as I kept him in my sights and poured shot after shot into the strange, metal-skinned body.
I heard the whisper of a woman’s voice as her lips gently brushed my ear. I grabbed her by the shoulder and tried to push her down and behind me to keep her from the creature’s view. But, it was only Edie waking me with some hot coffee in a hotel room styrofoam cup. “Boy, that must have been some dream”, she said laughing, “You told me you were shooting something big!” I just smiled and lay still. Minutes later, she entered the bath to prepare for the day and I jumped for my camera shoving it’s flash card into a small reader on my laptop. There was but one image on that compact flash card and I am showing it to you here today. I knew what waited outside the room but Edie didn’t. I forced the Pelican Case against the door along with other luggage and piled things against the windows in a silly attempt to protect us. As I prepared, I heard the grinding of metal in the distance and felt the hotel shake ever so slightly.
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