The following is a sample from a new project that’s been kicking around in My Documents folder for some time now. Many years ago, I was inspired by a books known as Climate Wars by Gwynne Dyer. He confirmed things that were being said about the Mexico-US border, how a sealed, militarized border was in fact being considered in some circles within the Pentagon.
And given the relevance of Climate Change and the likelihood that it will make life uncomfortable for millions of people worldwide, not to mention triggering massive waves of emigration and border conflicts, I thought I should tackle the issue in fiction! And after some serious research into the Mexican-American border, the National Guard, and Climate Change, I began to create an outline that I eventually named “Frontera”.
It is my attempt at capturing the kinds of forces and feelings that natural disasters, starvation, and the looming specter of death inspire. On the one hand, you’ve got the drive to survive by any means necessary, to endure endless suffering and indignity. On the other, you’ve got the inevitable reaction of those who want to keep the suffering out of their lives, also by any means necessary. “See no evil, hear no evil,” we all know the drill.
The dust was starting to die down with the passing of the last storm. The heat was picking up on the highway too, turning the asphalt into heat devils and the desert into baked tufts of dirt and sand. Windows are down and the speedometer reads sixty, the radio at ninety eight point five megahertz. Tuned to the classics! The army radio is turned low so they don’t get any distracting chatter from the squad RO.
Corporal Atkins looked at the seat next to him, PFC Fitzgerald sitting there with his boot on the dashboard. He sees the business end of the SCAR sitting on his lap, pushes it ahead with his index finger just a little. The safety being on or not, he doesn’t want to hit a bump and find out the hard way that it could go off.
“So what?” says Fitz.
“What happened next?”
Atkins smiles and gives her some more gas. His left hand leaves the wheel grip to provide some animations.
“Well, he comes into the house. And she’s screaming at him to stop acting all crazy and shit. And I’m under the bed, all I can see is his boots. But man, if shoe size be any indication…” he paused for emphasis. “Anyways, this guy was a bear. Real fucking crazy too, from the sound of it. Kept going on and on about how she was cheating on him.”
“She was,” Fitz says. Atkins waves him off and keeps talking.
“Whatever, point is, she’s trying to tell him not to freak out and he’s not even supposed to be there, and he’s stomping around looking this way and that, tossing her clothes out of the closet and everything. Finally, he gives up, which is good for me, because I swear he looked everywhere but under the bed.”
Fitz hums an affirmative and nods.
“So he figures she’s alone, breaks down, starts crying! He’s saying how sorry he is and how much he misses her, how much he wants her back and how it’s going to be different this time. I’m telling ya, it was pathetic!”
“So you got out with all your teeth intact… again?”
“What can I tell ya, I’m lucky like that? Besides, girl’s need a man who’s around, not some migrant laborer who aint at home half the year.”
Fitz shakes his head. He could make the obvious point of how migrants have it hard as it is. Moving from state to state to work the farmlands, being paid on an irregular basis, no security, no benefits. Bad enough to have to deal with all that, they don’t need the added stress of wondering whether their wives are cheating on them or not. Then again, their lives aren’t so easy either. Whatever a man’s got to do to stay happy and loose, he can’t begrudge him for. Not too much anyway.
“Right here!” Fitz says, slapping him in the shoulder. Atkins looks over and sees the turnoff, nearly past them now. He cranks the wheel around and brings the Humvee into a sharp turn, nearly sending Fitz through the window in the process. Their left front tire skims into the gutter, throwing Fitz the other way now, his helmet grazing Fitz’s shoulder. When he’s got them righted on the dirt road, he guns the gas and sends clouds of dust up in their wake. Taking a moment to steady himself, Fitz gives him a look.
“You alright there, man?”
“Me? Yeah, of course! Ship shape!”
“Okay…” Fitz says skeptically while retrieving his SCAR and putting it butt down on the floor. He eyes Atkins for a moment longer, wondering if he’s just a little too hung over to be driving right now. But then, the sentry post appears over on the horizon and his attention snaps back to their front bumper, to the chain link fence that is slowly emerging out of the dirt. Then to the pockmarked field beyond it, the sloping earth, the tattered debris.
They drive for another five minutes before the road came to parallel the fence and the guard post is just ahead on their left. A hand is raised in the sentry booth, the heavy barreled weapon going limp as the gunner waves to them.
“Who’s on today?” Fitz asks.
“Uh, Perkins, I think,” says Atkins.
Fitz grabs the handset from the radio and brings it to his mouth. He checks briefly to make sure they’re on the squad frequency before keying the button on the side.
“Bravo Two to Sentry one-nine, how’s the weather up there, over?”
Fitz looks up just in time to see Perkins swing by overhead, his hand going to the mike in front of his mouth. He turns from the border momentarily to watch them scream on by.
“Just fine, you bunch of AC pampered assholes, over.”
Fitz laughs out loud and quickly responds.
“Got any housekeeping for us today, over?”
It takes Perkins a couple seconds to reply.
“Just some gutters need cleaning. Tell the maid to get on it, over!”
Fitz hangs up the mike and shakes his head. “Always chipper, especially after an all-nighter!”
“Guess that’s why they don’t have to clean up their own shitty mess.”
“You got that right.”
Atkins pulls them into a tight turn towards the fence and hits the brakes just a few feet from running into it. The engine idled as he let it run, keeping the AC blowing and the radio blasting the tunes. He looked over to Fitz, nodded in the direction of the field.
“Are you shitting me? I gotta do this alone?”
Atkins shrugged. “Driver takes the wheel, shotgun gets the shaft.”
Fitz flashed Atkins a look that told him just how much he hated him. Popping his door and slinging his SCAR over his shoulder, he went to the back and grabbed everything he needed to get the job done. Two industrial strength garbage bags, a trench shovel, some rubber gloves and a sanitary mask. Packing them all into one of the two bags, he set for the fence line.
Just a few feet from the vehicle was the access door, a single steel frame with chain link innards, the opening side locked by a bolt lock that could only be opened from the Arizona side. Fitz unbolted the thing and slung the door open, pausing only to look back at the sentry tower. Perkins waved at him again before manning his gun again, communicating both thanks and sympathy in that one gesture. Fitz flipped him the bird and ducked on through.
Past the door was the remote sensor: a standing tube-like appendage with a bulbous, LED laden device on top. Fitz was sure to pause as he came close to it, giving it a moment to read the RFID card in his pocket. All Guardsmen had them, as a guarantee against accidentally setting one of the mines off. As he waited for the thing to finish reading him and chime the all clear, he scanned the area that ran the border, the pockmarked field of caked dirt they called No Man’s Land, or as the sentries preferred it, the Kill Zone. Where the dirt had been disturbed, he could see the porcupine quills of freshly planted AP’s breaking the surface. Elsewhere, the dirt was a deep brown or black, usually not far from a fresh mine. Only one spot today contained the splattered remains of a WB that had chanced to cross the field the night before. Perhaps it had been more than one; two buddies, a couple, a small family. After the AP’s got to them, the vultures quickly moved in and took anything that was still fresh. However, the carrion birds often triggered an AP too, confounding the mess and adding to the clean-up crew’s workload.
Clean-up crews like me.
The sensor chimed and the LED’s turned green. Fitz began to pace forward into the field, kicking at the caked dirt as he went. Past several groups of quills with their temporarily dormant sensors, making his way to the pile of flesh, bone, and ripped clothes rotting in the morning sun. Soon, he was close enough to see enough to make out what was left of the brave soul (or souls) that had perished the night before.
As usual, the remains seemed to be scattered out into a circular pattern, but most of that was in pulp form. In terms of solid remains, there were only two large pieces, some minor bits strewn between them that looked to have been picked pretty well by the carrion feeders already. One piece was covered in a length of ripped denim, clearly a jean leg, with the remains of the leg still inside, the femur having been ripped out from the pelvis. A few feet over, the better part of an arm with some of the original ribcage attached lay, though the hand appeared to be missing. From all this, he could surmise that the WB had been alone when he went down. Most likely he was hit by one AP after he tripped its detector, it exploded in midair and knocked him down flat onto another. The dispersal pattern and what remained of him seemed to confirm this.
A single vulture stood over the pieces, tearing what it could off the femur. Grabbing the bag from under his arm, Fitz began to kick at the thing. The vulture squawked and protested at him, but eventually flew clear.
“Greedy little scavengers,” he said, slipping the rubber gloves and breath mask on. Lowering his goggles into place to protect his eyes – one had to be sure diseases weren’t getting in through the tear ducts – he grabbed a hold of the remains and began stuffing them into the bag. The arm proved the most difficult; getting it to bend at the elbow was proving tough once he got it into the bag. Given that there was little meat on it, did it make sense that it would be in some kind of rigor? He tried twice, nearly ripped the bag open, and had to bring it out again.
“What’s going on out there?” he heard Atkins yelling with the window rolled down. Fitz cursed over his shoulder. Finally, he put the elbow joint above his knee and pried it hard. The whole thing cracked like a chicken bone and was finally small enough to dispose of. He tossed it in the bag, threw the other assorted bits in after it, and tied the other bag around the whole thing. Slinging that over his shoulder and repositioning his SCAR, he made his way back to the fence.
Atkins was still sitting with the window rolled down when he got there.
“Seriously, what took you so long?”
“Just drive the fucking vehicle.”
Fitz threw the bag into the driver’s side rear door, into the yellow bin marked Biohazard. Tossing in his gloves and mask too, he jumped back into the cabin without another word. Fitz shrugged and waved one last time to Perkins and brought them back onto the dirt road, gunning the engine for the next post and the next potential mess.