The things Mark Philipson hadn’t done were beginning to add up: sitting in the booth by the window, sipping hot coffee while waiting for breakfast, reclining in the padded chair and putting the 3d glasses on as the opening credits of the movie came on screen, walking from store to store in the mall, looking for the best deals on toaster ovens or boxer shorts.
The Covid-19 pandemic had altered his lifestyle.
In the PPE (Pre-Pandemic Era), Mark tried to walk every day. He recalled his last walk clearly. It was during his space station spotting phase. When the NASA web site announced the times and locations when the station would be visible, Mark checked the sighting coordinates. If they were in the good zone and the skies were clear, he planned the walk around the information.
Mark thought about the last time he saw the station. The memory reel rolled in the projection booth in his mind, pushing image sequences out of the stereoscopic lenses of his eyes.
He left his neighborhood behind and stepped into darkness. Mark was in the mitigation area, what he called The Land that Time Forgot. Being in the natural environment made him think about a quote by Edgar Rice Burroughs: “If you write one book, it will probably be bad, if you write a hundred, the odds are in your favor.”
Words to live by.
Mark stepped off the residential sidewalk and pulled his penlight off the clip hanging from his belt loop. Released from its magnetic holder, the twin LED bulbs cut a hole in the wall of night, bathing the sidewalk ahead in moving light.
There were no street lamps in the mitigation area.
Birds squawked in the dense tree line a few feet to the right. Gators grunted in the shallow water on the other side of the wide bank to the left.
Mark stopped when he reached the halfway point between his development and the one due west and stood at the access area used by county maintenance crews. They’d launch air boats here and spray herbicide along the banks of the canals. He thought about how he did it when he was a kid: Mark stood on the sea wall, hauling in clumps of weed on a stiff rake. It was a triple-win situation. He earned some cash, supplied his mom with compost for her rose garden, and picked the craw fish out for bait.
No clouds drifted by. Mark checked his phone. He’d timed it perfectly, two minutes left until the station appeared.
This morning, the international space station would come into view at 18° above true North for twelve seconds.
Mark waited. Using the compass app on his phone, he pointed the digital needle to zero and faced the dark expanse of the Everglades.
He didn’t need to do this. Crossing the Gulf stream—from Port Everglades to Bimini—then returning on a reciprocal heading had burned the cardinal points of the compass rose into his brain.
It killed time.
Then he saw it.
Light from the rising sun hit the space station. From the vantage point on the ground, a bright globe came out of nowhere and streaked across the sky.
Then it was gone.
Above the Water:
Mark’s mind rolled over countless walks until it homed in on one and brought it to the front.
He was in the parking lot at the beach, putting money in the meter. The first thing he saw when he crossed over the wooden sand dune bridge was a woman putting brush to canvas. She worked fast, roughing in the vertical pylons of Dania Pier.
Mark headed south; with each step, the sun climbed higher and a west wind increased until high swells offshore rippled across the horizon.
Ahead, a man entered the surf, a short board under one arm and a bar in his free hand. In one motion, he dropped the board into the shallow water at his feet and stepped on. On the beach, a woman let go of an elliptical sail. The onshore breeze inflated it in an instant, pulling the rigging attached to the handlebar tight.
The board cut a wake across the waves. What happened next took a few seconds to register: the board rose out of the water, the hydrofoil skegg slicing across the surface.
Mark watched the rider maneuver over the sandbars and then run parallel to the shore. The rider was out of sight in minutes. He tried to imagine what it felt like to be holding onto a sail and standing on a board flying over the water, but couldn’t come up with anything.
As Mark continued walking in the soft sand moistened by the cool surf, he saw something in the distance.
It looked like a telephone pole had toppled over. That couldn’t be, Florida Power & Light didn’t erect poles on the beach.
You know, that looks like a mast, he thought. With each step closer, the cylindrical shape, the metallic texture, and heavy rigging confirmed his suspicions.
Mark stood and stared at the sailboat. He figured it was a 30 footer. Somehow, it ended up halfway up Johnson Street beach in Hollywood.
He tried to picture what might’ve happened.
After polishing off half a fifth of dark rum, the captain passed out.
While he slept, bands of thunderstorms moved in from offshore. Lightning forked across the tall clouds. Wind whipped the waves. The sailboat’s single anchor came free of the rocks and the flukes dredged a trench across the sand.
The captain, still drunk, was woken by a grinding noise. He sobered up in a second when he was tossed out of his bunk. When he went on deck and saw he was on the beach, he vomited over the side.
Mark shot some photos with his phone. Walking around the port side to get a different perspective, he saw a sticker pasted to the hull. By order of the maritime commission, the sailboat had been declared condemned and would be removed in five days.
Using one of the photos, Mark attempted to build a composite image blending the beach scene with the Normandy invasion.
For reasons he couldn’t remember, the project never got past the initial layout stages.
Walk thoughts faded. Mark was back in pandemic real time.