American Fiction

The Battle of Lake Chautauqua

“General Alarm. General Alarm. Zkreen address in five minutes. Repeat. General Alarm.”

The nine adults in Shelter 17 did what they had to do to wake up and pay attention; pinching themselves, pouring night table water over themselves. The trailing sleepy heads were treated to Phil shouting “Drop yer cocks and grab yer socks.”  Phil was a nonagenarian Korean War veteran, according to him one of the original Eight Jewish Korean Veterans who founded E. J. Korvettes.

The main Zkreen came alive with Alex Neville’s concrete face.

“This is your Mayor speaking. Yesterday, Fracktion forces from Erie, in violation of the cease fire agreement, entered New York and overwhelmed Sockville. We all have friends in Sockville; casualties were described as heavy. New City, our home, may be in the line of fire and will certainly fall if the Fracktion forces can cross Lake Chautauqua. My intelligence has it that Trevor, unknown to his friends and family, is a Fracktion fifth columnist and told his handler that the detachment at Sherman would be on maneuvers. In addition, the New City Chamber of Commerce is opposed military action as being bad for business. And finally, Reverend Antonio has picked this day to preach peace. We have only one card to play, and that card is you, ordinary citizens of New City, veterans, police,  firefighters, medics, anyone with two functioning limbs, preferably one on each side, are our last hope to defend New City, and possibly the entire planet, until Alternativist forces can arrive. Anyone coming to the party, grab your muster kits and report to the Lewis & Clark football field.

“You’re slowing down, Gabe, I beat you to the top,” Basil bragged. Either way, the pair of them were well ahead of anyone else coming up. They watched the sun peek up over Harris Forest and surveyed the hatches of the other 19 shelters.

 “Basil, will you look at that?” Citizens of all stripes were popping up out of the ground like mushrooms and night crawlers after a midnight rain storm. The friends saw Lisa, fully kitted-out in her New York Air National Guard, 104th cargo wing fatigues, do a perfect cross-arm flip on the lip of the hatch and land in a parachutist crouch. From the other shelters, people kept emerging, now that the word had been fully served up and digested, like termites abandoning a stick-poked nest.

“I guess the people have spoken, Gabe.”

“Baz, have you seen Olga? Lisa, have you seen her?”

“Yes, Gabe. Relax, the shooting hasn’t started yet. Olga and Dave are organizing getting the kids from 20 shelters into just four; easier to take care of that way, better for the children to have friends around.” Gabe winced minutely when he heard the pilot’s answer.

The citizenry started a “Remember Sockville” chant on the way to the high school.

“It’s the uniform, isn’t it? Makes it look like I know something, huh?” The Schroeders, immigrants who just became citizens a year ago, were the last people to move into New City before it all came tumbling down.  “It’s Nicholas and Katherine, isn’t it? Don’t be shy, it’s two more miles to the high school Ask away.”

Katherine took the lead. “Can you tell us why there is a war? None of the answers we got made any sense.”

“Easy question. It’s because the war doesn’t make sense. We’re in New York. The enemy is coming from Pennsylvania. For the most part, New York and Pennsylvania almost always voted the same way in presidential elections. Until fossil fuel was discovered trapped inside a giant, underground rock. When you bought your house in New City, you either purchased the right to get that fuel out of the part of the rock under your land, or sold that right to someone else. New York took a dim view of the process to get the fuel out. Deep holes had to drilled and a secret, mysterious fluid had to be forced into the hole like a farmer forcing food into a goose to get foi gras. Nobody outside the company knew what was going down and what happened when it eventually came back. And there were the earthquakes. It’s called hydrofracturing. When candidate Spade promised Pennsylvania that fracking could continue, the people voted the opposite way that New York did. A coalition formed from people of assorted religious denominations, usually one of the religions that preached that people had dominion over the earth to do what they wanted to do with it, and other people financially heavily invested in fracking. They are the Fracktion. Here in New York, we have large hydropower, wind, and solar resources. We are the Alternativists. They want to do what they wish with their rock, and now they want our rock as well. The fracking holes dry up quickly and new holes have to be dug, since there is such a large investment in the fracking equipment. They literally have a religious devotion to keep going, no matter what happens to the people near the drill sites, and even not so near to the sites. That’s about it. Except that the Fracktion is gunning for us. Today. Welcome to the new United States.”

“Thank you for the explanation,” Nicholas said. “Maybe we should have immigrated to Iceland.”

The good citizens of New City, spirits boosted by daylight and the promise of action of some kind, made it to the football field and attempted to get into a formation of some kind; each person, it looked like, working from memory of the last war movie they saw. Mayor Alexander Neville put them at ease; this wasn’t the sort of engagement won by parading.

“Citizens of New City. We have a plan. But before I lay out the plan, I am obligated to tell you of a communication from Canada. Batu Kitchener, Lady Governess of Ontario Province—that means she is the Queen’s representative for matters dealing with the province—has offered to annex Chautauqua County to the Province of Ontario. Canada is the original alternativist country, running mostly on hydropower. They have a functioning military and police force. Nobody has to live in a hole in the ground. The gridiron is open for comments, but it has to be quick. There’s an invading force on the way.”

Sergeant Rabinowitz, an émigré from Newfoundland, was one of the few people on the field with actual combat experience, aside from Mayor Neville.

“Laird Tunderin’ Jayzus, yiz don’t wanna get under the thumb o’ Her Majesty. Afore the week is out, yiz’ll be wantin’ t’ giver the long main sheet. I say, Remember Sockville!”

A cheer went up from the crowd, mimicking the Sergeant’s cry, right down to the impenetrable accent. The road was chosen.

“Here’s the plan. We’re going to need three defensive squads. One up north in Mayville, patrolling between there and Chautauqua. One down south in Jamestown. One in the middle at Bemus Point to blow up the throughway bridge. Police Chief Ronan will issue weapons and ordinance from the evidence room. We’ll need at least two people in the Bemus Point squad who know how to deal with explosives.” Jim Jessup raised his hand; apparently he had been a demolition engineer before retirement.

“Alright, Jim. Squad Three is yours. It’s 34 degrees now. I’ve contacted Cockaigne and Peak & Peek, the ski resorts. They are on the way with their snowmaking equipment. By the time the main Fracktionist forces get here, Lake Chautauqua should be frozen over. This is our advantage. If they were planning to attack across the lake, their boats won’t do them any good at ll. But as for us, almost every household has an ATV or a snowmobile. I should know, my brother sold them to you all. Go home, get your recreational vehicles, ride them or tow them, but place them up and down our side of the lake. Organize your squads, get your vehicles placed, and make sure they’re gassed up—there’s some irony for you—and finally, no promises now, Lisa will attempt to get air cover from the 104th. When the defensive squads spot the invaders, Squad 3 blows the bridge. As Mayor of New City, I will take point on the RVs.”

The Fracktionist forces showed up at 11:30, 20 minutes after the snowmakers got the surface of the lake to freeze over. One yahoo in a Hummer advanced ahead of the column and drove onto the ice. It was a 12 foot drive to the point where the machomobile broke the ice and sunk. That was the cue for Jim to get off the bridge and find a safe place to remotely set off the charges. Needless to say, the Fracktionist forces were not the sharpest teeth on the coping saw.  Neither were they the toughest nuts in the squirrel nest. They were stuck with a bunch of SUVs towing boats, neither of which could get them across. They had to re-strategize to fight an infantry battle.

 Mayor Alex raised an old green and yellow Ecology Flag on his snowmobile and headed into battle. Right behind him were Basil, driving, and Lisa shooting, the original Egyptian chariot configuration. The vehicles fell into a rhythm; drive, shoot, stop, reload using the RV for cover, wait till the next RV moves up. All except the Mayor Alex. He had the knack for knowing which way an enemy would zig or zag, likely before the poor, dumb bastard knew where he was going to go.

“This is not an optimum strategy, Baz.”

“What do you recommend? You’re an officer, after all.”

“Alex, this is Lisa, are you there?” She was hailing the mayor on the command frequency. She heard an ACK in Morse and replied. Alex, we need to get the RVs to circle groups of the frackers, and then tie the noose. Wait, are you seeing what I’m seeing?”

“The firetruck?”

“Yes. It looks like they drove it in from Pennsylvania. The crew is using the axes from the truck to break up the ice.”

“Not that bright, those folks. They’re just going to get stuck without a way back to shore if they get farther than the ladder could reach.”

Gabriel turned up and volunteered to coordinate the circling maneuvers. He decided on being the shooter on his neighbor Carter’s Sunzy Crawler. He reported in on the command channel.

“This is Gabe on the Jamestown side. The circling trick is working, Alex. We’re herding them off the ice, disarming them, and putting them in the state park visitor center.” The mayor keyed an ACK.

“Baz and Lisa here, Alex. 104th configured the cargo plane to take off on wheels and land on skis if necessary. Wasn’t that hard, these planes deliver to Antarctica. They are on the way. Show of force only, Your Honor.” 

Jim was next. “Al, it looks like somebody on the fracker side is familiar with Greek history. The crew on the other side of Bemus Point is in a Hoplite formation. They’re using riot shields and gaffing hooks.”

“This is New City Actual. We cannot let the Fracktionists cross at the point. Gabe, can you reinforce Jim?”

“On my way, boss. Gaffing hooks. Jesus. What have we come to?”

Gabriel led two ATVs and a snowmobile to the point. Halfway there, they ran into a crew wearing Penn State Nittany Lions hoodies. Gabriel’s team steeled themselves when they saw the weaponry coming at them.

“Becky, get down, get down!” One of the frackers couldn’t be more than 19; Gabriel thought he recognized him from a Penn – Nebraska game. It didn’t stop him from doing what it took to keep Becky and Carter safe. Fortunately, there’s a difference between setting up an animal shot and setting up a human shot, especially with a shotgun. 

“Stay down!” Gabriel had the stock of the Remington 401 on his shoulder and his finger on the trigger in under two seconds. It was clean heart shot. It was the last thing the wide receiver, on track for a low-number round draft pick, would ever receive.

“Gabe, are you alright, buddy?” 

“I killed that kid, Carter. He was 19.”

“It’s a war, Gabe. We were being attacked,” Becky justified.

“It’s not a war. It’s a difference of policy opinions and options by means of lethal weapons. There’s a difference,” Gabriel pointed out. The funny little convoy got to some cover on Bemus Point, and Gabriel’s friends calmed him down, Becky doing it with a bra-flask of Jamesons. Ten minutes later, the sky was falling.

“The plane! The plane!” they shouted, “Lisa’s plane!” The unarmed and unarmored cargo hauler made a show of the Alternativist side having air power. A lucky shot took out the starboard engine. The falling craft made exactly the same sound a falling plane makes in the movies. The pilot, Lisa’s drinking buddy when they were both in Newburgh, was able to land with the skis on the rapidly thinning ice and hit the switch to inflate the side pontoons. Both sides stopped doing what they were doing; they had to since the cracks caused by the plane crash spread across the theater of operations. Reflexes kicked in for combatants on both sides, so many of them EMTs, police, and firefighters. They collected whatever emergency equipment was in the vehicles and turned the lake into a massive search and rescue operation.

“I’m Alexander Neville, Mayor of New City.”

“Peter Rodano, Vice President of the main hydrofracturing industry trade group.”

“Nice to meet you, Pete. As a justice of the Peace, I find you and your officers, if you have any officers, guilty of disturbing a federal wetlands as well as disturbing the peace. Sign here to accept the judgement. You better start pooling your money, it’s a $100 fine for each count, payable by anyone of your people who look like they’re in charge of anything. Now get the fuck off my lake. You should really have known better, Pete.”

After 17 pulls from the lake, sun going down, moon expected any moment, Gabriel was one of the last off the battlefield. He stepped onto Bemus Point, and stopped at the first tree he saw, and started carving.

“Today, I, Gabriel Lobachevsky, killed a young wide receiver from Penn State over what amounts to a difference of opinion over legitimate policies. I will certainly never do that again, I will do my best to make sure nobody ever does that.”

Gabriel took a look back at the lake and saw the reflection of a waning gibbous moon smiling up at him, a smile exactly like Olga’s. 

November 18, 2020 03:19

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