This Is All I Know

Published in Stumptown Underground, Science: Fact and Fiction, 2012

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t been there. In sight of the Washington Monument and the Capitol, a craft landed. Just descended from the sky and planted itself on the Mall.

It landed cleanly, without the dust kick-up you’d expect, and quickly, as if it had appeared out of nowhere, something supernatural, which perhaps it was.

People stopped and stared (who wouldn’t), some immediately ran away. We live a bit in denial in this city, as though the world weren’t out to get us. We’re not stupid, just hopeful.

Because it was school vacation week, the Mall teemed with out-of-towners, easily spotted by their “Washington DC” shirts and caps purchased from vendors lining the avenues. Children pointed at the craft and a few tried to venture nearer—curiosity their greatest asset—but parental arms held them close.

Was it some sort of trick? A hologram fashioned by creative scientific minds toiling away in a nearby building? Or perhaps the second coming of the messiah. (A natural thought, being so close to Easter.) Other than to say it was oblong and gray and no bigger than a large SUV, it is nearly impossible to describe the craft’s features, as if details had been erased from memory.

The spring air held a hint of winter’s cool and the smell of raw dirt mixed with the odor of strangers. The carousel continued to turn. The craft had arrived with such stealth that not everyone had noticed. Soon, however, a larger crowd began to form. Where were the police? The authorities to guide us? Without them, how long would it take to find a leader among us?

The throng formed a semi-circle around what appeared to be the craft’s front and stood twenty deep. Like at a rock concert, it became a living thing, the lines of bodies rearranging forward, sideways, back.

But it held itself in place, not getting any closer than a hundred feet, as though contained by a physical barrier.

From the back a male voice yelled, “Come out, you motherfuckers!” And another, “Al Quaeda pussies! Show your face.”

This agitated the crowd. People jabbed at each other. A couple standing next to me—the man perching a small boy atop his shoulders—exchanged a nervous glance. “We thought this was a show,” the woman said to no one in particular. Then they pushed their way out, avoiding the vast openness between them and the craft, their chorus of “Excuse Me’s” fading as they left.

Did anyone think leaving the Mall would save them? Surely this craft had powers no one understood. The truth, when it comes, hits hard and fast: We are none of
us safe.

People were growing angry. Somewhere to the right a woman screamed. A fistfight broke out to the left, who knows over what. Then three men pushed their way roughly to the front and stepped into the forbidden empty space. Silence swept
over us all.

The men, two tall one stocky, all muscular and crew-cut, were former or current Marines no doubt. One wore flimsy running shorts. Earlier they’d been playing Frisbee by the Air and Space Museum; tourists and joggers walked wide to avoid their errant discs. Now they approached the craft in what looked like a planned triangular formation—one forward, the others some feet behind. They did not appear to have weapons, making it  difficult to determine if their act was one of bravery or idiocy.

The lead man—the stocky one—marched to the craft, hesitated for a slight slice of time, then reached out and knocked on the door twice with the back of his hand. The sound was metal on metal. He must have been wearing a ring. The craft was solid—did I mention that? No windows to peer through, no peep holes visible. The lead man took one step back, prepared for an answer or to be shot, flanked by his comrades in martial-arts ready stances.

The men waited. The crowd waited. And still no police. No helicopters overhead, not even from the TV news. Just slightly distant jet planes on their way to and from National, tour buses and taxis battling it out on 14th Street. And a few hundred people in the middle of the Mall staring at something we couldn’t explain.

And then it was gone. No puff of smoke. No rocket launcher. Just gone, and the three Marines gone with it. A Houdini act. A fancy disappearance. A stunned crowd. And somewhere in the distance a siren growing louder.

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