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April 3, 2022


Robert Herbst

My uncle believed in a cigarette with breakfast and a cold glass of milk with dinner and that Waco said more about the feds than the fucking cult. He lived out in Longmont, and I used to hitch up there when things got rough at home. The fence around his property was eight feet high, razor wire on top. He had an intercom. “Jerry who?” he’d growl into the speaker. “Jerry your fucking nephew!” It was like a sort of password we had.

Evidently, the man didn’t believe in home-deck repair, because an ex-girlfriend had blasted a hole into his with a 12 gauge and he never fixed it. Had the place booby trapped to hell, and he claimed there was a deactivated landmine at the back end of his property. So I’d stay put, lounging on his sunken living room sofa, chain smoking and reading Wittgenstein – it was that or Hustler. His office had two mammoth desktops, and he spent long nights before them. Something about encryption and large file transfer. Boasted he’d rigged the internet hookup himself.

Things were always off. He’d point out the weather balloons circling way up in the sky. That new sourness in the water. A strange, staticky noise on the phone that I haven’t heard since. Guys claiming to be from the county rang his bell and addressed the camera directly. They wanted to run new wires under the northeast corner of his property. He farted into the microphone.

“Those bloodsuckers,” he said, mixing us margaritas, “have been on my ass since I was paroled.”

December 31st, 1999 rolled around, and he slammed a duffel on the kitchen counter. “Get your shit. We’re out of here.”

We rolled south over the foothills, staying off the highway, doubling back through Bonanza. I asked him if he thought the computers would launch nukes, or if the government would declare martial law, or if-

“All I know,” he said, checking his rearview, “is when it’s a good time to get the hell out of dodge.”

I called my mom at a pay phone in Crestone. “The fuck’s he taken you,” she said. “Well, if a goddamn alien comes and abducts you two, I’ll be nothing but grateful.”

We sat in a dusty motel in that empty town and didn’t speak much throughout the night. He sat watching the clock until 2AM, then dragged me outside. It hadn’t snowed much that year, and the air was warm. A dry wind wafted from the sand dunes to our south. We heard meth-heads laughing up some homicidal road to our east. But out west, we could see straight to the black end of the earth. Out there, a bright star had fallen into the dessert and lay glittering. “What do you think it is?” I asked.

All my uncle said was, “well, well, well” with a little smirk hiding in his stubble, like they had finally managed to catch up to him, those bastards.