An Unexpected Summer
Results of the FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act) request regarding Project Gandalf. Received 2012.12.30.
Buried alive for two months. They’ve kept me hidden deep within the bowels of Fort Meade. I lay on my thin mattress and stared into the darkness listening to my head pound with the pain that never went away.
The sound of an electric circuit crackled somewhere in the darkness as piercing, bright lights flickered on. I groaned and pressed the palms of my hands against my temples, praying for the pounding to stop.
High above me, silenced behind the bullet-proof glass, were a handful of people yelling at each other. The scientists in their lab coats glanced at me with a mixture of uncertainty and fear as the soldiers wearing military fatigues pointed in my direction and snarled accusations at the cringing scientists.
I struggled to read their lips, but I knew I was missing pieces of the conversation behind the soundproof barrier. All I could tell was that they were accusing me of jeopardizing something called Project Gandalf.
One of the fatigue-wearing men glared at me. His cold lifeless eyes sent a chill down my spine and the corner of his mouth curled upward in a smirk when he saw me staring back at him. The veins in his neck bulged as he bellowed at the others.
My heart beat quickened as I read the words forming on the soldier’s lips.
“In the name of national security, there’ll be no more of last night’s incidents. Director Fitzsimmons has authorized his extermination.”
It all started two months ago…
Two more weeks, and I’ll finally escape from the prison that was my senior year at Meade Senior High. My parents were delighted when I’d been accepted to Yale’s undergraduate linguistics program, but I knew things were going to change drastically next fall. To keep my scholarship, I knew my life would be a never-ending deluge of study, more study, and then just when I thought I was done, study some more.
Given the impending coursework that I’d masochistically signed myself up for, I pushed my luck and tried convincing my parents to let me vegetate for the entire summer. To my utter shock, they agreed.
In preparation for this summer’s relaxation, Dad finally succumbed to reason and let me get a satellite dish for the house.
I stretched on my tiptoes, adjusting the dish that I’d installed on the roof of my house, when I leaned too far over and both the ladder and I came crashing down onto my mother’s vegetable garden. Cursing my own idiocy, I kept the incident to myself and feigned ignorance when the next day, my mother stormed into the house complaining about deer having smashed her vegetables.
Dad worked for the government, and even though he never spoke about work, he’d always taught me to pay attention to what others did. Were they fidgeting? Did their eyes dart about?
When he was home, I couldn’t ever get away with anything.
It wasn’t a surprise when two days later, I staggered into the living room and before I could say a word about not feeling well, Dad’s eyebrows furrowed, he pressed the mute button on the TV remote, and pointed toward the empty spot on the sofa. I sat, he peppered me with pointed questions and it wasn’t long before, the secret was out. As my confession about smashing the garden spilled out of me, Dad grabbed the car keys from the table and yelled over his shoulder. “What the hell, Jason! You think I give a crap about Mom’s crushed zucchini?”
Mom walked in the room and glanced at her husband as he tied his shoes and then at me as I rubbed at the sides of my head. “Zahseen? What’s wrong?”
I’d long ago given up on trying to get Mom to call me Jason. She reminded me every time I brought up the subject that she named me Zahseen. It’s what’s on my birth certificate, and she wasn’t going to change it.
Dad grabbed me by the elbow and looked into the concerned gaze of his wife. “I’ll tell you what’s wrong Mirela. He’s been walking around with an injury and never told either of us. Get your shoes on, dear. We’re taking him to the doctor.”
My parents rushed me to the emergency room because of the dizziness, nausea, sore neck, and headaches I complained about. After x-rays, all sorts of blood tests, and even a lumbar puncture, the doctor said there was nothing to worry about. I was prescribed some anti-nausea medicine, muscle relaxers, and they sent us home.
I struggled through the last days of school with my headaches getting worse. As I walked to and from school, I’d noticed the telltale signs that I was being watched. I spied cars that I’d never seen before, engines idling and tinted windows rolled up.
A tingle of concern ran through me as I walked home on the last day of school and recognized the Department of Defense sticker on one of the idling cars. The same sticker my father had on his vehicle.
I’d meant to say something to Dad, but my parents greeted me on the driveway with smiles and announced that we were going to the Old San Francisco Steakhouse to celebrate. As Dad drove us to the restaurant, the three of us laughed and my parents joked about my last summer of freedom before college.
Just as the car pulled into the parking lot, the world turned white. There was no sound, the car, the parking lot, the restaurant, they all had disappeared.
I yelled into the white abyss.
Slowly my senses returned.
At first, I heard the crackling sound of fire and cringed when I inhaled the acrid smell of gasoline and burnt hair. I blinked, and the white surroundings faded into flame-streaked clouds of smoke. I felt myself being ripped from the wreckage of our car. Searing pain hit me and the world faded away.