All Stories, General Fiction

Low Pressure Terracotta by Robert P. Kaye

The wind stopped blowing on Friday afternoon. Unexpected, since it had never happened before, the problem usually too much wind versus too little. The army of giant turbines stopped rotating in unison. An eerie view from Wayne’s perch in the control tower.

Irritating, because Wayne had been planning to go to town to get a steak and baked potato. Drink a beer or two. Maybe do a little line dancing. And, if everything panned out, take a hot shower with April.

Town was a two-hour drive. He couldn’t leave because giant wind turbines don’t transition well on their own from stock still to moving. Or vice versa. It had to do with furling angles, re-balancing and the complex throttling of transmissions. Computers weren’t good at sophisticated pitch trim. Yet. He’d trained for this, but never actually applied the knowledge and so it atrophied to a vague fear of dire consequences. It wasn’t easy being responsible for half a billion dollars’ worth of equipment when the equipment itself did most of the work.

The phone rang. “Hey buddy.” He didn’t have to check the number. Mitchell did the identical job almost fifty miles away. “I’m dead in the water here. You?”

“Not a puff,” Wayne said.

“Then I say fuck it, bud. I’m headed to town for a steak and baked potato and then get myself laid.”

Wayne held his breath. Mitchell was a native of the town in question, married to April.  Wayne and April had been screwing on the side for about a year. They liked to take hot showers together. He wanted to tell Mitchell, but they’d done Turkey Day and Christmas together, best friends all around. “Tell me how that all works out,” Wayne said. “I gotta stay.”

“I will, goody two shoes.” They remained on the line listening to nothing much at all in the absence of the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of the giant blades. The disturbing lull begged filling with confession, as low pressure invites weather.

“We should get off the line,” Wayne said. “They’ll be calling to ask where their juice is.” It always happened that way with too many blades offline. Later there’d be auditors asking pointed questions about quotas, looking at the angle of attack and windshear vectors. Emails with PowerPoint slides denominated in gigawatts. Complex analysis packages and data dumps. Stuff he couldn’t fathom.

“I say fuck ‘em,” Mitchell said. “Not like we melted the ice caps or burned down the rainforest. If the wind stops too, it’s my mother’s fault for using so much god damned hairspray. I’m going to town. There’s new hooker talent in from Boise.”

“You go ahead,” Wayne feared secondary infections from those hookers. Or was it tertiary? He didn’t have the heart to tell April. It wasn’t any of his business.

“Hang on a sec,” Mitchell said. “You hear that?”

Wayne imagined wings by the thousands, millions, trillions or whatever was after that. Maybe it was static. “What is that?”

“Oh fuck me Wayne— “

All of a sudden Wayne couldn’t stand it anymore. “Look buddy, April and me are in love, or at least I am. We’ve been screwing in the guest room for about a year now. Never in your bed, though. I wouldn’t do that to you.” He wasn’t going to tell Wayne about the showers. He felt bad about the increased electric bills too.

The silence seemed to go on forever until he noticed that the line had died. The bars sucked out of the dedicated cell towers, which never happened. He wondered if Mitchell had meant to say once again that he was headed to town for steak, baked potato, beer and a couple of fucks. He didn’t want to hear that.

Wayne squinted out the window in Mitchell’s direction past the silent nacelles of the turbines, waiting for wind. He thought of a picture he saw once in an art history book in college about eight thousand terracotta soldiers buried with some Chinese emperor to protect him in the afterlife. He wondered what it would be like to be one of those soldiers with the earth piled in over his head. And whether, after a couple thousand years, those soldiers remembered who it was they were expected to fight. He loved Art History, but it wouldn’t pay off his student loans.

From behind the furthest sentinel, a darkness gathered speed. A tidal wave of black cloud hugging the earth, obliterating the horizon. Blue lightning flashed within the clouds. He thought maybe he should run for the truck to get to town and warn April. But he realized it was way past too late.


Robert P. Kaye

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