I was always bumping-up against the rules, and I didn’t feel bad about hurting others, and that’s why, I wound-up in the California Conservation Core. I remember Principal Bennet’s last words to me, like they were yesterday, “This will be your trial-run to prison.”

What did he know? I guess, I got on his bad side. It was a combination of smoking dope in the bathrooms at lunch, and selling drugs to underage girls. A girl who gets high, will do anything for her next bump, but I had to leave all of that behind.

My world became a hill, five miles high. We had to walk it, to get to work. It was never easy. Worst of all, there wasn’t anything to do in the evenings, but climb higher, in the dark, and smoke. We were warned against this, because there were two ways to the top. A narrow deer path took us up a ridge, with a drop on both sides. There were rattlesnakes. If you got to the top, and got high, you had to sleep up there. Then it was KP for a month, when you got caught. The other way, was the road. It was patrolled occasionally. I was trying to kill some thoughts in my head that wouldn’t go away, and halfway up the hill, a van pulled-over. A guy with white gloves, covered in blood, opened the door. He was a satanist—I think. And there were other strange sightings. I didn’t believe them, at first.

There was a hermit on the hill who was rumored to have a bad temper, and there was Charlie Manson, with his gang of women, including Squeaky (who tried to kill a president, I can’t remember which one), and there was alien activity—balls of lightning that jumped, and merged in the valley.

One night, I was with my boys, on a spike. A spike is a 10-day job. We cleared the dead fuel, up to about 8 feet, to prevent fires. A barn, 400 yards away, caught fire, then it went out. Then it caught fire again. When we got there, it was completely intact, with no fire damage. My thought was, aliens were trying to signal someone.

Sometimes, the fires would rage, just like me, when I was in school. The heat in the air got so hot, it could burn your lungs like tissue-paper. I had to use my fire blanket more than once because I couldn’t outrun the flames. A wall of fire would pass-over me, in an instant, kinda like the angel of death. After the flash fire, the trick was not to die of suffocation. I had a mask to help me breathe. Walking through the flames, with the forest burned-out, looked like a different planet. It was red. I swear, I saw a 10-foot shadowy figure walking back into the fire. It could’ve been Satan himself.

The reason I’m telling you this, is because you are a nice guy, Andy, and I want to give you all I have in the world.

“What’s that?”

In the Core, I was a leader—just like my old man. He served in every branch of the military, and retired a Cornel. In the Conservation Core, they designate the leader with a red hat, just like you see in this picture, here. I was wearing the red helmet, when I saw the shadow in the fire. I was young then, and I had the balls, so I followed it, and when I got into the flames, it turned around, and put its hand on my helmet. I don’t know why. I don’t know what it does. I just know it’s your birthday, today, and I’m giving you this red helmet as a gift. I’ve never been able to read minds, or harness alien power, but it’s yours. Perhaps, you can.

Post Script:

The night custodian gave me his red helmet for my birthday, and I wear it while I write. I’m glad I met him for coffee. I think it’s working…

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