By: Martin Horejsi
“What the heck did you roll in now?” I yelled at my dog Benny as he trotted back to me all smug and stinky.
I knew this one was for the record books by the gooey red and grey slime that covered his once Labrador tan shoulders. The funny thing was that the stench radiating from Benny was the same one I thought were my old trail running shoes as I laced up an hour ago to head out for my daily jaunt around Mt. Sentinel. In fact, that same odor was one I blamed on a garbage can I ran by, a stagnant section of Pattee Creek, and a questionable pile of something I saw in the bushes off Higgins. Come to think of it, I remember hints of that rotting smell ever since I got up this morning, at a rather late hour I might add.
Yesterday’s Run Wild Missoula race was quite the event. A midnight 5k around Missoula’s new Nano biotechnology business complex, known as the Secure Hazardous Threat Facility, was a little unnerving, but hey we run for fun, right?
I just couldn’t get over the strange offerings at the one and only aid station which oddly was just half a mile after the start. At the time, I had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right. Glad I ignored the energy gel served up in a big stainless steel bowl with plastic spoons. Gross. And what was with those weird looking gummy bears…if that’s what they were.
On the other hand, it sure was nice that all the employees of the Secure Hazardous Threat Facility (or SHTF for short) were out in numbers supporting us runners. The hazmat suits they were all wearing were both cool and creepy. And the course? Well, trotting around an overly illuminated cement sidewalk walled in by a ten foot high metal fences topped with spiraled razor wire was, to say the least, leaning towards the postapocalyptic. Either way, it made for an interesting night run, and I loved the teeshirt design.
Normally I look forward to being alone on Mt. Sentinel, but today feels more alone than usual. Erie alone if you know what I mean. Not only are there no other runners, walkers or mountain bikers, there are no deer or even birds. Now that I think about it, not a single airplane has howled by in its
downward slice through the sky towards Johnson Bell. And now Benny the stinky dog is getting all clingy and giving me signs he wants to go home. “Just another mile,” I tell him, but he knows that’s a lie. It always a lie.
Now he’s whining. Maybe his paw is hurt? “Alright boy, let’s head back.”
Hurtsmert. The moment I turn around Benny rockets away like he’s after a rabbit. Of which there are none of those around here either.
Missoula proper comes into view as we round the corner onto the downhill section of fire road. Within the normally beautiful panorama there are no less than a dozen columns of smoke, and a soft cacophony of sirens echoing across the valley. Two huge black helicopters are in orbit around the SHTF buildings over on the north side. Snugged up against the railroad tracks, the complex we ran around just 12 hours ago seems to have morphed into an over the top Hollywood movie set.
In the distance, another runner is approaching, but he looks to be stumbling around more than jogging. That’s how I often feel when on my way back, not heading out. Instead of Benny’s friendly usual invasion of personal space, he froze, snapped his tail between his legs, and barreled downhill perfectly perpendicular to the path of the only other person on the mountain. Odd behavior for my dog, but no red flags yet. Maybe some orange ones, though. Orange ones with red linings. He did do the same thing once before when on a snowshoe run we discovered bigfoot. I found out later it was actually a grizzly bear so it’s certainly understandable that a dog would prefer to avoid such a silvertip confrontation. But where’s your loyalty now Mr. Man’s Best Friend?
As my downhill stride closed the gap between the only two people on the hill, it became crystal clear that there was really only one completely human out here. Me. The other object ambling uphill was no tired runner, but something straight out off the big screen. Still wearing its SHTF Fun Run teeshirt from last night, the thing’s attention locked on to me, and shifted its jerky ambling into high gear. Motoring ahead, arms outstretched like Frankenstein, its milky white eyes opened wide as did it’s mouth. With Benny 20 yards to the west and content to sit back and watch the action, I made the executive decision to follow my dog’s lead.
Suddenly there was a huge explosion in the center of the circle the helicopters had been carving into the sky. Flames flew in all directions while a pillar of black smoke shot skyward folding into itself over and over.
I suddenly got an overdose of that feeling you get when you don’t have a clue what’s going on, but somehow it all makes perfect sense? Luckily I’d watched the first two seasons of The Walking Dead on Netflix so I knew exactly what to do. Run!
For some reason an old Missoulian article popped into my head as I bounded down the hillside filling my socks with cheatgrass seeds. It was the story about stimulating our local economy by attracting ultrahightech businesses; the kinds of operations that cannot be talked about publicly or in detail. Until this second, I did not understand the meaning behind the cryptic words of the SHTF CEO announcing that they would be setting up shop in Missoula. He was an odd little guy from the Republic of Molvanîa if I remember correctly. During a welcoming party at Caras Park he mumbled in broken English some strange praise for our little town. It was not our local talent, our University, or even our scenic beauty that brought his company to the Garden City. It was, to quote the CEO, “The wonderful bottlenecks at each apex of this triangular village.”
Blinded by good economic fortune, I guess we all just ignored it as a difference in cultural interests, or perhaps a twisted language translation. Now I get it. SHTF Industries used Missoula as an experiment.
We were Guinea pigs in their grand scheme of world domination. I knew Molvanîa had an identity crisis because no American could find it on a map. How foolish we were. SHTF Industries just poisoned the genetics of all Missoulians with some brain cannibalizing nanobot. Mayor Engen was right. He tried so hard to block the tax breaks Missoula offered SHTF Industries, and it even cost him the election. People thought he was nuts, but now….
Snap out of it! That’s in the past. What I need now is a plan. At the moment all I can do is run. Feigning another downhill turn, I cut uphill at the last second to scoot by another subhuman that just appeared. Was that once Anders? No time to think. Only time to survive. And say a quick prayer for Missoula. Run Wild Missoula! It’s your only chance!