For ten billion dollars, Mike Lanza bought 1200 wild acres of land, and for ten years he cultivated it. One hundred and twenty-nine miles of cobbled roads, trails, bridges, and tunnels. 11,795 trail markers. Hundreds of deer. Thousands of wild rabbits and prairie dog. 190 species of bird. 2 mountain lions. A grizzly cub. And a man-made canyon.
“…the Playborhood…” Mike chuckled to himself, beginning to hum.
Swaggering about the the cabin tower, dancing himself out to the ninth floor veranda, nearly tripping into the jacuzzi, he tried to remember his train of thought. So much had happened in the last three months—meetings with investors, golf with the President, plans for a theme park, talk of a movement. Reporters were breaking down the door to get the story.
But what was the story?
Mike Lanza was a fortune four-hundred CEO. A billionaire at age 30. Mike knew he was hated. He wasn’t one of those tote-bagging NPR-loving libtards. He was John Wayne. He was Teddy fucking Roosevelt. They all thought he was crazy—buying out a bankrupt state park to build a playground for his kids. The environmentalists were threatening to scalp the whole family. One guy had taken a few pot shots at the cabin while it was under construction. Mike went to the sentencing just to see the guy get hauled off in cuffs. They laughed at him then. But now, he was the John Muir of child conservation. Protecting his kids’ darwinian rights.
“How you like me now, cunts…”
The bottle of Anchor Steam in his hand was unopened and warm from holding it the better part of an hour. He always had his “steam” while waiting for signals from base camp—the only time the boys made contact during their vision retreats. For two weeks, the boys would be on their own—hiking, hunting, fishing, climbing the canyon, storming the castle, making war on their sister with airsoft guns. Once they’d sent the signal at the end of the retreat, he’d always crack open a beer and cheers. Likewise, Caroline, his daughter, would send her passenger pigeon with a hello note.
Mike flicked his wrist, blinking into his Patek Phillipe. 5:12PM.
“They ran out of firewood,” Mike laughed it off.
Any minute now, a few tufts of dark smoke would speckle the skyline. The signal. He wasn’t concerned in the slightest. Fretting bred weakness into children. A sense of entitlement to safety. Mike knew. In life, nothing is safe. Nothing is sacred. To grow strong, men need to be independent. No parents around to govern political correctness. He despised anti-bully culture. He had raised himself up from nothing. The eighth of nine children in a Pittsburgh slaghouse.
This, he thought staring into the setting sun, this is what you fought so hard for…
At 8:26PM the door to the mudroom creaked open. Before Mike knew he was awake, he was up and walking around, blinking his eyes. The beer—still in his hand, not yet sipped—had gone cold from the night air. He tried to remember his train of thought.
“Mike?” said Miranda.
She was behind him, one foot in the doorway.
“I fell asleep,” Mike said, without thinking.
“Fell asleep?” said Miranda, then without missing a beat, “The boys. Did they signal?”
“Yes,” Mike said, “Leo always signals.” But he wasn’t sure. He had been staring at the treeline, waiting for a loft of smoke.
Miranda did not wait. She went to the closet and took out the maglight.
“Where are you going?” said Mike.
“Base camp,” Miranda answered—
Like he was a stranger.
“Because it’s dark and it’s dangerous.”
“The kids know these woods better than we do,” Mike blocked the doorway, “It would be a violation of trust.”
This gave Miranda pause.
“A violation,” she said quietly.
And Mike saw his last opportunity to stop her:
“When we built the Playborhood. We promised that we wouldn’t meddle. As long as the rules were followed. We wouldn’t mettle. For three months—everyday—Leo has signaled. Caroline sends Peggy pigeon two, three times an hour for cakes and cookies—the wifi password. I screwed up. I missed the signal. For Christ’s sake! Let the kids, be the kids, Miranda! Let the kids, be the kids.”
But sometime during his speech, Miranda had made up her mind. She turned to give Mike one last look—that look.
“Keep giving that look,” Mike spat nastily.
“That Caroline look,” and it came out meaner than he meant, gargled and uncontrolled. He suddenly felt guilty for having dragged Caroline into this somehow.
And that’s when he remembered. The girls hadn’t come home.
“The girls,” he said, without thinking.
Mike was alone in the helicopter, riding alongside a low moon..
“So low…” Mike mumbled aloud, “…so low, moon. If you were any lower, I’d catch in your gravity and suck out to space…” Had he become a poet, Mike thought—and not a disgraced fortune 400 CEO—he would have written that.
“Ahhh…” he sighed aloud, deep in his moment, feeling the stakes, feeling the feelings. He loved his children, yes, but it was humiliation he dreaded most. Miranda would throw everything at him. She had wanted to for a long time, he knew. She was only waiting for a moment like this to act out. To disown him. Take everything.
For once in his life, he’d liked to have cried. But he was so unpracticed in the art, the best he could manage was to hasten together an ugly, slobbering moan in its place. He sustained it as long as he could, squeezing his ducts for tears, slashing at his eyes and slapping his face.
“Come in, red chopper,” came a voice over the intercom.
“This is Red Chopper!” Mike answered, nearly losing the controls.
“Red Chopper. This is Captain Doty from search and rescue. We need you to back off your position. Over.”
“I’m just providing cover, Captain. Over.”
“You’re too deep in the canyon and it’s kicking up dust. Our people have got to see out here. Do you copy?”
Without reply, Mike swerved the chopper right, cutting low enough to trim entire branches from their pines. Throwing off his headset, he pulled the chopper up forcefully.
“Dick,” he muttered under his breath and cracked his “steam”—now ice cold from its hour’s flight—against the cockpit door Cck! foaming everywhere. While Mike tried to wipe down the controls with his shirt, turbulence kicked in, shaking the cockpit. That’s when the steam met the odometer and Mike felt the glass cut through his hand like an avocado—”Fuck!”
Blood and foam—everywhere.
”FUCKED AGAIN! I’M FUCKED AGAIN!” Mike swore.
He hadn’t wanted to take this stupid thing anyway.
“I hate this fucking chopper!”
Miranda had made him get it.
He had to drive sixty miles to the airfield.
“That fucking bitch!”
While the whole town went through his park with maglights—
“Get a good look!” Mike sneered at the throngs of searchers below—
“Get a goooood look, pigfuckers!”
“Red Chopper, do you read me?” Captain Doty called, but Mike had, unwittingly, smashed the headset.
“Red Chopper, do you read?”
Mike was distracted by the moon again. It seemed to have become twice as big and three times as bright since he last looked at it. The pale yellow of before now a shimmering gold. There was no doubt that is was growing. Amplifying its power.
Mike could see the canyon floor from eight-hundred feet in the air.
“Pull it out now! Pull out that goddamn chopper!”
And that’s when he saw.
Deep in the canyon.
Miranda. Holding Caroline. Close to the canyon’s ledge—but safe.
The sight of Caroline changed Mike’s mood instantly.
He threw on the headset: “I’ve got eyes on Caroline!” he cried with joy, “I’ve got eyes on my daughter!”
but no one could hear—
“Do you copy me, Doty?”
“Captain Doty, do you copy?”
It was all white noise.
I’m too far away, Mike thought. But he couldn’t have been more wrong. If anything, he was getting too close. Dropping the nose, Mike took the chopper back into the canyon. Coming upon them, he could make out faces now. He could see Caroline waving toward him, frantic and scared—
“Hey sweetpea! Everything’s gonna be all right!” Mike waved back, “Daddy loves you!” and he was crying now, eyes brimming over with tears, each one rolling down his face, bringing him back to life—
“Daddy loves you so so much…”
Even Miranda was waving. So small from down there. Beautiful. Like the night they first met. So full of life. So strong. Waving her arms—both arms now—reaching out, mouthing something—
“I love you, too,” said Mike.
Mike didn’t have time to think anything else. An act of God tore his chopper from the sky and swung him—like a bug trapped in a toy car—to the ground.
Written by Pancho Morris with artwork by Matt Soson. Podcast voiced by Sandy Soson.
Inspired by: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/23/magazine/the-anti-helicopter-parents-plea-let-kids-play.html