Tim Miller would like to be considered an emerging writer, but alas, he is afraid of swamps. His writing has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Aethlon: Journal of Sports Literature, and You & Me Medical Magazine. He lives in San Marcos, CA with his wife and three daughters. To the dismay of plumbers everywhere, he shares his leaky thoughts at https://thefaucetblog.com/. He is on twitter at TimMiller@faucetwriter.
The Last Match
The beginning would have to be when I first made the discovery, over in the woods beyond Rae’s Creek. The area is a natural sink. It was a warm spring December night, right before the millennium. A water pipe had burst and for some reason they had to go down extra deep to fix the problem. That’s when I found them. I looked down a deep hole at a large flat stone and realized it had no business being in a pine forest. I didn’t know then what kind of rock it was, but I know now. Igneous. Obsidian. Beautiful words. I thought about that stone all the next day. So when I finished work I went back down across Hogan’s bridge and did a little digging of my own. Underneath the stone, down a little ways, was a stack of capsules. They’re each about as large and wide as a single-rider hover. I had to come back the next night with some tools to open one. Sealed inside the airtight container, in perfect condition, was a pile of unusual objects. I didn’t know what they were at first. They were like nothing I’d ever seen before. Almost twenty years ago, now. Hard to believe. They’re called books. They have jackets and pages. Some have information. Some have stories. They’re magical. Nothing like today’s nanoscanning iChips for entertainment or kChips for knowledge. So I taught myself to read, when I wasn’t working. I began to sneak over to the Eisenhower cabin at night. No one suspected a thing. They were used to me going off on my own. Luckily for me, the first capsule was full of language books. Grammar. Usage. Dictionaries. Style. Not only that, but they were in a form of ancient English that wasn’t too difficult for me to grasp. English is, after all, one of the two living languages. For the last eighteen years, I’ve been devouring books. Book by book, capsule by capsule. I can hardly wait until dark so I can sneak away and read. (I’ve gleaned that the capsules were buried relatively recently, around 200 years ago, in 3800.) The second capsule had dead languages and I got my first taste of literature. I learned Russian, the main root of the other living language, Chussian. Next was science. Fascinating stuff. The first book was “The Creep of Seasons.” Then it was on to economics, poetry, and fiction. One capsule had some peculiar ones: self-help, idiot’s guides, protein diets, marriage and sexuality…very strange indeed. I’m on the last capsule now and it’s my favorite: History. The best for last. It makes me sad that there aren’t any more capsules. The final volume is called: The Death of Culture by a historian named Fritz Sniadecki. My rYst vibrated. I glanced down at the message. It was my boss Rags. “Mute, were u at?” They call me Mute but the truth is I can talk. I just choose not to. I have difficulties speaking, impediments that I’ve never overcome, barriers; so rather than endure their derision I decided long ago to be silent and let everyone think I’m dumb. But I’m smarter than them—as my UAIT (United American Intelligence Test) revealed at age 5. I sat down in my favorite chair and cracked Sniadecki open to the introduction.
“The Death of Culture” might seem like a grandiose title. Yet I don’t think it is magnificent enough considering that I am writing this from the last library on Earth, in a location I dare not reveal. By God’s grace, this book will drift out into our ecumenopolis, the worldwide city that is the Earth, and find fertile ground in the hearts of the few remaining literate citizens. With any luck, it will flower and release more seeds—as in the time when pollination was a natural process—to travel from megalopolis to megalopolis, to the cities floating on our oceans, under our ground, and orbiting our planet in space, on the Moon, and on Mars. With fragile hope, a basic ingredient of all life, I begin this work to describe in detail how our planet has become a civilization barren of true culture.
My rYst vibrated again. I dismissed the message with a breath and flicked it to silent mode. The mass death of our collective human culture can be traced to the individual dying off of languages, countries, and books on a large scale that began in earnest around 2400 A.D. At this time there were still roughly 180 nations and 6,000 languages.
I closed my eyes to imagine it. I pictured myself alive during this time period. I had come across the occupation “linguist” and almost didn’t believe that it actually existed. A person that just studies language. Can you imagine? How heavenly!
During this period, less than a thousand people spoke 2,000 of the world’s 6,000 languages. So roughly a third of all dialects were already perilously close to the end. Over the next 1,400 years, with inexorable progress that I outline in this book, the world has been reduced to two countries and two languages. Untied America and Chussia, speaking two languages: English and Chussian, respectively.
I closed my eyes to think this over. I could hear the hum of the nearby fog machines.
From the dawn of man the whole story of civilization is one of conquest, so the last millennia is hardly a surprise. The big fish eats the little one. By 1945 there had already been two World Wars and countless other struggles and conflicts, myriad empires and civilizations rising and falling. A pattern known as globalization emerged in the early 2000’s and began to accelerate significantly in the five hundred year period from 2400 to 2900. Countries and languages disappeared on a scale never before seen.
“New message has arrived for, Yogi,” Sori said. I got up and turned off the V. By the late 2900’s, most of what was Eurafrica was in the hands of the Russians. China had seized the smaller Asian countries, and the United States had swallowed up Mexico and some of Central America. In the early 3000’s, 3022 to be exact, the U.S. gained most of South America and became the United Americas in the highly controversial Trumpian merger deal. For several hundred years there were revolutions and civil unrest, but by about 3300 most of South America recognized the economic importance of joining the North, in order to compete with Russia and China.
My notch buzzed. Sori,denotch.
In the late 3300’s United Canada (which included former countries Iceland and Greenland), already ripped apart by volcanic activity, acknowledged their own independence to be a sham and formally joined the United Americas. Russia finally managed to wrangle in the Middle East and the stage was set for the massive Russian-Chinese conflict that lasted over 500 years. Australia, for anyone aware of the former continent, was by this time completely under water.
“Mute, you in there?” Rags called. He was right outside the window. I didn’t move. They can’t fire me. The president won’t let them. “You better show your silent ass,” he yelled out. “The match is set. Tomorrow. The president’s on his way now. Wants to hit balls this afternoon. Be at the range by 1:00. Or else you’ll be just as silent on the bottom of Rae’s creek.” From the window I watched him walk away. I’ve always thought the back of his head, with its long scraggly ponytail, looks exactly like one of the five remaining mammals. A rat.
In 3100, as the ice melted for good, a society colonized and flourished briefly in Antarctica. Known as Polers, these people managed to thrive peacefully for nearly two hundred years. In 3298 China, desperate for more resources and land, invaded. The Polers, without a military, instead convinced the invading Chinese to defect and join their utopian and classless society. The Chinese would send another wave of troops every ten years, but every time the invading army would just assimilate into the society. Finally in 3349, China had had enough. They nuked the entire continent and after the radioactivity subsided they sent in a robotic mining expedition. Very little is known about this society.
I heard the front door of the cabin open. “Mute, you in here?” It was Stu, one of the few that I could halfway tolerate. I stashed the book in my hideaway and walked down the stairs. “You heard, right?” I nodded. “You feelin’ all right?” I knew why he was asking. One time I had the stomach flu and the president used him. I nodded. “Well, you better get to the range. Or Rags might finally drown you in Rae’s Creek.” He left and I went back upstairs.
In the year 3500, the Russians and Chinese recognized that they were engaged in the ultimate stalemate, like a game of Toe-Tic-Tac, on the largest worldly scale imaginable. Both sides realized that victory was futile and the only result from playing would be an endless draw. So they created Chussia, which has been a nightmare of a society, in this historian’s opinion, probably the inverse of Antarctica. And don’t think for a second that it has been a 50/50 deal, because the changing climate gave Russia leverage in the monumental merger. (E.g. the language is essentially Russian.)
I went over and put on my uniform and made a cricket butter and jelly sandwich and grabbed some water from the reducer. I sat down with my sandwich and book.
Over the past 2,000 years not only has globalization led to the consolidation of countries, but three other implacable forces have been at work on the planet: overpopulation, climate change, and technology. As I continue, I will show how the four proceeded together like corners closing in on humanity.
I heard the sound of Marine One. I noticed on my rYst that both my heart rate and blood pressure were elevated.
Climate change has been the most ruthless, destructive, and catastrophic of the four. A series of mega-droughts starting in the 2800’s scorched the United American west, a large swath of what was once known as the Amazon jungle, and much of the continent formerly called Africa. These areas remain uninhabitable wastelands with temperatures soaring over 80 degrees Celsius (175 degrees Fahrenheit). If you are like me and enjoy using your imagination, picture a child scribbling with a pixlon, turning green to brown.
I looked at my rYst again. It was getting near. I scarfed down my sandwich and headed to the bathroom.
The northern hemisphere became the most desirable land on the planet during the 3,000s, giving both America (with eastern Canada ripe for agriculture and cricket production— western Canada was a quagmire of dust and ash from massive volcanic super-eruptions including the Yellowstone Caldera) and Russia, with the vast, lush tropics of Siberia, prime real estate to build cities and develop food sources for the exploding population. Despite the wars, atrocities, nuclear weapons, floods, fires, famine, shrinking territories, asteroids, catastrophic storms, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and mega-droughts, the Earth’s population reached twenty billion in 3600. Insects have basically saved humans, since crickets have become the dominant source of protein, that and the booming industry of Nano-Ag.
The whine of hover vehicles zipped by. I closed my eyes. Sori, notch on. Hapi memori 3958. 30 seconds. My brother and I were having a water loon fight. I came around the corner. Bo’s behind the sling! Run! Run! The loon splashed on my back. You got me Bo! You got me! He tackled me and we rolled around laughing. I opened my eyes as the fog machines started another cycle.
This work will cover the rise and expansion of the roughly three-dozen megalopolises that have spread like weeds across the planet, forming our current planet-wide ecumenopolis. Additional chapters will examine the migration of humans into the oceans, underground, and in space. Like the shadow of death, the one constant in all of this so-called progress is the gradual fading away of--
No sense cutting it close. I hit the compressor, shut the book, returned it to my hideaway, and went out. I walked over to the locker room. Franz and Wallace were nanoscanning on their rYsts. I could tell by Wallace’s snorting laughter that they were scanning The Prenuptial Agreement of Heaven and Hell for the umpteenth time. I got the chief’s bag and went to the range. I waited to the sound of whirring fog machines. “Good afternoon Yogi,” he said when he arrived. “Big match tomorrow. Big big match. We need to be at the top of our game.” He blasted away for a couple of hours. Next he putted and chipped for another hour each. Finally, he played the par 3 course as the sun set. When we came back to the clubhouse he turned to me in the twilight. “Now Yogi, I know you’ve got some strange habits. I’ve never been one to pry into your own life and what you do with your time.” I looked away to the maintenance crew watering the 18th green. “I know all about it. Sneaking off into the woods. Staying up late at the Eisenhower Cabin. Denotching. Doing God only knows what.” My eyes traveled from the 18th green to my favorite spot: the tips of my shoes. “Listen, Yogi. I don’t care. Not at all. You’re the best caddy in this place. I know that and you know that. No one knows these greens like you do. Tomorrow. Tomorrow is a very, very big match. A lot is riding on the outcome. A heckuvalot. We must win. Ya’ hear me?” He leaned to within an inch of my face. “We. Must. Win.” I met him right in the eyes and shook my head once, straight up and down. “So tonight, whatever it is you do, forget about it. Get all the sleep you can.” I mumbled the one sound that I sometimes make and he went off into the clubhouse. I went back to the locker room and showerized. In the kitchen I bumped into Stu. He made a face like, you better not screw this up. All the others were in the cafeteria eating and nanoscanning. I grabbed a chicken shake and went out. I figured I could read a little while the President and his men ate, so I ducked over to the Eisenhower Cabin. Sori, denotch. If they came in I could just show them that I was having my meal. I sat down to my shake and my book. — human culture. I define culture broadly as the customs, languages, traditions, arts, achievements, and social institutions of a particular nation, people, or other social group. One social institution I will focus on in particular is the death of humanity’s libraries. In the year 2000 there were roughly 400,000 libraries all across the globe. This work will show in great detail how libraries have followed the sad footsteps of wildlife to almost total extinction.
I gulped down my shake. My mind was restless. Instead of Soriating, I went back to the book and started skipping around. It’s a game I like to play with the author. Like tag. I’m quite a playful reader. You’re it Fritz!
Since roughly 3643 AD, when the last extremist rebel Chinese militants capitulated on the island Pafghanistan, (formerly known as Japan in the old world), the earth has become a binary planet: two super countries on two hemispheres speaking two languages and in a constant state of fear and distrust that the other power would wage nuclear war. There have been flare-ups and close calls and incidents. The last 400 years, despite the lack of major conflicts, has provided for very interesting reading, or I should say nanoscanning (in the form of kChips) in terms of espionage alone. Yet, so far, the two super countries have managed to coexist.
I took a slurp and my mind wandered to the match tomorrow. I felt my heart rate and blood pressure rising. My rYst sensed it too and pricked in a small dose. I flipped to a new page. The development of the rYst, despite its potential for health and human well-being, has actually had the inverse effect. The evolution of this device can be traced to the smart phone of the early 2000’s, when global media socialization—
I yawned and glanced at my Oxygen levels.
In 3450, the development of the notch drastically altered human cognition allowing the transmission of human thoughts
I read the beginning of that sentence five or six times and put down the book. Here we are, in the year 4018. And what do you think the two world leaders have planned for June 27th (forecasted to be a fine autumn day)? Discussing important policies? Pick a crisis! Housing. Homeless. Food shortage. Energy. Widespread crime and violence. Mass Incarceration. Nuclear weapons. Extremist terrorism. Deplorable public education. Transportation. But nope. None of those issues are being addressed. Because they are playing golf. Not hologram golf or virtual reality. Actual golf on an actual golf course. A helijet flew overhead and I jumped. I better get back I thought, but then, before closing the book, I glanced in the index out of curiosity and to my surprise, found North Augusta National p.383. I could hardly get to the page fast enough.
North Augusta National is the last golf course on Earth. It’s in the Dried Lakes territories, north of Mid-City. Two thousand years ago, there were small cities that dotted this region— Chicago was the largest at about 3 million. A small burg today was once one of the largest metropolises in the United States. There were other large cities in the area: Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis. With the rising population they coalesced into Middle City and finally—after the Great Middle City Fire of 2871— Mid City in 2910. During the late 2900’s, with golf courses all but extinct, Bobby Gates XII Jr., a trillionaire and avid golfer, bought some land on the outskirts of Mid-city in territory formerly known as northern Wisconsin. He hired an architect to design an exact replica of what was during the 1900’s and 2000’s the most prestigious golf course in the world. Known as Augusta National, this immaculate course was located in the Southern United States in the state of Georgia (territory now underwater).
I heard something. It sounded far away, but nevertheless I went to window to look. It was a high, whizzing, popping sound, almost like the skycrackers I heard as a kid. A new fog cycle started. Maybe they were having issues with the fog machines again. I gulped down the rest of my shake and read on.
They ordered the works: all the same trees and soil types and grasses and plants. They consulted a descendant of Bobby Jones, a big time golfer from the 1900’s (and co-founder of the original course) to ensure the utmost accuracy. They even planted and grew exact replicas of The Big Oak Tree and The Eisenhower Tree. Everything was the same: the clubhouse and adjoining buildings, The Founder’s Circle, Rae’s creek, Ike’s Pond, all the famous bridges (including the Hogan, Nelson, and Sarazen), Magnolia Lane, even the Crow’s Nest. An exact replica, down to the individual stones and blades of grass. It took about 50 years to build North Augusta National and another 50 to conceal from both physical contact and satellite imagery. The course is concealed on all sides by 30 miles of dense forest that also serves as training ground for UA military. The course itself is shrouded with permanent fog machines. Chussian forces originally suspected that secret, hostile activity was taking place on the grounds blocked from view. They sent spies and drones and every detection device imaginable, to no avail. The territory remained a source of mistrust between the two powers, causing considerable angst and anxiety in the Eastern hemisphere that some kind of super-bomb was being developed. Which is still entirely possible. As early as 3200 Russian leaders decried the Wisconsin Project and pointed to it as a reason to fear the neighbors to the West, as well as to develop their own weapons and technology. Yet for 500 years they were unable to penetrate the mystery and the site remained like an obstinate thorn between the two powers. All because the super rich and powerful, a handful of Americans, could play golf outdoors instead of virtually with goggles!
Outside, another round of distant whizzing, popping sounds began. Then close, right over me, came the whine of hover vehicles, moving fast. I grabbed my pack and stashed my book inside my pajamas. I hustled back to my cabin and up to my room. I sprayed my teeth and dove under the covers. I used light from my rYst to read the last part.
Then in 3790 United America President Desmond Trump decided to play the ace up his sleeve in negotiations and revealed the existence of the golf course. The secret revelation to Chussian leader Kim Yong-sung led to a windfall for the UA: three space cities (obviously populated by the extremely wealthy— so a nice chunk of tax revenue), a swath of satellite area over the Moon Territory, and perhaps the crown jewel of the deal: the right to reopen Arctic Disney World. You would think Kim Yong-sung would have been humiliated! Shamed into suicide for making such a ludicrous deal! Yet he loved golf and the opportunity to play a real course, let alone the most prestigious course of antiquity, the famed site of the Legendary Master’s golf tournament (last played in 2245 with Cheetah Woods winning her seventh Pink Jacket), long thought to exist only virtually— now this was an opportunity no golfer could refuse. His argument to his cabinet members was that visiting the Wisconsin Project would diffuse animosity between the two powers. But he couldn’t reveal to them that there was an actual living breathing golf course. Part of the deal was that he had to keep it a secret. Which of course he couldn’t! Somehow they found out. So while the result of the golf match has never been disclosed, the result in world history was obvious. The end of Chussian leader Kim Yong-sung’s reign.
I heard footsteps out in the hall and snapped the book close. Goodnight Sori. * An agent woke me up before dawn. I had a chicken sausage, egg and cheese sandwich, coffee, and fresh cream waiting for me. Then they brought me a red, watery fruit with black seeds and a green rind. I had never tasted such things. Stu came in with his protein bar and vita-shake, looking like a dog without a bone. I gave him a slice and went to meet Zuck on the putting green before dawn. An agent came over. “Mr. Putin has arrived on a speed copter to a small airport outside of Mid City. His private hover should reach the surrounding woods by 0600.” The President glanced at his rYst. “Make him wait at the entrance. At least fifteen minutes.” “Yes sir. The artificial trees will open to grant him access at 0615. We expect him to reach Magnolia Lane by 0620.” Which is exactly when the hover pulled in. 6:20 on the nose. There was a tense handshake and formal meeting, very brief, before the two of them proceeded to warm up for the round. Putin went in to change and then went off to the driving range. They both hit a large bucket (probably wearing themselves out in the process) and then spent about thirty minutes putting. Morons! Worried about the speed of the greens while millions are starving. It had been decided: Match Play. And that’s what matters to them. Not space exploration or agriculture or technology or bringing life back to the oceans— no. A stupid golf match. And that’s where I come in. That’s my gig. I’m President Zuckerman’s caddy. Don’t ask how I became the presidential caddy. I’m smarter than your average bear (which went extinct in 2472). I’ve been the top caddy at North Augusta for over forty years. I communicate with a pad of paper and a sharpie but don’t think for a moment that it hinders my performance. Members pay top dollar for my services. Used to. Now I only caddy for the president. And get this: they play with real clubs. North Augusta National has a whole warehouse full of them. Actual bags with sets of 14 clubs. Drivers, woods, rescue clubs, irons, wedges, and flat-faced clubs that used to be known as putters, before the development of the notch and mind-sensing technology and virtual golf. (Mind-putting with just the wave of a hand began in the late 2500’s.) So not only did they have metal clubs, but actual wooden tees, real golf balls made of plastic resin and rubber, real sand in the sand traps, real grass fairways and greens, and actual sprinklers that spray real water. None of these ultra light graphene handles made with 3-D printers and only used virtually. Also, there are no GPS tracking devices on the balls (which is why a good caddy is so important), no lasers on the club heads, no rYst or notch PAD’s (player assistance app’s that buzz when a club veers off the right trajectory for example), no player trax (contact lenses players use to get distances and other shot data), or club head boosters (a button added to grips that fired a reaction boosting club head speeds and leading to 500 yard drives). This was no 12-hole artificial turf course, some of which appeared in the early 3,000’s. This was real golf. Indeed, the look of sheer amazement and wonder coated Putin’s face since he left his hover. Like a child who dreams of a chocolate world or something fantastical, and then it comes true, that was Putin’s face. Until the round started. Then he was all business—the business of winning. He brought his own caddy, a giant of a man over seven feet tall and more Chinese than Russian. He was introduced to me as Mingah. Then President Zuckerman, or Zuck as he is known to his inner circle, introduced me but Mingah had already turned away, the brute. Everyone removed their rYsts and denotched. We headed to the tee. Mingah was there, I presume, because he spoke both Chussian and English. I found this out because as we stood on the threshold of the tee box for No. 1 Tea Olive, Putin turned to him and spoke Chussian in a low voice. I caught a whiff of what he said. “Confirm the deal.” Then Mingah said to Zuck, “To be clear and not have misunderstood, the wager for match is The Alaskan Straight.” Zuck echoed, “Alaskan Straight. That’s right.” He stood examining his pristine and gleaming white golf glove. Without looking up said, “Unless you want to, say, up the ante a little?” They muttered in Chussian. I couldn’t make out a word. “What exactly in mind you have?” Mingah asked blinking. “I don’t know,” Zuck said and looked up into the fog. “Say…maybe a Helijet Carrier?” Putin stared back. “No I get it. You don’t want to risk too much,” Zuck said, taking his driver and stepping onto the tee. Putin said something terse and low into Mingah’s ear. “He say, ‘See your Carrier and raise another.’” “All right, now we’re getting somewhere,” Zuck said. An agent brought over a pad for the two leaders to fingerprint the new agreement when an argument ensued. Apparently Mingah had not said, “another,” but rather had said, “Anadyr.” As in the Arctic dam. I watched Mingah. He seemed to understand everything just fine. Once it was all sorted out, they each pressed their print and flipped a tee for the first tee shot. Putin won. He stepped up and promptly pulled his tee shot out of bounds. Zuck beamed a wide smile, but his joy was short-lived. His own drive ended up in the right bunker. When Zuck laid up and then two putted for a bogey, he thought he had won the hole with Putin tapping in for double. What followed was a tense and fierce argument between Zuck, Mingah, and Putin. I stood and listened. Apparently on the putting green, when Zuck had asked, through Mingah, if Putin had had breakfast, Putin interpreted what Mingah told him as a stipulation that each player had the option of playing a breakfast ball on the first tee— a ridiculous proposition given the stakes. Never mind how much time they each had to warm up. It was clear to me that Putin was up to his old conniving ways, all based on Mingah’s supposedly poor grasp of English. The argument escalated and almost ended up with the match being called off. Finally, Zuck agreed to half the hole in exchange for a mulligan that he could use later in the round. And the wager now consisted of five nuclear submarines. It didn’t take Zuck long to use his mulligan. He skulled a greenside bunker shot OB on No. 2 Pink Dogwood. Then they had another argument, through Mingah, as Putin claimed that the mulligan was reserved for tee shots. It was all a moot point as Putin two putted for birdie to go Up 1. Oh, and now the wager included a cache of ballistic missiles. So far they had argued more than played. Putin marched over to No. 3 Flower Peach and uncoiled a massive drive that rolled right to the edge of the green. I studied him in the shade as Zuck went through about ten practice swings. He was an immensely long hitter and played very aggressively, almost recklessly. He reminded me, with the steely expression he donned on the first tee, of an ancient animal I had seen in a book called a wolf. Like he wanted to devour your insides and spit them out. That’s how he played anyway. And all this for someone that had played only virtual golf, presumably. Zuck hit a solid tee shot short of the bunkers. We were standing in the fairway and he started complaining about the kick that shot his ball an extra five yards. That’s when I heard it. He was moaning on about 115 yards being in between clubs, loud enough for Putin to hear, but still I heard it. There was the sound of a light skirmish in the woods, not all that far away— what you might think of as animals rustling about, but I knew better. There hasn’t been an animal in these woods for five hundred years. Finally Zuck took his sand wedge, which he hits exactly 115 yards, and started his practice swings. Then I heard the other sound, equally troubling. A very faint rumble, almost like the earthquakes I heard from time to time as a child. The sounds were deep and low, exactly like the small shifts that still lingered in the area from all the fracking done centuries ago. I read that Wisconsin was a hot spot for earthquakes in the early 3000’s, but we hadn’t had an earthquake in centuries. This sound was like that. Far away, almost like the earth’s stomach was grumbling, but very faint, like you had to strain to hear and once you heard it, confirmed it, it faded away. Zuck stepped up and hit his first real golf shot of the day. A crisp wedge that spun to within four feet. Good thing because Putin flopped to a tap in. I drew him the line. Left center. But he pushed it. Putin went Up 2. As usual, Zuck was choking with the pressure on. He’s an excellent golfer, a two handicap, but whenever he played a high stakes game he tended to over swing, miss short putts, make stubborn shot selections, etc. Basically he was too proud to play his regular game, which was predicated on playing shorter but straighter and his precision short game. Putin outdriving him was playing into’s Zuck’s ego. They halved No. 4 Flowering Crab Apple. Then Putin won the next three holes. Or, I should say, Zuck lost them. He flubbed a chip on Magnolia, three-putted Juniper, and pulled his drive behind a tree on Pampas. Not only did he lose each hole, but with Putin growing more and more confident, Zuck started adding territories to the wager, through Mingah of course. Now in addition to the weapons and carriers and submarines and the dam, now three megalopolises in the Pacindian Ocean hung in the balance. There were more and more faint sounds all the time, near and far. Rustling leaves, far away low rumbles, twigs snapping. Putin and Zuck were so immersed in the match that they didn’t notice. The secret service, following us like a gallery, didn’t seem worried. Neither did Putin’s men. As Zuck chipped in to halve Yellow Jasmine, thanks in large part to my read, I could have sworn I heard the distant skycracker pop-pop-pop sound. But Mingah noticed. I could tell by his eyes. He had the sort of poker face, if you studied it, that made you believe that he knew more that he let on. He was crafty, though he played the part of the bumbling giant to a “T”. Like just when you wanted to call him out, he gave a dumb smile and blinked ten times to make you doubt and think maybe this bastard isn’t bluffing after all. As we walked up to #9 Carolina Cherry, Putin was up 5. Both players hit solid drives— Putin once again outdriving Zuck by about thirty yards. But then Zuck hit a five iron to ten feet and Putin overspun his approach. It was his first big mistake since Tea Olive. His ball rolled all the way down the green and down the fairway. He chipped to eight feet, but it didn’t matter. Zuck drained his birdie. That’s when it happened. As Zuck pumped his fists, Putin whispered to Mingah. “You girls telling secrets?” Zuck called out. They whispered some more. Mingah nodded and said, “He say why you no bet this course since you think you win is certain.” “Sure,” Zuck said, flipping me his ball. I couldn’t believe it as he said it. I wiped his ball with the towel like I was trying to wipe away the words that hung in the air. “Sure. I’ll add the course. While we’re at it, why not play for the whole kit and caboodle?” Zuck said. “Ka-boodle?” Mingah said. And he showed what his face actually looks like when he doesn’t understand. I heard him whisper to Putin the Chussian word for poodle. Zuck walked over to Putin, right in his face like he was with me the night before. “The. Whole. Kit. And. Caboodle.” I felt the ground shake, but it could’ve been because my knees where so weak. * At the turn, over a real BLT sandwich with actual bacon and real mayonnaise, a true delicacy that even Putin may have never eaten, you would think the leaders might come to their senses. Zuck sat in stony silence, going over the scorecard with a pencil, adding up the damage in disbelief, muttering, trying to find some mistake or glitch, while Putin and Mingah stole glances at each other, confident glances sure of victory. I was right next to Zuck, with a sandwich of my own, across from Mingah and trying to find legroom around his enormous legs. Occasionally, our toes bumped in an awkward game of footsie. I could tell that neither Putin nor Mingah thought much of me. They thought I was dumb, like all the rest, but I was watching them closely all the time. That was the first time I ate with the president in all the times I caddied for him. Before heading out to #10 Camellia, Putin went in to use the restroom and I noticed a soldier in camouflage come up and talk to the top secret service agent who was walking along with our group. He was whispering at a distance so all I could make out was the urgent tone: something was happening in the woods all right. The agent and soldier argued for a few minutes when finally the soldier appeared to relent. He disappeared back in the woods. It seemed like he was advocating ending the match and getting Zuck to safety but the top agent, for some reason, refused to do so. I had a few moments alone with Zuck while Putin took more time in the restroom. I grabbed my pad and wrote three words: Play Your Game. I figured whatever was happening in the woods— the sounds getting closer, the faraway rumble growing all the time, the whizzing pop-pop’s— Zuck wouldn’t be able to deal with it unless he won the match. Like if he could just win, then he would open his eyes to what was going on around us. I know, pretty foolish of me. But I was frightened. What would happen to me (and my books) if Putin won? Putin sliced his drive on Camellia deep into the trees, uttering a loud Chussian curse word. Then Zuck stepped up and melted his best drive of the day, catching the slope of the fairway and kicking all the way down. He looked at me and smiled and it was like the door was open and we were going to charge through it. And charge we did. Zuck won Camellia, White Dogwood and Golden Bell, easy, like just walking in the park. Putin lost his tempo and was hitting erratic shots. Discord arose between him and Mingah as they crossed over the Hogan Bridge. Putin was still mad that Mingah had misjudged the wind on Dogwood. As we crossed the Nelson Bridge, Zuck was down only one. I realized that it had gone completely quiet. I was so excited by Zuck’s charge that I hadn’t noticed the sounds had stopped. Whatever it was, maybe it was gone. Putin and Mingah started up with their usual tricks on Number 13 Azalea. After Putin rolled his second shot into Rae’s creek, he claimed that the distances on Mingah’s yardlet were inaccurate. I thought it was going to turn ugly but Zuck held his ground. Putin took the water penalty and then skulled his chip into the azaleas and conceded the hole. The match was All Square. We walked to #14 Chinese Fir when I literally froze in my tracks. I couldn’t believe it. The sun came out. I had never seen a single ray of sunlight hit those fairways. It was a quite a sight, I had to admit. And can you believe that Zuck and Putin kept on marching up to the tee without so much as a glance? It was like Zuck was afraid that if he stopped for a moment, he would lose the momentum. He was hitting terrific golf shots, very pure and exactly on the lines I would draw on my pad. “C’mon Yog!” he shouted at me from the tee. The fog machines were off. I grappled with the significance of this when I heard a sound like rolling thunder, very low and very clear. The ground trembled. I felt it in my bones. Yet, I still doubted myself. Beyond the soldier at the turn, no one else acted like anything was amiss: not one quizzical glance from the secret service, or any of Putin’s men (with the exception of Mingah’s cagey eyes). Zuck was like a man possessed by golf. Every detail of every shot consumed his entire being. Putin was the same way. Except after they both teed off Chinese Fir, when I hear another pop-pop-pop sound, I saw Putin turn his head toward the direction of the sound. He saw me notice and quickly walked off to his next shot, which had leaked into the Chinese Firs on the right. I watched them from the fairway. Putin walked ahead to survey the trees in his line. Mingah kneeled his huge frame down behind a tree. I pretended to walk over as if to help them find the ball, when I heard Mingah speaking in hushed tones into Putin’s bag. The dialect wasn’t Chussian. The sounds were different and I speculated that it was Mandarin that I was hearing, though I had only encountered its written form. Putin walked back and pulled a shot out of nowhere, a low draw around a tree that rolled up to the green. Zuck fired another shot to the middle of the green. They were both on in two. As we walked toward the green, right over our heads came the piercing drone of two military jets, in full view. No one even paused. On the green at Chinese Fir, after giving Putin a read, Mingah went over and crouched again to whisper in the strange dialect into Putin’s bag. When he caught me eyeing him he gave me a very menacing glance, like “What are you going to do about it, you dumb mute?” I thought there was going to be a confrontation but Putin called Mingah over for another look at the severe contour that forced the ball right. He was trying to figure out how much break to play and kept walking around his putt, over and over again. It was all a moot point because he hit the putt so hard that the ball rolled right through the break. There was another scene between him and Mingah in Chussian. I thought the whole match might be over, but somehow it ended with Putin telling Mingah that he would read his ten foot par putt himself, thank you very much, which seemed to suit Mingah because he went back to whispering into his bag. Putin hit a perfect putt, but left it short. Zuck clearly was gaining confidence. He said to Mingah, “Does your boss know what they say about putts left short?” Mingah put back the flag and translated. Even though Putin was red with anger, you could sense in his question a hint of desperation, like maybe there was some technicality he could exploit. “What they say?” Mingah asked, walking right into it. “100% of them don’t go in.” Zuck was Up 1. He grabbed his driver, teed up his ball on No. 15 Firethorn, and without a practice swing addressed the ball. Just then a large explosion boomed that couldn’t have been far off, maybe a few miles at most. It was terrifying. Even the secret service agents and Putin’s men all hit the deck. My ears were ringing so I couldn’t really hear what they were saying next, but I could make out the gist of what they were saying. It wasn’t about the explosion at all. Because just before it, Zuck accidentally tapped the ball off his tee. Putin was claiming that Zuck had to play two as the ball lied, which is preposterous because the rules of golf clearly state that an accidental tap can be re-teed. So maybe Putin has only played virtual golf after all, since that could never happen virtually, or maybe it was more of his tactics. There was a second explosion during the argument, not as close, but in the same direction and equally as fearsome. Finally Zuck resolved the issue and re-teed, which was important for the match since Firethorn is a reachable par 5, even for Zuck. Putin was really fired up now. You could see his expression was one of sheer anger and rage, and he let it all out on his drive, which he absolutely blasted. The woods were on fire now. You could see the plume of smoke. Still all the security personnel kept moving and the match continued. It might have gotten to Zuck though, right before his drive I saw him glance back at the smoke. It was the first time he appeared to notice something not related to golf. His drive went straight but short. Then he declined a five iron and hit his second shot into the pond, trying to hit his 3 wood much farther than he normally does. The dark plume was growing behind us. The Match was again All Square. Then at No. 16 Redbud, the short par 3 over the water, it got eerily quiet. The smoke was still billowing, but there were none of the distant sounds. No planes or rustling leaves or anything. Dead silence. Mingah crouched near Putin’s bag, but he wasn’t talking. Putin’s iron play had been erratic the entire back nine, and with the match tied I think the pressure got to him. He hit the green, but not high enough and with too much spin. He actually fell to his knees in agony as the ball trickled into the water. Then he sat there, staring at the ground in disbelief for a full minute. The whole time there was a profound silence. I watched the ripple in the water and the trees sway in the wind. The billowing smoke behind us even seemed to be lightening up. Then Zuck stepped up and hit a high fade that landed softly on the shelf above the hole, the ball slowly rolling down, taking the break and coming to rest a few inches from the hole. Even the secret service guys, under direct orders to withhold emotion, jumped for joy and high-fived. Maybe it would all be O.K. Maybe all this was a military exercise or something, some kind of sharing of procedures between the two powers. It made sense that way. They certainly wouldn’t bother to tell me about it, just a dumb mute caddy. And that would explain why everyone acted like nothing out of the ordinary was going on. That had to be it. It was all a drill! I felt so foolish. The smile on Zuck’s face as he tapped in his birdie filled me with such glee that I almost broke my silence. I wanted to run to him, to high five him and hug him and implore him to close Putin out on Nandina. That this was our course and our country and let’s go out there and defend it! I think I even made some sounds because Zuck looked at me with such a bewildered expression, like I was a farm animal that just recited a verse of Shakespeare, so that I quickly shut up. The barriers again. Two of the secret service agents came up and high-fived him, patting him on the pack, and he smiled again, but on the way to the tee he shot me a keen glance, almost like he was looking at me with new eyes, eyes that studied things more intently. No. 17 Nandina has a demanding tee shot and Zuck quickly resumed his game face. A brief argument ensued, over the Eisenhower tree. Putin claimed that the tree should not be part of the course, since it perished in an ice storm in the early 2000’s and all the virtual versions of the course don’t include it. He said it was an unfair advantage. More of his tactics. The argument heated up and their emotions boiled over. I got caught up in following it and hardly noticed the new sounds, low and steady, followed by high-pitched whistling, like something was being pulled and released, pulled and released. I attributed this again to training exercises. Putin stubbornly clung to his belief that the tree was an unfair advantage. Zuck was furious, saying the tree is a national treasure and a monument to an iconic leader of our nation. Things got pretty political and nasty but Zuck ended up winning the battle, with the tree considered in play. But I guess you could say he lost the war because the arguing clearly favored Putin, as he probably knew all along. Zuck hit a rare pull hook. Putin, validated and galvanized by Zuck’s poor drive, blasted it down the center. Just absolutely crushed it. Zuck walked off more determined than ever. I couldn’t keep up. He even turned and snapped at me, “C’mon Yog!” So I hustled up and we analyzed our options. We were in the right rough of Pampas, short of the 7th green. Amazingly, we had a shot through the trees. He had to hit a low draw around a tree that would rise, but he had the shot. I’d seen him do it. I knew he was thinking the same thing so there was no need to draw it. He just looked at me and smiled, like we had a little secret. And he hit a beauty, right around the tree in front of him, up over the trees beyond the 7th green, landing right in the center of Nandina’s green. Again the secret service cheered. Putin’s men all had this downcast look, a “you’ve got to be kidding me” kind of expression. Putin hit too much, the ball rolling to the back of the green, so we were actually closer. I’ve never felt tension like that before. Both men were pictures of absolute concentration. Mingah himself crawled around the green like a gigantic, but inflexible spider, trying to glean all he could. Putin managed to roll it within 2 feet. All his men cheered now, as all the form and protocol went out the window. Zuck went next, taking his time, yet sticking to his routine. He came over to confirm with me the line, which I drew on my pad, using my symbols for two balls above the hole with a medium speed stroke. I heard a twig snap and felt suddenly like we were surrounded, like there were men behind every tree. Everywhere I looked it was like I just missed someone or something, and that this was all horribly, horribly wrong. I told myself that it was crazy, that it was all in my head, or bad mayonnaise, that I’m not used to eating such foods, that I was tired, or it was the sun. That if Zuck could drain this, it would all be over. As the ball lipped around the edge, and the secret service men all collectively groaned, the bad feeling dropped to the bottom of my gut. The ball gathered momentum spinning out and rolled six feet away. I walked back over. It was a straight putt to dormy the match. Putin flashed his fangs and said to Mingah in Chussian, “Still a lot of meat on that bone.” Then he covered his mouth and blurted ‘chicken’ in Chussian before bursting into hideous laughter. Through his repulsive hee-hee-heeing, he instructed Mingah to repeat it to Zuck. “Still much meat on bone remaining. The squawking bird that no fly.” Mingah didn’t know—or pretended not to know— the word for chicken. But it didn’t matter. Zuck’s putt rolled right past the edge. Putin’s men cheered; the secret service groaned. There was a gush of rustling sounds in the woods, shrieks across the sky, and distant rumbling thunder. After everything, the match was All Square. Zuck stomped off the green. “Yog! Let’s go! What’s gotten into you?” I was standing lost in my own paranoia, holding the flagstick. I remember I had trouble putting it back, like the shape of the stick wouldn’t fit somehow. I was shaking. The tension on Holly, the long par 4 finishing hole, was unbearable. Putin took forever. It was so narrow, you could tell that seeing it in person intimidated him slightly, and that he was a man not used to intimidation. There was again that awful silence, like the gallery was observing quiet out of decorum. It was just the lonely whistle of wind in the trees. After about 8 practice swings and two meetings with Mingah, Putin blasted it safely onto the fairway. His agents shouted in Chussian. “Get in the hole!” “You the man!” Zuck followed with his patented fade down the right side. I felt like a ghost floating along. Something was following us, something I couldn’t see, lurking in the shadows, behind the trees. In the fairway Zuck went first and hit to the front of the green, short of the flag, a solid yet safe play. Putin went next and hit almost the exact same shot, landing a few inches inside of Zuck. The two men looked at each other with the closest thing to admiration that they had exchanged all day, like they finally acknowledged that the other was an equal and worthy adversary. We walked along with the security entourage up the 18th fairway and it was like a Master’s Sunday two thousand years ago, the early evening sun on their shoulders and the gallery rising to their feet. Except that the gallery was invisible, encroaching, hostile, deadly. I was certain of it somehow, so I stopped looking. I quit relying on my senses and trusted the books that I carried, the ones in my mind. We arrived at the green and each man had a very makeable, slight-breaking, fifteen foot uphill putt. Putin, in marking his ball, showed more decency than he had shown all day in one gesture of ensuring that the marker would not intrude on the line. Zuck followed his routine. He lined it up and came over to validate on my pad. At which point Putin bared his wolf fangs again and interjected, claiming that my pad was an unfair advantage and what was I writing anyway? I was so mad I again forgot myself, and sounds came out of my mouth. I was speaking out against his indecency and rapacious, scheming tactics. But all that came out were pitiful sounds, grunts. The old barriers that I could never overcome. They were just too high. Mingah laughed derisively. Zuck came quick to my defense. He showed him the pad, said it was nothing compared to the deceit and colluding that Mingah had been up to, at which point I thought the giant might become aggressive, as he stood forward menacingly, but it all, somehow settled down and returned to a man standing over a ball, trying to knock it in a hole. Which is what he did. Dead center, to the shouts and thunderous applause of the secret service agents that surrounded the green, just as fans once cheered in the fading twilight so many years ago. And it was maybe their clapping and shouting that kept me from hearing the first sounds. But then I saw it coming. Legions of men and women, charging from every direction, from Carolina Cherry and Camellia, from the houses and the woods, from the clubhouse itself. Row upon row, like a surging sea. The thing I noticed, that really grabbed my attention, as Putin stood over his putt, was what some of the people carried. Flags. I had seen them before in books. They were so beautiful streaming with the green backdrop of the course. I started naming them: Peru, Canada, Italy, Germany, Morocco, Turkey, Finland, Laos— there must have been a hundred different flags from all those countries long since vanished. It occurred to me that many of these flags once flew over the Main Scoreboard proudly hailing the countries represented by the world’s best golfers: the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Ireland, so many more. Then the planes came in, warplanes I had never even dreamed of, louder than anything I could imagine, blends of helicopters and planes, firing missiles that raced to the Earth with an ear-piercing whistle. Butler Cabin blew up with a deafening explosion. Entire fairways were instantly ablaze. Except for Carolina Cherry and Camellia and Holly, those fairways were human rivers fast approaching. Putin actually got off his putt, right before they seized him. I watched his ball go right toward the cup, right to the mouth of it, only to see a foot knock it off line. Watching the putt, I didn’t see what happened to Mingah. Some of the service men ran, some of them fought, some of them lay down, and some raised their arms to surrender. A few dropped to their knees and prayed. Mercy was shown to none. There was some opposition, from over by Tea Olive and the Main Scoreboard, where the security detail had a base, though a warplane quickly wiped them out. The massive oak between the clubhouse and the first tree vanished in a puff of smoke. Some final resistance came from beyond Tea Olive, in the other cabins built there, but these soon burned in the human flood. They bound them and carried Putin and Zuck away like prized animals, carrying them high on their shoulders. A group of men grabbed me and carried me too. I could just make out Putin and Zuck bouncing along ahead of me. I saw them disappear over the hillside. But I was lucky. One of the resistance fighters launched a grenade that exploded right by me. It felt like the earth itself launched me high into the air. For a moment I saw a twirling pattern of sky and ground, sky and ground, everything floating in slow motion: bodies and chunks of Earth. Then it sped up and I hit the ground with a thud. There was some gunfire then, close. I could hear the bullets ripping through both man and ground, whizzing right over my head. The human flood charged on around me, over me. I closed my eyes and let it all rush past, listening to the deafening noises, the cacophony, the sound and the fury. * Later, much later, a man picked me up and muttered something to me in a language I couldn’t place. He had two patches on his arm. One I believed was a Swedish flag, the other a Red Cross. He wasn’t sure what to make of me, in my bloodied and torn white caddying uniform. He was looking at my leg, which had been wounded. He asked me a question in the unfamiliar tongue, then again, in a different tongue, and finally he asked me in English. I opened my mouth and the barrier was gone, like it had never existed. I started to laugh. He smiled, a squinting smile of curiosity, and let me go. I laughed on and on, deliriously, the laughter feeding on itself. Eventually he had no choice but to laugh with me. We laughed together until our stomachs ached. And then I spoke to him. * The next day Nils was there when I woke up. That was his name. Nils. “It’s a new day,” he said. I crawled out from my fent and he held out some crutches. “Follow me,” he said. So I did. I limped along Magnolia Lane on my good leg. I could see in the distance the clubhouse was still standing. A heli-jet took off from Founder’s Circle. “C’mon,” he said. From the clubhouse we took a hover vehicle over to the Eisenhower cabin. It was the only cabin left. My books. Maybe they were still in my hiding spot. We ate breakfast inside with some medics and other soldiers. It was noisy. I didn’t say a word. “I thought you might be pretty hungry,” he said. After, he took me up to the Crow’s Nest in the main clubhouse. In all my years at North Augusta National, I had never been up there. “Have a seat,” he said. “This is called a laptop.” I sat down and looked at the device. “You can use it to write,” he said. I was speechless again, like before. “You might be wondering what will happen now?” I smiled. “Yes.” It was good to speak. “We have decided to turn the clubhouse into a library. The first of many planned.” “That’s wonderful,” I said. “We would like you to write your story down,” he said. “It will be the first book in the first library. The first new book, that is. We found your old ones.” A feeling of relief flooded over me and I was smiling again. “I’ve never written a story before,” I said. He laughed. I laughed too. It was good laughing with him again. “We can help you with that,” he said. “I wouldn’t know where to start,” I said. “At the beginning.” That’s when I looked out over towards the ravaged course. The scoreboard was somehow still standing. They had put up the flags. The colors were very beautiful flapping in the smoky breeze.