Without the sun’s rays to warm the night sky, whirling winter winds tumble into me from all sides—shooting directly through three layers of clothing, and meeting my flesh like a thousand pins and needles. Hair cuts across my face, blasting upwards and down, as I watch one. Then two. Then three, then four. Then five,six,and,seven orbs of red light materialize over Camp Lejeune. There is nothing to trace them back to the ground; no bright fizzy tail that accompanies fireworks to their ends, no visible trail of smoke left to fume in the eerie dark, no story of ascension to fill the gap between void and existence. They simply appear—like stars after a setting sun—stagnant and bright.
Located on a forested beach spanning 14 miles long, the marine corps base is relatively unassuming by day. But by night, cloaked in shadow, collecting fog, silent beneath the balls of light suspended in mid-air, Camp Lejeune becomes a harbor of imagination. In an instant, the military grade flares transform into interstellar UFOs, hovering over the island to… collect human specimens? No; steal technology? No; enact a deal? Yes. The government has sold us out to an advanced species of extraterrestrials. They’ll be stowed away on the opposite end of the galaxy while the remainder of humanity is enslaved, prodded, or exterminated without a second thought.
In reality, I need not fear waking up to a man in black wiping my memories and deleting this file, but history has proven that, while aliens may not be involved, Camp Lejeune is far from being a benign force. According to a survey conducted on December 11th, 1980: the radioactive corpses of two canines were found buried on site. When soil and water samples taken from the location were confirmed to be contaminated with traces of radiation, as well as much higher levels of industrial solvents, benzene, and similar chemicals, the scandal resulted in the unearthing of a number of unsafe disposal practices, dating back to 1950.
Such news might have mattered only to the marines living on the base, if the ocean’s reach were not so far. But water is expansive. The water molecules that make up a hundred raindrops from the same rain cloud will all embark on separate journeys, miles away from their brief unity. As a result, the victims of Camp Lejeune’s water crisis were widespread, suffering from a surge in birth deformities, miscarriages, nephrotoxicity, and 8 different forms of cancer. It was not until 1987 that the waters were properly managed.
Since that incident several decades ago, civilians have forgotten what the marine corps has done to our waters. What they still do. They are known instead for the “fwump. fwump.” of shelling that rattles homes from across the bay; for the tank-like boats that drill through the sea, as casual as if they were a jet-ski; for the drone of helicopters that drowns out the waves; for the rigid, metal breed of osprey, that never ceases to disappoint when some infatuated tourist points up to the sky and calls, “look! An osprey!” The essence of combat has become commonplace, even here—among the salt, the sand, the gulls, the breeze.
I watch as the red lights fade to black. They, too, are but synapses of war.