Lieutenant Colonel Bradley Newman stood at the window of his prison-like but sterile hospital room. If only he could see the runway – his runway – and his brave boys as they flew out and returned. He’d heard the planes as they returned a few minutes before, and it sounded good. He’d heard nine leaving, and nine returning. He’d take that math any day of the week!
Colonel Burns, his second-in-command should be due any minute now, with the morning’s mission report.
There was a knock at the door. “Enter!” He shouted.
“Good morning sir, I have good news this morning,” replied the adjutant.
“Do you mean nine out and nine back in? I head that. Or do you mean that the idiots in the north have finally come to their senses and agreed to end this madness?
“I wish, sir. Oh how I wish that were true. At least then you’d feel comfortable in leaving this god-forsaken land and returning home where you could get topnotch care,” replied the adjutant.
“Let’s hear the report.”
“As you already know, it was nine out, and nine back in. If that was not good news enough, they hit the target, and really plastered it! Yesterday afternoon the Navy boys had spotted an AA battery on hill 713, just above the Valley we hit this morning, and they took out that battery fifteen minutes before our boys arrived! So it was smooth sailing for 132nd. We were able to make three passes, and they boys report multiple secondary explosions. So they hit something for sure… something besides simply jungle!”
The Colonel grinned broadly. “When you get it typed up, send me a copy please. At least they let me read the reports here!”
“And tell the boys that I’m proud of ‘em, and that I promise that I’ll be back with ‘em soon.”
“Yes sir.” Then the adjutant snapped to attention, gave a quick salute, turned and walked out of the room.”
In the hallway, a nurse in white was waiting. “So, how was he this morning?” she asked.
“About the same. About the same as he was yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. Cynthia, I think it was General William Tecumseh Sherman who said that ‘war is hell.’ And he was right. It especially is and was and still is for Colonel Newman. Sixty-seven years later, and he’s still fighting the Korean War. Yes, I’d say that war certainly is hell for Colonel Newman.
Their second floor bedroom was dark and quiet – dark save for a trickle of light from the street lamp which filtered thru the drapes.
Sheila lay on the bed fast asleep, finally. Today had been a bad day. She lay on her stomach, much as a baby often does. She now slept peacefully, like a baby.
Johnathan sat on the wingback chair across from the bed watching his sleeping wife of thirty years. It had been a good thirty years. Yes it had been.
Theirs had been a unique bonding from the start. On the outside they appeared to be an imperfect couple, mismatched in every way. But the mismatch was the perfect match for them, right down to the fact that neither was capable of producing children. Fate had stepped in with the assurance there’d be no issues on that point.
“I love you,’ he said in a soft whisper. She mumbled something that he understood must have been a “What?….” He didn’t respond. He let her sleep.
His mind drifted to when they met, how they met, and what transpired after that first chance encounter. It was a story that might not interest the world. It was certainly not movie material, but it was their story. And now that story was ending.
How long he sat there gazing at her, he had no recollection. Minutes? Hours? Who’s to say. And then he thought to himself, “It’s time I suppose.”
He stood and crept slowly to her side of the bed. He then whispered as silently as he could, “I love you” one last time.
He placed to barrel of the .38 inches from the back of her head and pulled the trigger.
Johnathan Boyd layed the still smoking .38 on the nightstand, and returned to his seat near the foot of the bed. Taking his cell phone from his pocket, he called 911 and reported his wife’s death. He gave them little details, only that he was certain that she was dead and of course, the address.
Dawn was breaking outside just as the EMTs and authorities were arriving. He had no idea that it was that hour of the morning. Two and two quickly added to four when the responders noticed the pistol on the nightstand. There was no question of what had happened and Johnathan Boyd offered no resistance to the police investigators.
Within the hour he was sitting across from two detictives in the police station.
After all the formalities of reading him his rights, the lead detective began questioning the new widower.
“Can you tell us what happened last night?”
“I shot her,” was Jonathan’s honest reply.
“Perhaps you need to tell us about it.”
“Sure. I have nothing to hide.”
“Mr. Boyd, I’d like to remind you that this is being recorded.”
“I know. I see the recorder on the table, and the little red light is on.”
Dective Johnson sat back, ready to hear what Jonathan Boyd had to say. He’d never seen a murder suspect quite so calm, cool, and collected before.
“I been planning this for weeks now,” began Johnathan. It was all a surprize for Sheila.
“I’ll bet it was,” interjected Dectectve Floyd, the younger of the two detectives.
“OK, I’ll admit, it is what it seems. But then it’s also not what it seems.”
“Please explain,’’ replied Detective Johnson.
“Sheila had cancer. She found out a year ago. I’m sure you’ll do an autopsy and it will confirm that. She didn’t want chemo or radiation. She’d seen far too many friends and relatives suffer throught that. She made the remark to me dozens of times that she hoped she’d go quickly, to ‘get it over with quickly,’ because she knew that the end was inevitable and that it would be painful. So I suppose you’d label it a ‘mercy killing.’ However, it was far, far more than that I assure you.”
Leaning forward, Detective Johnson replied, “Go on. I’m listening.”
“I’m a writer… a struggling writer to be sure, but I do love to write. And I write because I believe that I have something to say. But writing has always had to take a back seat. I’ve been a good husband to Sheila, ask anyone. I’ve been a good provider too. Sheila worked also, before she took sick and she had to quit. That left us a bit strapped, so my writing suffered too. Now don’t get me wrong, my writing wasn’t suffering nearly as much as Sheila, bless her heart, but my writing practically came to a standstill, because I was putting in as much extra time at work as was possible.”
“I’m having a hard time following this writing thing,’ remarked Detective Floyd.
“I may be exicuted for what I’ve done, and I know that,” said Jonathan, “But, you’re never convicted on Monday and exicuted on Tuesday. I might sit in a cell for decades awaiting that fate. That’s a lot of ‘spare time’ to write.”
“So what you’re saying is that you killed your wife so that you’d have time to write?” Asked Detective Johnson.
“Heaven’s no Detective! I loved my wife! I cared for her! I cared so much for her that if she no longer wanted to suffer, as she was doing, I could and did take care of that, for her. She’s happier today than she was yesterday, I can assure you! So now you can lock me up for that, where I’ll have time to write. As I see it detective, that little .38 slug solved two problems and it benefitted Sheila, as well as it benefitted me. I call that a win-win situation!”
In all of his twenty years of police investigation Detective Johnson never had a case basically solve itself so quickly. And he’d never in all of his experience had a murder case that seemed to make perfectly good sence! As they say, all’s well that ends well.
Is love truly blind? Or does love, with imperfect vision, barge full steam ahead, in spite of walls and barriers which would derail anything less than love?
If you knew before falling in love, that this love would have no chance of success, that it would not, could not, have a happy ending… would you still allow your heart to set out on that path to disappointment and heartache? The answer is not as easy as you might think.
This is the story of two individuals, both blessed, or cursed… call it what you wish, with the unique fore-knowledge that love for them would be hopeless.
Cliff and Karen
Grocery shopping was not one of Cliff Barnes favorite things, but he was out of milk, low on coffee, and Kroger was just ahead. After a stressful week at work, it was finally Friday afternoon, and he was ready to be home. No doubt the store would be crowded, but he pulled into the parking lot anyway. He needed the coffee, both a cup of fresh brewed, as well as a can of ground.
The lot was not as filled as he’d expected. Surprisingly, he found an empty space near the front door. Inside, his first stop was the coffee bar. Starbucks was not his favorite. He considered it both over-priced and bitter, but it was coffee, so he stopped. No one was in line before him. Good! He got his fresh brew quickly, and after doctoring it to his liking, looked for a seat. They had but three small tables, and two were taken. He took a seat at the empty table. It felt good to relax. The drive out of the city had been taxing, only adding to his beaten down mood. Although making physical deliveries and having face to face meetings were not his cup of tea, it was also often part of a home-based research business.
The coffee now had his full attention, as he sipped at it slowly, relishing the comforting warmth of the bitter brew. At first he didn’t notice the slender brunette who’d walked up to the coffee bar. How could he not have notice? Quickly, his attention turned from the cup in his hands to the woman. She was striking.
She appeared to be in her late twenties or early thirties, close to his own age. Although a bit on the thin side, she was not at all skinny. She also appeared to have recently come from work.
She was stylishly dressed, very business/professional. An expensive looking briefcase with a wide strap, hung from her shoulder. He imagined her in a legal firm, or perhaps investments or banking.
But this women, or any woman for that matter, shouldn’t be a part his life. He’d made that painful decision years ago. Female companionship simply wasn’t in the cards for Clifton Barnes. It would be easier that way. It would be best for both parties involved. So be it.
Yes, this female-free lifestyle had often drawn the obvious conclusion. But it was an incorrect conclusion. He was genetically male, but physically and mentally.
Now caught off guard, he felt himself being drawn to her.
Coffee in hand, she turned, looking for a place to sit. He rose to his feet. “Here, take this table,” he said. “I was just leaving.”
“Are you sure?” she asked, smiling, her voice sweet as a songbird.
“Yes, I’m sure. The cumquats are calling.”
“OK. Cucumbers. The truth is, I’m not real sure what a cumquat is.”
She smiled at his sophomoric attempt to impress. But the smile quickly faded. “Thanks anyway,” she said almost curtly, then turned and walked away.
He stood beside the table, feeling a bit ashamed of his adolescent attempt at charm. He had, it appeared, offended her. Was she married? Probably. He sat back down. So much for grocery shopping. He didn’t want to run the risk of passing her in the aisles. That would be embarrassing.
Three Friday afternoons later he was grocery shopping in Walmart. He’d decided to forgo Kroger, for fear he might meet her again. That would be embarrassing.
He was focused upon getting his short list filled, anxious to get home. He’d just turned onto the cereal aisle when he practically ran into her.
“Oh good,” she exclaimed. “I’m glad I found into you again. We need to talk, at least I do.”
Cliff was taken off guard.
He stood speechless as she continued. “I’m afraid I was a bit curt with you that afternoon in Kroger. That’s not like me, at least I don’t think it is. The truth is, I’m not sure what happened that afternoon. I want to apologize for how I acted.”
“No apology’s necessary. Not from you. I was the one, well, flirting.”
“I still chuckle when I think of that cumquat remark. That was cute. I never asked your name. Mine’s Karen, Karen Olmsted.”
“Clifton, Clifton Barnes,” he replied, extending his hand. “Friends call me Cliff.”
“Again, I apologize for my behavior that day Cliff. I really needed to explain.”
“No explanation necessary Karen. Really.”
“But there is. There really is. Please. Look, Walmart’s not the best place for diplomatic negotiations. And besides, I’m actually in a bit of a rush right now. I’m trying to get to a club meeting on time. Can we meet somewhere for dinner, perhaps even tomorrow night?”
“Wow! I didn’t see that coming,” he said. “If you’re asking me out, the answer is yes, sure thing. That would be great.”
“There’s a new little mom and pop place about 2 blocks from here, over by Pier One. It’s a new sandwich shop, called the Pig’s Tail, if that’s OK with you?”
“Perfect. I’ve eaten there already, and it is absolutely fantastic. Say about 7?”
“7 it is. And thanks Cliff. I really do appreciate it.”
This time after she’d turned to walk away, she looked back, and smiled.
Their First Date
She was already there when he arrived, and he thought he’d be the one jumping the gun.
“I believe in being fashionably early,” she said, as he took his seat.
“That’s a good habit,” he replied.
“And a hard lesson for some to learn, just ask my sister. There was a day in Denver when she arrived at the airport on her schedule and not the airline’s. She missed the last flight out, just as a 3 day blizzard blanketed the area.”
“Touché,” he remarked.
“So far, Mr. Clinton Barnes, all I really know about you is your name, that you usually shop at Kroger, and you drink Starbucks coffee.”
“You left out that I have no knowledge of cumquats.”
“OK, you got me on that one,” she said. “Now fill in on a few more blanks if you will.”
“Let’s just say I’m in my early 30s. Un-attached, and unencumbered. I’m self-employed. I have a comfortably successful web design / web hosting business. I also do web research, which I like to refer to as ‘mining,’ for clients without the patience or time to dig for those elusive nuggets of knowledge themselves. And, I enjoy my work immensely.”
“On points 1, 2 and 3, we’re a match, as we also are with your last point. Similarly, I also do research, but for a brokerage firm, basically playing with other people’s money. But the pay’s good, and it’s quite gratifying.”
“I don’t peg you for a bowler. How about golf, or tennis?’
“Tennis,” she replied. And you?”
“Equal parts of Chess and The History Channel.”
“Both are good for the ole brain,” she said. Very good.”
Their conversation was briefly interrupted by the waitress.
After their beverages were ordered, Cliff asked if they could have a few more minutes to select their order. “2 minutes, that’s all we ask,” he said.
The place was not at all crowded, so the waitress was in no hurry.
“My, everything looks so good,” she exclaimed. “What do you suggest?”
“I hear that their BLTs are to die for, as well as their Rubens.”
“Now you’ve only complicated things. I love them both.”
“No problem,” he said, as he lifted a hand, signaling for the waitress.
“Are you ready now?” She asked.
“Yes we are,” he replied. “Both the lady and I want the BLT and the Ruben, but not a BLT and a Ruben each. Please, have the BLT cut in half, as well as the Ruben, and serve a half of each on each plate. However, should that cause any confusion in the kitchen, then bring us one Ruben and one BLT and one knife.
From the look in the young girl’s eyes, this must have been her first ‘off the menu’ order.
“Ok, he said, bring me the BLT and her the Ruben, and one knife. Or, bring her the BLT and me the Ruben, and one knife.”
“Oh,” the girl replied. “Now I get it. Gotcha,” she said, grinning from ear to ear. She scurried away to place the order.
“Cliff,” Karen began, “I’m still bewildered by why I wanted to have this meeting. I’ve been almost as perplexed as our waitress. Let’s just say, I felt compelled meet with you again.”
She paused for a long moment, gathering her thoughts.
“Over a year ago, I made up my mind to forgo… all… shall we say… personal relationships, with men that is. That would be best for all involved.”
“I hope you’ll explain that decision.”
“My decision was not based on a relationship gone south. Quite the contrary. I was engaged to a wonderful man, a fellow of impeccable character, every father’s dream of the perfect son-in-law. And yes, we were deeply in love.”
Cliff leaned forward, hanging onto her every word.
The problem was in me, within me, within my body that is. You see, about two years ago, I had a standard, annual physical check-up. But I was blind-sided by a devastating discovery. I have, it was found, dozens of tiny ‘lesions’ on my brain. They’re very slowly growing, but baring some unforeseeable miracle, they’re incurable. I was told then that I had perhaps 4 years left, certainly no more.
Cliff instinctively reached and took her hand.
“I loved Bradley, my fiancee, far too much to put him through what was ahead for me. He deserves much better. He deserves happiness, and a future. I concocted a story about not being sure about my love for him, and broke off the engagement. I wanted him to move on with his life, even if it meant that I couldn’t be a part of it.”
Cliff stared at her, deep into her eyes. Although he remained silent, Karen could see sincere compassion in his eyes.
“So you see, I broke my rule when I searched for you in Kroger, finally finding you in Walmart. And that’s why I’m so bewildered about this meeting tonight. Why did I feel so guilty about turning my back on you that day. And why did I feel it was so necessary to find you again, and explain myself?”
The waitress arrived with their order. This broke the spell of the moment.
“I’ll tell you what Karen. Let’s enjoy our dinner now. Let’s keep the issue at hand our Ruben and BLT, at least for the moment. After dinner, let’s take a stroll through the park. It’s well lit, and tonight’s a clear night. Perhaps the stars can shed some light on this dilemma. And perhaps they’ll give me the courage to open up to you with my story. You see, you’re not the only one with a KEEP AWAY sign on their heart.”
The sandwiches were delicious. Karen couldn’t make up her mind which was better. “When next time you accidentally run into me,” she said, “it will probably be here.”
After the meal was finished, Cliff excused myself to go to the restroom. Actually, he went to the front desk and paid the meal. He was old-fashioned about things like that.
Cliff Tells His Story
Three weeks later, Cliff and Karen were in their favorite haunt, ‘The Pig’s Tail.’ This time Karen tried something new on the menu, Blackened Pork Loin with Shrimp.
“Are you sure you want to try that?” Cliff asked.
“Sure. What do I have too lose, and maybe only heartburn to gain!”
“You continue to amaze me,” he replied.
“And you, me,” she added.
“Perhaps then, it might amaze you to know that I want to tell you my story, my, shall we say, complete story, tonight,” he said.
“I’m glad to hear that. So far, in the three weeks since I’ve known you, you’ve carefully side-stepped that little issue.”
Cliff sat back in his seat.
“You do intend to tell me, don’t you?” She asked.
“Yes, yes I do. But in some place a bit more, shall we say, private than this. And, the story may take some time to tell, more time than these folks care to have us occupying their seats.
Although the dinner was delicious and Cliff was entertaining, she still didn’t think the night would ever end. She was eager to hear his story, whatever that was. It had caused her far too many sleepless nights already.
After the meal, and as they walked to his vehicle, he stopped under a street light. “I don’t want this to make you unduly nervous, but, may I unload my story, my burden, at your place?” he asked.
“Sure,” she replied.
“That way, if you decide it’s best for you to run home screaming, you’ll already be there.”
“You’re kidding me? Right?”
“Sorta-kinda,” he said. “I really can’t expect you to believe it, not immediately anyway.”
“Wow!” She replied. “Now you really have me interested, as if I wasn’t already.”
Cliff reached and took her hands in his. “Karen, there’s only one other person who knows my story. Only one. And like you, my ‘issue’ is somewhat medical also. My physician and close personal friend, Dr. Jeremy Wade is the only other person who knows.”
“Now you’re kinda frightening me,” she said.
“Not to worry. I have nothing contagious, nor life threatening. In fact, it’s actually quite the opposite. You’ll have your questions answered soon, at least, those questions which I can answer.”
The drive to her apartment seemed to take forever. The short climb up the stairs to her door had never been longer.
Finally, they were sitting in her living room. He insisted that she sit on the sofa, while he took a chair across from her. They were close, within touching distance. But he wanted to be face to face with her, eye to eye, with this woman that he knew now that he loved.
“Let me preface this by telling you a story of my favorite aunt. She was my mother’s older sister, who always lived near to us. I simply adored that woman. She lived to be 97. She was bed-ridden the last 4 years of her life. She’d fallen, and broken her hip, and it wouldn’t heal properly. Although her body had failed, but her mind was still as sharp as a tack.” He paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. “I often heard her remark, lying in that bed day after endless day, ‘I’m so tired.’ That was her way of saying, ‘I’m ready to die.’ Karen, I too have sometimes felt that way. But strangely, for a very different, even an opposite reason.”
“I’m trying to follow you,” she said.
“Karen, the truth about me is, as they say, stranger than fiction. But my store is true, as incredible as it sounds. I wish it was not, although many would no doubt choose to trade places with me. I wish they could. This supposed ‘gift’ that I have is as much a curse as a blessing. And… it’s a very difficult and heavy burden to bare.”
Karen had his undivided attention.
“You see, you and I have somewhat similar issues, issues having to do with time itself, that is, a knowledge of the amount time that has been granted us. With others, that question is answered by hope, by chance, as they step toward death one day at a time. But with you and I, our time here on earth seems to have been assigned. Unfortunately, yours is shorter, whereas mine is, much longer.
“Cliff, now you’re scaring me.”
He reached for her hand. “Have you ever seen the movie, or read the book, The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons?”
He didn’t pause for her to answer. “The original story was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published in 1921. It’s about a fellow who ages backwards, from elderly, to youthful. It’s sort of science fiction without the flying saucers. Karen, I’m a living, breathing, Benjamin Buttons.”
She immediately released his hand, and sat back. She didn’t know whether to laugh, scream, or cry. A cold chill crept up her spine.
“Yes, I’m different, very, very different from, well, from everyone,” he said. “But, I’m not a freak. I’m an accident, the product of an ill-conceived experiment by my nephew. He’d been a research scientist for NASA. He was trying to find a way to make long term space flight more bearable for humans. But he had far different ideas of how to achieve this than did NASA, so they let him go. But he continued his research. I was his unwilling guinea pig. But, something went horribly wrong. That was in 1975. I was 80 years old at the time. Karen, that was over 40 years ago, making me 36 now, or 124, depending on from where you count.”
The truth was out. Karen sat speechless, not knowing how to react.
In The Beginning,
San Francisco, 1975
Dr. Marshall Melton smelled a faint odor of ozone. It wasn’t a strong smell, just a worrying sniff. But even a slight sniff was not good in a lab filled with dozens of canisters of oxygen and flammable chemicals. Ozone usually indicated an electrical problem. This lab had hundreds of high voltage circuits.
He walked around the lab, but couldn’t locate the source of the odor. Perhaps his sense of smell had adjusted to this unwanted intrusion. Looking closely for smoke, he found none, so returned to his work.
His was a private lab, hidden away from prying eyes. It was tucked away in the basement of an abandoned warehouse near the waterfront. Although in an undesirable neighborhood, this decaying area was not as dangerous in 1975 as it would be today. And, in that bygone era, it was much easier to hide such things as this. Then, it would have been called clandestine. Today, it would be referred to as off the grid.
Although not strictly ‘illegal,’ one could say that ‘unlawful’ things went on within these walls. Things also went on which would challenge a rational mind and conventional thinking. Dr. Melton was attempting to practice a new form of alchemy, which some might label as down right sorcery.
“Trial A-238,” he spoke into the mike, “June 9th, 1975. Serum number G18-3, dosage 50 milliliters. Subject’s internal body temp,” he glanced at the reading on the display, “98.6 and holding steady. Reaction time is estimated to be 15 minutes, give or take five. The time now is… twenty three dash thirty seven hundred hours, Pacific Standard Time. Injecting now.”
At that instant there was a sudden flash of blinding light.
Dr. Melton’s next grasp on reality was the blurred vision of a smoke-filled world turned sideways. He lay on the floor, his ears ringing, his eyes burning, and his body bleeding from numerous wounds. “Uncle!” He screamed. “Oh uncle!”
He staggered to his feet. The gurney on which his elderly uncle lay was still erect. The sheet which had covered that frail body was nowhere to be seen. The screens on the monitors were blank, so he pressed his ear to his uncle’s chest. His heart was still beating, his breathing shallow but regular. It was then that the doctor began to feel the heat, and see the fire which surrounded them, and was growing.
There were but two ways out of the lab, the left led deeper into the building, to the opposite side. That was the long way out. The doorway to the right led into a narrow, inclined hallway, leading a short distance to the outside. He quickly unlocked the wheels of the gurney, and snatched away the monitoring lines attached to his uncle’s thin body, and began pushing the gurney to the right, toward the door leading to safety. It was slow going. Burning debris littered the floor and dangled from the ceiling. The wheels kept jamming against rubble. The smoke was thickening.
Miraculously, there was no fire in the hallway. It led up and out of the building, to the loading dock at ground level. The lab was located in a half basement, so pushing the gurney uphill was difficult. Dr. Melton had lost more blood than he’d first realized. At last, they were outside, in the cool, smoke free air.
He pushed the gurney thirty or more yards from the building. His strength was almost spent. Then, in horror, remembered his notes and journals, his precious, irreplaceable records. With a quick pat on his uncle’s foot, he turned and dashed back into the building. The smoke in the hallway was much thicker now. He had to feel his away along the walls. He’d gotten only three feet into the burning lab when a massive blast rocked the building, killing the doctor instantly.
First responders discovered a most unusual sight, something they’d never expected to find. Safely away from the burning building lay an old man on a gurney. It was as if he’d been dropped off by an ambulance on the way to a hospital. Tape and red whelps on his arms and legs showed where he’d been connected to numerous monitoring lines. There were also dozens of small wounds on his body, slightly bleeding. None proved to be life-threatening. The old fellow appeared to be heavily sedated. He was taken immediately to University Hospital.
The old warehouse had been derelict for years. But, the blazing hulk of a late model Ford sedan sat in the area of what had once been the loading dock. Firefighters battled the blaze for the remainder of the night, but nothing could be saved. Within minutes of their arrival, the roof collapsed, and by dawn, the walls had fallen. What was left was not much more than mounds of charred brick, twisted, steel, and a ton of questions. Everyone thought that the building had been empty. Who was the old man on the gurney? What was he doing there? And what about the burned out Ford? Had another individual been inside the building?
The Old Man On The Gurney
The question of the old man was the first to be answered. After an extensive check of surrounding hospitals, clinics, rehab centers, and nursing homes, it was learned that his name was Clifton K. Barnes, age eighty, and that he suffered from Alzheimer’s. His dementia was in a very advanced state. He had only one know relative, a nephew by the name of Dr. Marshall Melton, Ph.D., who of late had been his uncle’s caregiver. The good doctor had assumed care for his uncle less than six months previously. The nephew’s last known address was an upstate rural route. The charred license plate on the Ford proved that it was registered to Dr. Melton, although, at a previous address.
A quick check discovered that the doctor’s upstate address was not much more than a corn field. None in the area had either known, or seen him. No trace of the doctor was ever found. It was correctly assumed that he’d been incinerated in the fire, his ashes commingled with that of the building.
The one interesting nugget of information they discovered, although only a partial nugget, was that at one point, the professor had worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. ‘Primate Research’ was attached to his name. His official work there was still ‘classified.’ The mystery only deepened.
Clifton Barnes was returned to the nursing home, seemingly none the worse for wear. There he was seen on regular visits by a very conscientious medical intern from University Hospital, Dr. Jeremy Wade, who was specializing in geriatrics.
At first, Clifton Barnes was ‘just another patient’ to the young Dr. Wade. But that was slowly to change. At first, his patient needed to be ‘stabilized,’ and his wounds dressed. How he had survived the warehouse fire was a nagging mystery. Plus, the question begging to be answered, was what was Mr. Barnes doing there, and on a hospital gurney! Dr. Wade was soon conducting his own investigation, parallel to that of the authorities, although from a more ‘medical’ viewpoint.
Finding any thread of information was a slow going, hit and miss process. The young doctor was soon leaning toward what he called his NASA Theory, which was based on the nephew’s previous research, whatever that had been. Even after all these years, the government was still tight-lipped about it. And, what could his uncle have to do with it?
After many months of hit and miss research, one day, amide all the dead-end trees he’d poked, he suddenly caught a glimpse of the forest, and he simply could not accept what he was seeing.
Science, it is said, is based upon provable facts. Some call it, ‘seeing is believing.’ And that pivotal spring day in 1977, Dr. Jeremy Wade found it difficult to believe his eyes. The fact that it was impossible, however, did not diminish the parallel fact that it was true. Clifton J. Barnes was assuredly slowly growing younger!
Think about it for a moment. Living one’s life ‘backwards’ is not as desirable as you might think. Oh, perhaps in times past it may have been. But in our modern technological age of instant communication, it can be a very taxing, especially if one chooses to live their own life, on their own terms, and not under the microscope of public scrutiny. Such a life would be more of a curse than a blessing.
This was one of the first painful lessons that Clifton Barnes had to learn. Fortunately, he learned this lesson early, no small part of that process due to Dr. Jeremy Wade.
Fortunately for Cliff Barnes, Dr. Wade was first a man of character and compassion. He was a man who’s second nature was to think first, and act later, with copious amounts of thought and reasoning in between. He realized that to reveal this impossible knowledge to the world would open Clifton Barnes to a media circus. And he had no right to do that. That decision, should belong to Clinton Barnes, and to him alone!
On the other hand, what had obviously happened to his patient, had earth-shattering implications. This thing was far, far larger than just the two of them. So, what were they to do with this knowledge?
As soon a Cliff had ‘progressed’ to the point where he could make sane and rational decisions concerning his own unique life, the two men began their impossible quest toward equally impossible answers.
Science requires proof. In the case of Cliff Barnes, this proof would take time. That proof would be irrefutable to be sure, but the key ingredient was still time. And time was definitely in their favor. They had a LOT of work to do. Clifton Barnes had a LOT of decisions to make. And both men had monumental problems to solve. Their first success would prove to be their crowning achievement… that they were in this thing together… as if they were one entity.
Dr. Wade, of course, wanted to know ‘how,’ what valuable lessons for humanity could be learned from this. Cliff wanted to know ‘why.’
They had little to go on. And, they were limited to the amount and depth of legal search that was available to them. Neither man wanted to bring in outside assistance, for fear of publicly exposing Clinton’s unique status. In the late 70s and early 80s, even basic research was sadly limited, not at your finger-tips as it is today. They began with old newspaper clippings. That was the easy part. A curious reporter, following the case at the time of the fire had written about the burned of Ford, and even did a search himself, parallel to that of the police. He too searched the tag number, leading back to Cliff’s uncle, Dr. Marshall Melton. But how was he involved?
In the mean time, Cliff grew younger and stronger, Dr. Wade grew older and wiser, and technology grew by leaps and bounds. Slowly the information super-highway began to open up to ‘the common man.’
A big break in the case came with the public release of formerly secret information. They learned about government research during the pre-moon landing space race. They discovered that in the late 60s, a young Dr. Marshall Melton had worked in an Air Force lab in the desert of New Mexico. His was a small part of a large team doing animal research on the long-term effects of space on primates. Primates included monkeys, chimps… and humans. Dr. Melton, the reports revealed, had a few ‘bizarre’ ideas which ventured beyond the realm that the United States Air Force cared to trod. Whereas the USAF was interested in altering EQUIPMENT to make space travel safer and easier, the doctor was looking for ways to altar the physical make-up of the space TRAVELERS. He was soon terminated. Obviously, he must have continued his research privately. Was his nephew, Clifton Barnes, the result of one of these clandestine experiments? Probably. The obvious result of such a scenario was that the ‘rebirth’ of Clifton Barnes also spelled the death of Dr. Melton, and the incineration of all knowledge on how this was accomplished. As far as Clifton Barnes was concerned, the loss of this knowledge was a GOOD thing.
Cliff Continues His Story to Karen
To say that she was blind-sided was an understatement. She’d expected anthing but this.
Cliff spent the next few hours detailing the story of his uncle, and those space-medicine experiments, and what he and Dr. Wade had learned about the fire and his uncle’s probable death. He tried to fill in all of the blanks. Then he explained to her why it was so important for him to keep this unbelievable story a secret from the world. That was the only way he could ever hope to live even a semblance of a ‘normal’ life, a life that was actually the farthest thing from normal.
“You have no idea how difficult it is to live ‘off the grid’ in modern America,” he explained. “And that’s the way I must live it, in order to keep my secret and my sanity. Big Brother has eyes and ears are everywhere. And, I’m just too much of a social animal to even attempt trying to hide in the wilderness of Alaska. Oh yes, I have a Social Security number. And yes, it’s an early issue number. But the Social Security Administration would get a bit suspicious of a worker still socking credits onto an account as old as mine! And then there’s the driver’s license problem. It has your age, and photo, and mine would assuredly raise eyebrows. Besides, which age should I use, my ‘legal’ one? And, what would be my ‘legal age,’ the one assigned to me on the day my mother birthed me, or my ‘special’ one, somehow bequeathed me by my mad-scientist uncle? Oh, and there’s the small matter of having long time associates. They don’t tend to grow old gracefully around a friend who’s growing young instead. The FBI’s witness protection program would be a piece of cake compared to the life I’m forced to live!”
“Yes, we do have a problem,” she said.
He reached for her hands again. “I really appreciate that you used the plural, we. Because, if you really do want to share your life with my life, it will never be simple and never be easy.”
“But, in my case, it won’t be long either! She replied.”
He reached for her, drawing her close, as if their combined selves could wash away the problems they faced. “I love you, you know,” he said. “More than I’ve ever loved anyone before. More than I ever thought that I might could love anyone. I only wish that love was enough to make all of our issues and problems go away.”
They embraced for long moments as their hearts and spirits melded together.
Between sections of his fantastic story, Karen had a million questions. She’d listened intently, not knowing what… or how… to believe. They continued to talk. They cried and the even laughed together until well past dawn. Now Karen knew. Now she was part and parcel of his life, whatever that might be.
The sun was coming up as Cliff was leaving. It was difficult to part. Lovers with know time-restraints are reluctant to waste a precious second. At her doorway, he held her for long moments, not speaking but simply relishing this moment in time.
Time. Yes, time was the issue. Time was their enemy. Time was against them.
“I’ve often wondered ‘Why me?’ He asked. “And now I’m wondering ‘Why you?’ And the bigger question is ‘Why us?’ Think about it Karen, both of us had made up our minds, we had resolved the question. It was firmly settled and established that there’d be no relationships. And yet, we both succumbed to that timeless of needs and desires, at the same time, and with someone with like-minded resolutions, and somewhat similar, constraints. Why?”
“I suppose the answer is as timeless a love itself, she replied.”
“Yes. I agree. But I also wonder if there is also a deeper reason. We’re not two of your average/normal types to have been bitten by the oldest bug of all. No. We’re both unique. And yet, has some force outside of ourselves, larger than ourselves, wiser that ourselves, and even more timeless than ourselves… led us to met… and wooed us into a joining of our hearts?
“Are you attempting to find a rational for love?”
“Not for everyone. No. But in our situation, in our special case, YES!”
Doing Something About It
Dr. Jeremy Wade made a flight half way across the country to confer with his former roommate from medical school.
The Ames Center looked similar to other corporate headquarters in this sprawling business complex. But there was no cast aluminum caduceus out front to tip off passers by that it was one of the leading cancer research laboratories in the nation. By appearance, it could be just another web hoster, stock broker, or law office. It was a cold call. Dr. Charles Benson had no idea he was coming. Dr. Wade could only hope that his old friend was in today, and that, on the spur of the moment, he would meet with his old friend.
The building was massive, twenty or more stories and perhaps even more below ground. The limit to which an unescorted visitor could venture was maybe thirty feet, to where not one, but three well-groomed receptionists sat. Dr. Wade walked up to the first young lady. Immediately, she moved a small tablet in front of her.
“And your name sir?” She asked, not looking up at him, but rather down onto the tablet screen. Obviously, one must have a pre-arranged appointment to see anyone beyond the front desk.
“I don’t have an appointment. You see, I’m from out of town. And on a lark, I decided to stop by and as hello to my old roommate from school… Dr. Charles Lenard Greene. I hoped to surprise him.”
“But sir,” she said politely, “the staff here rarely sees anyone without an appointment.
“Look, I know this is highly irregular, and I really don’t want any special treatment, but it’s been twenty-plus years since I’ve seen Len… er, Dr. Greene, and I promise I’ll only take a few minutes of his time. Maybe if you gave him a call, tell him I’m here, we could just meet a minute of two, here in the lobby. Please.”
He must have reached a tender spot. She made a call.
“Have a seat over there. He’ll be right down.”
Dr. Wade took a seat, of which there were precious few in the rotunda. He also noted that everyone who came and went was either dressed to the nine’s, or in lab coats. He was glad now that he wore a suit.
Shortly, one of the four elevators opened, and his ole pal, ‘Cha-lee,’ as he was called in school, stepped through the doors. It was never Charles, nor Charlie, only Chalee.
Arms wide opened, and a huge grin on his face, Chalee marched straight toward Jeremy.
“Jeremiah ole buddy… ole Bulldog… it’s been far, far too long… what, ten, fifteen years? It’s so good to see you!”
“Same here, and double that!” said Jeremy.”
“What brings you to my neck of the woods? Taking in the big city?”
“No, actually, this is a special trip to see you.”
“I’m honored. But I must say, you were taking a huge chance on seeing me, the boss, or should I say bosses, keep rather tight reins on us here.”
“I suppose it was my winning way with the cute redhead at the desk. I always had a way with the ladies, you remember.”
“Come on,” said Charles, “I’ll call this my lunch break. They have a really good food kiosk on the patio, we can talk there. That’ll give us more time. Something tells me you didn’t drop by just to say hello.”
“That’s very perceptive of you. But you always were the sharpest tack in the box. And that, my friend, is one of the reason’s I’m here.”
The kiosk was only a few steps from the front entrance, off to the left. It was before the Noon hour, and few people were around. “Everything’s good. I usually get the fish sandwich… it’s Cod, really good. Oh, and it’s my treat.”
“Thanks, just get me what you get. You sold me with your enthusiasm, for a fish sandwich even.”
Their order was filled quickly, and the two men took a seat at one of the shaded tables, near the fountain which took up a large portion of the well manicured lawn.
“Dig in. And talk,” said Dr. Greene, “I want to hear all about that fulfilling family practice of yours. That’s all you ever talked about in school.”
“Well, fate intervened. And it’s not family practice. During internship at Memorial, I did a stint in the geriatrics department, and simply fell in love with those delightful old folks. Well, delightful for the most part. There are a few sour apples in the bunch. But sweet or sour, they all have such interesting stories. And they all need someone to listen. And I like that.”
“You always enjoyed history, and wanted to change the world.”
“I may not be changing the world, but I like to think that I’m making what time my patients have left in this world, a bit better. Which brings me to the real reason I came here today. I need some assistance, some help… or rather, one of my patients does… a patient who has a bizarre connection to you, Chalee.”
“Shoot. I’m all ears.”
“I won’t start in the beginning, but at a point only a few months ago. OK? I may be just a small town senior citizen doctor, but I still like to keep up with what’s going on in the medical world. Who knows when some fountain of youth might be discovered. Anyway, one night, I was reading an article about cancer research. I see a lot of that, the cancer, not the research. Anyway, the first thing that caught my eye was a photo of this building behind us, and I remembered that’s where you work. Secondly, I noticed a quote in the article by a Dr. Charles. And I remembered back in school, when we needed to sign something, but didn’t want to use our own names, we’d flip positions with our first and last names. I wondered if that quote might be by you. But then, what really caught my eye, was the use of the words ‘age regression’ in a paragraph describing tiny jelly fish, one nicknamed the Benjamin Button Jelly Fish. I remember that the article said that all research was focused on this jelly’s possible contribution to cancer research, and not on aging.”
“You’re right. I was one of the co-authors. And yes, I can see why a geriatric specialist might be interested in this little bugger.”
“Chalee, I’m more than just interested.”
“Jeremy, you have a strange look in your eyes, a seriousness that I’ve never seen before. Let’s have it.”
“First, because this involves a very dear patient of mine, this must be, I repeat, must be kept in confidence. Otherwise, it could have life changing consequences for him.”
“I understand. I agree.”
“OK. Now listen to his story, and attempt to believe that what I tell you is true, as unbelievable as it sounds. It is true, I promise. And I can prove it.”
As quickly as he could in their short time remaining, Jeremy told the story, beginning with the day he first met a slightly singed and battered Clifton Barnes in the nursing home. He continued through the remarkable discovery that Cliff was somehow aging backwards, and how he had miraculously ‘recovered’ from Alzheimer’s. Then he told of their research into the warehouse fire, the discovery that Cliff’s own uncle, Dr. Marshall Melton, was most probably involved, and all the dead-ends they’d encountered in their attempt to learn the truth of how this had happened.
As he was telling this seemingly tall tale, Dr. Greene sat quietly. It was difficult to tell just how he was accepting all this. However, when Dr. Wade got to the part about their research into the NASA history of Cliff’s uncle, he detected a slight peak in interest. He thought he saw his friend’s head tilt slightly. At first, he wondered if this reaction was just his imagination, until he’d finished his story. Then, Dr. Greene settled that question with a question of his own.
“What did you say that uncle’s name was?”
“Melton. Dr. Marshall Melton, Ph.D.”
Dr. Greene was already removing his cell phone from his pocket. “Just a moment, Cliff – excuse me.” He pressed a few numbers. “Polly. Lenny here,” he said into the phone. “Can you stop what you’re doing and look up something for me real quickly. Yes, it’s important. Yes, it’s that important. In that background file on Turritopsis Dohrnii – yes, the jellyfish – in the section on historical info, there’s a reference, no more than a few lines – about some NASA researcher doing primate research – and there’s a mention of Turritopsis Dohrnii associated with him. I need that fellow’s name. Yes, as quickly as you can. And thanks Polly. I’m at the food wagon. Yes. Diet or regular? I know. I know… lots of ice. See ya.”
“Come on Jeremy my friend.” he said as he stood. “I have quite a few questions more. He led the way inside to the reception desk, walking straight up to the redhead.
“Loraine,” he said, “My dear friend Dr. Jeremy Wade needs a blue pass. Make it, say for, let’s see, four hours, beginning now. I’ll vouch for him, just as he’s vouched for me many times in the past.”
The woman passed a short form across to Dr. Wade, which he quickly completed, just your basic registration info. He may well have been registering to win a toaster. That done, the two men walked to the nearest elevator, and went up three floors.
Dr. Wade was sadly disappointed by what greeted him as they emerged from the elevator. He’d expected an expansive laboratory, marble slabs covered with test tubes, microscopes, and maybe bubbling pipettes. They might well have just entered the corporate offices of Costco.
To the left and right, long door-lined hallways led to unseen depths into the building. Across from the elevator was the ever present glass enclosed reception desk, manned by yet another recent beauty pageant winner. The V-P of Hiring must really love his job.
Dr. Greene led Jeremy to the left, into a large meeting room, one that could easily seat two dozen or more. Today, it was just the two of them, until Loraine entered. Dr. Greene thanked her for the folder, and she thanked him for the large cherry Coke.
Dr. Greene opened the file, quickly scanning the first few pages. He handed the folder to his med school buddy, and said, “I thought I recognized that name, Dr. Marshall Melton. I can’t give you this folder, but here, read it. It’s all that we could learn about Dr. Melton ourselves, and believe me, we have folks who have connections, if you know what I mean. But you, my dear friend, know far more about the mysterious Dr. Melton than even we, or our researches could uncover.” He reached and took took Dr. Wade’s hand, as if in a congratulatory gesture. “We were only able to learn what he wanted to do. And you my friend, discovered what he accomplished!”
Dr. Wade took a seat and read. This was a very thin folder, containing less than half a dozen pages.
It gave a brief educational history of Dr. Melton, his early employment. The section of his stint with NASA was short. It seems he was with then for less than a year. No reason was given for his termination.
There was a short paragraph outlining the writer’s speculation on how the young doctor became interested in the jellies. He had met and married a young French woman while stationed in Marsielle with the Air Force. Her father, as well as her father’s father, were commercial fishermen, which included squid. It was assumed that somehow, these fishermen acquired a knowledge of the unique jelly, and passed this info onto the young American doctor.
So, there was a link. The butterfly had flown from two heady college boys with big dreams of bright medical futures – across the sea to the coast of France – back to the States – visited a spell with NASA – went with an old man and a driven researcher to a clandestine laboratory – lead one of the college boys to the old man, and the other to a world-class research lab – and now, the circle was complete. All hands were linked. Some call this ‘The Butterfly Effect.’
Cliff sat the folder on the desk.
“Now what?” asked Dr. Greene.”
“You must be asking why I really came here. Obviously, this wasn’t just a ‘drop in’ visit.”
“So? What’s the real reason?”
“I need, rather, my dear friend Clifton Barnes needs, some assistance. And you, my dear friend, are in not only the right position to assist him, but I really do believe that helping him will be of great benefit to you, and to your research here.
“Let’s hear it.”
“My focus is on his aging issue. Your focus is on cancer research. His focus is on Karen Olmsted, the woman he loves, who has cancer.”
“In addition to his unique physical existence, Clifton Barnes is perhaps the most perceptive man I’ve ever know. Before he finally dies, he’ll have racked up double the life-experiences than the rest of us could ever hope for. So, when he speaks, I find it beneficial to listen. He has a golden track record.”
“How does this effect me?”
“He believes that whatever has made him regress in age, must surely be continuing to work within his body. In over forty years, it hasn’t worn off. Is this ‘alteration’ on a cellular level? If so, I’ve not been able to prove it. Cliff believes, and I’m beginning to concur with him, that somehow, this ‘thing’ which makes him so different, is in his blood.”
“Your article says that your focus on the jelly fish is on cancer research, not anti-aging. OK.
Karen has cancer. Without some ‘miracle cure’ she’ll soon die. Cliff suggest a simple procedure which he firmly believes, will at the very least, give her a chance. He suggests giving them a complete blood mixing and transfer – half of his blood into her, half of hers into him. He begs to give this a try. They’re only asking for one attempt. But this proceedure would be exceedingly difficult for me to arrange in a hospital or lab back home. But, this ‘fortress’ is the perfect place. Not only total privacy assured, but you no doubt have every piece of medical equiptment know to mankind.”
Cliff pause for a moment, then continued, “I’m sure you’re wondering, ‘What’s in it for me’ which is a perfectly reasonable question.”
“As for myself, I’m willing to turn over to you all of my records on Clifton Barnes. And he’s in agreement with that. Also, he and Karen are both in agreement to avail themselves to frequent study by your lab. Their only codicil is that they prefer to remain anonymous, that is, as anonymous as is possible. If the procedure works, it could give Karen a bit more time. How knows, it could even cure her! And you will have have gained valuable human-effects information for your cancer/jellyfish research. If it doesn’t, we’re back to where we all started. The only real losers will be Karen, and Clifton. As for myself, I want nothing but a future for those two!”
“Sounds like I have nothing to lose.”
“And everything to gain, huh? Will you do it?”
“I’ll have to make a few inquiries. I don’t own the place, you know! Give me a day or two. It will take at least that long, to start putting this thing together.”
Several Years Later, After The Birthday Party
Cliff and Karen cuddled in their usual nest on the sofa. There was a slight nip in the air, but not quite cold enough for a fire. She pulled a well-worn plaid comforter over their legs.
“The boys sure enjoyed the party, didn’t they?” She said, looking up to him.
“No thanks to you!” he replied. “Look at all this mess. Honestly, you’re spoiling those kids rotten!”
“Don’t start that again,” she said, snuggling ever closer to him.
“Sorry. I guess I was just thinking. And not just about the boys. About us, and how, how very blessed we are. We’re spoiled too! Look around you. It’s really not a mess. It’s… it’s… a statement! Yes, it’s a statement to our happiness, and to our blessed life.”
Clift sprang to his feet, then bent and scooped up a hand full of shredded gift wrap and ribbons, and tossed them into the air. Then another hand full, and another.
“Have you gone mad?” she asked, grinning.
“Perhaps I have. Madly in love with you. Madly in love with the boys. Madly in love with this house, this mess, this wonderfully life we have together. Yes, I’m madly in love with life itself – our life!
She pulled him back onto the sofa, snuggling even closer to him. “You know, you’re a lot of fun for an older man!”
“That’s the nicest thing you said to me in years!”
“What a wonderful word… YEARS,” she said. Time was when that was such a frightful word for us.”
“TIME is a wonderful word also,” he said. “The problem is, most folks don’t know that. They don’t appreciate time, nor value it, as we do. Perhaps that’s why I see what other’s would call a trashed den, as a beautiful sight! Time was – there’s that word again – when we were not dealt the time to possess such a glorious scene, but now we do, and I plan to embrace it, and treasure and enjoy it, to the maximum! Thanks to Doctors Wade and Greene, we now both have the blessed opportunity of growing old together.”
Their kiss was long and passionate.
They stayed in the trashed den for hours, talking little, simply treasuring the moment and one another. Finally she stood, wrapping the comforter around her shoulders. “It’s late. We need to get the kids in bed. The school bus comes early you know.”
He reached down and picked up a small radio controlled toy car. Looking at the toy he asked, “The red one is Jeremy’s, isn’t it, or is this Chalee’s?
Would it be corny to say that they lived happily ever after?
I love to write! Does that qualify me as a writer? Technically, when I write a grocery list, I’m writing, ergo, I’m a writer. But I don’t write epic novels such as The Old Man And The Sea. That’s best left to ‘real’ writers.
I write because I love to write. I’m even compelled to write. But I’m often questioned as to ‘where in the world did that come from? Honestly, most often I simply don’t know.
Many of my ideas hit me in bed, usually in those twilight minutes between sleep and semi-wakefulness.
I seldom write what I dream. And I’ve yet to master directing my dreams. They simply have a life of their own.
I usually write from memories of events and locations, you know, time, people, and places. But more often than not, these times, people, and places are a strange jumble and mix, throughly stirred by a large ‘what if’ spoon.
I know, I’m beginning to sound as though I have no idea where my ideas come from. I don’t. And that’s the fun part. I can sit back in total innocence… and write to my heart’s content!
“Good morning everyone!” It was the cheerful voice of Dr. Celia Burns, Chief Pediatric Resident of St. Clemson’s Hospital. Across the city, thousands of other workers were greeting one another with typical Friday Morning cheer. But at St. Clemson’s, TGIF had little meaning. The hospital was a city which never slept and hadn’t since day one.
The cheerful doctor was striking. Although in her late forties, she’d easily pass for the early twenties. The long blonde hair and turned up nose gave her that Doris Day type beauty.
The doctor made her way into the nursing station, picking up the day’s patient roster along the way. At the opposite end of the long counter stood Harvey Goodwin, the Speech Therapist who came in three days a week. She walked up to him, and placing a hand on his arm remarked, “Well look at you Harv! You got a new style haircut. Looks nice.”
The touch to the arm was not simply an act of familiarity. It was a habit. Celia Burns was a toucher. All of nurses around the central desk received a light touch, as had elderly Mr. Bowman downstairs, the hospital’s ever present greeter.
“We need to talk Celia,” said Harvey. The use of her first name was not a lack of respect, nor of misplaced informality. It was simple friendship. They’d long since gone beyond the co-worker point, to one of sincere friendship. Or so she thought.
“OK. What’s up? Your place or mine?”
“Funny,” he replied.
“How about lunch, in the cafeteria?” she asked. “I hear that the Hospital Board is making their quarterly rounds today, which means that I’m expected to follow all the rules, like taking lunch.”
“I see they have grill cheese and tomato soup on the menu today.”
“You know me well,” she replied.
“Good. Then I’ll see you at twelve. I’ll have it ready for you, hot and hot coffee too.”
With that, she turned and was off to make her morning rounds.
The cafeteria’s intent was to divid the seating area between hospital staff and visitors. But in practice, with only one serving line, it had never worked out that way.
He found a table in the back, off to the side and near a window. The surrounding tables were occupied by visitors, most with noisy children. So much for the better, he thought. When he saw her at the doorway searching for him, he quickly got up and took her soup to the microwave for a fast re-heating. She arrived at the table just as he was returning the now steaming bowl.
“How thoughtful,” she remarked.
“You deserve it,” he replied.
“Now, what’s on your mind? Just why, pray tell, do we need to talk as you say?”
“Eat up now. We’ll talk afterwards. We don’t have a lot of time you know.”
They ate silently. And as always, the soup and sandwich were wonderful.
When they’d finished their meals, she sat back in her chair, ready to hear the mysterious what and why of her friend’s need to talk.
She reached her hand across the table with the innocent intention of touching his arm, as she had the habit of doing. This time he surprised her. Just before her hand touched him, he pulled his arm away.
Their eyes met. There was question on her face… and shock. She could not read his.
“What’s going on Harv? What’s the problem?”
“It’s more of an issue… and issue with me. I need to get something off my chest, before…” he paused for a long moment then began again, “before it becomes a problem.”
“Let’s have it,” she said, “And shoot straight, please.”
“OK. Here goes,” he began. “You’re a toucher. And that’s Ok. That’s you. But that’s not the issue, not really. The issue’s not with you, but with me.
“Go on,” she said.
“I’ve known you for, what, almost two years now. The amazing thing is, from the very first time I met you and you placed that warm hand of yours on my arm as you do… as you to almost everyone, I felt something. I felt something wonderful, something special, something electric.
“Wow!” Was all she could mutter.
“It was not like some school-boy who’d just experienced his first kiss… but it was close. And the scary thing is, it’s happened every time since. I’m not sayings its love. It’s not and I know it. But it’s something, something like it. Celia, I’d be much more comfortable if it was something more… more physical. Lust is something more common, more everyday, and perhaps, more controllable. But this is different. And it happens with every touch.
She sat for a long moment, thinking. But she was speechless. She had no idea how to respond.
“Why are you telling me this?” She finally asked. “Why now?”
“Why? He asked. “Why not. I’m most uncomfortable about this. I don’t want it to happen. I certainly don’t need it to be happening. I’m a most happily married man Celia, and I want it to stay that way! But when that ‘tingle’ begins, I feel guilty… guilty when I shouldn’t be feeling guilt at all. What I’m saying is, I’m just tired of all this stupid guilt, the needless guilt that I can’t understand. And I’m tired of being afraid, afraid that I could be lying to myself and to my heart.”
BUZZZZ – BUZZZZ – BUZZZZ – BUZZZZ
Harvey rolled over and fumbled for the button on the infernal alarm clock. Finally the deafening noise stopped. Daylight filtered between the louvers of the venetian blinds, illuminating the bedroom in the soft glow of morning. He’d had that dream again, the dream he’d begun to call the Touching Dream.
Polly didn’t stir. Her auburn hair half covered her beautiful, sleeping face. Saturday. Good, it was Saturday, he remembered. She didn’t have to work on Saturdays. But this was the second Saturday of the month, and he pulled the morning shift every second and fourth Saturdays of the month.
He showered. He shaved. He brushed his teeth and dressed. Then he made a quick cup of instant coffee, grabbed a pop-tart and his car keys, and was off to the hospital. It wasn’t a long drive, twenty minutes at most.
He parked and when inside, saying hello to Mr. Bowman as he entered. After a short elevator ride, and a shorter walk down the corridor, he was at work.
“Good morning everyone!” It was the loud and gravely voice of Dr. Celia Burns, Chief Pediatric Resident of St. Clemson’s.
Here it comes, thought Harvey Godwin.
Behind her back, everyone called Dr. Celia Burns, ‘Bigfoot Burns.’ The former farm-girl turned pediatrician could most probably lift a horse. She was huge… in all directions! About all that she lacked was a complete covering of hair! Bigfoot Burns was a fitting moniker.
Here it comes!
“Good morning Harvey,” she bellowed, as she slapped him on the back, almost knocking him across the room.
Nope. This Celia was nothing like the Celia of his dreams.
Hello. My name is Gloria Watkins. I am seventy-three old, and this is my story. I’ve never shared this with anyone except my dear mother, and even she steadfastly refused to believe it. No doubt, neither will you.
My story begins with my parents. But then, doesn’t everyone’s? My parents were wannabe hippies. Their problem was, they were from Kansas, not exactly a hotbed of hippy culture. So the week after graduation from high school, the young lovers ran off and got married. Their plans were to stake their claim to a free life somewhere in the wilderness of Alaska. They only made it to the vast plains of Montana.
The Greyhound Bus pulled into a tiny one-horse town for a short rest-stop. While inside the small store buying snacks, they noticed a help wanted sign offering employment for ranch hands. Within minutes they made the call and were hired. Little did they realize that this tiniest of hamlets would become their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for years to come.
The match with the rancher and his dear wife must have been arranged in heaven. Soon their childless employers took on the joys of surrogate parents. This happy arrangement became even happier the following year when I was born.
The rancher had a retired railroad boxcar which he used for storage. It was soon converted into a home for me and my parents. It sat about a hundred yards from the main house, and fifty or so from the barn. After a few weeks of loving work and talented craftsmanship, that former utilitarian box looked nothing like its former self. The final touch was the flower boxes under every window. It was beautiful!
I was seven when I met Alf.
Night skies in rural Montana are nothing like in Chicago or Miami. Rural Montana has few sidewalks to ‘roll-up.’ Were it not for the stars above, night could be overpowering. Instead, night time was illuminating. The skies above became kaleidoscopes of heavenly light.
It was on such a beautiful star filled night that I first saw Alf.
If he had a name, I’m sure it wasn’t Alf. He couldn’t talk, not in a language I could understand anyway. I called him Alf because that’s the first word that popped into my head when I first noticed his hairy body that night.
I was laying on a small blanket on the ground, about midway between our house and the barn. This area was near to where the woods encroached onto the property… and where I’d seen deer before. I lay on my back watching the stars above while looking for shooting stars, and listening for the soft hoof steps of deer.
Instead of hoof steps, I heard instead the crack of a small branch. I rolled over to face the sound. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the deeper darkness of the woods. And then I noticed movement, and slowly sat up.
Looking back now, perhaps it was because I was sitting, and not standing, that Alf didn’t over-react to my presence. Perhaps he saw that I was not a threat. Perhaps.
That first night we both just gazed at one another. He stood. I sat. Silently. How long we held that pose I don’t know, only this: it was for a very long time. Neither of us made a sound. Neither of us moved. It was a strange period of what could only be called bonding. Far off in the distance a coyote howled. Alf turned slowly, and walked away.
I made it a practice, as often as I could, to spread my blanket on that same spot and lay there under the stars. I did this three to four times a week. And at least twice each week Alf would return. For many weeks, we’d simply stare at one another silently.
And then one night, Alf raised a hand, and slowly and carefully began to move his fingers. He was attempting to sign to me. This happened for the next two or three times we met. Then one night, I stood, and took a slow and nervous step toward him. He responded by turning and walking away, not to return for many nights. I took this as a sign to keep my distance.
And so we continued our silent late night meetings. We met this way for over four years, under the stars, separated by far more than simple distance. I was never able to learn his sign language, yet I continued to feel from his countenance that he was trying to communicate only friendship and goodwill. The last time I saw Alf was the night he brought his mate and baby to our meeting spot.
The small duplicate of Alf was tiny, surely newborn. Yet it too was covered with a thick coat of hair. The mother, shorter than Alf, was stocky. She cradled the infant in her arms, as it clung to one of her huge breasts.
Alf then made a sign using both of his large hands. It was a sign one could not mistake. He moved his hands to his eyes and slowly rubbed them in a rotating motion, as if crying. Then he placed an arm around the female and led her and the child into the forest.
I never saw Alf again.
We lived on the ranch for six more years. By then, a large ski resort had been built in the hills beyond the rancher’s spread. Even Montana seemed to be changing, even shrinking. It was beginning to lose the rich splendor of its summer’s nights. My parents were older and wiser. They saw that their cherished rainbow was fading. We moved south to Georgia.
Readers often ask, “Why do you write?” Other writers sometimes ask, “How do you write?” Both are valid questions.
Growing up in the 40s and 50s, I had the distinct advantage over children today, in that most of our toys did not come ‘Ready To Play.’ They came in boxes – a box of building blocks, a box of Tinker Toys, a box of Lincoln Logs. Empty the box, add fun, and stir.
My favorite was a large metal A.C. Gilbert Erector Set filled with all manner of screws, bolts, washers, rods, plates and angles, wheels, pulleys, gears, plus a small electric motor. Oh yes, it came with a set of directions on how to assemble a wheeled toy or two… but the most fun was had by suppling a key ingredient of your very own… imagination. And then an amazing thing happened. Imagination bred creativity! And with imagination and creativity… nothing was impossible.
How do I write? Well it’s something like playing with an A. C. Gilbert Erector Set… but the screws, bolts, and washers are words!
But where do the ideas come from… the what to write about? Good question. I wish I really knew the answer.
You know how it is sometimes when you just want to sit in front of the idiot box and be entertained? You don’t really care what’s on… you just click the on button, and watch… regardless of what’s on, who’s on, or how long it’s been on. Well, sometimes, I find myself just turning on my thought process, and there, on my mind’s screen, there’s something there… and I watch. I didn’t look for this channel, it was just there, already on and showing. So I watch, and follow the program already in progress, and see where it might lead.
This happens often, especially during those sleepy moments of what are sometimes called ‘twilight sleep,’ both morning and night. I try not to do this while driving. Crazy, huh?
I’ve just learned a new publishing term, ‘flash fiction.’ It refers to short-short stories, quick reads, quick as a flash reading. The follows is such. It’s a simple story, but one filled with emotion. Chapter count? Definitely one. It came to me early one morning last week, while have in and half out of sleep. I can’t really say I wrote it… but rather watched it, as if it were a drama on stage, or a program on TV.
They’d been driving for 10 hours. They should have been there by now. So much for the best laid plans of mice and vacationers. It was not their fault, they’d planned well, or so they thought. That extra hour for ‘incidentals’ didn’t cover the multitude of unexpecteds they’d encountered today – road construction, an accident, and the novice couldn’t-care-less waitress. All had added to the list of ha-ha I gotcha delays.
They still had a hundred miles to go. They were now somewhere in the barren desolation of Western Arizona, and it was well past 1 AM. Considering their schedule, they had few options. Stop now and attempt to make up the time tomorrow? But they’d still be behind schedule. And – stop where? They’d not passed a motel for seventy five miles. Plus, that would cost extra money, money they could ill afford. The lost time would also cut into their time on the beaches of California… their long awaited dream vacation.
Wallace and Judith Bishop had been dreaming of this trip for years. They deserved it! Finally, all the kids were out of the house, and self supporting. Now was the time. Because they’d married late in life, and began their family even later, they were far past the age of typical beach people. Who cared if folks stared. They’d earned their stroll among the bronzed gods and goddesses. Now it was only a day away, if they could only hold out.
A few miles ahead, another weary traveler was counting the miles and hours ahead – not to sand and surf, but to hearth and home. With a fresh tank of coffee in his gut and a fresh mug by his side, Glenn Allen pulled his big rig out of the parking lot of an all night diner – a lone neon oasis in the dark desert. He had the 18-wheeler in second gear, the front wheels entering the black highway, when he thought of his wallet – the wallet he’d last seen beside his empty plate in the diner – the wallet somewhat sticky with pancake syrup. He fumbled, trying to dig into his back pocket, searching, while he silently cursed his ever increasing weight gain. The cab’s rear wheels entered the highway, and now crossed the center line. The big rig now covered both lanes, at a forty-five degree angle. He was focused on the wallet, not on completing his turn. A delay, far less important that the wallet, was fast approaching, and now lay in the path of the rig.
He touched the wallet. Aha! he thought. He had it after al…
I’m told that folks never feel a thing, that is, in a full blown highway crash. One second, all is well with the world. Your mind is doing what it was doing in the previous micro second. Then it happens. Instantly, you cannot see, hear, or feel. That fate’s reserved for the lucky ones. Others, are cursed by seeing, and knowing what’s coming. They see. They hear. They feel.
Judith and Wallace were among the lucky ones.
Their vision, hearing, and tactical senses returned after the crash, but only briefly.
The 5 folks in the diner heard the crash. One claimed she could actually feel it.
The Bishops vehicle hit the rig between the cab and trailer, no more than 5 feet behind where the driver sat – his wallet still in his back pocket. The Bishop’s well worn Chrysler literally cut the rig in half – coming to rest in a tangled heap – almost twenty yards past where the separated cab and trailer came to rest. The posted speed on this stretch of desert highway was 75, and the Bishop’s were doing ever mile of that, if not more.
Thankfully, there was no fire. When both mangled vehicles came to a stop, all was quiet and dark once again. Not a single light shown from either vehicle, save for one tiny bulb in the shattered dash of the Bishop’s Chrysler. The feeble light was hardly half the illumination of a birthday candle. The patrons of the the diner strained thru the plate glass window to see what had caused the terrible noise outside, but outside all was dark once again.
The Wallace Bishop, stunned an uncomprehending, barely clung to life. What had just happened? Was he dreaming? That’s it. A dream. A really bad dream. He was in bed. He’d just awakened. Yes, that was it! Through his foggy vision, he saw Judith. Funny. She was upside down. Why was she upside down? Or perhaps, it was he who was flipped.
The solitary bulb, somehow still drawing power, cast a soft light on Judith’s face. She was smiling at him, or at least, trying to smile. A crooked rivulet of red ran down her cheek and dripped from her chin. Her silvery hair fell across one eye. He reached to brush it out of her face, but could not. His arms seemed no longer to work.
His own life’s blood was draining away. Then, some degree of understanding returned to his starving brain… and he came to realize that this was his ultimate delay. He’d often wondered when his time would come, and where he might be. And now he knew – somewhere in the vast, almost empty desert. I wonder if the angels know where I am? He thought.
He didn’t have long. And he knew it. He wished that I could only hold Judith, just one more time. And he leaned toward her, which was not close enough, not close enough at all. He was growing weaker by the second.
“I… I love… you.” he managed, with great difficulty. He saw her lips moving, slowly, trying to speak. She was trying to tell him… but his vision was fuzzy.
In his final moment Bishop felt the hand of an angel on his hand. He tried to smile, but he couldn’t. His fleshly body had breathed its last.
The following story is a 2-part chapter from a collection of fictitious stories about my imaginary Uncle Earle and Aunt May. I presented the first part on this blog around a year ago. Last night, I took the 2nd part of this story to my writer’s club meeting – but I realized that the first part of the story is necessary to explain the second. Therefore, I’m including both parts in this posting, in case you may have missed the first part.
UNCLE EARLE’S HALF UNCLE, Part One
Uncle Earle’s Grandpa Clovis settled in Tennessee. Not Memphis or Nashville, but way out in the sticks – a place so remote, as they say, sunshine had to be piped in. Grandpa Clovis married late in life, just after he’d started a little pig and tobacco farm. Back in those days you didn’t hire farm hands, you had ‘em! So Grandpa Clovis married Adeline Wilson… and started up a family of farm-hands. While Adeline was expecting their first child (it turned out to be a girl), he built a simple, but comfortable, ‘dog trot’ house for his growing family.
A dog trot was like two houses joined together. They shared one big floor, and one roof covered both. The two ‘house’ areas were separated by an open hallway that ran front to back. Because there were no doors on the ends of this ‘hallway,’ yard dogs simply trotted through, hence the name. Bedrooms were on one side and the kitchen and sitting areas on the other. Of course the privy was out back, as this was way before inside plumbing. Grandpa Clovis expected to have a large family, so he built a three holer. The first 3 children were girls, who unfortunately, don’t usually make the best field hands.
About that time, Grandma Adeline’s younger sister Elvira married a fine hunk of a man from the next county. Rudolph, Rudolph Benson was his name, and he worked at the saw mill just over the ridge from the dog trot. The old saw mill had seen better days. It had been powered by a rickety, wood burning steam engine. The mill owner complained about burning up all the profits fueling the steam engine – so his remedy was replacing the wood burner with an old T- Model Ford. The old Ford had been wrecked, so he replaced the radiator, took off the wheels, put it up on blocks, and began powering the mill with that old Ford.
Like I said, the old sawmill was in sad shape. The apparatus that fed logs into that big spinning saw blade needed manual assistance. And like I said, Elvira’s new husband Rudolph was a hunk of a man. By default, he became the log pusher, manhandling a rough-cut 4 x 4 ram. If you’ve ever used a table saw, it’s the same principle. When you’re not careful, the spinning blade can kick the wood back at you. This is exactly what happened to Rudolph.
The day started out badly. It was cold, damp and foggy. It took quite a while to get the old Ford started. Rudolph got a bad splinter picking up his 4 x 4 ram. (He’d left his work gloves at home.) As he was feeding the first log of the day into the saw… it kicked back violently. The log struck Rudolph squarely in the chest. The blow crushed his chest like an egg, killing him instantly. The log hurled him backward, slamming him into the T- Model, rupturing the gas tank. The gasoline splashed all over Rudolph and everything else for six feet in all directions. Because of the nip in the air… they had a fire going in a 55 gallon drum nearby. With a sudden WHRRRRRRUMPHHH… everything exploded in a fireball. It consumed Rudolph, the old T-Model, the mill itself, everything.
Everyone escaped, except Rudolph. After the fire cooled, all that remained of Elvira’s poor husband was a few brittle bits of bone, charred to a snowy white. Perhaps this was a blessing. Elvira was so attached to Rudolph that she’d have found it exceedingly difficult to let him go. Now there was precious little left to hold on to.
After the funeral, Clovis and Adeline invited the grieving Elvira to move in with them for a while. Grandpa Clovis converted one of the rooms on the kitchen side of the house into an apartment for her. ‘For a while’ stretched into years, and years, and more years. The three of them lived in that old house for the remainder of their days. But it wasn’t long before the grieving widow and hospitable sister were sharing more than just the kitchen and privy. It wasn’t long before the yard dogs weren’t the only ones trotting back and forth through the hallway. Over the years Grandpa Clovis and his wife Adeline raised six kids in that old house, and Grandpa Clovis and Elvira, (his wife’s sister), raised five.
“Clovis was no better ‘n a dog his-self,” raved Aunt May when she first heard the story. “DOG TROT was a fittin’ name, that’s fer sure!”
Uncle Earle’s father was Clovis’ six child by his legal wife Adeline. And Uncle Earl’s favorite uncle, Edward, was the third child of Clovis and Elvira. So because those two boys were HALF brothers, Uncle Earle just naturally considered Edward to be his HALF-uncle. It makes sense to me!
UNCLE EARLE’S HALF-UNCLE, Part Two
Uncle Earle received a letter from relatives in Tennessee, saying they’d just buried his favorite Uncle, his Half-Uncle Edward. And… the letter also said that, at the same time, they’d also buried Edward’s wife, Connie.
Now Edward’s burial came as no surprise. The old gent was way past ninety. What came as a surprise was the burial of Aunt Connie. Uncle Earle KNEW she’d been dead for fifteen years or more! The letter contained a long newspaper clipping, which explained some of these strange circumstances. Uncle Earl knew about Edward and Connie’s early years. It took some digging to turn up the story of their latter years.
It seems that after the eleven ‘dog trot kids’ were grown, they moved away, all that is but Edward. He stayed on and looked after the old threesome until they died. 2 years after the last one passed away, the old place burned. By then Edward was thirty-seven, and ready to look for a wife himself.
Down the road lived the family of a staunch Baptist minister who presided over no less than three small congregations in the area. His eldest daughter, Connie, was the conscripted organist/pianist for all three churches. I suppose that 4 Sunday Services each week (one of the churches met Sunday Mornings and Sunday Nights) and 3 mid-week services a week were a bit much for Connie. It didn’t take a crowbar to pry her away from her family. After the wedding she and Edward promptly moved to the other side of the mountain, too far away to be the three-church organist/pianist anymore.
What Connie may have lacked in physical beauty she more than made up for in inner beauty. As if in reward for caring for his elderly parents, Edward was blessed with the grandest wife a man could hope to find. Although they never had children of their own, their home was a haven of love and joy to every child in the area, and for friends and neighbors alike. And then tragedy struck.
Connie was stricken with a rare and incurable liver disease. Edward was positively devastated. I suppose Edward had heard his mother, Elvira, talk about the loss of his father, and all the pain caused. As he approached the loss of his beloved Connie, Edward could not imagine that eventual reality.
Now Edward often hunted and fished with a strange recluse who lived in the next ‘hollow.’ Folks in the area called the ole fool Wild Bill. He was a wild unpredictable half-wit… the often result of backwoods inbreeding. But Wild Bill was an expert fisherman, and a crack shot. His humble dwelling was filled with game trophies… a large mouth bass, seemingly as large as a tuna, adorned one wall. There were snarling bobcats, dainty foxes, rabbits, squirrels, deer heads, and even a large black bear standing erect and threatening. On a table near his front door was his pride and joy, a large bullfrog holding a lamp, the first animal he’d ever done. Wild Bill was an amateur, yet quite proficient, taxidermist.
“Earle, one a these days I wanna to do me a person,” Wild Bill had once confided to Edward.
Connie lived only 3 months after her diagnosis. By then, Edward had made his decision. Like good economy, supply was ready to satisfy demand.
When you live as far back in the sticks as these people, the niceties of civilized law and custom aren’t always followed. Few had birth certificates. Death certificates were practically unheard of. So Edward convinced everyone that Connie didn’t want a viewing… that she wanted everyone to remember her as she was in life. She died at home, in Edward’s arms.
Edward built a pinewood coffin, beautifully varnished and waxed… and with brass fittings. It was fitting tribute to his beloved Connie. Into this farewell box he carefully laid several bags of sand… and nailed it shut. The afternoon of her death, he and Wild Bill ‘did’ Connie.
Of course, a human doesn’t have the same hide or hair as a bass or rabbit. So when finished, Connie left a bit to be desired. Edward had to apply a LOT of make-up, causing her to look not at all unlike Tammie Faye. But at least he still had his beloved Connie.
After dressing her in her finest Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes, he laid the body on an old frame bed hidden away in the attic. Then he contacted her family.
After a tender and sweet farewell service at the Baptist Church, they took that beautiful pinewood box (of sandbags) and buried it beneath a stately oak in the REST IN TRUTH CEMETERY. Rest in peace. Ashes to ashes. In this case would that be sand to sand?
Of course Wild Bill had been sworn to secrecy. He proved to be a man of his word. It was only in the past few days, when Edward too had passed way, and his few remaining relatives began searching his old house for family remembrances… that someone happened into the attic and discovered the true resting place of Aunt Connie.
For a man to have had such a checkered ancestry, dog trots, half-uncles, and a taxidermied aunt… I suppose we can cut Uncle Earle a little slack. I know I can.
People often ask writer’s how their stories come to be. I my case, it’s usually that I first meet the characters – in my mind – as if meeting a flesh and blood person for the first time. Then, these factious people tell their stories to me. Their story simply unfolds. Such is the case of the boy who could see tomorrow. I met his parents first.
Their story is, I’ll admit, a dark tale. It’s neither dark in the spooky sense, nor is it evil. It’s just a story that we hope will never happened… period. Some things, although not specifically sinful per se, simply should not be. I’ll not ask you to enjoy this story. Just think about it. ￼
THE BOY WHO COULD SEE TOMORROW
Paula Wilson, the Mother –
Bucky was our middle child. His birth was special, as was his life. He was not suppose to be… and that in more ways than one. His older sister, Connie, had a difficult beginning herself. I was sick much of her pregnancy, and her birth was a long and difficult affair. The small country hospital where she was finally delivered didn’t make matters much easier, on either of us. Connie was a late talker and walker. But when she blossomed, into a beautiful, radiant bloom.
The doctor’s told us that I’d probably not be able to conceive again. That’s why Bucky was such a welcomed surprise. We thought of him as our miracle child.
My pregnancy with Bucky went as smooth as silk, and his delivery also. He was such a healthy baby. We considered everything about him such a blessing. He was always spot on with his developmental abilities – and even early with some. He was an early walker and talker, much to our amazement.
His special ability, if I can call it that, was difficult to spot at first. There were small clues to be sure, but when one is not expecting something like this, it’s difficult to grasp, and impossible to understand. Looking back now, I think the first clues were those exhibited at feeding time. Even as adults, all of us have differences in taste. So it’s not surprising when a small child refuses strained spinach or squash. Bucky was always a good eater. But when he didn’t like a food… say… beets – he’d turn his head away before he’d ever sampled it. See what I mean?
By the time he was three, my husband and I knew that Bucky was different. Evidence of his unique ability began to surface more frequently. And it frightened us. But Bucky was far too young at the time to discuss it with us. And there were his frequent headaches. He whined and cried, holding his head. They didn’t last long, but were frequent. The doctors were baffled. They could uncover no reason for them, none at all. Of course, we didn’t discuss with the doctors our growing knowledge of Bucky’s ability to seemingly peer into the future.
The first time Bucky seriously spoke with me about this was when he was 4. He was having another of his headaches. He’d crawled into my lap, cuddling close. He turned and looked into my eyes. “I don’t like the headaches,” he said. “I don’t want to see tomorrow.” Then his little arms squeezed me tightly, as if he was attempting to bury himself into my body.
I’ve never believed that seeing into the future could be a good thing. And I’ve never believed in so-called fortune tellers. I can’t see how this would be a natural and normal, in any form. If it were possible to see into the future, it would open wide a door to opportunities ripe for corruption and ruin. It would not be a blessing. It would be a curse. But somehow, my son was gifted with this curse. He could see into tomorrow.
Franklin Wilson, the Father –
Bucky was the son I always wanted. I was one happy camper at his birth. I considered changing jobs when he was born, just to have more time with him. Traveling like I did may have brought in more money, but then, money isn’t everything. I missed the day he first spoke a recognizable word, and when he took his first step. I missed a lot of his early days. Perhaps this was why I was the last one in the family to admit the truth of Bucky’s unbelievable ability – or maybe that should be… disability. It was a disability, for sure. It set him apart from all of us, from everyone. It made him different. Our great love for him was intermixed with fear and dread.
Yes, I know that in certain cases, a glimpse into the future could be a reassuring and positive thing – but for the most part – personally, I have far too much stress coping with the present, to add knowledge of the future on top of that. And this ability could be exploited – a unique tool to increase personal gain, wealth, influence, leverage. But that would be like having the keys to every safe in town… and this could not be good. The weed of temptation finds itself in every garden – there’s no point in watering and fertilizing it!
Once I accepted the unassailable fact that my son somehow possessed this dangerous ability, it shook me to the very core. Oh what an tremendous responsibility had been give my wife and I – to raise and protect this ‘innocent’ child – a child who was of such great danger to himself, and to others. Only a fool would think of it otherwise!
Our first ‘scare’ came when Bucky was almost 5. I’m not sure what we were thinking at the time, but to give the lad as much ‘normalcy’ as possible, we enrolled him in a local daycare/kindergarten. Bucky loved it! By this time, we’d talked to him about the fact that no others ‘saw tomorrow’ as he did – and that they would be alarmed if they thought that he did. We strongly urged him to keep his ‘visions’ or what ever they were, to himself. What were we thinking? Bucky was only a kid!
Bucky’s group was scheduled for a field trip on Friday. They were going to the Municipal Opera House, for a tour, and hear the orchestra practice. Friday afternoon, when his mother arrived to pick up Bucky after school, she was directed to the principal’s office. Something very strange had happened concerning Bucky. It seems that there had been a change in plans for the field trip. The orchestra’s conductor had fallen ill – so the Opera House tour was off. Instead they’d gone to the zoo. This was not known until after school on Thursday. The conductor was hospitalized late Thursday afternoon, and the school notified after the end of the school day. It was then that the plans were changed – to take the kids to the zoo instead. Thursday night, the principal called Bucky’s teacher, and told her the change of plans.
Then Thursday morning, as Bucky’s teacher greeted each child as they entered the building, the first thing out of Bucky’s mouth was, “I’m glad we’re going to the zoo today instead. That opera stuff is boring. I can’t wait to see the elephants, they’re so neat!” How did he know? The change in plans had not as yet been announced to the children.
Monday, the daycare was called, and told that Bucky was ill. And the family made plans. This scare of discovery had been too close! Bucky never went back to the daycare. Within 3 weeks we moved to Birmingham… 500 mile away.
Connie Wilson, the Sister –
Bucky was born the summer before I started 1st grade, which would have made me six, barely old enough to be somewhat of a help with Bucky. Dad was ecstatic when Bucky arrived. He’d wanted a boy, and Bucky was the answer to all his prayers and dreams, or so it seemed. I admit to being thoroughly jealous, up until the newness of the new baby wore off. Neither Mom nor Dad had any siblings, and where we lived, so far out in the country, meant that neighbors were few and far between.
I was not often around other babies or small children for comparison, but Bucky seemed to me to be just like what others were like. We went to church, but not on regular basis. Dad traveled in his work. Although it was only a two state area, it was the states of Iowa and Nebraska, meaning a lot of driving for little business. Dad needed his down time at home on weekends. But we still considered ourselves Christians.
The first time I remember seeing Bucky using his – strange ability, was when I was in 4th grade. It was a school day, and I was walking to the front door to board the school bus, when Bucky stopped me. “Don’t go,” he said, “I don’t want you to get hurt.” But I pushed past him, laughing. Little did I know – that he knew.
At recess, Moli Trent applied greasy sun-screen to her arms, and then climbed the jungle-gym. I was behind her, my hand slipped when near the top wrung, and I fell – breaking my arm in two places. Bucky knew it would happen.
This awareness of future events happened more and more often. But even once a month was too much for me. They frightened me. Bucky frightened me. And then we moved to Birmingham, I thought that things might be better. They weren’t.
Paula Wilson, the Mother –
After the day care scare, my husband and I had a long delayed pow-pow. What to do about Bucky? We were both in agreement that Bucky’s gift was laced with danger, and not just to himself. We where forced to look at the big picture. His ability posed a threat not only to our family, but – if we were honest about it, to all of humanity. I’m forced to agree that in some specific cases, a peek into the future could be a positive thing, but on the other hand, in the grand scheme of things, this unique ability could adversely cause great havoc. Yet – think about it – if one knew what tomorrow will bring, can one still alter tomorrow and make it different? I think not. And I was not about to test this hypothesis with some hair-brained experiment.
This was way over our heads. This was an issue, a problem, out of our league. But still, try as I might, I could see no reason to believe that Bucky’s strange talent was anything but a curse, an unwanted and unneeded freakish ability. It could serve no positive purpose. But it could propel him, and our family, into great turmoil and danger. But what were we to do?
For starters, we decided to homeschool Bucky. We thought about moving to some remote and desolate location, to live off the grid, to hid ourselves from the world. But we are not off the grid type people. We moved to Birmingham to get away from the daycare fiasco, to distance ourselves from the fallout we feared it would bing.
Birmingham is definitely not off the grid, but at least, no one knew us, or knew of us, there.
Franklin Wilson, the Father – I’m not sure what the founding fathers of Birmingham were thinking when they turned over that first spade of soil. There’s actually a lot of level ground in Alabama… but not in Birmingham. And yes, we did buy a home in the suburbs of that great city, where it is much, much hillier.
We got a fantastic deal on the place! The home was in foreclosure, and we bought it, as is, from the bank. The former owners had gone thru a bitter divorce. The struggling, weak willed mother, who got the house, was left with two traumatized teenage daughters. She allowed the two girls to redecorate the house, any way they wanted. The colorful result was a cross between psychedelic brothel and carnival fun house. And the girls painted it themselves, in what looked like one weekend. You’d have to have seen it to believe it.
It took us several weeks to restore the place to its original sanity. The house was set on a hill, a very steep hill, especially in back. The backyard had no problems with drainage, the 25+ degree slope took ample care of that. The driveway was on the left side of the house, with a large parking pad beside the house, where it opened into the garage/basement area. The front of the house and entry way, were at ground level, with steps leading upstairs to what for all practical purposes, was the ‘first floor.’ This contained the den, dining room, kitchen, 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. All were large and spacious.
Just off the rear of the house, and at ground level to the house, was an addition – a small ‘mother-in-law‘ apartment with 3 rooms. This apartment could be accessed from steps inside the garage and leading down, or directly from an outside door on the rear of the house. A small, brick and stone patio wrapped around two sides of the apartment. Above this patio, a small narrow balcony had been added off the master bedroom upstairs. It was almost 20 feet from the balcony to the patio below. The view of the backyard from this balcony was breathtaking.
Connie, who was eleven at the time we moved, begged to have the sub-basement bedroom. But we thought she was too young at that time. We promised it to her when she turned sixteen. Until then, Paula and I would share it as our office/hobby/crafts area, and where she would homeschool Bucky. Connie then asked for the first bedroom off the upstairs hallway, and we agreed. Bucky’s room was just down that short hallway and directly across from their shared bathroom.
Within a month, we’d settled in to our new normalcy.
Connie Wilson, the Sister –
It’s been six years now, since that terrible night that changed our lives forever. I seems more like sixty. Gone are the happy days with a happy family. Gone too is the crazy house in the hills of Birmingham – at least it’s gone from my life – as is Bucky.
That night, Dad was downstairs in the hobby room, working on his electric trains. Mom fell asleep watching TV in their bedroom. I thought Bucky was in his room.
Because mine and Bucky’s bathroom was right across the hallway from his bedroom, all he had to do was crawl out of his bed, and walk in a straight line, out his door, across the hallway, and into the bathroom. From Mom and Dad’s bedroom, if Bucky got up from Dad’s side of the bed and walked straight, he’d walk through the sliding glass door that led out onto the narrow balcony directly over the stone patio below. This patio had a wooden railing. Whoever built it, didn’t use pressure treated wood. The railing was rather rickety, and Dad had not as yet gotten around to replacing it. Mom left the patio door open that night. She enjoyed the cool night air of Autumn. Bucky’s death was a terrible accident!
The investigation dragged on for over two years. No charges were ever filed. The authorities were divided over what had actually happened. The lead investigator was of the opinion it was an accident. He theorized that Bucky had gotten into bed with Mom, then later, groggy with sleep, walked off the balcony thinking he was going to the bathroom.
The chief of police believed that either Mom, or Dad, had actually staged this accident, and pushed Bucky off the balcony. But he had difficulty proving it, because he could never uncover a possible motive. He flatly refused to believe our accounts that Bucky could see into the future.
Bucky’s death, coupled with the trauma of the long drawn out investigation, took their toll on Mom and Dad. It changed them, hardened them, stole from them their very joy and joy of life. They drifted farther and father apart. I now live six months with Mom, and six with Dad. The divorce was finalized in March.
For many months, the investigators attempted to pit me against them, wanting my assistance in extracting the truth from each. To be completely honest, I have no idea what to believe. Both Mom and Dad clearly loved Bucky, although they hated his unusual ability. But I can’t believe that this would bring either one, or both, to kill him. I hope it was just an accident, an awful accident.
A few months before the divorce, one of the officers even asked if I had done it. He said that sometimes children love their parents so much, that they can do unbelievable things for them. I loved, and still love, both my parents, that much I know for sure. I know I do. But if I did do it, I can’t remember that. I don’t think that I could do it. If I did, then I’ve pushed that memory far, far away.
He noticed it quite by accident, when he thought he saw movement on the carpeted steps leading to the upstairs bedroom. It was tiny, hardly 1/2 inch long, and beige in color. It blended perfectly with the carpet. He snapped on the stairway light, and leaned to have a closer look.
It appeared spider-like, but this bug had 6 legs. Two long antennae poked from the head, giving the illusion of an 8th set of legs. For a brief moment, he thought the thing had turned to look at him. That’s when he stepped down on it, hard – and continued on up the steps.
Paul Nelson had packing to do. He‘d pick up the dead bug when he returned downstairs – with a wad of tissue in hand. That morning, before reporting for his shift as a 911 operator, he’d taken the time to lay socks, underwear, and pajamas on the bed. Two suits, dress and casual shirts, and pants, on hangers hung on a rack attached to the back of the bedroom door. Soon, his suitcase and hand-up bag were packed and ready.
Grabbing a length of toilet tissue from the upstairs bathroom, he headed back down the steps, careful to watch where he stepped. The bug was on the 4th step from the bottom. But it was not where Paul Nelson had ground it into the carpet… it was a full 18 inches closer to the wall… and still crawling.
He stepped down on it again, harder this time. Lifting his foot, he saw that it was again, obviously dead. It looked dead. He continued down the steps and into the kitchen. The kitchen trash, where he knew he’d find an empty soup can, sat in the corner near the steps. He returned to the steps, picked up the bug with the wad of tissue, and stuffed both into the soup can, which he crammed back into the trash can. There! That takes care of it.
He returned upstairs, took the suitcase off the bed, and sat it beside the bedroom door. He then took the hang-up bag downstairs and hung it by the front door. He would have taken the suitcase downstairs also, but he still needed his shaving bag in the morning, so he’d add it to the suitcase then. On his return upstairs, and as he walked past the kitchen trash can, he didn’t hear the soft scratching sounds coming from deep within the trash.
He set the alarm for 5. One of his co-workers would be picking him up at 5:45 to take him to the airport. His flight to Washington DC would be leaving at 7:45.
Paul Nelson had a strange dream that night. At least he thought it was a dream.
The alarm rang 5:45. He pulled himself out of bed, and seemingly by rote, completed his morning bath ritual, and dressed. Next he packed the shaving kit into the suitcase, and took it downstairs – and waited, until he heard the honk of a car horn. Picking up the clothes bag and suitcase, he exited the front door. It was a short walk to the curb, where his co-worker sat waiting in his vehicle. Paul Nelson placed the luggage on the back seat, and then sat in the front, staring ahead.
“What’s wrong Paul? You look funny – troubled, or something,” said his friend.
“No, I’m ok. Let’s get to the airport,” replied Paul.
“I’ll bet you’re just nervous. I know I’d be. I’d be as nervous as a long-tail cat in a room filled with rocking chairs. Golly, and meeting the President too. And getting that award – Paul Nelson, 911 Operator of the Year. How lucky can one man be!”
Paul Nelson didn’t have a strange dream as he thought he did. It was real. It was very real. He only thought he was dreaming – that is, while he could still dream, and while he remained in possession of his own brain. He thought he was dreaming about the strange insect crawling into his ear, and into his brain.
But it wasn’t an insect. And it wasn’t a dream. Paul Nelson is now no longer thinking for himself. The mind of Paul Nelson has ceased to exist. It has been hijacked, and replaced.
It is less than 40 feet from the kitchen trash can to Paul Nelson’s bedroom upstairs. It is approximately 400 miles from Paul Wilson’s home to Washington DC. And it is close to 4 light years across the milky way, to the home base of the mechanical insect-like drone. Tomorrow the drone will made its final journey, an undetected transfer from Paul Nelson into the most power and influential leader on this element-rich planet.
The President is known to be a hugger. 4 inches is all that is required for the transfer… for that final journey.
I was 12 the day that Ponie walked onto our property and into our lives. I was the first to notice the dirty, yet beautiful colt which came from who knows where, and was to alter or lives forever.
Ours was small dirt farm/ranch, mostly dirt, of 30 something acres, nestled in a small valley surrounded by low mountains. We were the only homesteaders in the valley, our closest neighbors over the hills were at least 30 miles distant. But we loved the simple farm-life, and quiet isolation. It was as if our family was alone on the earth.
Dad said that Ponie looked to be about a year old, give or take a few months. Obviously, she was well accustomed to people, because she approached us willingly. It was as if she was seeking us out. No doubt, she’d walked away from her own home. But who’s?
Trips into town were few and far between, and then a 2 day trip. On Dad’s next trip into town he inquired about any missing colts, but learned of none. He left a description of Ponie at several locations, taking care not to give too much detail, lest someone, using details they didn’t previously know, might come claim and take Ponie from us. There were never any inquiries.
We all loved Ponie. I thought her eyes were her finest feature… they seemed to be unnaturally large. ‘Cow eyes,’ Mom called them. But perhaps Julia, my older sister by 3 years, loved Ponie best. The two bonded quickly.
Julia had a soft and tender heart. Perhaps it was because of her frail and sickly early years. They say she spent her first 2 years almost constantly in Mom’s arms. Julia was a voracious reader, and wrote the most beautiful poems. She soon developed the habit of taking tablet and pen, and riding Ponie off into the hills to think, write, and as she put it: ‘to become’ – in peace and solitude.
Early on we learned that Ponie had one unusual trait. She was afraid of thunder – and terrified of lightning, especially if both were close. The first storm which visited our humble farm after Ponie arrived, reviled this. That summer night, over the thunder, we could hear her wails coming from the barn. Julia and I raced to her side. We found her cowed in the corner, trying to bury herself under the hay. Oh how our hearts broke at the sight. We snuggled next to her until the storm passed.
It was a freak storm which changed our lives. Far stronger than most, it roared over the hills to the northwest as if out of nowhere, suddenly, and with unbelievable strength. It ripping our land with terrible winds, while heavy rains plunged daylight into darkness. Yet this night appeared to flash into day – with every brilliant explosion of lightning. The accompanying thunder was deafening. And – Julia and Ponie were out there somewhere! Hours earlier, she’d ridden out to her writing place.
Dad grabbed his heaviest coat, and his lantern, and headed toward Julia’s spot. He was gone for hours, or so it seemed. The storm was just beginning to wain, when we saw Dad’s lantern thru the rain. Ponie followed close behind. As they drew neared, we saw Julia, draped across Ponie’s back. Dad stopped yards from the house, and shouted for us to stay inside, but Mom raced past me and to Julia’s side. I’ll never forget her agonizing screams. I thought they’d stand there in the rain forever. Looking back, I’m glad they did. The rain bathed most of the blood away.
Soon, Julia’s lifeless body lay on the table. She looked as though she was sleeping. It was the first time I’d witness a lifeless person, and this was my beloved sister! As I stood over her, not knowing what or how to think, I noticed the deep imprint of a horses‘ hoof on her forehead – Ponie’s.
I’d not noticed that Dad had walked away. There was another crack of thunder, but I quickly realized that it was the sound of a shotgun blast. I raced to the door, to see dad standing over the body of Ponie. I’d lost two of my closest companions that awful night. Mom and Dad were never the same again. They seemed to age daily, right before my eyes.
I was too young then to understand, but looking back now, I can see why Dad took Ponie’s life that night. We all do what we believe is best. We all act and react to events beyond us, and beyond our ability to change. Even Ponie had.
Julia had been compelled to ride out to her hallowed spot, to put on paper her thoughts, her desires, her plans, her hopes, and her prayers. Her keen focus on these things, I know, blinded her to the fast approaching storm.
Ponie surely reacted in terror to the sudden storm that summer afternoon, and in her inability to cope, she had somehow struck Julia. It was not something she would have done otherwise. Her action was simple in-bred reaction.
And Dad, in his helplessness to face the being which had taken his beloved Julia from him, had forever removed Ponie from his sight.
I now know that each one involved, Julia, Ponie, and Dad, were each simply doing that which they were apt to do, that which they were compelled to do, that which their hearts and lives led them to do. There was no right or wrong involved, no guilt or innocence. They were simply doing and being themselves.
It was a painful lesson for me to learn. We each have our personal lives, our unique dreams and ambitions. If we were all alike, this would be a most boring world. But sadly, many people never learn this simple lesson. When I am just being myself, someone want me to be like them. They never realize that I perhaps, might wish that they were like me. Can’t we just be ourselves?
I miss Mom and Dad. I miss Julia. And I also miss Ponie. While it lasted, Ponie brought joy to all our lives.
The illustration above that I chose to use for Ponie was painted by me, for my grandmother in Carthage, Mississippi in 1953, when I was 12 years old. Bill Murphy