His face was a mask as he looked down on his partner, watching her fingers fly over something she said had something to do with a key. The old cavalry hat he wore shaded the piercing blue eyes as he continued to watch the girl as she concentrated on her task. He had never been able to actually figure out what she did on the contraption…it looked nothing like a key.
“Howdy missy,” he finally uttered in greeting
Pepper Jones jumped at the sound of the voice behind her. Swinging around her eyes flashed momentarily in anger.
“Dammit Longstreet! Can’t you just knock on the door like a normal person?”
Turning back to her keyboard with annoyance, “And it’s Pepper! My name is Pepper! Ugh!”
A confused look crossed Longstreet’s face momentarily before returning to his normal mask of seriousness.
She continued quickly tapping on her keyboard as she hurried to finish the email she was sending to her friend Sara. They had become close during Pepper’s last investigation, where she had helped her new friend find her missing inheritance.
Although Sara was older by three years, Pepper and she were now thick as thieves, at the very least emailing one another once a day.
Finishing the letter, Pepper glanced over her shoulder as she hit the send button.
He was still there, he could be so annoying.
“What is it Longstreet? I have to get ready for work in a couple of minutes.”
“Just waiting for another assignment little lady,” Longstreet intoned as he glanced around the room as if looking for danger. The dark bushy mustache, day’s growth of beard, and the untrimmed hair sticking out here and there from under his hat gave her partner a wild look that would probably scare most people…if they could see him.
After surviving unscathed through the civil war, Jacob Longstreet had gone west to seek his fortune, where he had apparently met his death in some unknown way. His memory of the cause of his death was lost to him…and, he didn’t know he was a ghost.
“Nothin’s going on today,” Pepper sighed, wishing a new case would pop up. She longed for the excitement of a mystery, her life was just too boring otherwise.
“All quiet then,” Longstreet said without emotion. “Guess I’ll go for a ride then.”
Knowing what was coming next, Pepper shook her head as Longstreet turned on his heel. Walking through the wall as he exited the room, he loudly yelled, “Lady! Where are you girl?”
Pepper felt sorry for her hapless partner, he was always looking for his favorite horse from the old days. She did her best to console him on the subject when she could, but she had no time for such things today. Looking at the clock, she realized that she was already running late…and she hadn’t even gotten dressed yet.
Throwing on her uniform for the pretzel stand at the mall, she grabbed her keys and flew down the stairs, yelling bye as she reached for the door.
“Hold on little lady,” she heard her mom call from the kitchen.
Pepper stopped, dropping her head as she waited for the parental warning she knew was coming. Her parents were always getting on her about her driving…and especially about the danger they perceived in her cases.
“Running late is no excuse for driving fast…remember that!”
“Yes mother,” Pepper said with disdain, “But you are just making me later!”
“And…” her mother added, “No mysteries…you have finals coming up!”
“OK!” Pepper yelled as she pulled open the door with annoyance, “Bye!”
Running down the sidewalk to her car, she jumped in and turned over the engine, squealing the tires just a little as she took off.
“Woops!” she said at her apparent disregard to her mother’s wishes. She felt a twinge of guilt as she slowed the car and held to the speed limit. As she turned onto the main road to the mall, she again made a mental effort to keep to the speed limit. She had gotten a speeding ticket the week before, and her parents had threatened to ground her from driving if she got another one.
As she came up on a gas station, she noticed a woman running around her car frantically. Throwing her arms up in the air as if trying to get someone’s attention, she appeared to be yelling.
“What the hell?” Pepper intoned under her breath as she quickly slowed the car to enter the lot. She had not even been aware of making the decision to investigate the woman’s plight before she realized that she was parked in front of the wailing woman’s car.
Quickly shutting her car down, she ran over and asked what the problem was.
The woman who appeared to be in her late fifties seemed momentarily surprised that someone was talking to her. She snapped back to reality quickly however, resuming her frantic arm waves as she yelled, “Someone has stolen my grandson!”
Pepper was aghast, momentarily unsure what to do. She had never been confronted with anything as diabolical as someone taking a child. Overcoming her own fears, Pepper quickly decided that she had to do something.
“Did you see who did it, which way they went?”
“No, no,” the distraught woman sobbed, “I just went in to pay, he was gone when I got back. He’s only three, he can’t unbuckle himself.”
Pepper caught movement off to her right before hearing an angry “Hey!”
Looking over, she found the loud voice coming from a little old man who appeared to be in his nineties.
“Been trying to get your attention! Some guy walked into those woods a few minutes ago with a little boy, was carrying him like a sack of taters!”
“That’s got to be Jimmy!” the woman cried while wringing her hands.
Although Pepper still had no clue what she would do if she caught them, she started sprinting toward the woods. Looking back over her shoulder before she entered the woods, she yelled back, “Call 911!”
Crashing through the thorny low brush at the edge of the mature forest, she ignored the blood trickling down her arms as she settled into the fast but steady gate that she learned on the cross-country team at school. The man had a few minutes head start, and she knew she would have to pace herself if she was going to catch him.
Feeling rather than hearing that she had company, she glanced left to see Longstreet was effortlessly keeping pace with her.
“How the hell does he do that?”
“What’s going on Missy,” he said effortlessly as he kept his eyes steadily forward, easily passing through a tree as he awaited her answer.
“Guy took a little boy, “she panted, “out of a car at the gas station.”
“I’ll light out after im,” was all he said as he seemed to pick up speed momentarily before disappearing in a whoosh.
Pepper immediately ran through the whirlwind of leaves that was created by the wind that always accompanied his disappearances. Pulling a couple of damp leaves off of her face, she tried to give some thought to what she would do when she caught up with the man.
Why had he taken the boy?
Was he trying to sell him? Was he a sexual deviant?
These thoughts and others made Pepper shiver, even though her exertions had made her plenty hot. She decided to ignore these thoughts as she renewed her determination to catch the man. Everything else was a moot point until she found him.
A voice beside her again, “he’s about two hundred yards ahead missy, tried to trip him….”
Pepper stepped up her pace as she thought about one of Jacob’s weaknesses. He had yet to be able to touch a human.
He had already saved the day in a number of their cases by his slowly developing ability to manipulate solid object. Whacking someone with a frying pan or a pipe were a couple of the things that he had accomplished so far. But it had taken a lot of effort on his part to do even that, and apparently humans were even harder.
“Can you do anything to slow him up?” Pepper panted, “maybe push some limbs in his way or something?”
“See what I can do,” Longstreet said evenly before again disappearing in a hail of leaves.
The length and excitement of the pursuit were starting to drag Pepper down, her breaths more ragged with each step she took. The guy with the kid must be in great shape if she hadn’t caught him by now.
“Great!” she thought to herself, “when I do catch him…what then?”
She started hearing some distant “ooff’s” and other exclamations ahead of her that told her that Longstreet must be working his magic. Finding yet another reserve of energy, she picked up her pace once more.
Making her way over a little rise, she finally caught sight of the man, maybe fifty yards ahead of her. She could make out the little boy’s bobbing head along the man’s back as he held the youngster at the hip. He seemed to be unhurt, so far, and Pepper took comfort in that.
Coming up rapidly then behind the slowing man, Pepper finally gasped out “Stop!”
The man stopped dead in his tracks, turning quickly at the unexpected shout. Holding up his hand, “don’t come any closer kid!”
Pepper stopped running, taking slow steps toward the man as she caught her breath. “You…don’t want…to do…this mister,” she panted as she tried to fill her lungs with the sweet humid air of the woods.
“Just give him to me…you’ll have…plenty of a head start…before I get back to the…gas station.”
Pepper was getting light headed from breathing in so rapidly, and she consciously tried to slow her breaths as she watched the crazed looking man.
“No way!” the man exclaimed, barely out of breath. He looked like a lumber jack in build, six feet tall and broad shoulders. He easily lifted the boy off one shoulder and placed him on the other before continuing.
“This is my son! When my ex died, they gave him to her mom…didn’t even give me a chance to have him!”
Pepper had to think quickly, she had been unprepared for the man’s revelation, and wasn’t sure what way to best handle him.
“Look, that’s something you can take to court mister, you can’t just take him…you’ll be arrested!”
“No way! Once I get to my truck, nobody will ever hear from us again.”
He turned once more, ready to run. Pepper noticed Longstreet off to the side, apparently trying to pick up a limb. She had to buy him time.
“Wait! Doesn’t his grandma have a right to see him too?”
Turning his head to look over his shoulder, he seemed to be thinking this over before turning back and taking off in a run.
Just then, Pepper heard the familiar crackling sound as Jacob concentrated on picking up the limb. Glancing over, she could make out the little blue electrical sparks emanating from his hands as he finally made connections with the wood.
The limb lifted off of the ground about a foot before seeming to travel the ten feet instantly that put it into the path of the fleeing man. The man’s foot solidly caught on the unexpected limb, and he fell headfirst into the trunk of a large tree.
Pepper watched in horror as the young boy seemed to rise into the air in slow motion, traveling about ten feet before making his way back toward the ground.
“No!” Pepper screamed as she tried to un-plant her feet from where they seemed rooted. Unable to move, she stood in fear as she watched the little boy fall headfirst into the vine covered floor of the woods.
Suddenly the boy stopped…then gently floated feet first to the ground.
Confusion reigned in Pepper’s head for a few moments until she realized what had happened.
“Longstreet! You did it!” She exclaimed with the realization that he had finally figured out how to touch a human, just in the nick of time.
She saw Jacob standing over the boy, a confused look on his face as she ran over to where they stood.
“Awesome Jacob, you saved the day!”
He continued to remain silent as Pepper kneeled down to see if Jimmy was ok. He seemed none the worse for wear as his attention seemed to be focused on the acorns that littered the floor of the woods.
Looking up at her ghostly partner, she was suddenly concerned. He seemed paler than usual, which was saying something when you were talking about a ghost.
“Longstreet, what’s wrong?”
He was silent for a few moments before finally saying, “must of took a lot out of me I guess, catching the child and all.”
Pepper felt sorry for her partner. She guessed that touching humans must be a lot harder than she thought, she had never seen her partner so weak looking.
Hearing yelling and crashing behind her, she realized that the police must finally be on their way.
“Why don’t you go on and go Longstreet. This will take a few hours I’m sure. Why don’t you…go for a ride?”
She felt almost guilty, suggesting that he go look for his nonexistent horse. Be he seemed to need a distraction, and he had never complained when he hadn’t found her.
“Yep…guess I seen enough of the elephant for one day,” he stated as he quickly turned and marched off through the trees. Right before he disappeared, she heard his familiar, “Here Lady! Where are ya girl?”
She smiled as she turned her attention back to the boy. The police were now in sight, and she mentally firmed up the story she would have to tell them when they got there. This time, it shouldn’t be too bad though; after all, there were all sorts of things to trip over in these woods.
“Oh man!” she exclaimed as one other scary thought entered her mind.
“You can’t work for us?” He sat leaning back in his chair, chewing on his lip with a confused look on his face. Leaning forward, “I must say, you’ve taken me by surprise Annie…may I ask why?”
Annie couldn’t believe she had said it either; she had every intention of accepting the offer when she had left her apartment that morning.
“Truthfully…I can’t give you a singular reason for my decision. I have to admit that initially I had reservations related to privacy issues. But seeing Cat just now….well; I was kinda overcome with a weird feeling. Like…a big brother thing.”
Niles leaned back, nodding his head as he mulled over her concerns. “Let me run a scenario past you if I may,” he said while looking down at his hands. “Let’s say that someone breaks into a house, say it’s someone you are close to. This man thinks the house is empty, but in the process of robbing it, he stumbles onto your loved one. In a panic, he pulls out a gun that he bought at the pawn shop the day before and accidently shoots the homeowner…your friend.”
“Sad right?” Niles leaned forward in his chair. “What if we could prevent that from happening? What if by finding a thread or two of this hapless burglar identified him as someone with a high probability of something like this. We could guess by his personal associations that he would be prone to falling into a life of crime by the people he hung around with. We might find that he knows several drug dealers, meaning he’s probably a user and needing money. Or, we could make an association by his lack of connections to an employer.”
“All of these factors might lead us to recommend that someone at least watch this guy a little closer. We have all the tools to do that Annie…at least we would with someone like you to lead us in the right direction.”
Annie was shocked. “Me?”
“You’re key Annie, without a psychological input into our programming, we’re just guessing. All we have then is a bunch of circles and lines, we need you to personalize it Annie… to keep us from becoming the Big Brother you are worried about.”
“But anyone with a Psychology degree could do that,” Annie said, conflicted.
“Some people could do it with your degree, I’ll admit that,” Niles stated as he leaned back into his chair once more, “and some people could program it into Cat. But you have the unique combination of degrees that make you a natural for this…and you are predisposed to it.”
A confused look crossed Annie’s face, “Predisposed?”
Niles was looking down at his hands. Looking up, “yes, you have good connections in your life that make you predisposed to helping people. Your threads are all connected to good upstanding friends and family. The very reason you were concerned about taking this job is what makes you the perfect person to take it.”
“You analyzed me?” Annie felt immediately violated. “I don’t know how I feel about that Niles… gives me the willies.”
“I’m sorry Annie, I had a feeling you would feel that way. But let me explain it this way. It’s not really spying on you; it’s just looking at your connections to other people in your life. We don’t know what you had for breakfast, who you talked to on the phone, or if you had sex last night. We can only detect the threads in your life, how strong they are, and how close they are to you. Everybody that knows you knows of some of your connections, we are kind of like a big….friend!”
Annie’s feelings were waffling. She had been so sure of her convictions earlier, but now…?
Looking up at Niles, “I have an important question. I have heard what you have said, and it is making sense to me a little. And to tell you the truth, I can see where it might work out to be something important…as long as it doesn’t get abused.”
“Ok,” Niles said with a smile, “what’s your question?”
“Ok, say I do this and it goes awry in my mind. I see the system being abused or manipulated beyond the scope of what we have talked about. Can I get out? I can’t sign if I’m contractually bound by a time limit of some sort…I just can’t do it.”
Smiling, Niles nodded his head as he leaned forward in his chair anxiously.
“Absolutely! We don’t want someone here that isn’t happy with their work, or ours. You of course would have to abide by the Non-Disclosure Agreement that you have already signed, but otherwise you would be free to go at anytime. Obviously I hope that doesn’t happen!”
Annie looked intently into Niles’ smiling face, trying to detect any deception on his part. She discovered instead a captivating smile that she hadn’t noticed earlier. He was quite good looking when he smiled she decided then.
Making up her mind, she sat forward eagerly.
“Ok, I’m your girl…except for one last thing.”
Another worried look crossed Niles’ face again as he intently looked at Annie, trying to decipher her new concern.
Sighing… “Ok? What’s that?”
Smiling now, Annie liked the feeling of having the upper hand for once.
My answers below, you can catch hers on the blog post linked above!
1.What kind of books do you like to read? Action/Adventure/Mystery
2. If I came to your home and looked under your bed, what would I find? Dust 3. Grab the book nearest you, turn to page 20, find line 5 and write in. What book is it? Another fusillade of bullets took out the SUV's The Lucifer Code by Charles Brokaw
4. Use 3 words to describe yourself... Mysterious...
5. What is your favorite flavor of ice cream and why? Chocolate...because it's chocolate!
6. What would you do if you had $1 million dollars? Pay off debt, save the rest
7. If you could eat lunch with 1 famous person who would it be? Teddy Roosevelt
8. Do you ever get Writer’s block? I will, but if I sit down and read the three chapters previous usually I'm back in service!
9. What kind of books do you like to write? Action/adventure/mystery...both adult and YA
10. Pen, pencil or tapping the keyboard~ which one do you prefer?
The noise was unbearable, metal tearing and glass breaking, more noise than I could believe possible. Everything was bathed in a bright piercing light, I didn’t think I would ever be able to see or hear again.
My car was being tossed around like a toy, banging my body against steel and glass with unending regularity. My head crashed into the door post as I lost consciousness, re-awakening to blurry pulsing lights and people yelling. Trying to reach up and wipe the blood off my face, I was introduced to a searing pain in my shoulder; probably dislocated. I tried with the other hand, it still worked and I was then able to see a little.
There seemed to be blood everywhere, I know that my head is bleeding, but I could find nowhere else that seemed to be bleeding. I looked down and saw that my leg seemed to have melded with the car, disappearing into a mangle of steel and vinyl. A low throbbing pain was ebbing up from that direction; hopefully it didn’t get any worse than that.
Why am I on the passenger side of the car? I was strapped into the driver’s seat when I spun around the deer, otherwise I would have been thrown around the car then. I distinctly remembered sitting in the driver’s seat after the spin. Looking over to the driver’s side, I saw that the door was only about a foot from my face; sending a shiver down my spine.
“Gabe, is that you, you in there?”
I knew that voice, “Tom? Yeah I’m in here, but I’m late for a meeting, can you get me out of here please?”
Tom laughed in spite of himself and told me to sit tight. Soon the sound of high revving engines and squealing metal met my ears; a wonderful sound all-in-all. Tom Harvey had been a friend for 20 years, and his passion was the volunteer fire department.
I had always admired his dedication, but I couldn’t adequately describe the emotions I was feeling at that moment. Knowing he was on the case, I knew he would spare no effort to get me out of this tangled mess.
Feeling suddenly light headed, I laid my head back and closed my eyes.
When I opened them again, there were squares of light flashing before my eyes, and I realized I was on my back being wheeled down a hall, the fluorescent lights above marking our progress.
I looked over and saw Tom helping push, the bright red suspenders of his fireman’s pants almost glowing in this light.
“It was a close call Gabe” he stated mater-of-factly. “Your leg was crushed and totally surrounded by part of the car. When we released the leg it started bleeding profusely, but we got it stopped with a tourniquet until we could get you out and the EMT’S could get compresses and bandages into play. It could be a long haul but I think they should be able to save the leg. I’m no expert though, so don’t hold me to it.”
Save the leg? It barely hurt, he must be mistaken. I had given no thought to any kind of debilitating injury, I didn’t have time to lie around recuperating from this stupid accident.
We crashed through a pair of swinging doors, the sign saying “Surgical Unit #2.” Quickly they transferred me to a table, Tom giving my arm a squeeze as he and the EMTS retreated back out of the room. I was suddenly surrounded by blue people; a surgical team was already in place wearing scrubs, hats and masks. As the Anesthesiologist put a mask over my face, all I could think about was how sharp they all looked in their blue outfits.
My next conscious thought involved an annoying beeping sound, “is that my alarm?” I thought to myself. I made a mental note to replace it the next time I got to town.
Opening my eyes, I Immediately came to the conclusion that I wasn’t in my bedroom, and the harsh fluorescent lights added to my confusion. A familiar face poked itself into my blurry vision, a lovely familiar face. Betty wore a worried smile on her lips and a look of relief in her eyes.
“I’m so glad you could make it,” she said, “I thought you were just trying to miss our anniversary!” Grinning, “I really don’t need a present if that’s what you were worried about.”
Anniversary? That’s still a week away I thought to myself, then stated the same thought out loud.
“You’ve been under for a week Gabe, your brain swelled from the injuries, putting you in a comma for over 6 days. I would have been pretty worried, except I knew that your hard head would never allow for a fatal injury.” She was lying, her eyes were revealing her true feelings to mine.
The fog that was my brain was finally clearing a little, I remembered the crash and being wheeled into the hospital. Looking around, I noticed that my leg was hung from a cable like a ham in a butcher shop, reminding me of the discussion I had with Tom.
“Is my leg ok?” I questioned, fearing the response.
“Your leg will be fine eventually” Betty said, “They told me that you will probably need a few weeks of rehabilitation once it’s healed, and you may need to use a cane, at least for awhile. I think it will make you look quit dashing” she exclaimed with a guarded enthusiasm.
The thought of using a cane was amazingly not a total surprise, but my fuzzy mind wouldn’t reveal why that was the case.
Still grinning, she tentatively gave me a hug. Everything hurt, but I embraced her as best I could with my one good arm.
“Did you bring anything to eat? I’m starving!”
Betty smiled through tears that had just started flowing down her cheeks.
“I thought we’d lost you this time, don’t ever do that to me again” she exclaimed.
I told her that it would be my goal from here on out not to worry her any more. She had felt so good in my arm, and I was feeling increasingly lucky to be alive.
We talked for a few more minutes more before my eyelids, weighted by what must be ten pound weights, slowly closed, my mind relaxing into a deep sleep.
Dreaming sometime during my slumber, I found myself in a room that was both comfortable and familiar. There was a fireplace with a warm fire, and a comfortable chair with a steaming cup of coffee sitting next to it.
I sat down in the chair as I picked up the warm coffee cup and took a good long drink, somehow knowing it wouldn’t burn. I sat there for what seemed like hours, enjoying the quiet and the coffee.
I didn’t know why the room seemed so familiar, yet I knew I belonged there. I spent some time looking at a Chess board, seeing that a game was in process. Only a few moves had been made, with no one as yet in any danger of winning or losing.
At some point I knew it was time to go, taking one more swallow before setting down the mug. Standing up, I proceeded to leave the room, having no memory of going through any kind of doorway.
Waking up again, I was alone in my room. Most of the lights were out and it was dark outside.
I started thinking of the dream, the memory still vivid in my mind. I immediately regretted not being able to write down the memory of the dream. Although most dreams seemed to not have a discernable meaning, writing them down often offered at least the makings of a funny story at some later date. My dream of the room however seemed clearer in my mind than normal dreams usually did. I had a feeling that remembering this one would not be much of a problem.
Over the next few weeks I slowly recovered, everything healing nicely and according to the Dr’s plan. I was anxious to be up and around, never developing any real abilities at patience where it concerned me. After about a week I was allowed to leave the room in a wheel chair, and I took advantage of this at every available opportunity.
Allen came to visit me one day soon after I came out of my coma, and I apologized about leaving him in the lurch with cases I was working on. He waved off my concerns and stated that there is always plenty to do, but they would do their best to keep up while I was laid up. I mentioned the possibility of doing some work on cases while I was recuperating, maybe with Frank doing some of the leg work, and he agreed to give me all I could handle once the Dr cleared me to do it.
Rehabilitation was all that I expected… and less. The pain was excruciating, and progress seemed so slow, taking days to accomplish what took only moments to do before. Afterwards I would fall back in bed, covered in sweat and totally exhausted.
It was after these sessions however when I fell into sleep from the exertion that I would end up re-visiting the room in my dreams. It seemed that each time was a little longer, and afterwards I would be invigorated with hope. The dreams seemed to me to be a puzzle to be solved, offering small clues on each visit; leading to what conclusion I had yet to discover.
I walked into the now familiar room, again without experiencing a doorway of any kind. I sat down once again in the now longed for chair, whisked up the mug of coffee and drank to my heart’s delight. Looking around I discovered as yet another move had been made on the chessboard.
On my second visit I had noticed white had moved, but black was still in the same formation. Looking it over for awhile, I had taken it on myself to move black to a new position, hoping that whoever was playing wouldn’t mind my interference. The next trip revealed again a single move by white, leaving me with an apparent invitation to continue the battle.
Contemplating the field, I again made a move and sat back to enjoy the fire and the coffee. The familiarity of the room still escaped me, but the rejuvenating effect of the visits was unquestionable. There were always nagging questions in the back of my mind though. Missing information that could be important seemed to be absent, but was nonetheless not available to me.
Sitting in my chair, I was mulling over a fact, the solution of which had as yet escaped me. Knowing full well that I had been strapped into the driver’s seat before the accident, the fact that I was found on the passenger side of the car after the wreck still baffled me. Mulling over this information in my head, I could only determine that I must have released my belt latch immediately before the impact, consequently throwing me across the car. While this felt to me to be a reasonable explanation, I still had doubts and determined to work on it later.
Feeling as if I was being watched, I glanced into the corner and noticed what looked like a wisp of smoke that quickly disappeared. This was the second time that I had experienced this feeling on a visit, but the first time that I had noticed the smoke or mist. Not feeling threatened in any way though, I stored this information for future scrutiny later.
I could feel that my time was getting short and quickly swallowed some more coffee before standing up and leaving the mysterious room once again; waking up in my bed with a refreshed mind and body once again.
After awaking from the last dream, I reached over for my notebook and made some notes of this last visit. I was glad to have my notebook back, but the mystery surrounding its return still baffled me.
A few days ago I had asked Betty if she could possibly find my notebook, knowing it had been in the car before the accident. She readily agreed, knowing the importance of my notebooks to me.
The next day upon her return however she told me there was no sign of the notebook in the car, and she had even visited the crash site to look around with no luck there either.
Although disappointed, I told her it was only a thing; I would be able to recreate most of the information eventually. Thanking her for looking, we continued our visit while I inwardly rejoiced at having such a woman as her to share my life.
Betty had been taking off of work, but we had agreed that she needed to get back to the grind. She had told me there had been an uptick in the crime rate lately, and while not revealing what was going on, she implied that no one as yet had a handle it.
That day was her first day back so she was wearing her uniform, and I quietly admired her curves from my bed. Catching me, she grinned and said I needed to stop doing that before I also had a heart attack to add to my ailments. I laughed, my body hurting with the effort, and agreed to cool my jets until I got home.
After she had left for work, I sat back and mentally tried to make a list of anything important I would need to reconstruct from the book. Cases and information revolved around in my head like a roulette wheel, mentally stopping the wheel when I saw something that needed to be remembered. I was in the middle of this process when a familiar voice rang out “you look a mite better than the last time I saw you.”
Tom Harvey entered the room grinning ear to ear, shaking my offered good hand before sitting down in the chair. I noticed a gift wrapped package in his hand, wrapped in Christmas paper as might be expected from an old bachelor.
I easily ignored the package, needing to tell him how much I appreciated his work in getting me out of the wreck in one piece. He told me it was always fulfilling saving someone from a wreck, and he was glad he could be of service.
“You know,” he started, “your wreck had a couple of strange twists to it. Me and the other guys at the station have gone over it every night since it happened and we can’t seem to get a handle on it.”
Intrigued, I asked him to continue.
“Well Gabe, firstly you were in the passenger seat, and while that isn’t that unusual, you were strapped in. Is it possible you moved to the passenger seat and strapped yourself in before the truck hit you?”
Knowing I hadn’t and remembering my thoughts on ending up on the wrong side of the car, I told him I hadn’t known about being strapped in but had wondered how it happened that I ended up there.
We silently thought to ourselves for a moment before he continued.
“Secondly, that car was totally crushed. We estimate that the truck was still going fifty miles and hour when it hit, totally collapsing your car.”
“And yet, there was a cavity where you were laying.”
“In fact, I would almost call it a cocoon. Except for your one leg being trapped, you were in a perfect cocoon made of steel that was wrapped around your body. The passenger seat you were sitting in was totally reclined too, making the cocoon possible, how would the seat have become reclined?”
I was at a loss to explain any of this, and told him so. We again sat in silence, mulling over the facts.
“Finally” he said reaching down and picking up the package, “there was this.”
Handing over the holiday package, I opened it slowly, revealing my notebook.
“I know how important that notebook is to you. I found it neatly tucked behind your head, almost like a pillow, not a page bent. Your head was bleeding that night, but had mostly stopped by the time we got there. And yet there was hardly any blood on the book. It’s almost as if the book was placed there after you were done bleeding.”
I was flabbergasted, amazed at the series of events that had protected me from certain death.
“You definitely have a guardian angel watching over you” Tom stated matter of factly. “Either that or you’re the luckiest son of a gun I’ve ever met.”
I didn’t say anything at first; something he said was ringing the bell in my head, ringing it loud. Something…
Returning to reality, I laughed belatedly, confirming to Tom that I was indeed a lucky guy. I thanked him for the information strange as it was, and eventually changed the subject; asking him about his family and mutual friends. I again thanked him for saving my life when he got ready to leave; he simply shrugged and said he was glad I had made it, strange as it was.
Immediately after he left I picked up my notebook and started a new case page, my case. It had all of the hallmarks of a great mystery, the first one I had ever started that I really wasn’t sure if there were any real answers to.
The current rise of temperature has brought out the stench of human waste in our little trench home. I fear my feet will rot in my boots from sloughing around in it constantly as we hunker over to avoid the enemy’s bullets.
Seems there is always someone available over there to fling bullets our way, some with deadly effect.
Willy Jones caught one yesterday, I was with him as he passed. Never have I seen such fear expressed in someone’s eyes as when he took his last breath. I had to work to remove his hands from my tunic after he grabbed my collar in a desperate attempt to hold on to his life I suppose.
Was the fear in his eyes from his lack of belief in anything after this life, or the certainty of it?
I pray often…hoping there is something….someone there listening. But it seems less likely the longer I live in this hell.
And yet…it’s the only hope I have.
I closed the old leather journal, taking a moment to trace my finger across the strange tooled cross on the front of it. Gabriel’s cross they had always called it, my grandfather Gabriel.
I sullenly stared at it, thinking back on him, missing him already.
He had lived like no one else I knew of, just dying like he had seemed so out of character for him. No adventure, no plan… he just didn’t wake up.
I sighed as I laid the book on the bed and walked over to the window. The yard was full of people milling about in their Sunday best. Most had come to pay their respects, some just for a free meal. I desperately wanted them all to go, to leave us to our sorrow so that we could make peace with this new reality.
At sixteen, I had very little experience with death, much less dealing with a close family member’s. I felt an errant tear making its way down my cheek and quickly wiped it away with my sleeve. My emotions had been all over the place today, it was hard to keep it all in sometimes.
Turning back toward the bed, I again glanced at the journal. I thought how strange it was to read about his experiences in the Great War. He would never talk to me of these, saying it was just something that he had done, no more, no less.
I did remember him telling me once however, that he hadn’t laughed at anything for six months after it was over. When finally he did, he described how strange it had felt at first…and how wonderful. He had enjoyed the sensation so much in fact, that he wasn’t able to stop for twenty minutes.
When finally he had excised it all, he had realized that he had finally started healing, and that it was time to move on with his life. And that’s what he did, never looking back on the war from that day forward.
But I was interested.
I felt the irrational need to look farther into the mind that was my grandfather. Experience his war, his thoughts. I was not ready to say goodbye yet.
Sitting on the bed, I opened the journal again.
June 20, 1918
I have gotten addicted to the French cigarettes that they ration to us daily, it helps pass the time…giving us something to do besides kill and contemplate our own death.
Alexander Hill and I were on duty earlier today with the rest of the squad. Being “on duty” here currently means we take turns shooting at the enemy…trying to keep their heads down. We created quite a game out of the shooting…whenever anyone got a hit, everyone would give that guy a cigarette. There was a time early in the day where I was two days ahead in my ration! I guess all of that rabbit hunting paid off after all!
The fun kinda tapered off though after Bill Shelton caught one in the neck. We patched him up as best we could, but it didn’t look good for him.
The rain is back now, and we are stuck outside, leaning against the slimy wall of the trench. I have found a small amount of protection from a walkway board overhead, allowing me a small area to write.. We are all smoking, nothing else to do. My biggest joy at the moment is watching the smoke gather under the lip of my helmet, creating my own little cloud around my head.
Wishing I were home.
“Gabe …You up there?”
I put the old book down with a sigh.
“Yeah…I’m here,” I said, wishing my mom had forgotten about me.
I heard her coming up the steps. “What are you doing up here by yourself?” she asked as she turned the corner into my room. “Everybody is asking about you downstairs.”
I shrugged indifferently as I rolled off of the bed.
Noticing the journal lying on the bed, she asked, “what do you have there son?”
Shrugging again, “Granddad’s journal, from when he was in the war. He said I could have it when he passed,” I said, suddenly defensive.
She walked over to the bed and picked up the leather-bound book, studying it intensely. “I’ve never seen this before,” she uttered as she slowly sat on the bed, never taking her eyes off of the volume. She ran her fingers tenderly over the cross on the cover as I had done earlier.
Snapping out of her trance, “Where did you find it? I’ve never come across it in the twenty years I’ve lived here?”
“He had it in his safe,” I mumbled, “he showed it to me a long time ago.”
Mom smiled sadly, patting the bed beside her for me to sit. Looking up at me with her large brown eyes, I saw tenderness in them as she smiled at me.
“He sure loved you,” she said, taking my hand, “I know you will miss him more than anybody. You two were always thick as thieves.”
Putting the palm of her hand on my face lovingly, “And that’s why I’m more worried about you with all of this…I don’t want you to withdraw from life because he’s gone. He wouldn’t have wanted that either.”
“Your grandfather could get more life out of things than anyone I have ever met. I would hope that if you change in any way because of this, it would be to be even more like him than you already are.”
“I’m ok mom, I just miss him is all.”
I leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek.
“Good! Now come down and visit with your family…they all loved him too.”
“I will, I promise,” I said standing up, “in a minute, I just want to read a little bit more, ok?”
She smiled, “ok, but not too long, we will be eating soon.”
I nodded at her before she turned and made her way back down the stairs. Sitting back down on the bed, I again picked up the journal and turned to where I had left off.
July 4, 1918
All thoughts of Independence Day festivities were dashed early this morning when we were awakened at sunrise by a loud noise approaching overhead. The lightening sky was darkened by an armada of German Zeppelin and Gotha bombers as they rained our positions with deafening and deadly explosions.
Bill Russell jumped on the Browning machine gun and started blasting away at one of the huge airships with little results. Finding myself devoid of anything else productive to do, I joined him, feeding the ammo belt while he inoculated the sky with bullets.
Although I’m sure our efforts did some damage somewhere, it seemed at the time very ineffectual. Men were running frantically back and forth in an attempt to find some protection from the falling bombs. The screams surrounding me attested to their lack of success in that matter.
It all looked pretty bleak for us as the trench filled up with blood and body parts of my comrades, I was amazed that Bill and I had escaped any harm at all as we continued to fill the skies with our little bullets.
Suddenly one of the enemy bombers turned on its side as smoke came out of the engine. It then nosed over and headed for the ground, crashing to earth and exploding not fifty yards from us in a hail of fire.
Having ducked down to avoid the flying debris, we raised our heads and were met by a delightful sight. One of our flyboys buzzed our position after he had followed the bomber down to confirm his kill.
A cheer rose up from all around me as we spotted the whole of his squadron taking on the large bombers with ease. Soon the enemy planes were more worried with escaping than bombing us as one after the other fell to the ground.
I admit I was grinning ear to ear as I watched the spectacle in the skies above, but came quickly down again as we got started collecting our dead. We were hit hard, nearly half my unit decimated by the overhead assault. We would be combined with another unit I was told, at least it wouldn’t be a bunch of virgins this time.
Many were my friend that I helped gather up today, and I would miss them. But the sorrow I used to feel for their passing is not in me anymore.
They are the lucky ones.
“There you are!”
Startled out of my revere, I looked up to see Clair standing in the doorway. Beautiful Clair, my next door neighbor who I thought I was secretly in love with. Friends since first grade, we were the best of buddies, a status she didn’t seem inclined to change.
“Hi!” I sputtered as I sat up quickly, trying to act cool.
Clair came over and sat next to me on the bed like we did it every day. She then grabbed my hand and looked deeply into my eyes with concern on her face.
“I’m really sorry about granddad, I really miss him too.” A tear pooled up in the corner of her eye as she said this. “It won’t be the same around here without him.”
Being more or less one of the family in my granddad’s eyes, Clair had been included in many of our activities over the years. That they too had developed a special relationship of their own had always seemed natural to me, and had never been a source of contention.
Reaching up to Clair’s face, I gently wiped the tear away with my thumb. She smiled a sad smile, and reached over and gave me a hug.
“We’ll get through this together,” she whispered in my ear, “I promise.”
I hugged her back a little tighter for that, and we sat there for a couple of minutes that way, comforting each other.
Finally pulling away, “Your mom said the meal is ready, we should go down.” I nodded as she stood and then pulled me up with her hand, giving a squeeze before pulling me toward the hallway.
As I was leaving, I looked back over my shoulder at the journal lying on the bed. My last unexplored connection to my grandfather, I yearned to read more. I knew that after we ate, I would sneak back here at the earliest opportunity to continue reading his experiences.
Even with the sadness of his writings, it was comforting reading the thoughts that he had written. The words were alive on the pages, a living remnant still communicating to me even after his passing.
October 14, 1918
Well, the war is over for me, but from what I hear, it sounds like the war may be over soon anyway
My luck finally ran out on September 14, one month ago today. Bill and I had been on duty when a courier carrying dispatches for our unit was mowed down ten feet from our trench.
He was still alive.
Bill and I looked at each other and nodded, knowing what was on each other’s mind. We both pulled ourselves up the muddy wall and over the side. We then made our way toward the injured man amid bullets that were plowing up the earth around us. Reaching him finally, Bill started pulling one shoulders while I took the other as we made our way back toward the trench.
As we lowered him over the edge to others of our unit, I felt a burning sensation in my back. I quickly rolled over the edge, my head finding a rock on the way down. I was blinded by blood as it seeped quickly from the wound. I wiped it with my sleeve and got up, intending to make my way to the first aid orderly.
Dizziness swam through my head as I stood unsteadily, unable to fathom why I felt so weak. I looked up to see them pull Bill down over the edge, his lifeless eyes staring at the sky from where he landed.
The noise around me was getting quieter and my vision becoming blurry. One of the new men, can’t remember his name, ran to me with concern on his face and yelled something…but couldn’t make out his words.
“I can’t hear you!” I yelled.
Everything was starting to get dim as I made out the man pulling his face close to my ear. The last thing I remember before I blacked out was this man shouting into my ear.
“You’ve been shot!”
I was shocked! The whole time I had know him, he had never once mentioned that he had been injured in the war. He had truly put it all behind him I guess. But that was like him to the letter. Although it was also a painful time in his life, he was more willing to talk about living through the great depression than some other things he had endured. He had told me once that the only way he had survived the economic downturn was to get up every morning and go to work.
He owned his own business and it had suffered greatly during that time. But he said all he could do was plod on one day at a time. Most of his customers had no money, and he had been forced to take food and various animals as payment for things his customers desperately needed.
He also did many things on account, letting his customers pay as they could. He revealed that at one time, 80% of his business’ income was owed to him by his customers that had no money.
I had asked him once how he was able to have enough trust in these people, trust that they would eventually pay him back.
He quoted something that he eventually made me memorize:
Without trust, there is no promise for the future.
October 15, 1917
I feel slightly guilty I think, getting out of this war with my life while my unit, or what’s left of it continue to fight.
Guilty or not, I have had enough. Far from the noble cause I once thought it to be, I now have a realistic attitude to the atrocities of war, and its causes. Not that one shouldn’t defend oneself if faced with a force that wants to take what is yours, but why does that force want what is yours?
All of this suffering and carnage over one man’s belief that he should rule so much more of the earth than he does, if not all of it.
I have come to another conclusion. During my time here I have gotten to know a fine French fellow by the name of Jacques. He has invited me to travel with him to Egypt to help with an archeological dig.
The thought of going back home with my present state of mind does not settle well with me. I am not the man that left Indiana last year, and I think I should see if I can find him if possible before returning.
I’m not even sure if there is a God anymore. Surely a loving God would not let things like this war happen. Prayer was long ago lost to me, I feel like I have already lived through hell, so what’s the point?
My parents certainly would not understand the man that I am today.
The crickets were chirping outside my open window as I put down the book. Looking over at the clock, I see that it is 12:30. I have been reading the journal nonstop since everyone left around 6:00. Rolling over onto my back, I stared at the ceiling and contemplated the story lying beside me.
It was hard to fathom that the man that I knew had endured so much by the time he had reached the age of 22. I felt guilty that he had gone through so much at that point, and that I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
The cool breeze flowing in through the window felt good on my skin. I closed my eyes to enjoy it for a moment, but apparently dozed off as the clock revealed it to be 4:30 when I again opened them.
I thought about just going back to sleep, but knew that I would be up in an hour anyway. Taking up the journal again, I read through some of his entries from Egypt. Most were the dry details of the mundane, day by day life as an Archeologist’s helper. Digging here and mapping location of their finds.
Finally, I skipped to the last entry.
March 3, 1919
I laughed today!
I had come to this place three months ago with no great expectations, and the daily monotony of our work gave me exactly what I wanted…nothing.
No emotions need be involved to dig into the lives of the long dead, and I fell into the work easily.
I worked hard when I was supposed to, giving it my all physically. This allowed me the deep dreamless sleep that kept out the nightmares that had haunted me since the war. It was all that I wanted out of the experience, and it fulfilled the need more than adequately.
Whenever there was a social gathering, people joining together to blow off steam and enjoy one another’s company, I would decline. I was broken, and I felt that no amount of social interaction would fix that.
Last night however, I deigned to sit with my friend Jacques around a fire with a few of the others. The coffee was good and hot, and I did miss it as it was seldom available here.
We were all sitting there, mostly quiet, except for Kareem. Kareem is a monkey, a pet of one of the local workers at the dig. He was making his way around the fire, just being a monkey.
When Jacques found the monkey in front of him, he started talking to him in French. I could make out only a few of the words spilling out of my friend’s mouth as he gave the monkey a speech worthy of a politician. The monkey just stared at the Frenchman with a look of wonder as the words continued to spill out of my friend’s mouth.
Finally finished with his speech, Jacques put his cigarette back to his mouth and took a long drag. In a flash, the monkey crawled up his legs, and pulled the cigarette out of his mouth. Turning around to face the rest of us, the monkey sat on Jacques’ lap and took a long drag himself.
Blowing out the smoke, he proceeded to start chattering while moving the hand holding the cigarette around like the Frenchman had done moments before.
I busted out laughing at the sight. Once started, I could not contain myself, continuing long past when everyone else had stopped. Concern passed on many of those around the fire as I continued my gut wrenching laughter.
Jacques however, lit another cigarette and just watched with a knowing smile on his face.
He had been there.
I felt life return to me in those moments. The love I felt for my family and friends, the need to do something, to get on with my life. Even God seemed to have a chance of returning to me.
I have three more weeks to go in my commitment to this project. I will fulfill that with ease, but I am ready to go home now. I am ready to move on to the next thing, the next adventure.
Since this journal seems to be the story of my life in the trenches, this will be my last entry.
I have come full circle.
From the kid with the high ideals, into the depths of hell and back again, this is hopefully the story of only a small portion of my life. It will always be with me, be a part of me, but it is now over. I will store it like one is apt to do with any part of their lives, but it no longer rules.
It is a good feeling.
I closed the book with a smile on my lips, noticing that the clock now said 5:30. A new perception of this man who was my grandfather had emerged this night. I now understood better his refusal to ever talk of the war, but also of the profound effect it had had on his life.
I thought about the lesson it seemed to be trying to impart on my own life.
Don’t let your past rule your life, but deal with it and then let it go.
I could recognize the wisdom, but knew that it would be hard enough to put into practice in real life. Still, it was something to strive for. After all, there had to be some reason that he had kept this book around for all of these years.
Picking up the leather book, I took a moment to wrap the rawhide string around it and tied it securely. Taking it over to my bookcase, I gently placed it on the shelf with a smile.
“Thanks gramps,” I said as I turned and headed downstairs. It was time for breakfast, and I was starved.
I don’t know a faerie from a catfish, and don’t get me started on changelings…I mean…what the hell? Give me a real world mystery I can sink my teeth into and I’m happy. Besides, I thought you spelled it fairy!
But that didn’t deter me when deciding to take the plunge and delve into this interesting looking piece of fantasy. I’m big enough to admit that there are other genre’s that I should explore to round out my reading, even if they do include faeries.
I’m certainly glad I did!
This story hooked me from the get go. I was amazed at the intricacies of the fantasy world that Alexia Purdy put together on the pages before me. All of the different characters involved, each with special powers and defenses only available to their particular species.
And attitudes! Yes, faeries have attitudes!
Throw in an adventure or two, a magic quest, wicked queens and some very good writing, and you have an awesome story very much worth reading. I spent a couple of late nights with Shade, keeping her company on her long journey to save the kingdom.
Alexia has certainly cracked open a new realm of reading for me with this amazing story. I highly recommend it!