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Engaging Short Stories of the Bizarre: Where Sci-fi, the unusual and reality meet.

By: Charles Roman


A Message from the Author: These stories began as a writing hobby of mine, then turned into a collection as I began to write more and more. Any resemblance to any persons real or other wise does not exist. I welcome your feedback. Please email me at: CRoman_57@hotmail.com. You can also reach me at: charlesroman.weebly.com I look forward to hearing your comments!

Cover Design by Barbara Roman

ISBN 9781461013310 Š2011 Charles Roman

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DEDICATED TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST FOR THE GENEROUS GIFT OF LIFE!

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WARFARE IN THE HEAVENS REV 12:7 AND THERE WAS WAR IN HEAVEN. MICHAEL AND HIS ANGELS FOUGHT AGAINST THE DRAGON, AND THE DRAGON AND HIS ANGELS FOUGHT BACK. 8BUT HE WAS NOT STRONG ENOUGH, AND THEY LOST THEIR PLACE IN HEAVEN. 9THE GREAT DRAGON WAS HURLED DOWN—THAT ANCIENT SERPENT CALLED THE DEVIL, OR SATAN, WHO LEADS THE WHOLE WORLD ASTRAY. HE WAS HURLED TO THE EARTH, AND HIS ANGELS WITH HIM.

It was still dark when I arrived at the train station. It was early morning and no one was there… like I suspected. I lit a cigarette and as I puffed into the sky, I noticed the clouds racing above, trying to prevent the sunlight from reaching the earth. You may think I‟m crazy but since “they” arrived, it‟s best to stay in the dark and keep your eyes covered so they can‟t read your soul. You see, people have been disappearing, and if not disappearing, changing; as if they‟ve lost their souls. No one seems to know what is happening but I have a theory, stupid as it sounds, there is a war of significance going on in the heavens. It‟s clear to me! It makes all sense! You see, “they” just appeared one day, out of nowhere! People think they are aliens but has anyone really seen an alien? Give me a break! Only if you‟re psychotic, a sensationalist or seen too many Star Trek reruns. I think they are demons, spirits fallen from heaven, doing everything to take control of mankind...especially our souls. You see, “they” just arrived out of no where one day. Stay with me...you see, Satan‟s greatest lie is for us not to believe he exists. Now he‟s releasing the Reaper, Incubus, Mephistopheles, Legion and all the host of Styx and hell to take control of the human race because he knows if he doesn‟t, his only recourse will be that he will be thrown into the lake of fire. And I wouldn‟t want my ass thrown into a lake of fire! Forever!

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According to the train station clock it is almost 6am. The bullet will be here soon. My folks were peeved because I chose to go to Berkeley instead of San Diego State. I like taking the bullet because it gives me time to think and besides it‟s only a half hour ride up the coast. It‟s also a way to escape from them because they don‟t like being around the public and obvious but hide in the dark and are devious. The door to the waiting room opened. It‟s Lucy. She‟s a knockout like always. I can‟t figure her out. She‟s never said a word. Somehow she knows about the shades. She goes up to Berkeley too… then disappears. I want to talk to her so badly but I don‟t know what to say. I want to tell her “Hey… let‟s get together and procreate since people are disappearing ok?” But I don‟t want to lose her friendship since I never had many friends anyway and she‟s become the only female I‟ve seen around lately. When I looked at her I remembered I had forgotten my shades. The sun was beginning to force its way through the clouds, which meant they could show up at any time. I‟m frantically looking in my backpack for my shades and hoping I didn‟t leave them at home. I was beginning to sweat because if they saw I didn‟t have sunglasses, they would go directly for my eyes, knowing they could possess me. If they could do that then they found a way to take control of your life. They somehow enter your being and take charge of it. They don‟t attack us. They wait for us to willfully hand over our spirits to them. Then they overpower you by seeking to destroy you by making you commit suicide or kill you someway. The other day a Conductor gave me this piercing look as if he was trying to look thru my glasses but luckily I have reflector lenses. He gave me this stupor look and yet I could tell he wanted to attack my life, take possession of it, and then drive me jump off the train. Maybe a spirit of death or murder and yet, what better way to stick it to the creator then to

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kill off his creation? There‟s a foul smell at Cuyamaca Lake and I don‟t think its fish. The door to the waiting room opened and one of them appeared. I was sweating profusely. I couldn‟t find my shades. Suddenly, Lucy came up to me and pulled me close to her and kissed me. Then she pulled the shades from off my head and placed them on the bridge of my nose. Boy, I felt like an idiot. Two of them appeared and looked at us with evil intent. Lucy hugged me as if she were afraid. I can‟t describe what these beings look like other than they look like aliens with big heads. They want us to believe they are aliens but I think they are deceiving spirits. I‟m convinced they‟re spirits because they are looking for a body to call home. This is why they try to look into our eyes; the eyes are the window of the soul, so they wait…as if they are looking for a way for us to make a mistake. They don‟t force themselves upon us because we have the freedom to choose right from wrong. They seemed to get frustrated and followed us onto the train. Afterwards, they got impatient and as the train took off, they went thru the doors of the train like ghosts. We stood there speechless…stunned even though we‟ve been through this before. It felt good holding Lucy. We finally made it to a couch-like seating area. I laid back on a backrest as Lucy lay down on the couch, resting her head on my lap. I didn‟t know if I should put my hand on her shoulder or not so I put it on my stomach. I felt awkward, just as awkward as when I fell asleep then woke only to find Lucy was gone. An audio generated voice announced “Berkeley University next stop.” The train stopped under the campus and I got off, looking for Lucy for a second, but I couldn‟t afford to miss my BIORECLAMATION class. I took an elevator to the campus level, and then 6


headed to the next building. Luckily the class was in the closest corner. When I got to the class, there was a sign posted on the door that read CLASS CANCELLED FOR TODAY. THEY MAY BE CANCELLED COMPLETELY. NOT ENOUGH STUDENTS ATTENDING. Dam I thought to myself. I need this class. Dejected, my thoughts turned to Lucy. Since this is my only class today, now was my chance to find out where she disappears to. If I recall correctly, she‟s always headed in the opposite direction when I get off the train and my guess would be that she headed for the library. I wish they had a tram service on campus. It‟s a country mile going from one end to the other. As I headed for the library, I passed by several students on bikes, white shirts and ties. They looked at me with that exorcist look. Ah, love them Mormons. Just like everywhere else in the world, students had disappeared and Berkeley was no exception. The campus had become a ghost town. It was a long walk to the library so I found a table next to a wall in the shade and stopped for a smoke. I try not to walk directly in the sun since we lost the ozone layer a couple of centuries ago. People were dying left and right from skin cancer. It didn‟t bother me because I worked graveyard and never got out except at night unless I took a day class or two. But I like to stay indoors because there‟s been a foul stench in the air for some time. Some say it‟s because of global warming and the melt down of both poles. Most of the mammals and animals that migrate north and south along the Pacific Coast are dead now, polluting the oceans. The indigenous people in these areas have died off now too. It all reminds me of Easter Island. Take away all those trees and disrupt the natural course of things to make your false gods and what do you get? A dead island! Some gratitude! At least Satan can appreciate it! I took a last puff. There was almost no one on campus. Then a blond came walking by and I asked her for the time but she just said, 7


“Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care about time?” Wow, I said to myself. How did she get past those Mormons? I wished she would have stopped and talked awhile but she just kept on walking. Anyhow, I needed to find Lucy. I never felt lonely until I met her and I was feeling lonelier by the minute. I was still a ways from the library when I spotted her walking towards the train station. Thank God I said to myself. Trying to find her in the library would have been like finding a needle in a haystack. She was taking the steps down to the bottom level. When I got to the train station, the train was just taking off; taking off with Lucy and my dreams. What could I do but wait and hope to see her tomorrow. The following day I arrived at the train station early as usual. I was more concerned than usual because I hadn‟t seen my folks in days. No notes or message on the phone as to their whereabouts, although we hadn‟t had phone service in some time. Today I was extremely nervous for I felt like a dead man walking the earth and when I stopped to observe my surroundings, there was no one out on the streets. I tried to think about why I was alone on this planet? More importantly, what was my destiny? After all, if there is a destiny and the Creator had a purpose for all things, then why was I put here at this time when everyone else seemed to have disappeared? I felt like a puppet being manipulated by strings. No matter how hard I tried to understand what was going on around me, I just couldn‟t figure things out. As I waited for the train I noticed it was late. Lucy hadn‟t showed up also. That‟s all I needed just now, to start losing my self-confidence and no one to encourage me. As I sat there, I wondered why? Why am I going to school for? It‟s probably cancelled for lack of interest! Isn‟t that a joke! To take the 8


stress off of me, I let my mind reflect on how things had changed slowly over the years and how we got where we are today. I remember when there were rumors of possible anarchy all across this free country. It started with racism, fascism, chauvinism, terrorism, humanism, Marxism, socialism, communism…religiosity, Scientology…views on the left warring against those on the right…Protestants fighting against Catholics in the name of Jesus…those who believed in free speech fighting against those who believed in equal rights. Then we entered a depression and all institutions failed from education, banking, and government and so on. Finally while we were killing each other, foreign countries that were waiting for the right time to strike us, invaded us. This was after our own countrymen finally gave up on our own government and caused widespread rebellion. The government didn‟t have any answers and the people knew it. So they finally revolted and assassinated the President and bombed even the Pentagon, which by this time had no money or funding to defend itself. Other countries invaded us just the way we invaded other countries causing Americans to go underground. There were wars and rumor of wars, nations fighting against nations. America was no longer “land of the free and home of the brave.” Years of pollution finally caused natural wildfires because the toxins in the pollution embedded in the trees and the dry air just fueled the problem. One match and all the forests in the country went up. We polluted the seas, rivers, lakes, and streams with the foul stench of death. But was it really we? There is a story in the bible where Jesus cast out a legion of demons out of a demonic and the legion went into a herd of swine that ran into a lake and drowned. This is actually what has happened to humanity. Even the simple story about the disappearance of bees‟ years ago is the same sad story. We put chemicals in our farmlands that were meant to help us produce a better crop but they only 9


helped in attacking our bee‟s defense system. Like Aids, the bees started to die by the millions. We put chemicals in everything, if not in our foods, in our bodies. Prescriptions meant to help us only helped the Pharmaceutical companies and that which was meant to help us only made us worse and eventually killed us like bees. Finally the train came. I only got on because I wanted to see Lucy real bad, at least try and talk to her and see what she thought about what is going on since she too survived some how. I needed to hear from her. As I got to campus, I was suddenly hungry but by now food became scarce. You couldn‟t grow anything because the soil was contaminated. More and more hills collapsed and sinkholes developed everywhere. I tried to go into a liquor store one day but the electricity had been shut off some time and I could smell the fowl stench of spoiled milk and meat from the neatly filled refrigerators. There were maggots and flies everywhere. Another time I went into a grocery store and had to fend off a starving coyote. I knew he was hungry but I didn‟t realize that he wanted me for his dinner. Finally I had to settle for a box of Twinkies. Everything else was stale tasting but Twinkies never failed me. When I came out of the campus store I tripped and fell over a body that was lying outside the door. It was the body of the young lady I had seen the other day. She must have died recently because I checked for a pulse but got nothing and she didn‟t smell like death. When I got up from the floor after trying to help this poor girl, I noticed in the parking lot two figures coming my way. Two demons seemingly knowing an opportunity to kill was available and they were right because my shades were lying on the floor broken and I was a sitting duck unless I could find a pair in the grocery store. But as quickly as I entertained this strategy, the two figures stopped in their tracks, and then vanished. I was puzzled as to what happened when a hand grabbed mine and I almost jumped in 10


horror. There stood Lucy standing next to me. She bent down and tended to the girl lying on the floor so I went back into the store to look for a new pair of sunglasses. It was dark in the store, stale and foul smelling. I finally found a rack of shades and grabbed several to put in my backpack. By the time I made it back outside Lucy was gone and even odder was the fact that the body of the young lady was gone also. I tried to look for hints of where the body could have been dragged to but there was nothing evident. I looked around campus from my vantage point and there wasn‟t a soul to be seen…only deafening silence. The wind started to pick up as the clouds began to get darker. My throat was dry and my blood sugar sky-rocked from my diet of Twinkies but I was, for the first time in my life, mainly scared, more than I‟ve ever been. The epiphany and realty of knowing that I may be the only one on the planet, besides Lucy, was overwhelming and I slowly began to faint. I needed water, food and someone to tell me what was going on and I needed all three of them now. I looked around again and saw a figure in the distance. It was Lucy. She was looking at me oddly as if she were waiting for me but I didn‟t have any strength in me to walk across campus to her so I went back into the campus store and found a stack of bottled water at the front of the store and drank profusely until my stomach ached. I was breathing heavily as I went to one knee and almost threw up. Then the oddest thing happened, a loaf of bread appeared out of nowhere, freshly baked and still warm. Then I heard a voice say, “Don‟t go to her.” My stomach was still hurt from drinking too fast and I was famished from not eating that I couldn‟t make any sense of what was said, so I ate a little of the warm bread slowly to gather my strength and thoughts. The dough was sweet tasting but it wasn‟t made of sugar or honey and it was soft for my throat so that it took away that parched feeling and I soon regained my energy. As I lay against the wall 11


enjoying the bread and water, I suddenly heard the voice again say, “Don‟t go to her.” I looked around and yelled out “Who are you?” but got no reply. Then the clouds turned slate black making the day look like night and the wind wiped and swirled like a tornado, making a ghostly howling sound. I closed the front door to the store and sat back against the wall, covering my face from the elements. I was cold and scared and only hoped what was happening would pass quickly but even more, I was scared Lucy would show up. But then it began to hail and thunder as if Heaven and Earth were having a titanic catfight just outside the store. Suddenly it ceased hailing and howling. I peered out the window and noticed the clouds were still thick black. I heard a creaking sound and saw Lucy walk though the door looking like an angel in white. She held an alum jacket in her hand. She walked over to me and fell on top of me, kissing me wildly as if she missed me, rubbing her hands in my hair. She lay against me for a short while then got up and grabbed my hand to motion me outside. She had grabbed one of the maintenance golf carts to make it across campus so fast and this is what we got in. She pointed to a campus dorm so I headed to the entrance door. The hail and howling commenced again when we arrived at the other end of the campus. Lucy reached for my hand as we rushed inside from the cold. Inside there was a magnificent fireplace and a massive inner study with books lined along a wall. It was remarkable because it didn‟t seem to fit a setting for a dorm and the heat from the fire made one forget the inclement environment outside. In front of the fireplace was a mammoth bear rug and on top of it lay a king size blanket with pillows. There was also a bottle of wine with a basket of cheese and crackers. Lucy had taken our jackets and laid them aside and went somewhere to turn the lights off. The warmth of the fire eased my aching bones. Lucy opened the bottle of wine and poured them into a wine glass as we drank together, looking 12


at the fire. She leaned up against me facing the fire as I drank a sip of wine. Slowly I felt as if all the cares of the world were being lifted off my shoulder. Lucy turned around and took her glasses off. For the first time I saw her eyes and the reflection of the fire in them, as if the flames were dancing like demons ready for a sacrifice. She grabbed my head and pulled me to her, holding our lips together for a long and passionate kiss. I was overwhelmed by her gesture, as the wine started to make me feel possessed with rapturous joy. I needed her for the longest time and couldn‟t believe this was happening. When we finished kissing, I looked deeply into her eyes, being drawn into a loveliness and world I had never seen. I couldn‟t resist or turn away from her penetrating gaze as she held me in her arms, pulling me deeper and deeper into her power. The more I tried to resist the more I wanted to surrender. Lucy kissed me in the lips again but this time she kept looking into my eyes, piercing and reading my soul as I started to become a captive and prisoner of her beauty and charm. Slowly I was fading away into this wonderful abyss as it dawned on me I had seen that name before…it rings a bell to me…I know it from some where…then with all the horror I could imagine I remembered but remembered too late that Lucy was short for Lucifer as my world started to spin out of control and was being pulled straight down into the pit of hell. In a room lay a body on a gurney. The light in the room was so bright and brilliant that one could not tell if it had walls or if the room‟s expanse went on forever. Two figures dressed in white lay over a body as if they were performing surgery. The body lay face down with the back of its cranium exposed. “Boy was this drone pathetic,” said the figure watching the operation. 13


“You got that right” said the other figure making adjustments to the corpse. “Although there were actually humanoids like this one that were very similar in nature before the ancient planet earth exploded, I think this prototype needs some enhancement. I‟m going to increase his sensitivity modules and give him a whole new intelligent chip.” “When will the drone be ready?” asked the waiting figure. The operating figure stood up a second, knowing the work being performed required major upgrading, finally said, “Well, give me five days and we‟ll have our boy ready to go.” “Great” said the other figure. “I‟ll ready the Holodeck for the next environmental experiment. Maybe place our boy into a Louis Lamour Western Classic period. That would be fun to watch. He couldn‟t handle the end times but maybe a slower era would do.” “Ok” said the other figure. “But I want him to go through the same types of temptations and problems he faced previously. Don‟t make it easy on him. Besides, I like to see a grown man sweat.” Both figures laughed. Finally the waiting figure said “Ok Lucy. I‟ll see you in a week,” then walked away. Then it stopped and asked, “By the way, why do you think that planet earth blew up anyways?” “Oh,” replied the figure working on the drone. “I don‟t think earthlings really cared or believed anything bad was going to happen to their planet. Or they would have done something about it,” “Yeah, I guess so,” said the other in return and walked away.

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THINGS HAPPEN IN NEW HORIZONS

It was your typical blistery Christmas season in New Horizons, Michigan. The snow descended, and descended, and descended…as all the bears of Horizons-town hibernated indoors around their warm fireplaces. And so it happened every day and every year. The snow fell and the bears hibernated, the people that is. There wasn‟t much to do when it snowed. Just try to keep warm and sing Christmas carols, drink eggnog and revamp old Christmas stories. It was just another year around the old Christmas tree.

At least…that was what they thought!

When the snow finally finished its course, the bears started to stir and come out of hibernation. And when they did, lo and behold, the corner building that was for lease for years was occupied. The red “For Lease” sign was gone! Strange! Ask the waking bears and no one ever saw any moving van or trucks in front of the building, never. Perhaps, it was a mistake. One would think so except for the sign on the door that read Dr. Happen. People started to gather around the building as if some gentlemen were selling some magic elixir. They wondered and wondered and wondered. Finally the word grew to the point that even the mayor got wind of the murmur. He called up the proper administrative authorities and it was true…all the legal documents checked out. It was a legit business. So the mayor called Sergeant Doubt 16


and told him to go and investigate and give him a full report right away. Sergeant Doubt pushed his breakfast aside, reached for his hat and pistol and headed for duty. The good Sergeant was going to find out what was going on in his town. After all, personally, it was a bit of an embarrassment for him to be the last one to be informed since it happened right underneath his jurisdiction. If anyone should have known it was he. But…ah…he didn‟t. Sergeant Doubt was of average height but very thin. You could say he looked very much like Barney Fife. The Sergeant came to the establishment and noticed the door was made of deep dark polished cherry wood. „Odd,‟ Doubt thought to himself. „These doors have always been made of solid steel.‟ Sergeant Doubt knocked and knocked and knocked but no one answered. He was about to go when he checked the door handle and it turned open. Again he thought it odd that it would be open when no one answered. So Doubt entered the threshold and peered in. Nothing! As he opened the door and walked in, the bell on top of the door announced his entrance. As he looked around, there were no chairs in the front waiting room. Even more weird there were no pictures on the walls. Perhaps the proprietor had not moved in yet. There was a single door that lead to a back room. Doubt strained to listen for any noise that came from the back room but he heard nothing. Finally he called out, “Hello. Is anybody here?” He waited for a response but nothing. Slowly, Sergeant Doubt moved to the single door that lead to the back room. He peeked into the room and found on one. As he walked into the room he saw a desk with a chair for it and another chair he guessed was for a client. Like the front room, this room also had no clocks, or pictures hanging from the walls. On the desk was only a yellow notepad with the words “You Can Make It Happen!” By this time Sergeant Doubt thought this doctor was a quack. Doubt‟s curiosity 17


was finally waning so he turned and walked to the front door thinking to himself he would drop by later to give the quack doctor a visit. As he reached for the door handle to leave, a voice came from behind him. “Hello,” said the voice. Sergeant Doubt was startled and caught off guard. He turned around awkwardly to see who addressed him. There stood a small chubby man in a black suit with black glasses and Dunlap‟s Disease because his belly had done lap over his belt and his thin black tie was short as if it shrank in the dryer. He sort of looked like a short Charlie Chan. “Yes ah…” said Doubt stammering for words. “My name is…” “Sergeant Doubt?” said the chubby man. “Why, yes,” said Doubt hardly believing what he heard. “You came to inquire as to how my establishment came into play in this sleepy town of yours Sergeant?” said the man “Why, yes,” again said the Sergeant. “Please, come to my office in the back room Sergeant,” gestured the man. As the two men made their way to the back room, Sergeant Doubt smelled the aroma of coffee and saw a coffee machine brewing coffee in the near corner with a plate of Danishes. “Please Sergeant, may I offer you some fresh coffee and Danishes?” said the man as he didn‟t wait for the answer and poured Doubt a cup of coffee with enough cream to turn the coffee a Carmel 18


color and enough sugar to make it slightly sweet. Doubt watched not believing his eyes. He never divulged to the man how he took his coffee but he mixed it perfectly. “Please Sergeant,” gestured the man to the chair in front of the desk. “Have a seat.” Doubt sat down and thanked the man for the coffee and Danish. “Sergeant, you have been a man who has hid behind his badge all of his life,” said Dr Happen. “You are well respected in this town but you sometimes question whether that respect is sincere because you question your own self worth. You want everyone to respect you but you feel like a coward behind your spectacles.” All this time, Sergeant Doubt had been sipping on his coffee like an old man peering over his coffee cup trying not to reveal any expression because the Doctor was peeling him like an orange. “The only reason you keep your job,” continued Dr. Happen “is because you don‟t have any skills to move up the social ladder and you feel incompetent to move into another position.” Then the doctor got up from his chair and walked around the desk and peered into the eyes of Sergeant Doubt as if he were penetrating his soul and said, “But you Doubt can change all this.” Raising his voice in crescendo fashion, “You see Doubt, all you need to do is learn a simple principle in life.” Then the doctor raised his voice as if he were ready to deliver a sermon and shouted, “YOU CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN!”

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Doubt nearly came out of his seat spilling coffee onto his uniform. And for an hour Dr Happen circled Sergeant Doubt, pointing his plump finger at him, shouting positive epithets, revisiting and exposing the events of his life and getting to the root cause of his doubt. The Sergeant sat in his chair sobbing like a little child eating his lemon Danish. Then he stopped…but wait…he felt refreshed. He felt as if he was delivered, as if the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders. When he finally took the hands from over his eyes he noticed he was alone. But he felt good, re-energized, maybe even changed. As a matter of fact, who cares if the doctor was gone, he still was a quack but a good quack. He was going to leave money for the doctor‟s fee but he saw a note on the yellow pad that read „Sergeant Doubt – No Charge for Office Visit. Donate to the charity of your choice!‟ Doubt got up from the chair and marched outside. Several of the town‟s folk were waiting for him to come out. They saw him go in but what took so long for him to come out? “Sergeant?” asked one of the town gossips. “What is this doctor like?” “Well,” said the Sergeant, wondering what to say. “He good, he‟s very good.” Then he headed right down the sidewalk as if it didn‟t matter whether it was their business to know or not. He was a changed man. The sun was out and he was not going to let the day go by without enjoying it. As Doubt strolled down the curb, he ran into a mother holding a young infant. The mother was crying. “What‟s wrong ma‟am?” asked the Sergeant.

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“My baby‟s sick and I don‟t know what‟s wrong with her,” said the agitated mother. “Well,” said Doubt. All he could think about was Dr Happen but he didn‟t know still what kind of doctor he was and could he help a baby? Then he thought, „let‟s put this quack to the test!‟ “Ma‟am,” Doubt said. “There is a new doctor in town. He‟s only a couple of businesses down. Why don‟t you pay him a visit?” So the lady took her child and headed to Dr Happen‟s office. As she entered, the doctor was waiting in a white smock. “Mrs. Robinson I presume?” said the doctor. The woman froze in her tracks. How did he know her name? She had never met him. “Why yes,” she stammered. “It is.” “There is nothing wrong with your child.” He told her. “But my child has been crying all night and I can‟t get him to stop,” she objected. “The problem is not the child Mrs. Robinson,” insisted the doctor. “It is you.” “Why, how can it be me?” rejected the woman. “I‟m not sick.” “Well, the problem is rather simple,” consoled the doctor. “Please follow me.” He led the woman and her child to his desk and told her to be seated. He poured the woman a glass of water and warmed up a small bottle of milk for the child. Then he took a placebo pill and melted it 21


into the milk. The woman watched carefully. Before she gave the child the milk she asked what was the pill for. “Oh my child,” the doctor said as he squinted behind his thick glasses, “It is only a vitamin pill to help the child‟s stomach.” Soon the baby was quiet and calm, and then it fell asleep. “You see my dear woman,” said the doctor, “the problem is not the baby. It is you.” “How can that be?” asked Mrs. Robinson again. “I didn‟t give the baby any sickness.” “Yes, that is true,” explained the doctor. “That is not the kind of sickness I am talking about. I am talking about a sickness that causes you to smoke.” The woman was quiet because the doctor had exposed her weakness and she never divulged to him that she smoked. She felt uncomfortable that he knew that and yet she was curious about what else he knew. “Mrs. Robinson,” continued the doctor. “You have an anxiety problem. That is why you smoke so much. Do you realize your smoking is affecting your child‟s stomach as you nurture it and that she breathes in this nasty filth?” The doctor got up from his desk and looked into her eyes. As he walked around it, he raised his voice and said, “Mrs. Robinson, you hold the power in your hands to solve this problem.” “I do?” asked the woman not sure what he was talking about?

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“Yes,” said the doctor as he started to circle the woman, pointing his fat finger at her, stripping her of all her inner secrets, spiritually operating on her psyche until she began to sob like a child and then all of a sudden he delivered the gospel with a shout on the rooftops, “But Mrs. Robinson…YOU CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN!” Poor Mrs. Robinson sat on her chair holding her child sobbing like a little orphan. After a few moments she collected her emotions and realized she actually felt good inside. As a matter of fact, she felt wonderful. The monkey on her shoulder was gone. “Doctor,” confessed the woman. “I feel cleansed as if I was delivered from a demon.” “Mrs. Robinson,” replied the doctor. “Only you can make it happen. It was in you all along. I only turned on the light onto those things you already knew were there. When you made the decision to change, then you felt free.” “Boy doctor,” said the woman relieved like she hadn‟t been in years. “I am glad I could be of assistance,” said the doctor. “What do I owe you for this office visit?” asked Mrs. Robinson. “You owe me nothing,” said the doctor. “I never charge my clients because they don‟t owe me for something they instinctively fix themselves.” “Surely I owe you something?” insisted Mrs. Robinson. “No no,” demanded the doctor. “You run along with your lovely child and go enjoy the sunshine.” 23


When word got back to the mayor of New Horizons, he was furious. Why didn‟t Doubt return to spill the beans on the doctor? He felt like Herod being tricked by the Three Wise Men. This just could not happen to him. He was the mayor or so he thought. He decided to call the most ruthless person he knew, bedsides his mother, the town lawyer. Larry the Lawyer had a heart as cold as a block of ice. He didn‟t have room for emotions or feelings. The most favorite word in his vocabulary was “Sue!” So Larry the Lawyer marched down to Doctor Happen‟s office and immediately marched into the building but wait…the door was locked. How could this be! He was Larry the Lawyer! No one refused the honorable lawyer of New Horizons. But he had to wait and wait and wait and the more he did the more his anger rose and rose and rose. Finally, Larry the Lawyer got so mad that he kicked the door and lo and behold, the door opened! To his surprise, he opened the ajar door and peeked in to see if anyone was inside. Dead silence! So he timidly walked into the front room and strained to hear if anyone was in the back room. Again, dead silence. Larry the Lawyer felt off guard or at least in a position he was not familiar with being in, in the defensive. As he entered the back room, which he normally would have barged in, he called out to see if there was anyone around. “Hello?” he cried out but deafening quiet greeted him. Larry the Lawyer was beginning to get angry as if the doctor was playing a joke on him. Finally he decided he would leave and return during business hours but as he turned towards the door, there stood Dr. Happen in front of him. Larry the Lawyer felt awkward because the doctor said nothing, he just stood there. He was not accustomed to explaining himself but for legal reasons he felt compelled to because he was in an establishment without authorization. So Larry the Lawyer started to explain himself when the good doctor interrupted him. 24


“Mr. Lawrence Green I presume?” asked the doctor. “Yes, that is I,” returned Larry the Lawyer, puzzled how the doctor could know his name when they had not been formally introduced. “Please Mr. Green,” gestured the doctor towards the back of the room. Larry the Lawyer followed the doctor to the back of the room and sat down before a desk. Again he was not use to following someone but use to others following him. As he sat down, he noticed a bottle of wine with cheese and crackers lying on a table along a wall. There were expensively clear wine glasses with gold rims and china plates with gold rims. There were also paper plates with paper cups. The doctor didn‟t ask Larry the Lawyer; he simply walked over to the table and placed slices of cheese and crackers onto a paper plate. Then he poured some wine into a paper cup. Then he gave them to Larry the Lawyer. Dr. Happen walked around the desk and took a seat. Then he started in on the town lawyer like he was scolding a little child. “Well Mr. Green,” the good doctor commenced, “you have been this town‟s own lawyer for years now. And you have gleamed the wallets of the poor, the helpless and the misfortunate.” Larry the Lawyer felt an attack coming on but he welcomed the challenge for he thought nothing in this world could bring him to his knees, not even God Almighty, if he existed anyways. But as he sat there laughing to himself, the good doctor started to plow into his ego, dismantling his intellectual armor, shredding his self confidence like a paper shredder. Soon Larry the Lawyer felt helpless, as if he had lost his handle on life and he was as exposed to the stark truth as a naked baby taking a shower. Now the good doctor stood up and started to walk around the room, pointing his chubby finger at him, stripping him of his 25


alter ego, raking him over the coals for his greed, pinpointing the very sham of a character that he really was, destroying the very pride of his heart in taking advantage of the innocent, stabbing him in the very soul of his being for lusting after the god of mammon instead of serving his own people. Hours and hours passed by and over and over the good doctor circled, assailing and assaulting the ruthless lawyer‟s worthless character, false integrity and selfish motivations. Eventually, a small tear started to squeeze difficulty down the check of Larry the Lawyer. Soon more started to descend like a leaky faucet. Then the doctor started to pour more pathetic epithets on the pathetic lawyer, describing him as a hypocrite of hypocrites, a king of bullies, the father of all sharks and the only positive quality of his nature was that he was the honorable son of Satan! Tears started to descend down the checks of Larry the Lawyer as a nerve brought down a gusher of rain. Then the good doctor said softly…”Mr. Green. This does not have to go on, YOU CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN” he shouted loudly causing the lawyer to scream like a little girl in his chair. He felt so embarrassed that he placed his head in his hands and bawled like a little baby. After awhile, Larry the Lawyer realized something strange. He felt as if there was on one in the room. He lifted his head from his hands and looked around and noticed he was alone. The doctor was not in the room with him. How could this be? Where could he have gone? But wait…something happened. He felt clean, as if he were a new man! He didn‟t feel like being mean. He was oddly different. As he got up out of the chair, his legs felt as if the blood didn‟t want to circulate within him. He had a difficult time walking. As he went to the front room to look for the doctor, he saw a note on the front counter that read „Mr. Green, $10,000 Office Charge. Give to the charity of your choice.‟ He lumbered to the front door, his feet resisting 26


him all the way. As he walked outside, he felt the warmth of the sun as if for the first time and the birds…they were singing as if he never heard them before in all his life. The town‟s folk looked on as if he were a new creature born from above. He walked as if he had new legs that had never taken a step in their life. Word got around that the good doctor had turned a lion into a lamb. It spread around town quickly and even the mayor shook his head and wondered what was happening. And so it went in the sleepy little town of New Horizons. Client after client came to visit Dr. Happen who showed up out of nowhere and client after client left a changed person. Months went by and the doctor delivered the same results. Then…a single snow flake appeared from the sky announcing the coming season change. As they descended and as time passed, a funny thing happened. The people of the sleepy town of New Horizons took a turn for the worse. They didn‟t have anything to complain about. They had changed to the point where everyone was a Good Samaritan or followed the Golden Rule.

Until that is…

Someone started to complain that no one was paying the doctor for his services and that is wasn‟t right to get medical treatment for free. A major feud broke out in town. It wasn‟t right for the doctor not to charge his clients. It wasn‟t going to happen! So they murmured and murmured and murmured and along with this negativism came the continual blistery and torrential downpour of white Christmas. The 27


transformed souls were turned in on themselves, as the bears became prisoners to the elements. The snow plummeted the days and made everyone melancholy. Day after day the winds howled and the snow descended until finally the season ended and the minds of the sleepy town melted, slowly reverting back to reality. When the sun heralded its entrance in the horizons, all of the bears came out of hibernation. Slowly they came out one by one and they made their way to the corner of the business establishment of Doctor Happen. But what is this? The building was empty as before. The beautiful wood doors were gone. The red “For Leaseâ€? sign was back up on the window. Many that had gathered stared at the empty building speechless. They just stood there and stared and stared and stared. Some cried, some shook their heads sadly, some were simply too shocked to comment. No one ever thought that it would come to this. They tasted change but preferred to hide their talents in the dead of winter. But if you would have asked the good doctor for his professional opinion‌he would have probably said that it was bound to happen.

28


29


A Test of Mettle

David Clark tossed and turned all night. He lost his job a year ago and his financial reserves were dwindling. He had a job interview tomorrow and that was all he kept thinking about‌that dam interview. He lost his job working for a bottling company. When he saw the ad in the paper for a position that paid the same wages as his previous one, without any job experience required, he could hardly believe it. But he couldnâ€&#x;t afford not to believe it because he needed work now! Finally the morning came. David, moving on adrenaline despite being sleepy, left his vehicle in the garage and decided to take his auto aircraft. Normally he would have taken his car but they were outdated and he only used it for cruising the weekends. Besides, he was in a hurry. When he got to the business that was hiring, the guard at the gate told him he had to wait outside until the secretary came to open the office. When the secretary did show up, the guard informed her about David and she gave him an annoyed glance then motioned for him to follow her. She turned on the lights to the front waiting room and told him to have a seat. She would be back shortly. David sat in the front waiting room thinking of what to say to the man during the interview. He wasnâ€&#x;t too sure about the position and its requirements or what it was about. Still, he had to be ready to make a first impression and he wanted to ask sincere questions and not sound like an oaf.

30


It was 6 am when David got to the business. The secretary wasn‟t in a hurry to get back to him. She had to make coffee, turn on computers, freshen up, and then drink her coffee to wake up. It was 8 am when she came back to him with a job application. “I have a resume,” David said. “Honey,” returned the lady, “if there is anything you should learn it is this; go with whatever is asked of you. You understand?” “Oh, yes,” said David sheepishly. “Thank you.” David poured over the job application with a fine tooth comb. He was so into dotting the i‟s and crossing every t that it was 9 am when he was finally done. At that time a man in a nicely dressed gray suit walked in as David walked up to the counter to give the secretary his application. As he did, he accidentally walked in front of the man in the suit. David apologized and let the man go by. “Way to go genius,” said the secretary. “You just walked in front of the man who is doing the hiring. I‟ll be with you shortly.” David sat down feeling ten inches shorter. He couldn‟t find a rock big enough to crawl under to hide his embarrassment. Again David waited for another hour. By this time he began to wonder if he‟d made a mistake in coming to apply for the job. „Maybe it‟s not as it seems‟ he reasoned to himself. He started to nod off as he waited. Finally he heard the secretary call him over. She told him to follow her as they made their way to a back room and then she introduced him to Mr. Rogers. David sat down directly in front of Mr. Rogers‟ desk; sweat pouring down the neck of his navy blue suit. He could feel the palms of his hands get hot from his nerves. Mr. Rogers was almost bald except for 31


a patch of brown hair around his ears and in back of his head. He looked down at his desk calendar to see whom he was interviewing today. “David…is it Clark?” asked Mr. Rogers. “Yes…yes sir,” responded David, trying to sound respectful. “David…” said Mr. Rogers. “I‟m not going to lie to you. This is a very easy job that pays well. We are a company that prides itself in safety above efficiency. Oh, don‟t get me wrong. I didn‟t say efficiency wasn‟t important. It is! It‟s just that it doesn‟t make sense to push our AI‟s to the brink of breakdown and then lose our efficiency. Our AI‟s cost us a bundle. So why lose an AI and efficiency also? Now let me explain your position. All you have to do is put our technologically top grade oil in our AI‟s when they need it. Our AI‟s are our Artificial Intelligence operators. They do all the work. You don‟t have to do any physical work. They do all the work. You must make sure they don‟t run low on oil.” “Mr. Rogers?” asked David trying to understand what it was he was being asked to do. “Let me get this straight. One of these machines will need top grade oil and all I have to do is put oil in? That‟s it?” “That‟s all there is to it,” said Mr. Rogers. “How will I know when they need oil?” asked David. “When you are out monitoring their progress,” said Mr. Rogers. “One of them will stop and turn to you and look at you until you put oil in them. They are programmed to do just that. Now I can‟t stress enough David how important our AI‟s are. Why do we use them you may be wondering? The real question is why do companies still use humans? Well David, people need to take breaks. They complain by nature. They 32


want raises, more money, less work and form Unions. The biggest problem is that they get hurt and can cost the company bundles in medical bills. They gossip, make mistakes, produce poor quality and have bad attitudes. This is why we need to take all the care in the world with these AI‟s and keep them moving. Do I make myself clear David? Now follow me and I will show you the operations.” David thought to himself how great it was for him to see the operations because that almost meant he had the job. Why waste your time showing someone how to do the job when you can do that after you hire the right person. David liked his chances of getting the job. They arrived at the production area, which was in the back of the building. Here were lined up a row of blue barrels on one side of an aisle and on the other side were a row of red barrels. “David,” said Mr. Rogers. “These blue barrels are for the AI‟s that you would be responsible for putting oil into them. Here in front of the barrels is a small spicket and the tray in front has a small cup you pour the oil into.” Mr. Ross proceeded to demonstrate to David what to do. “Now David,” He said afterwards. “If you follow me I‟ll show you hands-on how to fill one of these AI‟s up with oil.” They walked over to the middle of the plant, which was covered with a green hanging tarp to prevent anyone from looking into the production area. When David followed Mr. Rogers behind the curtains, he saw hundreds of AI‟s working feverishly, doing various tasks. Some were assembling parts, others working on intricate chips, while others were welding with their hands secret circuit boards. All of the AI‟s 33


looked the same, having the body shape of a human. They were all white-like advanced robots and their bodies looked like the material of a white light bulb, except for their faces, which looked clear, but you couldn‟t see what was inside of the clear face. Suddenly, one of them came up to Mr. Rogers and stopped and looked at him. Mr. Rogers walked around the AI then showed David a button to push. This released a flap that opened and there only appeared a hole in which the funnel of the cup was entered. When the oil was full, a light came on and Mr. Rogers stopped pouring oil. The flap closed by itself and then the AI returned back to his job. “Has anything ever happened to these AI‟s?” asked David. “No” said Mr. Rogers. “They were built solely for Production and Production only. Each AI has been programmed to do a special task only and as you can see, we have hundreds of AI‟s doing their special „thing‟ if you will.” “What or who would I call if I suspected a problem that needed to be addressed?” David asked not trying to be rude but concerned. “I mean, if there were problems not with the AI‟s but maybe someone outside the business.” “Good question David,” said Mr. Rogers. “We have security out at the gate but I would give you my personal number to report to me right away if there was a problem if such would arise.” “Did this position just become created?” David asked. “Again, another good question David,” responded Mr. Rogers. “The problem is that everyone who has been hired for this position has been terminated.” 34


“Wow!” said David surprised. “Now don‟t get alarmed,” explained Mr. Rogers. “They got terminated because they couldn‟t follow directions. And if you follow directions David, you should not have any problems at all. Even if you run into problems, you are not asked to fix anything or resolve anything. I will handle all problems you have. Is that clear?” “Yes sir,” David said. “Then, if there are no more questions,” asked Mr. Rogers. “I have one for you.” “Oh?” asked David puzzled. “When can you start?” asked Mr. Rogers laughing knowing he caught David off guard. “Immediately!” David responded. “Then, show up at 6am in the morning and I‟ll set you up with someone to train you on the position,” Mr. Rogers said. “I‟ll be here bright eyed and bushy tailed,” replied David. David shook Mr. Rogers‟ hand and thanked him for hiring him. He felt so relieved to have a job at last. He could have started right then but Mr. Rogers had already made the call and he remembered the hint from the secretary to go with the flow. So he was off ready to go home and get some sleep because he badly needed it. When David got home, he told his wife Mari he was hired and what the job entailed. He said he started the next day so he was retiring

35


early and to wake him up at 4am on the dot. He needed rest and wanted to be refreshed for the morning. The next morning, David was still tired despite going to bed early. All he did was toss and turn thinking what his first day on the job was going to be like. He arrived to work early and waited in the waiting room for Mr. Rogers to show. When he did, he motioned for David to follow him to the back where he was introduced to Joe Garcia, who bore the slight resemblance to Hitler. Joe was the Master Tech, the man who was going to train David on the job. Mr. Rogers said he would check up on David later to see how he was doing. From the get go, Mr. Garcia turned into Sergeant Joe. He was practically yelling at poor David. “It‟s imperative that you don‟t make a mistake in mixing oils into the AI‟s,” Sergeant Joe barked out loudly to David. “You‟ll notice the blue barrels on the left are your barrels. But, henceforth and however, the yellow ones are for the AI‟s on the other side of the building.” David noticed that there was a small section with the same type of tarp covering a smaller part of the facility. It escaped his notice yesterday during the interview. He wanted to question why it was a smaller section and what type of work those AI‟s did but he had to keep up with Sergeant Joe because he had to go with the flow as the Secretary etched her motto into his memory. “Now I‟m going to tell you a profound but simple truth,” the sergeant barked. “Not following rules will get you terminated. This is such a simple job that even a 12-year old could do it. But since it is such a critical job, we need someone who will not cut corners, who will not deviate from the norm, and who will be consistent in doing what is asked of them. Are you that man Mr. Clark?” 36


“That‟s me.” David responded but not convincingly to the sergeant. “Are you sure?” questioned the serge. “Yes it is sir,” David said more loudly. I can‟t hear you!” yelled the Sergeant. “Yes sir,” David shouted as if he were in boot camp. “Better,” said the serge. “But with a little more testosterone please.” There were a couple of techs that peered around the tarp from the small section from across the facility. They laughed to each other and gave each other and Mr. Garcia the hiel Hitler salute when he wasn‟t looking. Davis felt needlessly embarrassed.

“Ok, Mr. Clark,” the serge said. “One last thing and this is the most important point of all. No matter what other employees tell you, do not listen to them. If they tell you efficiencies are important, ignore them. If they say use a different type of oil, report them. If they say you are doing a poor job because your numbers are low, don‟t pay attention to them. Your sole purpose in this company is to keep those AI‟s fed with oil. That‟s it! Do I make myself perfectly clear?” “Yes sir,” David said sheepishly. “Do I?” yelled the serge. “Yes sir!” yelled David in return.

37


“Good,” said Mr. Garcia. “Because your job will require that you ignore everything around you except the AI‟s. They are your babies. Keep them fed. Good day.” And so Mr. Garcia departed as quickly as his sharp character, leaving David to tend to the AI‟S. When he entered the AI area, they almost came up to him in a bunch but he took care of all of them one at a time. Soon he started feeling less stressful and more comfortable working with them that he was amazed at how simple the job was. But he made up his mind not to become complacent and to always be ready to fill them up. At the end of the workday, Mr. Rogers showed up and blew a noiseless whistle that made all of the AI‟s line up in a row against a wall at a number that somehow corresponded to each unique AI. Then he plugged them each into what looked to David as some type of energy cable to rejuvenate them for the morning. “You don‟t have to worry about this part David,” Mr. Rogers said. “These puppies cost too much to be handled completely by just one person.” David bid Mr. Rogers good day and soon arrived home where he told his wife Mari his adventures on the job the first day. David was excited but he hoped even more that he could get at least one good nights sleep. So right after dinner, David called it a night but as he lay sleeping, he just couldn‟t figure what was bothering him. There was something about the job that was puzzling him. It was too easy. Something seemed wrong but he couldn‟t put his finger on it. Again he woke up more tired and sleepier then the day before. When David arrived for work, he went to his assigned work area when he noticed that two workers came out of the small section and 38


gestured to him to come over to them. As he walked over, he realized the two workers were actually twins. Both were of medium height, dark skinned, thin and wore round spectacles. Then David realized they were from India. “Hi,” one of the twins said as he put out his hand towards David. “I am Jarah and this is my brother Rajah.” “Hi,” David said shaking their hands. “My name is David. I just started.” “Yes, we noticed,” said Jarah. “We enjoyed the show the day you met Hitler.” Both of the twins laughed simultaneously. “He is such an asole.” “What‟s that?” David asked not sure what was said. “Oh, you know, a behind, a love cushion, a big rump.” He said, sending the two in an uproar again. “Well, don‟t believe everything he says. Look,” then he stopped and gestured for David to follow him. So David followed him to a cabinet against the wall. “Now did Mein Kampf explain this to you?” David read what was in the cabinet. It posted the efficiency numbers for both sections and by what he could tell, the group in the smaller section was out producing the group in the larger section. He was doubtful with what he read until he saw his name next to the larger group. This made him wonder what was going on despite all that Mr. Garcia had said; it looked like the company was pitting his group against the twins from India. “What does it mean?” asked David. 39


“Well,” said Jarah, Mr. Hitler didn‟t tell you that they were keeping track of numbers did he?” “No,” reflected David. “He and Mr. Rogers both insisted they didn‟t care about numbers, they were more concerned about the AI‟s.” “Why do you think most of the people employed in this position you‟re in now often got terminated?” insisted Jarah. “It‟s because of low performance. But they won‟t tell you that even if you confront them about this information they‟ve posted. They‟ll deny it till you‟ve pushed too far and then you‟ll be out of here too, just as quick.” David stood staring at the board speechless, not knowing what to say since he was the new recruit. He was already tired as it was but this news made him feel confused. Now he wished more than ever that he not took the job in the first place. He didn‟t know what to believe and for that matter, whom. The only solace he gleamed was the advice from the lowly secretary. He decided to stay the course despite the evidence to the contrary. He was going to do his job and not worry about what the twins said. From time to time he would go over to the board to try and convince himself the numbers didn‟t matter. But he felt discouraged that in just a short amount of time on the job, that the company would betray him in this manner in front of other employees. When Mr. Rogers appeared at the end of the shift, he was his jovial self but David tried to detect any signs from him that his job performance was unacceptable or below par. But all Mr. Rogers conveyed to David was “Great job David keeping these AI‟s going.” He wanted to ask Mr. Rogers about the numbers but he didn‟t want to sound as if he was prying into information that wasn‟t privy to him, so he let it go. So David ended up taking the curiosity about what was going on 40


about the numbers home with him. Again he would go home and instead of getting plenty of rest and celebrating the fact that he had a job, he almost walked into his house with his head hanging down. He hid is anxiety and worries from his wife Mari and after telling her he wasn‟t feeling well, decided to skip dinner and went straight to bed. “Are you ok? It‟s not like you to skip a meal,” his wife asked sensing something wrong. “Yeah, I‟m ok.” David said feebly. “Just not getting enough rest is all.” The next day, the twins were waiting for him again. David couldn‟t ignore them because they were standing in front of the tarp entrance to his section. “Have you seen the numbers from yesterday‟s efficiencies?” Jarah asked him. “No, I just got here,” David said, hinting a little but of sarcasm. Jarah handed him a piece of paper that showed him that the smaller section was out producing the larger section by a ratio of 3 to 1. David‟s heart sank. He was discouraged even more. He didn‟t believe it. So he finally turned to Jarah and asked him to see his AI‟s. So Jarah took him to his section and when he entered, he found the exact type of AI‟s as his but only a third less in number. „These guys are out producing my guys?‟ David thought to himself. „How can that be?‟ “David,” said Jarah, seeing the despair in his eyes. “I‟m going to tell you a secret because my brother and I don‟t want to see you lose your job. We know how to make the AI‟s work faster without harming their systems. You see, if you alter the chemical oil just slightly, they 41


work slightly faster, making them work harder. You see we have been doing this for some time now without losing a day‟s labor. And yet, they are producing above efficiency levels.” “I…I don‟t know,” David said. His head was beginning to spin. “I was told all I had to do was give them oil. Not worry about efficiencies. I can‟t afford to lose my job taking a risk like that.” “David,” Jarah tried to convince him. “I assure you. My brother and I have been doing this for some time now. It will harm your AI‟s in no way. Believe me. I wouldn‟t suggest it if it did. We would all be in trouble if something were to happen to one of these AI‟s. We would all lose our left testicles.” The twins both laughed together trying to make David feel at ease. After awhile, Jarah said for David to think about it and when he was ready, he would show him what to do. Despite the fact that every day went smoothly for him, David just couldn‟t shake the feeling of being used as a scapegoat by the company. Every day, the numbers were posted and every time he was getting his butt kicked by the evil twins. Every day Jarah tried to convince David to alter the chemical state of the oil but every day David would decline the opportunity. So every day David would go home riddled with guilt and confusion and every night he would wrestle with nightmares of what to do to resolve this problem. The stress was beginning to take a toll on David to the point that he was almost ready to take up Jarah‟s offer. He was desperate but most assuredly, he had no strength left to resist. He had to do something.

42


One day, as David was contemplating putting in the altered oil into the AI‟s, the hairs on the back of his head rose when he caught off the shiny white reflection of an AI, one of them watching him. David was perplexed. „Why is he watching me instead of working?‟ he thought. „Wouldn‟t that mean he had emotions or feelings? There‟s something different about him.‟ It was difficult to pinpoint which AI was the one who appeared to be different from the others because they all looked the same. As the day pasted on, David got more tired by the hour. He was having a nervous break down. Finally he decided he was going to take Jarah‟s advice and put the altered oil into one of the AI‟s against his better judgment. One of the AI‟s came to him and stopped as expected, waiting for oil. David grabbed the altered canister and started to put the funnel into the back of the AI when suddenly, everything went blank.

The next thing David knew, he was waking up in a hospital bed. He had a rather sharp pain coming from his head as his boss Mr. Rogers entered his room. “David?” asked Mr. Rogers. “Are you ok?” “I don‟t know,” responded David groggy. “What happened?” “I found you on the floor blanked out,” said Mr. Rogers sounding alarmed. “It appears one of the AI‟s may have bumped into you by accident. I‟m sorry you‟re in the hospital but if you would have put that oil in one of the AI‟s, you would have been giving him the wrong oil. Looks like you grabbed the wrong oil by mistake. “Wow,” David said after hearing what could have happened and glad he wasn‟t found out. “How long have I been out?” 43


“Well, for about an hour at the end of the shift till now which makes two days,” said Mr. Rogers. “Man,” said David not believing he‟d been out that long. I need to recover so I can get back to work right away. Is one of the India boys watching my AI‟s?” “Oh no,” said Mr. Rogers. “Those boys have been fired.” “Oh?” said David very curious and surprised as to why. “Yes, they were fired,” repeated Mr. Rogers. “At the time you were out, all of the AI‟s for the India boys seized up at the same time. We suspected they were altering the oil chemistry because our lab techs said there was a slight difference but enough to cause the AI‟s to work harder and faster, which led to their breakdown. Now they all have to be repaired. But since they were way ahead of schedule, we can afford the downtime.” “I‟m sorry to hear they did that,” David said to Mr. Rodgers. “Well David,” said Mr. Rogers. “You need to get some rest. The doctor said to give you a week. So take two weeks off all paid time and return to work after you recover. Once the AI‟s are fixed, we are going to combine both sections into one large shop and the whole enchilada will belong to you along with a hefty raise. See what happens when you‟re consistent?” “Wow,” David said out loud but stopping to put his hand on his head as if to stop the pain. “Thank You Mr. Rodgers. I can‟t wait to get back to work.”

44


After Mr. Rogers left the room, David finally felt a weight lift off his shoulders. He was a step away from doing the wrong thing and now he was getting a raise with more responsibility. As he lay in bed, he couldn‟t help but wonder if the one AI he had seen in a reflection had anything to do with preventing him from filling up that AI. He also wondered what is going to happen when he gets back to work. How is he going to respond or think knowing there was an AI that was watching him? The pain in David‟s head was too sharp for him to worry about those things. He was glad he could at last relax. As he lay in bed, he felt he was going to get the much needed rest his body craved for when he looked out the hospital window at the grey clouds that were forming. It was threatening to downpour. That didn‟t bother him as much as seeing the reflection in the window of an AI walking in the aisle way past his room.

45


46


VIRTUAL DEATH

The first time I saw Chuck, I was sitting in my Algebra class. It was the first day of the fall semester and I was wondering why I was taking the dumb class. I flunked out twice before saying to myself, „Why am I taking this class?‟ When it comes to sciences and so forth, I‟m as dumb as a lick. But I have a high interest in the sciences. I love them. The problem is I don‟t have a high aptitude for them. Every time fall comes around, I want to try it again. And this was what I was thinking about when Chuck entered the class. He lumbered in his fat frame. I don‟t mean to be rude but Chuck did look like the Pillsbury Doughboy in a tight blue tee shirt. His flesh looked pink like a swine‟s. He reminded me of that Pugsley kid from The Adams Family; only he was twice as tall and twice as fat. I couldn‟t take my eyes off of him because he sat directly in front of me. Luckily the seats sit like a movie theater so that you have to climb up to find a seat. I sat in the middle aisle going up and in the middle row, directly in the center. Now I wasn‟t trying to be mean when I was describing Chuck, oh no. As a matter of fact, my friends call me the Fonse because I look like Fonzie from Happy Days. Believe me, I‟m not bragging. I hear it all the time. The chicks say „He‟s cute.‟ But to tell you the truth, I‟d rather have Chuck‟s brains then my looks. I don‟t like being a phony or anything. Phonies make me sick. I‟m a realist but you wouldn‟t believe me from the way I look. So I‟m sitting there looking at Chuck thinking I need to get this guy‟s help to pass this class. By the way, how did I know who he was? 47


Everyone knew who Chuck was. He was admired by everyone despite his appearance. So I‟m sitting there wondering how I was going to approach him when this girl enters class while the teacher was taking roll call. The teacher looks over at her knowing it‟s about 10 minutes into the class and she sheepishly sits next to Chuck. The guys in the class sort of laugh to themselves but they look at her because she is kind of dingy yet pretty. She looked like that chick from Dirty Dancing, the one who had to dance with Patrick Swayze. After the teacher gave homework instructions to us and lets us go early, Chuck attempts to leave quickly when the dame butts in front of him as he grabs the door handle. “I have you in one of my other classes,” she says as she creates a log jamb in front of the door, and I do mean a log jamb because you could get trampled leaving. The space on the bottom floor was very small. “Oh, you are?” said Chuck, his face turning red. “Yes. My name is Marie,” she said. But seeing she was embarrassing Chuck and blocking the exit, she moved out of the way to let the crowd through. Chuck managed to escape the conversation because he went right through the door first while she backed away. I was kind of laughing to myself because I sat on my seat watching this scene carry out. It was kind of an epiphany, like I was meant to watch it for some reason. I knew one thing; you couldn‟t find a phonier dame than Marie. I heard all about her too. She was a user if ever there was one. Now I was thinking I might have to push my plans sooner to ask for Chuck‟s help with my studies, just to keep Marie away from him.

48


A week later, as I was walking around campus, I noticed Chuck and Marie sitting on the lawn. Chuck was trying to study while Marie was taking a nap. Boy, this didn‟t take long before the wolf attacked the sheep. She was already manipulating him like a rudder on a boat. Somehow there was something I didn‟t quite understand. Marie had to have known something about Chuck that I didn‟t know about. I tried to put my finger on it but I couldn‟t figure it out. There had to be more to it than just needing help with school work. So I tried to sit as close to them as I could, to listen to what she was up to, but facing away so they couldn‟t see that I was spying on them. But most of the time Marie just napped while Chuck looked intently at his Algebra book. He whizzed through his homework like it was peanut butter. Then he started on his Biology reading as if he were a speed reader. Then he proceeded to finish his Biology homework just as easily as his Algebra homework. When he was done, he was too shy to tell Marie he had to go so he waited till she moved as a sign she was awake. Then he said “Hey a…I need to go home. I‟m done with my assignment.” Marie turned over and said “What? You‟re done. I‟m hungry. Let‟s get something to eat.” Chuck‟s silence told me he really wanted to go home but he boyishly replied instead “Ok.” She had touched his heart strings. They made their way to the cafeteria, he grabbing her backpack, trying to be a gentleman. I waited till they got close to the cafeteria door and then proceeded after them, stretching, yawning, rubbing my stomach, and pretending to be hungry also.

49


Chuck could probably eat like a horse since he was as big as one but he exercised discipline since he was around a girl. She pulled out some bills and gave it to him and said something probably what she wanted to eat. She sat at a table facing away from me for which I was lucky while he got chow. When he returned with a handful of food, I just sat and amused myself. There had to be something going on with that chick and I was dying to find out. Weeks went by and I slowly got behind in my Algebra homework. When you‟re mostly an English major and a romantic at heart like me, you‟re going to find science classes hard to understand. I‟m not a Spock kind-of-a-guy. I decided I would have to drop out of Algebra when the required time came around so it wouldn‟t get on my record. I was sitting down on one of the open square benches next to Cedar Hall, enjoying the sun when out of nowhere Marie came and stopped right in front of me with folded arms as if she were upset. “Why are you spying on Chuck and me?” Marie asked. I could tell she was upset but she seemed puzzled about something else. “Me?” I said trying to be innocent. Then Marie sat down next to me and started talking about Chuck. Boy she was dingy. I didn‟t even have to give her a reason for my spying. She just started to spew out things without me asking or saying anything. “You know what?” she said laughing to herself, starring towards the sky, “Chuck is a strange guy. You know he has this machine he said he invented…it‟s like plugging yourself into a computer…yeah, that‟s what he said.”

50


She looked into the sun as if she were reflecting on something. Then she continued on…”Yeah, he said it‟s like going anywhere you wanted to go but through a computer.” I was thinking this was why I hadn‟t seen them around lately. Chuck had told her a secret but she didn‟t quite understand what it was and she needed someone to help her figure it out. “What does it do?” I asked her. She said, “Well, Chuck says he got smart because of this machine… because it can take you around the world and you can learn different cultures and languages. It somehow plugs you, your physical body into the computer somehow. He said there are things you could do to get you in trouble but he stays away from those kinds of things. He said he went into his bank account and deposited money into his checking account without anyone knowing it. He said virus programs couldn‟t stop him because there are no virus definitions for this thing. He said it‟s like entering a virtual world where you can go anywhere you want to without leaving home. The possibilities are endless according to him” Wow, I said to myself. She actually remembers everything he told her. That‟s a miracle. “Have you seen this…whatever it is? I asked her. “No,” she said looking to the ground reflectively. “Why did Chuck tell you this?” I asked inquisitively. “I don‟t know. I think he likes me,” She started to laugh. “He reminds me of my younger brother who passed away. Maybe that‟s why 51


I like talking to him but he seems to have taken my being near him as a sign that I like him. Maybe that‟s why he opened up and told me those things.” Wow, again I was impressed. She was cognitive of her actions. “Where is Chuck now?” I asked “I don‟t know.” She said. “He‟s disappeared ever since he told me his secret. I think he‟s bashful.” “Tell me more about that contraption,” I asked her. “That seems to be an incredible machine.” “Chuck said that it could be very dangerous if it were to get into the wrong hands,” She continued. “He said you could really do whatever you wanted to with that thing.” “Oh, like what?” I asked. “He said you could easily get rich off of it because you can control almost everything you wanted by entering this device, going into the web somehow, and make changes to all the data without anyone knowing it. No one could know. You could buy airline tickets, put cash into your checking account, travel the world without leaving your home; you could wreck someone‟s life if you wanted to.” “Did he say he‟s actually done any of these things?” I asked her, really pressing her because I was starting to really want to know. “Yes he has,” Marie said. “But he said it wasn‟t right to do wrong things out of principle.

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After talking with Marie awhile, we both came to the same conclusion; we had to see this invention. Never in my wildest dreams would I think of doing something like plotting a plan to steal a machine but the more Marie and I discussed the potential this thing could do, then the more my moral character began to become weak. Even Marie‟s eyes lit up as she talked about what she could do if she had that gizmo. It was the early morning when we started talking at first. We got so carried away we didn‟t even notice the sun going down. We decided that Marie needed to get Chuck to show her where this piece of equipment was located. We needed to know if what Chuck was saying was true or not. No sense getting excited about something that Chuck may have made up because he had an infatuation about Marie. We plotted that we would not be together on campus in case this thing was real and we happened to get our hands on it.

The next day when I sat in the algebra class, waiting for the lovebirds to show up, Chuck strolled in by himself. Shortly afterwards, Marie entered just as the bell was ringing, typically her style. She sat next to Chuck and pretended to ignore him, at least not give him any attention. Chuck handed her a piece of paper, answers to the homework assignment I‟m guessing, the bastard. She took it and rubbed her head against his side and said thank you. Boy was she good. As the teacher was writing the questions on the chalk board, Marie asked Chuck where he had been these last couple of days. Chuck‟s face flushed red and I could tell he had a hard time lying. It seemed to be exactly the way Marie said, he did like her and he was too embarrassed to show it.

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As the school bell rang, Marie grabbed Chuck by the shirtsleeve and told him she wanted to ask him something after everyone left. “Hi Chuck,” Marie said pretending to be glad to see him. I pretended to fumble for something inside my backpack keeping my face from being seen. “Where have you been these days?” she asked. “Oh,” Chuck replied trying to hide something. “I wasn‟t feeling to well lately.” “Oh?” Marie made every effort to show she was concerned. “You feel better now?” “Yeah,” Chuck said. “Just one of them come-and-go things.” “Hey, I was thinking…” Marie was trying to be sly in asking Chuck. “That was funny what you were telling me last time.” Chuck looked surprised even upset. “Oh, I wasn‟t lying,” Chuck said. “Yeah but something like that couldn‟t really work,” Marie tried to act as though she knew what she was talking about. “I mean, it couldn‟t possibly work. Something like that is like watching a virtual reality game or something right?” “Well yes, unless you…” Chuck stopped. Maybe he wasn‟t sure he could trust Marie or not. Then he went on. “…unless you know how to use your spirit to travel through time.” “Woo,” said Marie. “That‟s deep. How do you get your spirit into a box?” 54


“Well, I admit it‟s complicated to explain,” Chuck said with a little pride as he said it. “You see, in theory its simple. Our spirits really are nothing but breath. Our human spirits are in a shell, the human body, kind a like a box. I‟ve created this system where I put these headphones in your ears, mix in some sound waves and the frequency creates a sensation from the ears to the brain waves. After a short while as the sound stirs the waves in the brain, as the body is connected to the web through neurons, slowly the spirit is leaked into the Internet wires. Our nerves are like electronic wires. I connect bandages onto a major artery and then connect it to the computer but I use several suppressors because of the sensitivity of the human body, in other words, to prevent shock. There are always dangers when doing something like this.” “Oh, like what?” asked Marie. Trying to get all the information she could incase she needed it later. “Well,” continued Chuck. “The spirit could get trapped on the internet.” “How could that happen?” again Marie was very attentive and gazed at Chuck with this all-ears-open look. She was getting caught up in all this information. “Have you ever been to someone‟s bedside as they lay dying in a hospital?” Chuck asked. What happens when the person passes away? The EKG monitors flat lines. What is that machine telling us? That the spirit has left the body! How does a machine know that? “Wow,” responded Marie. “That‟s a trip! But it tells you that the heart stopped beating”

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“Yes because the spirit has left the body and has departed. Have you ever seen any of those ghost hunter shows on cable?” Chuck asked. He was very excited. I could tell he wanted to vent to someone what he had discovered and had kept it inside him for the longest time. It sounded like therapy for him, just to get it out of his system. “Well, they use all these electronic stuff to try and capture an image of a ghost. They even try to take a picture of it. Then they have gadgets to try and read if there are ghosts present when they are searching for them. “You mean like ghost busters? But what does that have to do with your apparatus?” asked Marie. “It all has to do with electronics!” Chuck said “Electronics! Don‟t you get it? You see ghosts are like us, they‟re spirits. Have you ever heard someone say they felt an airwave go by thinking it was a ghost? You see, the body without a spirit is just a body. Have you ever heard of people leaving their bodies? They‟ve said they saw their spirit lift above them and they either went to heaven or down to hell.” “Go on,” Marie insisted. “Well, the spirit is able to leave the body and return.” Chuck said very excitedly. “Somehow,” Marie said trying to act as if she needed more proof. “I kind of get what you‟re talking about but somehow I find it hard to believe this mechanism, this thing, really can do what you say it can do. Can you prove to me by telling me something or showing me something where you have gone into the web and traveled somewhere?”

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“Well,” Chuck scratched his head and thought of how he was going to prove it to Marie. “You got me for a loss there. I mean, how do I show you any proof?” After awhile he said. “The only way that I can prove to you that it works is to show you myself. I can‟t think of any other way.” By this time I didn‟t care if he noticed whether I was listening or not. I would only apologize for having heard what he was talking about and was too intrigued to move. Chuck got up and told Marie if she wasn‟t doing anything she could go to his place and see for herself. He said he lived on the edge of a farm in a secluded house by himself. If I had told Marie something like that she would have slapped me in the face because it sounded like an invitation to sex. But coming from Chuck, I bet Marie was laughing inside; knowing Chuck didn‟t have a clue about the implications he just muttered. “We can be back by the next class no problem,” Chuck said excitedly. “Ok,” said Marie. As Chuck was about to leave with Marie, he was startled when I interjected “There‟s only one problem with your machine from what I can see.” Chuck turned around to see who was talking to him. I could tell his heart was pounding hard, as if he was found out. “I‟m sorry to have overheard your conversation,” I said, making every effort to be apologetic. “Please forgive me for listening in. As I sat 57


here looking for some papers, I heard what you said and I was fascinated. And please don‟t be alarmed because I won‟t tell anyone. My question though is what would happen if there was a power failure while you were hooked up to this machine? Could someone‟s spirit get stuck on the web somewhere or somehow and not be able to get out?” “Yes, that is one of the dangers,” Chuck said. “That and if someone unplugged the system. Then someone would be trapped. The spirit would need to get back in the body for as you know someone could become brain-dead if it didn‟t return shortly.” “I‟d like to see this machine if you wouldn‟t mind,” I said and it occurred to me that I could offer a ride. “I have a black Toyota SUV we can ride in and I can drive us comfortably.” “Wow, that would be cool,” Marie said. “What do you say Chuck? What harm could it do since he already knows?” She was going to bat for me like a champ. “Well…ok,” Chuck finally gave in. “It would have been hard to get there on my moped.” “We can go in my Camaro,” Marie said. “That‟s built for speed, not comfort,” I retorted. She got the hint that I was conveying that Chuck was a large load. Then she corrected herself. “I always wanted to drive in one of those big SUV‟s.” she said quickly.

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To still Chuck‟s nerves, Marie placed her arm within Chuck‟s arm as we walked to my SUV. I could tell that Chuck was still nervous, even paranoid as if he was going to be robbed. “That is one hell of an idea Chuck,” I said to him. I needed to make him feel relaxed somehow. “You should patent it so you can receive royalties. You could probably get a Noble Peace Prize for something as creative as that device of yours.” “I‟m more concerned that it could get into the wrong hands,” Chuck insisted. “That‟s my major concern. Someone could do major global damage or harm to someone and they wouldn‟t know what happened to them and how.” “Well Chuck,” I said trying to flatter him and make him feel unthreatened. “You wouldn‟t have to worry about me telling anyone because I wouldn‟t even know how to explain how it works. People would think I was a kook.” “Not only you but me too,” added Marie. She sensed Chuck was tense and suspected we were up to something but Marie and I never talked to each other as if we never had a previous conversation. “I‟m too dense when it comes to electronics. I‟ve never even put a stereo set together.” Marie and I kept drilling Chuck about his device. The more questions we asked, the more he opened up and relaxed. He became more excited, letting us in on every secret about it. We began to know everything. We only needed to experience it for ourselves. I drove us to a farmland some twelve miles away from campus. I couldn‟t believe Chuck actually drove his moped this far away from 59


campus and back. Chuck told me to take a side road that skirted the edge of a field. We drove past the main farmhouse and headed to the back lot. There was a small cabin-like house that we approached and I imagined that was where Chuck lived. He told me to drive in back of the cabin because his folks could see the cabin from the farmhouse and he didn‟t want them to worry and ask questions, then they would call him on the phone and he would have to go to the farmhouse and explain everything. And that would take time. Besides they think he is at school now. We entered Chuck‟s cabin from the rear entrance. It was actually a nice piece of property. It wasn‟t big by any means but it was cozy. We came into a short hallway that lead to a living room and an open kitchen to the right. To the left was a room that looked like a laboratory. Chuck had several computers lined up on a table like he could teach a hands-on computer course with students stationed in front of each computer. Next to these computers was a bed and a device over the top of where the head would lay. He had the device braced along the wall. He explained to use how everything worked from starting the machine to how to hook up the wires, everything. “Well…who wants to go first?” Chuck asked. Marie looked a bit nervous so I said, “I will.” He told me to lie down on the bed. So I did as he hooked up these headphones that had prongs that protruded into my ears. Then he took my right arm and lifted it in the air as he looked for a main vein. He took a wire that had a round bandage and carefully placed the center of the bandage exactly on a vein. Then he turned on this machine that looked like an EKG machine that showed my vitals. Next, he turned on several computers, started a program, and then turned on this machine that 60


started making noise in my ears. He told me to relax and close my eyes. So I did doubting whether this machine was going to work at all. He said the computer was set on a timer to turn off so that you came back to reality when the time kicked in and turned off the computer. He told me just to relax and dream and not worry about anything. So I lay there just thinking where I could go if I wanted to go somewhere. As I was thinking on this subject, immediately I was in a trance as if I were in a hospital receiving an anesthetic to put me out for an operation. Then I felt I was in a virtual reality dream. Every time I thought of something, I went there. I quickly thought it would be nice to go to Oahu and immediately I was there on the beach of Waikiki. The colors of the ocean were a brilliant blue, a 3-D brilliance. The sand was radiant white in texture, like granulated sugar and I could feel the warmth of the sun somehow. Even the Mai Tai tasted rich in flavor. Every time I thought of something, images popped up in my mind as if a giant search engine were offering me ideas as fast as I could think of them, showing me where I can go and what I can do. I remember Marie saying Chuck went into his bank and put money in his bank account so I tried it. Immediately I found myself in my bank. I didnâ€&#x;t do anything but think and things were done for me. If I wondered how I could legally put money in my bank then images appeared to show me how. I put $20,000 in my account and asked the web to cover my trails. I noticed that the longer I stayed inside this machine the more corrupt and greedy I became. I even felt a sense of becoming controlled by my wants and cravings. I was becoming obsessive with wanting things. Things that I wanted began to flood my mind and my thoughts couldnâ€&#x;t keep up with the cravings. I started to get dizzy with wave after 61


wave of greed and lust. As I was thinking these thoughts, then suddenly I woke up as if from a dream. Both Marie and Chuck were standing at the side of the bed. “Well?” said Marie. I could tell she was eager to try the machine. “It‟s everything Chuck says it is,” I said. I was sweating and perspiring. I was surprised Chuck and Marie didn‟t notice. “Ok, now it‟s my turn,” said Marie. Marie was on the bed and on the web in no time. She lay on the bed without moving. I wondered if I looked the same way when I was under the machine‟s control. Chuck seemed to set the timer for around 15 minutes. Afterwards, Marie came back to reality but when she did, I noticed she had changed dramatically. She had this devilish look on her face as if she saw things like I did and saw the possibility of getting all the things she wanted in life through the use of this device. “Well?” I asked her. “What do you think?” “Wow! That was awesome,” She said. I could see from her posture and from what little experience I had with the machine that she was hooked but didn‟t want to reveal too much lest she let the cat out of the bag. “Well,” Chuck said. “We better get back to school.” I drove us back to school and we all three were as quiet as a mouse. I decided to skip the rest of my classes for the rest of the day and just think about that machine. The more I thought about it, the more I agreed with Chuck that someone could not only do bad things but they could go crazy. I felt a little bit of that craziness. I went to an ATM 62


machine and checked my checking account balance. It showed I had over $20.000 in my bank. I went to my bank and told them there was a mistake in my balance and it showed I had $20.000 more than it should. I argued with one of the Customer Representatives so I finally asked to talk to the Branch Manager. He checked it out and said he didn‟t see any illegal issues with the transaction so in his opinion there was nothing wrong. So I walked away figuring I earned the money for at least being honest. As time went by, I may have seen Marie and Chuck a couple of times in class. Marie had changed completely. Her facial features had altered significantly. I could tell she was addicted to that machine like an crack addict needing heroin. Then I didn‟t see either of them for weeks. Then one day a man in a black suit came to class. He looked like a Fed and he gave the teacher a paper and asked if this person was a student in his class presently. The teacher looked in his roll book and confirmed yes. The teacher looked at the class and said, “Carlo Romano. Are you here?” “Here!” I said raising my hand. “Will you take your things and go with this gentleman please,” The teacher said. Everyone was quiet and stunned. I got my things and went with the man. Outside he showed me his FBI badge. “Mr. Romano?” he asked. “Do you know these people?” He showed me a picture of Marie and Chuck. “Yes I do.” I said. “What happened? They haven‟t showed up in class for weeks?” 63


“I was hoping you could tell me,” The Fed said. “Well, I haven‟t seen them for awhile,” I repeated. “We were a student study group with Chuck mostly as the tutor.” “What do know about what took place in Chuck‟s cabin?” he asked. I though I was headed for jail so I tried to be cool but I needed to be honest because I knew I could go to jail if I acted stupid. “As we went over the evidence, the web cams on all the computers were on. We have you on a Web Cam at Chuck‟s place with this Marie,” The Fed said. “It shows you and Marie putting on headphones and going under some hypnosis.” “Well, it wasn‟t hypnosis; it was like a reality game,” I added. “Chuck said he could go anywhere in the world with that machine but Marie and I kind of laughed at him. He didn‟t like it when we laughed. So in class when we were talking about it he said he could show us. So we went to his house and he hooked us up to his computer.” “And then what happened?” the Fed asked jotting down notes. “Well, it was a hell of a reality game but that‟s all it was.” I tried my best to show I was sincere but I needed to show the obvious that Chuck suffered from being lonely. “That‟s all?” he asked. “Yes sir.” I answered. “I think Chuck just needed some friendship. I think he was in love with Marie.” “What do you know about this Marie?” the Fed asked. 64


“Only she was a fellow student who wanted to see if this machine was real also.” I said. “Why do ask sir?” I asked. “Have you seen her? She kind of disappeared.” “Disappeared? Disappeared isn‟t the word son,” He said. “She jumped off the Coronado Bridge!” “What?” I said half out of breath. I was shocked as if someone socked me in the stomach. “And that isn‟t the half of it.” He said. “This Chuck was found dead in his cabin. He had his headphones on but somehow one end of the cable got disconnected. He was brain dead when we found him” “Wow!” I responded. “I‟ve been wondering where he was lately. It‟s not like him to miss a class. I thought he was the next Einstein.” “It looks like he may have been done in by his girlfriend,” The Fed said. “What?” I said still reeling from all this news. “How could that be? I don‟t think she liked him or at least he wasn‟t her type.” He pulled out a cedar wood key with an engraving saying “The Key to my Heart! C and M.” “What do you think it means?” the Fed asked. As I looked at it, it quickly came to my mind that this was my way out. “It looks like foul play,” I said.

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“That‟s what I think. How, I‟m still not sure. But why would she jump of a bridge?” the Fed said. “I don‟t know,” I said truthfully. “It doesn‟t make any sense.” “You got that right,” He said He gave me his card and said if I remembered anything that he should know then to call him right away. I was glad he didn‟t ask me about the $20,000 in my account. I couldn‟t explain that. I took my backpack and headed to the square and sat at my favorite bench facing the sun. I can imagine Marie got so addicted to that machine that she couldn‟t take it any more. Chuck was right about one thing; it was bad in the hands of the wrong people. Poor Chuck, he did love her. I could imagine Chuck must have told her it wasn‟t good for her to continue getting on it. He must have sensed she was starting to turn greedy and out of control. I can see her pulling the plug out while Chuck was on the computer. She may have asked him to do something for her. She was probably frustrated not knowing what to do and knowing she couldn‟t operate that equipment, must have driven her mad to the point of jumping off the Coronado Bridge. I wonder if Chuck‟s parents know what that machine can do.

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67


Dearly Departed

I “Ashes to ashes,” said the Priest as he sprinkled holy water on a casket resting in the east corner of Vernon Lawn Cemetery. In his white robe, the priest continued to circle the casket, casting holy water here and there. To a loving mother the casket was a dark, shiny and beautiful cedar color. To a vampire it was the color of blood. Slate black clouds huddled over the skies threatening to pour out their judgment on earth, yet it held its refreshing droplets as a sign of a curse. “Although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”…continued the priest. No one was really paying attention to what he was saying, especially the twin sister of the deceased, Lisa Lowman. She rested her head against her husband‟s breast, sobbing in unbelief. Ned Wright loved his twin sister. When they grew up they were inseparable. They were the adventurous type, always camping, going on trips, visiting every park, trail, place of interest or museum. Now her brother was gone, suddenly and that at a young age. He was only thirty two years of age and he and Lisa had plans for years to come. You would think Lisa‟s husband would have been jealous of this relationship but he actually welcomed it. In fact, since he was so busy with business

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trips flying often, he was glad someone was there to keep her company and who better than her brother. Drops of rain started to descend from the firmament. The leaves on the oak trees started to beat little droplets of sound. The casket was lowered to the grasping hand of the underworld. Family members reached down and scooped a handful of earth to traditionally pour on the casket as it made its final exit from mankind. After all the formalities, Rob Lowman escorted his wife to their car, opened the door for her and then drove slowly home. It was a somber time. Rob was going to turn on the radio but felt it would be awkward playing music at this moment. Lisa lay back against her seat resting, sleeping. The rain began to pick up its pace as the raindrops fell with a heavier cadence. To Lisa everything about this day was depressing; the death of her brother compounded by the blasted rain. Her head ached from crying ceaselessly and was compounded by the endless pounding of the rainâ€&#x;s downpour. When she was with Ned, rainy days were challenges. They would go to museums or indoor places of interest to feed their adventurism. Nothing stopped them. But now she was alone. They finally made it home a half hour later. The rain wouldnâ€&#x;t let up as they drove into the garage and went into the house from the garage. Rob led Lisa to the bedroom where she lay easily down. He covered her up with blankets and let her have some quiet time to herself as he went into the living room to catch the local news. It didnâ€&#x;t take long before Lisa was out like a light. Quickly she dreamed she was with Ned on a beach in Cancun. They were resting on the Gulf of Mexico beach drinking pina coladas. Ned said he was going 69


to go snorkeling but Lisa said the waters were too rough and the waves were too high. Ned laughed it off and said there was nothing to worry about since he was an excellent swimmer. Despite her repeated warnings, Ned still went in. Lisa was upset because it wasn‟t like Ned to ignore her. They always respected each other‟s advice. Ned went in anyways and as soon as Ned went under the water, he never reemerged. Lisa stood up from her chair, covering her eyes from the bright sun, as she desperately looked for Ned. But he never surfaced. Lisa ran to a lifeguard and told him what had happened but he just looked at her and told her something in Spanish. She became hysterical and told some tourists but they just looked at her like she was out of her mind. Soon Rob was at her side holding her as she woke up in a sweat. He told her she was yelling in her dreams and was moving all over the bed. “Honey, are you ok?” Rob asked her. “I should have been there!” insisted Lisa “How could you?” reassured Rob. “You couldn‟t be everywhere Ned went to. And it‟s not your fault.” “I know I could have done something,” insisted Lisa again. “Hun, I know you loved Ned and would have done everything and anything you could for him but you have to let Ned go.” Rob didn‟t want to say it that way but it came out that way. Lisa started crying again knowing Ned would never be back and all their plans had suddenly vanished.

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“I miss Ned.” Lisa cried out as she continued to mourn for her beloved brother. Rob felt helpless and simply held Lisa in his arms till she fell asleep again.

II In the middle of the night, Lisa woke up and found Rob was not by her side. She suspected he was in the living room resting for the night. She went into the living room to double check but he wasn‟t there. „Hmm…wonder where he went to?‟ She opened the kitchen door to check and see if the car was in the carport and there it was parked. She called out “Rob!” But he didn‟t answer. She didn‟t worry because she knew he always took care of things for her so she went back to the bathroom to freshen up. She had sweated and perspired a lot these last couple of hours. As she made her way to the bathroom mirror she was about to flip the light switch on when she caught a glimpse of something passing inside the mirror. At first she was horrified but what kept her composure was the fact that she could have sworn it was Ned. She turned the light on and began to brush her teeth. She washed her face but nothing manifested while she was cleaning. She dreaded the notion that whatever it was that she thought she saw was only going to appear when she turned off the light. So slowly, shaking, she reached for the light switch and turned it off, closing her eyes in fear of what she expected to see. When she opened her eyes again there was no one in the mirror. Then she saw the image in the mirror was now behind her, moving towards the living room. The thought spread goose bumps all over her body. She barely saw the image and she could swear it was Ned. She 71


didn‟t want to but she walked towards the living room. When she entered from the hallway, she saw the head of someone sitting on the sofa. It had to be Ned but why was he sitting there. As she got closer, Rob turned around and rose up startled. “What are you doing up hun?” he asked. “You look like you saw a ghost.” “You aren‟t kidding.” Lisa replied. “You need to get back in bed and get some rest.” He urged. “Rob?” she asked. She sat down on the sofa resting her head against Rob‟s chest. “Yes hun?” Rob was worried more than ever. “Do you believe in seeing ghosts?” Lisa asked, “I mean…seeing real ghosts?” “Well, I‟m not sure,” Rob said. “It‟s never happened to me.” “I could have sworn and you‟re going to think I‟m crazy,” said Lisa, trying to be as honest as she could. “I could have sworn I saw Ned in the mirror tonight.” “What?” Rob asked surprised. “Are you sure? Do you think you maybe dreamed it or something? You have just come out of a dramatic situation.” “I don‟t want to sound crazy like I‟m losing it,” Lisa said, making every effort to have a sound mind, “but I know what I saw. I thought I saw Ned walk into the living room and then when you were sitting there, you looked like Ned from behind. You know what?” 72


“What‟s that babe?” Rob said. “It was as if Ned was trying to tell me something.” Lisa said. “I know it sounds crazy but I could swear he was trying to lead me somewhere, that‟s why I came to the living room. That‟s where he went, I was following him.” “Well, I really don‟t know what to say hun,” said Rod. “I know,” responded Lisa. “I‟m just glad I have someone who can listen to me and doesn‟t think I‟m a nut.” “Well, I do think you may have fallen down on too many of your adventurous runs.” Lisa playfully slapped Rob as both made their way to the bedroom. “I wish you didn‟t have to go on that trip tomorrow,” Lisa said. “Well, if I weren‟t in for a big bonus,” smiled Rob. “I would call in an instant and cancel. This bonus is going to come in handy down the road.” “Yeah, you‟re right,” Lisa agreed. “And you said its only one day?” “Yup,” said Rob, “and it‟s only one day too.” “I guess I can survive one day,” said Lisa. “That‟s my girl,” said Rob as he gave her a kiss and they went to sleep.

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III

It was late afternoon the next day that Lisa arose out of bed. She rarely ever sleeps in but since she was under stress theses days, she justified the rest. She looked out the bedroom window and the rain had disappeared. It was another sunny California day. For some reason she had the urge to go to a park and get on a swing. After putting on a pink jogging suit, she decided she needed a walk so she headed for Tuttle Park. It was only a half mile trot but she was up to the challenge. When she arrived the park was deserted. She went over to the swing and sat down. She grabbed the chains pushing the ground with her feet so she could build some momentum. Soon she was up in the air swinging fairly fast. She felt like a kid again. The cool breeze fanning her face felt refreshing. Just as she was beginning to enjoy herself, she thought of Ned and tears started to flow down her cheeks. She wasn‟t accustomed to doing things on her own yet and she felt guilty being without him near by. When she came to a stop, she put her face in her hands and started to sob. She didn‟t care if there was anyone around to see her cry; she had to mourn for her brother. Her heart told her to. She felt alone without Ned. Ned would have swung with her, would have called her every day. They would have laughed and planned their next outing. After awhile she composed herself. She took a deep breath but when she removed her hands from in front of her face, a small girl was standing on the cement walkway in front of her, staring at her. “Hi,” said Lisa to the child as she wiped the tears that ran down her cheeks. 74


The little girl didn‟t say anything. She kept looking at Lisa. Lisa felt awkward. The girl just continued to stare at her and said nothing. “Ned says he misses you a lot,” the little girl finally said suddenly. A chill went through Lisa‟s back. “What did you say?” asked Lisa not believing what she actually said. “Ned misses you very much. He wanted to tell you but he can‟t,” the little girl said. “Why can‟t he?” asked Lisa. “That‟s all I can tell you,” the little girl said as she turned and ran away. “Wait!” cried out Lisa. “Come back!” Wanting so badly to know what the little girl knew, Lisa got off the swing too quickly and slipped on the sand in the swing area, falling and hitting her head on the cement walkway. She hit her head so hard that blood began to trail down the front of her forehead. She wanted to get up and run after the girl but she felt dizzy and soon fainted. “Honey! You asleep again?” yelled Rob from the kitchen, placing his briefcase on the dinning room table. As he entered the bedroom, he sat down on the bed and turned Lisa over. She was in a deep sleep. When he turned her over, he saw fresh blood falling down Lisa‟s forehead. “Honey! Wake up,” he said shaking her gently. 75


Lisa slowly woke up reaching for her head thinking she only had a headache. “Lisa, what happened?” asked Rob concerned. “What happened to your head? There‟s blood coming down your face.” Rob went to the bathroom and grabbed a small hand towel and soaked it in hot water. Then returned to the bed and started to wipe the blood off of Lisa‟s head. “I…I don‟t know,” said Lisa. “I thought I woke up to go to the park but if I did…how did I end up here?” “Lisa…you‟re starting to worry me,” said Rob. “Tell me from the beginning what happened? Did you actually leave the house?” “I…I remember waking up and looking outside and thinking it would be a good day for a walk.” Lisa said trying to sound rational. “So I made my way to the park and sat on the swing.” Then she turned to Rob and said, “Rob…please don‟t think I‟m crazy ok?” “I don‟t know hun,” Rob said thinking Lisa may be losing it. “You know me, I‟ve never been weird or strange or done anything incoherent,” said Lisa. “You have to trust me.” “Ok calm down,” said Rob. “You‟re right; you‟ve never done anything worth questioning.” “Ok,” she continued. “As I was swinging I thought of Ned and started to cry. There was no one in the park but me. I put my face in my hands and started bawling like a little child. After awhile, I stopped swinging and there was a little girl standing in front of me, just staring at me.” 76


“What did she want?” asked Rob. “I don‟t know,” said Lisa. I even asked her but she kept staring at me. Finally she said, „Ned misses you a lot.‟ “What?” asked Rob. “Rob I know it sounds strange but that‟s exactly what she said. Then I asked her again. „What did you say?‟ And she said „Ned misses you very much.‟ Rob looked at Lisa with horror not believing a word she said, sounding too unreal. “Then she said „That‟s all I can tell you‟ and ran away. I started to run after her but I fell and hit my head on the concrete walkway. Rob, I don‟t remember coming home.” Lisa started to cry but Rob pulled her into his arms and comforted her. It was a story too true to be true. Rob knew Lisa wouldn‟t lie but he was wondering whether she needed help getting over her brother‟s death. The only thing he wanted to tell her was that he was there for her and that they were going to work out these difficult times together.

IV

Months went by since Ned‟s passing. Lisa continued to get worse. She did everything within her power to get over her brother. One warm morning after breakfast, both Lisa and Rob went out for their traditional 77


weekend drive. They loved to just get out and drive in the mountainous areas or along the coastline or even along deserted roads that skirted the valleys. Rob thought it would be good for Lisa to escape and enjoy the sunshine and get her mind off of Ned. Rob pulled their burgundy red Mustang GT out of the garage, and then lifted the convertible hood back so they could enjoy the sunshine. Rob drove south into the sun so that Lisa could enjoy the ray‟s warmth. After getting out of the city, they made their way towards open fields where some cows were chewing on grass. The farther they drove the farther they escaped the city. More rolling hills appeared with lots of open green pasture. As they started to climb in elevation, they came to a part of the road that widened. Rob was ascending when he saw a figure sitting at a bus stop and when he saw who it was, he almost had a heart attack. He couldn‟t believe who was sitting there but it was true. Rob came to a sudden stop at the side of the road and tried to catch his breath. He put his hand on his heart and tried to take deep breaths. “Rob, what‟s wrong?” Lisa asked, surprised at seeing Rob in this horrified state. “Are you ok?” Rob continued to grasp for breath. He reached over to Lisa and signaled for her to give him a second. “Lisa…I know your going to be shocked with what I‟m going to tell you...” Rob said. “Rob? What‟s going on! You‟re scarring me.” Lisa said. “Ok…promise me you‟re not going to freak out,” said Rob. “Yes…I‟ll try my best,” Lisa assured him.

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“Ok. I want you to compose yourself as best as you can,” Rob warned Lisa. “Cause you‟re going to need to ok?” “Ok,” Lisa said assuring him she could. “I‟m going to turn the car around. When I do, I‟m going to swing it towards the bus stop.” Rob deliberately tried to be calm before he told Lisa the reason why he was being deliberate. “When I pull just before the bus stop,” He grabbed Lisa‟s arm. “Lisa…Ned is sitting on the bench.” “Oh my God!” Lisa said covering her mouth and falling back in the car seat. “Can you handle this?” Rob asked. “Or do you want to go on?” “No…I can handle it.” Lisa said. “There has to be a reason why he is there and I want to know what it is.” So Rob looked ahead to see if there were any cars approaching. Then he looked in his side mirror to see if any cars were coming from behind. When the coast was clear, he turned the car around and noticed from the side of his eye that Ned was still sitting there. Then he drove across the street and parked the car before the bench and slightly out of the bench‟s view. “Oh my God!” said Lisa. “It‟s Ned.” Lisa started to cry. “Why? Why is he here? He can‟t be here Rob, he‟s dead.” “This is freaky,” said Rob. “God he looks spooky. He just sits there staring forward at nothing.” “What...do we do?” Lisa asked Rob.

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“Well…he‟s there for a reason like you said, I mean…there has to be something he wants to tell you, like that girl you saw in the park. This doesn‟t happen every day and not to everyone.” Rob and Lisa slowly got out of the their car holding each other timidly approaching Ned as he continued to look straight out as if he were not really looking at anything at all. Lisa sat next to Ned afraid to say something. He had a white shirt that said „Cancun‟ on it and wore cut off Levi‟s and sandals. “Ned?” she asked. “Is that you?” The figure on the bench didn‟t respond. It kept staring forward. “Ned? Are you Ned my brother?” Lisa continued to ask. “All I can tell you is not to worry about Ned,” said the person on the bench. “Is Ned ok?” asked Lisa. “Where is Ned? I need to know, he‟s my brother.” “I am not permitted to tell you that,” the man that looked like Ned said. “Why are you telling me this about Ned?” asked Lisa. “You will know soon enough,” said the figure. “How will I know?” insisted Lisa. “Why can‟t you tell me? Who are you?” “The only thing you need to know,” said the figure that appeared to be Lisa‟s brother “is that you will know everything in a little while. It is best that you leave and ask no more questions.” 80


Lisa‟s tears started to stream down her cheeks. This was a horrific circumstance and despite not knowing who this person was who seemed to be in Ned‟s body, the fact that she had to leave her brother was opening up a wound of pain. Rob lifted Lisa off the bus bench and escorted her back to their car. By the time they got into the car, Ned was gone. Rob drove home. Besides the moaning from Lisa, there was deafening silence. Lisa‟s head started to hurt from crying too much and from the bump she had yesterday. She finally dozed off and when she woke up, she was in bed. She could hear the TV on slightly, so she guessed Rob was in the living room. She got up and went to the sofa where Rob was leaning back on one end. She cuddled up to him. “That was the strangest experience I ever had,” said Lisa. “What experience?” Rob asked. “The one when we went out for a drive this morning,” said Lisa. “Babe, you‟ve been asleep all this time,” insisted Rob. “We never went for our customary weekend ride.” “What?” said Lisa startled. “My god! Something weird is going on here.” “What do you mean hun?” Rob asked beginning to think Lisa might need some serious help. After Lisa explained everything to Rob, he and Lisa just sat on the sofa trying to make sense of it all. “Lisa, I‟m going on another day trip tomorrow,” said Rob. “Are you going to be ok without me?” 81


“Yes, I‟ve always managed somehow,” said Lisa. “Lisa,” Rob said looking into her eyes. “You need help hun. You really do.” “I would argue with you but I think you‟re right,” confessed Lisa. “Well, when I get back, we‟re going to look into getting you some counseling, something,” said Rob.

V

The next morning, Lisa woke up with her head throbbing. She got up and took some Excedrin. She sat on the sofa looking through the large front window and out at the street. It had been awhile since she actually just sat and looked out at the neighborhood. As she sat there, the little girl she saw at the park stood on the corner looking towards the house. Lisa could tell it was the little girl. The drapes were drawn wide open, so the girl could see Lisa sitting on the sofa. So Lisa decided she would see what the little girl wanted. She opened the door and walked to the curb. The little girl had on the same light blue dress she wore at the park, Lisa tried not to be afraid. “Hi,” she told the girl. The girl just stared and said nothing so Lisa just pretended nothing was wrong and looked down the street.

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“Ned is my hero,” the little girl said. “You‟re lucky to have a brother like him.” “I know,” said Lisa in return. “I miss him a lot.” Lisa started to cry as she looked up at the sun and clear blue sky. “It‟s going to rain today,” the little girl said. “Rain is a sign of God‟s blessing. It refreshes the earth. You will be refreshed today.” “How?” asked Lisa. “You will know everything by the end of the day. You will find rest when you give Ned rest,” said the little girl. Then she walked away. Lisa wanted to follow her but she felt she needed to go back into the house and sit down because the throbbing from the pain in her head was getting more severe. She needed to lie down. She was too exhausted to know the meaning of what was happening to her. She just sat there weeping, thinking, about Ned, wishing he were with her, wondering why is was so hard to let him go. She fell asleep on the sofa and when she awoke, the sun was beginning to fall. There were no clouds when she went to sleep but now it looked like they were starting to form. A rainbow appeared in the distance out of approaching clouds. A post office truck came by and dropped a package in Lisa‟s mailbox. „Strange,‟ thought Lisa. „It‟s kind of late to be delivering mail‟ she thought. “And I‟m not expecting a package either.” She got up and noticed that the clouds started to get blacker and blacker. It was going to rain. Lisa opened up a package that was from the Cancun government, the place where Ned had passed away. As she opened the package, she began to read a formal letter from the Governor of Cancun. It said that the investigation into the death of her brother finally ended and it was discovered the official cause of death was that he had drowned while 83


trying to save a young girl‟s life. Both were however pulled into the rip currents. They had never resurfaced. The bodies were recovered later. The governor apologized for getting these facts to her late but they wanted to be absolutely certain they were correct in their findings. She should be proud of her brother and they offered her a letter of condolences and a key to the city for her brother on behalf of the city of Cancun. Inside the package was a picture of the little girl Lisa had seen several times dressed in the same blue dress. There was another picture of Ned posing in the sand in the same white tee shirt, blue jeans shorts and sandals she saw Ned wearing at the bus stop. Streams of tears came down Lisa‟s cheeks as she embraced the pictures. The package explained everything and her heart cried relief. The rain started to pour down mightily now but Lisa didn‟t care. She fell down on the open grass of the front lawn, crying tears of joy. At this time Rob drove up the street and spotted Lisa on the lawn looking like a wild woman who had finally gone crazy. Her fists beat the open air as rain pelted her hair. Rob parked quickly and grabbed Lisa and motioned for her to get her out of the rain, but no matter how hard he attempted to pull her up, she wouldn‟t budge. “I‟m free!” Lisa cried. “I‟m free!” “Hun,” cried Rob. “We got to get you out of the rain before you catch a cold.” “No…I want to stay!” cried Lisa. “This is refreshing rain. This is the blessing I have been waiting for. I finally understand everything. I understand now!” And so it happened that Lisa found peace concerning her brother. A year later she gave birth to a boy but she didn‟t name him Ned 84


because she wanted Ned to rest in peace for the little girl was right when she said „You will find rest when you give Ned rest.â€&#x;

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Engaging Short Stories of the Bizarre