Bus Stops and Abandoned Backpacks

“The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.” -P. G. Wodehouse

**********

This is one of those stories.  You know the kind.  The type where you sit around a pub table at night, talking about things that you still find a little hard to believe.  Yet, you know that it is probably in your best interest to keep these sorts of stories from your Mom.  Because, well, keeping your parental figures from having heart attacks is in everyone’s best interest.  Darn it though, anecdotes want to be told.

I find it rather relaxing to take leisurely strolls.  On one particular route, I rarely encounter another person on the sidewalk.  There is only one stoplight between myself and home.  The route has trees, long stretches of pavement, and is quite low in stress.

Except for that one time.

bus-stop-1452777239g7iThere is a bus stop just as the road curves.  Rarely does a bus stop there in the evenings.  Crowds of people do not cram into that little depot.  It sits quietly, unassuming, content to be whether or not it is serving any real purpose.

On that particular day, its purpose was to play host to a backpack.  It was a rather large, black backpack.  There was no host, no people meandering about that would quickly return for the bag.  It was an abandoned item; a mysterious package.

I have found items of value before and I try to return them.  Thus I unzipped the main pouch, and found large amounts of Mike’s Hard Lemonade.  Plenty of the stuff filled into that backpack.  I really think half of the weight was made of these cans sloshing about.

I started to walk, thinking it would be easier to find some ID at home.  But the bag was heavy and I was curious.  So I opened a second pouch, moved some more Hard Lemonade, and kept trying to arm myself with more information.

Which is when I found the gun.

There are plenty of people who would be alarmed at the steps I had already taken.  “Don’t you listen to the intercom system at any airport?  Like, ever?  Report unattended items!  It could be a bomb!  See something, say something!  Call the cops!  You could have died.”

cardboard-box-155480_960_720Calm down.  People call in bomb threats to create a sense of panic.  They want a sense of fear to permeate the world.  If they can get on the news for forcing a building to be evacuated, then they win.  The world gets shaken up and they get their little excitement.  If they are really determined, then they will make an actual bomb and see how much carnage they can create.

This bag was in the middle of nowhere.  No pedestrians, no houses, located at the base of a rather bare hill.  If it had been a bomb, they would have claimed exactly one victim.  Apologies, but I am not spiffy enough to warrant my own headline, I do not care how slow of a news day it is.  There is a twisted logic to causing terror, and in my estimation, there was no payoff for anyone to leave the bag there.  So that was my thought process when I unzipped the thing.  Take precautions, sure.  But shirk panic.

I once had a woman come into my store.  She was very concerned and nervous.  She asked if I would call security or the police.  When I pressed her, she pointed to a black plastic box sitting outside our door.  It was a mouse trap.  We have them all over the building.

All that said, I do hate guns.  I had no desire to see if it was loaded.  I know enough not to handle a firearm without knowing if it is loaded and I certainly did not want my fingerprints on any more items than they had already touched.

The paranoid folks that worry about bombs will be pleased to know that my concerned side kicked in as I put the cans back in the bag.  What if the owner comes back now?  What if they see me walking down the sidewalk with their gun?  Is this a violent individual who will chase after me and might be carrying a second gun?  What if a child comes across this bag and finds the gun?  Do I need to worry about drugs or other weapons in the bag?  Do I really want to walk this a few miles home?

I wanted that bag gone.  And the closest business was only a few blocks away.

Picture if you will.  You are sitting in a residential business.  You have less than an hour left in your shift.  You have cleared off the clutter of your desk for the day.  Maybe you need to make a phone call or two, telling customers their requests have been fulfilled.  You start pining for the weekend that just cruelly ended; far too soon for your liking.

business-1067978_960_720Then a young man walks through the door.  He is carrying a large bag.  You have never seen this man before.  He comes up to you and says, “I need to use your phone to call the police.  Is that okay?”  When you point to the lobby phone and mildly ask what is happening, he tells you things you would rather not hear.  Things like, “There’s something in, I, the police need to come get this.”  You look to your supervisor, raise your eyebrows a bit, and reply, “If it is a bomb, I’m not sure I want it in here.”

Poor gal.  All the people in the city that carry phones with them and she gets visited by the one guy who does not.  I made the call brief though.  I went outside the building, as far from their business as I could, and waited for the police to arrive.

Not too much later, along came a police SUV.  A calm and pleasant officer approached me, put on her blue gloves, and took the bag.  I gave her a brief recap, pointed to the areas that my hands had touched, and made sure she knew what section the gun was in.  She took it and made her way back to the station to x-ray it.

I considered myself the good little citizen.  I had followed my Sesame Street training and called the authorities.  For all the news stories and controversies about police there are out there, I am glad that there is someone to call when weapons are found.  I decided that all was well, even if I was a little worried about the kinds of people that were out there leaving backpacks with weapons.  Were they part of some Hunger Games-esque, underground reality show where they had to kill or be killed?  Were drug runners moving in and expanding their territory?  Had a government drop off been intercepted?  No matter what my imagination contrived, the gun was off the streets.  No shootings today.

I received a phone call from the officer an hour later.  It had not been a gun.  It had been a paintball gun.  (Which, in my definition, is still a gun.  See the second word there?  Gun.  But I let the officer define terms since it is her field.)   Some ID was inside, so they were calling to have the belongings picked up.

I can sense the admiration from here.  Clearly I am a hero for the masses.  Saving the world from… getting little dots of color splattered on clothing.  Stay back Captain Kirk, I got this!  No red shirts today!  Recreational sports equipment, fear my might!  Rawr!

I shook my head and went back to my life.  The drama had resolved itself, all except for one tiny detail.  What the sam hill was with all that lemonade?

The Chair Not Taken

After all these years, he’s nothing to me but an empty seat.” –Spider-Man 2

**********

Audrey looked up from her plate.  She glanced at the chair at the other end of the table, knowing full well that she wouldn’t like what she saw.  Sure enough, the chair sat unattended.

Back in her high school days Audrey had been quite the stage performer.  Her roles were the envy of all in the drama department.  It didn’t matter if she was cast as the librarian in The Music Man or if she used her uncanny grasp of Shakespeare to wow the crowd with her portrayal of Juliet.  The shows that featured her as a lead were sure to sell out.  But to this day, Audrey still remembered the night when her mom had forgotten the play and worked late.  Audrey had had hundreds of lines to recite, there were dozens of other actors around her, and the spotlights shone on her with blinding ferocity the entire time.  Yet all she had seen was that one empty seat staring back at her.  It fought to command her attention throughout the show.

Audrey knew that her husband had reasons for being away, just as her mother had.  Theirs was a happy enough existence when they were around each other.  However, as with all things, there was a catch.

Darren was an excellent salesman.  He knew the ins and outs of each product he was asked about.  Unbelievably, he wouldn’t try to sell an item if he didn’t think the customer needed it.  At first this caused some strife with his bosses when they found out.  The accolades and praise-filled letters about Darren that flooded their mailboxes soon changed their mind.

Darren was sent out to all four corners of the world and returned successfully each time.   He was such an expert at having a genuine approach and being entirely likable that his employer had him visit different markets and coach the other salesman.  That meant easy times around the Bruckner house, but only in the financial sense.  Audrey tried to be supportive, but she wanted her husband in the dining room chair, not sitting in some cramped airplane seat.

Pic from WP Clip Art

She looked across to the blue chair.  Audrey had never really like the furniture piece in the first place.  It had been Darren’s call to buy it.  He thought it seemed tremendously comfy and rather unique.  Audrey could only nod along, especially to the latter part of his reasoning.  She told herself that if it made him so happy, she could live with an ugly chair.

Now she sat and mulled over how great that piece would look if only Darren were sitting in it.  Four days had passed since she had last seen her husband.  Even then, he had only been home for two days to do his laundry after an eight-day trip.

The desolate chair spoke of the history it shared with its on-again/off-again resident.  There was the nacho cheese stain on the right armrest.  The back of the chair had a thin layer of fabric that was starting to fray from the many times her husband had turned and brushed the back against the table’s edge.  Audrey wanted the chair to feel complete so that she could say the same.  The longer the chair went unused, the harder it was to sleep at night.

What if Darren doesn’t really need me?  What if he’s staying away because it’s so much easier to be on the road than be home?  Concerns refused to leave Audrey’s head.  She had heard her friends complain before about not being able to have time with their spouses, but she never considered that it was more than just a sob story.  She had never thought to listen to their laments and log them away as precautionary tales.  Now all she pondered were plausible signs that she worried she’d missed the first time around.

Suddenly, a light shone on the blue seat.  A white beam came through the living room window and lit up the chair before moving sideways along the wall and disappearing.  Audrey turned at the familiar sound.  She recognized the path that the headlights had taken and she knew the putter of that car engine.

Before she could react, the door burst open and Darren appeared in the doorway.  His normally chubby features were heightened by a grin that showed all of his teeth, even the molars with gold crowns on them.  The king of the castle hid his richly decorated pearly whites as he ran to his wife and kissed her on the head.

“Hey, guess what?”

“You’re… you’re home early”, Audrey managed to stutter.

“Yep.  The conference was cancelled.  I put forth a proposal and my bosses loved it.  Video-conferencing.”

“What?”

“Yeah, they’ll save thousands of dollars shipping me around.  I might even be able to do it from home.”

“What about your sales calls?”

“Oh, I told them I wanted to stick with our local clients.  Sort of, reinforce our commitment to those folks.  They bought it”, Darren said as he leaned over and put his head on her shoulder.  “But the truth is, I just couldn’t stay away any longer.”

Audrey beamed.  She tried to keep her excitement tucked away quietly, but knew that she was failing miserably.  “Maybe you just wanted a piece of this chocolate cake.”

“Well, that certainly is one more incentive to come home”, he said as he sat across from her.

Seeing her husband sitting at home, where he belonged, Audrey felt a peace she hadn’t known in far too long.  Without her having to say anything, Darren had made it all better.  There was hope for the happy couple once again.  The chair suited Darren well.  Audrey could almost see the seat cushion’s corners bend up in a contented smile.

The Travel-ing Agent

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Travel-ing Agent

Of travel I’ve had my share, man.  I’ve been everywhere.” –Johnny Cash

Agent Stutson had never experienced such severe jetlag in her life.  She tried to sleep on the plane from Buenos Aires to Seoul, but the facts of the case were running rampant in her brain.  Truthfully, it was the lack of facts that concerned her.  She knew that she was in search of someone with brown hair who liked mountain climbing and had stolen the best grain of sand from The Rock of Gibraltar.  That was all the information she had and she knew it wasn’t enough.

If she were being honest, Agent Stutson was shocked at how little assistance she was afforded with this international mystery.  She was, by anyone’s definition, a rookie.  It said so right on her badge.  Questioning witnesses was only made more difficult by that fact.  Why should anyone take the time to describe what they saw to a labeled rookie?

The people she could get to converse with her were less than helpful.  Half the time the people stared back with no emotion and tried to crack jokes with her.  When they did have information to offer, it was only trace amounts.  No one could give a complete description of what they had seen or what the person looked like.  At best, they would offer a single fact or note, such as the suspicious character had a scar or walked with a limp.

Oh?  They limp?  Thanks!  Out of the seven billion people in the world, there are only a handful of individuals who walk with a limp.  I can’t thank you enough.  Really, you’ve just cracked this case wide open for me.  Let me put you on my back and give you a medal of honor for your cooperation with this case.  I’m sure my supervisors will be just as thrilled as I am with your dedication to furthering global justice.  Please, allow me the honor of shaking your hand.

Agent Stutson wanted to bang her head on the airplane seat in front of her, but it was occupied by a seven year-old boy and she didn’t have the heart to share her misery with the innocent.  Instead, she turned her thoughts to the how the case was going so far.

Less than five minutes after her post-interview clearance with security, The Chief had thrust the case file into her hands.  Little sticky notes reminding her of procedure and a GPS tracker/ Phone were tossed her direction.  The Chief told her to get to the airport and solve the case.  Agent Stutson didn’t even have time to ask if cab fare was reimbursed before the office door slammed in her face.

The first eight hour flight had passed quietly enough and Agent Stutson had arrived at The Rock of Gibraltar.  She didn’t notice any grains of sand missing, but she was getting paid to travel the world, so who was she to argue.  In the eight hours she was allowed to investigate, Agent Stutson had only found three people who had seen anything even remotely helpful.  One backpacker had seen a flag stitched to the backpack of the criminal and therefore deduced that that’s where they must be headed.  Unfortunately, the other two witnesses’ guesses were vague to Agent Stutson, so she took the cue from the maple leaf flag and took off to Canada.

She must have had luck on her side, because as soon as she stepped out of the airport, a person dressed all in black except for a brown trenchcoat ran right in front of her.  Agent Stutson reached out to stop the person, but they quickly pulled out a jetpack and roared off.  Agent Stutson stared in wonder for a few minutes, wishing she was afforded that kind of technology.

Once again, despite the stunning event that had just been put on, she could only find three witnesses to the thief’s troublemaking.  The only person whose statement she had remembered to write down was unsure if the person was off to Tahiti or Italy.  Strangely enough, there were only five flights leaving the entire day.  Of course, one of those was going to Tahiti and another to Italy.  Agent Stutson swore and flipped a coin.  She flew off to Tahiti on a whim.

When she arrived, no one knew anything.  As soon as she pulled a citizen aside, they gave her a blank look.  “Are you sure you’re not lost?”  The general public all gave her the same kind of answers.  “You must be in the wrong place”, they told her.  Agent Stutson went back to the airport, but the agency’s travel representative told her that she couldn’t travel straight on to Italy.  She would have to return to Canada, and then fly out to Italy.  Agent Stutson didn’t take the news well.

“Are you out of your freaking mind?  What sort of inane idea is that?  Why can’t I just take a direct flight?”  Screaming into the phone the agency had given her; Agent Stutson’s frustration only grew.  The representative on the other end would only reply, “That’s the way we do things, Agent.”  Of the seven days that had been given her, at least one was wasted flying back and forth so that she could finally arrive in Italy.  As soon as she arrived, she was ordered to sleep.  She couldn’t even leave the airport.  She was required to clock out right at that moment.  Of course, being ordered to sleep and actually resting were two very different things.

When the time was up, Agent Stutson bolted to the door.  As the sliding glass doors opened, she once again saw a black-clad figure with a brown trenchcoat.  She tried to get a good look at their features, but their fedora was pulled too low.  This time, the E.V.I.L. agent pulled out a giant pogo stick and bounced out of sight.  Agent Stutson wanted to cry, but at least she knew she was on the right trail.

Interviewing three people, Agent Stutson learned a few things about being a rookie investigator.  First off, she found out that a witness would never have more than one piece of information for her.  They might notice one thing about a crook or where they were going, but never both.  Second, she learned not to waste her time looking for a fourth or fifth witness.  They only repeated the exact same information that the first three had conveyed.

With eleven hours left to solve the crime, Agent Stutson found herself stretched to the limit.  How could headquarters put such a strict time limit on the case?  Didn’t they want the missing artifact to be recovered?  Why couldn’t they task a second agent to help her, especially since she was on her first case?  Her only real incentive to solve her first case was the promise of a quick promotion, but that goal seemed rather unattainable on this caper.  The change in time zones was confusing Agent Stutson, and she knew she didn’t have enough evidence to obtain a warrant even if she was on the right track.  She was going to have to figure out something fast.

The city of Seoul came into view as the plane began to descend.  Agent Stutson knew she wouldn’t be getting any rest.  Once again she would have to hit the ground running.  The agency claimed they gave her enough time to sleep and investigate, but The Chief kept sending her little messages reminding her that the trail was running cold and that she shouldn’t dilly-dally.  Agent Stutson would be thrilled if this case brought down the E.V.I.L. organization, but she knew it was just one more case in the bigger picture.  The question she really wanted answered was out of her grasp.  Where the sam hill was Elektra LosAngeles?

A Timely Call

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

A Timely Call

(I work at a museum.  I have a friend who works at the reception desk, so when she didn’t understand a call she handed the phone to me.  The following is that conversation.)

Hello?

Hi, I want to use your time machine.

(Hoping he meant the neighbor’s time capsule…)Time machine?

Yeah, I want to go back to the nineteen-eighties or nineteen-nineties.

Sir, we don’t have any time machines.

Well I want to go back in time.  But not to 1999, I didn’t like that year.

I understand, but my understanding is that there aren’t any time machines yet.Image

Who has a time machine?

No one, at least not that I’ve heard of.

You don’t have any time machines?

Sir, as far as I know that involves quantum physics.  We don’t currently have any specific displays on quantum physics.

So where is there a time machine? 

I don’t believe there are any.  At least, not yet.

You don’t have one I can use?

Sir, there aren’t any that exist, at least not that I know of.

Well, where can I find one?

I’m afraid I can’t help you with that.

Who could I ask about one?

I honestly don’t know.

You don’t know where there’s a time machine?

No, I suppose you could try calling other museums, but we do not have one.

Maybe Puyallup would have one?

Again, I’m pretty sure they don’t.  But you could ask them.

Okay, bye.  <click>

(I still don’t know if he was joking or just not all there.  If he was a little out of it, I didn’t want to cause him to have a break down.  And if he was a crank-caller, I wasn’t about to be outwitted by a phone call.  If there is another museum that was called by this guy, I apologize.  It’s probably all my fault.)

On Edge

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

On Edge

Charles felt his feet slipping along the narrow ledge and stared down at the street far below.  His legs waivered and trembled, but he continued to scoot his feet farther and farther away from his hotel room’s window.  He stopped, tore his gaze away from the steep drop, and looked to a stone gargoyle perched on a building across the street.  The gargoyle, a cold gray fixture on the business-filled skyscraper offered no words of sympathy.  It had undergone years of bitter cold, birds, snow, and smog.  Its mouth was open with four fangs circling the tongue that stuck out, but no inspirational encouragement sprang forth.  It almost seemed to be leaning towards Charles.  With its beady eyes and its sharp ears that were slicked back, the gargoyle looked expectantly to the despondent youth.  “Now what?” it seemed to goad.

Charles sneered at the gargoyle and looked at the world around him.  It was five in the evening and the commuters were bustling with activity.  All the office windows seemed to be turning off.  The people in the other buildings were happy.  They got to go out and have fun, they had loved ones that they could take solace in.  They didn’t know what it was like to be a loser.  They didn’t know how it felt to be Charles.  Those other people, the lucky ones, they couldn’t understand what Charles had been through.  How could they appreciate what it was like to give your heart and soul, only to have it all come crashing down?

Charles felt his knees starting to give out and knelt down.  His shoes eked over the building’s edge.  He was forty-two floors up.  He had asked for the floor specifically.  Part of him wanted to believe that if he picked the forty-second floor that he would be presented with answers.  Some sort of miracle would occur and Megan would find them in this hotel room.  Maybe a bellhop would say just the right thing to make him believe that she would come back.  But that hadn’t happened.

Charles ended up appreciating the second reason why he had chosen the forty-second floor.  There was no way his jump would end any way except how he wanted.  It would be an assured way to end his misery.  He knew some people survived with broken legs or a shattered spinal column.  Charles had even researched the matter online.  Terminal velocity seemed to be possible around ninety-six floors, but the hotel didn’t go that high.  He felt sure that he would at least approach a hundred miles per hour.  He reasoned that a four hundred foot drop, including a sudden stop on concrete, would do the job rather decisively.

Charles felt that diving off of the building like some high-diving swimmer was not true to his style.  If he was going to do away with himself, he was going to do it standing.  He would step off, one foot in front of the other, with as much dignity as he could muster.  Megan had not left him with much dignity, so he wanted to go out with whatever little self-respect he could grab.  He stood up, feeling the wind push against his side as the smells of the city rushed up to him.  He took a whiff of the fumes emanating off of the garbage trucks and gave the happy people and their far-better lives a final send off.  Charles closed his eyes.

“Hey Charles.”

Charles’ eyes shot open.  He could have sworn he had heard something.  He decided that his subconscious was trying to distract him and he got ready to take one more last breath.

“Charles.  Over here, bucko.”

Charles knew he couldn’t have misheard that.  He turned, and to his left, sitting between his perch and his hotel window was a man.  He was average enough.  The person was obviously middle-aged, had an average build, average height, and even had an average amount of grey in his temples.  The only word Charles could use to describe him was average.  In any other setting this would have been a completely normal person.  However, this man was sitting on the ledge, his feet merrily dangling and kicking over the city while he leaned back and rested his head against the concrete brick wall.

“Charles, you look like you could use a friend.”

“Who are you?”

“Is that really the first question you want to ask?  Don’t you really want to know what I’m doing here?  I mean, you could slip and fall at any time now, Charles.  I should think you would want to prioritize your questions.  A strong updraft could end this conversation before you get all your queries addressed.”

“Fine”, Charles said feeling annoyed at the intrusion to his final send off.  “What are you doing here?”

“I think I should introduce myself first”, the man said.  He winked, pulled his feet underneath him, and stood up.  As the man approached Charles, he offered his hand.  “I’m just trying to keep the conversation light, Charles.  You know, I don’t want our little talk to go crashing to the ground quite yet.”

Charles stared at the hand in front of him and shook it as an automated response.  A sense of shock had set in and he still couldn’t believe how calm this person was at such a great height.  “Who are you?” Charles asked again.

“Charles, I’m you.”

“What?”

“Yeah, I know.  I’ve been thinking about this for the last twenty-five years.  I still haven’t thought of any better way to say it.  I am you.  Charles Densville.  We are the same person.  Well, okay, if I was a quarter of a century earlier, I’d be you.  I’m you with more mileage.”  The man winked and waited for Charles’ response.

“What?”

“I know.  Man, I wish I was still that thin.  You know, they tell you your metabolism hits a wall around thirty?  I won’t tell you exactly when, but they’re more or less right.  You can probably still eat; what, five doughnuts?  An entire pizza goes in your gut without exercising?  Man I miss that.”

“Are you serious with this?”

“I know we can be a bit stubborn, but I’d like to end this as fast as possible.”

“You’re saying that you’re me?  That you’re Charles Densville.”

“Actually, I tend to go by Chuck these days.”

“See, now I know you’re crazy”, Charles said as he edged away further.  “I hate being called Chuck.”

“It used to bug me to”, Chuck replied.  “You get used to it.  Getting remarks about Chuck Jones and Chuck Norris is a lot better than being asked if you’re ‘in charge’ over and over.”

“I don’t buy it.  Go away.”

“Oh don’t be like that.  Ugh, you’re so young.  Look, if I told you that I liked being called Charlie, then that would be unbelievable.  This is simply, well, let’s file it under ‘very much surprising and unexpected.’”

“Why should I believe that you’re me?”

“You can’t accept it, can you?  All those science-fiction books that you’re read and you can’t just go with the flow on the whole time travel thing?  Asimov would be ashamed.”

“Is this some kind of joke to you?”

“Ya know Charles; I didn’t think it would be.  But standing here?  It’s actually quite amusing.  You’re so panicky and scared.  I’m a little off put by the whole thing.  It all works out in the end though.”

“How do you know it will all work out?”  Charles shouted.  “My life is over.  I’m done.  I’m jumping.”

“See, that’s the ‘what’ part.”

“What?”

“The ‘what’.  You asked me what I’m doing here.  I’m here to keep you from jumping.  I’m here to get you back on track.  We all get derailed Charles.  I know that more than anyone.  I get it.  I’m just here to nudge you back on course.”

“What if I jump right this second?  What if you fail?”

“I won’t”, Chuck said confidently.  “Would you like to be in on my little secret to confidence?”

“Sure”, Charles said as he felt himself getting annoyed.  “Why don’t you share with me, oh-great swami; how you’ve found the secret to self-confidence?  Or maybe I’ll just jump and prove you wrong.”

“You won’t.”

“Stop saying that!  Stop calling me a coward!”

“Now Charles, I never said that.  I’m only saying that you won’t jump.  You don’t die today.  You don’t die anytime soon.”

“And why not?” Charles yelled.

“Because I’m still here.”  Chuck put out his hands, held them for Charles to see, and patted his belly.  “If you died, I wouldn’t be alive.  Me standing here in front of you is proof that you aren’t going anywhere.  Everything that’s happened to you has happened to me.  I remember this conversation, and all of your arguments, as if they happened to me.  I know it all because I was there.  I was you.  So you don’t die today.  You don’t jump.”

Charles tried to wrap his head around the line of reasoning he had been served.  “Even if your logic is sound…”

“Which it is”, Chuck interrupted.

“This all assumes that I believe you are me.  Why would I believe that?  Would you believe that?”

“I do.  And I did.”  Chuck beamed.  “C’mon, this is fun.  Admit it.”

“Stop it!”

Chuck sighed.  “Okay, look.  I didn’t want to go through the list, but if that’s really how you want to play it.”  He held up his fingers and started counting down digits for each fact he recited.  “You were born March fifth.  Your parents are Robert and Carol.  Your dad doesn’t smoke cigarettes, but he likes pipes.  He thinks your mom doesn’t know about them but she does.  Your mom bets on the horses.  Never the sure bet, usually the one with the jockey that’s wearing the most green.  ‘Luck of the Irish’, she calls it.  You like science; probably a little too much.  You’d think that having that chemistry kit set your eyebrows on fire would have kept your curiosity at bay, but we’re a little too stubborn to be smart sometimes, am I right?  Still, it has its perks.  The way Julie kissed us when we made her that perfume from scratch?  I mean, let’s face it Charles, the stuff smelled a little funky.  She sure did thank us pretty well though, didn’t she?”

Charles’ mouth was hanging open.  Part of his realization stemmed from this man’s intricate knowledge of his past.  However, the physical aspects of the man in front of him were changing his mind as well.  His eyebrows were rather thin, just like Charles’, since they had never grown back.  There was a bump in the man’s nose right where Charles had been punched by a school bully.  If Charles were asked to picture himself as older, bigger, and out of shape he would end up with a man that looked like Chuck.

“You… you really are me, aren’t you?”

“If I’m not, then there’s a really weird guy up here on the ledge with you.  And he’s wearing your shirt.  Well, my shirt.  You haven’t bought it yet.  But I bought you those shoes, if that makes it better.  You know; the ones that you bought.”  Chuck laughed.  “I’m telling you Charles, from where I’m sitting this whole conversation is playing out to be more fun than I would have expected.  Wait until you’re looking at the situation from my end.”

“Okay, so you’re me.  How does that work, exactly?

“Yes, the semantics.  Right; the short version is that time travel is possible.”

“I guessed that much.  Aren’t you risking some sort of butterfly-effect by coming here?  Doesn’t the whole thing risk undoing the past?”

“I can’t tell you too many details.  There are protocols to keep us from confusing ourselves.  But a lot of the complications that you think would occur are fixed by the fact that we can’t change the past.  We’re just observers.  We can see, we can interact, but things play out the way they’re supposed to.  If they didn’t, they would have locked down time travel long ago.  They did some testing which they increased bit by bit.  Finally, numerous reports from different countries’ scientists found that we don’t risk anything by traveling backwards.  We pause our moment in time, come back, and return from where our quantum markers were left.  It’s going forward that messes things up.  As long as we just visit backwards, then everything is fine.

“What happens if you go forward in time?” Charles asked.

“Trust me; you don’t have time for all that.  Heh, ‘time’.  I crack me up.  Anyways, content yourself that you’re getting visited by your future self and know that I’m using my one trip on you.”

“One trip?  What does that mean?”

“One shot”, Chuck said.  “Between the number of people that sign up and the government resources that are needed for these sort of things, each person gets one shot at time travel.  There are offers out there for millions of dollars if someone wants to give away their spot.  People don’t give it up though.  They may be starving, but they want to travel to their own little destination.  It truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Besides, if anyone did sell their spot, the government would catch on and negate the whole deal.  My one trip was to see you.”

“But…” Charles was confused.  “Why me?  You could have seen history in the making.  You could have met Megan again and seen the look on her face.  Why waste it on me?”

“It isn’t a waste”, Chuck said with a suddenly serious tone.  “This is it.  This is your low point.  I’m not saying your life will be perfect after this.”  Chuck rubbed the back of his neck and looked down as the years became evident on his forehead.  “There will be worse days than this, much worse.”  A sad look came over his face as he cleared his throat and composed himself.  “However, this was the day you weren’t up to it.  This was the day that Megan got to you.”

Charles became deflated.  He leaned fully against the wall and let it support him.  His body began to sag like the flag five stories down.  He was limp and lifeless, the wind knocked out of him by just her name.  “So, you remember Megan.”

“Oh yeah”, Chuck replied.  “You don’t forget the wife that leaves you and runs off with her coworker.  Young love is hard enough, Charles.  Ended marriages are even harder.”

“It really is over?”  Charles looked down to the street below.  “She never comes back?  We never see her again?”

Chuck’s sad face still remained, but he a small laugh found its way out.  “Charles, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you should never say ‘never’.  In answer to what you’re asking, you two don’t get back together.  The marriage is done.  You two are done as a happily little couple that were going to buy that vineyard and raise three kids together.”

“Then what is there?” Charles raged.  “You told me not five minutes ago that things get even worse.  And I don’t have Megan.  Why should I stick around?”

“Because it gets so much better”, Chuck said.  The confidence was back in his tone and his chest was raised up, full of hope.  “There’re a vast number of things to live for besides Megan.  C’mon, you know she was always a little dark for us.  It was fun, man was it fun.  The weekend we had with her in The Bahamas?  Now that was a trip for the record books.”

Charles smiled at the warm memory.  He’d gotten over the sunburn, but he still let his mind drift to those wild nights in the sunny beach and all the trouble and romance he and Megan had gotten into.

“There’s more to life than Megan.  I don’t want you to know too much.  Still, you know that it’s true.”

“Really?”  Charles was perking up slowly.  “Like what?”

“Wow.  I was that impatient.  Dad said it, but I didn’t believe it.  I just told you, man.  I don’t want you to know too much.”

“Why can’t you just tell me her name?”  Charles walked up to Chuck and looked him in the eyes.  “There’s somebody else out there, right?”

“Yeah, you might say that.”

“Then what’s her name?”

“If I do that, we both know what will happen.”

“We’ll fall madly in love and I’ll be able to get past Megan”, Charles insisted.

“Oh stop.  You’re smarter than that.  It’s all about timing.  Chemical reactions, space travel, relationships; all these things depend on timing.  If you go and find this gal now, it won’t work.”

“Why not?”

“Charles, trust me on this.  You’re not ready for her yet.  Life’s a journey, enjoy the ride.”

“You would quote a Pixar film.”

“Steal from the best”, Chuck said with a shrug.  “Besides, you’d be missing out on all the people in between.”

“What makes you say that?”  Charles was curious at the insinuation.  “Why can’t I have the woman I’m supposed to be with and hang out with the people I’m going to meet later?”

“When would you have the time?  You and I both know that you would want to spend all your time with this new woman so you could fall in love as quickly as possible so you’d be over Megan.  It just doesn’t work that way.  There are plenty of people coming into your life.  They’re all quite different and they all have their different things to tell you.  I know it feels like you are all done growing up, but believe me, you’re not.  There’re a whole list of things you go through before it all clicks.  And the guy that clicks with this woman in your life?  You’re not him yet.”

“Why should I believe you?”

Charles held up his left hand.  A break in the clouds produced a beam of sun reflecting off the gold band on his finger.  “Trust me”, Chuck said.  “It’ll all work out.  I know the waiting is hard.  It really is.  This is the low point.  You do better after this.  Let the universe teach you a few things.  Eventually, it will all come…”

“Full circle”, both Charles’ said at once.  The lesson that their father had taught them all those years ago still rang in Charles’ mind.  “Okay”, Charles said.

“Okay?”

“Okay”, Charles said as he inched his way inside.  Chuck backed up past the window and gestured like a butler offering his master first entry to the grand manor.  Charles smiled and stepped back through the window.  “Any advice?”

“Maybe you should find a good friend to talk to.”

“Why not you?” Charles asked.

“I know a little too much”, Chuck said with a grin.  “Anyways, my time is almost up.”

“That’s it?  You get your one visit and you just spend it with me on a ledge in downtown?”

“Hey, the demand is high.  You only get so long.”

“That’s so sad”, Charles commented.  “All you got was this.”

“Bah”, Chuck said as he dismissed his younger self.  “I got a meaningful talk, I got to get some fresh air; I think it was all worthwhile.  Good company too.”

“So you don’t mind that I made you come here?”

“Charles, nobody makes you do anything.  I chose to do it in the past and I chose to do it now.  You chose to come off the ledge and you’ll give life another shot.”

“Still”, Charles replied.  “I would’ve liked for you to have cheerier company for your only time travel tip.”

Chuck put his hand on Charles’ shoulder as he faded away.  “Trust me, Charles.  You’re worth it.  Remember that, okay?”

“I’ll do my best”, Charles said to his now-departed self.  Charles looked out the window and saw the sun set in the skyscrapers’ windows.  Even the gargoyle seemed to have transformed from a symbol of mockery to a smiling creature of hope.  Charles watched the peaceful sunset and found that it was his turn to ask, “Now what?”

Image

The Send Off

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Send Off

Glancing towards the two bundles by the door, Maggie felt a wave of sadness fight for her attention.  She knew only too well what it would mean when the entryway would be clear of the rucksack and the smaller bag.  Her eyes started to moisten.  She stopped, stood a little taller, and took a deep breath.  Her determination renewed, she walked back to the living room.

There sat Shamus, his eyes looking out over the green expanse that was normally a calming sight.  He turned his attention to his wife and gave a weary smile of appreciation and affection.  Maggie had aged a bit with the birthing of four children.  The daily chores of cooking, cleaning, and chasing around the excitable youngsters had given her little lines in her eyes and more than a few white hairs that gathered into a braided ponytail.  To Shamus though, she was a stunning figure.  When he had met her in Belfast, she had been a teenager; her spirit and dancing feet as lively as her green eyes and red hair.  He even appreciated that she was a good two inches taller than her.  The fire still remained in her eyes.  He had seen it when Patrick had gotten lost for half a day and when he and the children had surprised her with a special birthday meal last year.  There was no lack of affection for his wife.

Maggie felt the same way.  She wished she was a few pounds lighter.  She thought it odd that she should outweigh her husband by a good thirty pounds, but there were a seemingly infinite number of things that took greater precedence.  Looking at Shamus, his shoulders still ready to bear the upcoming challenge, she realized just how much she was going to miss him.  He was always so calm.  When the two of them met she spent half the night wondering if he was having a good time.  Here was this man, yes he was a little on the short side, but he had this strength about him.  His arms had been strengthened through countless hours working in the fields.  It was Maggie’s experience that men who looked like him were brusque and only too happy to talk about themselves.  Shamus was different.  He had spent their first evening together asking questions about her; he took in every new piece of information.  His calm demeanor had caused a bit of concern on her part.  She had wondered if he was having a good time.  That worry had been laid to rest when they started dancing.  His face betrayed his stoic nature.  He hadn’t shown it, but internally he had been having the time of his life.

Shamus’ internal processing of thoughts and emotion were working in high gear.  Maggie was rather sure by the way he was sitting and the quiet way he stood as she walked closer that he was trying to find another solution to not only their problem, but the country’s.  As she slowly stepped into his arms and the two hugged in front of the window, they leaned their heads’ against the others’ and looked out at the world. 

There was nothing “great” about the famine except for the catastrophic effect it had had on everyone.  Maggie’s father, a rich man, had not been wealthy enough to fight off the fever that had killed him.  Their crops had survived the disease better than most, but that still left them with only a third of their crop to work.  They had managed to grow enough food to feed themselves and many of their neighbors.  The family was thankful for that because it meant that they could avoid the groups in the city.  Maggie hadn’t quite subscribed to his explanation, but Shamus had felt that large crowds of sick people in condensed areas would do them in faster than hunger would.  Still, they both knew that no one was safe in this time of tragedy.  Her father’s death had certainly shown them that.

They had tried their best to come up with a solution.  Their most desperate plan was the one that seemed to hold the greatest hope for them.  Shamus had a distant cousin working on the docks of Philadelphia and he had promised he could find work for him.  The pay wasn’t enough to support a family, but it was a start.  Maggie would stay and help her mother who hadn’t been the same since the death of Maggie’s father.  This would give her time to try and sell what was left of their farm and keep the children out of too much mischief.  Shamus would find a job, start saving, and work on finding them a place to live.  They agreed it was their best opportunity.  It also meant spending years apart.

Maggie watched the sun setting over the field and wondered how her husband could stand to leave this place that they loved so much.  She couldn’t imagine living anywhere was, but that was what they were planning to do.  She wondered if there would be vast stretches of green there.  She hoped there would be.  To her, life without grass growing a rustling in the wind and leaving its hue on her clothes and feet was a dreary existence.  She craved the outdoors.  How was she to survive in the city?  Then again, if she stayed where she was her family might not survive at all.  The family was healthy enough for the time being, but her children were still young.  Her protective side was much stronger than her loyalty to her homeland.

ImageThe last rays of sun were dimming to black as Maggie unconsciously started singing a tune she had heard.  It had made its way over from England, one of the few good things to come from that country as far as Maggie and Shamus were concerned.  She had taken an instant liking to Amazing Grace and had been singing it quite often.  She quietly sang her hymn, praying that the small children in the next two rooms would stay asleep. 

As she finished, she felt Shamus hug her tighter.

“Sing that song for me, will you?”  He looked to Maggie with a pleading that was unspoken, but clear as day on his face.

“Everyday”, she softly replied.

***

(If you’ve never heard the Celtic Woman perform, Send Me a Song, I suggest you check it out.  I think it makes a better song than a video, but decide for yourself.  Regardless, this story owes a pretty large debt to it.  Also, thanks to PDPhoto.org for the picture.)

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