A House of Short Stories

 

THE STRAY

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A precocious six-year-old, Zach Anderson, sat warm and cozy in the back seat of his father’s recently purchased pre-owned Hummer H1. He paid little attention to the verbal warfare coming from the front seat. Engrossed in a video game, and pacified by the furry dog at his side, he ignored the all-too-familiar harangue between his parents, even though the dog was the topic of conversation.

Richard Anderson was hot, and not from the outside temperature. The heavy snow blowing sideways in the twenty-eight degree air was to his liking. The cause of his sudden flushing sat next to him in the front seat of the vehicle. “Look at it from my perspective. I finally get a full weekend off, a chance to try out my new Hummer on the back roads, and you insist we travel to Dillon in a snow storm to visit your parents. If your demand wasn’t enough, you insisted on picking up that wet, stinking mutt.”

“What’s the matter? Afraid you’ll lose the new car smell? Jeanie Anderson stared darts at her husband with her rebuff. “I got news for you, hubby. The new car smell came from a can and if you visit the dealer after this trip, he’ll provide one for you. And furthermore the ‘mutt’ as you call him, is a Norwegian Elkhound, a very expensive breed. He’s obviously someone’s pet and got lost. We’ll leave him with my parents until we can locate his owner.”

Ignoring his wife’s rant, Richard flipped on the radio and tuned to the weather channel that provided up-to-date information on the status of Interstate 70, the highway they traveled west out of Denver. They were near Eisenhower Tunnel, a dual-bore, four-lane vehicular tunnel continuing I-70 under the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains. The announcement over the radio reaffirmed Richard’s growing suspicion of the slow traffic. The Tunnel was temporarily closed. He was familiar with those words; ‘temporary’ meant anywhere from one hour to twelve hours. He refused to sit in the car with a stinking dog and a bitching wife for any length of time.

“We’re getting off at the next exit,” he announced to all.

“Are we going home? I’ll need to call Mom and tell her.”

“No. Your mother will accuse me of using bad weather to avoid the trip,” Richard retorted. “I’ll get on U.S. Highway 6 and travel across Loveland Pass around the tunnel.”

“Are you crazy?” Jeanie leaned over the seat divide and shouted in Richard’s ear. “If the snow is too heavy for traffic to safely enter the tunnel, why would you even consider driving over Loveland Pass?”

Richard patted the steering wheel. “This baby will make it. It was built for this weather and terrain. Wide track, four-wheel drive, sixteen inches of ground clearance. See this button? CTIS. Central Tire Inflation System. This magic button lets me increase or decrease the tire air pressure from inside the vehicle. If the terrain gets rough, I’ll lower the tire pressure to handle it.”

Folding her arms across her chest, Jeanie flopped back against her seat. “You are thinking with your overabundance of testosterone. You are placing your family at risk for a joy ride.”

Zach removed a hand from the video game, gently rubbing the soft fur of the dog’s head buried in his lap. When the dog whined, Zach placed the game on the seat, grabbed the animal’s ears and playfully rocked his head from side to side. “Easy, boy. We’re going up a mountain.” His words were meant to soothe himself as well as the dog. He had remained quiet since the turnoff onto Highway 6, but when the wheels spun and the vehicle slipped sideways, he wasn’t so sure his father could handle the treacherous road. He had crossed the pass one summer with his grandfather, and remembered the steep drop-offs away from the mountain. Guard rails were almost nonexistent and then only on the worse hair-pin curves. He pushed the dog’s head out of his lap and leaned forward in his seat located behind the driver. The snow blanketed the windshield making the wipers useless and the glare of the headlights reflecting off the falling snow made visibility worse. “Shouldn’t we go back?” he asked.

Richard attempted to show confidence though the nervousness in his voice betrayed him. “No place to turn around, sport. I know this road well. We are near the summit. Once we top out we’ll get protection from the wind-driven snow and we’ll inch our way down the other side.” He cast a quick glance at his wife who remained rigid in her seat, her eyes locked on some invisible object outside the Hummer.

The right rear wheel suddenly lost traction and spun in place causing the Hummer to slide toward the edge of the road and the precipitous drop. Jeanie gasped, and then clamped her hand over her mouth to avoid alarming Zach.

Richard wrestled the steering wheel to the left and moments later the left front tire caught firmly and pulled the slowly drifting vehicle back toward the sloping incline to their left.

Jeanie could sit quietly no longer. “For God’s sake, Richard. Please stop and rest for a few minutes. I can see the strain in your face.”

Richard’s shoulders slumped, giving in to his whining wife. She had no sense of adventure. A city girl. Never exposed to danger in her life. I can’t let Zach grow up like her. He applied pressure to the brake pedal and the already slow moving vehicle came to a complete stop. “We can’t sit here long. The snow will pile up and make forward progress more difficult. A few minutes of rest won’t hurt. Once we get to lower elevation the snow won’t be this heavy and we can make better time. Maybe you’d better call your mother and tell her we’ll be late.” He slumped down in his seat, resting his head against the support. He heard Jeanie mumble, but the words were lost in his brief respite.

“Did you hear me? There is no signal.”

Richard pushed upright. “Did you charge your phone before we left?”

Jeanie spat her answer back at him. “I have it plugged into the adapter. There’s plenty of power. Just no signal.”

Richard shifted his body forward, dug into his pocket and retrieved his smart phone. With a click it came alive. No towers. “Damn. The mountain and this heavy snow is blocking the signal. We better get started. Keep an eye on your phone. If towers pop up on the screen, yell out and I’ll stop.” He had left the engine idling during the stop to keep the interior of the Hummer at a comfortable temperature. He raced the engine a little, shifting the gear from neutral to forward. The vehicle lurched forward for several inches before all four tires spun in place. He pressed harder on the accelerator and the 6.6 L turbo Diesel V8 engine roared, the 300 horsepower applying the maximum of 520 lb-ft of torque to the transmission. The tires spun faster, digging through the snow to the ice layer below. All four tires failed to make purchase.

“I knew we shouldn’t have stopped.” He slammed the gear into reverse and gradually increased pressure to the pedal. The tires grabbed for an instant before spinning again. Rapidly shifting the gear from forward to reverse, he managed to rock the Hummer back and forth in the same tracks. With each gear change he silently pleaded for the tires to grab a solid surface. The tires sunk deeper into the trench with each maneuver until the undercarriage of the vehicle came into contact with the snow buildup. Previous silent prayerful pleadings became a stream of curses and he pressed and held the accelerator to the floor, slamming the gear shift back and forth. The engine screamed in protest and steam poured out from under the hood.

Jeanie grabbed Richard’s arm. “Stop it, stop it. You’ll blow the engine and we’ll freeze to death.”

Richard was beyond hearing, or caring about the engine. He continued his maniacal frantic maneuvers until the left rear tire suddenly made purchase. With the gear in the forward position, the vehicle leapt out of its own brief grave and shot forward. Richard shouted in joy, his elation cut short when the front of the vehicle veered sharply to the right. At the same moment, the right front tire dug into the ice on the side of the road causing the front end to dip and then slip downward over the edge. He stomped on the brake pedal, locking the wheels even as his brain registered the futility of the action. He yanked the gear shift back into reverse, shoving his foot on the accelerator with all his might, praying the tires would grab and stop the slide. The motor howled and the tires spun uselessly, failing to slow the vehicle’s descent over the snow-covered frozen terrain. He turned toward Jeanie, his eyes taking in the panic on her face as she searched the back seat for Zach who had fallen to the floor during the furious back and forward motions.

Locking his hands on the steering wheel, he pressed his feet against both the brake and the accelerator. Neither action slowed the rapid descent of the Hummer down the side of the mountain. The large tires and the undercarriage careened off covered boulders, bouncing the box-like vehicle from side to side even as the downward plunge increased in speed.

“God save us,” pleaded Richard.

Jeanie screamed. “Zach, get on the floor and cover your head.”

The front tires struck a wide, partially buried boulder sending the Hummer airborne for several seconds before the front windshield exploded in a shower of glass and the grill impacted with a massive hardwood tree. The front seat airbags deployed instantly, seconds after the frozen protruding limbs of the tree slammed through the windshield, impaling the occupants of the front seat. The force of the impact killed the engine and soon the only sound was a momentary pinging noise from the rapidly cooling motor.

Within minutes the wind driven snow covered the debris, restoring balance with the surrounding landscape.

Zach awoke to a wet cloth bathing his face. He quickly realized it was the dog’s warm, rough tongue. He wrapped his left arm around the dog’s neck, answering the whimpers from the animal with soothing words. “It’s okay, boy.” Why is it so dark and quiet? Where are my parents? He lay still with the animal in his embrace. Slowly the memory of the earlier event returned. “Mom? Dad?” He pushed the dog to the side and attempted to get up from the floor. He screamed when the motion produced lightning bolts of pain shooting up his right arm to his shoulder. His arm was pinned beneath the front seat. “Mom, help me. I can’t move my arm.” His plea was met with silence. Why would they leave me in the car? He collapsed on his back, aware of the cold wind blowing through the shattered windshield. “Dad, I hurt my arm. Why won’t you help me?” His lips trembled, followed by tears streaming down his face. He felt the dog lick his face, and then climb on top, whimpering in response to the tears.

***

Michael Harris hung up the phone and turned to his wife. “No one answers at home. I’ve tried their cell phones. No response.”

Ann stood beside her husband with her hands folded beneath her chin in prayer. “Please call the Colorado State Patrol. It’s almost dark. They should have been here hours ago. It’s not like Jeanie. She would have called if they were delayed by the weather.”

Michael nodded his agreement. Eight hours had passed since his daughter first called to let them know she, Richard and Zach were leaving from Denver. Even in bad weather, the trip shouldn’t have taken more than four hours and, in the Hummer, the icy roads should still be passable. “I’ll call the Patrol office. Maybe the tunnel on Interstate 70 is still closed. The kids may be in a restaurant somewhere waiting on the roads to be scraped and salted.”

“They would have called,” Ann murmured under her breath.

***

Zach tried desperately to be brave. His Paw Paw would be proud of him. He was so cold and his injured arm wouldn’t allow him to rest. He twisted in place until he was lying on his right side with his knees pulled up to his chest. “Someone please help me.”

He heard a whisper, like the wind blowing through the shattered window. “I’m with you.”

Zach turned his face toward the sound and quickly covered his eyes shielding them from a bright light above him. A weight compressed him against the floor, the discomfort made tolerable by the blessed warmth seeping into his frigid body.

***

At dawn, Michael Harris sat across from the commander at the district State Patrol office. Almost twenty-four hours had passed since he last heard from Jeanie. When he arrived earlier at the Command Post, he half expected the troopers to advise him to go home and wait for his kids to call. That didn’t happen. The tunnel had been re-opened only five hours after the initial closure and no one remembered a 2006 silver-colored Hummer passing through the roadblock. Anyone in line should have long ago reached their destination.

A massive snow blanket buried the exit from the interstate to Highway 6 that briefly ran parallel to the interstate before climbing northwest. The road, when clear, was used by trucks hauling hazardous material, and during the spring and summer was used by tourists who wanted to enjoy the panoramic views offered by the high mountain pass. Few were fool hearted enough to chance crossing the pass in the winter, especially during blizzard-like conditions.

A Search and Rescue helicopter operated by the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department was soon in the air following Highway 6 by GPS since it was virtually impossible to distinguish the road from surrounding snow banks. The occupants at each window made careful notes of each sharp turn and sudden drop offs. No one expected to find the vehicle parked on the side of the road. If the family had chosen this route around the roadblock, the officers hoped to see a distress signal or message stamped out in the snow.

“Caught a flash of something, sir!” Sergeant Williams shouted. “At your one o’clock position.”

�����������������������������I see it. Looks like a piece of chrome. Maybe a section of glass.” He spoke over the internal communication to the pilot. “Hold a position around this region while I radio the ground crew to check it out.”

Thirty minutes later a Snowcat appeared near the site and Sergeant Williams dropped red flags at the end of long wooden rods onto the location in question. Three rescuers, using ropes tied to the Snowcat, rappelled down the slope. Using gas-powered blowers, they cleared away the heavy accumulation of snow and identified the Hummer. Using equipment from their packs they pried open the frozen doors and discovered the gruesome scene inside. After clearing additional snow, they opened the rear doors.

“I don’t see the boy. There’s a large dog on the floor. Damn, it’s frozen stiff. Hard to move him. Wait! I found the boy. He’s beneath the dog and he’s breathing.”

***

Michael and Ann Harris rushed into the waiting area of the emergency room. The trip by police helicopter had been the longest of their lives.

Lieutenant Steed met them at the information desk. “Your grandson is alive. He’s undergoing treatment for hypothermia and a broken arm. I understand you’ve already been informed about his parents.”

Michael pulled his wife to him in a tight embrace. “Yes. We were devastated by the news. We are so thankful to you and your people for the successful rescue of our ‘Zach’.”

***

Ann remained constantly at Zach’s side and she was holding his hand when his eyes opened. “Mama Ann. We had a bad wreck. I don’t know where Mom and Dad went.”

“We’ll talk about that later. Right now, we’re so glad you are okay.”

“A nice man kept me warm. He stayed with me the whole time.”

Ann turned her head toward Michael. Her face registered her confusion. “Which man was that?”

“The man in the white coat. He lay down on top of me and he never moved.”

Tears welled up in Michael’s eyes. He recalled the rescuers informing him of finding a dog covering Zach. The carcass of the animal had been left in the Hummer. He turned away from the hospital bed.

Ann looked up when her husband started for the door. “Michael. You look upset. Where are you going?”

“To find the hospital chapel to say a prayer for a special animal. Then I’ll find someone to bring him home for a decent burial.”

***

Michael stood up from the chair at Zach’s bedside when he heard a knock at the door. He opened the door and stared at the puzzled face of Lieutenant Steed.

“Mr. Harris. My men went back to the accident site by snowmobile. They searched the Hummer and the area around it. The dog’s body wasn’t there.”


“THE LESSON”

The silence in the classroom spoke volumes as students sat in their seats, stunned by the display of two jocks tormenting the ‘nerd’ who attempted to make his presentation. Most hated the juvenile behavior of the steroid-enhanced muscle heads, but no one did anything to stop it. Instead, they waited for the instructor to return to the classroom and hoped this time he would have the courage to kick the reprobates out of the class.

Such antics were expected and considered amusing in middle school and even high school; not so in the junior year of a respected academic university. A few rotten apples spoil the entire barrel and, in this case, the barrel was a nationally ranked football team and the jerks involved represented two-thirds of the starting backfield. Even if the instructor wanted to stop it, he couldn’t. His hands were tied as the coaches, the athletic department, and the university administration would not allow disciplinary action to interfere with a potentially national championship.

Christopher Langston stepped into the classroom and a quick glance encompassed all he needed to know. He moved quickly to the podium and, ignoring the two instigators who towered over him, he took the arm of the shaken presenter and led him out of the classroom. He spoke gently to the gifted student, giving the boy time to regain his composure before directing him to wait in the library.

“Alex, we’ve talked about those clowns and others like them many times. They harass you out of fear. They are aware they have maybe two years left in the limelight before joining the ranks of the unnoticed for the rest of their lives. Worse yet, they fear that you or someone like you will be in control of their remaining days.”

Alex covered his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt, blotting away tears before he spoke. “That may be true, Mr. Langston, but it does little to ease my humiliation at the moment. They need to be taught a lesson. To know how it feels to experience helplessness in front of your peers. Everything goes right for them. The hero worship from the younger set, the adoration of the prettiest girls and plenty of cash slipped to them by football worshipers, many who never attended a single class on this campus. What chance do I have to defend myself against all that?”

“Life is a lesson in itself, Alex. On the first day in my class were you aware of the lesson plan for that day or for the days to follow?”

“No, sir.”

“Then let fate take care of things. Just as you adapted to the changing lesson plans, learn to adapt to life as well. You can’t predict what will come about to put a different spin on things.”

***

The next day Alex was conspicuously absent from the class. At the end of the session, Mr. Langston directed Jim and Scott, the offending players, to remain for a moment. After the other students left, Langston took on a totally different demeanor.

“Hey, seems I missed the show a couple of days ago. I heard you guys were really funny and made Alex look like a jackass.”

Jim flashed a smile at Scott. “It’s easy to make a jackass out of nerds. They don’t have the balls to stand up for themselves.”

“Hey, I’m not knocking it. Got to have a little fun along the way. It’s too bad you even have to attend class. Some schools aren’t as tight on the rules as ours. You may not know the history, but our beloved university has been burned before and the administration watches attendance very carefully. That doesn’t mean you have to study all that hard to get an A in the class. Just make sure you show up. I’m in pretty tight with the coach and he knows I’ll take care of his boys.”

Scott bumped shoulders with Jim. “Mr. Langston, you the man. I thought you were different.”

“It takes a while to get to know your students. Young instructors, like me, don’t have tenure and we have to be careful. I’m not a lot older than you guys and I still like to have fun. I’ve got a condo down by the river and I’d like for you to stop by sometime. I’m sure you guys aren’t into any kind of bad stuff, but something might be there to strike your fancy. Some of the young ladies in class aren’t on athletic scholarships and have to earn their grades in other ways. Get my meaning?”

The two jocks smiled when they swapped fist bumps. “Any special days?” quizzed Jim.

“Hell no. Your schedule is tighter than mine. Drop by after practice sometime. I know you don’t spend your evenings studying.”

***

The first several encounters at Langston’s place proved stiff; all parties feeling out each other. After Jim and Scott scored with a couple of cuties, they arrived as early as they could after practice. It didn’t take a lot of encouragement from the girls present to loosen up and have a few drinks. Alex had made it clear that no drugs would be available. He couldn’t afford to get the star players in trouble with the coaching staff. The more they came to trust him the easier the liquor flowed.

Langston encouraged the jocks to mix their own drinks. He advised them to be careful when they went to fraternity parties to make sure someone didn’t spike their drinks. Disarmed, they were easy prey when he added enough Rohypnol to one of the mixes to sedate a horse. When they awakened nude the next morning in the backseat of Jim’s Toyota Camry, neither could remember how they got there nor remember the photographer who took at least twenty pictures.

Puzzled, they skipped classes the next day and remained out of sight until time for practice. Greeting them at the entrance to the athletic facility was a giant blowup of one of the pictures taken the night before in the car. Beneath the picture was the caption: OUR STAR QUARTERBACK AND RUNNING BACK PLAY GAMES OFF THE FIELD.

Langston excused himself from the class the following Monday and left Alex in charge to present the lesson for the day. Things went smoothly and the classroom appeared as usual except for two vacant desks at the back of the room.

THE END


 

“THE HAIRCUT”

What can I say? The boy is three years old and has hair longer than his older sister. Ringlets sprouting from his head are so thick and heavy, the curls hang down to his shoulders. Something must be done.

Since the combined thought of scissors and her baby made my wife emotionally unstable, the mantle fell on me. First time since his birth, I wished he belonged to someone else.

Getting him in the car is a cinch. While attaching enough car seat straps and buckles to safely send my son to the moon, my right ear (the closest to my wife) is constantly bombarded by shouted instructions by her.

“Be sure and save ALL his hair, and not from the floor. That could be anybody’s hair. Make sure the barber traps it on the apron. Don’t let the barber cut off too much.”

“How much is too much?” I asked this question in jest since I already anticipated the harangue I would experience when I got home. If I drove him around town for an hour and never went to the barbershop, I still would catch hell for allowing �����our boy’ to be scalped. Didn’t she know that women are allowed in as well as men? Actually, she didn’t hear my question as her heavy sobs prevented conversation.

My little man always enjoyed car rides, so this day wasn’t any different. He squealed with glee the entire trip and once we reached our destination, he took my hand and bounded up the steps into the shop. Fascinated by the mirrors in front and back of the chairs, his giggles continued when I placed him in the revolving chair and he burst into laughter when the barber pumped up the hydraulic chair to a level where their eyes met. There was a brief break in my son’s joviality when the large apron covered his tiny body and the collar fastened to his neck. The tiny frown became a smile again when he became fascinated by his reflection in the surrounding mirrors.

THEN…the barber turned on the clippers. The boy’s short legs shot straight out and he stood upright in the chair. His arms whirled like horizontal blades cutting me and the unsuspecting barber down like ripened hay. Undeterred, the barber leapt to his feet, grabbed the top of my son’s head and the fur (hair) began to fly. After a few strokes with the electric gadget, I could see the left ear. Thankfully it was still attached to the side of his head and not on the floor.

A maddening shriek pierced the air! The barber lost his grip and I lost my nerve. The boy rocketed out of the chair and bounded around the room like a shroud-covered monkey.

“I can’t take this job anymore,” cried the hysterical barber.

By this time, I was crying as well. “Well, I can’t take him home like this!”

On one of the circuitous trips around the room my son passed by the chair and I dropped him with a NFL quality clothesline tackle and covered his writhing body with mine.

The barber piled on and made several whacks with the clippers. With several passes he severed long locks of hair, and on two occasions took chunks of flesh from my arms.

Finally he stood and announced, “I am through!”

I removed the apron from my son and stood him in the chair. Both ears remained on the sides of his head and appeared unharmed. I couldn’t say the same about his scalp. Areas of exposed pink flesh peeked through remnants of curls.

I reached for my wallet, but the barber waved me off. He handed me a plastic bag of blond curls. “No charge if you promise to never bring him here again.”

When we reached our house, I handed my son the bag, opened the car door for him and pointed him in the direction of the hysterical woman standing at the edge of the driveway with something resembling a long iron bar in her hand.

I quickly retreated and drove to my brother’s house.

Two days later, my wife allowed me to return home.

When my son got his second haircut, he drove himself to the barber.

THE END


“Patrick”

An electronic beep pierced the silence in ICU room four. A woman, her face marred by stress lines, looked up nervously at the heart monitor mounted above the bed. She studied the rhythm for a moment before shifting her gaze to the person lying in the bed; his once handsome face hidden by bandages. Six weeks ago a tragic car accident took the life of her six-year-old son, Andrew, and left her husband, Christopher in a coma.

Katherine Adams raised a photo to eye level, a ritual repeated often throughout the long days. Her husband and son smiled back at her from the glossy print. In the picture and previously in life, Andrew resembled his father except for the odd variant of one green eye and one blue eye; nature’s way of sharing the genes from his parents.

Waiting for a ‘miracle’ extracted a toll on her body. When in his room, she slept most of the time, fighting guilt each time she awakened. She was startled awake when Christopher suddenly began crying out. His eyes were closed, his limbs flaccid by his side, but his voice was strong.

“I hear you, Patrick. I hear you,” he said.

A nurse entered the room, her eyes wide in alarm. “Is everything okay? The monitor in the nursing station revealed an extremely rapid heart rate.”

Katherine wiped a soft cloth over Christopher’s face, mopping up the sweat on his brow. “He didn’t move a muscle but called out the name ‘Patrick.’ I don’t know anyone named Patrick.”

“It doesn’t matter,” the nurse replied. “He spoke. The brain is functional. I’ll call his neurologist.”

Doctor William Randolph reviewed the printout of an electroencephalogram that recorded Christopher’s brain function in a series of waves. “Many spikes are present, usually an indicator of an active brain. Physically, he still appears to be in a deep coma.”

Katherine held her husband’s hand. “How can that be?”

“I don’t know,” Randolph replied. “Maybe a dream stage. Activity like this can occur in a normal brain during sleep studies, especially when the subject is in a deep sleep.”

***

Forty-eight hours passed with the EEG revealing only normal brain activity, no additional fluctuating levels of excitement.

Katherine picked up a newspaper provided each day by the hospital. She had overheard the nurses discussing the kidnapping of a young boy. She found the story on the second page, pushed from the front page by the recent antics of Gadhafi. The name of the victim was Patrick Murphy. What a coincidence? She glanced at her husband before she continued reading out loud. “Patrick Murphy, a six-year-old boy, was snatched from the sidewalk in front of his home over a week ago by unknown person or persons. No contact came from the kidnappers until late yesterday when a ransom note arrived in the mail, demanding a million dollars; half in cash, half in negotiable bonds. This newspaper, at the request of the FBI, have printed no additional details.”

Katherine heard a voice, someone speaking in a low conversational tone, and she turned toward the door. It remained closed. When words came again, she jumped to her feet, stumbling to the bed. Though Christopher’s eyes were open he didn’t appear aware of her presence. His lips moved as he continued to speak to someone invisible…until he repeated the name.

“I’m here, Patrick. You are not alone.”

Katherine leaned over Christopher’s face. When he made eye contact with her she broke down in sobs, burying her face into his chest. She jerked upright when a bevy of nurses rushed into the room “He’s awake,” she cried, tears streaming down her face.

***

It took an hour for the medical personnel to finish their probing and endless questions. Finally the last of them closed the door, leaving Katherine alone with her husband. “Darling, it’s good to have you back. I thought I had lost you and—” She stopped, afraid to go on.

Christopher looked into his wife’s green eyes, recognizing the pain she had experienced without him. “I���ve been here Katherine. I could hear all of you talking and I know about Andrew. Maybe God prevented me from waking up as He knew I couldn’t handle it.” Christopher stared at her, wondering if she would think him insane. “There’s a reason I’m awake now. God is using me to help someone. I’m mentally in touch with a young boy in serious trouble. I don’t know how but I can clearly hear his voice and understand his plight.”

“You called out a name. Patrick. Is that the boy’s name?”

“Yes.�������

“A boy named Patrick Murphy was recently kidnapped. We should notify the police.”

***

Two agents from the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team came to the hospital, but after a brief visit they thanked Christopher and left, assured the man’s brain injury had left him insane.

Their attitude did not deter Katherine. She contacted the boy’s parents, certain they would show more interest. She was right. They arrived at the hospital within thirty minutes.

Jack and Sue Murphy, grasping at any hope to recover their only child, were not as cynical as the agents. Patrick was a godsend to them, born to Sue at age forty-eight; Jack older at fifty-five. Patrick represented their life, so to lose him was unthinkable. Though not super rich, Jack had wealthy friends. The million dollar ransom would be paid but only under the guidelines of the FBI, which they had agreed to follow…that is, until a package arrived that morning. The agents opened the box after receiving assurance it contained no electronic devices or explosives. A bomb would have been less painful. Tucked inside the box, wrapped in cotton gauze, was a bloody pinky finger. Sue identified the finger from a scar on the lateral aspect of the finger. Patrick had sustained the injury a year before while playing with a knife. Accompanying the severed digit was a note moving up the timetable. Unless the demands were met within twenty-four hours, the next package would contain Patrick’s head.

After hearing the story, Katherine took Sue by the hand, guiding her to the bedside. When she spoke, Christopher opened his eyes. “Honey, this is Jack and Sue Murphy, Patrick’s parents. They want to talk to you about your unusual ability to converse with their son.”

Christopher nodded his understanding. “Patrick communicates with me. I’m not sure why it’s possible. At the moment, he is okay. The kidnappers gave him medication to ease the pain from the severed finger.”

Jack spun around, making eye contact with SAC Cafferty, the Special Agent in Charge from the bureau. The information about the finger had not been released to anyone.

Sue leaned closer. “Are you able to talk to Patrick at any time?”

“No. Patrick contacts me. I attempted to visualize his surroundings but I was unsuccessful. Patrick told me he is tied to a chair in the basement of a house. The drive after he was taken was not long, so he is somewhere in the city.”

Sue’s pleading eyes matched the fear in her voice. “Please, try harder. We want to pay the ransom, but the FBI is stalling. They are sure the kidnappers will extend the deadline, make more demands and somehow give themselves away. Jack and I disagree. Patrick’s life means nothing to the kidnappers. If they don’t receive the money they will send his severed head to us. I know they will. The media will crucify the FBI, causing them to give in quicker next time, but it will be too late for us and especially for Patrick.”

Christopher squeezed Sue’s hand. “I will do everything I can. When Patrick makes contact with me again I will concentrate more and attempt to locate him. I don’t know if I can, but I will try my best.”

Jack took Sue by the arm and led her from the room. He paused at the door, glancing back at Christopher. “God be with you.”

***

Doctor Randolph opened the door and motioned for Katherine to join him outside the room. “Mrs. Adams, the EEGs show a significant increase in abnormal spikes. This may indicate the possibility of an upcoming seizure. Not only is the fact your husband is communicating by telepathy unusual, his ability to converse with us so clearly after six weeks in a coma is mindboggling. It may be putting too much stress on his brain.”

“Thank you, Doctor Randolph, for the information, but I don’t know how I can tell Christopher to stop his activity. He feels he is responsible for the boy’s life.

Randolph took her hands in his, acknowledging her difficult position. “Call me anytime, day or night, if you sense a change that worries you”

***

Two hours later, an agent awakened Katherine. “He’s talking; the monitor shows a significant increase in his heart rate.”

Katherine hurried to Christopher’s side, placing her hands on his face. “Is it Patrick?”

Her husband looked at her, his eyes reddened by multiple small subconjunctival hemorrhages. “Yes. They replaced the hood over his head. He’s terrified, whimpering a little, but not crying out loud. He’s such a brave boy.”

“Were you able to get more information from him?”

“No. Because of the hood, he wasn’t able to see anything until they removed the hood in the basement. He thinks they plan to take him somewhere else since they replaced the hood. I told him to keep concentrating on me, but not to speak. I will try to use the contact to picture more of his surroundings.”

Katherine watched Christopher’s eyes close. Deep furrows lined his forehead and his eyelids narrowed to horizontal slits. His chest heaved, followed by a shrill sound from the monitor; the heart rate exceeded the programmed maximum rate. The automatic blood pressure cuff suddenly inflated. Katherine covered her mouth, stifling a cry when she saw the digital readout. The nurses evidently saw the same on their remote monitor as they burst into the room. Katherine raised her hands to stop them. “Please don’t interrupt him. He’s in contact with the boy.”

Christopher moved his head from side-to-side, his agony apparent to anyone in the room. Soft moans escaped his lips. The bevy of monitors revealed continued spikes in his blood pressure and pulse rate.

The nurses moved forward, pushing Katherine aside. The shift supervisor entered the room with a syringe in her hand and, in spite of Katherine’s plea, the nurse injected the medication into the intravenous line in her patient’s left arm. The heart rate slowed, followed by less strenuous respiratory efforts and a rapid drop in his blood pressure. His arms fell limp at his side.

***

A clock wasn’t needed to know it was late in the day. The number of nurses increased dramatically in their work station as they went through the ritual of shift change, passing off patients to the new, better-rested crew. The few visitors present were forced to leave…all but one. The FBI had arranged for Katherine to remain in the ICU room.

Mumbling came from the direction of the bed. Katherine rushed to Christopher’s side, accompanied by SAC Cafferty.

“Mr. Adams. Can you understand me?” the SAC asked.

“Yes. You sound distant, but I can hear you.”

Cafferty leaned closer. “Time is running out. I don’t understand this unusual ability you possess, but you represent Patrick’s only hope. Did you learn anything else from the boy before the injection put you under?”

Christopher licked his dry lips, the gesture rousing Katherine to action. He sipped at the offered cup of water before he answered. “So, it was an injection. I recall the sensation of falling. Before I lost consciousness I saw a brick house with gray shutters. A mailbox was adjacent to a driveway. The street name was painted on the post; uh—Clairmont, but I don’t remember seeing a number.”

The agent standing behind the SAC whispered, “Jesus! Clairmont runs in a north/south direction halfway through the city. We can’t canvass the entire road in time to save the boy.”

The SAC turned on the agent, anger in his voice. “Start a search anyway. Contact the city police. Have them start a search from the northern most point of the road. Do the same for the sheriff’s department but have them begin at the southern terminal. The state troopers can start in the center with teams moving in opposite directions to meet up with the other units.”

***

Christopher remained silent for an hour. The intense look of concentration revealed to Katherine he was desperately trying to contact Patrick again. He raised his hand, curling a finger for Katherine to come closer. ���Ask Dr. Randolph to come to the room.”

“What is it? Are you hurting?”

“Please. Just ask the doctor to come. I must talk to him.”

Katherine ran to the nurse’s station. ���Please contact Dr. Randolph, immediately. My husband needs him.”

***

Randolph listened to his patient’s heart before he looped his stethoscope around his neck. “Mr. Adams. I don’t approve of your request. Administering amphetamines so soon after a head injury is not wise. You recently had a significant surge in your blood pressure; another spike could kill you.”

Christopher locked eyes with his neurologist. “I will sign anything to absolve you of any responsibility. We are talking about the life of a little boy. For reasons I don’t understand, I have the ability to communicate with him. I can’t do it with my brain in a fog from the sedatives. Please help me attempt to save the boy.”

Randolph shook his head in defeat. “I’ll instruct the nurses to prepare and give the injection. May God protect you.”

***

Katherine and the SAC sat at the bedside watching the contortions that crossed Christopher’s face. He mumbled in a low voice, but his words were not directed to them.

Cafferty’s face mirrored his anguish. Too many times in his career he had experienced the heartbreak of locating the bodies of children after all the efforts of dedicated men and women of the FBI had failed. This particular case seemed to extract a greater toll. A brain injured man, miraculously blessed with an unusual gift, was putting his life on the line to save a young boy. The imposed time limit was one hour away. The situation appeared hopeless.

Christopher suddenly shouted. “Patrick! Where have you been? Don’t leave me again. Keep your mind open to me no matter what happens. Men are coming to help you. Remember, keep communication open between us even if you cannot talk.” He turned his head, his eyes searching for Katherine. His face revealed his anxiety. “How much time is left?”

“Less than an hour. Are you in contact with Patrick?”

“Yes. Two men are in the basement with him. The hood is still in place so he can’t describe their appearance. Don’t let anyone interrupt me again, no matter what!”

Christopher’s head tilted forward onto his chest, his eyes squeezed closed so tightly it created furrows on his brow. The monitor registered his rapid heart beat. Sweat formed on his arms, pooling between his fingers. A small drop of blood appeared in his left nostril, hung there for a moment before following a zigzag course to his upper lip. The drop became a trickle and then a steady stream, rolling off his face and saturating the hospital gown pulled up under his chin.

Katherine’s attempt to go to him was restrained by Agent Cafferty. She saw Christopher’s pupils dilate, heard the agonizing moan, but she abided by his wishes and let the agent keep her seated.

Christopher began to chant in a low volume, his head bobbing along with rapid blinking of his eyelids. The flow of blood from his nostrils increased until the entire lower portion of his face was covered. He spoke, his voice too low to be heard. He spoke louder, blood from his lips splattering all around him. This time the words were understandable. “Northeast Clairmont.”

Agent Cafferty leapt from the chair, shouting orders to someone in the hall. He returned to the room, resuming his position by Katherine. “The information will help the searchers. They can move all units to the northeast sector. It’s still a lot of territory to cover.”

The moans increased in intensity, as did the movements. Christopher slammed his head against the pillow each time he rocked backwards. His lips blanched from compression against his teeth and then parted, moving slowly. “One-one-one. No, just a one. Then an eight. Oh God, I can’t see the other numbers. God help me! Patrick, we are close. Three-I see a three. One-eight-three. There’s more.”

Cafferty grabbed Katherine around the waist and pulled her back into the chair. He understood her pain as she watched her husband fighting against what must be an unbearable pain. He saw her mouth gape open and he followed her line of sight to the blood shot eyes of her husband. The entire globes were blood red with the blue iris and the dilated pupils barely visible. The veins on either side of Christopher’s neck stood out like long fingers.

“I can see the other numbers. Four and seven. 18347. He stammered the numbers past his lips as if expectorating a heavy liquid. He collapsed back on the bed. His movements ceased.

Cafferty shot out the door, releasing Katherine who rushed to the bed. She grabbed a towel from inside the bedside cabinet and pressed it against the flow of blood from Christopher’s nose. Tears filled her eyes when she saw the pain was gone from her husband’s face. “Christopher, can you hear me? You did it. You gave Patrick a chance.”

There was no reply.

***

An agent quietly approached Katherine who was asleep in a recliner chair. “Mrs. Adams.” When he received no response he touched her shoulder, flinching when Katherine abruptly sat upright.

“What is it? Is Christopher awake?”

“Sorry, I don’t know about Mr. Adams. I’m here at the request of Agent Cafferty. He wanted you to know the boy is safe. A SWAT team entered the house and took down both suspects. One had a large knife in his hand. It looks like the team got there just in time, thanks to your husband.”

Katherine switched her gaze to the still figure on the bed. He had not moved or shown any signs of consciousness since he stammered out the numbers.

***

Days passed with no improvement. At times Christopher opened his eyes unaware of those present. The only change was a constant smile adorning his face day and night.

A knock at the door interrupted Katherine as she read aloud from the Bible. She chose to think Christopher could hear her words. She looked up when the door opened. Jack and Sue Murphy entered, accompanied by a small boy with reddish blond hair.

Sue walked quickly to Katherine, wrapping her arms around her. “We want you to meet Patrick. It was his idea to come here. He wants to visit with Mr. Adams.”

Katherine’s eyes filled with tears and she quickly blotted them away with the back of her hands. “I’m so very glad to meet you, Patrick. I thank God you are okay.” She took him by the hand, guiding him to the bedside. “I’m sorry Mr. Adams can’t really visit with you. Unfortunately, he has slipped into a deeper coma.”

At that moment Dr. Randolph entered the room. He explained to the Murphys that further damage had occurred in Christopher’s brain, He was no longer able to communicate.

Patrick looked at the doctor, a puzzled look on his face. “Mr. Adams is okay. He’s happy.”

Everyone stared at Patrick with expressions of disbelief.

Katherine was the first to speak. ���How do you know he’s happy?”

“Because he’s with Andrew everyday.”

���My God!” Randolph exclaimed. “He’s crossed over to the other side, yet his physical body is still functioning.”

Sue put her arms around Patrick. “How do you know this?”

“I see them and hear them, just like Mr. Adams heard me when I called out for help.”

Obviously shaken, Randolph spoke up. “Patrick, do you hear other people talking to you?”

Patrick looked at Randolph, an impish grin on his face. “No one else talks to me.”

Katherine turned Patrick around to face her. “Do you see anything unusual about Andrew?”

Patrick smiled. “You must be talking about his eyes. His right eye is green and his left eye is blue.”

An unearthly silence filled the room.

 

The End