GUTTER CHANGE

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
A man finds a coin from the year 4037 on his morning walk.

Submitted: January 03, 2008

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Submitted: January 03, 2008

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GUTTER CHANGE

BY

JOEL C. FERGUSON

 

Charlie Wareing’s wife of thirty nine years lay sick and dying in the back room of their small, cluttered, tract home that they had purchased six months after they were married. They had just barely qualified for the loan, with him working two jobs; one at the local air conditioning plant and the other being a part time security guard at the cement plant. His wife Sonnie, worked at a small quilt shop about a mile from the house. The trees that they had planted the first month they were in the house towered far above the roof shrouding it in perpetual shade, which kept it cool during the hot summer months. The shade also covered most of the yard, which caused the grass to grow sparsely. It was only thick and green around the perimeters; just enough to require edging once a week, but it had not been edged in a long time. It had crept out across the sidewalk until very little of the cement was visible. The house still looked neat, but things had started to wear out. The trim was faded and in desperate need of touching up, the garage door was warped, the carpet worn out, the bathtub was slow to drain, faucets dripped, and the heating element in the oven had burned out. Just numerous little things that needed attention, but Charlie was just not motivated any longer to do those mundane tasks. Ever since Sonnie had become ill, he didn’t seem to care anymore.

Just as things were looking up for them; retirement just six months away, house note paid off the previous February, car loans paid off, credit cards paid off, loans for their children’s college tuition paid off, money going into their savings account for the first time after so many lean years, the specter on the pale horse arrived at 912 North David Street. Just like a bad roll from the dice, CRAPS!

It had been just a routine visit to doctor Glenville’s office for Sonnies’ annual mammogram; nothing to worry about, she did not have any history of cancer in her family, plus she had had a mammogram every year since she had turned fifty, and always got a clean bill of health. However, not this time. After reviewing the x-rays’ Dr. Glenville discovered that Sonnie had a massive lump in her right breast. He had performed a biopsy the next day, which was sent off to some out of state lab. Two, long, torturous weeks went by before the results finally came back. Sonnie had received the call from Dr. Glenville’s nurse, who asked her to come in to the office for a consultation with Dr. Glenville. She and Charlie had driven to his office dreading what was surely to be some really bad news, and, as expected, it was. However, as Dr. Glenville explained to them, there was also some good news in that the cancer was limited to her right breast only, and that with a series of chemo, followed up by several radiation treatments, she had a very good chance of surviving the disease and living a normal life.

The operation was performed on a cold rainy Thursday morning. Charlie sat out in the waiting room for over four hours trying to keep his mind occupied by reading, no, glancing at copies of old sports, garden, and medical magazines; none of them up to date. He could not concentrate on anything, so his fingers wandered through the worn pages of the magazines stopping only when a picture of interest caught his eye. One such black and white picture brought back memories of when he had first met Sonnie. It appeared that it had been made sometime in the 1940’s at a lunch counter in some long gone diner. The men were all wearing coats and hats; nothing casual, and most of them had a cigarette pursed between their lips. Most of the women were also wearing hats and had their hair styled in that 1940’s era look. Charlie had been sitting at a counter very similar to the one in the picture in the early hours January 19, 1963. The only thing that was different were the hair styles and clothes; no hats. He and several of his buddies were on a three day furlough and had been out on the town for one last fling before being shipped out to south east Asia. They had just graduated and survived from the toughest, most rigorous training camp in modern history. They were all young, invincible, and feared nothing. Just eighteen year old kids who were still too young to buy a legal drink.

Charlie had taken a seat at the counter and was looking over the menu. He glanced up and noticed a stunningly beautiful waitress serving coffee to a customer at the far end of the coffee bar. By the time she got to him to take his order, he had helplessly fallen in love with her at first sight. Their eyes had met as she poured his coffee and he asked her what she was doing for the rest of her life. She had looked him straight in the eyes, laughed, tossed her hair back and said “Who want’s to know soldier?” He had hung around making small talk, drinking coffee and eating donuts for the rest of the evening as her time allowed, until her shift changed. His buddies had left a couple of hours before after trying to convince him that there was more partying to be done, but he declined to leave, telling them to party on without him. He remembered that he had had six cups of coffee that night as he lingered at the counter and he didn’t even drink coffee. Her name was Sonnie and after spending two glorious nights together before he shipped out, she agreed to send him a letter each day, and she fulfilled the promise.

Charlie was startled out of his momentary trance when Dr. Glenville walked out into the waiting room and gently laid his hand on his shoulder. “Mr. Wearing,” he said. “The operation was a complete success. I am almost certain that we got it all. With limited chemo, a few radiation treatments, and an artificial breast, she will be as good as new.”

That had been two years ago. Now, in the third year since the operation, Sonnie had been feeling extremely fatigued and rationalized that she had been working too hard and was not getting enough rest. When she went in for her routine check up, it was discovered that her white cell count was elevated. Further tests revealed that the cancer had either come back, or had most likely had never gone away, but had spread behind her chest wall. To make matters worse, it had spread to other parts of her body and was in an advanced state; totally inoperable. With treatment, the doctors gave here anywhere from three months to a year at most; without treatment from one to three months. So, Sonnie was sent home to die.

Charlie waited on her hand and foot; cooking, washing, giving her medication, changing her soiled night gowns, and taking her to the grizzly treatments that made her so sick that she dry heaved for hours afterwards. Her sickness was taking a heavy toll on Charlie, but he never complained. It broke his heart knowing that no matter how hard he tried, there was nothing he could do to save her. He could only hope for a miracle or that a cure might be found before it was too late. Finally Sonnie had had enough and wanted to end the treatments, but Charlie had begged her to continue. “Honey, they are working on a cure,” he would tell her. “It could be ready any day. Remember, you are on the list for the experimental drug program. Just hold on a little longer.” He knew that he was fooling himself and being very selfish, but he just couldn’t stand the thought of losing Sonnie.

The only break Charlie would take from the bedside vigil were his early morning four to five mile walks, something that he had been doing for many years. During these walks, he would keep his eyes focused on the gutter where he would find occasional coins that he would pick up and take home. “Gutter change,“ as he referred to it, and over the years, he had accumulated eleven large cans of coins. Not only did he find coins, but paper money as well, not often, but occasionally. It never ceased to amaze him how much money was dropped in the street and not picked up. He thought that maybe people did not value pennies enough any longer to stoop down to pick them up, but really couldn’t be sure. Once he got back home, he would sit down at the kitchen table and catalog each coin he had found, noting the location where he had found it, the day and date found, type of coin, and date of coin. It was just something fun to do, and had helped keep his mind occupied.

It had been another long night of ups and downs waiting on Sonnie, who was in the last stages of the miserable life eating disease that would soon take her from him. She was very uncomfortable and in considerable pain. Her only escape from it was to be heavily sedated, and when she did drift back into the world for a brief minute or two Charlie had to administer more medication to knock her out. She had fought such a hard battle over the past year, but now it was almost over, she was slipping away. “She can’t have much longer,” he thought to himself, as he stood over her bed and looked down at her pale face and pitifully thin, frail body. Tears flowed down his cheeks as he bent over and lightly kissed her on the cheek and whispered to her, “I’m going out for my walk now honey. I’ll be back shortly. I love you.”

Stepping out onto the front porch, Charlie was greeted by the scent of burning leaves and a cold mist that was driven by a stiff north wind. He stood there for a moment and took in a deep breath of the wonderful smelling air and let the cold mist pepper against his hot, flushed face. It felt so cool and refreshing as it beaded up on his skin. The house was always too hot these days, because Sonnie was always freezing, so he had the thermostat set up to around eighty degrees. He slowly exhaled and looked far off down the neighborhood, noticing that most of the trees had lost their leaves and that pumpkins adorned just about every front porch. “Halloween,” he thought to himself. In years past, they had always decorated for Halloween, carving pumpkins, putting up all sorts of decorations, but that was all gone now. He had completely forgotten that Halloween was upon them. The only signs of life he could see was a dog crossing the street several blocks away and someone far off riding a bicycle. He tugged down on the back of his old worn out sweatshirt, one that he refused to throw away because it was so comfortable, adjusted his earphones, turned on his I-Pod, and headed out across the yard to the street.

Looking in both directions, Charlie decided to take the longer walk; one that he had not done in the past year. The longer walk would do him some good, he thought to himself; cleanse him of the sickly stale air that clung to his body from being shut up in the stuffy house since yesterday. Sonnie would sleep for at least another two hours before coming out of her chemically induced coma, so he would have time if he kept up a good pace.

He had not gone more than a block before he found his first penny stuck in a crack between the street and curb. “Gotcha!” he mumbled to himself as he scooped it up and put it in his left pocket. He always used his left pocket to put his coins and his right pocket to carry dog bones for all of his doggie friends and strays. This tactic had kept him from getting bit several times in the past when he was a jogger. He continued with the tradition even though he had not jogged in years. He also knew all of the dogs names on his routine route and they knew him. If they were kept behind a fence, he would toss a bone over for them. In many cases, he had actually never seen the dog, only heard it bark from behind a fence, but they could sense or smell him as he approached. He was what might be termed as a dogs best friend.

Charlie had walked almost three miles and had found eleven pennies, a nickel, two very tarnished dimes, and an old bus token. “A good haul so far,” he thought, as he entered the Haaswood section of his walk. Haaswood was a remote undeveloped area just outside of the city limits. Large oak trees, some over two hundred years old covered with Spanish moss, formed a canopy over the road, which kept it in perpetual shade. It was like looking down a tunnel with a distant light at the end. The ditches on both sides of the road were filled with standing water where all types of lush vegetation grew, including cattails, ferns swamp grass, and arrowroot. Water frogs croaked to one another and unseen things caused the dark water to boil. Charlie knew that he would not find any coins on this part of the walk, but that didn’t matter, because it was really beautiful and very secluded. And it also gave him a break from staring at the gutter.

On that part of the walk, he had to pass by an old two story stone building with a rusted tin roof, that had once been a rural grocery store and stage coach stop. The building had been built in the mid 1800’s by a German immigrant by the name of Haas, who according to local stories, had been terminally ill, and had taken his own life in an upstairs room. But another, more juicy story that circulated in that rural community, was that after learning that his beautiful young wife had run off with an actor, who happened to stop by the store one cold Christmas Eve, Haas had gone upstairs and hanged himself from a rafter. When his body was discovered the next day by a local saw mill worker, it is said that Haas had a rose clutched in his left hand, but no one could figure out how Haas had obtained the flower, because roses did not bloom that time of the year. All tales, hearsay, no one would ever know the real story, because time had erased forever all memory of that distant night and that chapter of history was closed.

Charlie had taken refuge in the old building on several occasions over the years to escape impromptu thunderstorms that were common to that area during the summer months, and had become quite fond of it. He marveled at the craftsmanship that had gone into its construction. It had walls that were at least three feet thick, which kept it cool in the summer, and cold and damp in the winter. Each individual limestone block had been hand chiseled at some far off quarry and transported down the Mississippi River on flat boats where the blocks were unloaded and hauled across the swamps to Haaswood, where some masterful stonemason, whose name was long forgotten, painstakingly put them in place. Charlie had never seen such a more beautifully constructed building. He thought it could probably withstand a direct hit from an atom bomb.

The mist had turned into a steady cold rain, so Charlie decided to seek shelter in the old building. He left the road and crossed the weed infested gravel driveway, or what used to be a driveway, and entered the building. It was cool and damp inside. The air smelled musty, like old rotting newspapers, and a carpet of dust covered every square inch of the place. He stood there for a few moments letting his eyes get adjusted to the dim light that was filtering through the small pillbox windows that had been so tediously chiseled in the thick limestone blocks decades ago. It had been just about a year since he had been inside and was amazed to see all of the trash scattered from one end of the room to the other. It appeared that transients had been occupying the place. There were broken beer bottles, wine bottles, condoms, dirty diapers, fast food bags, syringes, dog poop, and other assorted trash. “Damn!” he thought, “What a bunch of pigs! They trashed the place!”

He slowly eased his way across the cavernous room, carefully stepping around the broken glass and dog poop, when he heard a rustling noise somewhere back in the building. He froze, “What in the hell is back there he thought. Probably a rat or something, don’t panic Charlie, just watch out.” But, his mind toyed, “suppose it’s some bad wino’s waiting for some chump change like you to show up, or worse, a rotten corpse dragging it’s lifeless body out of a moldy trash pile in a back room, hungry, wanting to suckle on some fresh flesh!!!” A cold sweat broke out on his upper lip and his mouth went dry. “Maybe I’d better get my hinny out of hear fast!” he thought, as he turned around and made a quick retreat back across the room.

He had almost reached the door, when he spotted something coming out from behind what used to be the check out counter. “Holy cat cakes, what is hells blazes is that!” he nearly screamed. “ It looks like some sort of dog or something!” “But dogs do not walk on their hind legs unless they are in a circus Charlie,” something whispered from deep in his mind, “nor do they wear dark goggles, nor are they six feet tall, or for that matter they are not moss green!” For an instant it appeared to be looking right at him, then all of a sudden, it was gone; just faded away without leaving a trace. Charlie stood there for a moment, totally paralyzed, his heart pounding in his chest, trying to comprehend what he had just seen. “Are my eyes deceiving me?” he thought. “Probably,” he rationalized to himself. “I’m just tired and overstressed. Too many sleepless nights that’s all.” He wiped the cold sweat off of his brow, and hastily made his way to the door, looking back as he went.

The rain had turned back into a heavy mist as Charlie exited the old building. He briefly turned and took one last look inside, just to make sure the dog-thing was not in there lurking; watching him; but it was too dark to see a thing. He strained his ears to see if he could detect any sound from inside, but the rain water running off of the roof was the only sound he could hear. “I have to get on back to Sonnie,” he thought, as he turned and headed back down the weed infested driveway.

He had not gone more than a few steps when he spotted what he thought was a bright shinny dime just laying in the old brick lined gutter that ran adjacent to the driveway. “I’ll be damned. Now how in the devil did that get here? Probably one of those winos dropped it.” But since he was in such a hurry, he did not take a good look at it, and quickly scooped it up and put it in his pocket with the other gutter change that he had found.

 

As he continued down the dark lane, the mist grew heavier, and the thick forest on each side of the narrow road seemed to be closing in on him. He shivered and pulled the hood on his sweatshirt up over his head and glanced back one more time, and when he did, he almost froze in his tracks. The old building was just barely visible through the mist, but there could be no mistaking that something was moving out onto the road. It appeared to be a person, but at this distance, Charlie could not distinguish any features, just that the figure was tall and moving in an erratic manner. Not wanting to find who, or what was back down that misty road, Charlie turned and broke into a semi-jog, reaching the side road that led back into the neighborhood a few minutes later.

Leaving Haaswood behind and returning to the more familiar neighborhood made Charlie feel a little bit better. Then, when he spotted several pennies laying in the middle of the road he felt that things were almost back to normal. However, as he scooped them up and put them into his pocket he turned and looked back one more time hoping that he would not see the dog-thing closing the gap; coming for him! “Crazy,” he thought to himself. “My mind was just playing tricks on me. There is no such thing as a six foot green dog that wears sunglasses. Forget it Charlie, put it behind you!” He tried his best, but remained visibly shaken in spite of his rationalization.

The rain was really coming down hard by the time Charlie reached his front porch. He slowly climbed the steps, turned around, and stood there for a moment, dripping wet, looking down the gloomy neighborhood. “Just better take another look Charlie“ a little inner voice scolded, “it might be making its way up the street right now; coming for some tea and cakes!” Get out of my head,” he silently screamed. “Just get out!” He wiped the sleeve of his sweatshirt across his wet face, squinted his eyes, and scanned the neighborhood, but nothing was moving except for a few falling leaves. Satisfied that he was not being followed, he stood on the front porch and pealed off his wet clothes, excluding his underwear, and left them in a pile.

He had no sooner stepped through the front door, when he remembered that he had not taken the gutter change out of his pocket. So, he went back out on the front porch, carefully looking in all directions, lest someone should see him in his underwear, squatted down, and reached into his wet shorts pocket, but hastily withdrew his hand when his fingers touched something cold and mushy. Then, he remembered, “Wet dog bones; wrong pocket,” he thought with a sigh of relief. Reaching into the other pocket, he dug out a handful of coins, then scurried back into the house. It was deathly quiet and stuffy inside. His face felt flushed and a cold shiver ran up his spine as he made his way across the dark living room and entered the kitchen. He put the coins on the kitchen table then went to check on Sonnie, who was still in a deep sleep. He bent over and gently kissed her on the cheek. Her skin was cold and waxy to the touch and she had taken on the faint odor of coming death, but he was relieved that she was still breathing, although it was very shallow and sporadic. “Still in the game,” he thought, wiping the tears from his eyes. He slowly stood up and looked down at her pale shriveled body. “All of those dammed drugs and treatments, what good did they do?” he mumbled as he surveyed all of the pill bottles that lined the top of the bed and filled each end table. “She surely can’t take much more.”

Dejectedly , Charlie walked out of the room as if he were in a trance, momentarily forgetting about the strange events that had taken place on his morning stroll. Back in the kitchen, he sat down at the cluttered table in his underwear, and blankly stared at all of the empty chairs, and wondered, “Where did the time go? It seems like only yesterday that the kids were sloshing milk and orange juice all over this table, and now they are gone. And for all practical purposes, Sonnie is as good as gone too. Damn, I hate to loose her. I feel so alone.”

Coming out of his temporary funk, Charlie started looking through the coins that he had found that morning on his walk. There were fifteen in all, eleven pennies, one nickel, two dimes, one very shiny, and a very tarnished quarter that had turned almost completely black. He separated each denomination and started looking at the pennies first. “1971, 1983, 1999, 1981, ah, 1968, the year Sonnie and I were married,” he thought. “1975, 2003, 2007 a new one, 1994, 1990, and another 2003. Not bad.” He set the pennies aside and picked up the nickel, slowly turning it over and scratching some dried mud off of the bottom. “1983.” He set it down, and turned his attention to the two dimes, grabbing the shiny one first. “Huh, he grunted, “this has to be some sort of joke.” He held the coin up to the light and studied it for a long time, mesmerized by it’s beauty. It appeared to be three dimensional. He couldn’t take his eyes off of it. His trembling hand was frozen in mid air and might have remained that way indefinitely, if his spell had not been broken by the sound of Sonnies’ feeble voice coming from the back bedroom. “Sonnie,” he thought, jumping up from the table stuffing the coin in his pocket.

 

“I’m here sweetie. What do you need?” “I’m so thirsty,” she whispered. “Please get me some water.” “Here,” he said, picking up a plastic cup with a straw and gently lifting her head off of the pillow so she could take a sip. “Thank you dear,” she whispered squeezing his hand. “Did you walk today?” “Yes I did.” “What’s the weather like?” “Cool and rainy; got soaked on my way home.” “You had better take a hot shower or you might catch a cold.” “I’ll take one in a few minutes honey, after I fix you something to eat.” “Oh, don’t bother dear, I‘m not hungry.” “You have to eat to keep your strength up honey, you know that. We have to fight this thing; can’t let it get the best of you.” “I love you Charlie,” she whispered as she drifted back off into a deep sleep. He knew that it was only a matter of time now. It was tearing him apart inside and he didn’t know what to do about it.

Wandering back into the kitchen, he took the coin out of his pocket and held it up to the light again, intensely studying it in every detail, still not believing what he was seeing. It was similar to a dime in size, but that was all, because it was made out of some type of bluish, platinum colored metal, and reminded Charlie of a hologram. There was no upraised lettering. On one side was engraved Universal Planetary Federation, IV and on the back side was what appeared to be some type of space craft hovering above a planet. There were also some strange markings around the edge of the coin, but Charlie could not determine what they were. But one thing was certain, the coin was dated. “My God,” was all Charlie could mutter. “4037. “This is definitely some type of prank!” he thought. “Someone planted this fake coin, knowing that I would probably find it! Sure, that’s it! Probably Art or Benny, or maybe both. They’re always up to some sort of shenanigans and thought they would put a good one over on me. I’ll bet they’re laughing their guts out right now. They must have hid in that old building, dressed up in some crazy Halloween costume to make me believe that there was some sort of monster in there and watched me hi tail it out of there. Almost had me believing it hook, line, and sinker! Wait till I get my hands on those rascals!”

The Donjong appeared out of nowhere, which created quit a stir among the eight hundred or so scientists who were gazing down into the huge cylindrical room. “My God,” said one pudgy little red-faced man, who was talking to no one in particular. “It really is true! Bartnzgsy and his team have actually perfected the Space Rail! You know what this means!” “I most certainly do,” said one of his colleagues who was sitting in front of him. “We now own the universe!

The noise died down when a tall, thin man dressed in a metallic colored smock walked out into the giant room and held up his hands. “My esteemed colleagues,” he began. “Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to attend today’s initial demonstration of the Space Rail. As all of you are well aware, this has been an ongoing project for the past three hundred and twenty seven years, when the Federation first tasked our foundation to find a way to transport matter from one point to another. Their belief was that if this feat could be accomplished, we would own the stars. It was only a dream at the time, but sometimes dreams come true, and what you have just witnessed here today is the beginning of a new era in our quest to explore the universe.” There was a huge eruption of applause that went on for several minutes. Dr. Bartnzgsy finally held up his hands to silence the jubilant throng. “Fellow colleagues,” he continued, this limited success does not guarantee that we will have a finished product for years to come, but it is a start on the right path. We have made the breakthrough that our ancestors were hoping to find decades ago. The device is in its infancy and certain flaws will have to be corrected before we are able to install the units on our outgoing spacecraft. Once that happens, we will be able to go to the far reaches of the galaxy and beyond, erecting the rails on each moon and planet as we go; rotating our crews; no longer having to send only single people with no family and convicted felons on a one way journey” The crowd erupted again; a standing ovation. People were slapping each other on the back, whistling, shouting at one another in jubilation. Again, Dr. Bartnzgsy held up his hands and the quieted the crowd. He walked over to a strange looking, silver colored, tube like device and put his hand on it. “This my fellow colleagues is both the transmitting device and the receiving device.” Then he walked across the cavernous room and laid his hand on another similar device. “This device is exactly the same as the other one. It takes two of these to transport matter from one point to the other. The basic principle is that once the matter is placed inside the chamber, the structure of the atoms are rearranged in such a manner that they are free released and transported across space on a beam of Seri-Light to the other receiver, where they are reconstructed into a solid mass. That is only a simple explanation of the process, but I think you can understand the basic principal. A hushed roar filled the room and several people started asking a blitz of questions. “Dr. Bartnzgsy what do you mean by…” He held up his hands, “Please hold your questions for a few moments. I will be glad to answer them in an orderly fashion in just a short while; let me proceed.”

“Six days ago, we made our first breakthrough when we successfully transported a coin across this room from this chamber to this chamber,“ he said pointing toward both devices. As you can imagine we were quite ecstatic. Then we tried it with a Donjong,” he was interrupted by someone blurting out from up above “Why a Donjong Dr. Bartnzgsy?” With some slight irritation, Dr. Bartnzgsy hesitantly answered the wayward question. “Because a Donjong is the most intelligent and closet animal to a human being known in our poorly explored part of the galaxy. We felt that if a Donjong could survive the experiment, then so could a human being. “Now, as I was saying, we tried the experiment with a Donjong and it worked. The animal simply dematerialized here, and rematerialized over there,” he said, pointing at the other device. “We tried it several times, and it worked to perfection. At that point, we knew that the Space Rail was an actuality!” More applause and cheers filled the giant room.

 

“Please hold your applause for a moment, he continued, wiping his brow, “There is something the team and I discovered while making adjustments to the rail separator; something gigantic; totally out of the realm of our comprehension. And,“ he paused for a few seconds and surveyed the crowd above, “we might have caused a serious problem as a consequence of it.” He could hear loud murmurs and whispers, “serious problem, comprehension, gigantic,” “Please,” he said again, “let me explain.” the crowd hushed. “We wanted to find out what would happen if the dematerialization process was either slowed down, or accelerated, so, we made some adjustments to the to the ionization chamber and decided to slow the process down. Again, we placed a coin in the chamber and it de-materialized at a much slower rate, but it never re-materialized in the other chamber. We waited for over an hour, but it never did re-materialize, so out of sheer desperation, we decided to send a Donjong, since it has such a keen sense of smell, to see if it could find the coin and bring it back. I admit, this was a gamble, because if the coin did not come back, why would the Donjong come back, but as you can see, he is standing here with me.” He affectionately patted the big green Donjong on the head. “Where did it go!” came shouts from the throng up above. “Hold on, let me finish. We sent the Donjong four times, and he was always gone for one hour and twenty seven minutes, but, he never returned with the coin. We don’t know if he was simply floating as particles across the Seri-Light beam, or if he actually went some place. My fine colleagues, it is our belief, that not only have we invented a way to send matter in our own time, but possibly somewhere in time! The roar from above was deafening. At this point, we do not have any fool proof answers, only theories and speculation, just like most of you are formulating in your heads right now. The main issue at hand right now is that we must get that coin back, because if it did happen to go somewhere in the past, there is no telling what it might due to alter our present time. So, I have conferred with all of my team members, and we have come to the conclusion that someone, other than a Donjong needs to be sent through the Rail to find the coin and bring it back, if at all possible. We theorize that if it did go back in time, then it should not be too hard to find since it has a bit-spec implanted in it, and that it should be located right here where we are standing, but sometime in the past. We just can’t figure out why the Donjong came back and the coin did not. Anyway, since I am the team leader, and take full responsibility for this project, I have volunteered , under much protest from my team, to make the journey.” There was a gasp from up above, and much excitement. It was as if an electric current had been run through the entire throng of scientists. Some where shouting all sorts of questions, others where shouting among themselves; it was mass ciaos.

Dr. Bartnzgsy walked over to the Space Rail, waved at the thundering crowd, and entered the ionization chamber, disregarding all of the commotion going on up above. He smiled and nodded at the technicians, then, he slowly de-materialized and was gone.

He appeared just outside of the old Haaswood store totally unnoticed by anyone except for an old crippled goat by the name of Minner Dote, who lived in a small clearing beside the old building. He stood there for a few moments staring at the creature, in the cold drizzling rain, trying to get his bearings. “Where is this he thought to himself? Look at that poor creature, damn, why didn’t anyone fix its leg?” He stepped into the old building and looked around. “My God, look at this place!” Shaking his head in disgust, he pulled a small device from his pocket and said “location bit-spec zippa4” A hologram image of a map appeared in mid air, which pinpointed the location of the coin. “Hemm,” he mumbled to himself. “One point eight miles from here. It should have been right here. Now how in the devil am I going to get there dressed like this,” he thought, as he wandered farther into the trashed out building that Charlie has so hastily departed just short while ago.

He made his way across the semi-dark, filthy room, and peeked into what had once been an old storage closet, where he spotted an old painters’ jacket covered with dried paint and grease, laying amongst the litter. “What a strange piece of clothing,” he thought. “I wonder what it was used for?” He also found a filthy pair of dark brown pants that had two inch cuffs, half buried in some rotting trash in the very back. They had some type of foul smelling excrement on them that almost made him gag. He put the garments on, and made a fast retreat out of there.

Once he had exited the building, he turned and marveled at the beauty of the old structure. “I wonder who built this, and when? Who were they, and where is this?” He had so many questions, but not enough time to dwell on them. He turned and started walking at a fast pace down the tree shrouded lane. The cold drizzle felt good, as it matted up on his pale face, and the air smelled wonderful; full of thick, strange, pungent odors of plants that had long ceased to exist in his world, smells that he could not recognize. But there was one smell that stood out above all the others. It was the hint of wood smoke hanging in the misty air coming from distant fireplaces. “God that smells good!” he thought to himself. “I wonder what it is?”

He had almost reached the side street, which cut back into the residential neighborhoods, when an old, faded blue pick up truck, carrying lawn mowing equipment turned onto the road. There was a blue cloud of smoke trailing behind it and one of the headlights was burned out. He watched it approach, slow down, and almost stop as it inched it’s way by him. “My God! Look at that thing,” he said out loud. “I think it was called a truck. I remember seeing one in the Vacca museum. Can you believe it!”

He had forgotten to button the painters coat, so his metallic colored smock was in plain sight of three ogling lawn boys who were riding in the truck. “Hot damn, Joe Bob would you look at that!” one of the wild eyed lawn boys shouted as he spewed tobacco juice all over the windshield. “Halloween is Monday podnuh!” he shouted out of the window, almost choking on the huge wad of tobacco in his mouth, as the old truck passed him by. He could hear their loud excited voices as the truck went on down the road and faded into the mist. Something about a “weirdo”, but he couldn’t quite make sure.

“Okay,” he thought, as he buttoned up his jacket, and turned onto the side street. “That was foolish of me not to button my coat. I suppose I looked like I didn’t fit in. I wonder what that Halloween business was all about, and what in hells blazes was in his mouth?” He entered the residential neighborhood, his mind racing a mile a minute, and tried to look as inconspicuous as possible considering the circumstances. “What strange dwellings,” he thought as he glanced down at the small device on his wrist to see if he was still on track. Luckily for him, it was such a miserable day, most people were staying indoors, otherwise he would have drawn quite a bit of attention from the upscale residents of the well manicured neighborhood. However, in spite of the bad weather, he was spotted by a few people, who wondered why such a scurvy looking character was wandering through their neighboorhood. One of these residents was old man Sikes, who was out fiddling around in his garage, when he spotted the stranger approaching. Sikes was a busybody, who liked to wag his toungue and gossip behind peoples’ backs. He just couldn’t get his eyes off of the stranger, and was so captivated by him that he tripped over the edger cord and went sprawling out onto the driveway, ripping his pants and tearing a hole in his right knee. Blood flowed down his leg like a river, quickly soaking through his pants and socks. He slowly got to his feet, all the while shouting out all sorts of blasphemies that could be heard for blocks.

By the time old man Sikes got to his feet and brushed himself off, the stranger was even with his driveway. “Who are ya!” Sikes shouted. Several neighbors started peering out of their blinds to see what all of the ruckus was about. “Ya got no business around here! Dr. Bartnzgsy stopped and looked in amazement at the cantankerous old man. “Are you addressing me my friend?, he said in a very soft and mellow voice. “The poor old boy is suffering from acute psychoneuroses,” he thought. Old man Sikes was so caught off guard by the gentle reply that he couldn’t utter a word. “He needs some help,” the doctor thought as he made his way up the driveway. “You’re bleeding. Here let me take a look at that, he said, bending down to take a closer look at the nasty cut. He pulled a small, flat, oval device out of his smock and held it over old man Sikes’ wound. There was a brief deep violet flash, then, the wound was healed, no pain, no bleeding. Old man Sikes took his eyes off of the grizzly looking stranger and looked down at this knee. “Huh,” he grunted “What in the hell! How’d you do that! Who in the hell are ya mister?” “There, your good as new,” he said standing up. “No time for questions my good man; must be on my way now,” Then he looked deep into the old mans’ watery, faded blue eyes, turned and walked back down the driveway. Old man Sikes wandered back into his garage and wondered how he had torn his pants. He felt good, really good. He felt love for everyone, even his nit picking wife. It was going to be a great rest of his life.

As he made his way on down the neighborhood, he noticed that the dewllings became smaller and less maintained, but still very neat. Then, to his surprise, something resembling a Donjong ran out from behind one of the dwellings and tried to speak to him, but he could not understand what it wanted. It walked on four legs and was jet black, not green like a Donjong, but it did look similar to him. “Marvelous,” he thought, “what a beautiful beast.” It continued to pester him until he heard a distant whistle, then the Donjong like thing suddenly turned and ran in the other direction. He watched as it faded down the street and got lost in the mist. Then he glanced down at the location device in the palm of his hand “Not much farther,” he thought, “Should be there in about fifteen more minutes if I’m lucky; just have to keep up the pace that’s all, so he headed on toward his destination.

 

Over the next fifteen minutes he saw many things that he did not recognize, but what really baffled him were the tiny boxes on poles in front of each dwelling. And when he did finally reach his destination, at a tree shrouded dwelling, one of the tiny boxes was out front. He briefly stared at it for a moment not comprehending what he saw, “WAREING 912 N. DAVID. “I wish I had one of our linguists with me,” he thought, as he turned and walked toward the house. By the time he reached the front porch, he was shivering. The mist had turned into a steady cold rain and had soaked him to the bone. “The coin is in there,” he thought, as he stood there looking at door wondering what he was going to say. “No time to dwell on it; time is very limited now,” he thought, as he knocked on the door.

Charlie was in the back of the house, still sitting at the kitchen table, when he heard the knock at the door. “I knew it!” he shouted, jumping up from his chair. “Its them!” Those dirty scoundrels. I’ll teach them a lesson or two!” He went racing throught the living room and jerked open the front door in anticipation of seeing Art and Benny, but was totally unprepared for what was standing there. He was speechless, “Oh my God!” He thought, looking at the dripping wet vagabond staring him in the face. “It followed me! It really did follow me! That pale melon looking face, and sunken red rimmed eyes, hideous!” He was just about to turn and run when the ghastly stranger spoke, using the same soothing, gentle voice that he had used when speaking to old man Sikes. Actually, he was not speaking at all, but sending telepathic thoughts that made Charlie believe he was talking to him. “Please don’t be alarmed by my appearance. I assure you that I mean no harm.” Ha, ha, whooo,” are you,” he stuttered. “Wha, wha, do you want?” “May I come in?” Charlie wasn’t so sure he wanted this grizzly character anywhere near his house let alone in it, so he used his wife as and excuse. “I don’t think so, my wife is pretty sick and can’t be disturbed.” “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” said the stranger very sympathetically, “but I believe you have something that belongs to me.” “Belongs to you? Are you kidding, what could I possibly have that could belong to you? I have never even laid eyes on you until right now.” “Did you by any chance find a coin recently? “Well, yes, but I find a lot of coins when I walk.” “This particular coin would be very different from any coins that you might be familiar with.” “I did find a trick coin earlier this morning that some of my friends planted as a prank.” “May I see it?” Very hesitantly, Charlie said “Yes, I guess so, come on in, but please watch your step, the living room is cluttered with all sorts of stuff. They entered the kitchen and Charlie picked up the coin that was laying on the table and handed it to the stranger. “Here, I’m sure this can’t be what you’re looking for. It’s a trick coin, that I believe my friends planted, but you are welcome to look through the rest of the stack, or, he pointed under the table, through those cans. “There will be no need, this is the one I am looking for! Thank goodness“, he said squeezing the coin tightly in the palm of his hand. “Huh,” said Charlie, but before he could question the stranger further, he heard Sonnie’s pitiful voice calling to him from the back bed room. “Sorry, but I have to go check on my wife,” leaving the stranger standing there in the kitchen with the coin in his hand. Charlie did not take time to dwell on what had just taken place; totally putting it out of his mind. The only thing he could think about right then, was that Sonnie needed him, and that is what mattered most.

+

“Hi honey, how are you feeling,” said Charlie, as he bent over and kissed her on the cheek. “Not very good,” she whispered. Her skin was cold and clammy; little black blisters had poped up on her swollen lips. “Please get me some water.” He reached over to grab her water bottle on the pill infested night stand when he spotted the stranger standing at the foot of the bed. “Who is that?” Sonnie whispered. “Why is he dressed like that?” Charlie whirled around “What are you doing in here!” he practically shouted. “Can’t you see that my wife is sick! Why don’t you go back out into the kitchen until I am through in here” “I am truly sorry for the intrusion, but my time is extremely limited.” “Your time!” Charlie shouted. “What about my wife’s time! Can’t you see that she in dying! She is the one in this room whose time is extremely limited, NOT YOURS!” Tears were flowing down his cheeks. “Just take that damn coin and leave, please!”

The stranger walked over and laid his hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “Thank you, and I mean it from the bottom of my heart, but before I leave, I would like to do something out of sheer gratitude. I’m not sure what impact it might have on the future, but whatever it is, it probably won’t make much difference.” He reached into his smock and pulled out the odd looking device that he had used on old man Sikes. He placed it on Sonnies” chest and there was a deep violet flash. Almost immediately her color returned and the hideous predator that had been eating away at her died. Then, she sat up from her sick bed and stared at the stranger in utter disbelief. “How? Who are you?” “Oh my God!” shouted Charlie, grabbing Sonnie in his arms and hugging her. “Your healed! It’s a miracle! Oh my God! Oh my God!” They were both crying and thanking the stranger as he turned and hurried toward the door. “Where are you going!” they shouted. “Please stay! Who are you! Where did you come from!” He quickly turned and said, “as much as I would like to stay around and chat, I must go. I have very little time left and must get back to that old building.” “Old building,” said Charlie intently studying the strangers features. “You mean the old Haaswood store?” “I don’t know what it is called, but I have to get back there fast.” “Wait a minute, I’ll drive you, come on!” “I would like to come too,” said Sonnie, slowly getting up out of bed. “Sweetie, your still too weak and the weather is terrible out there.” She was a little bit woozy at first, but then her strength quickly returned and she was able to stand. “No, Charlie, I feel fine; really. Whatever he did to me has cured all of my pain and made me feel like I was fifteen again. I want to go with you. I can’t tell you how many times during the past several months that I have laid here on this death bed wishing that I could take one more walk outside, just to feel the cool air on my skin. No, I have to go with you.” “ Charlie gave her another hug and said “Come on, lets go!”

All three of them piled into Charlie’s old Chevy and sped down the street. Sonnie felt glorious, keeping the window down, letting the cool rain bead up on her arm. It felt so good to be alive and well. They reached the old store in a matter of minutes and the stranger hopped out. “What’s the big rush?” Charlie kept asking. “I don’t have time to explain, please drive away from here. I’m not sure what will happen when the cycle occurs.” “Cycle, what Cycle?” said Charlie looking puzzled. “Please, just drive away.” “Okay, if that’s what you want, but our thanks go out to you whoever you are.” And then, Charlie and Sonnie waved goodby, thanked the stranger profusely once again, and drove away. They had just about reached the side road to the residential section when Dr. Bartnzgsy vanished.

Far across time, in the year 4037, Dr. Bartnzgsy stepped from the Space Rail chamber and looked around proudly holding the coin in his hand. He was still in the same cylindrical room that he had left just a short time ago, but to his horror, was greeted by a large moss green Donjong dressed in a metallic smock who patted him on the head and shouted to the throng of Donjong scientists above him. “My esteemed colleagues, I told you that human beings could follow instructions. They are the closest animal to us in the universe even if they cannot speak our language!” The gutter change dropped from Dr. Bartnzgsy’s hand and rolled across the floor.


© Copyright 2017 JOEL FERGUSON. All rights reserved.

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