Jim Wellington

     January 13, 1995.

     Arlen leaned forward on his canes to catch his breath. A very cold, grey wind blew in from the open sea. When the sun dashed out from behind a cloud for a second or two - he nearly jumped at the sight of his own lengthening shadow. He winced, then continued his determined 'walk' along the deserted beach.

     "You've got to do something about that anger before it kills you. It's eating you up inside."  (Also Sprach Frau Doktor.)
     Arlen had stared at her. She was the Psychiatrist, probably the best looking doctor he'd ever had. But each time he remembered that little lecture he thought she was a little more 'clueless'.
     "Anger is all that keeps me going, lady-" he spoke into the wind, then gasped, leaned forward on his canes, and looked around.
     Relief rolled through his head and down his body as if somebody had poured warm, sweet water through him. Not just over his head, but through him. There was no one on the beach who could have heard him shout at his phantom doctor. No one was there to accuse him of losing his grip and talking to himself.
     All he wanted to do, now that it was impossible, was lead a 'normal' life.
     Arlen struggled down the beach at sunset the way he'd been forcing himself to, at least once a day, every day for the last six months. He pushed himself for endurance. He pushed himself to add just a little more speed. Now it was taking him forty minutes to walk half a mile and back. Half the speed any 'normal healthy' man could walk. But he pushed himself, struggled to re-gain the full use of his right leg. He thought he'd been close to that ultimate 'breakthrough' for almost five months now.
     Both hips were screaming in pain. His groin muscles ached. His forearm muscles and tendons burned. Both hands were cramped from gripping his canes. Sweat exploded onto his forehead faster than the cold wind could blow it away. His teeth were clamped so tightly together he knew he'd be having jaw pains again.
     Twenty minutes up, twenty minutes back. Last week he'd thought of himself as the Tylenol poster child (slightly aged, in his mid twenties). This week he'd been shocked by a study that had found that daily use of Tylenol could lead to kidney failure. Why the hell had his doctors told him to use that stuff instead of plain old aspirin anyway?  Were they getting kickbacks?  Or were they just plain stupid, like the rest of the American public, believing any piece of propaganda pushed in front of their faces by energetic, photogenic young men in expensive looking suits?  Or even worse, sexy young women in tight dresses?
     Damn, his belly burned from forcing his leg to move, no matter how badly it believed that it couldn't. This just might be another night when he'd have to soak in a tub of water almost too hot to bear for half an hour or more to coax the pain out of his groin.
     Arlen paused, confronted by a good sized piece of driftwood which had been lying across his daily path since he'd started this self-torture regimen. -Wince, gasp, grit your teeth. Push through the pain. Got it.-  He caught his breath again on the other side of the log. His head threatened to freeze as the extra sweat was carried away by the stiff wind. Less pain than yesterday?  Hard to tell. One obstacle out of the way. Now he could look forward to climbing back over it on the way home. -Wonderful how an object between six and eight inches high can seem like Mount Freakin' Everest.-
     -Bastards. Never walk again?  Never work again?  Bastards.-
     Arlen paused at the end of his usual route to catch his breath and feel the cold. Damp wind. Almost a mist in the air. The kind of dampness that makes you feel the cold more intensely. He looked at his watch. Wow. He'd made it in eighteen minutes.
     His left leg felt less inflamed than usual. His right leg felt its usual pins and needles. Seventy five per cent numb?  He almost thought he could feel a lump of sand in his right walking shoe.
     -Walking shoes?  Why can't the assholes just call them sneakers?-
     He caught his breath and decided to go on, farther than usual.
     The 'improved' section of public beach ended here, where the shoreline had bent around and reached out into the salt water of the bay's territory for thousands of years. Beyond this point there was a 'path' of dry sand. On the water side of the path the thin dried brown of marsh grass shivered in the wind above the mud as dense patches of stiff, broken dead stalks. At high tide that mud would be under a foot a water and the stalks would stand there and freeze, with maybe just a hint of their vegetable existence rising above the icy liquid. If springtime ever returned, those stalks would either become green again or grow again from their roots. He spent nearly a full second wondering why he'd never cared to learn whether beach grass actually dies above ground or just goes dormant and then springs back to life again. -Vegetables don't feel pain, do they?  Lucky bastards.-
     To the right of the path there were reeds. Reeds must be a different species of marsh grass. They were much taller than the grass. They had to be eight feet tall. Flame shaped brushes at the top of each stalk wagged and fluttered in the wind. They were also a slightly yellower brown, woody and hollow. Arlen remembered being cut by their stalks dozens of times as a child. He'd hated them back then. Compared to the human bastards who'd tried to kill him last year they were positively benevolent. And now, as they were whipped back and forth by the cold winter wind, they looked as helpless against their own fate as he felt against his.
     He pushed himself about twenty yards down the path and stood there, leaning on his canes, catching his breath. The path bent back and around from here. He could see Harper's Point, out where this side of the bay reached its farthest into the Atlantic. A blast of cold wind that the reeds would have protected him from a few steps back now hit him square in the eyes.
     His chest trembled. His eyes burned and filled with tears. He wiped his eyes and thought he saw something big and ugly move.
     Nope. Just a rock. It hadn't moved. Tears in his eyes had played tricks with his brain.
     He swallowed. The wind was "wicked" today. But he loved it. Even this cold, it raised his spirits.
     Nothing beyond this point was made by man. There were no hints of civilization for several thousand miles. No humans to pity him or point their fingers in lying accusations. No idiots to tell him to swallow his anger before it killed him.
     Out here it was clean and wild and free. Out here there was no one to forgive and nothing to be forgiven for.
     But then he almost lost his balance and 'reality' struck home again. "Exercise is more effective the longer you keep moving. Don't go window shopping at a mall and try to tell yourself that you've done half an hour of walking. Every second you stand still works against you."  The physical therapist was young, thin and cute. She looked like she'd never even shaken hands with pain. She just stood there and smiled. Dirty old men probably fantasized that if they pushed themselves through more pain than they could stand she'd be happy. She'd drop her lab coat and turn her magic brown eyes on them. Manhood was just a few terrible moments of intense suffering away. Yeah, right-
     Arlen cast his desperate yearning for friendly company to the wind and turned himself around. It was time to struggle back toward home.
     The log wasn't really any easier with the wind at his back, but it felt smaller than usual. He gasped and remembered the dozens of times he'd fallen over it and had to struggle valiantly against his pride and despair to push himself to stand up again.
     He wondered if having the cabin closest to the public beach was a lucky or unlucky quirk of fate. On one side of the door there was a "Beware of Dog" sign. On the other side was the picture of a gun pointed at anyone who might look up at the door, "Hell with the dog, beware of the owner."  So far, he guessed, the double bluff had worked. Nobody had burst through his flimsy door and attacked his helpless, broken body.
     And when he stood at the three torturing steps up to his 'cabin' door it was darker than usual. He had to wait until he was safe in his wheelchair in the kitchen before he could look at his watch and grin while he caught his breath in deep, sharp gulps. A full hour?
     He was, indeed, hungry enough to push himself to make supper right away, instead of waiting his usual twenty minutes to catch his breath and listen to his heart pounding slower until he forgot to feel it any longer.
     And he was almost halfway through breaking the spaghetti stalks in half to toss them into the water he'd run into the glass pan before he remembered, once again, the cautious face of the huge black man in the carpenters' overalls who had talked him into letting his African-American church send a handful of sullen young men out to lower the counters and build more - newer - special low cabinets to hold the 'range top' and the microwave. He'd been scared to death that one of those kids would come back with a baseball bat, kill him and cart off everything he could sell. Being suddenly crippled makes for a fearful new view of the world.
     But then the black carpenter had come back after the job was finished and explained it differently. The kids had been trying to look tough because they were afraid to let their friends know they had a soft spot for Arlen. They all knew they could wake up tomorrow with a bullet in their back and spend the rest of their lives in a wheelchair. Arlen didn't want their pity. "No, it isn't pity." - Well then what the hell was it?
     Arlen winced and gave up once more, trying to think his way through another confusing piece of the puzzle his life had become. He pushed his chair backward to the refrigerator and found the spaghetti sauce where he'd left it. In a few more moments the sauce was sitting in a bowl in the microwave, all set to start heating as soon as he pushed the final button.
     Then he wheeled himself to the radio and turned it on. Hard Rock. He couldn't stand it as loud as he used to like it. But the driving rhythms and the screaming solos felt like the forces that drove his life. They might not exactly be the best things to inspire his admittedly shaky digestive system these days. But maybe they did offer him an extra opportunity for a little exercise as he struck what resembled boxing poses as a band he liked slammed their way through the familiar chords of what he called 'one of their best' pieces.
     He was eating his spaghetti when the news blurb and weather came on. So he propelled himself backward, killed the radio and turned on the CB. Then he ate one-handedly while he held his binoculars up to his eyes.
     Peering through his kitchen windows he caught the first hint of headlights coming around from the city side of the highway and down the beach road. He checked the clock on the radio.
     The mike was on the table beside the plate of spaghetti. The L.E.D. read-out told him he was tuned to the right channel, "Jogger to Preacher Man. Looks like your high beams, that you?"
     "This is the Preacher Man," the deep voice resonated with its usual humor, "How you doin' today?"
     "Not bad, not bad. I went farther than usual this evening, out where the path isn't so well travelled. Twenty minutes more than usual."
     "-Must have been cold out there."
     "Yeah, I loved it."
     "Too cold for my blood."
     "Ah, you should try it. The human body adjusts better than we give it credit for."
     "Yeah?  Well, when your ancestors were shivering in caves up in Europe- mine were sweating in the jungles a couple thousand miles South. You might have resistance to cold in your genes. I don't."
     Arlen grinned. His eyes absently wandered past the discolored spot on the wall where his telephone used to be without even registering that, "Save any souls today?"  His mouth curled into a frown he couldn't hide from himself.
     "Ummmm, a couple. Young boy ran in today, told me his mom was high on dope, and didn't look too good. He took me home with him. Found her in a coma. I called the medics. They told the boy he saved his mom's life. Then we had to fight the police to place the boy with a caring black family instead of keeping him at juvenile hall. I feel good about that."
     Arlen nodded. Then he waved as the Preacher's beat up old station wagon rolled by the cabin's front door, "Spaghetti tonight."
     The Preacher waved back, "Sounds good. I think my wife is probably making chicken and rice again. Low fat, low cholesterol, low salt. Makes me want to sneak out and eat a whole pizza for lunch."
     Arlen watched the tail lights sail on down between the double row of aging 'beach houses', "You tell that young man I'll be praying for him-" Arlen winced.
     "I'll do that," the preacher said, his warm, powerful voice sounded like he believed him, "I'm almost home now- you keep your radio on, don't hesitate to call me."
     Arlen nodded, "Will do- And thank you one more time. I owe you, big time."  He winced as he set the microphone down on the table and continued eating his still-warm dinner.
     This nightly routine was becoming habit. Not that long ago he had to force himself to push himself to his new, lower sink and wash his dishes. It wasn't too long ago he sat facing the ocean and wondered how far out he could wheel himself at low tide. Would it be far enough so his head wouldn't reach above the waves at high tide?
     But the pain of life had changed, slowly, gradually, from intense, overpowering hopelessness to a dull, burned out, lonely routine. He could still remember the day he realized he actually looked forward to the daily conversations with the Preacher. His father had been a complete bigot. You can only listen to nasty comments about whole groups of people before they repeat - rise to speak to your 'wakng mind' in your own inner voice. This time last year he had nothing good to say about the Preacher's entire race. Now it was looking like the only friend he had left was a...n - African American.
     Dishes done, Rock and Roll radio back on, Arlen wheeled himself to the window looking off across to the other side of the bay. City lights in the distance. The neon, the  filigreed lights of the bridge (through the fog on the window) almost made the place look inviting.
     And then anger surged up through him again. He picked up the pad he kept on the table by this window and shuddered as he scribbled his latest caustic memories.
     'Friday night, January- [he had to check the date on his watch].
     'Dear Jenny, [He pictured his sister, on the other side of the state, hustling to clear her dinner table with three kids hanging on to her at once.]
     'I remembered something more today - the way they tried to cut me off from getting Social Security after they tried to kill me in the first place. God. And I remembered more about the 'accident'. Somebody actually sabotaged my safety line. I remembered how hard they tried to call it negligence on my part. The god damned bosses got their buddies to lie under oath to the committee, said I used to come to work drunk more often than not and swore I'd threatened their lives a dozen times each. I couldn't believe they would lie like that. Under Oath?
     'Last night I dreamed I heard them laughing about me, sitting here in this damned chair, helpless, while they continue right along, breaking all the laws of common decency as well as the real laws pf this land.
     'Would I turn them in again?  Of course I would. Would I blow the whistle one more time, even knowing they could manipulate me into this hole?  I mean they tried to kill me! [he underlined that three times]. But yes. I was right. (almost dead right.)  [He grinned and shuddered through his blind anger.]
     'I have to admit, I really wish I was healthy enough to wait in a dark alley somewhere with a baseball bat. Nothing could make me happier than to know that those bastards would spend every waking hour of their lives 'pooping' their pants with the fear that they might turn the corner some day, anywhere, any time, and see me standing there with a shot gun, ready to blow their lying butts to hell.'
     Arlen winced with the pain that shot up his backbone. Once again he relived the fall. Sixty feet. It could have been more. They'd tampered with his belt. They switched belts while he lie there, semi-conscious. It had taken him so long to figure out that that's what they'd done. They sent someone up the stack to remove the broken end of his belt, where he'd secured it, and switched the belts around his broken body so nobody would ever know they'd tampered -  just what exactly could they have done to the belt?  Dripped some acid on the leather?   But one thing he would never stop hearing was that voice in his ear, "Go to hell, whistle blower."
     He'd thought he should have been treated like a hero. He'd thought that a vast majority of the people in this world were honest and cared about following laws and safety rules. Now he felt his brain sizzle and burn any time he thought about that whole crazy issue.
     But his ex-bosses and their lackeys thought he was going to die there. They hadn't counted on a custodian being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now Arlen heard rumors that the bosses were trying to drive the custodian into quitting. Push the man until he snaps. Last Union custodian on the payroll since the hiring freeze they engineered 'forced' them to hire only temps. If they can get rid of him they can contract out. The things these bastards do for a buck...

     "Bap bap bap bap bap bap bap!"  The noise made him jump.
     "Huh?" his pad of paper was on the floor. The pen was down there too, out of reach. He'd have to climb out of the chair and-
     "Bap bap bap bap bap bap!" somebody was knocking frantically at his door.
     "Woa-" he shook the cobwebs out of his head, "I must have fallen asleep-"
     He spun his chair around and pushed toward the door, hitting the radio's off button on the way. The clock read, "11:45".
     He opened the door. A woman stood there, looked like the young mother from across the street. She looked terrified. Gun shots rang out somewhere close.
     The woman pointed and stuttered- "Thuh The- They're chasing some kind of monster around the beach."
     Arlen's first impulse was to laugh. Then he heard three more shots, closer. A noise something like the 'War- Cry' of a chimpanzee electrified the air around him.
     He shook his head and the woman was gone. The door was wide open but the woman was nowhere in sight.
     And his head was splitting. And, as he rubbed his temples he saw the clock again, "11:59".
     He heard a woman moan.
     Without thinking, he was up and out of the wheel chair and out the door.
     She was lying, twisted around, where she'd fallen from his porch.
     As he wondered how she'd gotten there, what she was doing there, echoes of his own injuries flashed through his head, he knelt beside her and felt along her spine for any obvious irregularities. She moaned again, and then opened her eyes. She tried to move, "What happened?  What am I doing here?"
     "Don't move-  can you feel your fingers and toes?"
     She thought about it and then nodded.
     "Can you move them?"
     She looked up into his intense face and wondered why moving her fingers and toes was so important, but she tried, and wiggled her fingers and curled her toes inside her shoes, "No problem."
     He was sweating golf balls, she covered her mouth, "Oh, is this how your injury happened?"  Her eyes widened in terror.
     Then he heard the sirens. Then he heard the CB radio squawking with a real sense of urgency, "Preacher Man to Jogger, Preacher Man to Jogger-  You got your ears on buddy?  CAN YOU HEAR ME?"
     And he ran up the stairs, grabbed the mike and pushed the button, "This is Jogger, I'm okay. There's a woman, she fell down my front steps."
     "We've been calling you for fifteen minutes. Didn't you hear us?"
     "Fifteen minutes?"
     "Did you hear gun shots fired?"
     "Gun shots?"
     "You okay, buddy?"
     "Okay?  I guess so-"
     "I'm on my way. I'm in my car. Be there in a minute or so."
     In a few seconds the flashing lights from half a dozen police cars were blinding him as he covered the woman from across the street with a blanket from his couch.
     "Was she shot?" demanded a police officer with her gun drawn (aimed at the ground, off to the side a bit).
     "Shot?" Arlen stared at the officer, then shrugged as he shook his head, "I think she just fell."
     The officer relaxed, stepped aside and somebody else blinded Arlen with the world's brightest flashlight, "Are you feeling all right sir?"
     Arlen nodded.
     "What year is this?"
     "Uh-" Arlen blinked a few times, he'd been through this kind of thing before, he winced, "1995?"
     "Can you tell me your name?"
     "Arlen Lambert."
     "Do you live here?"
     "Here?  Yes."
     "Did you hear any gun shots?"
     "Gun shots?" he stared away from the flashing lights, they were hurting his eyes something fierce. Then he shrugged and shook his head.
     "This man's in shock-" somebody said and one of the police cars became an ambulance and two cops had white uniforms and bright orange coats. They led Arlen over to their vehicle and sat him down beside the woman from across the street.
     Then the Preacher was there, "Arlen, how'd you get here?"
     "He walked."
     "You helped him...?"
     "No, he walked under his own power."
     "You're sure about that?"
     Then the cops walked three very disoriented guys in from the beach. They were all gasping and staring at their empty hands like there was something wrong with what they saw or didn't see.
     The woman police officer had her gun holstered and she was talking into her walky talky, "-Yes sir, we found nothing. No evidence of fire crackers, no guns. Just three men on the beach who claim to be local residents. They were walking around in an obvious state of disorientation. They all swear they haven't taken any drugs but none of them can tell us how what they were doing on the beach or how or when they got there. And they're all staring at their hands. We also have a woman who apparently fell from a neighbor's porch, and that neighbor, who are also showing signs of deep shock. The paramedics are here. They have their hands full."
     Arlen got up and walked toward his house. The Preacher's eyes widened and his mouth fell open.
     Arlen stood at Harper's Point and stared into the wind. He no longer felt the cold. What he felt was 'confused'. He'd traded in his rage for self-doubt. Was he crazy?  Had he imagined his injuries?  He had notebooks full of vindictive rantings. When he read those pages he vividly remembered the days he'd written them. He remembered pain very well. But he couldn't remember any cure. Had he dreamed it all?
     He'd been through a series of medical tests since January. The results baffled everybody. It was like he'd never been injured. Arlen's right femur had been pinned back together in three places. Now his X-rays showed a perfectly formed bone with no sign that it had ever been fractured. He walked with a limp that was so slight that many people who had never known him before didn't notice it at all.
     But he couldn't sleep. He'd spent three months constantly exhausted. Every time he just about fell asleep he'd dream he saw a shadow and wake up immediately in a shaking fit.
     His psychologist suggested hypnotherapy.
     Arlen didn't want anything to do with that.
     He also could no longer stand Rock and Roll music at all. He listened to classical music. He preferred baroque, listened to that whenever he could find any. And even that drove him up the wall once in a while.
     He walked home shivering from some inner prompting that had nothing to do with the temperature. Good thing it was cold enough to justify that.
     It was a Thursday night in early April. Arlen had been pacing between his kitchen and the 'living area' since he'd gotten back home from his walk. (Two hours ago.)
     He'd turned the radio on and off half a dozen times in those two hours. This was definitely one of those nights when even Dubussy could send him up the wall.
     The wheelchair was still one of his most used pieces of furniture. It'd been a high end model with a high, adjustable back. Since he'd added the five and ten cent store 'lumbar support' pillow (plus the thick heavy cushion with the handle that came with it) the chair was almost as comfortable as a good recliner. And the leg supports could be adjusted until they were nearly horizontal. He usually kept it aimed more or less at the kitchen windows. He was always ready to sit in it and shoot himself toward the CB or the radio (or the telephone, now that he was back in the good graces of the phone company). Since he'd moved his bed back upstairs he had plenty of room to do his pacing without worrying about falling over the wheelchair.
     He also had a real reclining chair that faced the water. But he hadn't sat in that all day.
     His Security Guard uniform hung from one of the ornately turned posts that supported the banister where it followed the stairs through their turns on the way up and out of sight. It still bugged him that he'd had to lie to get the job. "No, I've never been treated by any kind of psychiatrist or psychologist."  And every now and then he'd spend one of his twelve hour weekend shifts scared to death that he just might sit down or fall down and sleep for the first time in months. He was more worried that one of his old bosses or new supervisors might find him asleep than anything else. The building he guarded every weekend wasn't exactly the kind of place any self-respecting criminal would want to break into. Looking for what?  Industrial secrets?  A pile of sweepings from around the lathes? He had to diligently keep a 'log book' to record the times in and times out of every person who came or went. Sometimes he thought that the company that hired him just wanted somebody there to keep track of which of their office employees were actually coming in to do the work they were expected to do off the clock during the weekend. That was a 'you-know-what full of shit.' He grinned.
     He couldn't hang on to his anger like he used to. He couldn't afford to. A little bit of anger would deplete... something... in his brain (or was it his mind?) and he'd find himself besieged by minor anxieties (mostly a kind of nagging fear that he'd fail to keep up his appearance of sanity) for hours. He couldn't afford the anxiety. He had better things to do than worry that anybody might walk through the door and recognize him as a neurotic whether he wore a dark blue uniform and a badge or not. At least they never asked him to carry a gun.
     But then, the long NPR evening news came on and he never had any problem listening to that. News of atrocious behavior in foreign lands kind of reassured him that the U.S. hadn't yet become the hell on earth it seemed to want to become lately.
     And when the news was over it was time to turn off the radio, turn on the CB and watch for the headlights. Most cars turned on to the road that ran by his house from the parking lot at the beach. Most of them got to the beach parking lot from its other entrance, farther out in the suburbs. The Preacher always came down the little used road from the highway after driving from his inner city store front church 'mission'. Any car coming from that direction around this time almost had to be the Preacher.
     He'd learned that the Preacher was an early morning- shift dispatcher for '911', and then ran his store front church (five days a week) from noon until seven. From seven in the evening to seven in the morning a 'real' ordained Minister was there, teaching Kung Fu and preaching an evangelical 'gospel' that borrowed extensively from a lot of different religious traditions. (The Minister kind of preached empowerment by wearing three piece suits and fashionable ties, carrying on a kind of guerrilla theater with manners as refined as possible without satirizing manners themselves. The Preacher was laid back, the kind of man who would putter around in overalls seven days a week if he could get away with it. His unspoken message to everybody was, 'Just be yourself and God will be proud of you.')
     Since Arlen hadn't slept in so long, time had kind of distorted itself, dragged itself out to the point where everything around him moved in a permanent slow-motion. One of the scarier side-effects of this happened when people began looking and acting like cartoons of themselves. As he thought about the two dedicated religious men they took on their cartoonish persona in his mind. 


     The Minister danced around a golden cane, tipped his top-hat and started singing something that could have leaped from  Rogers and Hammerstein musical. When Arlen pictured the Preacher ambling along in his overalls he could almost hear him singing "Old Man River". He shuddered. Then he wondered if he hadn't been a prisoner of this bizarre state of mind too long. Wasn't it long past time for a reprieve?
     And then the headlights cut through the darkening evening with just the right pattern and speed and Arlen grabbed his mike, "Jogger to Preacher Man, that you?"
     "That's me, buddy, how you doing tonight?"
     Arlen shrugged, "About as well as can be expected."
     "You up for company tonight, buddy?  I got my friend with me. The one we talked about?"   The Preacher's voice carried a heavy, 'you change your mind now and you'll be sorry' undertone.
     Arlen gazed into space for a small eternity, "I'd forgotten all about that. Yeah, I'll try anything about now."
     "We'll be there before you know it."
     "Your friend want coffee or tea?"
     "She says tea sounds just fine."
     Arlen grinned, "Water's already on. We'll go through the choices when you get here."

     He came to the door in his wheelchair, thinking again of the bare spots where the 'Gun' and 'Dog' signs used to be. The Preacher smiled and swept his arm forward, indicating to the woman with him that she should precede him through the door.
     She was a white woman. That threw Arlen for a loop. Plus, she was quite attractive, with a lot of fashionably curled brown hair and amazing blue eyes. She looked like someone who would feel a whole lot more at home in a singles' bar than a church. And then she twitched uneasily when she got a good look at him.
     The Preacher introduced her as she stepped up into Arlen's kitchen, "Arlen, this is Cheryl Davis."
     Arlen nodded, stood up out of the chair and shook her hand as she offered it to him.
     She registered a little more shock when he stood up.
     The Preacher climbed up into the kitchen while they were still shaking hands.
     "Pleased to meet you, Arlen," she said with a (shocking) southern accent, then she turned to the Preacher with a crooked smile and turned back to Arlen with her smile more evenly balanced, but still reflecting a bit of shock, "I must admit, when I saw you in the wheelchair I thought that Jacob might have exaggerated that miracle cure of yours, and then when you stood up you shocked me again..." She smiled, "You're just full of surprises, aren't you?"
     Arlen shrugged and blushed, then nodded, "Well, you're a whole lot better looking than I expected. You're kind of a shock yourself... We lowered the doorknobs and I haven't gotten around to raising them again," he pulled a chair out from under the kitchen table and turned it with one hand while the other hand gestured toward it.
     She burst into a wider smile, "Who says northern men don't have manners?"
     Arlen frowned as he pulled a chair out for the Preacher, then raised his hand, "Me- I've been accused of being, at least, brutally honest... and that's by my friends. I seem to have enemies who went miles out of their way to put me into that wheelchair."
     "Yes, Jacob was telling me about that. You said the company you worked for tried to kill you?"  She looked like she had a lot of trouble believing that.
     Arlen blushed at the Preacher as he nodded, "You know, this is the first time I heard anyone call you by your name?  Jacob?"
     Jacob laughed, nodded, "Seems almost everybody I know wants to call me 'Preacher'. And I ain't had no schooling in that at all."
     "Jacob's just the kind of man who sees something that has to be done and does it. I don't think he even realizes he's taking on any extra responsibility," Cheryl smiled.
     Jacob sat down.
     Arlen poured three cups of tea.
     They talked about weather and how nice it must be to live on the beach for about fifteen minutes and then Cheryl said, "I guess you know that Jacob's worried about you since you haven't been able to sleep in, what?  Three months?"
     Arlen nodded, "Since the night my leg and back fixed themselves."
     Cheryl nodded, "Interesting story-  I know Jacob told you I'm a licensed hypnotherapist as well as an ordained minister."
     "And a choirmaster on the side," Jacob grinned, then shook his head. He didn't have to say he didn't know how she found the time to be all three.
     Arlen nodded.
     "And Jacob told me that you'd been hypnotized before and you told him that you'd felt the presence of a guardian angel who countermanded a post- hypnotic suggestion?"
     Arlen nodded again, "The hypnotist told me that I would forget a few of the questions he had asked me and this voice whispered in my ear, 'You will Not forget, but you will be able to convince this man that you have forgotten. Never let him hypnotize you again.'"
     "What was the nature of the questions this hypnotist asked you to forget that he'd asked?" Shirleen asked.
     Arlen's jaws clamped themselves together for the first time in almost a month, "He asked me a lot of questions about my background. He wanted to know if there was any schizophrenia in my family. He wanted to know if I'd ever belonged to any subversive groups. This was like three months after the 'accident' that nearly killed me. I still thought it had been an accident up to this point. I hadn't even questioned having a hypnotherapist. I thought that might have been part of a normal procedure for anyone who had been told that they would spend the rest of their lives in a wheelchair. But this guy asked me about things that had happened just before and just after the accident that I hadn't paid any attention to... Like the first people to get to me changed the safety belt I'd been wearing. And one guy whispered, 'Go to Hell, Whistle blower- We don't want your kind around here.'  I'd been in and out of it. I was more unconscious than conscious at that point. But when the hypnotist told me that I would forget that and half a dozen specific questions and went on to tell me that I would forget all about anybody changing my belt and anybody whispering anything about whistle blowers in my ear... I mean, after that other voice told me I would remember everything and I would pretend to forget the things I'd been asked to forget, and I would be relaxed and friendly to the man... I laid there in my hospital bed and I was stunned. I had my sister check out that hypnotist and she said the hospital didn't have any hypnotists on their staff. I asked an orderly if I'd imagined the whole deal and he said no, he'd been there when my doctor brought in the hypnotherapist and asked him to leave. My doctor was the company doctor. A little while later, after I inquired about getting another doctor, a representative of the company's hospital plan came out to the hospital and told me I'd run out of benefits and when I said that I'd been injured on the job, it was company policy to keep up the premiums in a case like mine- until I could return to work-  I was told that I would never be able to return to work and that the company had informed the insurance carrier that I'd been injured due to my own gross negligence and they were not going to keep up my policy. They even sent in their high powered lawyers to fight my claim for workman's comp and sent a letter to the Social Security people claiming I was likely to try to put in fraudulent claims."
     Cheryl's eyes dilated and then glazed over as she attempted to keep her reactions to herself. Other than that her face remained warm and smiling, "I've never heard of anything like this before," she said, "I mean about anybody who was hypnotized hearing advice from someone they couldn't see..."
     Arlen blushed, then shrugged, "That was the first and only time I allowed myself to be hypnotized. I had no idea of what to expect."
     Cheryl nodded, "Then are you sure you want to be hypnotized again?  Do you trust me?"
     Arlen looked deeply into Cheryl's eyes. She adjusted her tension down almost below his ability to know it was there.
     Then he looked at Jacob. Jacob was probably the only man he had ever known who never wanted anything out of anyone he met. All Jacob wanted to do with his life was serve his Lord by serving his fellow men and women, any way he could. There wasn't a tense muscle or ligament in Jacob's body.
     Arlen turned back to Cheryl and nodded, "You've got a few preconceived ideas about what might have happened that night. And you don't want me to know about them. But I trust Jacob more than I trust myself."
     Jacob sat up a little taller than usual. He smiled, looking very stunned, then blushed, or at least tipped his head down and grinned an expression just this side of blushing, "You are full of surprises today. Thank you, Arlen, I never expected you to say that!" he shook his head.
     Arlen could almost see the words of the prayer that Jacob muttered, (Thank you, Lord, for letting me know that all of my hard work has not gone for nothing. Thank you for letting me know that this man, who once feared and mistrusted all black people, has come to know me well enough to know that he can trust me. Amen.)
     Arlen nodded.
     "Would you feel more comfortable in the other room?" Cheryl asked.
     Arlen shuddered, and then thought about it. He nodded slowly, "I like looking out to sea. I keep feeling like I'll see something out there that will make everything I've been through make sense."  Then he thought about the times when he was almost afraid he'd see a flying saucer come down and land on his roof. But he didn't mention that. He was already sure that Cheryl was such a well trained observer of body language that she could pick up on the subtle anxieties that fluttered through his mind.
     "Do you want to sit in that chair, or would you feel more comfortable in your recliner?"
     He almost wondered how she knew he had a recliner. But then he realized she could see it from where she was sitting.
     "Either way. Since I've been afraid of my dreams I've avoided the recliner because it is so easy to fall asleep in that chair."  He pictured the low backed couch and hoped Cheryl and Jacob would be comfortable enough. Then he stood up and reached for Cheryl's hand, "Shall we?"
     "Is this an invitation to dance?" she glowed for a moment, took his hand and curtsied in place, "I'd be honored-" then she laughed, "Just forgive me my offbeat sense of humor. So unprofessional of me..." she blushed a little smile and bowed her head again.
     Jacob looked almost uneasy about that.
     "You can explain it away later," Arlen smiled as her touch sent a spark he was sure she hadn't meant to send through his nervous system.
     "Do you have this effect on every woman you meet?" she swallowed.
     Arlen shook his head, "No."
     She seemed pleased about that.
     He walked her to the living room area,  "Would you rather sit on the couch or the recliner?  It's light enough, I can turn it-"
     "The couch will do fine," she settled in and smiled like she was surprised that he would think about her comfort.
     Arlen turned around and was surprised to see that Jacob had pushed the wheelchair into the area ahead of himself, "That recliner sure looks comfortable. If you don't mean to use it, I believe I will."
     Arlen smiled, nodded, "Without your help I never would have been able to recover enough to get a job and buy it. Be my guest."
     Jacob and Arlen bowed to each other and took their seats.
     Cheryl used a straightforward approach, "...You are entering a deep deep sleep. Your eyelids are so heavy-"  And her voice was perfect, "A deep deep sleep. You can hear nothing but the sound of my voice..."
     "It is Friday night, January 13th... Where are you?"  Shirleen asked.
     "I'm in my cabin."
     "What are you doing?"
     "I'm writing a letter to my sister. She won't want to read this."
     "Why not?" Cheryl asked.
     Arlen shook his head in his hypnotic sleep, "Too negative, too much anger."
     "What are you writing about?"
     "I'm telling her that I've figured out one more piece to the puzzle of what happened to me at work. I don't like it. Somebody really tried to kill me and they almost got away with it."
     "Something unusual is about to happen, isn't it?"
     Arlen nodded, "Yes."
     "Tell me how it happens."
     "I'm writing the letter when suddenly I see a shadow. There's someone here."
     "Who is it?  Can you see this person's face?"
     "I turn to see who it is and-" Arlen gasped, "It isn't human."
     "What is it?"
     "It looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon."
     "The movie?"
     "Is it there to harm you?"
     "No," he shook his head.
     "How do you feel?"
     "Scared."  He looked like he was raising his sleepy head to see something he hadn't expected, but he didn't look scared.
     "What is this creature doing?"
     "He is raising his hands, he's got webbed hands, he doesn't speak, but I hear a voice."
     "What does this voice say?"
     "He says, 'Do not fear me, I mean you no harm-' [Arlen nodded] I can feel that..."
     The creature was slightly tense. It was obviously not happy about dealing with humans. Arlen wondered how he knew that.
     -"My name is T'Jie, I am a Protector of my people. Are you Arlen Lambert?"
     Arlen nodded.
     -"Did you work at the Nuclear Power Facility on the other side of the bay?"
     Arlen nodded, "Yes."  He tried very hard to hide the fact that he was trembling out of control. The palms of his hands were so wet they were spreading circles of dampness on his pants' legs (where he kept his hands nearly immobile). His arms were so tense the muscles burned.
     -"And you were nearly killed because you spoke to your boss and called the regulatory commission about the radioactive water that was being pumped out into the bay, illegally?"
     Arlen looked away and blinked a few times as he nodded.
     T'Jie 'spoke' again, -"They have tried to hide your own truth from you. You have been drugged and hypnotized. I can see this."  T'Jie raised his hands and held them near Arlen's head. A feeling like warm water rolled through his mind. He remembered standing in the plant manager's office, telling the manager that he was beginning to think that some of the 'accidental' spills were much worse than had been previously suspected.
     Then, another time. Same office. Arlen was angry, he'd shouted, "Somebody in this company is deliberately pumping contaminated water out into the bay... It's my job to be sure that this sort of thing doesn't happen. I gave you a report last week. I handed it to you right here, in this office. And now you say that somebody stole it before you got a chance to read it?"
     Arlen gasped. Floods of memory poured back into his mind. The hospital room. The drugs. The damned company doctor was in on this. Their damned doctor... But then he saw the doctor arguing with the manager. The manager had wanted the doctor to kill him. Kill him and lie on the death certificate. The doctor argued that he wouldn't be allowed to fill out the death certificate, this was out of his hands. Perhaps they could handle this another way.
     Then the doctor used drugs and hypnotized Arlen himself, "Listen to me, Lambert. Your life depends on your ability to forget all this. When I count to three you will remember nothing at all about the water being pumped into the bay. You will forget that you talked to anybody about that. You will forget that I was here today. You will sleep for the rest of this evening and into the night. Tomorrow you will wake up refreshed. You will have no memory of any contaminated water being pumped into the bay. One... two... Three..."
     Arlen had leaned back into his wheel chair. He'd gasped at T'Jie, "That really happened?  That doctor hid all those memories from me?"
     T'Jie nodded, -"All this and more. But I have come to ask a favor of you."
     Arlen nodded.
     -"I must stop them from pumping this water into the bay. My people are threatened. You must share with me your knowledge of the plant. What would cause it to be shut down permanently?"
     Arlen felt dizzy, "Those bastards-  I'll help you kill them-"
     -"No-"  T'Jie shook his head, -"This is not my wish. They have sealed their own judgment. Because of their actions, their own future will witness their suffering. I wish not to suffer this fate with them. I must find a way to stop them from poisoning my people without causing harm to anyone."
     Arlen felt his own anger churn in his stomach, "I wish I could forgive them as easily as you do-"  He gritted his teeth and wanted very badly to punch somebody in the face.
     T'Jie nodded, -"I can help you find peace within yourself."
     Arlen was confused by that. He turned his hands palm upward and shrugged, "I don't know how to help you..."
     -"It is sufficient that you wish to try. Think about everything you know concerning the Nuclear plant. I will see your thoughts. I will find a way-"
     Arlen shrugged again. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the wheelchair.
     T'Jie stepped forward and touched Arlen's head.
     Soothing currents of warm, friendly water flowed through Arlen's body and mind. He swam through a submerged version of the entire nuclear facility, even looked inside closets he'd never realized were there.
     -"Your wounds were not deserved. I will correct this."
     -"I have healed your body."
     "How?  Why?"
     -"You find my appearance hideous, yet you opened your heart and your mind to me. You have made my task much easier. I see now how they can be stopped."
     Arlen leaned back and smiled. The constant pain in his back was gone. His leg felt brand new. He turned to T'Jie, "What are you?"
     -"Your kind calls us 'Mer' -  I am a Guardian, and a throw back-  We have managed to live beside you for many centuries. Your men have often hunted us and raped our women. Your religious leaders have called us demons. A handful of your kind have sought out our company. Fewer yet have aided us in times of need. Many of us have developed the powers of the mind that many of your kind once had. In this manner we have been able to hide our presence here. We have used powers of suggestion to convince those who have seen us that we were not there, that they saw nothing. You will remember me, someday. But I must hide your memory deep, for your own protection as well as mine. You will sleep. And when you awaken you will temporarily have forgotten all about me, and everything related to my visit."
     Arlen watched the pad fall from his lap as the pen rolled out of his hand and across the floor, "Thank you-" he said as pins and needles clawed into his skull, "Shut them down good."
     He saw the shadow on the floor nod, -"Yes, thanks to you. I could have taken this knowledge from you without your help. But that would have been difficult. I have already tried to slip into the nuclear plant. There were too many humans and too many cameras. Too many different frequencies of brain waves to block. You have been a great help. Now sleep."
     Arlen remembered the gun shots. He remembered his neighbor from across the street. He remembered the terrible sound that seemed to knock everybody out and wiped out all their memories.
     "Can you tell if he was shot?" Cheryl asked him.
     Arlen shook his head, then winced. He could see T'Jie running on the beach, dodging bullets. He felt an impact, "Yes-  Someone hit him in the arm. Then he screamed and everyone was stunned, unconscious. He was able to heal his own wounds and then ran around and took everyone's guns. He just made it into the water before the first one out there woke up again. Luckily everybody's nerves were so badly shocked that nobody came around with full control of their faculties. Everyone's memories were gone. Even mine. And I wanted very badly to remember..."
     Cheryl was finished. She was much more than stunned, "I will count to three and you will awaken. You will remember everything... One, two..."
     "Wow-"  Arlen opened his eyes and looked at Cheryl.
     She nodded in time with him, "Wow-"
     Jacob snored, then opened his eyes, "Oh, excuse me... I must have fallen asleep. This sure is one comfortable chair."
     Cheryl looked at Jacob and gasped, "What's the last thing you remember?"
     Jacob scratched his head, shrugged, "I remember sitting down and thinking, 'Now, this chair is comfortable, hope I don't fall right to sleep, Arlen's counting on me. I heard you, Cheryl, telling Arlen what to do and then all I heard was voices..." he yawned, "I knew they were you, but I didn't know what you were saying."
     Arlen and Cheryl looked at each other.
     The same thought passed between them.
     Jacob's view of his world would suffer too violent a revolution if somebody tried to tell him that there really were Mermaids and Mermen. And what about the idea that these creatures had the ability to cloud human minds?
     They smiled at each other.
     "Did you two find out anything?"  Jacob yawned.
     "Arlen was visited by an angel, all right," Cheryl smiled.
     "Praise God, I knew it all the time. Praise God," Jacob beamed.
     Arlen reached out and grabbed Cheryl's hand.
     She looked him in the eye, "You are one lucky man."
     Arlen nodded, "How long are you up here for?"
     "How long?  I moved up here for at least five years."
     "Well then we can-"
     "We sure can."
     "You're not-"
     "No, I'm sure enough single, for the time being anyway-"
     When Jacob went to start his car Cheryl hung back and whispered, "How long did it take Tuh-Jie to close the nuclear plant down?"
     Arlen had to think about it, he scratched his head, then grinned, "About two weeks. The radio said that someone discovered a leak somewhere."  He furrowed his brow, then almost laughed, "He must have plugged up the old sewer pipe and let the water pressure build..." he chuckled, "Can I see you again?"
     He shook his head.
     She smiled, "I'll call you."
     "Jacob has my number-"
     She smiled.
     Arlen and Cheryl stood out just beyond Harper's Point, in knee deep water, surrounded by a deep deep fog. She clutched his arm and hand and trembled. He smiled at her and she nearly melted.
     He put his arm around her back and she leaned against him. She was thinking that he had to be one of the most relaxed, warm and positive men she'd ever known. Very relaxed, very supportive, and very brave.
     -"Is it safe?"  T'Jie's mind- voice shook Cheryl's and Arlen's inner cores. Arlen looked around.
     "No one can see us-" Arlen replied, "There is the possibility that someone could be using an infra-red or heat imaging camera-"
     -"I would be able to feel that-  It is safe. Prepare your woman for a shock."
     Arlen grinned, turned to Cheryl, kissed her forehead, "They're here."
     She swallowed and nodded, "I 'heard' his voice."
     T'Jie stood up a few feet from them and walked slowly toward them.
     Cheryl tightened her grip on Arlen's arm and smiled as he casually reached out to shake T'Jie's hand.
     -"You are a brave woman," T'Jie bowed to her.
     The T'Jie turned around, -"Come- It is safe."
     Half a dozen nearly human children stood up out of the water. All were dressed in loose fitting blue tunics and tight fitting short shorts. They looked like they ranged in age from about six to twelve or fourteen. They stepped forward, bowed to the humans and reached out to touch their skin.
     Arlen's scraggly beard particularly fascinated the oldest boy and girl.
     T'Jie introduced them one a time. Again they bowed, this time as they were introduced.
     -"You are doing us a great service, Arlen and cheryl. These six will come to you as we have agreed. They will study your television shows and learn the games that human children play. Perhaps someday your children will learn to swim with us."
     Arlen bowed to T'Jie, -"We'd like that."
     Cheryl bowed, just slightly nervously.
     The oldest girl walked over to Cheryl, trembled for a moment and then extended her arms. Cheryl's smile grew until it was almost too big for her face. They hugged. The younger children flocked around them and added their arms to the tangle.
     The oldest boy looked at Arlen and shuddered. Arlen extended his hand. The boy grinned. They shook hands.
     One of the younger girls walked over to Arlen and stood there, hesitant to reach out to him. She turned to T'Jie.
     T'Jie nodded, -"She asks if you really are the one who volunteered to help me save our community from the contaminated water. She also asks if it is permitted for young females to hug males of your species."
     Arlen nodded, reached down and picked her up out of the water. He hugged her and set her back down. Two of the other children ran over for their own hugs. Then the oldest girl stared deeply into Shirleen's eyes before she walked over and tentatively hugged Arlen. She stepped back, stroked his beard once more and shuddered.
     T'Jie grinned, -"We must go now."
     Cheryl nodded, "You're leaving too soon."
     -"Their parents will worry."
     Chryl nodded, then smiled, raised her hand to wave.
     Each of the children raised one hand. Then they turned and slipped into the water.
     Arlen waved to T'Jie.
     T'Jie waved, bowed, then lowered himself into the water and pushed himself away.
     Cheryl wrapped her arms around Arlen and stood there, shaking for close to ten minutes, "You really are very good with children."
     "Even those with gills?" he laughed.
     She made one of her ('I wish I could pretend that I can barely tolerate you') smiles and then shook her head.
     They walked ashore holding hands.

- 30 -

Copyright © 2001 Jim Wellington & Aerendel Magazine

(page last updated : Friday, 27 August, 2004 2:00)



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