The fire flickered, cutting through a blanket of darkness. The shadows danced along the ground and trees, and the orange flame danced in their eyes. The firewood cracked and popped as the golden ambers flicked in the air.
Anthony looked back at his new friends, trying to fight off the fright from his eyes. His brown eyes gave away his true feelings. He and his brother are new to the area. They all live in the same neighborhood, go to the same school. Only, Anthony chalked it off to shyness when none of the kids in the area wanted to go anywhere near the inside of their new home. The selfish part of himself wondered perhaps if it was his little brothers fault, being different and all. Anthony knew of course his brother couldn’t help being a mute. Other twelve year olds aren’t known for their compassion and understanding.
“You mean, you don’t know?” One of the boys said, a chubby kid, with a round face and rosy cheeks. He looked completely flabbergasted.
“I—I haven’t seen anything,” Anthony replied.
“He’s lying,” one of the other three boys started.
Anthony swore up and down he had seen and heard nothing. His mind had already come up with other explanations. Why bother mentioning it.
“Misses Goose,” Richie, the pudgy one, pleaded.
“I’ve seen her!” Kyle, the third boy, said.
“I hafta’ go home, it’s getting late,” the other boy said. Marty is his name. He always tried to put up a tough exterior, but Anthony saw through the façade.
The forest behind Riches house is very dense and dark; the light of the fire didn’t illuminate much. Marty stood up, breaking the circle around the fire. He kept to his story and headed home. Anthony’s eyes darted to the back of the house. The glow of the kitchen lights could be seen through the windows. It brought a little comfort, as he grew anxious.
“My friends dad told us all about her,” Kyle started. “She used to live in your house. Years ago, before the neighborhood was built. It was all forest. They say her husband went away to fight in a war and never came back, leaving her alone. No kids. She grew into an old lady. They say she went crazy.”
Anthony’s eyes locked on his. He watched as the light flickered in his eyes. There was dead silence around them, aside for the gentle breeze, swaying the tall trees.
“They say in the middle of the night, she walked fifty miles, to the nearest house, broke in, and took two kids while they slept. The parents never heard a sound. The local papers said police looked everywhere for the kids. One boy, and one girl. Seven and Nine. They never found them. Just a piece of clothing from her basement. They never had enough to throw her in jail.”
He stopped talking suddenly, and started listening for a sound in the air. They could hear the sounds of twigs snapping in the darkness of the forest. Anthony strained to peer into the dense darkness of the brush, but to no avail.
“What’s the–” Anthony started.
“Shh!!” Both boys snapped.
They sat in silence, only the billowing of the fire could be heard, and the faint sound of movement far into the forest. They couldn’t tell if it was moving closer or further away. The snapping twigs seemed to echo from all directions. Was it an animal?
They had no intention of finding out. They jumped up and darted towards the house. All three felt the urgent instinct to run, unsure why. The movement in the forest seemed to quicken. Behind every quick step, Anthony felt a presence chasing after him. Like someone was burning a hole in the back of his head, right on his heels. As they reached the open garage, they could have sworn they heard a growl from behind them.
Richie was out of breath as he reached for the door handle, to make their way inside into the kitchen. He tried to turn the handle but it wouldn’t budge.
Panic set in, as he hit on the door, hoping his parents were close enough to hear.
“Do you see that?” Kyle said, monotone.
He pointed toward the trees. All three stopped and peered out to the darkness, to the edge of the forest. There seemed to stand a shadowy mass that stood darker then normal. Blacker then the darkest spots of the forest. They weren’t sure if it was real, or what it was. Richie distractedly slapped the door, his eyes unlocked on the shadow ahead of them.
“Uh…guys?” Richie said.
“Is that real? What is that?” Anthony spoke quietly.
“Guys!” Richie yelled impatiently. “We’re gonna’ have to run around, to the front door.”
All three kids looked at each other, and back out to the trees. The strange shadow remained. It seemed to move, but it could be a trick of the flickering firelight.
“We run on three,” Richie continued.
He reached beside the cement stairs, to the bat that leaned against the wall. It said Louisville Slugger. He gripped it with both hands, and nodded slightly.
“On three,” Kyle agreed.
Anthony grew tense. The butterflies swarmed inside his stomach.
What if I fall, he thought. What if, whatever it is, decides to run towards us?
No, no, no, he thought.
They bolted out of the garage. They turned left, and around to the side of the house. They took no time to look back. Their shadows lay before them, as they paced to the front of the house. Anthony counted the shadows, and could have sworn there were more shadows then people. The light on the front porch came on as they got close. The door opened, Richie’s mom frowning.
“Why are you guys screaming?” She asked. “What’s with the bat?”
They all rambled in unison, indecipherable. She motioned for them to come in.
“You guys had enough, huh?”
They made their way to Richie’s room. They were out of breath, hearts racing. He set the bat down, and all three collapsed in the safety of the house. A few minutes passed before they spoke.
“So why is she called Misses Goose?” Anthony asked.
“Every day, she could be seen by the lake, the one behind the house. She would spend hours feeding the geese. They say, to this day, she can be seen at night, by the edge of the lake,” Kyle said, ominously. “She never had kids of her own. They say over the years many children in the area have gone missing because of her. She grabs them and drags them into the lake at night. Pulls them down to the bottom, never to be seen again.”
“I heard they never found the kids because she fed them to the geese,” Marty added.
“Don’t be silly!” Richie’s mom snapped at the door, as she came in. “Your mom called, Anthony. She said it’s time to head home.”
Anthony gulped as he looked back at the guys. He knew he could see his house from the window. It’s just a cul-de-sac over. If he cut across the neighbors yard across the street, he could make it in no time. He would have to pass the lake. The fear on his face was unmistakable.
“Okay…” was all he could say.
He stood at the front of the house. He said goodnight, and the door closed behind him. He knew once he stepped away from the light of the porch he would have to run as fast as his legs could carry him. He couldn’t deny the fear he felt. He tried his best to dismiss it. He skipped all three steps and bolted across the street. He ran between the two houses, and he could see his house ahead of him. He ran so frantically he forgot to breath. He could hear the grass beneath him as he ran, his ears listening for any sounds from behind him. He made no time for looking back. He could see the little lake out of this peripheral, trying to pay it no notice. The moonlight dancing across the surface, it sat calm and still, unsuspecting. Perhaps these stories aren’t true after all, he thought to himself. The ghost of a lady seen by a lake at night, that’s not a bad deal, he thought.
He made it, unscathed, to the security of his home. He said goodnight to mom and dad, and made his way upstairs.
His room was pitch black as he entered. He felt along the wall, searching for the switch. When the light came on, he jumped at the figure sitting on his bed, before he recognized who it was.
“What are you doin’ in here, bro?” He asked his brother.
Upon further recognition, he saw how upset he was. He had tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Oh my God, what’s wrong?” He worried, sitting down next to him. He touched his arm, and felt his trembling. His brother just stared ahead, eyes almost vacant, his wet cheeks glistening. He clenched something in his hand, Anthony noticed.
“What is this?” He asked.
He had to pry the paper out of his hand; his trembling hands clutched it intensely. Anthony unwrinkled the paper, to reveal some drawings. The first was of a person hanging from a noose. It seemed to be a woman, with long gray hair.
Anthony’s blood felt like ice, and chills ran all over his body. He looked up from the paper towards his brother.
“Where did you see this?” Anthony asked. His voice cracked, his fear showing through.
His brother unresponsive, eyes locked in front, staring off into nothing.
“James, where did you see this?” He asked frantic. He grabbed him by the shoulders, and started shaking him, trying to snap him out of his stupor.
“Where??” he asked, his eyes welling up.
His brother’s eyes moved finally to meet his. James slowly raised his arm out, pointing in front of him, pointing his finger towards the hallway.
“You saw this in the hallway?” He asked, pointing to the drawing.
He looked back down at the paper. He noticed something at the woman’s feet. It looked like a tiny animal.
“James, what is this?”
James opened his mouth, trying to make noise, but nothing coming out. He struggled as if trying to form words, getting no more then a tiny groan.
“Are you trying to talk? Tell me!! What is this?!” Anthony asked frantically, tears coming down his face. It couldn’t possibly be a drawing of who I think it is, he thought. He had never known about it himself. His bother sure as heck wouldn’t.
James struggled to find words, fear stricken across his face. He was as pale as a ghost.
Anthony knew what he was trying to say. He was his brother, after all. He understood him more than anybody. Under the feet of the woman was clearly an animal. Not just any animal of course. It was a goose. Perhaps it sat waiting for her at the lake. Whatever doom sits beneath its surface, he hoped not to know.
The line wrapped around the building and down the sidewalk. There had to be at least a hundred people waiting. The sun was starting to go down, and if they didn’t get in tonight, he didn’t know what he was going to do. Staying another night in that hellhole isn’t an option. The temperature is supposed to drop tonight.
Her little hand tugged on the bottom of his puffer jacket.
“I’m hungry, daddy,” she said.
He looked down at her, her hair pulled back in a little ponytail, her face solemn. He doesn’t see her smile as much of late. He dreams all the time of when she did. He reached over with his hand gently and brushed her cheek.
“I know sweetie. Me too,” he said.
A man behind them kept coughing. He looked down the line, trying to see if there was an end in sight. Her purple and gray winter coat that was four sizes too big won’t be enough to keep the chill of the air out tonight, not with the temperature dropping. Her blonde hair was beginning to look oily, if only they could get in tonight. He hopes for a bed. A shower would be great. They’ve been sleeping the last few nights out side, under the bridge that went over top of six mile road.
A voice called out from the doorway of the shelter.
“We only have room for a few more!” a man shouted with his hands cupped around his mouth, “ is their anyone with children?”
A few grumbles of discontent could be heard throughout the crowd. Some just lowered their head in defeat. The man adjusted the backpack over his shoulder, and motioned for his daughter to hold his hand as they made there way through the line towards the front. He almost didn’t want to believe that he might get in, because if he didn’t, his heart would surely break.
“I have a daughter…”he spoke to the man at the entrance of the shelter.
The man with the gray sweatshirt and black winter hat motioned for them to come in. Relief isn’t quite the feeling. You don’t feel relieved walking into a shelter. He tried not to feel anything.
There were dozens of different beds all over the place. The bed only consists of some pretty badly worn foam over top of metal springs. There’s a lot of quiet movement, dozens of homeless people finding a place to rest for the night. The place smelled heavy with body odor. It sat stagnant like the shame that hung overcast like the gloom of a drab mid-afternoon day. That’s what he felt. Shame. A pinch of sadness.
The man and little girl found a set of bunk beds, to claim as their home for the night. He removed the gray and blue backpack from his shoulder and tossed it down on the bed, the springs squealed. He unzipped the bag and pulled out an old looking quilted blanket and spread it out over the bottom cot.
The little girl sat down on the bed and yawned, as she struggled to take off her coat. The man reached down and assisted her, sliding her arms out of the sleeves.
“Are you tired?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she said.
He peaked inside the bag and pulled out a beat-up looking teddy bear, and handed it to his little girl. It made her smile, no matter what it looked like, and she hugged it tight. They’ve been here several times before, and they knew the drill. In a couple hours the lights go down, and everyone is up pretty early. Sometimes the nights are so long. He never feels fully comfortable going to sleep, as he is so protective of his little girl. It’s the safest place he could really be though, and he knows it.
He sat down on the bottom cot on the edge, as his daughter lay down under the quilted blanket, her head using his puffer jacket as a pillow. She held the teddy up in the air above her, and she made it dance.
He looked down at her tenderly.
“In the morning, I’ll take you some where to get something to eat. Okay?” he said.
“Okay. And Mr. Bear too?” she said, holding the brown teddy bear up towards him.
“Of course,” he smiled.
He leaned down and kissed her forehead three times quickly, and adjusted the quilt over top of her, tucking her in tight.
“You know I love you right?” he said.
“I love you more than anything in the whole wide world.”
“I love you too, daddy,” she said.
He turned his cheek, pointed at it with his finger and asked her to give him one right there. She gave him a peck on the cheek. Get some sleep sweetie, he said.
He picked up the backpack and brought it up to the top bunk, to use as a pillow. The bed wasn’t big enough; he’d have to curl up in order to avoid hanging off. He took his blue zip up hoodie off and stuffed it in the bag. He looked behind him at his neighbor, who sat in his own bed, looking back up at him from the little black book he had in his hand. He’s an older man, with gray hair, and an unkempt beard.
“How’s it goin’,” he nodded at the old man.
He closed the little black book he had on his lap, and scratched his mangy beard.
“Carl,” he said, abruptly.
He looked at the old man confused, as he adjusted his disheveled shirt.
“I’m sorry, what?” he smiled.
“My name is Carl,” he repeated after clearing his throat.
“Martin,” he said, motioning with his hand as if responding to role-call.
He hopped up to the top bunk, which didn’t sit far above the bottom where his daughter slept, and positioned himself. The yellow foam mat did not do much to shield the metal springs that poked underneath. He looked at his fingernails, and noticed the crud that collected there. He would die for the simplicity of a nail clipper. He peaked over and down at his daughter and watched for a moment the rise and fall of her stomach as she slept and laid back down on his back. The way the springs poked, he knew he would be forced to sleep on his back, a way he doesn’t prefer, but it would have to do.
“Hey,” a whisper came from the other bed close by.
Martin looked over and saw the shadowy silhouette of Carl, which was all he could see since most of all the lights had gone out. He was half sitting up from his own bed, on his side.
“Soup,” he said.
Martin listened for a second, waiting for the rest. But Carl had gone quiet.
“I’m sorry, what?” Martin whispered back.
“They have soup over at the kitchen on Third Street.”
“Ok. Thanks,” Martin replied. He didn’t mean to judge, but the old man seemed a little odd.
Martin laid back down flat, and smiled to himself. He lay there looking up at the ceiling, one of the lights close by had a slight flicker; it would burn out soon for sure. Maybe some electrical problem, he thought. The night seemed to regurgitate on and on, endlessly. Time seemed long gone. He was glad to have refuge for the night, but this place was no comfort.
She sat at the kitchen table, an array of papers sprawled out everywhere. Her blue eyes looking even more so as the sun crept in from the window. Emily is her name. Her large gray tee shirt spelled UK across the front. The college her husband had graduated from seven years earlier.
She looked up from the letter to meet his eyes,
“What are we going to do Martin?”
His eyes opened.
He realized he was back on the cot when the metal springs jabbed into his back, the yellow foam holding no comfort.
Just a dream. Though it became a nightmare that he was never able to wake from.
It was still dark inside the shelter. He knew he couldn’t have been asleep for very long. His running mind clings to consciousness with a firm grip. He wouldn’t allow himself to sleep too long, not since everything was shot to hell.
The morning came soon after, and they made their way to the soup kitchen. A hot meal sounded good. And soon after, a hot meal sat before them. The vegetable soup sat, steaming in her spoonful, and the little girl motioned for her daddy to blow on it. The warm broth of the soup felt so comforting going down, its heat warming his innards. When it gets so cold outside, he can feel it all the way through to his bones.
Martin’s mind couldn’t help but wander as he sat in the heated soup kitchen. It has been one year since his wife Emily passed away. The economy had gone down, the factory started eliminating jobs, and his wife got the big “C.” Life is always a bitch that comes in threes, as he’s always seen it. About mid-way through treatment she developed an infection, and her immune system had all been but eradicated. The bills started rolling in, the mortgage fell behind. The truancy officer started calling, when they took his house, and things went from bad to worse.
He watched her take tiny spoon-full sips, smiling through teary eyes, his hand propping up his head. He brushed away a hair that almost went into her spoon. It broke his heart to see her here. It broke his heart even more when he had to tell little Jamie that her mom would go to sleep; only, the kind that she wouldn’t be waking from. He lived and breathed for his little Jamie. If not for her, he may not have made it quite so long.
They started down the street. He knew if they had any hope at all, he would need to find a job soon. Unemployment in town jumped to fifty-eight percent. Maybe catch the first bus out of this place, he thought to himself.
They rounded the corner, and the sound of help was carried by the wind, and it caught his ear. He looked to the left, and between two brick buildings he could see two men kicking a man while he was down. The thought of continuing on his way crossed his mind. It’s not my problem, occurred to him. He hesitated, when his eyes darted down towards his little daughter, a frightened look had crossed her face. What kind of world is she growing up to face? He knelt down in front of her, zipping up her coat, and adjusting it on her. He looked at her rosy-cheeked face, and he knew what he needed to do.
“I need you to stand right here, okay sweetie? Daddy will be right back.”
He started down the alleyway and began to think of all the what-ifs? What if he wasn’t right back? What if he was injured? God damn it what have I gotten myself in to?
They were still stomping away on the man that lay on the ground. The two men had brown coats on, with winter caps, they looked familiar from a previous shelter, he reasoned. They’re both average build, but still, two against one. This wasn’t the best of ideas.
“Hey guys! Leave him alone,” he said, his voice not sounding as strong as he had prepared in his mind.
They spun around and gave Martin the one over.
“This doesn’t concern you, buddy. You need to walk away,” one of them said, with steam from the cold air, rising above him.
“Listen…I don’t want any trouble. But I think this guys had enough.”
They turned, and both walked towards him. Martin would like to say that he put up a good fight. He would like to say, when retelling this story, that he fought the good fight. But after the brick hit him, he didn’t remember much at all.
The next thing he saw was his daughters face, hovering above his. She was mouthing something, but everything seemed foggy.
Finally Martin was able to discern his daughter’s voice, fighting through the haze.
“Hey…I’m okay,” Martin muffled.
It felt like the worst hangover of his life, his eyes squinting from a sun that seemed ten times too bright. He managed to a sitting upright position, and looked around. The ally had been abandoned.
“Are you okay?” he asked his daughter, checking her out, not waiting for an answer.
“Yeah, those men are gone.”
“They didn’t bother you did they?”
Martin got to his feet; his head pounding like an explosion had gone off in his head. The man who he had come to help was long gone. Not to say that he expected a thank you, but geez. He looked over to the end of the alley, back towards the street, at the cars and people walking by.
“The man left daddy. He left you this note.”
He looked at Jamie confused, and grabbed the note from her hand. It read:
“They jumped me for my coat. I thank you so much for your help. As a token of my gratitude, what little I can give you, is this lottery ticket. I haven’t checked the numbers. I wish you the best of luck.”
He hadn’t even left his name. How odd, he thought. On second thought, he never even got a good look at him, to see what he looked like.
They made it to the street, and Martin looked left and right, looking for this mystery man. He wasn’t even sure he would recognize him if he saw him.
“Well honey…I’m sorry about that. There is a lot of ugliness in the world, and I just wanted you to know that some things we can not stand for.”
She never said anything, but she looked at him. She stood there in her big purple and gray jacket that was two times too big. They headed back down the street, with no real place to go. Maybe if the lottery ticket won a couple of dollars that would buy his Jamie a little meal. But he doubted it would be anything.
They walked into the circle k, the door dinging as they walked in. There was no one in line, and the cashier was there waiting.
“Can I help you?” he said.
“Yeah, I was just wanting to check on this ticket, and see if it won anything.”
Martin handed it to the man, and he looked at it, and ran it through this machine.
The cashiers face had gone sheet white, and his eyes very wide, as he looked back at Martin. He tried to speak, but seemed to not be able to find the words.
“Did I get some money?” Martin asked.
The cashier could only acknowledge with a nod. Martin’s face went blank, and expressionless.
“How much did I win?” Martin asked in a monotone voice.
“Uh….all of it…” the cashier responded, flabbergasted.
He handed Martin back the ticket. His eyes scanned down to the bottom to see the printed lines. Enter for a chance to win two hundred- million dollars!
“How much did we win daddy?” her eyes lit up, a smile rising from the corners of her mouth.
He stood there, wordless, motionless for a good minute, unable to find his words. A tear formed and streamed down his face. He looked down at her, and back at the ticket that he held in his hand.
“All of it…” was all he could manage.
He put his hand on the top of her head, and grabbed her and pulled her close to him. He hoisted her up in his arms, and wrapped his arms around her tight. He could feel his heart beating hard in his chest.
“All of it…” he said again. He said it a few more times, over the next few minutes. Eventually he found his words. I never got his name, Martin thought to himself. “And to think, I would have just taken a thank you…”
It sure is a shame that these kinds of things have to happen. But what can you do? Life is a cycle that goes round and round. All things have a beginning, middle and an end when it comes to life. She hasn’t found much comfort in her hard, ole hospital bed. Pretty soon, she’ll be ready. But I haven’t been very hospitable; let me tell you a little about myself.
The name is Curtis Jackson. S’born in South Louisiana. I was a simple man I s’pose. My mama always told me I had a big heart, but a slow mind. My memory is like a bad refrigerator. Can’t keep nothin’. We moved to Kentucky back in nineteen thirty somethin’, when we were deep into the depression. We didn’t want for nothin’ though, because we never had nothin’. Felecia Jackson was her name, my mother. She did what she could. I never knew my papa.
I remember as a kid, not understandin’ some of the hardships we had to go through. But I always had big dreams of making my family proud. The only thing I was ever good at was drivin’. I knew my way ‘round, boy! I could get you anywhere! I drove taxicabs, school buses, limousines, a city bus. I was good too. Sleet, snow, rain or shine! It’s how I made a livin’.
I was a young man with ambition. I couldn’t tell you much about automobiles, but I knew how to move them. And I was always told I was good with people. It was probably about nineteen fifty-three when I started. When I was a young boy I used to shine shoes back in the old barbershop. All the money I ever got I worked hard for. But back in sixty-four I started drivin’ a taxicab. I got to meet all kinds of interesting people.
Rich people, poor people, black folk and white folk. Back when things were a little different, I even had a few people refuse to ride in a cab with a driver of color. I paid them no never-mind though. We didn’t have any of those fancy tracking devices, or those GPS or BLT, whatever you youngsters call those things. I knew my way around town.
It was June thirtieth, nineteen seventy-three. A day I’ll never forget. I was drivin’ through downtown in my sleek yellow cab, when a man I won’t soon forget was hailin’ for me with his thumb in the air. There surely wasn’t anything remarkable about the man at first sight. I glided on over to the curve, as smooth as ever. People don’t just ride with me, they glide with me, I tell you what! I’ll never forget it.
I pulled over to the curb, and he hopped in the back seat. I turned around and gave him a quick smile and I asked, “where to mister?” And he replied, “to the airport, if you please.”
I reckon I’ll sound a bit crazy. He was a young lookin’ white man, probably in his thirties. I remember he had on black slacks, a white dress shirt, unbuttoned. He looked like a businessman, but he didn’t have any brief case. He wanted to go to the airport, but he didn’t even have any luggage. I thought it was peculiar, but I wasn’t one to judge. It’s not like I’m going to tell him he can’t go to the airport if he doesn’t have luggage.
It was a rough couple of years around then, I remember. We were goin’ through a recession. Gasoline was about forty cents a gallon, but it was expensive back then. People were waitin’ in line at the gas station for an hour some places! My favorite song was Ball of Confusion, by the Temptations. And Nixon had gotten himself in a whole heap of trouble. Things happen in cycles. What comes around goes around, and what happened and went, will more than likely come back around again, my mama used to say that.
My first job was drivin’ a city bus, but back in seventy-three I was driving a taxicab. I was forty-one years old when I met him. He said his name was Joshua. That young man, probably in his thirties sat in the back seat as I went out from the curb and made our way to the airport. I didn’t think anything special about it at the time. Small talk really. Chrysler had started closing down a bunch of plants, and hundreds of thousands of people were losing their jobs. One of my good friends did, as matter of fact. Nam had just ended, and we talked back and forth about that. We even talked about the weather. I’m not shy or bashful, I talk to my passengers, and that’s what I did.
He sat there with his black slacks, and his white unbuttoned dress shirt. I remember he had blonde hair, and bright blue eyes. He seemed like a pretty smart cat. He was talking to me about the oil embargo that was going on, and all about the current garbage that had been going on in the world. I asked him what he did for a livin’. I remember lookin’ back at him from the rear-view mirror and he looked up at me and had this sly smile on his face. He said, “I’m a business man, I guess you could say.”
“What kind of business?” I pushed on; my hands on the steering wheel, moving along the highway.
“If you can keep a secret, I handle God’s business,” he replied.
My first thought was, oh okay, this guy is a preacher. I’ve always gone to church and been faithful, so I figured that meant I was in good company. So I said, “which church do you Pastor?” And he told me something that I will never forget for as long as I live. I haven’t forgotten it even to this day. I’ve met all different kinds of people. I have a way of reading them, and knowing when they’re lyin’ or telling tales, or putting me on.
“I’ve had many different names and titles through the years. The most common is death.”
I recall I nearly jerked the wheel to the left into the median. I didn’t know whether to be insulted, scared, or laugh. I thought I could at least play along. I started thinkin’ about all the different questions I could ask, anything at all that might be able to reveal the truth about this guy. I s’pose he read the look on my face as disbelief, because he started telling me about myself.
“Your mothers name is Felicia. She died when you were thirty-seven. You never knew your father, or the five other half brothers and sisters he’s had through the years, though one of them had recently tried to contact you. You’ve been in the transportation business your whole working life.”
I sat there for a moment without anything to say. I was completely dumbfounded.
“You’re mother was buried in the red dress that she loved, the one with the sash around the waist.”
I don’t know why I laughed. It was the only response that seemed normal. I couldn’t even begin to believe what I heard. A few tears mixed in.
“Are you here for me? I don’t feel sick!” I said.
I pulled in to the airport, and he asked me to pull in to one of the empty parking spots. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’ll admit I was scared. He asked me how much he owed me for the drive, and I told him not to worry about it. I asked him what he wanted with me. He told me he needed a replacement. He went on to talkin’ about his job, if you could call it that. He said that every time some one dies, and he takes them to the other side, it’s like he dies a little death of his own each time. He relives it over and over again with each death.
“I don’t think I understand,” I admitted.
Joshua told me that life is a cycle. You are born, you live, you die, and you are born again. Maybe not in the way you think, but born again into a new way of bein’. And each time he takes a soul, he lives that death with them, and that little piece of death is what he takes with him. He literally is death. It is both a blessin’, and a curse in a way, that he takes as his duty.
“There comes a time when I finally get to rest. I can put the death behind me, and I can go and be in peace. But not before I pass it along. And I can think of no one better.”
Why me, I asked. Why not you, he replied. He said I’ve spent most of my life takin’ people to where they need to go. Everyone you drive, he says, is on his or her way somewhere. The final journey waits for them all. It reminds me about the story of the Ferryman, who takes the dead over the river Styx, to the other side. That’s what he wants me to be. He wants me to be the boatman.
He began to climb out of the taxi when I stopped him with more questions.
“Wait. Will I see you again?”
He looked at me in my eyes, and then the answer occurred to me.
“Where are you goin’ now?” I asked next.
“I’m going my way to the next,” he replied.
He stepped out of the cab, and closed the door behind him, and made his way towards the airport. I wanted to follow him, I wanted to ask more questions, but I couldn’t even find the words to form them. Before I could untangle my thoughts, he was already out of sight. He didn’t wait for my answer, but I s’pose he already knew.
I never did see him again. I drove away and life went truckin’ on as it always does. Years passed, and every day I wondered if I’d see him again with his thumb in the air. Maybe today he’ll be comin’ for me, I thought. I continued to drive my cab, takin’ people here and there. Like he said, everybody is on their way somewhere.
I began lookin’ in the mirror and all I saw was a seventy-seven year old man. My dark hair had turned all gray. I had a few wrinkles. I’d led a simple life, but a good one. I want you to know, I did get in contact with one of my half brothers, Darrell, which was one of the best decisions I ever made. I retired, not havin’ much else to do. My get up and go had got up and gone, you could say. One day I knew I’d go to sleep at night and not wake up. Life was going to go on though until that day that I knew would come, when Joshua would come to get me. I’ve been a limo driver, a city bus driver, and a taxi driver. That’s what I’ve done my whole life. I knew I’d drive again. It’ll be both my blessing, and my curse. I knew that day would come.
Which brings me to where I am now, at the foot of this women’s hospital bed. Pretty soon her machine will flat line and I’ll be there for her. I’ll carry her death with me, at least until I can pass it along. She’ll ride with me, and I’ll take her to the next place. My name is Curtis Jackson, but you can call me the boatman.
This is not a blog type of site, but I feel the need to write this evening. I have a lot of thoughts knocking around between my ears tonight and I just want to get them all down. I wanted to lay some truths down, for no other reason then to maybe make some sense of it for myself. So here goes…
When I was a kid I lied a lot. I mean, I lied all the time and for no good reason. I don’t think even to this day, I know all the reasons why. What I do know is I never had the luxury of many friends. They have always seemed to come one or two at a time, within different sections of my life. My older brother and sister always had a knack for making friends, and I didn’t seem to ever catch on to that. I spent a lot of time playing by myself. I would draw a lot, or write. I watched a lot of movies growing up. I remember at one point as a kid, I would rent movies from Blockbuster what seemed like every Friday night. I never seemed to fit in I suppose. I was never in to sports. I didn’t know anything about them and never cared to. Academically I in no way stood out. Socially I felt uneasy. I guess my stand-off sort of nature made an impression with the kids at school, because for most of my school life I was teased pretty hard. From grade school on through my Junior year of high school. I was never physically beat up, with the exception of a few times, but they say mental and emotional abuse leaves more scar’s anyway. Long story short, my self-esteem was shit. Low self-esteem, coupled with an extremely small social group, I guess I lied to get people to like me. Kids do stupid stuff. I don’t even believe I was consciously aware of what I was doing, I was a young kid. I knew it was getting reactions that were positive. Kids will be kids I suppose. Being truthful has become very important to me in my adult life, and I suppose I learned that lesson.
As I became a teenager and into my last years of high school my social group expanded a lot. I met a lot of new people, although most of whom I have lost all contact with into my adult life. I find the few close friends I did have, I all but pushed away as I moved forward. I got married, had a family, and a lot of those friends I just pushed away. I haven’t figured that one out just yet. I think that low self-esteem has affected me more into my adult life than I realized. A part of me has always hung on to this idea that I’m not good enough, and I project that feeling on to others. As if they are the ones that might think negatively of me, or cause other people to think negatively of me. I’ve come to realize this about myself. And I realize it is likely irrational, and just a projection. A lot of times people think they are so empathic, but are likely just projecting themselves on to others. But it seemed easier to push people away than deal with the anxiety of having friends. I pushed a lot of people away. Coming from a place where I legitimately did not have many friends, to then push away the one’s I did have, is sort of like shooting yourself in the foot. Another lesson I have learned most definitely, is the importance of friends, and hanging on to them.
I transferred to a new department within the recent past, at my job. I moved up and met a lot of new people and they were all so smart, so good at there job. In the back of my mind I have kept waiting for them to find me out, as if I don’t belong there, like I’m a fraud. They might find out that I’m no good. They might find out that I probably shouldn’t be there, or that I’m not smart enough for the job. I haven’t even into my adult life been able to shake that low self-esteem. Rationally, I know I’m intelligent. I know I am resourceful, and capable of doing whatever I put my mind to. It’s a part of myself that I need to work on, but I haven’t figured out how just yet. I know it about myself that my low self-esteem and feeling not worth anything to be the cause of my short falls. In school and life I always did the bare minimum. Just enough to eek by. I never pushed myself to the next level, or to do something great. I know it to be the cause of why I always start things and never finish them. Why I always get pumped up to make a life change, but eventually fizzle out and return to past habits. I know it to be why I never take any chances in life, to push myself forward, to take a risk. I know it to be the root cause of my always seeking acceptance by everyone, and always needing to be liked by everyone, and never wanting to rock the boat. I know it is why I always worry about how everyone else feels before taking care of myself. It’s the brutal truth, but I know it.
Knowing all these things means nothing however, without action. Dreams mean nothing without plans. Love means nothing without loss. The light means nothing without the dark. Happiness means nothing without sadness. Life has its ups and its downs and its bitter and its sweet, and I know this. But now that I know, I have to move forward. I have to realize the truth, that I can be whatever I want. There is no book I can’t read. There is no new skill I can’t learn. There is no task that I can’t master. Someone said once that a person’s need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world, and I think that’s true. Someone also once said that you can do whatever you set your mind to, and I think that’s also true. I’m still trying to figure this all out. We are all works in progress I think. I’m at a point now where I think I’m ready to make that progress. I don’t know where I’m going, but where ever it is, it’s forward.
If you took the time to read all that, thanks. I hope it might even be helpful to someone.