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Displaced I: The Exchange

By Kevin Provance All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Adventure

II - Solicitude

“The state of being solicitous; anxiety or concern.”

****

Date: Thursday, July 13, 1989

Location: Route 32, Westminster, Maryland

Age: 17

****

I

I stand on the shore of Ocean City, Maryland, four or five blocks to the left of the inlet pier. Clouds reflecting the sunset have set the sky ablaze a mesmerizing fire orange. I am alone. The boardwalk and the beach are devoid of other people. The low tide waves of the Atlantic Ocean crash upon the shore, blowing the salty air in its wake. The sound is different, somehow. It resembles the sound of water lapping against a boat.

“You are going to be okay, kid. Just hang in there.”

I look to my right. My friend from high school, O’Bryan VonWald – whom I simply refer to as Wald - is standing next to me, staring out across the twinkling ocean. He is dressed in his standard grey sweat pants and white tee shirt.

“What? What does that mean?” I ask.

“The world is coming to an end,” he replies, casually dragging on a Marlboro medium cigarette, his smoke of choice.

“What else is new,” I say, looking back toward the horizon. “Since you’re so learned on future events, what day does the endgame begin?”

“I’d tell you, but you won’t believe me.” Uncaring. Monotone.

“Try me.”

“You’re on a space ship,” he said. I looked back at Wald. He is not Wald anymore. He is another kid, my age with dark black hair in a yellow jump suit. The hypnotic beach view is gone. The salty ocean air has become sterile and cold. I do not know who this kid is. He meets my stare. “I told you.”

“Who are you? How do you know this?”

“I’m Victor. I’d shake your hand, but…” he says, gesturing toward the transparent blue wall separating us. “What day is this?”

“Thursday.”

“No, the whole date.”

“I think it’s the 13th of July, 1989.”

Victor is gone now.

A voice from my left side speaks. “Good morning Conundrum, nice to see you again.” I look to my left. A short man with black hair, dressed in a black suit and white shirt with black tie grins at me. It is a shitty grin, filled with smug satisfaction.

“My name is Kevin, not Conundrum. Conundrum is my CB handle. And I’m one hundred percent certain we’ve never met before.” The sky around me flashes green; quickly returning to the dull grey of the room.

“After today, you won’t see me again until you’re thirty five,” he advises me. “I’ve already met that future version of you.”

“You’re a time traveler?” I ask in a whisper.

The man throws his head back and laughs. “No, no, no! You have it all backwards. You are the time traveler! Well, you aren’t yet, but somehow, someday, you will be.”

“What?” I ask, not understanding the basis of the conversation.

Wald, standing to my right answers. “Don’t worry about it. You won’t remember any of this anyway.” I look back over. “Here,” he says, handing me a large brass key on a chain. A single sentence inscribed on the front; ‘PJ’s Pub Shrimp pizza.

“What’s this for?” I ask.

“Put it away. Keep it safe,” says Wald, taking it away from me, only to put it around my neck. “There, it’s safe now; close to your heart.”

Victor says, “My days are numbered.” I do not see him when he says this.

“I’ll do whatever I can to help you,” I say to Victor. The sky flashes green again.

“Thank you,” he replies.

I take the pill from Wald’s hand and swallow it. Nothing happens.

The sound of a Jeep’s engine fills the air.

II

I slowly opened my eyes. The harsh rays of the early afternoon sun pierced my retinas with a thousand white needles. A severe throbbing in my temples followed. Had it not been possible, I would have sworn my eye sockets were on fire. As self-awareness crept into my consciousness, I because quickly aware someone had buckled me into the passenger side of an old Jeep. I attempted to look at the driver with my hand raised to provide a shadow for my smoldering eyes. Behind the wheel of the Jeep sat an elderly man. His hair and beard white with age and wisdom. Under different circumstances, I might have inquired if he were a relative of Sigmund Freud’s.

“Where am I? Who are you?” I finally managed to say through a parched throat, causing my voice to sound cracked and broken.

“Rest easy, son,” the elderly man replied. His accent was thick German, reminiscent of old World War II movies. “You had some sort of accident down on the reservoir. I found you unconscious on one of the small islands as I fished, so I put you in my boat and paddled back to the inlet, we are on our way to the hospital.”

Some of the morning’s event began to return to me. Indeed, I was at the Liberty reservoir, hiking across the shoreline, suffering the heartache of my girlfriend’s departure to Ocean City. This was the week she and her girlfriends would lay out, get tan, and play with strange boys. She took the liberty of breaking up with me the night before she left, probably to make herself open and available to whoever sparked her fancy while tanning at the beach in her little tiny bikini.

Then there was the other reason, the big reason I wandered the south end of the reservoir. It was not something I was prepared to discuss with a complete stranger.

“I don’t remember what happened,” I said, rubbing my aching temples. “Just…flashes. Images of people I don’t know.”

“The name is Richards, Tom Richards,” he said, looking over with concern. Just enough concern a stranger would show another. “Unless you have any immediate objection, I am driving you to Carroll County General. It is the closest.”

“Name’s Kevin,” I said, nodded in approval of Tom’s plan. I recognized the route he was driving. Route 32 toward Westminster, Maryland. The drive from Eldersburg was easily twenty-five miles or more.

I glanced down at my clothes. They were bone dry. I wondered why they weren’t wet or at least parhing more than tips of land breaking through the unusually low water level of the reservoir. The spring and early summer of 1989 had been an unusually dry one. The reservoir suffered from the lack of rainfall. The lower the water level fell, the more tips of land appeared throughout the reservoir. So why was I dry? Those small landmasses were not accessible on foot. One would need to swim out to them.

“Was it foggy?” I asked.

“Sorry?”

“One of the last things I remember was the fog, thick fog. There was none when I got there, but the farther into the reservoir I walked, the foggier it got. It was strange.”

“There was some fog earlier this morning,” Tom said. “But it was gone when I found you. Had it not been, I might have missed you completely.”

“Thank goodness for that,” I said with a weak, but sincere smile. Tom grinned in return.

“Do you remember anything else?”

I did remember one other thing. “Was there rain, or lightning?”

“I heard thunder, so there must have been lightning at some point. Why do you ask?”

“I think there was a lightning strike. Was I struck?”

“I do not know Kevin, I am not a doctor,” Tom said. I noticed Tom did not use contractions when he spoke. Who talks like that? Vulcans? Was Tom a Vulcan? Was he an alien? To say it struck me as peculiar would have been an understatement. Then again, it could have been simple delirium and I was making something out of nothing.

Tom continued, “You do not appear to have been struck by lightning. When I found you, you were unresponsive. It was then I made the decision to take you to the hospital.”

“I’m cold,” I said, beginning to feel uncontrollable shivers.

“You may be going into shock,” Tom said, calm and collected. “Try to stay awake as long as possible.”

“Okay,” I said in a mumble, making my best effort to remain aware. The pain of the throbbing in my head and the fire in my eyes were giving the orders, and they demanded unconsciousness. I closed my eyes to lessen the pain and then nothing.

III

I was already in the emergency room when I awoke. My mother, Jayne, was sitting by my side as I lay in an emergency room cubicle walled off by sterile blue curtains.

“Kevie-bird? How are you feeling?” Mom asked. I sighed at the Kevie-bird reference. Mom gave me that nickname when I was a toddler. It originated from the P. D. Eastman children’s book ‘Are you My Mother?’ which featured the two main characters of the Mommy-bird and the baby-bird. When Mom would read it, she changed the name of baby-bird to Kevie-bird. The nickname stuck into my high school years. At the age of seventeen, I informed her I felt it was time to wean off the moniker, however well intentioned.

‘Change does not come easily for parents either,’ Mom would say when she let the designate slip.

Considering the current circumstances, I overlooked it.

“How did you get here? Did the old German man call you?”

“No, the emergency room called me. Is that the guy who drove you here?”

“Yeah, I think his name is Tom. Tom Richard, Richards? I barely remember.”

“The nurse who called said he gave her the phone number and a brief description of what happened.”

I pondered this. “Weird. I don’t remember the phone number thing. What I have is a massive headache, and my eyes hurt like hell. It’s like they’re on fire.”

Confusion and thought appeared as one on Mom’s face.

“What?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, attempting to recall some long lost memory. “I remember feeling something similar the night lightning hit the pool when we lived on Arthur Avenue.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I think so. A really bad headache with burning eye pain.”

I rolled my eyes. “You used to get headaches all the time back then.”

“Yes, that’s true son,” she said sternly, with a matter-of-fact grin. “No thanks in part to your and your sister fighting all the time. However, I never had burning eyes, except for that one night. I don’t even remember going to bed that night. I woke up in the morning with those symptoms.”

“At first, I thought it was the light,” I said. “But even in the dark, they still burn. It’s weird, I can’t explain it. Did you have any weird dreams before those head aches. I think I had one, but it’s fading now. Something about Wald and Ocean City. ”

“Oh geez Kevin, that was some ten years ago. I don’t know.” Mom paused. “I think I remember a dream about you beating up your father. I don’t know. It was so long ago.”

“The last thing I remember before Tom found me was lightning.”

Mom paused. “That is weird.”

“Have you talked to the doctor yet? Does he know what happened to me?”

Mom chuckled. “He doesn’t seem to have the first clue. One of them thinks you fainted.”

“Tom said the same thing,” I said. “But something about that seems wrong to me. My clothes aren’t wet. They never were. Is he still here?”

“No. The last time anyone saw him was during your admission.”

Mom asked the intake people in the emergency room as to Tom’s whereabouts. Only one of them remembered seeing him after he brought me in. He left immediately after.

Tom Richards disappeared into thin air.

After several hours of tests, impatient waiting, and a diagnosis of heat exhaustion coupled with fainting, the E.R. doctor released me into the care of my mother with a bottle of eye drops for my ‘eye irritation’ and explicit instructions to watch for a page full of various symptoms. Should any appear, I was to return immediately.

Mom wanted to take me back to our house in Woodbine, so I could rest. Being the immortal teenager, I was more interested in finding Tom and thanking him for his Good Samaritan effort. I also wanted to know more about how he found me. I had a nagging feeling that Tom did not reveal to me everything he knew while we were en route to the hospital.

Mom finally relented to my incessant demands, agreeing to drive back to the Route 26 inlet of Liberty Reservoir, where I left my car.

Tom and his Jeep were nowhere in sight. We questioned some of the boaters coming in off the reservoir about Tom or an elderly German man driving a Jeep. No one we spoke to knew him or remembered seeing him. Nor did anyone recall thick fog or a lightning strike earlier that morning.

After pushing of the issue, Mom and I walked along some of the reservoir shore looking for any jutting land mass in the water that could pass for an island.

We found none.

I wanted to return to the side of the reservoir I had been exploring when the fog set in. Mom – tired from the walking and my unremitting appeals to keep searching - finally insisted we return home. Moreover, she did not want to make the several mile trek to the other side of the reservoir. Neither would she permit me to drive my own car home.

I would have to wait until the next day.

IV

I stand on the shore of Ocean City, Maryland. The Ferris wheel on the inlet pier looms ominously on the misty morning horizon. Three people stand on the beach in between. I am only able to see the shape of their bodies through the fog.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” Wald says from behind. I turn to face him.

“Why?”

“Because it’s a conundrum.”

“A what?”

“Here,” Wald says, handing me a large brass key on a chain. A single sentence inscribed on the front; ‘I want to make love to Christina.

“What’s this for?” I ask.

“Put it away. Keep it safe,” says Wald, taking it away from me, only to put it around my neck. “There, it’s safe now; close to your heart.”

Another voice answers from far away. “Conundrum! Is that you?”

I turn to face the far off strangers. “No, my name is…”

“This is a private matter,” Wald says forcefully. I spun around to face him again, but he is gone. The Ocean City beach has become the Liberty Reservoir shoreline. The three strangers are closer, although still unrecognizable through the fog.

“Is everyone okay?” I ask. “Do I need to get some help?”

“You are right on time,” one of the strangers says.

A female voice shouts, “Kevin, you need to leave now! Run!” She steps forward. She has red hair.

“How do you know my name?” I demand.

“It’s conundrum,” someone says from my right. I turn to face the source of the voice. I am staring at myself.

“Who the hell are you?” I ask.

“Oh my God, this is it,” my double says in fear.

The sound of a screaming jet engine fills the air. I am going to die.

“Help me,” I beg.

Lightning strikes!

V

I woke up.

There were other people at the reservoir, I thought.

I rubbed my eyes and peered across the room toward the aqua colored readout on the stereo. It was a little past four in the morning. The reality of how long I had been asleep dawned on me. It had been a little past noon when Mom and I returned home. She ordered me upstairs to my room to rest, immediately. Although I didn’t feel the need to rest or sleep, I entertained her request anyway.

It must have been one of those ‘mother’s intuition’ things. I slept a jaw dropping fourteen hours.

I could hear my father snoring in his bedroom across the hall as I gingerly left my room and made my way across the hall to the bathroom. My bladder was swearing at me with jolts of pain as it struggled to hold amounts three times larger than normal. It took several minutes to relieve myself.

After flushing and washing up, I poked my head into the room my parents slept in. Both were sound asleep.

Reassured neither one was awake to interrogate me over how I felt, I quickly made my way downstairs and into the kitchen for some much-needed nourishment. I returned to my room with two PB&J sandwiches, cool ranch Doritos, and a glass bottle of coca cola. I turned on the radio and lay down on my bed.

B-104 out of Baltimore - the Top 40 station I listened to more often than not – was currently allowing Debbie Gibson her platform, advising the listening public to ‘Shake Your Love’ in her bubble gum pop manner.

Fortunately, there would be no on air personality to talk over the music in the four o’clock hour. I was in no mood for some egotistical Deejay chattering on and on about absolutely nothing.

The dream I awoke too was fading fast, like the last dying wisps of twilight when darkness triumphs. It chipped at an inaccessible memory I could not consciously recall. There were other people within proximity yesterday morning. I couldn’t remember them, but I know they were there. I was excited something from that missing chunk of time had come back to me, but was also scared about what it meant. Did those three people kidnap me? Were they responsible for whatever happened to me?

What was I supposed to do with this new information?

I began to eat the first sandwich, thinking back to yesterday morning. Curiosity and boredom led to me to the reservoir. My recently former girlfriend, Christina Buchanan broke up with me the night before she left for Ocean City. She was going with her family and her best friend at the time, leaving me mildly heartbroken in the process.

Sometimes when I am down and want to be alone, I drive up to the Liberty Reservoir. It’s a nice quiet place to hike, explore, and more importantly, think.

There was also the matter of the remains.

Two days prior, I made a trip to the reservoir for another one of my self-pity sessions. I had been so lost in thought, the concept of time and direction escaped me. I ended up venturing far into the woods surrounding the north side of the reservoir. So far, in fact, it took several hours to get there on foot. My discovery consisted of several enormous piles of old rusted junk. At first, I assumed they were nothing more than abandoned farm equipment or leftovers from the town of Oakland Mills that used to exist under the reservoir before Baltimore County dammed up the Patapsco River in 1951.

The history of Oakland Mills and the creation of the Liberty reservoir fascinated me, in my childhood. Until I was five or six, I assumed the reservoir water had always been there. Then I came to find out Carroll and Baltimore County workers tore down Oakland Mills before they built the dam, save for one or two larger buildings. I found the concept of all those people forced to relocate difficult to believe. And at that age, why not? The family home is one of the biggest constants in a young child’s life. Suddenly taking it away would be devastating.

I’ve always wondered what else might be sitting on the reservoir floor, left behind, waiting to be unearthed again. Those mysterious thoughts from years past led to the curiosity of my odd find. I couldn’t tell you with any certainty what any of that stuff was. There had not been a single recognizable thing in any of those junk piles. My piqued curiosity demanded a second expedition. Unfortunately, the fog from hell and the alleged lightning strike interrupted said outing.

I took another bite from my sandwich. The comfort of peanut butter and jelly in one’s own bed has no equal.

I began to concentrate on what I could remember; the drive to the reservoir, parking on the north side of Old Liberty Road (both sections of the unused old road dead-ended respectively into the reservoir), and following the beaten path from the car to the pine tree grid.

The pine tree grid - as I refer to it - consists of multiple acres of statuesque pine trees, grown and arranged in such a way to create a grid of points. It didn’t matter which direction one looked, the layout provided nothing but rows and rows of those thin lofty pines.

The gratifying smell of pine didn’t change the truth; walking through the grid gave me the creeps. The ghostly sound the wind made as it blew through the billions of pine needles, the feeling of impending doom, a sickly feeling as if death himself was holding my hand, guiding me. I had experienced those same feelings before. I was six or seven, living in the Arthur Avenue house, a few miles from the reservoir.

VI

The Arthur Avenue house, its how I’ve always referred to it over the years since moving away in 1981. I lived most of my conscious childhood there, calling it home for five years. It’s where I became self-aware and began fearing death. It’s a small house on the outskirts of Eldersburg, close to the Baltimore/Carroll county side of the Liberty reservoir. We moved there from Lochearn, Maryland, a mid sized town on the outskirts of Baltimore when I was four, in the summer of 1976.

The house itself was built in the mid sixties at the dead end of the almost mile long Arthur Avenue, an unkempt road that at one time might have been properly paved. Decades of neglect left it grey, cracked, and crumbling.

The entire neighborhood exists in a valley beginning at the top of the road and grades downward, ending before acres of field and forest. Our two-story house appeared to be a single when viewed from the road. However, the developer built it into an incline leading up to the road. The basement was accessible from the back where the ground was level.

Fifty feet or so down hill from the basement door sat an above ground pool, also built into the yard’s incline. It was the shoddiest assemblage of parts known to man, held together with bubble gum and gamey duct tape. How it managed to never completely fall apart at any given time, I’ll never know. In the five years we lived there, the pool’s structure remained in a perpetual state of deterioration and substandard repair. The deck surrounding the pool was uneven and falling apart in small sections. The outer siding was split and peeling off in random places. Worst of all, the weight of the water pulled and stretched the sky blue interior lining off the support structure. The pool pump and its subsequent equipment remained covered by the pool deck extending from the hillside, situated in an earthy nook underneath. It was a dark and dank place, a haven for insect wildlife including sizable spiders, snakes, and one year a rather nasty hornet’s nest.

On occasion, my father asked me to flush the pool pump, meaning I would need to descend into the pump nook. As a child, I avoided that grim task like the plague. Standing inside the pump alcove never felt right. An evil aura surrounding it made my blood run cold every time I had to go in there. I’m not talking about a childhood fear of dark enclosed places. No, this was something else.

Swimming in the pool was never a problem as long as it was full of water. When it became empty or half-full, those feelings of unease - almost panic - would set in and I would avoid the whole area.

The basement was the same way. I didn’t feel completely comfortable down there unless someone else was with me, and there was a fire lit in the fireplace. For reasons I could never explain, a lit fire with the pleasant aroma of oak or pine brought comfort in what felt like a dark and evil place.

The basement consisted of five areas, each separated with cheap drywall and balsa wood doors. Clumsy Styrofoam drop ceiling panels covered the unfinished ceiling. The end result of one of my father’s insignificant ‘do-it-yourself’ projects.

The stairway from the basement’s ‘great area’ led to the kitchen and the house’s side door to the outside.

The rear exit to the backyard and the pool led into a small room known as the mudroom (or ‘mutt room’, depending on whom you asked. The dog we owned then lived in that small room.) Over the years, the mudroom morphed into a storage area – ad hock - for my father’s muddy boots. Half a dozen pairs seemed to live and die there, as they never went away. There was also quite a bit of junk piled in the back serving no discernable purpose. A busted lawnmower that would not start, various shovels, most broken or close to breaking, rakes, and the screen door that used to hang on the house’s front doorway. The wind from one of the many violent thunderstorms of the time blew it off and wrecked it all to hell. The frame was twisted and bent and the screens ripped or missing. I never understood why my father didn’t throw it away. A new one would most certainly have been a cheaper investment.

Under the bottommost stair, accessible from the laundry room was my childhood secret hiding place. No one, not even my parents knew about. I recalled seeing it done in a movie once, and tried it for myself. I could remove the backboard covering the space under the bottommost stair with ease. Since tidy little space always blended in with the rest of the stairwell structure, no one ever suspected my use of it. In there I kept items I didn’t want my younger sister finding. I knew she went through my room when I wasn’t home. She would steal bubble gum and candy I attempted to hide from her. When I discovered my new secret hiding place, I would put those things inside a plastic bag and hide them in there. My sister’s embezzled supply of sweets diminished shortly after. She would try to ask about my potential new hiding place, and I would remain silent. She also discovered rather quickly that crying to Mom about it did no good. I was entitled to have my safe place, as was she. Soon after, she attempted to tease me by claiming her own special hiding place, deliberately pointing out I didn’t know where, a stupid game she wanted me to play in an effort to learn the location of my safe house. I declined, advising her I didn’t care about where she hid her crap. I surmised she might call for a treaty later on in which we would simultaneously reveal to each our secret spots. After some time, she backed off and forgot all about it.

Opposite the laundry room, and to the left of stairwell was the room my father claimed it as his ‘work’ room. No work ever took place there however, unless one counts masturbation as work. My father hid his pornography in there and tinkered around with things he didn’t want any one else to see. My sister and I received specific admonishment from entering the room, never to enter unless he was in there. When we inquired as to the repercussions of overlooking his terse warning, he simply said, ‘let me catch you doing it and find out for yourself.’ His rebuke was nothing more than temptation to go in there unaccompanied, to nose around unchecked. I did so many times without ramification, but not so much to see what my father was into, as that was boring to me. Instead, in the left rear corner of the room sat an old broken down refrigerator, covering a large recess into the ground. That place invoked the same feelings and sensations I experienced in the nook underneath the pool deck. All I am able to recollect from several attempts to peek around that refrigerator was something dark and scary. Mom attempted to explain the people who built the house installed the water pump into that alcove. That was true, but beyond that pump was something more. Everyone else thought it was nothing more than earthy hillside supporting the house. Me? I was convinced there was something more beyond that earth wall. Yet every time I attempted to squeeze past the side of that fridge to get back there, fear and panic overcame my consciousness, leaving me truly scared for my life. Beyond the pump, there seemed to be a force that would send a sick, almost electric fear into my body should I venture too close. Imagine an electric shock. Replace that pain with a body gripping sensation of pure fear, death, and evil. My apprehension was, if I went in too far, I would pass out from the sensation, or even die from it.

I tried to tell Mom of these things. She would smile and tell me it was all in my head. I never agreed with her assessment. Those experiences have been haunting my dreams for most of my life.

VII

After finishing the second sandwich, I began working on the Doritos.

I’m not obsessive compulsive, but the casual passerby might believe otherwise based on my eating habits. The sandwiches would come first, beginning with the crusts, and finishing with the middle. Then the chips. There would be no mixing the two.

I glanced at the stereo clock. Four-thirty approached. Across the airwaves, the group Warrant assured me ‘Heaven’ isn’t too far away.

This sucked. It was too damned early in the morning to be this wide-awake. I knew the morning hours would drag by with nothing entertaining to do. Even worse, I could foresee arguing with Mom later about letting me go back to the reservoir so soon after yesterday’s unexplained incident.

My thoughts returned to those experiences of old in the Arthur Avenue basement. Somewhere in my boxes of old papers and keepsakes from my childhood, I kept a diary as part of a fifth grade writing assignment. Having barely acknowledged its existence since the fifth grade, I couldn’t remember if I had written about any of those basement experiences. After eight years in a nearly forgotten box, it was time to look for that diary.

It took digging through three boxes of memorabilia before the diary chose to reveal itself. It was somewhat worn and aged with various papers threatening to release themselves from the tang strip.

With care, I began to skim over the entries. Most of them were superficial, in which I wrote about things I did, or items I wanted. The assignment itself slowly came back to me. We were not required to write daily entries. Instead, one Friday entry per week, detailing the forays into our simple lives was all that was required of us. After several minutes of perusing through old memories, the next to last entry caused my stomach to sink. Somewhere inside me, a falling brick smashed into the ground sending broken shards into my psyche.

Indeed, I had written about the night when lightning struck the pool. The very same event mom claimed gave her the same symptoms I currently suffered from.

Friday, November 13, 1981

I just turned ten nine days ago. I don’t feel any different even having two numbers in my age. I guess I won’t start feeling different until I am a teenager or maybe when I’m 16 and can drive a car. I really like cars. My mom drives a 1971 Camero which she calls Bessie and the older kids on my road really like it. I think it’s an OK car. My dad drives a Chevette and sometimes the van from where he works.

There was a thunderstorm last night that woke me up while I was sleeping. Nighttime thunderstorms are really scary. During the day they are not but at night they are. Most of the time I sleep through them but last night I had to get up to go to the bathroom. Mom and Dad were still awake and were talking to someone in the basement. The clothes chute to the basement is in the closet next to the bathroom so I could hear them talk, sort of. I couldn’t figure out who they were talking to. It sounded a little bit like Mr. Larry from dad’s work. Or maybe it was Mr. Don. I couldn’t tell. Mom was upset because she was yelling at my Dad. She does that alot. The storm got worse with wind and thunder and I could not hear what mom was saying. I went back to my room. I couldn’t get back to sleep. Just when I thought I might fall asleep I heard the slamming of the basement door which woke me back up. I wondered why that was because the driveway is on the other side of the house. I got out of bed and looked out my window to see if I could see anything. The guy that been downstairs with my parents was walking towards the pool and where the pool pump is. I hate going down there to flush the pump. It is scary and it makes me feel like I might faint. I went back to my bed and sat. I was starting to get scared and maybe something bad was going on. I heard someone yell something from the backyard. Lightning struck the backyard making the whole house shake. I waited for my younger sister to start crying but she didn’t. Mom came running into my room asking me if I was okay. I told her yes and asked her what happened. All she said was she was making sure I was ok and that everything would be ok. I told her the thunder and lightning scared me and she said the storm was over and was going away. She tucked me back in bed while I waited to fall asleep. The last thing I remember before falling asleep was a loud low sound, kind of the like what happens when someone turns the bass knob all the way up on mom’s record player.

The first thing I did when I woke up was look at the back yard, hoping to find a big black patch where the lightning hit. I was bummed because there was none. The pool was almost empty. I asked mom what happened to the pool and she said the lightning had hit it and splashed the water out. That sounded cool! I wish I could have seen it! Mom told me to get ready for school and I did. When we were ready to go Mom was going to drive us to the top of the road to wait for the bus. I left the house to go sit in the front seat of Bessie before my sister did. I hate sitting in the back seat of the car. I saw a car parked at the end of the road and it looked like it might be blocking the driveway. I walked to the end of the driveway to see better and saw that there was a police car parked there too. The empty car looked like Mrs. Pidges car only older with tan paint. Dad said it was a Dodge. It also looked pretty beat up. The driver’s side door was open. What scared me the most was all the blood on the window on the other side of the car. I heard Mom and Meg come outside and Mom said the S word. She yelled at me to get back to her car now! I ran back and got stuck in the back seat because Meg took the front seat. She was smiling at me meanly making fun of me. I do not really like my sister. She always gets what she wants and I do not. And I know Dad likes her the best. He said so once because Mom liked me the best. He even said she even liked me more than she liked him and that made him mad. I do not think my Dad likes me very much. He always yells at me and makes me feel bad. I try to be nice to him so he will like me more but it never works. I think he knows I sneak into his workroom sometimes. That’s probably why. Mom drove the car to take us to the bus stop. It only took about a minute to drive to the top of our road and I felt better.

Ps - Sometimes I think our basement in haunted and the ghost lives in Dad’s workroom. I wish we could move to a new house.

As interesting as that entry was to read, the last entry in the diary rocked my consciousness.

Friday, November 20, 1981

Last Friday my mom took me and my sister to PJ’s Pub at the mall. They make my favorite food, shrimp pizza. After we ate I got to throw pennies in the mall fountain. My sister wanted to come with me but mom said NO! I got to go by myself and I was happy about that since I would not have to share the pennies with her. A stranger came up to me. I know to avoid strangers and to run away and ask a grown up for help. I was not scared of him. The man said he was an old friend of my moms and dads and wanted me to hide something for him. A special magic quarter from the future! I put it in my special hiding place that no one knows about. Then he said he would come back for it someday and visit with me and my mom and tell us where the magic quarter came from.

The teacher left a handwritten note in red ink.

Kevin, you have a very active imagination! However, this assignment is supposed to be about what you did throughout the week and not a fictional story.

I had no memory of writing that entry, much less that day. Granted, I could not specifically remember writing any of them, but could at least recall the events written. I tossed the diary assignment aside and stared off into space for what seemed like an eternity.

There was a period between middle school and high school when I would write short stories about the future. Some of them were still in the boxes I searched through only minutes ago. How could I have not written more about those creepy episodes in the Arthur Avenue basement?

The only plausible answer I could procure was one of forgetfulness, whether conscious or unconscious. Later that year – the same year lightning struck the pool - we moved away to the small farm town of Woodbine.

The world moved on and I with it.

VIII

In an act completely out of character for me, I cleaned up the mess I made out of the boxes while searching for the old diary. I returned it to its appropriate box and stacked all three boxes neatly back into the closet. Normally, I would leave such things sit, only putting them away out of necessity or upon demand. Mom would be proud…or concerned.

My father’s workroom in the basement, the pool pump nook, the pine tree grid; something was wrong with that whole area of Liberty reservoir. Perhaps the whole damned area was haunted, where angry souls walk about from shore to shore, refusing to leave the flooded ground where their homes once stood. I wondered if there might be a cemetery out there. Did they move it before the damming of the Patapsco? Maybe there was one out there, unknown.

Flopping back down on the bed, my thoughts returned to my journey after exiting the pine tree grid, arriving on the shoreline of the reservoir. Normally, water would be lapping up against the shoreline where it would meet the forestry, but the summer drought of 1989 left the reservoir’s water level considerably (and dangerously) low. One could easily walk ten or twenty feet onto the reservoir floor before stepping in water.

Even with the non-existent water, I walked the length of the reservoir shoreline with all its twists and turns. It led to pockets of water and forestry unseen from the Liberty Road Bridge over the reservoir and far enough away so road noise was no longer audible.

The farther away from the road I walked, the heavier the air had become. Fog began to form out of thin air. Within minutes, it was impossible to see what little water there was from the shoreline, enveloped in what seemed to be an Earth bound cumulus cloud. At the time, I assumed I had simply walked into a foggy patch. Now – upon reflection - I had the distinct impression the fog appeared around me, around the entire area. I had not been walking all that fast, my pace steady, not brisk. The fog was an oddity unto itself. There had been no chill in the air. Fog on the reservoir usually came about in spring and fall, when changes in the temperature fluctuated. That’s when I saw them, the other people. They were farther down the shoreline in the fog, three of them, in a heated discussion.

A car slowed down as it passed the house, breaking my spell. I turned to the window behind me, peeking out from behind the blinds. Whoever it was turned onto the dirt road next door. Sawmill road, I call it. Its final destination led to a sawmill nestled in the woods, an acre and a half behind the house.

This early morning activity hardly surprised me. The local farmers who owned that property across the street were typically awake at three in the morning to milk their cows. They often ventured down to the sawmill for one reason or another, also owning that property.

I returned to my previous spot on the bed, closing my eyes in an effort to remember more about what happened with those three people in the fog. Instead, I fell asleep. Not a deep sleep, as I was still conscious of the music playing in the background; some new Bon Jovi ballad I had only heard a few times before.

An unusually pronounced crackling from the stereo speakers snapped me back from the edge of sleep. I sat up, questioning whether the audio interference had been a dream. I glanced over toward the receiver unit. The signal strength meter fluctuated. With less than an hour before the B-104 morning show would begin, this would not be an opportune time for WBSB to lose their signal strength.

The signal died completely, leaving dead air with minute crackling.

“Damn it,” I whispered, standing up to adjust the tuning knob. It fixed nothing.

A wicked flash of white light burst outside from the direction of the backyard. I cringed, waiting for the thunder to follow.

It never came.

I opened the blinds of the rear window to look into the backyard. Deep in the woods, white light flickered. I looked away, attempting to resolve what I was seeing with the most plausible explanation. The flashes were bright and intense enough to be a welding torch. Perhaps one of the farm boys drove back there to work on one of their many pieces of farm equipment stored on the property.

I closed the shades and returned to bed.

The signal meter on the stereo receiver jumped to full, breaking the dirty silence with music. A kind of music I had never heard before.

Bon Jovi was long gone. In his place was something much different. I didn’t recognize the artist. There were guitars, drums, bass, and piano of course. It was the style and production of those instruments that offended my musically trained ears. A powerful female voice belted out words I could barely comprehend, “Don’t cry to me, if you loved me, you would be here with me.[CKP1]

Lyrics Christina should heed, I thought, sourly.

The style was so…I don’t know, violent? Dark in tone to be sure, even with the well played piano. If this was a new group, I didn’t care for them.

I switched the station to 107.3 – Q107. Whatever they were playing was equally as bad[CKP2] . Again, I could not identify the artist. Heavy guitars played, but not heavy metal. The sound was seriously overproduced to shape a fuller sound. Crunchy would be a better term. Whoever was singing sounded like a whining dog. He was going on about having a bad day and singing a sad song to turn it around.

I dialed up 98 Rock hoping to hear some Motley Crue, Poison, Gun ‘n Roses, or something familiar, and tolerable.

Crushing disappointment it seems was to be my constant companion this morning. The noise coming from the speakers was worse than anything else I’d heard yet.[CKP3] All I could characterize what I was hearing was blatant noise. I could barely make out the words, “we’ll carry on, we’ll carry on,” something, something “dead and gone.

I turned the radio off and picked up the phone to call the B104 DJ. I wanted to know the name of that ‘don’t cry to me, if you love me’ song and more importantly, who sang it.

“B104,” the DJ said as he picked up the phone.

“Hi, listen; I have a question for you.”

“Shoot,”

“What was the name of the song you played after the Bon Jovi song?” I asked.

“You mean the one that’s on now?”

“Yeah”

“When I See You Smile.”

I paused. I knew that sing, by Bad English, and what I heard was not Bad English.

“Are you sure? It had a female singer, strong voice. She sang something like, ‘don’t cry to me, if you love me’.” I said, giving a bad approximation of what I had heard.

“I’ve never heard of that song,” the DJ said. “Are you sure it was B104 you were listening to?”

“Yeah. I checked Q107 and 98 Rock and they were all playing songs I didn’t recognize.”

“Hmmm, hold on,” the jock said, placing me on hold. Within a minute, he returned. “98 Rock is playing Guns and Roses, and Q107 is playing Cheap Trick. I’m not sure what to tell you, pal.”

I sighed. “Okay, thanks.” I hung up the phone.

Something funny was going on here, and not in a good way. I turned the stereo back on and redialed B104. True enough, Bad English was on the air. I checked the other two stations and they too were the correct songs.

What did I hear then? Was something still wrong with me from this morning? I fetched the list of symptoms to be leery of, the one the E.R. doctor gave me. Hearing bad music that did not exist was conspicuously absent.

I peeked out the back window again. The white light was gone. Behind me, I heard a car pull out onto Woodbine Road from Sawmill road and speed past the house in the direction of Route 26.

I wondered, were all of these things connected in some way?

It certainly would be nice if I could afford a computer and a modem to dial into the local library and get my answers now. I smiled. Better yet, a small portable computer with a permanent modem connection to one central computer with access to information at any time, day or night. Yeah, that would be a nice thing to have.

Maybe someday.

Until such time, boring treks to the library would begrudgingly suffice.

It was then I decided I would revisit the reservoir tomorrow – to the site where I remember seeing the others – to see if it jostled my memory in any way. There was also the matter of the so-called ‘island’ - the one Tom claimed to have found me upon – and its actual location. With water levels skimming the reservoir floor in some areas, a small protrusion of land might be possible. It was all an issue of location, coupled with exactly how far off the shoreline the mass jutted.

IX

Mom drove me to the reservoir the next day so I could pick up my car. I wanted to return to the scene of yesterday’s incident, but overprotective mothers being what they are, it took a bit of fancy footwork to get permission for an hour’s time to go looking for the ‘island’ Tom purportedly claimed. I was to use the pay phone at the convenience store – known as Shervette’s Corner – to check in before I left. That was her deal. I accepted.

It took me damned near a half hour to find the section of the reservoir shoreline I last remembered. Even then, I could not be one hundred percent sure. Between all that fog and my choppy memories of the morning, it was only a fair approximation. From that vantage point, I identified three possible island masses emerging from the shallow reservoir water, all of them well off the shoreline, all far enough to have giving my swimming skills a run for their money.

I sighed.

How the hell could I have gotten all the way out there? I was completely dry when I awoke in Tom’s Jeep. If he had indeed pulled me off one of those islands, I should have been soaking wet. Even if I had been partially air-dried, my shoes and socks should have been sopping wet. They were as dry as the fucking Sahara desert, so how was any of this possible? Tom may have saved my life, but I believe now he was far from truthful about the circumstances surrounding his recovery of my unconscious body. To say I was troubled would be an understatement.

Then there were those people in the fog. I knew they were there that morning. I would set my watch and warrant on it. They had to be part of whatever happened to me.

With little time to spare before Mom would send out a search and rescue team, I began the journey back to my car, attempting to come up with a reasonable explanation about what really happened to me.

I returned home empty handed.

X

In the weeks that followed, I returned to the north end of the reservoir more times than I could count in search of those piles of unidentified junk. To my dismay, I never found them. I spent endless hours searching high and low from the Liberty Road Bridge all the way back to the Liberty Dam itself.

I found nothing.

Whatever it was – assuming I didn’t hallucinate the whole thing - seemed to have disappeared into thin air.

Eventually, I had to give up my search. Wherever that spot is, it remains a mystery.

XI

The man who called himself Tom Richards also disappeared into thin air. I must have used every resource available through the Carroll and Baltimore county governments to track him down. Mostly, I wanted to thank him for his selfless efforts, but then there was the matter of where and how he found me. It defied logic and needed resolving.

Out of the twenty-four men named Thomas Richards, who lived between both counties, none of them revealed themselves to be the elderly German gentleman who saved my life.

He also remains a mystery.

XII

Christina Buchanan declined to reconcile after her return from Ocean City. She ‘needed her space’, which is a euphemism for ‘I want to fuck other guys’.

I had hoped after she got whatever she needed to get out of her system in Ocean City that she might get back together with me. At one point, she eluded to it.

In the end, Christina crushed my hope, with prejudice.

It made no sense. She pursued me for well over a year. During that year, I thought she was too young at the tender age of thirteen. I was sixteen and I wanted more from a girl than Christina was ready to give. My philosophy was ‘why waste the time?’ I wanted a girlfriend who would put out. As Christina was a child, it didn’t seem right, at the time. Besides, she was a better friend, easy to talk to and lots of fun to hang out with.

Hindsight being 20/20, her first year in high school changed her. She went from a starry-eyed middle school girl to a fickle high school girl who dated a senior (me) and ended up going to prom during her freshman year. The girl I knew was gone. She ended up spending a few months dating me, sleeping with me, learning what she could from me and then moved on to college guys.

That’s right. Within a week of returning from Ocean City, Christina was dating some punk from college.

I was a stepping-stone and it didn’t feel at all good.

Christina’s ballet dance across the shattered piece of my broken heart all but ruined for me the concept of trust and women. I would not date again for two years, not until the summer of 1991.

That was the summer when everything changed for the worse.

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