By Joe Hester All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Mystery

Newspaper Man

Consciousness came as a surprise as I took a deep breath of air, let it out, sat up, and the morning sun blinded me. I recognized what I saw as Earth with grass and in the far distance were trees. I knew survival skills but did not know how or where I learned them. I was wearing a white jumpsuit with shoes made from a material I did not recognize. The words were scratchy and painful to say as I uttered the words; “Lord Jesus, where am I?”

I knew of God, Heaven, and soothing calmness came over me. I accepted the facts as they were. I am alive; I am here, and if I desired to keep living, I would start gathering provisions for nourishment and hydration.I needed a plan, even a simple one. If only walking toward the trees at the foot of the snow-capped mountain, which stood so tall and so far away. I could feed myself off the land. I decided on a particular point at the foot of the mountain where the trees were thick as a destination point. At least that was a plan.

I used the chosen site as a guide and walked through the tall grass at a slow, constant pace. The afternoon sun warmed the air and a rain cloud formed; shading me as I trudged along. Lightning strikes here and there indicating a thunderstorm formation reinforced my hope of finding some water to drink.

All at once, my hair stood on end, and I could feel static electricity in the air. My natural instinct was to lay flat on the ground. There were three scrubby, stunted, spruce trees near to twenty feet tall with tall grass and weeds growing in that area.

Lightning struck one of those spruce trees, and a fireball with burning bark and small limbs shot up in the air. The burning embers fell to the ground all around the tree.

Fire, I thought, heat, light, security, cooking fire. I ran toward the stricken tree and began picking up the pieces of burning bark and putting them together in one pile. The pile of bark flamed up, and I dashed about picking up sticks and limbs to feed the fire. I felt sure that it would rain, but it did not. The cloud passed overhead and sped off behind me with sounds of thunder becoming less and distant.

I found a few sizeable limbs and drug them closer to the fire. Smaller branches that were too long for stacking upon the blaze, I broke by whacking them on the ground a few times. One of the broken pieces I found to be beveled on one end, I decided to take with me while searching for water. I planned to use it as a scoop. I dashed about gathering limbs stacking them beside the flame. Soon I had a fire going and thanked the Lord for the achievement. The Lord gave me a fire source, and I harvested it.

After the fire burned enough to have a bed of hot coals underneath the flame, I began searching for water. Looking around, I discovered a patch of dark green grass growing in a low place nearby.

The tall grass was a good indication of a water source. I made my way to the thick green bushes and grass. Suddenly I startled a rabbit, immediately, from the sky, dove a large hawk and scooped it up. I yelled and threw the scooping limb up at the hawk. I missed, but the bird dropped the rabbit. I searched through the tall grass for it and finally found it. The hawk had injured it, and it could not get up. I stomped it on the head killing it and carried it with me while searching for water.

I knew the rabbit drank water from somewhere. Back and forth, I searched until I stepped into a boggy spot. There was only a trickle of water coming out of the ground. I used my hands to dig a hole in the mud so the water could pond. Fifteen or twenty minutes had passed before the dirt settled to the bottom, and there was clean water to drink. I Praised and thanked the Lord for the fire, meat, and water. I may not know who I am, but I did know the Lord.

As the sun lowered into the western sky and a beautiful sunset illuminated the snow-capped mountain, I gave thanks to the Lord again and ate another piece of rabbit. I piled up some grass for a bed. Afterward, I gathered dry spruce needles for quick emergency light if needed. Only once during the night, I heard something, which sounded like a deer or rabbit. I threw some dry spruce needles on the coals and when the flame blazed up, whatever it was, ran away.

The sun arose, and I awoke at the same time. I immediately put some kindling on the hot coals. The flame was comfortable, and the smoke was blowing toward the north. I placed the leftover rabbit on homemade skewers and propped them over the coals. Before they warmed too much, I ate the three pieces and then walked through the tall grass to the water and drank all that I could hold. I took a stick and scratched up enough dirt to cover the hot coals and ashes. One piece of the tree limb, which burned into, remained glowing red at one end and no fire on the other end. I carried it along with me, swinging it around and around keeping oxygen fed to it.

I located my focus point at the foot of the mountain and proceeded on my way. By noon, the woods seemed closer, but the mountain peak looked to be the same distance away as the first time I laid eyes on it. That meant it was much further away. I rested for a while, and my lips and throat was dry. I collected some dead grass and a few twigs from a bush and lit them with the ember that I carried.

When it flamed up, I reheated the ember and then stomped the fire out. I did not rush but kept walking steadily for two hours or more.

I saw another low place on the contour of the prairie with tall grass and brush. With only a few scattered trees to choose from, I decided to pick one closest to the low place. A half-hour later, I sat under the tree. It was so hot that sitting in the shade of the tree gave me chill bumps. I quickly gathered spruce needles and dry grass and lit it with the red-hot ember and also gathered fuel for the fire.

I lay under the tree long enough to cool down. I then explored the low lying area and found a small flowing spring.

I drank until I could feel the water sloshing in my belly. All around the small stream were rocks, and some of them had sharp edges. I gathered an assortment of shapes and took them to the campsite with me. A while later I decided to do some hunting for anything that hopped, slithered, or crawled. It would give me the strength I need for surviving. I had not made it to the stream when I spotted a tortoise. I picked it up and took it to the stream where I hit it on the back with a rock. Its head poked out, and I took a sharp stone and cut it off.

I thanked the Lord for the nourishment and returned with the tortoise where I had a difficult time cleaning it, but two hours later, I was eating. I scraped the inside of the shell with a sharp-edged rock and kept rubbing it with sand until it was clean. I held it over the fire briefly, several times, to sanitize it. Now I had a shell that would serve as a bowl, a shovel, hat, basket, and a plate. I also had rocks, which served as, a knife, scraper, hammer, and a weapon for hunting. I filled the shell with water and now would not have to walk to the spring every time I was thirsty.

I had hoped to regain any of my lost memory, but I had not. I ask the Lord to be with me, take care of my needs as he saw fit. I knew there was an answer for me being where I was. I kept praying that the Lord would take care of me as he had done so far. I started being a little more confident that I was on some mission. For what purpose, I knew not, but I was not going to fall over and give up.

The following morning, I took my tortoiseshell, the handiest rocks, an ember, and set out for the wooded area that was becoming closer and closer. By the fifth day of walking, I made it to the woods. There, the terrene drastically changed into big hills and high banks in places. My priorities were water, food, and shelter. Right away, I found all three. From atop of the tallest hill around, the mountain seemed no closer.

One evening, I found a cave on the side of a steep hill. There were plenty of trees, so I built a big fire and decided to hunt for the heart of a dead pine tree to use as a torch. I found a long section of a fallen pine, pulled the rotten layers off until the center, which is the heart, lay exposed.

I then broke it by hitting it against a tree until I had three good torches about four feet long. The cave was tall enough to stand and wide enough to lie. A small opening at the bottom of the rear wall made me uncomfortable, so I packed rocks into it until I was sure snakes would not crawl in and out as they so desired. I decided to stay for a while and use the cave as my base camp. I fashioned a door out of cane I found growing close to the running stream and cut the cane-stalks by laying the pieces over the hot coals burning the roots off first, and then into sections as I needed them. The door was strong enough to keep out raccoons, opossums, and similar small critters. So far, I had not seen a bear, but I remained aware of all possibilities.

Having a fire close to the cave entrance made me feel more secure at night. I kept a good-sized stack of firewood inside the cave in case of rain. One day and night, I was glad that I did have dry wood. It rained hard. I had built a fire inside the cave, which caused me to have to lay down with my head as close to the door as possible so I could breathe. It beat the alternative of having no fire, which would not be good.

On one expedition, I saw smoke coming up through the trees on a ledge that appeared to be at least two miles away. I never saw it again, but that gave new hope for finding someone way out in the forest. Back at home camp that night I dreamed of being in a crowd of people and eating fish and ham and white bread. You don’t worry about the taste when you are eating anything you find to stay alive.

It was a bright morning, and I left out early to search for the ashes of a campfire where I had seen the smoke. As I started climbing the steep embankment up to the ledge, I heard voices. I rested and then continued climbing. Once at the top I saw a picnic table and a brick grill pit. Oh, thank you, Lord I thought, and lay on the tabletop and went to sleep. A park ranger woke me and asked me many questions. I told him the truth, saying that I did not know who I was and could not remember where I lived, other than a cave. He helped me to his truck and took me to a small town police station. When asked when I had last eaten, I replied, “I had a fish last night.” They brought me a plate of food, and I finished it quickly.

The town doctor said for them not to give me too much at one time. After a shower, the police chief gave me a set of inmate clothes.

The newspaper owner took my picture, and besides putting my photo in the paper, he made up some flyers, and he posted them here and there. My fingerprints came back clean and unrecognized. They allowed me to sleep in an unlocked cell. I had food and shelter, and it was a great feeling to have a blanket and a pillow.

The newspaperman’s name was Shannon Downs. Shannon asked, “What shall we call you since you can’t remember your name?” “How about John I said, How about John James? That is two of the disciples from the New Testament.” “Fine, Shannon said, but how is it that you remember the Bible and do not remember your name?” I answered, “How is it that I remember the name of a tree or a glass of water?” Shannon asks me if I would see a psychiatrist for a psychiatric evaluation. I said, “I will if it might help me to remember, but I have no money to pay for such test.”

The next day Shannon came by, and I rode with him to where the Park Ranger had found me laying on a picnic table.

He and I walked down the steep bluff to the cave. I gave him a tour of the cave, presented my tortuous shell, and various spears that I had made and mentioned the rabbit and fish traps. I led him to the edge of the vast grassland and explained how many days I had walked from where I had first stood, unknowing where I was and how I had gotten there. As we climbed up the bluff to the park, I explained to him how I had survived, and he pleaded for me to return with him to that place the next day. I told him that I would be glad to do so. He talked to the police chief, and since I was not under arrest for vagrancy or anything of the sort, he said I was free to leave at any time.

Shannon offered me a room located above his garage with an outside entrance. He bought five outfits of blue jeans and dress shirts along with under ware and socks, a pair of hiking boots and a pair of sneakers for me. He said I should not feel I owe him for these things because he would show it as an expense of the news story.

That night with him and his wife, we went to a nearby restaurant and had supper. Oh, how great it felt to be in nineteen fifty-five.

Hog Lard made everything tasty, and there was plenty of it. Treated to dinner at the most elegant restaurant in town, when asked what I would care for to eat, I chose a large bowl of soup. Shannon and Brenda (his wife) had steak. Shannon was talking ninety to nothing, and everyone around stared at me. When I would turn my head, they would look away.

All of a sudden, Shannon made a choking sound grabbing his throat with both hands. Without thinking, I jumped up and did the Heimlich maneuver, and it dislodged the chunk of meat from his windpipe. Everyone looked, and some stood. When Shannon was back to normal, he asked me where I learned that maneuver. I responded, “I don’t remember; it seemed like the thing to do.” On the way home, Shannon was eager to learn more about me, and he documented every conversation.

The following morning, he and I proceeded to the forest station, and he asks the Forest Ranger named Burt, to fly us out to the grassy prairie that I had described to him. Burt flew the chopper over the area where I started.

After flying over a couple of times, I saw a tiny black circle where my campfire had been. Burt sat the chopper down, and we unloaded. I pointed out a tree that lightning struck and a spring that I dug out enough to get water.

By air, we followed the path from where I had started all the way to the park. I had forgotten what happened that brought me to the grassy prairie. Everything was a fact for the story, and that is all Shannon wanted. Shannon believed me now and planned to write an extensive article on it. Looking down from a helicopter, as we zoomed along, I remembered how long it took me to walk the whole way. I thought to myself, thank you, Lord, thank you.

My nights were full of prayer and thanksgiving for the shelter and nourishment. The local Church gave me a hundred fifty dollars as a goodwill offering. I thanked them sincerely. The psychiatric evaluation consisted of a psychiatrist hypnotizing me and concluding that I did not know anything before the day that I awoke in the tall grass covered prairie. For this reason, that was the end of the examinations.

Shannon was concluding his news story and had piles of paper with notes and facts.

Who is John James? Is he an Alien from a U.F.O.., Communist infiltrator, who is this man with amnesia? What a sensational piece of literature and to what purpose other than to sell papers? The next morning the news story headlined, and I was the most profiled person in the county and state. If I went outside, cameras were clicking, and questions asked. A National Agency took me to the airport for a flight to Washington D.C... Only the top interrogators would examine me; two agents escorted me.

The hotel pool had great lighting. Children and adults were playing in the water when a scream sounded over the laughter and chatter that drew everyone’s attention. A child had fallen into the pool, and it was unnoticed at least a minute. I dove into the pool, pulled the motionless little body out, and laid it beside the pool. Again, without thinking of any repercussions for knowing later day life-saving techniques, I performed C.P.R. on the child and brought it back to life. The agents called and reported my actions to their superiors.

One of them went to a clothing store and brought back a black suit along with a pair of black shoes since my clothes were wet.

In the predawn hours of the next morning, we flew into the dark sky. I was sitting beside an agent, looking out the window and soon; I was so exhausted that I went into a deep, deep, sleep.

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