Face Value

By Michael Young All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Part II: Remember the Past Chapter 9: The Breakfast of Champions

The inside of my head rattled with the piercing wail of an alarm clock. Frantically, I tried to swat at the contraption in hopes that I could silence it, but I kept missing. As if the alarm clock was trying to spite me, it rattled dangerously close to the edge of the dresser and plunged to the ground, landing with a thud. Despite my hopes that the fall might have broken the clock, the awful jangling continued as loud as ever. Now I would have to roll out of bed to silence it.

Out of habit, I flung my arm to the side in order to nudge my wife who sometimes slept through the alarm, “Honey, it’s time to…”

I realized that no one occupied the space next to me. I flailed my arms and inadvertently took a dive to the floor and took an armful of blankets and sheets with me.

Did Christine buy me a new clock? Because if she did, I’m going to break that one too, once I get my hands on it. What I’d do for a nice big mallet right now just like in the cartoons.

Determined to beat the cogs out of the stupid clock, I rose to my elbows and crawled forward towards the other side of the bed where the alarm clock had landed. I had almost attained my goal when suddenly, the door flew open, and in stepped a face from my past.

“Hey there, big bro. Havin’ a little trouble this morning? Stay up too late last night reading?”

A sly grim roamed up Fred’s cheeks. He was already dressed for riding in his blue Levi’s, plain shirt, boots and leather jacket.

But then the early morning fogginess dissolved from my brain and memories of Trezzlepeg, and time travel flooded in. I remembered where I was and how I got there, and the shock silenced me for a good minute.

With shocking force, dozens of memories of our childhood burst onto center stage in my mind. On impulse, I leapt to my feet and tackled Fred in an enormous bear hug. “Fred!”

The younger man stumbled back, taken off guard by this unwarranted display of affection. Tears sprang to my eyes, but I pushed them back as I came to my senses. While for me it had been many long years since I had seen his face, he had probably seen me the night before.

“Whoa,” Fred said, “did Frankie have bad dreams last night? You okay?”

Gradually I released my grip and shook my head.

However, before my mind could stretch itself to come up with a crazy excuse, Fred cut in, “Remember,” he mumbled as he shrugged, “I can always lend you my old teddy bear if it gets to be too much of a problem.”

His eyes scanned the room for the alarm clock and with natural poise, Fred balanced the clock on the toe of his boot, launched into the air and slammed it down, finally silencing its awful racket.

I could only sit and gawk, wondering why my brother hadn’t tried out for more sports. “By the way,” Fred began again, “we better get an early start so that we can hit the canyon by eight or nine. Sound good?”

I nodded, still gazing at him trying to convince myself that he was real. Fred wasted no time in getting out the door and towards the kitchen.

“See you at breakfast,” he called back.

But before he could disappear, I called after him, “Fred, what day is it?”

Fred wrinkled his forehead and replied, “Saturday. August 23. Why?”

Not even considering sharing my actual train of thought, I shrugged him off, “Oh, nothing. Just wondering.”

I sat on the bed breathing hard, and tried to get a handle on myself. I might have sat there all day, had Andrus not intervened. “Hey, Face,” the tiny voice began, “You might want to stop your childish indecision, and start trying to come up with a plan.”

Painfully, I lifted my bloodshot eyes off the bed and glared at the tiny flying fuzzball that now hovered over me. I had half a mind to retrieve the alarm clock and take a potshot at him, but decided it would not be worth the effort.

After a few seconds, I stood and began dressing. Miraculously, I remembered all of the contents of my dressers correctly, which made the task much easier.

As I passed the closet I caught sight of myself in the rectangular mirror that hung on the wall, and jumped back. Even though I should have anticipated it, the sight of my eighteen-year-old self still took me by surprise. My face had been much thinner then, my hair a bit longer, and my stubble considerably shorter. I ran my hand up and down the smooth sides of my cheeks and wished that I could wake up looking this way on occasion.

I had been so happy then, so well groomed and well kept. However, after the accident and the period of depression that followed, I had let many of these things fall by the wayside.

After staring for a full minute, I managed to pry myself away from the mirror, and finish dressing. All the while Andrus hovered over my shoulder, “So what do you plan to do? I hope you didn’t just jump into this without a plan. Especially because you have to be extremely cautious in what you say and do. The slightest alteration of time can have enormous rippling effects! If I were you…”

Becoming increasingly annoyed, I cut him off with a wave as I plopped down on the bed to pull on my boots.

“You are not me and for your information, I do have a bit of a plan.”

Andrus glided over so that he hung in the air not three inches from my face, “And what would that be? Knocking you brother over the head and stuffing him in a closet all day?”

I shook my head in defiance, “No, it’s much better than that. Give me a moment. Aren’t you supposed to be helping me? All you’ve done is complain.”

Andrus folded his arms across his chest, “I’m just along in case you decide to do anything rash. I’m handy if you get caught in a pinch, so I suggest you treat me nicely.”

I threw up my hands, “I’d do my best. ’Til then-truce, okay?”

I held out the index finger of my right hand and Andrus studied it for a few moments before finally giving in. He smiled, grasped the tip of my finger, and shook it vigorously, “Truce,” he muttered. Then, he glanced down and after locating a level spot on the mattress, flitted down and sat next to me, “So let’s hear it. What’s the master plan?”

I stretched my arms over my head and sighed, “I figured that I could let him go on his date tonight. He was perfectly fine until I challenged him to that race. If I don’t challenge him, he won’t be in that canyon and won’t die.”

Andrus nodded, but I could still sense his reservations by the drooping of his bushy brows, “That might work, but it still leaves plenty of holes wherein things could still go wrong. If you end up racing again today, and you don’t execute every move just as you did the first time, there is always the chance that something will go wrong anyway.”

Andrus drew his mouth together in a tight line and nervously scratched his furry scalp, “How did your brother come to fall? Did you see what his mistake was?”

I wracked my mind for a concrete answer, but could not produce one, “I don’t know. I was far ahead when he lost control. There was this flash of light and a loud bang, and then next thing I know, I glanced back and watched him flying through the air and into the pit.”

Frustrated, I rested my head in my hands, and searched the dusty corners of my brain for the missing piece. Andrus’s gentlemanly voice broke the silence, “Face, something is not right here,” Andrus’s nose twitched. “I smell a proverbial rat, and a big one at that. From my limited experience, motorcycles do not just explode in mid-air. Was there anyone who had a grudge against your brother? Because, from my angle, I suspect foul play.”

My heart jumped in chest. I had only toyed with this thought once or twice. “No. I can’t think of anyone who didn’t like him. He was so likeable.”

Andrus hovered back into the air and thoughtfully stroked his chin, “That is curious indeed. It doesn’t sound like a likely alternative, but we should keep an eye out.”

I nodded and was about to continue when the bedroom door creaked open again and Fred poked his head in the door, “Hey, Frank, are you ready yet? Mom made us breakfast and if you don’t hurry it’s gonna be colder than Montana in the winter.”

“Yeah, I’m coming.”

His brown haired head disappeared from sight, and heard his footsteps fade off down the hallway.

I stood up and swept Andrus onto my shoulder, “I guess that means we can head out. All we can do is be cautious.”

The two of us had almost reached the kitchen when, instead of turning right into the dining room, I turned left to the garage where we stored our bikes. I would be a few minutes late to breakfast, but I hoped that my time would be well spent

I snuck through the door, yanked on a chain attached to a light bulb on the ceiling. Andrus whispered, “So, I’m guessing we’re here to check on the bikes?”

“Yeah,” I said, “I guess you are smarter than the average bear.”

Andrus, who completely missed my allusion, huffed at what he took to be an insult, “I’ll have you know that my education far surpasses…”

“Shh, we don’t want to make too much noise and disturb breakfast. Just put a sock in it and help my look for anything suspicious.”

I navigated through the labyrinth of sleds, car parts and yard tools, and eventually reached the far side where our two bikes stood. I began a careful scrutiny of the exterior of Fred’s bike.

Fred treasured the bike as one of his most prize possessions, and constantly doted over it, tinkering with it and shining the cherry red exterior. Although I considered myself the better rider, Fred definitely took the prize for the better caretaker. My trusty, but slightly worse for wear Honda sat on the other side of his, taking the backseat to the newer, flashier vehicle.

My eyes and hands grazed every inch of the shiny Mitsubishi. I checked every system, the motor, the fuel tank, the exhaust, the steering, the brakes, anything that could go haywire in order to cause such a freak accident. Andrus fluttered around the exterior as well, poking and prodding, sticking his tiny hands around to investigate the crevices that I could not. However, five minutes of scrutiny, we both turned up empty handed.

“Well,” Andrus began, “I guess that rules out sabotage, at least for now.”

I nodded and paced the enclosed space slowly, “I guess so, but if someone wanted to sabotage Fred’s bike, they still could do so before the races. I think it would be best if you came along today and acted as a lookout for any suspicious activity from the other racers.”

“Agreed. I shall keep all three eyes on it.”

Before I could ask about the third eye, the seriousness on his face, suddenly melted away replaced by a jovial grin, “By the way, your breakfast is getting colder by the minute. Why don’t we get in there before it’s not completely like Montana in the winter?”

I liked this idea, and steered myself back through the maze of debris and back out the door, switching off the light as I exited. Discretely as possible, I slunk back to the kitchen.

If my mind hadn’t been so occupied with other pressing thoughts, I would have remembered to brace myself before entering the room.

As I propped the door open wide, the face of my mother, who I had not seen since I placed flowers in her coffin came into my view. I all but choked down a gasp, and rushed forward to take her in arms. “Mom…I…”

She released me slightly and her soft brown eyes registered genuine concern from behind her glasses, “Frank, whatever is the matter? You like you’ve just got cut from callbacks at a play.”

Oh, mom…uh, I’m fine. Just had a rough night and all. You know, bad dreams and an upset stomach.”

I marveled at the lameness of my excuse, however, they seemed to buy it so I simply pulled up a chair and poured myself a glass of orange juice.

“So, what did you cook for the big day?” I said trying to change the subject.

Without a word, she wandered over to the stove and retrieved a skillet that lay there. With simple grace she whisked a ham and cheese omelet and two strips of bacon from the pan and on to a plate in front of me. I smiled and thanked her, very grateful for the chance to be fed by my mother one last time.

“I know these are your favorite boys, so eat up. There’s plenty more where that came from.”

The rest of my brothers and sisters were still sleeping in, so only my mom, Fred, and I sat around the table. However, I couldn’t help but feel as if I dined in the company of angels as I sat and conversed with two ghosts How much this one day would change everything.

More than ever, I truly appreciated the gentle kindness and sacrifice that my mother showed us, and marveled at her quiet beauty. Was I really so blind in my youth that I didn’t notice before? She didn’t have to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to make us such a fine breakfast…

Fred mostly stayed quiet, preferring stuffing his stomach to making conversation.

“So Frank, do you have any idea who you’d like to ask to prom this year?’

Even though I knew the answer, the question took me off guard and my face reddened.

I don’t think I had mentioned Christine to her yet. Is this the right time?

Thankfully, I didn’t get a chance to answer, because Fred beat me to it, “Hey, why don’t you take Theresa to the prom?” he offered with a slap on the back, “That would probably make her year.”

I sighed at my brother’s suggestion, and recalled his many attempts to hook me up with various girls during my high school years. Theresa was a girl who I had met in my science class my freshman year, and who I know had a taken a liking to me. I had always found her nice, and we often spent fun times together, but she had never measured up to Christine in my eyes.

At least I already know how this one turns out.

I shrugged and replied, “I don’t know. I still have plenty of time to decide. To tell you the truth, I was thinking about asking Christine Daely.”

The reaction from the two others at the table varied quite largely. My mother, who had a bite of omelet in her mouth, nodded approvingly, while Fred turned rigid as if an arrow had just pierced his heart. I glanced over at his face, which had gone surprisingly cold, and I could almost detect the faintest gleam of jealously seething in his eye.

He spoke first, his voice level and flat, “Christine, eh? She’s quite a looker. Hope you get to her before some other lucky guy does.”

He lost himself again in attacking his bacon and eggs. My mom finished chewing and offered, “Christine is a nice young lady,” chimed my mom, “she’d be a good choice.”

I was about to reply, when a tiny voice wafted up from under the table, “Psst. Face, could you pass me some bacon or something down here? I’m starving. Time travel takes a lot of a bear.”

Still confused by Fred’s icy reaction, I glanced down to see Andrus under the table looking like a tiny puppy begging for table scraps. I nodded subtly and broke off a thin portion of bacon from a strip on my plate. Very carefully, as not to be seen, I slumped in my chair and handed down the small strip to Andrus.

Andrus gobbled the bacon up as if he hadn’t touched a morsel of food for months, “Thanks, Face. If you happen to spill a crumb or two more on the floor, I would greatly appreciate it.”

We ate for next few minutes of the meal in near silence, with only the sound of forks scrapping plates and the mechanical chewing of food to keep our ears occupied. I wanted to say something, anything. Thousands of questions and flooded my brain, but in the magnitude of the moment, I only managed to muster a few meager “pass the salt” and “more toast please” remarks.

The way my brother had clammed up after I mentioned Christine bothered me. Besides, I figured that silence was best in the situation so that I didn’t incriminate myself by saying something that wasn’t supposed to be said in that timeframe.

Finally, Fred rose, stretching his muscles like a lazy feline, “Well, Frank. I guess it’s time to hit the highway. I need to fetch something from my room, and then I’ll meet you back in the garage.”

I nodded, “Sure,” I replied, “I guess I still need to brush my teeth anyway.”

Without another word, Fred bolted out the door, and towards our room, leaving me alone with our mother. I knew that I had to go and my heart melted, wishing I could stay just a few more moments in her presence.

“Bye, mom. Thanks for the breakfast. I’ll keep an eye on Fred for you. I’ll be sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.”

The words just rolled off my tongue without thought, and I realized that they were the exact words I had said many years ago, the first time I had lived this morning.

My mother smiled and held me tight for a second, “Thank you son. Just come home to us safe. You know how nervous it makes me every time you boys go out riding.”

She did not know how well founded her fears actually were. I wanted the moment to linger, but was interrupted by Fred’s return. I started out the door after him and towards the garage. But before I disappeared out of sight out my mother, I turned back and added, “I love you mom.”

My mother’s face brightened and registered slight shock. These were words that I had not applied liberally at my age. Slowly she turned around and gazed back at me, “I love you too, son.”

And with that I painfully continued down the hall, out the front door and into the garage, my mother’s face firm in my mind,

As I walked out towards the garage behind Fred, I unconsciously rubbed my head. A voice that was not my own entered my brain, but I could not make it out at first.

Hello, is anyone there? Who are you?

This time the voice responded and I understood, Yes, I’m here. I’m sorry to have frightened you. The translator that Trezzlepeg gave me allows me to speak any language, even the language of thought. I’ve always found telepathy fascinating and I thought it might be easier so that you didn’t have to look like you were talking to thin air. People might start to talk about you.

Infuriated, my mind made the connection. Andrus.

Why didn’t you tell me you could do that? You scared me half, no, more like three fourths to death!

Andrus flew back, well out of range, Hey, uh, truce…remember? We’ve got to work together. I’m sorry…I just haven’t been out and able to use my powers in such a long time.

I sighed and ran my fingers through my hair.

Okay bear, this is fine when other people are around, but don’t do it too much until I get used to it.

For the moment I brushed the mind reading bear aside, and scurried out to the garage where I found Fred waiting, “Ready to go, Face?” he chimed, his stiffness from earlier seemingly forgotten, “Man, this is going to be awesome. We’re going to clean up today. I can feel it.”

Something about his words awoke a dormant competitive spirit deep within me. “Oh, yeah, we will. That is, if you think you can keep up with me. Otherwise, I’ll smoke the competition, and you can clean up the ashes.”

I didn’t see any harm in a little good-natured banter like we used to. Besides, he’d gone through the day the first time without incident, and so it seemed okay to challenge him now.

Fred smirked with a little slyness of his own, “Well, Frank, maybe today is the day that I’ll force you to face the music and accept defeat.”

Adrenaline began to seep into my veins, and we quickly saddled our bikes and sped down our street and out of sight like two bandits making their getaway from a bank robbery. In near perfect sync, we coasted through the side streets and took the freeway towards the canyon.

This shouldn’t be so hard, I said to Andrew. Since I’ve already done this race, it should actually be easier than before.

I had no way of knowing that I was dead wrong.

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