Face Value

By Michael Young All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Part III: Defend the Future Chapter 13: The Unfamiliar Fields of Home

Conscienceless trickled back to me, like a dripping faucet in a silent room, and memories blurred together like a watercolor painting. I felt my world start to spin and then I was falling and suddenly I hit the floor.

I finally managed to open my eyes, and surveyed my surroundings. The portal had not sent me back to the shop as I had suspected, but back to my bedroom. A little embarrassed and aching, I flung off the bedclothes and propped myself back on the bed to see if the ruckus had disturbed my wife.

She wasn’t there.

I rose to my feet and shuddered. I was wearing only boxer shorts. Puzzled, I brought the covers in around myself to compensate, and glanced over at the red dial of the clock: 6:02.

Did the alarm go off? We were supposed to have a pillow fight.

I switched on a dim lamp next to my bed, and wandered over to my drawers to fetch something to put on. I couldn’t find the pajamas I was looking for. At last, I settled on a pair of gray sweats and an old T-shirt. More annoyed than worried, I shut off the lamp and exited my bedroom.

Where did those pajamas go? They were a present for our last anniversary…

Andrus, could you fly upstairs and see…

I caught myself in mid sentence. My mind was silent and Andrus was nowhere to be seen.

He could be ornery at times. Besides, he’s probably busy with all sorts of stuff to do, guiding other travelers. If he’s not too busy I could try to get him to help me find the other locket. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll spend a day or so figuring out how things have changed, and then I’ll get back to Trezzlepeg…

My train of thought derailed as I entered the living room. Things had changed drastically. The room was in a shambles, with piles of trash and clutter strewn about as if a gale had blown through the room. Books lay discarded on the floor, the couches were dusty and unkempt and even a bowl of macaroni and cheese lay unfinished in front of the TV. Pictures lay in their broken frames, some still hanging on the walls in obscure angles, and some lying on the floor in piles of shattered glass.

It didn’t make sense from any perspective. Dumbfounded, I gazed at the room until my eyes grew sore.

This isn’t my home. Where is my family?

I held my breath and picked up the bowl of crusty macaroni, intending to dump it in the sink when a pressing thought came to mind.

Annie!

Desperate to confirm her safety, I took the stairs faster than ever, and headed for my little girl’s bedroom. Reaching the unrecognizable hallway, I caught myself standing in front of Annie’s closed bedroom door. My heart throbbed as I slid my hand over the knob, and wondered whether I could take the answer I behind the door.

Trying to calm my jittery nerves, I drew in a breath and rubbed my aching eyes, Of course she is in there. Why wouldn’t she be?

With trembling fingers I twisted the knob to the right, and let the door fall open. I stepped into the dark room and tripped on an object just inside the doorway and tumbled to the ground. Not too badly hurt, I rose to my knees and flicked on the light to find out what had caused my fall.

To my amazement, it was not a doll or stuffed animal that Annie had left out, but a well-worn soccer ball.

Why is this in here? My little girl doesn’t play soccer. She doesn’t even like sports that much.

As I whirled around an even more shocking scene met my eyes. Annie’s room had transformed from a wonderland of pinks, pastels, and stuffed animals to a roughhouse of action figures; sportswear, and discarded building toys. My jaw went slack as I rummaged around the room searching for any sign of my precious child. Even after a rigorous search, I could find nothing that hinted that a little girl had ever lived there.

Everything in the room was chaos except for the perfectly made bed. Lying on the navy blue comforter near the center of the bed lay an ornate oval picture frame. Puzzled, I knelt beside the bed and cupped the picture in one hand.

The black and white photo depicted a little boy about the same age as Annie in a baseball cap swinging through the air on a swing set. The bottom of the frame bore the intricate inscription:

In loving memory of Andrew Lewis Edison 1995-2001

The frame fell from my hands. In shock, I fell back onto the cluttered floor. What? Who is Andrew Edison? My son, or my nephew even? I don’t have a son, especially a dead one!

As I stared back at the ivory white carnation, I realized the terrible reality of the situation. Something was very wrong, and that something was probably all my fault.

I glanced again at the tender, youthful face of the boy in the picture. For a fleeting moment, it was as if Annie was staring back. I shook off the vision as quickly as it came to me. It was true, that the boy resembled my daughter, but so many things were different: the dark hair, the dark eyes. They were not my traits, nor Christine’s.

I could not bear to stay in the strange room any longer. I rose painfully to my feet, switched off the light, and exited, slamming the door behind me. Now doubly determined, I marched down the hall to the next doorway.

Annie must be here. I’ll search every room in the house. She must have a different bedroom for some reason.

I continued my mission though the house switching on every light as I passed, and swinging open every door as I passed with such force that I might have ripped them off their hinges, all the while frantically calling her name.

With every unsuccessful attempt my blood boiled more and more and my voice grew increasingly desperate. Each room of the upstairs stood in the same general state of disarray as the living room. The furniture remained dusty, and old clothes lay flung about the ground like dingy fall leaves thrown from their trees by a strong wind. Not a single room revealed signs of a bedroom of any sort.

Defeated and painfully hoarse, I slunk to the floor and burst into tears. What is going on? This isn’t my home!

Having no one to provide me with the answers, I escaped into a fitful sleep.

When I awoke, I became aware of a strange buzzing noise, which filled my skull, as if an insect had found its home in my skull. Slowly, I managed to bring myself first to my knees and then to my feet. I arose and stretched to relieve my aching muscles, and a familiar pang grabbed at my stomach like an incessant itch. Despite my confusion and fear, I needed food. The nap had steadied my nerves slightly, and now I was ready to start putting together the pieces of this complex puzzle of my own making.

I made my way down the stairs to the kitchen, grumbling internally, Well, I hope that had enough sense to leave some decent food in the refrigerator.

If I thought that the living room was a mess, the kitchen looked like a cross between a flea market and a mad scientist’s laboratory. Both food and dishes lay strewn about in fabulous disarray on every corner of the counter and table. The stench alone nearly sent me scrambling for shelter.

In dismay, I glanced about for some semblance of familiarity, but could find little. The sink had been laden with towers of dishes and the dishwasher did not look like it had seen use in an embarrassingly long time.

However, amid the disaster that had become my kitchen, I noticed one familiar thing: the blinking light of the answering machine.

I stumbled over to the light and pressed the play button. The machine clicked and whirred into life and I took a seat on one of the chairs nearest me. I attempted to relax, but my uneasiness gave away to outright panic.

“Hey, Fred, this is Tom. Missed you at work yesterday. Business is really picking up and the employees are behind on their pay. I know you’re having a hard time now, but I would appreciate if you would stop by the restaurant and help my straighten things out. Hang in there, and I’ll hopefully see you tomorrow. Bye.”

I nearly fell from my chair. I work at a restaurant? What happened to my job?

I shot over to phone to glance at the caller I.D. in hope that I could at least determine where to call back. As my eyes fixed upon the readout, they widened. The display read “County Hamburgers”, a diner just down the street.

Horror welled up in my chest, and I groped for the phone to demand and explanation when the second message interrupted me and commanded my attention. My brother Fred’s voice broke the silence.

“Hi Face! Hey, brother, I’m really worried about you. You really haven’t been yourself since the accident. It really was a huge blow to us all. If it’s okay with you, my wife and I want to come over and bring you lunch. We can come around noon, if that works out for you. Just call if something else comes up. Bye, bro.”

My heart flooded with a bittersweet joy. I had succeeded in saving my brother, but at what cost? My life from what little I could put together was nothing but a shambles. A deceased son, a wrecked house, a bum job, and something about an accident…the pieces swirled about in the vast ocean of my mind constantly shifting about and blending together as if tossed about in a whirlwind.

The machine clicked and announced that no messages remained. I returned to the table with the phone in hand intent on filling in some gray areas. However, before my finger could strike the first key, I noticed something peculiar apart from the junk on the kitchen table.

An assortment of brightly-colored pills laid strewn about the surface of the table next to an open bottle. To the right of the open bottle lay a sheet of notebook paper covered with meticulously written characters. Curiously, I plucked up the bottle and scrutinized the label. I recognized the pills as the sleeping pills, which I kept around to deal with my frequent bouts of insomnia.

With trembling hands, I reluctantly slid my eyes onto the note under the pills.

Dear Family,

I never imagined it would come to this, and I’m sorry. I can’t bear the burden of my existence any longer. Since the accident, nothing else has mattered. I can’t work, can’t think, can barely eat…I’m miserable. To lose both Theresa and Andrew in such a terrible manner was unbearable. They were my life

Without them, I am a man without a soul. I’m sorry to all those who I will leave behind for I know this too will present an awful sadness. But don’t mourn for me. I have gone on to a better place, a place where where I might reunite with my sweetheart and my son. I love you all. I go now to face my fate. Until we meet again. Farewell.

-Face

I abruptly lost my appetite, and if I had had anything in my stomach, it would have left. Incredulously, I tore the page from the table and tore it into confetti. The words stood as bitter proof of the new life that I had inherited, and I could not bear to look at them. What little control I thought I had on the situation quickly flew from me.

Theresa…my sweetheart? My son? I don’t have a son! Where is Christine?

I slunk back in my chair as the wires made connections in my head. For some inexplicable reason, in this version of reality, I had not married Christine, had not had a daughter named Annie, had never gotten a job working for an advertising company, had lost my family in a horrendous accident, and was about to commit suicide.

But even more frustrating was that Trezzlepeg had warned me, and in my pride, the warnings had bounced off me like hailstones on a tin roof.

I sat, staring out into space, when a thought broke through the darkness. Trezzlepeg, the communicator. What if they are still with me? Maybe he has some sort of satisfaction guarantee.

I rose from the floor and shot toward my darkened bedroom. I halted in the doorway and flicked on the lights. I gazed at the empty bed, where Christine should have been sleeping this morning. I shut my eyes and imagined the gentle contours of her face, the playful twinkle of her eyes, the freckles that peppered her nose.

Please let the communicator be here.

Barely daring to hope, I started rummaging through my drawers, flinging socks and underwear every which direction, and succeeded only in making a mess. Next, I ripped off the bedclothes, but once again, my search turned up nothing. Finally, I thrust my hands under the bed and was met with success. I snatched the communicator and turned it over in my hands.

However, my momentary elation at finding the communicator, faded to darkness, as I surveyed its condition. It had obviously taken a hit, possibly when I had fallen out of the bed and now bore a deep dent.

I tossed it from hand to hand, dreading testing the red button, but decided that it was my only choice. Nervously, I drew in my breath and pressed the button. At first, the unit flickered to life, but after only a second or two, the hum of operation gave away first to static and then to silence.

I grunted and repeatedly jammed my index finger on the red button with building frustration. Despite my efforts, I could not raise even a spark of life, no matter how violently I pushed.

I sank back onto the mattress in defeat, tossing the busted apparatus to the side. It fit in with the rest of this miserable day. Sighing deeply, I gazed longingly into the empty space above me. I guess Trezzlepeg is lucky that I won’t ever have the chance to wring his bloated, blue neck.

I rolled over, buried my face in a pillow, and continued fuming at my misfortune, All I was trying to do was make things right. Don’t I even get points for good intentions?

I stewed in silence over the immense injustice of it all, sinking into a mire of self-pity. They always said they road to Hell was paved with good intentions. Now I’ve got proof.

More than anything, I prayed in my heart that Christine hadn’t found someone else, but as I mulled it over in my mind, I knew it was hopeless. Christine was too beautiful, too talented, to have remained single. During high school, she could have made a fortune by charging her many admirers to have her give them the time of day.

If it’s not me, I just hope it’s not someone I know. That would be the worst thing of all.

I leapt from my bed, and almost out the door. I had to keep my mind occupied with other things, or I would drive myself mad. My personal pity party was rapidly falling out of control, threatening to become a riot.

I glanced over at the clock: 8:15. It was still a few hours before noon and that would give me time to tidy up the house a little before Fred and his wife arrived. Purposefully, I marched down the hall and into the living room, where I took up the work of clearing away the debris from the floor and re-hanging the falling pictures.

Much to my relief, tidying up took up most of the morning, and so I was able to focus most of my conscious effort on that. Restoring the house was no easy task. In the next few hours it felt like I dusted more furniture, vacuumed and mopped more floors, scrubbed more dishes, and rearranged more clutter than I had in my entire lifetime. By the end of my efforts, my back ached and my hands were as wrinkled as prunes from dishwater. My house, however, had regained some appearance of order.

Having worked up a mighty appetite, I returned to the now much more sanitary kitchen to catch a snack to tide over until my brother came. Much to my surprise, a survey of the refrigerator revealed a bit of salvageable food: the remains of a pepperoni pizza and a carton of juice.

I grabbed the few remaining pieces and shoved them into my mouth, almost engulfing an entire slice in one attempt. Having downed the pizza, I removed the carton of juice and drank deeply from the carton.

The quality of the food wasn’t exactly five star, but did provide some comfort Satisfied, I returned to the living room in hopes that the TV carried some decent channels.

However, a knock at the door interrupted me before I reached my destination. I shot a glance at the wall clock: 12:15.

My heart raced as if it was pumping for two, and my fingers began to tremble. That’s Fred. It has to be…

Slowly, I pivoted around to face the front door

And his wife.

The knocking on the door grew more persistent. Probably the lady that left him the locket. I gulped and took another tenuous step. I wonder if she is someone I know.

I stood frozen in my place as if someone had sewn the soles of my feet to the floor. I wonder if they met in high school…or after.

The knocking swelled, and sweat trickled down my back, Nah, it’s probably some pretty girl he picked up in college.

Sensing my brother’s growing impatience, I stepped forward and grasped the doorknob, hesitating just a moment. Are things still the same between us?

I turned the knob. The door fell away slowly as if in slow motion, “Sorry, I was late,” I mumbled, “I was upstairs taking a…”

The scene that met my eyes slammed into me like a battering ram to the gut and drove all words away. A smiling Fred stood on the porch, and I could tell by the tender way he grasped her hand that his wife was none other than my beloved Christine.

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