Chapter One - The Beginning
By Mark Mc Quown
Cachi sits on the top step of his California home and looks across the front lawn to the concrete sidewalk only twenty feet in front of him. His eyes look up and down the distance as the lazy grass blades vibrate gently against the cool breeze coming off the nearby ocean. Cachi has seen this grass for as long as he can remember, which is really – only twelve years. Something about the grass that draws Cachi here, every afternoon when it is not raining and it is not too hot. His mother would sit just inside the screen door and watch her son carefully as she prayed daily for a miracle to cure his autism.
Cachi didn’t remember what it was like not to have autism. As far as he was concerned, this was his normal state but he now knew that was wrong. He was really someone else he had never met but would be someday when medicine found a cure for the disease. When Cachi saw other children playing, this was foreign to him. Not playing felt correct so there was nothing wrong with him, there was something wrong with everyone else – except mom and dad didn’t see it that way.
In twelve years, Cachi had come to know his failure as autism. He had come to know that he was it – autistic – and that is why none of the other kids sat on their porch and stared at the grass. Fortunately for him, this, in fact, was his lifeline being a kid who played and whose mother did not sit behind the half-shaded screen, weeping it her son’s nonperformance. Cachi could count the times he had been hauled into some Specialists office and given this test and given this medicine and taken this shot while all the time Cachi saw himself on a journey – across the grass in his front lawn and back.
He knew every medical office and every staff member who worked in those offices, by heart – except he couldn’t say them. He couldn’t make the words that were their names. He could point in his mind and struggle relentlessly to the point of tremors – but he could not force his mouth to work. He was it; autistic.
Cachi had invented games a long time ago in his twelve-year history, that made up for riding on a bicycle or playing games on a personal telephone. Cachi could take an area of the grass and draw a square around it and instantly tell you how many blades of grass were inside that square – only he couldn’t speak. Cachi could watch the street past his grass and over some time, tell you the license plate numbers of all the vehicles that past in a certain time period.
“Cachi, it’s time to come in now son. Grab onto to mom, Cachi”. Instinctively Cachi reaches up for his mother’s warmth and closes the fabric of her blouse around his fingers and shoves his head into her soft skin and she carries her son inside. There were three places in the world where Cachi was absolutely in heaven. One was on the front porch looking across the grass. Two were in his mother’s arms as she cared and tended for him in all things and three was in his dad’s arms as dad watched television and talked back to the stupid commercials.
His dad was always amazed when Cachi would light up at lawn commercials or watering commercials that showed grass. His father would laugh at the thought that Cachi was a natural- born salesman for landscaping companies – little did he know how close his son was to their front lawn and the journey that lay across it.
He would lie in his bed in the semi-darkness of his room, trying to figure out how he was going to get down to the grass and then how he was going to get through it. He tried to see a way over the top, but it was not to be that way. The journey was at ground level with the blades of grass that he watched shimmer in the noonday sun, now standing like trees above him and closing out the light of day and the blue azure sky of Laguna, California. Cachi would wake up in the morning refreshed but never with an answer and never with a plan so the days of his twelfth year went on without change.
Cachi climbed out of bed alone and walked to his bedroom door that was slightly ajar – the way he liked to sleep. His mom and dad were down in the living room already and they were talking about him. Cachi always loved these moments because it was the only time when someone would tell him the truth even when no one was talking to him directly. He had no problem in understanding the words – he just couldn’t say them, but he knew what they meant.
He crept down the stairs like a cat until he was close enough to listen.
“There is a new program at The Drake Institute in Irvine. It’s close and it’s an accelerated program for families who have tried just about everything else.”
“How long is it?”
“It’s eight weeks on an accelerated base and they prefer you to leave the patient there.”
“Eight weeks?”. Cachi felt the same way his mother felt.
Eight weeks was too long, and it would interrupt his trip which he knew was the answer to his problem if he could only tell them or if he could only start it himself he would be free. Cachi found himself in tremors. He knew they were from his frustration but he couldn’t stop them once they started. He screamed out and his parents were instantly running up the stairs where they found him. Dad swept him up like the giant Cachi knew his father to be and whisked him off to his bed where they fought against the seizure growing any further.
In time, Cachi relaxed and settled into his mother’s arms and went peacefully back to sleep. Antonio led Salma out of the room and downstairs. Cachi, even in his sleep, could hear them whispering and looking for ways to find a way into Cachi’s world. He knew in his sleep that he had to find a way to start the journey. He just needed the right day – and then away. When Cachi woke in the morning he knew this was the day. He heard his father leave for work and he knew his mother would be in his room soon. He forced himself to get out of bed and put on his slippers. Cachi carefully walked to his desk and sat down in the wood chair and waited.
Salma knocked as she always did in politeness and then opened the door. She was shocked that Cachi was not in his bed. She was more shocked that Cachi was sitting in his chair looking at her. He never looked directly at her for many reasons but now Cachi wanted something. He wanted to live. He wanted to play and go to school and have a bike and ride on a scooter and jump and shout with his friends – who now numbered zero. Cachi had reason in his madness so he waited out the plot to see if it would work.
“Cachi, what – how, did you get over to the chair?” Salma ran to Cachi and squeezed him tighter than he could ever remember.
“I know you’re in there Cachi. I know you want to come out and your mother is here son to help you, whatever you need. She cried as she carried her tiny son out of the room and onto the front porch which was his favorite spot and she knew it. Salma left Cachi on the porch which was surrounded by a rock and stone barrier so he could not get off the porch nor could someone get on the porch without opening a locked and secure gate.
Cachi had everything he could want except a life. His parents were wealthy from money they had received from their parents, money that came from writing in the entertainment industry. He was surrounded by state of the art monitoring equipment and security so his parents could see him twenty-four hours a day, even if they were both not at home. Cachi also had a nanny/housekeeper that took care of him when both parents were gone. Marta had a little back house on the property but was really in the big house most of the time.
Cachi could hear Marta humming away behind the screened door, cleaning the living room with a vacuum. The day was quiet with almost no traffic. There was a slight breeze in the air and small marshmallow clouds in a light blue sky. This was it, this was the time so now Cachi needed a way. He sat in a small chair with arms and a shawl across the back in case the wind came up. He slid forward so both feet were planted firmly on the concrete. He looked across the grass. From the very edge of the concrete walkway all the way to the concrete sidewalk along the avenue. His eyes went up and down the grass, from the left side of the lawn to the right side, crossing the concrete walkway that comes from the street to the porch.
He decided. He would go on the section of grass on the right side of the walkway. Cachi slipped a little further forward on his chair and then settled down looking intently on one place in the grass at the beginning of the sidewalk closest to the house.
He began to rock slowly back and forth. He threw his mind forward off the porch, time, and time again, trying to break free of that will that held him in his mind. Cachi knew that if he ever knew anything truly, it was that – if he could make the journey from this side of the grass to the street and then back again – when he arrived at himself – he would be free.
Cachi was getting hot. His temperature was rising as all of the molecules in his body were getting ready to take new commands. He rocked back and forth faster and faster – his eyes were concentrated on a tiny square inch of grass where a tiny mound of dirt showed through from the ground. His nose started to bleed, and he heard a huge, raging sound in his ears like a train was coming up behind him and he was stuck on the tracks. He put his hands and arms out in front of him and he screamed as he jumped out of his body and like the new day squirrel-flyers, and skydivers, he dove straight down to the tiny blades of grass and landed head over heels on the dark, earth mound that led him down to the world underneath the canopy which now looked to Cachi to be as high as a forest.
Even from his new place in the grass, Cachi could hear Marta scream and she ran out the front screen door and it slammed back against the house a few times. Immediately the screen opened again and Salma ran out to join Marta trying to lift Cachi back into his chair. Cachi could just get a glimpse of the three of them on the porch but – in slow motion. Time on the porch had slowed down where time under the grass canopy of the lawn was speeded up and Cachi instantly became aware of this as an army of ants approached his position in a long column.
He was especially afraid of ants since he had been attacked as a child by one or two who bit him and made him scream out for help. Those were tiny ants. These ants were almost as large as a baby mouse in his new size and he was terrorized by them as they passed.
He clamored backward on his hands and his feet and then he yelled a word. Help! Cachi was so surprised that he didn’t even notice that the column of brilliant red ants, just passed him by and never even noticed.
“Help. Help? Anyone?” Cachi could speak. He had spoken before but only under the most terrible circumstances where he had to yell something or be in great peril. But now, he was not in peril and the ant column was long-off in the distance traveling away from him.
“I can talk. I can talk!!!” Cachi wanted to sing. It made him want to sing and dance and do the things he had seen on television and in the movies, but he instantly remembered what was happening on the porch, so he climbed a blade of grass until he could see that his mom was still coming out the door and Marta was still leaning down toward Cachi who was heaving and jerking around in a fit on the porch. He slid back down to the coffee brown earth and stood for a moment as he looked around at a gigantic forest of grass, dirt, small stones, leaves, twigs, fertilizer, and dead grass, dead snails but live worms, seeds of many different varieties, many already opened by small creatures like himself. The sky above now appeared to be endless and the journey to the edge of the sidewalk by the street was now also seeming to be endless and suddenly Cachi was scared that he didn’t make the right choice but now he had to go on with it and he did.
He tried to take one more look at himself on the porch but he was getting tired, so he turned his energy into motion and headed in the direction he thought was the street. It was harder than he had imagined, sitting in his chair, the guardian of the neighborhood only he really couldn’t move to help anyone. The grass was thick and tightly clumped together. Aphids were climbing on certain stocks of grass and eating them.
The insect was the size of a marble ball to Cachi so even though they ignored him, he changed direction to go around them as much as possible.
He climbed over small hills of earth, between the grass blades, spreading them apart carefully before he moved forward. Periodically he would get enough strength to climb up a grass shoot to make sure he was moving in the right direction. He would always check in on the scene going slowly forward on the porch where he was being rescued by his mom and his nanny, still in slow motion. He thought it would take forever for them just to get to him on the concrete.
Cachi climbed down and looked in every direction for his safety. He noticed that there were pathways between the grass blades that must have been made from many different bugs all traveling in the same directions. He moved to a dark place between grass shoots and small rocks that were his size. He squeezed over the rocks and just put his head up enough to see what was using these pathways. In only a few moments Cachi closed his eyes and went to sleep.
There was a terrible pounding sound around him that woke him up. It was still light outside but not down where he was. Some very large bug was thrashing through the grass and coming right towards him down one of the pathways. It was large, black, and shiny and had some kind of pincher in its front. He smelled terrible. It was a stink bug. A beetle with a glossy black outside and a horrible face. Cachi ducked down as the beetle pushed by him, leaving a sickening stink in the air and on the ground. He had to get away quickly, so he chose a path away from the beetle and in moments he was in another part of the grass which smelled totally different than the stink bug.
It seemed to him that the weather was changing; it was getting darker and colder even though it was still light on the porch and life on the porch was still in slow motion – his mother was close to him and yet still so far away.
Cachi didn’t understand why time was different under the grass but he did understand that this was all, really in his mind and he knew his mind was creating this world, so he could get better – so he could be the son he saw in his father’s eyes and in his mother’s arms as they both tended and cared for him all his short life.
The cold meant shelter and the darkness meant new animals – the ones that come out at night and eat. The hunters were coming and even though Cachi had never seen them, he knew he would recognize them. Cachi walked forward on what appeared to be a worn pathway between the giant blades of grass. The ground was like gravel with grass seeds and the remains of many different kinds of insects – now only shells of their former selves. He walked carefully and quietly, listening to the other sounds of grass being pushed and pulled, tiny creatures running from larger, tiny creatures, and the wind in the air and the sound of traffic now and then.
He had no protection and at the time he started to think about this aspect of the journey, he was approaching a much darker and colder area on the path and at the end, as far as he could see, were a pair of emerald eyes with four smaller eyes behind those. It was a spider and about the size of a golf ball to Cachi. He was afraid of spiders and had been since he could remember. He was afraid of spiders that were the size of a postage stamp, not a golf ball and an unfriendly one. The thing stuck out its huge legs and made a fast movement toward Cachi when it stopped.
Cachi was backed up into a dense cluster of grass blades with nowhere to go. The spider sensed his fear, and started to lunge forward when two, red ants attacked from different sides. The spider shook them off but by that time there were four times as many. Each time the spider would shake the ants free, more were waiting in lines like troops.
The helpless spider finally turned and ran with the ant column right behind. They left Cachi’s site and after a moment there was no more sound except an occasional car or a mother on the block yelling for her child.
Cachi slowly crept forward into the blackness of night now until he came upon a clearing where the ant army was slowly cutting up the spider with their strong jaws and massive legs. Spider parts were handed down a long chain of ants that went off into the darkness and disappeared.
Every part, every portion was dragged off under the gaze of the emerald eyes which had contained so much fire, only moments ago and that was all aimed at eating Cachi, regardless of how large he was. Cachi was witnessing a lesson in the real world about life and death survival and the use of all that is around you to stay alive. He was alive – in the underworld of this grass canopy but he was also on the porch where he was only alive inside. His outside abilities did not exist – but he knew they were coming. His eyes on the porch were dim and confused. His eyes in this world from his mind, were bright with the fire of wanting to live, wanting to play, wanting to be a normal boy, and see that in his parent’s faces. Cachi was on the journey for his life and if he knew nothing else, he knew that.
The cold took over his thought patterns and he started looking seriously for someplace to spend the night. As he moved on through the trail he heard breathing or panting and it was growing louder as he moved forward in the cold. Cachi finally got down on all fours and crawled through a grass cluster where he opened blades of grass with both hands and saw his
enormous cat, trying to sleep on the lawn. Patch was an orange and white female cat with dark socks and one dark streak that ran from her forehead down her nose which made her like very formidable.
She was on her stomach, so her head faced the street where the danger would come from. Patch’s tail flopped up and down without pattern as Cachi stood up and walked to the cat’s side and buried himself under her long fur.
“You sure are warm Miss. Cat.” The cat’s ears trembled as the faintest part of his voice made it to her brain. She turned her head and looked but Cachi was buried under orange fur and already asleep against her warm skin, holding on to fur with both hands.
“Cachi. Cachi! Cachi!!” He opened his eyes and he was staring into his mother’s eyes on the porch with the nanny right behind her.