Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Present Day…
“Hey, Baby! Listen…your father and I are about to head off to Marge’s funeral, ok?”
The Millennial shifted uncomfortably at the mere sound of ‘funeral.’ It was Avery Snider’s first family loss since he had been born. The family was still young enough that the family unit of three was spared the experience…until his mother’s first cousin’s death.
“How long do you think you and Dad will be in Albany,” he asked over his phone as he glanced toward his classmates as they ran around his high school’s main track at Booker T. Washington. He had been paged over the school’s PA system informing him of an emergency call, though cousin Marge had died days ago.
“Well…we’ll be landing there by this afternoon…you know we can’t just leave right after the viewing, Av! So, it’ll probably be in a couple of days –”
“I know, Mom! I just…”
His mother waited patiently for him. “I know, Av. Now it’s our family’s turn to experience death in the family. As you get older, Av, you’ll slowly experience it more and more.”
Avery waved toward his coach, indicating that he was almost done on his phone. “That, too…”
Tamara paused. Her husband and Avery’s father, Michael, had just closed the car door and started driving to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. “What do you mean, that, too, Av?”
Avery’s turn to pause. “Look, Mom, I don’t mind watching cousin Josh while all of you are out in New York state, but the guy has been acting weird lately!”
“Avery,” she said admonishingly. “I thought I raised you better than to call people with disabilities that!” Avery’s father silently nodded his head in agreement as he drove their car.
“It’s called autistic, Mom. And that’s not what I mean…lately, he keeps saying shit that doesn’t make sense!”
“Stuff—alright? He says stuff that even a non-autistic, twelve-year-old usually wouldn’t know about!”
Avery had to think for a few seconds. “ ’It’s all under sub-header, section three’… Or, ’Easement.’ ” Even though his mother could not see him on the phone call, Avery shrugged for effect.
Tamara sighed. “You know that’s all part of the autism, Av. He’s just repeating what he hears on TV and from other people—which is why I want you to be careful with your language around him, young man! Besides, with his parents going to the funeral, this will give you a chance to prove that you truly are a gown-up…just you and your cousin at the Bishops for two days. Remember, you’ve been saying that people don’t take you seriously enough? Well these next two days is your chance to change that, Av!”
He knew he was supposed to be encouraged by his mother’s words, but it was not working. “I guess…still don’t see why Daren and Shawna couldn’t just take him with them to Albany.”
“You’ve gone to a movie with Josh. Think he’ll sit quietly on a plane ride; much less a few hours during a funeral and everything else that goes on?”
They both lightly chuckled.
“I better get going,” Avery said as he saw his coach peer at him from the distance on the field. “You and Dad have a safe trip!”
“Ok, Av…remember, if shit goes down, call the cops.”
“Mom!” he said with a laugh.
Avery replaced his smartphone back in his pocket of his sweats and trotted off several yards to catch up with his classmates that were warming up before his school’s football team practices.
Later That Evening…
Chastain Park was one of America’s richest neighborhoods. The arboreal area was a swath of upper-middle class residency and open public park amenities. Avery always had a mixture of the feeling of jealousy and feeling safe whenever he and his parents would drop by to visit the cousins on his mother’s side of the family. Out of courtesy, Avery always parked his SUV on the side streets. The Bishops had always insisted that he park in their driveway or their garage, whenever there was a free-spot. But Avery felt embarrassed about his vehicle always having some kind of leakage from some organ within his SUV.
Young Josh Bishop’s parents, Daren and Shawna, had already left for their flight to Albany, so Avery was met by the Bishops’ part-time nanny, Emilina Durante; a middle-aged woman from Ecuador.
“Hola, mi otro hijo,” Emilina called out to Avery as he closed the front door upon arriving. She was cleaning up the last of the dishes from the dinner that she made for Josh and herself. She stopped in the middle of what she was doing and looked Avery straight in the eyes when he reached the kitchen. “How are you and your parents holding up, Av?”
Avery shrugged as he plopped his backpack down onto the kitchen floor. “You know…holding up. I think Shawna and Daren are taking cousin Marge’s death a bit harder than mom is, to be honest with you.”
Emilina gestured toward the small gathering of Tupperware on the kitchen’s counter to see if he wanted any of the food she had just put away. Avery simply held up a hand with a quick shake of his head. “Well, the Bishops had always been closer to Marge. I saw that the few times I met her when she would come by for the holidays…I’m sure going to miss her!”
“Yeah, me to… So, how’d it go with little man,” Avery asked this as he smiled and craned his neck, looking for him.
Emilina was a bit slow in responding, Avery noticed. She had a bit of a blank look on her face—usually not a good sign, he learned over the years! “He…he’s been a bit challenging lately. Shawna thinks it has something to do with Marge’s death—“
“But you don’t think so.”
“No, I don’t.” She put away the last of the clean dishes and leaned against the kitchen counter with a sigh. “His latest thing has been going on for about two weeks now! He keeps doing his echolalia, which, of course, is normal. But with a new twist.”
“ ’Section three,’ or something, rather?”
“Yeah! But, Av, this time he’s writing it all down…”
Avery paused. “I can hardly get him to draw a stick figure for our activities! So, now, he’s writing stuff down?”
Emilina walked over to the dining table and grabbed a tiny note pad. Avery figured it was Emilina’s, since he didn’t recognize it. She handed it to him and nodded her head once, indicating she wanted Avery to go through the pad…
The pages were mostly blank. All except for a series of numbers at the very bottom of most of the pages in the tiny note pad. No points, no dashes, no commas… merely numbers that looked unrelated numerically—in terms of sequence or in how long or short they were. After Avery flipped through the pad a second time, he looked up at Emilina. She only shrugged; her face having a resignation to it.
“He hasn’t been violent toward you has he,” Avery asked as he handed the note pad back to Emilina.
By that time, Josh could be heard talking to himself from across the living room, past the dining room, and in the kitchen; where Avery and Emilina could hear him. “Oh, no. But he keeps on talking and just starts writing all those numbers down instead of interacting with me sometimes. Tonight I finally decided to let him write in one of my pads just so I could show you.”
Avery frowned to himself. “Why not just take the other pieces of paper he writes on and show his parents?”
“Because I can never find them.”
Another frown from the athlete. “You mean he throws them away in the recycling bin?”
She was already shaking her head. “No…after I show them to Daren and Shawna, the papers he writes on just seem to disappear!”
“You check the regular trash can?”
“Yep…never found the papers there either.”
Both look off to a corner of the kitchen as they thought on their conversation. All the while, young Josh could be heard, repeating himself from time to time.
“I better get going,” Emilina stated suddenly; startling Avery!
“Yeah, it was great seeing you again.”
The two embraced. It made the Gen-Xer miss her own children back in Ecuador! She gathered her belongings and Avery walked her to the front door.
“Ok, chico, it’s you and little man the next two days! You are the hombre of the house, ok?”
Avery laughed. “I don’t know about that, but thanks, Emilina!”
After Avery watched Emilina close her car door and drive off, he quietly shut the front door and gently latched the locks so that the metallic locking sound was a whisper. He noticed that he did not hear Josh’s echolalia anymore.
Avery looked around the house from the vestibule, where he stood after locking the front door, and softly walked in the direction of the den, where Josh had been playing.
Still no sound from Josh.
Avery had made it all the way to the family room…no one!
“Avy, Avy, Avy!” Josh had been hiding and jumped out from behind, calling Avery!
After Avery had jumped with a yelp, they both began to laugh.
“You little stinker,” Avery bantered with Josh as he began to tickle him. It was a game one would do with a child about eight years younger than what Josh was.
“Hey,” Avery said; stopping in the middle of their play. “Serious-time, now…”
Josh knew what that meant and promptly sat on the floor. It was a practice that the Bishops had learned to do with Josh so that he could understand that it was time for him to focus. Avery took on the approach as well.
“Are you ok since cousin Marge’s death, Josh?”
“Mom and Dad talked to you about what happened to cousin Marge?”
Avery had not expected him to actually say the disease. He merely nodded. “You want to talk about missing her?”
“I’m ok…I can talk to her whenever I want to.”
A pause from Avery.
Avery rubbed his hands together, psyching himself up to play big cousin. He sat on the floor next to Josh. “Josh…look, I’m sure your parents explained to you about dying…I’m sorry, buddy, but you can’t talk with cousin Marge anymore. Not unless you pretend. And for some people, they need to pretend they can still talk to people they love after they died.”
Avery looked at him; gauging how his little cousin was doing. He simply sat there.
“Ok…enough serious-time. Want to watch a movie?”
Josh jumped up from the floor and ran to the back area of the house, where the family room was. Avery joined him there. He found an old Science Fiction movie on a subscription channel, popped some popcorn, and the two fell asleep by the time the movie ended.
The Next Day…
Avery found it odd taking Josh over to Atlanta’s major dinosaur exhibition in the middle of the school week. Of course, it was due to the schedule-change because of cousin Marge’s funeral. Avery had never seen so many older people before! He was used to going to high school, his football practices and the actual game matches themselves, and his part-time job at a local casual dining restaurant…it was like a parallel world to see so many people over sixty out doing errands, exercises, and even working at places he and Josh stopped to eat!
They were at the last floor of the dinosaur museum. It had been years since Avery had been there. As young as he was, Josh represented, yet, an even younger crop of Millennials that had taken the spot his age-group used to occupy—dinosaur museums, pizza activity spots with games, fairs… Josh was having a good time, and that was all that mattered.
They were about to leave the museum when Josh had stopped Avery by the circulation desk.
“Pen, please! Pen, please! Pen, please…” He kept that up, even as the lady behind the counter looked for a pen to placate Josh!
She found one and quickly handed it to Josh. Avery started to ask the clerk for a piece of paper so Josh could write onto it with the pen, but Josh had already started scribbling words on the top portion of the circulation desk!
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask your brother to stop writing on the counter! This is considered vandalism—”
“Yes, Ma’am, I understand,” Avery said, trying to control the situation. A security guard from down a hall was slowly making his way there! “I’m asking for your patience, Ma’am…my cousin is autistic and—”
“What the hell!” The woman at the circulation desk was now looking at the words Josh had just scratched onto the counter! Her exclamation, of course, just encouraged the security guard to pick up the pace!
Avery craned to look at whatever it was that Josh had written that jolted the worker at the desk. By that time, there was a small crowd gathered and the guard finally made it to the circulation desk…no one understood what Josh’s words meant.
Except the lady at the desk.
“How the hell did you know my family,” the lady threw at Josh, after reading the rather small list of names.
“Carol, what’s wrong? I don’t get it,” the guard said as the small crowd looked on. He had now become more concerned with her than any security threat!
“Doug, that’s my family I lost during that tornado in Texas a few years ago!”
There were loud gasps in that knot of people gathered around Avery and Josh by that point! The guard began to wave off everyone to either leave the museum or move on to another area of it. But most of them stayed after Carol quickly walked from behind the circulation desk and walked up to Josh. She was so filled with horror, and perhaps shock, that Avery thought he would have to defend his younger cousin from her!
Doug, the guard, must have been thinking the same thing. For he began to place himself between Carol and Josh, but she held up one of her hands; indicating that she only wanted to talk.
“Young man…why did you just remind me of my family that died four years ago in that tornado?”
Everyone was silent. There was even a new group of people that showed up, wondering what the commotion was!
“I…I…I don’t know…I just looked at you…”
Josh, then, looked up at Avery. Avery only kept his eyes on Carol and Doug; wondering what would happen next. For Josh was his charge, during the two days that Avery’s parents and Josh’s parents were all attending cousin Marge’s funeral in New York state!
“Officer,” came the voice of a middle-aged man; dressed in business-casual and thick-rimmed glasses. “I think it’ll be ok to let this one go…”
“Dr. Walters…I’m sorry this got out of hand!”
“Don’t worry about it, Doug. Carol, why don’t you take the rest of the day off. We’ll get Gary to cover the rest of your shift.”
Dr. Walters then looked around at the crowd that had started growing. He, then, fished for his lanyard that had his pictured id and flashed it before the whole crowd. “Ok, ladies and gentlemen…I’m Dr. Frank Walters. I’m the executive director of the museum. I appreciate your concerns, but I’m going to have to ask that you either proceed with your tour of the museum, or continue through the exit…this is all under control…thank you!”
He was quite effective at crowd control. Everyone had dispersed except for Doug—whom was on his radio, getting the replacement for Carol—the director, and Avery and Josh.
“Ok, Josh,” Avery said, feeling horribly upset for what happened under his watch, “you lucked out on this one! We’re—”
“Joshua, is it,” Director Walters asked; his demeanor calm and not the slightest bossy!
Avery looked at him with suspicion. “It’s actually just Josh…”
“Ok…Josh…” He looked at them both, then looked at that list of names from Carol’s family, then back at the boys. He held out his hand for Avery to shake in a greeting this time. “Well, you know who I am…”
“Avery,” he said as he shook Dr. Walters’ hand.
“Josh,” Dr. Walters asked softly, “may I shake your hand in greeting?”
Avery smiled at him with a slight nod. Josh then stiffly held out one of his hands and awkwardly shook the director’s hand!
“Say, Avery; Josh…why don’t we go into my office.” He then gestured toward that list of names scribbled on the circulation desk. “I’ve got a feeling the three of us have something to talk about!”
Dr. Frank Walters’ Office; Executive Director…
The director took a while to make himself some coffee after he had offered some to Avery and Josh. Neither taking the offer. After he did some calls to tidy up some of the museum’s businesses, Dr. Walters finally sat down at his desk with his coffee, opposite from the boys.
The office was actually relatively small for an executive of such an Atlanta institution. But it was a public museum, so it was actually an appropriate sized-office.
Dr. Walters sat quietly, drinking his coffee before he finally asked, “You see them…don’t you?”
Avery’s head snapped back and forth between his cousin and Dr. Walters!
“Not see them,” Josh corrected; his head violently shaking. “Numbers…names…other things…”
An arched brow from Dr. Walters as he glanced at Avery, whom had an inquisitive look for the director.
“Although I’m an administrator for this museum, gentlemen, by education I’m a psychologist…” A playful shrug from the director. “For what it’s worth. In this society, unfortunately, psychologists have gotten a bad reputation years ago.”
“So,” Avery finally spoke up, “what’s the bottom line of what you suspect, Dr. Walters? That, because of Josh’s autism, he has some special powers to see…people’s souls after they died?”
Dr. Walters made a face. “Bah! I don’t buy into all that ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ stuff, Avery! But there are actual studies that seem to suggest there could be some logical connections to the perception of the ability of those with autism to see paranormal events…I can think of one study I’ve read years ago from Cambridge University that dealt with what we in the psychology and brain sciences call the autistic-spectrum. Basically, it seems to suggest there’s a bit of a sliding scale between autistic people and, I’m sorry here, those of the psychotic-spectrum that believe they’re seeing things!”
“My cousin is not crazy,” Avery said defensively.
“And notice I did not use that word, Avery…it’s more of a manifestation of how a person perceives events or things. The more psychotic-spectrum studies were really more of the schizophrenia and bipolar situations…which Josh is not!”
“Easement, Av, easement!” Dr. Walters and Avery’s conversation was working Josh up a bit. And it reminded Avery of Josh’s situation at the Bishops’ house.
“So, how does all this explain how my cousin thinks he can still talk to a cousin of ours that just died, and how he just starts writing all these weird numbers down?”
Dr. Walters was already nodding his head after a sip from his coffee. “Well, that’s where you slide more into behavioral reasons than something dealing with hardware, like the physical brain…” He shrugged, knowingly. “Our buddy, here, misses your cousin and his brain constructed a meme for him to interact with your departed cousin!”
“Ok,” Avery pressed, “I actually get that! But that still doesn’t explain these numbers he’s been writing down these past two weeks, according to Josh’s family nanny…more to the point, how could Josh had known to write down all those family members’ names of that lady at the circulation desk? We never talked to her before!”
Dr. Walters leaned back in his chair; a finger tapping at his chin. “But you’ve been to this museum several times before?”
Avery froze for a second; all the while, Josh looking on. “Well, yeah. But we never talked to that lady before, much less about her family!”
Even the scientist had to nod at that point! “Yeah, in science you often deal with things we aren’t able to explain…at that time! Look, Science does not need to fill in the blanks to make events in life gift-wrapped nice and neatly for humans! Just because humans didn’t know how to fly for thousands of years did not mean we could never figure it out…I’m guessing someday—much later—humans may also figure out what we call today the Paranormal!”
It was an unsatisfactory response from the scientist for Avery. But he knew that Dr. Walters knew a lot more than he did, so Avery did not press the subject any further. Dr. Walters got out some free coupons for the boys to use for several days at the museum, and sent them on their way.
The Next Day; The Bishops’ Residence. Chastain Park…
It would be one more day before everyone got back from the funeral out in Albany, New York. Things had quieted down a bit for Avery and Josh since the situation at the museum the day before. Avery figured it was better for Josh to relax at the house. Perhaps with all the activities at any given museum there were simply too many stimuli?
They were playing one of the latest modern-day video games when the doorbell rang.
“Ding, ding, ding, ding, di—”
“Ok, Josh, we get it, buddy…just keep on playing, will you? I don’t want to have to start over. Took us too long to get to this level!”
When Avery reached the front door, he peered through the eyepiece of the door and saw that it was Emilina! But she wasn’t scheduled to be back for another couple of days…
“Hola, Emilina…” She did not smile back. In fact, her eyes darted around inside the house as Avery spoke. “Everything ok?”
Avery paused. “In the family room…come on in—”
“Not this time, mi hijo…can you step out here and shut the door?”
Another pause by Avery. “Sure…”
Before Avery could say anything else, Emilina pulled out her little note pad she had with her the other day. “Avery…remember all those numbers I told you that Josh was writing in this pad and those other pieces of papers?”
The nanny seemed to think more on whatever was on her mind before she went on. “Av, what do you know about estates?”
Now he was frowning. “You mean property stuff?”
“Well, we all know that’s how both of the Bishops made their money to afford all this…Emilina, why are you asking me all this?”
“Account numbers, Av! All those numbers were hidden bank account numbers to all of your cousin Marge’s wealth, man!”
“Si…” She had several other pieces of paper with her and brought them up to show Avery. “I hope you don’t mind, but I had a friend of mine look at Josh’s writings on my note pad…he’s an analyst, so I figured he might have a little insight, you know? He pointed out to me that if you pay close attention to how Josh wrote all those numbers, they correspond to how most banking systems work!”
“What a minute,” Avery finally said; things starting to click for him. “So…you have copies of my cousin Marge’s accounts?”
“Not me, mi hijo…those original papers that Josh wrote on and what his parents did with them that I could not find? Well, guess what I found in some old trash that I left in the back of my car I was about to throw out that came from this house?”
“All of cousin Marge’s bank accounts— photo copied,” Avery said slowly.
It was at that point that she held up a couple of pieces of crumpled-up papers with Josh’s writings of those series of numbers, and then she held up her tiny note pad—letting them face Avery, several series of numbers had matched exactly!
“Oh, my god,” Avery said under his breath. He thought for a moment as Emilina looked on. “Josh was writing down what he somehow saw in this house! So, then…all that stuff about ‘easement’ and ’sub-header—”
“Section three of your cousin Marge’s will was about how she wanted her money used in a land-dispute she had with a certain someones…”
“The Bishops,” Avery said. “They shared some land with cousin Marge but wanted to use it very differently than she did. Sounds like Daren and Shawna were trying to take advantage of cousin Marge’s sickness!”
She quietly looked at Avery, worried about what life would, now, throw at him and his cousin, Josh.
“So, what now, Emilina? No doubt, all this seems to be true! But we’re not lawyers—“
She feigned an apologetic face. “Again, mi hijo, I hope you don’t mind, but I took the initiative to contact your parents yesterday! Don’t worry, I waited until after the funeral service.”
Avery nodded his approval.
Emilina felt it was appropriate that Avery should keep all the copies and other papers she had accumulated in her research. She and Avery gave each other a warm embrace. It was a different hug this time. For given what they both knew about Josh’s parents now, Avery and Emilina were not sure they would see each other again, since she was the Bishop family’s part-time nanny. Indeed, what would happen to Josh, in the likelihood that both of his parents would face long jail-terms for white collar criminal offenses! In Avery’s and Emilina’s minds, Avery’s family taking him in seemed the logical contingency.
Emilina began to walk off the Bishops’ porch before Avery called out to her. “What do you think about Josh saying he’s able to talk to cousin Marge?”
She thought on the question, yet a few steps away from the front door. “Did Josh write those numbers down because he saw them, or heard them around the house? Or did he get them from somewhere else…?”
They both looked at each other before Emilina finally walked off to her car, nothing else said between them...