Chapter Books

Timmy hears things that no one else hears. Is he going crazy or is there something out there? If something is out there why doesn't anyone else hear it?

All work herein is Copyrighted and may not be distributed or published without the prior consent of the author. Copyright 2006, 2007. Kim Bentz. All rights reserved.

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Kim Bentz, Writer and Photographer, living in Viriginia (Washington, D.C. metro area). Graduate of Colorado Springs Christian School, Student at American Military University. Government contractor by day. 

Kim lives with her husband of 30+ years, nearly 2000 books, a great collection of jazz records, and thousands of photographs taken all over.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chapter Thirty-Four

Timmy swam in his own head, fighting to hear his own music, fighting to hear the music that surrounded him without being lost in it. The star kept calling to him.

Spring was coming. He knew it in rare moments when his mind would clear. Each time his awareness returned it seemed there were different people around him. His classmates who he recognized from their regularly scheduled visits, remained the same, but it seemed each time he was able to swim to the surface of his mind, there was someone new.

There was the lady in her colored turbans who showed up one day and seemed to be there each time. He would look around the room and see an Asian-looking man watching him silently in bright silk jackets embroidered with insects or birds.

They never spoke when he looked at them, so he briefly wondered if he should talk to them, but the moment was gone and he was pulled back under.

The next time he came out of it, he felt more alive, more excited than he may ever have been. He looked around the room and his eyes rested on a young girl seated next to him. Her eyes were looking right at him but she appeared not to see him. He watched her and for a moment the whole universe of sound that had been stealing him away disappeared. There was music that was cold and still and broken, weirdly atonal, simple and slow. It was captivating and uncomfortable at the same time. He listened for a while, wondering about the odd girl and her unseeing eyes, but he could not escape the music forever. The universe called. This time as he felt himself sinking back into the music, he slipped more slowly and found himself pondering in his last conscious thought about the new weird music that seemed to emanate from the girl with the dead eyes.

Renoi stared intently at Timmy. For a while his eyes were seeing and conscious, though his gaze never wavered from Samantha. The singing around him never ceased, but he did not seem to be aware of it. He did seem to be more alert than she had seen him in the days, or was it weeks? since her arrival. The tinkle of silver bells announced the arrival of Magda, whose gasp, though small, was still audible.

"I thought I heard laughter." Magda turned to Renoi in puzzlement. "I was so sure of it that I ran down here."

"There was no laughter." Renoi's spoke quietly, her words smooth, and rich, carrying in them the sounds of her native country. Her hands sat still and peacefully in her lap. Magda felt some of her own anxiety slip away.

"How do you do that?"

"Be so quiet and calm when things around you are so chaotic." Magda's voice was quiet but intense, taking her eyes from Timmy and Samantha for no more than a second. In that time she felt the warmth and deep calm of Renoi and heard her song, like deep, slow-moving waters through steaming jungles, or the lazy move of a lioness conserving her strength in the bright heat of the desert sun.

"We take things more slowly in my country. But then, you know that." Renoi turned her dark liquid eyes toward Magda, who turned back and sighed, "Yes, I know. I'm just so jumpy and frustrated. I was so sure something had changed, only to find everything still the same."

"Things are not the same, Magda." Her voice grew thicker as her eyes seemed drawn to the two children. "Samantha makes them bring her here. She refuses to be still until they do. Something is happening here."

Magda stood silently, watching the two children. Timmy's eyes grew focused and then glazed over, repeating the pattern over and over. Each time his eyes seemed to focus on Samantha, Magda thought she heard laughter. Without turning, she called softly to Renoi, "Are you hearing this?"

"Hearing what?"

"Listen."

Magda waited until she heard laughter twice more before she turned in triumph. "There. You had to hear that."

"Let's go talk."

The two women left the room as quietly as possible, and found the main room empty. They pulled two chairs close together in front of the fireplace and sat facing each other. Magda sat silently, waiting for Renoi to speak.

Chapter Thirty'Three

Word had traveled all around the world to the dismay of Benedict and Magda. Listers arrived from Thailand and Australia, from Peru and Iceland, and all lands in between. The school was crowded with guests. Those who were known were put up wherever they found room and those they didn't took rooms in nearby hotels, emptying the local car rental lots and filling the parking area to overflowing. The driveway, circling the fountain, emptied for winter, had cars parked bumper to bumper and cars were parked in the street. All day long people were asking, "Whose blue Escort is blocking my red Alero?" People came and went at random until Magda set up a check=in station at the door.

"We must know who is here and when," she declared as she stomped through the house, bells tinkling and managing to sound as angry as she.

No one argued with her.

And so, one week passed and another. The uninvited guests would take turns sitting with Timmy, as he was surrounded by his teachers and fellow students. The new guests made them feel very protective. His guardians increased the time they spent with Timmy, giving up sleep, their own studies, somethines their own classes, and spending less time with their families than they would like. They listened as they sang Timmy's song to him. Were their discordant notes? Was there anyone in particular there when Timmy grew worse? Were their others singing a foul song?

Magda became convinced of it, though she could never catch anyone. Occasionally she stepped into the hall and called Benedict or Gerald and had them check out one spot or the other on the property or in the mansion, but they never caught any perpetrators. It was driving them mad.

Benedict was consumed with worry, striving to figure out what was happening with Timmy before he was lost to them like Samantha, who wandered the mansion in a daze, talking to no one.

The strange people seemed to interest her, and she followed them around, particularly if they came in colorful costumes of their native lands. A tall, slim woman from Kenya, Renoi Rondumbai, came in beautiful dresses in bright oranges, reds, yellows and greens, with a matching scarf wrapped elegantly around her head. Her dark skin and beautiful voice combined with her bright clothing seemed to fascinate Samantha. When she was in the house, Samanthat followed her as she went for a meal, as she sat studying at a table in the library, and when she sat with Timmy, Samantha entered the room and sat by the door. Her eyes roamed the room settling only on Magda, Timmy and Renoi by turns.

"Is that the child we lost?" Magda heard the question and turned toward Renoi to answer. It always amazed her to hear the distinctly British accent mingled with the native accent from people in such distinct parts of the world. India, Parts of Asia, and even from Africa, many of the people she had met from these various lands all spoke in that precise English that denoted a British influence.

"It is," she answered. Samantha's piercing blue eyes stared at them blankly. "She seems quite drawn to you, you know."

"Yes. I had noticed. She is also drawn to Mr. Metharom, our visitor from Thailand. Had you noticed?"

Magda shook her head. "I don't believe I know him."

"He just arrived today. He wears beautiful silks, and today has on a green silk jacket with dragonflies embroidered on it. She seems to like it."

"Do you know him?" Magda tore her eyes off of Samanthat to watch the other woman's face as she responded.

"Fah is a good man." She smiled widely as she spoke, perfect white teeth blazing from a wide, beautiful smile which set off her ebony skin. "He is gentle," she continued, "and he is wise."

"What is she doing?" The hushed question came from one of the young students singing in what now seemed a choir around Timmy. Looking quickly over, Magda watched as Samantha broke through the circle, eyes on Timmy and sat next to him. She sat quietly, her face a blank stare.

Magda listened intently, but heard no disruption in the song, and was saddened to hear nothing but a void coming from Samantha. One of the students, Henry of the red hair and freckles, made a quacking sound in the midst of his song, but seemed shocked and embarrassed as he did, looking around sheepishly at the others before taking up his song again.

Shifts changed; people changed. In and out they came, but for the next several weeks some remained constant. Renoi Rondombai and Fah Metharom, were among others who showed up regularly, but each of them arrived each morning early and left just prior to most students heading to their beds. Most of the others stayed for a few days, spending a few hours at the mansion if they weren't staying there, before heading home. It was chaos and Benedict was clearly getting fed up.

"Do we have to let them come?" He asked Magda in a rare hour spent together.

"You would know better than I," Magda responded. "You should know how your parents started this school and how they expected it to be run."

Shaking his head with weariness, he responded, "They never wanted any lister turned away, but what would you do in this situation? They never put it into writing, but left this sort of thing up to my discretion."

Madga did not respond right away and they sat in companionable silence as they each thought their own private thoughts. Finally she replied, "As much as they are adding to the chaos of the house, I sense something different in Timmy since they began coming. I don't know what it is, exactly and I can't tell if it is for good or ill, but he doesn't appear to be fading as much as he was." She paused for a moment, "but I'm not the one worrying about the expense of having all these people using your gas and water and eating all your food."

Benedict laughed dryly, "The professor took care of that. He's charging room and board for those staying overnight, and is charging a daily fee for most of those coming to the house. He says that is covering their meals and a fee for using our facilities. He says most of them just sit around talking to each other and doing nothing. They're simply here to be able to say they were there during this time."

His laugh was bitter. "I guess if Timmy never gets well, they will have a stoy to tell their grandchildren."

"Bastards."

Benedict was so startled hearing Magda cuss he burst out laughing. He laughed and laughed until his sides hurt, but the laughter didn't stop. Magda broke down too. Peals of laughter rang throughout the mansion. Below them, and half the mansion away, surrounded by his singing guardians and with Samanthat sitting silently next to him, Timmy began to laugh.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Chapter Thirty-Two

Magda followed Benedict up the stairs into his suite. The room was dark, as the night had fallen without their noticing. Lights flickered then turned on at the touch of the switch. Sinking deep into the sofa, they faced each other. Magda tucked her feet beneath her skirt up on the sofa.

“Okay, what is it?”

“I’m sure I heard a duck. It was deep, but it seemed like it wasn’t just a duck. You didn’t hear it?”

“No. Is it significant?”

“I don’t know. I can’t figure out what I really heard or what it means. Now that I found it, I will be studying it.” He sighed and leaned back.

“Were they always this fragmented?”

Magda laughed. “Always? They’re doing well, right now. You’ve spent so much time at the North Pole you haven’t been around them.”

They sat in companionable silence for a while.

“Sam will be here tomorrow.” He broke the silence.

“Do you suppose we should try again with her?” Magda waited, intent on his reply.

He paused, not wanting to answer without careful deliberation. Finally he spoke. Pain wove through his strained voice. “I think it’s too late, but if you want to spend some time with her and tell me what you think, I would like to hear it.”

“Okay. Back to Timmy. I think we should select a few people to be around him, and maybe even bring his family here for a time. We need to prevent what happened today, so I think we need to team up mature listers with older students who can assist them. We need teams of three, and I think you and I need to be there as much as possible, watching and listening.”

Magda nodded as he went on, “I particularly want you to listen for what I heard. It is buried, but I think it is significant.”

Magda hugged herself tightly. “Why is it so cold in here?”

Benedict looked around with a puzzled expression on his face. “I guess I hadn’t noticed. Let me light the fire.”

After a few minutes a fire was burning brightly and crackling merrily on the grate. Magda settled herself on a chair pulled close to the fire. Leaning her chin on the arm of the chair, she stared deeply into the fire.

“It’s been a long time Benny.”

There was no answer. Benedict settled into another chair and both sat for a while staring into the fire.

“Is something else going on here?” Magda’s voice broke the silence.

He looked at her in puzzlement. “What do you mean?”

“It sounds kind of nuts…but do you think someone is working against us?”

Her expression was too serious for him to take her question lightly. He leaned back into the chair, considering the question.

“What makes you ask that?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It just seems odd that we are having such a hard time getting through to him. He seems to be fine when I’m with him, starting to come out of it, but then when I come back…” her voice trailed off into silence.

“What are you thinking?”

“I don’t know. It’s probably nothing, but what if something is going on outside of Timmy?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, I’m just speaking my fear out loud. Sounds dumb when I say it.”

“Actually, I’m not so sure.” He looked at her seriously. “I’m not saying there is something else happening here, but what if there were?” He thought for a moment. “I want to talk to Gerard and the professor about this.”

After sending for them with a carefully worded invitation designed not to raise anyone’s interest or suspicion, he called the kitchen for some food and wine. “We need to eat, and I want this to look like a friendly evening, not a private pow-wow.”

“…and he said he vas just svimming.” The professor finished a story that had the two men laughing when they came in the room.

“B-r-r-r.” Gerard mock shivered. “Do you miss the frozen north so much you had to bring it with you?”

The group talked for a bit, though the professor gave Benedict and Magda a coolly-assessing, watchful look, and Gerard kept sending puzzled silent questions to his wife which she casually, smilingly ignored.

After a few minutes, the sound of footsteps on the stairs alerted them to the presence of two students carrying trays of meats, cheeses, pickled crabapples, fruit and a basket with plates and flatware. They were followed by the heavily limping gait and smiling face of Edna, bearing a basket of wine and glasses, which she readily handed over to Benedict who rushed to take it from her.

“You should not be carrying such a heavy load up these stairs!” he chided her.

“Psshh. The day has not yet come that I can’t climb these steps, young man.” She nodded toward the two students, their curious eyes looking from beneath matching sets of curly brown hair. “Ken and Kyle here are not to be carrying wine about the place until they get a bit older, wouldn’t you say?” She smiled at them. “Off you go.” She shooed them back down the stairs with a teasing flip of her apron. They raced down the stairs in mock terror, pausing to flash a grin over their shoulders before disappearing from view. “Ah, they’re good boys.”

She quickly went about setting up the food on a side table, pulling a corkscrew from her pocket for the wine, she handed it ceremoniously to the professor, who took it with a smile.

“Bill is bringing up another load of firewood shortly, as the boiler for this tower quit working this afternoon and he cannot get the part he needs until tomorrow.”

Ben smiled at the older woman and gestured her to take a seat close to the fire. “If Bill is coming, that’ll make it a party for sure!”

Edna made as if to stand and go, but Benedict wouldn’t hear of it. “Sit right there and put your feet up,” he ordered as the professor placed a footstool in front of her chair. With a happy sigh, she did as instructed and put her feet on the stool and settled back into the comfortable chair.

Magda poured a glass of wine for herself and for Edna before seating herself back down before the fireplace.

After Bill arrived, carrying a very large armload of firewood, he joined them, surprised but obviously pleased to be invited.

When all had prepared plates and had a glass of wine in hand, a companionable silence fell. Benedict quietly closed the door with a snap which brought all eyes to his face, which had grown serious once again.

“I must ask you all to remain as calm as can be and to cloak your songs in merriment and mirth as much as possible, for what we need to discuss must not leave this room.” No one dared laugh at his term, but he heard Bill repeat “Merriment and mirth?” with rolled eyes.

Benedict laughed. “Is that what I said? I only mean that I want you to deliberately put out a cheerful, party type song out so that anyone who might listen in would not get suspicious.”

“Uh, Ben?” Bill’s hand went in the air as if he were a student.

“Yes, Bill.”

“Well, three of us aren’t Listers and can’t do anything like that.”

“Magda, Gerard and I will take care of that for you, but it will help if you will be as cheerful as possible and stay as positive as you can.”

The three non-listers nodded.

“I’m afraid someone is working against us with Timmy,” he began in a somber voice.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Chapter Thirty-One

Timmy was drowning.

It wasn't water that surrounded him, but sounds. He could hear each person as they passed his room, each of his "keepers" as he thought of them whenever rational thought returned, the song of the house and it's creaking timbers, the dry rot under the kitchen pantry, the leaking pipes. He heard the song of the lake in the back, the grass in its winter slumber, the birds overhead and as they sheltered in the crook of leafless trees. He heard the windsong, the stormy beats in far off places, the insects in their furious labor underground.

All these he heard without understanding. It was as if a thousand symphonies were playing all around him--different pieces, different keys, different timing. There were minors and majors all at the same time. For brief periods he had respite, and had been learning to block out some of it, but for the past few days, he was capsized in the sea of sound.

He was unaware of the time passing, and could not pinpoint a moment when he began to drown again, but somehow, in the part of his brain that could still maintain rational thought, which was a very small part indeed, he had the vague notion that this latest drowning had something to do with the arrival of the dark man.

His keepers were so taken up with the excitement and so distracted by the meeting downstairs that they were only going through the motions of singing Timmy's song. Straining for sounds from below, they would sometimes forget to sing at all, or would slowly begin to sing something other than his song. Catching themselves they would start in again, only to be distracted again.

This came to an abrupt halt after several hours.

The discussion had been going on for quite some time, and had become quite animated. Benedict quietly listened, sometimes leaning forward with a thoughtful question that told each person they were being heard. Debates became sometimes heated, and meals had come and gone. Magda sat back with a frown, listening not just to the words but to the tune that accompanied each speaker. As the day had worn on, most had stopped shielding their music and she was dismayed to discover that some had other reasons for wanting to be here.

Growing weary, she shut them out for a time and began casting about for other songs. Slowly she listened to the approaching storm, before becoming aware of what was happening in Timmy's room. His song had grown cold. From half a building away she could hear his rapid breathing, his thready pulse and feel the cold sweat on his brow.

"No!" All conversation abruptly halted as she leapt to her feet with a shout before running out of the room.

"What's wrong?" Benedict called to her retreating back.

"Timmy!"

And almost with one movement, the various Listers jumped to their feet and followed.

Benedict's long stride had him ahead of the pack and arriving in Timmy's room almost at the same time as Magda. They rushed to his side as Magda curtly dismissed the keepers who had once again forgotten their duties. Magda reached for him, crooning out the one tune that seemed to bring him to himself.

As she did so, one of the healers sang some strength into his heart and steadied his breathing. The others began to sing with Magda, some with the same heart tune, and some weaving in strands of other heart songs that Timmy exuded.

Only Benedict remained silent. Eyes closed, he listened intently to all the music that was coming out of the little boy. Fear, joy, dismay, cold, puzzled, longing...all were there. Hearing the tunes the others were singing, he listened to as they eminated from Timmy. In them he could see warmth, family, peace and all at once he saw a living room, a movie was playing on TV and there was a woman, a man and another boy. He felt "Mom", "Dad", and "Eric". He smelled hot chocolate and warm buttered popcorn. He felt safe, warm, love. He heard laughter.

His eyes popped open. He was shaken. Usually he was just left with impressions of feelings. Most people's songs did nothing else. Timmy's song was so powerful that he could see.

Magda looked at him with knowing eyes. She saw the shock on his face, and was sure there was some of that on her own face. She had seen it too.

She sang on as he closed his eyes to listen some more, listening for the smaller songs, the powerful notes. He grew cold, as he heard great sounds of winter, knowing that somehow the boy had become vulnerable to the season's rages.

After a time he heard what he hoped was the key. It was a small but cheerful note, repeated over and over and unexpected. It was spring in the midst of darkest winter.

"A duck?" He said out loud.

"What?" Magda stopped her singing long enough to ask.

"Do you hear a duck?"

She laughed and shook her head no.

Gesturing to another to take Magda's place, he grasped her hand and pulled her to her feet. With his head he motioned toward the door and she followed him outside.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Le mie scuse.

Oh my goodness, it's been over a month and I do not have a new chapter to post. Well, let me tell you it's been a wild ride. The business has been c-r-a-z-y, my dad was sick and in the hospital, my laptop is very sick and has to go be repaired when I get the money, and to top it off, I've been sick pretty frequently this late winter/early spring. Not go-to-the-doctor sick, just tired, stressed, allergic, not-sleeping-at-night so I'm exhausted during the day, kind of sick. I have done some work in the world of Timmy, but haven't pulled it together. I'm trying to get the story fleshed out. Some of the secondary characters have not been sufficiently explored and while I know what's wrong with Timmy and if he is cured what the cure will be, but no one else has it figured out. Also, Timmy's parents may be waivering about him being away, and Eric certainly is unhappy, but will he ever be okay with Timmy's "gift"?

Oh my, I long to tell you, dear reader, but this computer is in the cold basement and I have a hard time writing here in the cold and dark. I must get my laptop repaired and fast! I must finish this first story about Timmy before I find a "real" job!

Also, dear reader, my daughter and her husband are about to make me a grandma! Soon we will be traveling to see our grandson for the first time, and I so hope to have my computer to take with me for the long trip! Many hours could be cheerfully spent with Timmy in the Lister school...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Chapter Thirty

Tucked behind the kitchen, past the office from which she ruled her small empire, Edna welcomed Benedict into her private quarters. Looking down at her smiling face, he noted the deep lines and new wrinkles, the extra hitch in her step and the slight hesitation and jerky, stiff movements that signaled her age and the arthritis she refused to allow to cripple her.

He watched as she painfully lifted the tea pot and poured out cups for the two of them. When she set down the tea pot, he grasped her hand inside his own. “Why won’t you retire? You could be in Florida, Arizona, or anyplace warm. You could stay here and never have to work again…” he paused, not knowing what else to say.

“Benedict Augustine Strohman. I’ve known you since the day you were born and I will tell you just what I told your parents. I will not retire as long as I can be useful. I will not. And the day I quit being useful is the day you can bury me.” She smiled at him, her eyes sparkling. “I know more about running this place than any of these young kids we hire from town. Don’t mention it again.”

“Edna, I just wish there was some way I could take care of you. You’ve always taken care of me.” He picked up the impossibly delicate tea cup in his huge hands, unable to put a finger through the handle, he grasped it around the edges and brought it to his lips.

“You’ve done it, turning this place into a school. All the kids, the activity, the noise and excitement…it keeps us young!”

They settle down to talk for a while, reminiscing before the subject turned back to Timmy.

“I don’t know what to do, Edna. I can’t let him go like Samantha did.”

“Ah, but he’s different.”

Curious, he looked at her intently. “What makes you say that?”

“Well…” she hesitated, looking for words, “when they sing his song it’s different.”

“How so?”

“Samantha’s song was always kind of sad, it seemed to me. Timmy’s is…well, his is happy or cheerful…no…it’s…well, it’s hopeful. Yea, that’s what it is. It’s hopeful. Makes you feel like you are looking forward to something nice.” She grinned at him in triumph, glad she could describe it properly.

Hmm-m-m-m. He would have to check that out for himself. Thinking back, he remembered the song that used to come from Samantha and thought to himself that she was right. Her song had always been sad or perplexed, with lots of dissonance and feuding melody lines.

Taking his leave from her, he made his way to meet the young man who was causing so much concern.

He found him in a music room on the lower level, surrounded by a coterie of students and teachers, singing his song while Magda, hands waving theatrically while bells tinkled, spoke with him from where she was seated on the floor with him around a game board. Gerard looked up and smiled without faltering a single note.

He stood silently at the door, trying to stay out of sight as he listened, trying to distinguish the voices from the music which emanated from the boy. Closing his eyes he listened intently, thrusting away the lilting voices of the brown-haired girl in denim, the two sandy-haired twins on the far side of the room, the deep baritone of Gerard. Piece by piece he isolated and eliminated all sounds but those of the boy. Indeed what the singers heard and sang could be described as light, fun, cheerful, even hopeful, but as he narrowed into the boy he heard deeper sounds. There was a strain of coldness, of winter.

He stood motionless for an hour or more straining to hear each strand of song until he heard something else, barely there, but wonderful, light and cheerful. It was definitely hopeful and he had heard it before, though he could not place it. Something in the boy seemed to be seeking that sound.

Exhausted, he slumped against the wall for a moment. Looking at his watch, he was surprised to discover the morning had gone and it was well into the lunch hour. Inside the music room there was a slight commotion as new students arrived to take the places of the old. They accompanied the boy to lunch, while Gerard helped his wife up from the floor. As they reached the door Magda turned to him as if she expected to see him there.

“Joining us for lunch are you?” Her eyes were knowing.

How did she always know when he was around?

She leaned close to him and whispered loud enough for even Gerard to hear. “I know your music and you must cloak it if you don’t want to announce yourself to anyone who knows you.”

He laughed as she took his right arm and Gerard’s left, allowing them to escort her to lunch.

Lunch was a raucous affair. Everyone seemed to be letting off some steam, though at times people looked up to see him and ceased their laughter nervously staring anywhere but at him.

The meeting began promptly at three, though there were still some arriving with mute apologies for several minutes. Benedict held copies of the notes from the previous night, which he referred to as he led the discussion.

He read a list of ideas then asked, “Your thoughts ladies and gentlemen?”

The group was silent. Magda joined Benedict at the front. “Listen. We’ve been through this before, but we are not having great success here. These suggestions are a great start, but we need to know what you think. Please help us,” she pleaded. The professor rose to join them. They grew somewhat alarmed by the silence and downcast faces.

Clara cleared her throat nervously before saying quietly, “What does Benedict…er, Mr. Strohman think we should do?” Several others looked at him expectantly.

He looked from face to face, reading their hesitancy to speak their minds. The deference was too much and he grew more and more exasperated as he looked at each face.

“This is getting us nowhere. We all need to be completely forthright and honest here if we’re going to have a chance to help Timmy. We need to know your thoughts, your ideas, what you have noticed, no matter how small it seems. If I knew what to do without your help don’t you think I would already have done it?” Tension filled the room, and if there had been any doubt that he was angry, there was none now, as waves of frustration and anger rolled off him.

He gave an exasperated sigh as he looked at Magda and the professor before turning and pacing back and forth before the fire.

Magda’s voice was soothing and her smile especially warm as she faced the room. “Perhaps before we do this we should break the ice. Has everyone met everyone else? No? Well, that will be a good place to start.”

“I’m Magda McDonough. I was one of the first students in this school many years ago, and in fact attended with my dear friend Ben.” She gestured toward Benedict who had ceased his pacing and was staring at her as if she had grown a third eye. She moved toward him and put an arm around him, gently leading him to stand before the group again.

“When we started at this school, Ben’s parents brought in those Listers they knew from around the world and they developed our style. That was several years ago, as you can tell, and we have come a long way. Ben and I had to struggle along with our teachers to learn what some of you have learned so easily. The school was structured after the great Russian school of Petrovsky which was destroyed in the war. Some of our instructors came from India and from Africa and throughout Europe, each helping to expand our knowledge in how to control our gifts and how to use them for the sake of the planet and for mankind.

“Much of this you all know, but it bears repeating, as sometimes I think it is not clear how recently we come to this knowledge and how much more there is for us to learn.”

“Ben, will you tell everyone a bit about yourself and then we will go around the room and each of you can take a few minutes to tell us about you, so that we can all know each other better.” She smiled and turned from Ben’s glare as if she never saw it.

He knew what she was doing, but his frustration combined with his fatigue and worry made him reluctant to participate. He looked at Magda who looked back at him with a serene expression, though her eyes flashed a warning at him that he had better go along, so he sighed and began to speak.

“I am Benedict Strohman. My friends often call me Ben. You are welcome to do the same.” His posture and words were stiff and formal. He looked around the room. Faces were still reserved and apprehensive. He let out a sigh.

“This is my family home and has been for generations. I was only ten when my parents and grandparents decided to open this school. My father had been schooled in Russia, where he met my mother, but that school had closed. They wanted me to be surrounded by understanding friends and teachers, so they brought in Ivan and Svenga Semenova, Adimu Ahadi, Jenny Cosgrave, and many others and then went to great trouble to identify those who had the gift but had gone unrecognized.

“In those days there were a great many losses, and many who could have been trained had already been institutionalized and weren’t salvageable. Our best successes in those years were with those who had a family connection. Those were the ones whose families helped them and they were ready for further training.” Benedict noted with satisfaction that some had forgotten their hesitance and were leaning forward to hear each word.

“For whatever reason, it seems there aren’t as many Listers as in previous generations. This makes each one even more important. In my family both of my brothers were Listers. Among the children only one, and she has not been able to utilize her gift.” Knowing glances shot between those seated. “This loss of the passing of this gift seems to be more and more commonplace throughout the world. Many of you know that the professor here has spent many years traveling around confirming this.

“Since my niece nearly died, I have spent years in the Arctic, working with her while studying and working on ways to reverse the melting ice cap. It is a battle I am not winning. Still, I am so concerned about Timmy and the possibility of losing him that I have taken a break from my work to come here. I believe that he must be saved. I cannot explain why he is so important. Perhaps each student has the same potential, but I felt Timmy from the arctic. When I arrived and heard you all singing his song I was amazed, because I heard his song and had heard it for months. It has disturbed my sleep and my work.

“I cannot do this alone. You know him better than I do. You have spent time with him. We must work with him, but I must also continue to work with my niece, Samantha, when she arrives in two days.” Shock registered on several faces.

“Those of you I do not know I am looking forward to meeting, and I am looking forward to working with all of you.” He paused, then continued, “but you cannot continue to act as if I am too important or distant or whatever for you to be open and honest. I am convinced that between all of us we will find the answer.” Abruptly he sat down.

Magda smiled approvingly on him.

“Okay, who’s next?”

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Benedict arrived unannounced at mid-morning, slipping in quietly and moving through the mansion watching and listening. He had become accustomed to the near-reverence his six-foot, six-inch, muscular physique and reserved demeanor inspired, though it alternately amused and irritated him. Quiet by nature, his silence was often misinterpreted as disapproval or critical rather than mere silent watching and listening as was his wont. One learned so much more by listening than by talking, which he would have thought other Listers would know better than anyone.

After prowling the halls, he found his way into the living room. Some kind soul had rounded up light blankets and covered the three sleeping men and propped their heads on pillows as best they could. Benedict smiled. The professor he knew well, and though he had heard much about Walter he had only met him the one time. The other young man he did not know. He quietly stepped around them to look at the papers strewn on the table before them.

Magda found him by the window at a table overlooking the deck. The view did not have his interest, but he was intent on the papers in front of him, making notes in the margins. He stood up as her bells announced her approach, smiling and enveloping her in a warm embrace.

“You’re early,” she scolded him with a smile on her face. “We weren’t heading to the airport for two or three hours yet.”

“I was able to catch an earlier flight. Airlines work differently in Alaska. If there’s a plane leaving and you’re there, they won’t make you wait for the flight you are booked on. The weather changes too frequently and…well…it’s Alaska. I got out of Barrow early, so I was able to catch the last flight out of Anchorage for the night, saving me from sleeping in the airport.”

“Tell me about the boy.”

Magda told him everything she knew about him, his life before school, his family, and then told him everything she could think of about him since arriving at the school.

“Oh, Ben. We just can’t lose this boy. I’m sure we can reach him. I’m just sure of it.” She gasped and looked at him in alarm. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Does all this remind you too much?”

“No.” Benedict looked sad but serene. “I’ve come to terms with it. Have you?”

“There’s not a day that goes by…” her voice trailed off and she stared sightlessly out the window.

“Are you sure you can handle this, Magda?” She turned back toward him, her eyes glistening with unshed tears.

“I can handle it. It’s just seeing you again reminds me of what we went through. Few others really understand.” Reaching over, he clasped her left hand in both of his. “How is she, Ben?”

“She gets a little better every day. I don’t think she will ever fully recover, but she is better.”

They lapsed into silence, each remembering Samantha. Though she was born into a family of Listers and had many generations of Lister blood, she had been unable to learn to shut out the music and had only done so when she went quietly mad. She had been found one morning in the lake, where she had tried to drown herself to shut out the music. The resulting brain damage made her the equivalent of a five-year old and had taken away her ability to walk.

Samantha was Benedict’s niece, and he was her sole surviving relative under the age of 60 when her parents had died while on an expedition in the Artic. He had been her guardian and he and Magda her teachers when she left her bed one winter night and walked into the icy lake. He was the one who found her, and with Magda’s help had done everything in his power to restore her to herself once she left the hospital. For the past two years he had cared for her with the help of a team of dedicated professionals, taking them to his compound outside of Barrow above the Artic Circle.

“Will you ever bring her back here?” Magda looked out over the still frozen lake.

“She should be here the day after tomorrow.” He said it so quietly, so matter-of-factly that it took a moment to register.

“Are you kidding me?” Magda jumped up, and went around the table to hug him. “Oh, my precious girl.”

The professor woke at this outburst and turned to see Benedict. Jumping up he greeted him with a vigorous handshake, and within what seemed like moments, people began to feel the professor’s excitement and had come to investigate the source. A few were exuberant, but most remained quietly in awe of the dark giant whose fame and reputation preceded him. Magda’s husband and son greeted him with hearty handshakes and smiles all around in front of a tongue-tied group.

Noting signs of fatigue on his face, Magda dispersed the crowd, telling them to give him some time to rest from his long journey. She shot him an apologetic look as she realized that she had not already done so, she had some of the students gather his things and carry them to his room.

“We’ll meet back here at 3:00 to discuss the situation.” He called out at the departing group before heading to his room.

The air in the tower staircase was stale from misuse owing to his long absence. Fresh linens were on the bed and fresh towels in the bath, but it was clear that the room hadn’t been aired out for ages.

Picking up the phone, he called down to the Edna to ask for a good cleaning when someone got the chance. Edna and her husband, Bill, headed a staff of ten who cleaned and maintained the building and the grounds, and prepared meals for the staff and students.

“Bennie!” she exclaimed. “You’re here? No one said you were coming, I would have personally taken care of you.”

Benedict pictured her arthritic knees making the climb and smiled. “That is most definitely not happening. No need to climb these stairs. I’ll be down to see you in a bit.”

“Oh, pish. This old body has plenty of life in it yet. I’ll send someone else because you asked it, but I expect to see you in 10 minutes. I’m putting on the tea kettle right now.” With that she hung up, leaving him smiling into the phone.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Days quickly became weeks, and Timmy’s progress was of great concern to all. Magda wracked her brain for a new way to work with him. He was fine if others sang with him, or if they surrounded him, but the moment they ceased their external music, he was enveloped by outside music and would sit entranced or furiously scribbling notes on paper.

If they sang to him, he ate and slept, but in silence they lost him again. The school had turned on its ear for other students, but this seemed to require more, and the difference was so profound when they sang to him that Magda wanted desperately to help him.

While the older students took turns singing with Timmy through the afternoon, Magda gathered the teachers, her husband and son, and a few older Listers who had flown in to help. The professor shocked them when he appeared in jeans and a denim shirt, apologizing for being caught gardening.

Puzzled glances shot around the room as people murmured the same questions. 'Did you know he gardened' and 'Isn’t it a bit early for gardening?'

Magda watched them all for a few moments as they greeted one another, waiting as the hushed conversations slowly ceased and attention focused on her. When she had their full attention she leaned forward, bells tinkling as she clasped her hands in front of her. Her eyes went round the room, meeting each person’s gaze.

“I think you all know how things are going with Timmy. What I have gathered you all here to discuss is ideas on how to break this deadlock we are in. First, I want to tell you that I see greatness in this boy. I believe he has an important job to do and we must help him so that he can discover what it is. I believe he is vital to all of us.” As she talked her hands grew animated, bells tinkling as she gestured.

“If we have to continue what we are now doing we must have outside help. The school cannot continue as we have been doing for much longer. Not only has the education of many of these fine young men and women been delayed, but we are growing weary.” She paused dramatically. “The heart is willing but the flesh is weak.” At this she sat back, her purple and gold outfit somehow not clashing with the fire engine red chair on which she sat.

Silence ruled and Magda did not break it, merely waiting with an air of expectancy. Though some of the others shifted uncomfortably, she never moved a muscle except to turn her head. Her intense gaze met the eyes of each person. Most quickly looked away. The professor, she noted, was scrutinizing those gathered as well.

“Ah-herggh.” Walter cleared his throat. “What is our primary goal here? Is it to help Timmy or is it to get the school back to normal as quickly as possible?”

Clara quickly and breathlessly blurted, “Of course we have to save the boy. Do you remember Samantha?” There was a collective gasp of pain as each one remembered the student who had been lost to them just two years before. The memory was still vivid in each mind.

“No one vants vhat happened to Samantha to happen again. Vhat ve are asking is vhat is your commitment to saving him? Ve cannot save the boy if ve are not all committed to doing so, and that is not something that ve can decide for you. Ve cannot ask you to continue to set aside your own schooling, your own teaching, your own students unless you villingly choose to do so.” The professor stood and began pacing back and forth in front of the fireplace. Small bits of dead grass and dried leaves came off his shoes and from his clothes and hair leaving a small trail behind him.

Magda spoke quietly but intensely. “No one will blame or shame you if you feel this is too much to ask, but to proceed, whoever is involved must be 100% committed…” she paused, “and we must have a new plan.”

The discussion went on through the dinner hour. Staff brought food and wine. The food remained largely untouched and the wine soothed voices tired from talking. No one noticed the dishes being cleared and fresh glasses being set out.

It was late when Clara made her hesitant suggestion. “Should be call Benedict?” A hush fell over the room as nervous glances passed back and forth. “I-I m-mean, isn’t th-this the kind of situation which he would want to know?” Clara ducked her head, hiding behind a curtain of her own hair as she sank deep into the cushions of the couch.

Magda looked at the professor. He nodded. “We have already done so. He is on his way.”

Silence hung heavily in the room.

Eric, one of the youngest teachers, asked quietly, “Shouldn’t we wait for him before deciding what to do?”

“Oh, we are going to do whatever is in our power to save the boy, but we need to know who is with us and we need ideas to try. We want to develop a plan before Benedict arrives tomorrow.” All eyes turned to Magda. The professor once more stepped back, watching them all, gauging their reactions.

“Who will help?” the professor asked. One by one each hand went into the air. Even those not presently teachers at the school pledged their support. That decided, the brainstorming of new ideas lasted into the wee hours.

Magda rose abruptly. “I fear I must go get some rest my friends. I must be with Timmy in just a few hours and for that I need some sleep. You are welcome to stay if you like, or we can take this up again in the morning. Good night.” She strode down the hall, bells tinkling in her wake.

Most of the group left shortly afterward, but Walter, Eric and the professor stayed, their heads bent together, pen flying across the page as they formulated a plan from the ideas set forth. When the sun rose it burst through the window across the sleeping forms of the three men, each head at a near impossible angle in their respective chairs.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Magda, her husband Gerald and their son Harry became Timmy’s near constant companions. For the next several weeks, the only time Timmy was alone was in the bathroom. Even there, someone was outside of his door, singing what they called “the song of Timmy”.

No single person sang for more than two hours at a time, with the teachers and advanced students taking turns. If they were tired or their schedules interrupted, no complaints were voiced, and indeed, no resentment made its way into the music. It almost seemed as if they were all glad to have a chance to help Timmy.

During the day, always accompanied by one of the singers, Magda took Timmy for walks, Gerald and Harry took him sledding down the back hill, skating on the pond (“these ankles aren’t meant for skating,” Magda had exclaimed with a smile) or other fairly normal activities. Magda and Harry sat for hours talking with him as they played board games.

During that time, Magda revealed more and more about what they were doing, and Timmy became once again engaged in being a boy.

“We are helping you a lot now, but soon you will have to learn to sing your song for yourself.” Magda was stern for a change, her brow creased with worry. “Each one of us hears your song, Timmy, but you must learn who you really are and you must sing your own song. You must be able to shut out all the other music at times. You must learn to focus on the music you want to hear.” She sat back and stopped speaking, never drawing her eyes from his.

Timmy grew uncomfortable under her silent stare. He wanted to look away, but found that he couldn’t. Even silent, he could hear her. He began to hum what he was hearing.

Magda smiled. “That, my dear, is my song. I’m pleased you hear it, but first you must hear your own.” Pursing her lip, she appeared to come to a conclusion. “Sing,” she ordered.

“Sing what?”

Magda turned to a blond-haired girl sitting in the corner. “Shelly here is singing your song. I want you to sing it with her.”

Shelly smiled shyly at Timmy. He began to sing with her wordlessly, following her at first, then as he concentrated, he could hear the music and sing with her. He smiled. It made him think of watching movies with his mom and dad and with Eric, eating popcorn from the giant stainless steel bowl and drinking hot cocoa. He looked at Magda in surprise.

“We’re singing about the day before I got sick! We had a snow day and spent the day playing and watching movies. It was great!”

Magda smiled. “Actually you aren’t singing about that day, but what you are singing must be about your family…a very important part of anyone’s life, wouldn’t you say?” She did not expect an answer. “What you are singing reminds you of that day. It must have been really special.”

“Keep singing.”

Timmy sang with Shelly and found himself remembering his room in great detail, and the barn with all the cows, goats and chickens. He remembered the feel of itchy straw and warm feathers as he gathered eggs. He remembered the sweet taste of milk, still warm from the cow. He remembered sunny summer days and warm starry nights.

He found himself dreadfully homesick, suddenly longing for his parents, for his brother…for the farm. “Can I call my mom and dad?” Tears welled in his eyes as he looked up at Magda.

The phone rang. Eric glanced away from the TV screen at the sound, before settling back down where he lay on the couch. He heard his mother answer.

“Hello?”

“Timmy!” Eric bolted upright before remembering that he didn’t care and reclining again.

“Let me call Dad.”

Eric listened as she opened the kitchen door and hollered for his dad.

“We’re good. Yes I’m fine. I miss you, though. I saw your friend Jared at the store, he said to say hi.” Eric couldn’t hear the other end of the conversation.

The door opened. “Your dad just came in. I’m going to hand him the phone and get the one upstairs, okay?”

“Timmy! How are you son?” Dad sounded so happy he could hear the smile on his face. “We’re all really good, but missing you. How is school?”

The conversation continued, and occasionally Eric could hear his mother from the upstairs phone, not loud enough to make out the words, but he could hear her happiness. The sound of her laughter had been missing from the house since Timmy got sick. Nothing he could do made it any better. He turned up the TV volume to drown out the conversation.

It wasn’t fair. They still had him, but his parents were so sad it was as if he had disappeared. Why was it all about Timmy? He was so angry at his brother, but he really missed him, too.

Magda smiled a sad smile as she looked at Timmy, surrounded by a circle of singers, happily taking on the phone. For nearly half an hour they had all joined in the portion of Timmy’s own song that seemed to bring him back to himself, allowing him this brief call home. She had been called before to intervene with other new students, and she knew what the stakes were. Other’s had been saved but some had been lost. She didn’t know whether they were going to save this one. They had to save this one. They were all special, but something told her this one was even more. That and…she had fallen in love with this little boy and she knew her heart would break if something happened to him.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Chapter Twenty-Six

Timmy stared out the second-story window at the Lister school, formally known as “The Strohman School of Universal Music”. Two weeks had passed, then three, then four. Timmy had made no progress in his training. He had heard the instructors talking about it, but the words registered less than the buzzing of the fly on his windowsill. He barely ate, barely slept, spending his hours with his eyes and ears taking in the world outside the window and struggling to get the notes on a page.

He registered their worry as a musical tension. It was the leitmotiv that led to the discovery of what was that behind the door? It built upon each other and grew day by day. Even that was not enough to break through. Timmy had not spoken a word since leaving home, but he was docile as he was led to the grand living room and sat on the wide sofa facing the fireplace. The professor, Walter and the other teacher-counselors gathered around him and began to hum. A woman entered the room to the accompanying tinkle of dozens of tiny silver bells sewn to the edges of her cuffs, the hem of her skirt and the lively embroidered shawl she wore around her shoulders. She was followed by two tall thin men, whose similar features announced them as father and son. The young man broke into a grin which proclaimed him as the son of the woman.

Timmy was captivated by them because they seemed to vibrate a three-part harmony that made his skin tingle and that was the first glimmer of awareness of others that had penetrated since leaving home.

Soon the teacher-counselors were shoring up the music by singing aloud wordlessly. The sound swept through Timmy, piercing the cloud of musical themes that had taken over his mind and dragging him into full consciousness of his surroundings. He blinked three times in rapid succession as he looked at the faces of everyone surrounding him.

The woman reached out her hands and clasped Timmy’s in hers. Bells tinkled cheerfully as she moved. “I am Magda.”

The others continued to sing as she spoke.

“Hello, Madga. I’m Timmy. N-nice to meet you.” His voice sounded strange in his own ears. He hadn’t spoken in the month he had been at the school.

“Timmy, this is very important. You have to fight the music. Do you understand?”

“No.” Timmy raised eyes to hers that were full of overwhelming thoughts, grand emotions, depths of sorrow and heights of joy that he should not have known at this stage of life.

“Let me explain…” she paused. “Can you pay close attention to me now?”

“Yes.” Timmy’s thoughts were clearer than they had been in a long time.

“Do you hear the song they are singing?” In a theatrical gesture she indicated the others in the room, bells tinkling.

“This is your song they are singing, Timmy. If you listen you should hear that.”

Placing a hand on Timmy’s forehead like a benediction, she slowly wiped her hand down his face, closing his eyes gently with her fingers. “Listen. Listen to the music. Hear your own song.” Her voice was soothing. She began to hum.

Timmy listened to the song. His song? He could pick out the various voices. Walter. Magda. The pale, freckle-faced man with the curly red hair and others. Only he and the professor remained silent. The professor’s expression was filled with rapture and concern.

Timmy listened to the music in puzzlement. His song? He had a song of his very own? He listened to the music. It was a song of summer days, of uncertainty, of simple joys. In it he heard themes that made him remember how much he loved his mom and dad. He listened to the red-haired man and thought of his brother, Eric, and began to miss him. Next to him sat a somber dark-haired woman who sang one note, rich and steady, until she was forced to breathe. Following her breath she repeated the note without wavering.

Timmy jumped up. “That’s it! That’s the first note I heard.”

Magda put her hand on his arm. “But do you hear the rest? Do you, Timmy? That note is only a small part of who you are.” Her eyes stared intently into his own. “You must never forget who you are and who the people are who love you or…” her voice dropped to a hoarse whisper, “you will be lost.”

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sorry about the hiatus...

I've been working through some stuff, figuring out some plot problems and basically listening to where Timmy is going next. I will be posting very very soon, in fact the next chapter is nearly complete. My goal (though it is probably a bad idea to put this in print) is to have this story completed by the end of February.

I expect that this will only be the first in a series of stories about Timmy...when this is done you'll have to let me know if you want more!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Chapter Twenty-Five

Mrs. Tucker burst into tears. The professor stopped smiling and Mr. Tucker pulled her head to his chest and wrapped his arms around her.

With a grim smile he said, “You’re going to have to do better than this.”

“Valter?” the professor turned to him sounding uncertain for the first time. “Vould you explain please?”

“Ahem.” Walter cleared his throat nervously. “Mrs. Tucker. Mr. Tucker. Can we sit down?” Without waiting for an answer, he pulled out a chair from the table and sat. The professor and the Tuckers followed suit.

“Being a Lister is dangerous, but since he is one already, the only thing we can do about the danger is to train him. We cannot do this without your cooperation. We have a small school and one-on-one training…” He hesitated, cleared his throat, then took a different tack.

“He is likely having a lot of trouble in school, given the amount of distractability I have already witnessed.” He waited.

Mrs. Tucker hung her head. “The school did talk about putting him in special ed or putting him on medication.” Her voice was quiet, and when she lifted her face to look him in the eye tears glistened. “How can you help him?”

Walter leaned forward and clasped her right hand in both of his. “I know what he’s going through, and I went through the training myself. It’s hard when you are so overwhelmed by the music that you can’t play, can’t study, can’t talk to your family. You can barely eat or dress yourself, and school is a nightmare. You can hardly think your own thoughts anymore.” His voice grew intense and his eyes bored into hers. “If he is to have any kind of life he needs to be trained. Untrained Listers wind up in mental hospitals or they succumb to illness like Timmy nearly did.” He released her hands, leaned back, glanced at the professor and then continued.

“We would like to take him to our school. We have only four students at the moment, and the training is extensive. What we do…what was done for me is to train Listers to be able to shut out the music like you would tune out the ticking of a clock or the hum of the refrigerator. That’s simplistic, but imagine you had to hear each and every tick of every clock, or really hear the hum of the refrigerator, the dishwasher, the furnace, the hum of the lights, or any of the dozens of electronics most people have running in their homes.”

“It would drive me crazy,” she said.

“It does that to some people. Most of us can learn to be more normal, but the wonderful thing is that each Lister seems to have a particular specialty…music that they hear more clearly than the rest of us, and because of that we have areas where we can recognize problems as they develop and sometimes avert crises.”

“What’s Timmy’s specialty?” Mr. Tucker sounded confused.

“We don’t know yet, but over the years Listers have been able to aid the earth in cleaning up environmental disasters like acid rain and the Exxon Valdez oil spill. We have been able to slightly alter the course of asteroids to do less damage to the planet, help forests recover after fires, and some are healers.”

“More importantly, we hear the beauty of the universe, and this helps us to write beautiful music which lifts the souls, to paint or sculpt art that feeds the spirit or teach others to appreciate the glories of Creation.” Walter’s face almost glowed as he spoke.

“This is a great gift, and if properly trained, can provide great joy to your son.”

The Tuckers looked at each other. It appeared that an entire conversation was had with flickers of the eyelid, a raised brown, a brief, almost imperceptible nod and a slight head tilt, in the way that some couples have of communication. In mere moments they turned to Walter and the professor. “Tell us how this will happen.” Mrs. Tucker’s voice was resigned and unhappy.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Chapter Twenty-Four

“Until he said it, I only suspected it vas true. I tried not to hope for this.” The Professor clapped his hands in delight and danced a small jig, right there in the doorway between the kitchen and the rest of the house. He could not contain his excitement and grabbed Mrs. Tucker and whirled her around, dancing to a tune no one else heard.

In spite of herself, Mrs. Tucker smiled over his shoulder at her husband, who gave a shrug and began grinning at the man’s exuberance. Moments later the professor released her with a formal bow and a flourish.

Mr. Tucker chuckled. “I don’t know what this is all about, but it looks like you’re happy about it.”

“Oh yes. Mr. Tucker. Your boy is a Lister!”

“But what’s a Lister?”

“Oh, how silly of me, of course you don’t know.” The Professor removed his jacket, loosened his tie and began pacing.

The Tuckers each took a kitchen chair and sat at the table, looking up at him expectantly.

“Vell, how could you know? There’s probably less than twenty people alive who know vhat a Lister is. I only know because of Valter.” His eyes were sparkling.

“Valter, come here and tell these folks vhat a Lister is.”

Walter came and explained.

“Listers were heard of first in the Middle Ages, though there is some evidence that they existed before that. Lister is an old English word for listener. Listers hear the universe singing. Everything has their own song. Things like the stars, the planets, rivers, mountains, and seas have steady songs, almost like the rhythm or the base of a grand symphony. Other things like plants, animals, and humans have songs that are much more varied. What a Lister does is listens to the universe.”

The Tuckers listened intently, but were still puzzled. At their expression, Walter stopped his explanation to take a different approach.

“Listers usually begin hearing unexplained sounds when they are 10 or 11 years old. Usually it is an astronomical body, a star, a black hole, or a comet, but then they begin to hear other things. They are rapidly surrounded by the music and can think of little else. It they aren’t helped they withdraw or are sometimes treated for insanity.

The thing to remember is that they aren’t crazy, what they hear is real, even if none of you can hear it. Timmy is dealing about as well as he can, but I understand he was hospitalized recently during a bad storm.”

The Tuckers nodded.

“If Timmy doesn’t learn to shut out the music when he needs to, he may die. We can help him, but he will need to come with us.”

“Why is this good news?” Mr. Tucker spoke for them both.

“Ve have been looking for a younger Lister for years!” the professor exclaimed. “Do you know vhat this means?”

Both Tuckers shook their heads.

“He can hear the stars sing! He can hear the planets! The seasons change! I never believed in magic or mysteries until I heard Lister music. It is vonderful! It is the essence of the universe, the song of time, of creation, of loss, of life, of joy, of sorrow.” He paused to take a breath.

“Listers tell us vhen things are going wrong, they can varn us early of bad things happening here on earth. More importantly, their music brings us hope and joy. They are a proof that there is more to this universe than meets the eye. Science has only begun to recognize some of the things Listers have known for centuries.” His eyes were sparkling.

“It sounds very…strange…and…well, dangerous.” Mrs. Tucker said.

“It is. It is.” The professor did not seem at all alarmed.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Chapter Twenty-Three

At the sound of another joining in humming the song, Timmy brightened considerably. Finally someone else knew the music! He followed the man without hesitation to the bench, where they sat, singing out wordlessly the melodies and harmonies that surrounded them.

As the stranger sang out the low thrumming, Timmy sang the trills, the capriccio of birds in flight, winging their way from branch to branch in a warm beam of sunlight. Then they switched, and Timmy sang the part he had heard most recently. He sang it, not as he heard it, but miles above that, within the human vocal range. It was a pure note, steady and strong, with no variance of pitch, volume or of tone, which his young voice could not truly manage. The stranger sang what could have been harmonies or melodies, depending on what else was singing at the same time. Each musical phrase stood on its own, and yet was perfectly in tune with the rest.

How long they sang, neither of them could know. They sang until their voices could no longer maintain pitch and they began to sound raspy.

Timmy was so excited that he actually registered the man with him for the first time. He took in his visual appearance, the scent of the soap the man used, the light in his eyes and the glow on his face. He felt as if he truly knew this man, and this was so exciting that for the first time, the music did not overwhelm him and he was fully present.

“Who are you?” he asked in wonder.

“Walter. But we’ve already met.” With a grin and a nod back at the house he reminded Timmy of their introduction.

Embarrassed, Timmy ducked his head, “yeah, well…”

“It’s okay, Timmy. I understand.” The voice was gentle.

Looking up, Timmy knew it was true.

“So what is it? What is the music? Why can’t anyone hear it?” Those and dozen of other questions pushed their way out of Timmy’s brain, stumbling over themselves on his tongue, giving no room and no time for an answer.

“Timmy. Whoa. Wait a minute.” Walter held up his hand, laughing. Timmy quieted.

“We are hearing the song of the universe. It is the stars, the planets, the mountains, the trees, the wind, the water, the storms and every living thing. Each thing has a part in the song, even the smallest ant, though their song is small and so brief you may miss it.”

“Do you hear that?” he hummed the part he was talking about. Timmy nodded. The music was carrying him away again and he was struggling to stay part of the conversation.

“That is the song of this oak tree as it readies itself for spring.”

The musical firmaments were surrounding him again, and he could see his new friend’s lips moving but struggled to catch part of it. “…hear…birdsong and…learn…become…”

Walter quit speaking, realizing as he looked at the boy that he was no longer able to hear him. Quietly he began to hum the oak tree’s song. Timmy hummed along, absently.

Getting to his feet, he pulled Timmy up and led him back into the house.

The unspoken question was on the Professor's expectant face. He answered it quickly. “Yes. He is a Lister.”

Chapter Twenty-Two

Mrs. Tucker anxiously rearranged the candlesticks on the coffee table for the twelfth time, standing back to check the overall impression of the room. Nervous as a young filly, she trotted across the room to adjust this picture, fluff that pillow, and turn the lampshade just so. She couldn’t remember a time when she had been this nervous. Mr. Tucker had given up trying to calm her and had gone into the barn to tinker with the tractor they had rescued from the side of the road. Both had their own ways of handling their anxious thoughts.

Timmy had been scrubbed and tucked into his best pants, a dress shirt and even been forced into a tie. Even his overwhelming distraction did not keep him from fussing about the tie, which now hung loosened and askew from beneath his starched collar.

Now that the deed was done, Timmy had slipped back into reverie. He had heard a new note this morning, deeper than any he had heard before. He had taken to creating his own notation paper so that he could accurately chart where on the scale the music actually played. He had charted this at 32 octaves below middle C. It was a thrill, but one he could not share with anyone. While he thought about that, an intense loneliness grew in his chest. It had been there ever since he first heard the music, and had grown stronger and stronger each time he heard something he could not talk to anyone about. Now this.

The note itself was lonely, though it did not sound lonely so much as alone—solitary.

His mother opened his bedroom door. “They’re here,” is all she said, but he followed her to the living room where his father sat with two strangers.

“Timmy, this is Professor Visvaldis and he brought along…” his father hesitated, waiting for the introduction.

“This is Valter. Valter was one of my students, and a remarkably talented one.” The man in the black suit and goatee pointed to his much less formally dressed friend. Walter appeared to be about thirty with a slightly vague expression, and a haircut that looked like he simply hacked off locks of hair whenever they got in his way.

Timmy looked at them, aware that he should do something, but the music was gathering in intensity and he was having trouble registering what they were saying. He looked at his mother. Shake hands, she mouthed silently.

Oh, that’s right. He reached out his hand absently, distracted by a trill outside the window behind them. His eyes strayed to the world beyond the window, sliding off their faces with scarcely a hint of notice.

He began to hum along.

His parents squirmed in their seats, his mother wringing her hands in her lap.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized to both men.

“Do not vorry about it.” The professor responded.

Walter’s eyes were glued on Timmy. His face was alight with pleasure and he began to hum along. The professor clapped with delight. “Oh this is vonderful! Just vhat I hoped for!”

“Valter?” he interrupted.

The humming stopped. “Yes?”

“Vhy don’t you take the boy outside vhile I talk to his parents, yes?”

Without another word, Walter reached for Timmy’s shoulder and guided him out the door. He never even glanced back.

Eric stood in his room, looking down as Timmy was guided to a bench down by the old oak tree. He watched as he sat with the stranger with the odd hair and felt fury growing inside of him. Timmy was talking; actually talking to this man. Wait. They were singing one of those odd wordless songs Timmy had been obsessed with of late. Timmy’s face was lit up with a smile that mirrored that on the stranger’s face.

It had been weeks since his brother had been normal; weeks since they had talked or played; weeks since he had any idea what his brother was thinking. He had tried to get his brother back, and here a stranger was getting more response than he was.

Whirling from the window, he stomped out the door, down the stairs and out the back door, grabbing a couple of the forbidden cookies on the way. (“Don’t touch those, they’re for our guests!” his mother had warned him earlier in the day.) The door slammed behind him with a satisfying explosion of sound.

He ran past the barn, past the paddock, past the field where his father grew vegetables for the family, past the line of fruit trees that edged the wheat fields, down to the spring fed pond where they swam in summer and skated in winter. On the edge he sat, breathing hard, having run off some of his fury. His fists were clenched, white-knuckled and shaking.

As his fury dissipated and his breathing became more normal, deep feelings of loss and pain filled him. He began to cry as he hadn’t since his grandfather had died. It felt as if everything had changed. He didn’t know Timmy anymore, who looked through him or past him as if he wasn’t there. His parents were so concerned about Timmy that they would scarcely have known he existed any more. The wretchedness of his loneliness filled him, ‘til he was aware of nothing but that wretchedness.

And so he sat, clothed in gloom until the emotions so drained him he had not the strength to grasp them anymore, and slowly became aware of his surroundings again. Well, actually he became aware of the fact that he hadn’t worn a coat and the snow he was sitting on had melted and his pants were wet. He was freezing, shivering in the chill air, and more than a mile from home.

He tried to run, but he had burned off most of his energy getting to the pond, so he ran-walked back to the house, arriving in the midst of what appeared to be a celebration. No one even seemed to notice his arrival, though they were gathered around the table, eating cookies and drinking coffee. Timmy and his new friend were not there.

Sadly, he climbed the stairs, hung his wet pants over the back of the chair in his room, pulled on dry pants and lay down on the bed, pulling the covers over him, back to the door. He was hungry, but the cookies he had grabbed were crushed in the pocket of his pants.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Chapter Twenty-One

Timmy’s world narrowed and expanded at the same time. It narrowed to the music and the sounds, but the music and the sounds were expanding every day in a myriad of ways. Each day he was aware of new notes, and new singers, though he could not really place them.

There were melodies that seemed to speak of snow and of water, moving slowly beneath thick coats of ice. There was deep resonance that seemed to speak of stars and timeless flame, thrum that was a song of mountains, trills that spoke of the momentary lives of small animals, a joy that was trees, and the new growth of grass, bulbs preparing to flower, and so much more. It was overwhelming and incredibly wonderful. There was joy and sorrow, hope and despair, brokenness and healing, and long, long memories in the music. There were notes so deep he could not play them, and so high he did not know how to score them. It was more than he could know and yet he wondered if the music running through his head didn’t make more sense than anything else he had ever known.

They were very big thoughts for an eleven year old boy, and he quickly quit his wondering, and went back to writing down the music he heard, often changing octaves up or down to write the melodies in tones other people could hear and instruments could play.

After taking care of the chickens one morning he came in and wrote down the notes he heard in the chicken’s clucking and scratching. It was an amusing little tune that made his parents laugh.

School was becoming a bigger and bigger problem for him. The other kids were cruel, but he didn’t care about them anymore. That bothered him a bit, as he could remember enjoying playing with them, and he remembered when school was interesting and fun. He wished that he could go back, but he was surrounded and invaded by sound.

Timmy was aware in a way he had never known before. He was aware of the sun on his face, could feel it’s warmth in each and every pore. The wind whispered secrets in his ears in a language he could not understand but found delightful. Everywhere he went he heard the song of winter and of spring. It was a song of ages, and in the midst of this song he had a hard time listening to the melodies of today, for suddenly the daily conversations, daily chores and school all were just fragments of a huge song and nearly impossible to focus on in the midst of the grand symphony.

His mother could grasp his attention, but it was such work to concentrate on just the sound of her voice, for it wasn’t the effort of listening to her, but the effort of not listening to everything else.

When he was little his mother had been part of a state choir, just one of 300 voices. He remembered sitting about 10 rows from the front in the auditorium at the convention center near the capitol straining to hear his mother in the midst of all those voices. He could see her lips moving, but he never was sure whether he could pick out her voice from all the others. Everything felt like that. He could see people talking and things happening, but unless he concentrated with everything in him he could not pick out their voices. It was madness and it was joy.

Chapter Twenty

“Mr. and Mrs. Tucker.” He had a European accent they could not quite place.

“Yes?” They turned to face him. He had a long, pointy aristocratic face with a very neatly trimmed goatee and wire rimmed glasses.

“I am Andres Visvaldis, from Julliard. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He stuck out his hand very formally and with a slight bow.

“Nice to meet you, Professor Visvaldis. I’m Will Tucker and this is my wife, Emily.”

“Please. Call me Andres. May I walk with you?” Without waiting for a response, he began walking up the aisle. They kept pace.

“What can we do for you?”

“Ah, Emily. It is what I may be able to do for you.” He sounded rather smug or certain of himself.

“What do you mean?”

Professor Visvaldis turned to answer Will. “You are confused about your boy, yes?”

“Well, yes.”

“And you are vondering vhat is happening and vhat to do, yes?”

“Yes.”

“This is what I am here for. Glenda called me and told me of your concerns and faxed me your son’s music.”

“Glenda?” Mr. Tucker asked.

“Mrs. Clark.” Mrs. Tucker answered.

“Will. Emily. Can ve go have a cup of coffee and talk?”

They glanced at each other and shrugged.
They met a few minutes later at the diner on Main Street, ordered their coffee and a large cinnamon bun to share.

“Listen.” They leaned toward the man with the strange light in his eyes. “ I think I know vhat is happening here. I have seen this once before, and hearing the music makes me almost certain I am correct. I can’t really explain just now, but vould you mind letting me meet your son and bring a friend vith me? I think I could arrange this in two or three veeks.”

They looked at each other, each giving the other a small nod.

“Okay, Professor.” Not knowing what else to do, they drank their coffee, ate their cinnamon bun and made strained small talk, although their guest seemed perfectly comfortable.

As they were exchanging phone numbers, Mrs. Clark reached out and put her hand on the professor’s arm. “Can’t you tell us anything?”

He halted a moment. “I vish I could. I do not know that I could really explain it properly, but my friend can, if the boy is in the same situation as my friend. This is vhy I vant to bring him vith me. He vill know for certain, and if it is not that…well, ve vill vant to discuss his further musical training in any case, yes?”

Their drive back to the farm was mostly silent as each puzzled over unimagined possibilities for their boy.

Nearing the drive, Mrs. Tucker turned to her husband. “If this guy from Julliard knows what’s happening to Timmy then he’s not going crazy or something, right?”

“I guess not.”

“Well. Then I’m relieved.” With that, she smiled and gazed out the window absently.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Chapter Nineteen

The day of the recital came, and Timmy could not contain his excitement. He sat at the breakfast table with his recorder clutched in his hand. He carefully laid it down next to his plate as if he was afraid to let it out of his sight, and between bites would put down his fork and reach out a finger or two to stroke the instrument.

His parents exchanged puzzled glances but did their best to keep up their usual morning banter. As soon as breakfast was done, Timmy grasped his recorder firmly in his hand, moving it from one hand to the other only long enough to shrug into his coat to head for the barn.

Recorder in hand, he went to the barn. Once inside, he looked into the rafters as if seeing a vision or hearing voices.

“Timmy,” his father called Timmy back to his chores with a warning tone.

Timmy turned with a smile on his face, and went to do his chores. His first task was to feed the chickens. He placed their food out, then pulled out his recorder and began to play. The chickens did not respond, but Timmy didn’t notice, using musical rests to check their nests for eggs, which he carefully placed in his pockets.

“Timmy.” His father called out in warning. “Let’s get a move on.”

He went through his chores in the same distracted, half aware mode, leaving his father to make up for the work he did not get done.

When the time was up, his father sighed, gathered the eggs from Timmy and sent him into the house to gather his things for school.

Even in the school bus the recorder never left his hand.

Sheet music was not needed, for he had only written the song he heard in his head.

The morning went slowly by, but all Timmy could think about was the music, and at 10:30 a.m. precisely, Mrs. Clark arrived to walk the class to the auditorium to prepare for the recital.

Parents and guests were already gathering in the hall when the class was ushered past them into the auditorium and onto the stage for final preparations and one final rehearsal.

Timmy’s eyes shone feverishly bright, as he stared at the back of the velvet curtain. The music was swelling in his head. He was aware of what was happening around him, but only as a backdrop to the music filling him, surrounding him. The music found its way into his bloodstream, playing a strange rhythm to the beat of his heart. It found its way into the tingling nerves at the tips of his fingers and toes. He heard it in the rustle of musical scores and the scraping of chairs, in the tap, tap, tap of ladies heels and the scuffle of men’s loafers as they walked to their seats. He heard it in the tap, tap, tap of Mrs. Clark’s baton on her music stand as she called the student’s attention. It was in the whoosh of the thick velvet curtain as it was opened in front of him revealing a seated audience.

He looked at his parent’s and smiled. Beamed actually, and were it not for the unnaturally brightness of his eyes and the flush upon his cheeks they would have thought he was the same boy he had always been as he grinned and gave them a short little wave.

There were two classes of fifth graders, and first the other class played their selection, then his class played “Twinkle, twinkle, little star”, and before you knew it, it was time for Timmy to play.

He was so excited he did not notice the nervous look which passed between Mrs. Clark and his mother. He did not notice the man in black, sitting in the second row sit up straighter, with an air of anticipation.

He pulled his recorder to his lips and played. He played the notes on the pages before him with whispering softness in one section and joyous abandon in another. He skipped up and down the musical scale, keeping time to the music only he heard, elsewhere. The musical accompaniment in his ears was rich and full; each day he heard more and more, as if new players had come to join the symphony. Somehow he knew that these players had been playing all along, but that he had been unable to hear them before.

He trilled and they twittered, he scaled and they played a deep strong rhythm. And though their music continued, his portion was done for the moment, so he set aside his recorder in triumph, and with a flourish, set it on the stand before him before taking the bow that Mrs. Clark was gesturing for him to do.

For several minutes he had been unaware of her, of the room, of the audience, even of his instrument. He played because he could not do otherwise, and now that he was done, he sank into his seat, exhausted.

There was a stunned silence. First one clap, then another, and soon the whole room erupted in applause. It was a nervous applause, as if people could not register what they had heard. Most of them, expecting a simple fifth grade concert complete with squeaks and squeals, and off note hear and there, were merely disbelieving.

Mrs. Clark came and had the children all stand and bow, and a second round of applause broke out. This one was a little easier. This was the expected thing. Parents came to school proud of their children but anticipating an often painful listening experience and prepared to clap politely as a way of saying “we love you” rather than “encore, please”. They looked at their own children, playing as children were expected and were a little disappointed that their child was not a prodigy, but mostly they were relieved that their children were not freaks.

The Tuckers held their heads up, proud and baffled, pleased and worried at the same time.
The crowd slowly filtered out, everyone in a hurry to get back to their jobs or their farms, but the man in black stood to the side, trying to figure out who the Tuckers could be.

They were among the last to leave, but he spotted them waving to Timmy and approached them.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Chapter Eighteen

Mrs. Tucker placed the tote bag on the table and pulled from it’s depths a stack of music paper, which she nervously shoved in front of Mrs. Clark.

“What’s all this?”

“This is what Timmy has been doing ever since you gave him the notation paper.”

Mrs. Clark thumbed through the stack, first nervously, then with interest and amazement.

“He did all this in a week?” She asked in astonishment.

“Oh, this is just a portion. It’s all he does anymore. It doesn’t seem normal…” she broke off hesitantly.

Mrs. Clark’s face was now lit with excitement.

“Can I keep these for today? I’d like to play them and see what they sound like.”

Mrs. Tucker reached for the papers. “Timmy doesn’t know I took them, so I should probably get them back before he knows they are gone.” A hand grasped hers, keeping her from taking the music.

Then a gentle subdued voice, Mrs. Clark asked, “Can I make a copy of all of this?”

Mrs. Tucker drew back her hand. “Do you have any idea what’s happening to Timmy?”

“No, I don’t. I’ve been a bit…” she hesitated, “…disturbed by his behavior lately, but this may be an explanation, or at least part.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, as I understand it, most child composers began earlier than Timmy, but perhaps he has simply come to it late. Perhaps he is a musical genius.”

A tear rolled down Mrs. Tucker’s cheek. “I hope that’s all it is. He’s so distracted and strange.”

Mrs. Clark carefully imposed professionalism had melted to reveal a warm human beneath.

“I’m sure you’re worried. I’ve been concerned myself, to be honest, but I haven’t been sure how to approach you about this.”

“I have a friend who teaches at Julliard. Would you mind if I showed these to him and get another opinion?”

“That would be okay.”

Mrs. Clark patted Mrs. Tucker’s hand. “I’m sure it will all be fine.”

Neither one of them was really convinced of that, but as adults often do, they pretended to believe it.

Chapter Seventeen

The entire family went home, back to their farmhouse, back to chores, back to milking, back to peaceful days and dark starry nights. Everything was the same, but there was an uneasy feeling in Timmy’s parents and in his brother that Timmy’s restored health wasn’t enough. Everything was the same except for Timmy.

Timmy tapped his fingers and moved his feet to rhythms they could not follow, and hummed tunes they had never heard. He would get up to go do his chores, but once outside the door he would wander off with a far-off expression on his face. He wasn’t deliberately careless, but his distraction was so profound that his parents exchanged worried glances over his head and he didn’t seem to be aware that his mother had begun taking the boys to the bus stop and waiting there until they got on the bus.

His teacher began reporting strange behaviors, and kids began avoiding Timmy. Eric saw it and was embarrassed and angry. Why couldn’t his brother just be normal? Why did he have to be so weird?

Mrs. Clark was more frustrated than anyone. It wasn’t that Timmy wasn’t cooperative, he seemed more delighted than anyone with recorder class. He played the music with passion and invention, adding notes that weren’t written on the music. It was really astonishing the notes and harmonies Timmy coaxed out of the cheap instrument. She would have enjoyed it but for the strangeness and the way it disturbed the other children and, well, her if she was willing to admit it.

There is no way he should have been able to have the tone, the purity or been able to play with such dexterity and precision. It simply disturbed her. He was beginning to seem autistic, yet the symptoms had come on too late for that. Similarly savant tendencies usually revealed themselves far earlier than this. She began to dread going into that classroom. The happy clowning, endearing kid had been replaced by a happy dreamy completely distracted kid. The suddenness of the transformation was unsettling.

To keep order in the classroom she decided to give Timmy a solo in the recital, and to allow him to play whatever he wanted to play.

“Can I make up my own song?” he asked eagerly.

She thought for a moment, unsure why the idea was so alarming. “Well, okay, but you have to write it down in advance. I’ve got notation paper which I will give you after class and explain how to use it.”

That night and in every spare minute, it seemed that Timmy would gaze off into the clouds, or stare at the hills, or the trees. Sometimes he would lay down, ear to the ground and then get up and rush to put notes on paper. It disturbed the peace of the family, yet seeing him so caught up in it, his parents were reluctant to put a halt to this new endeavor, and provided him with the tools he needed, more notation paper, dark pencils, a metronome, to help with the timing, and simply stared at the pile of pages accumulating around their living room.

Timmy’s mother was particularly concerned and as soon as the boys got on the bus one Monday morning, she pulled out onto the main road leading to the highway. Beating the bus to school, she parked and went in the office.

“I need to see Mrs. Clark.” She said, setting her large tote bag on the counter.

“Well, Mrs. Tucker, so nice to see you.” The Taylor’s oldest daughter called out from her desk at the wall furthest from the counter. She had only recently gotten her certificate from the business school in Dulanth, and was desperately trying to appear more grown up and mature than she was.

She picked up her handset. “Mrs. Clark? Mrs. Tucker is here to see you.” Pause. “Un huh. Timmy’s mother.” She listened for another moment. “Okay. Bye.”

She looked up, “If you will have a seat, she’ll be right down.”

Nervously, Timmy’s mother sat on the edge of the old turquoise vinyl chairs edging the waiting area, her tote bag clutched on her lap.

“Mrs. Tucker?” a studied professional smile was on Mrs. Clark’s face.

Rising, “Please call me Emily. Is there somewhere we can talk?”

“This way.” Mrs. Clark briskly passed through the swinging half door separating the public and private portions of the front office and down a side hallway to a small room furnished with old bulky metal chairs and table. Dingy paint and dingier floors indicated years of use, particularly by the door and at the front of the table.

With a jerky hand movement, she indicated the chair on the left while she sat at the head of the table. They sat for a moment saying nothing, looking at each other and waiting for the other to speak.

“You wanted to see me?” Mrs. Clark asked, quickly checking her watch for the time.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Chapter Sixteen

Timmy slowly regained his strength, and as he did, he spent hours in front of the window, watching the duck in the bird bath. People stopped and stared, gawked and dropped pieces of bread for the duck. He never failed to put a smile on people’s face as they maneuvered through the snow banks on the edges of the sidewalks.

Eric walked out of Timmy’s room. He had been moved just one floor down, to the children’s ward and out of ICU, and Eric was looking for the drinking fountain. He looked down the corridor on his left, then turned around and began walking back past Timmy’s room to check the other side. A couple of nurses were huddled together talking in low voices as they checked supplies in the cupboard.

“I’m telling you, Iris. That kid’s strange. Six boxes of 3x3 guaze pads.”
“Check.” The other nurse marked the sheet. “What’s so strange about humming?”
“Ten boxes of gloves, size medium. Well, he doesn’t just hum, he taps his feet and moves his hands like he’s playing an instrument or directing an orchestra.”
“So what?” She made another mark on her sheet. “What about the larges?”
“It’s not normal, I’m telling you. He acts like he hears music but there’s nothing there.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. I’ve got him tonight though, so I’ll keep an eye on him.”

Eric stood there embarrassed and angry. They were talking about Timmy, he knew they were. He was afraid to move and draw their attention. He should just sneak back to the room, but he really was thirsty.

One of the nurses turned and spotted him. With a startled look, she nudged the other nurse. “Shhh.” She smiled at him. “Do you need something?”

“Th-the drinking fountain?” he stammered.

“Just around the corner, you’re almost there.” She kept smiling her big fake smile pretending he hadn’t heard them.

Eric zipped around the corner then leaned against the wall. It was true. Timmy was different. He was getting a little weird before he got sick, but now…now he was just strange. Timmy had been asleep when he came in, but he could have sworn he was humming in his sleep, a secretive smirk on his face.

Eric was getting restless. Mrs. Reynolds picked him up from the hotel every morning and took him to school. After school he was dropped off at the hospital where he did his homework in the waiting room, spent time sitting in Timmy’s room before heading back to the hotel to sleep.

He wanted to go home. He was glad his brother was alive, but he wanted everything to be like it was before. He wanted to get up and take care of the animals, get ready for school and come home to do his chores and more homework.

The roads had cleared the day after they had come to town, but still they were here at the hospital every day. He hated that hotel bed with its faded coverlet and skimpy towels. He wanted his own room and his own bed.

Everything was changing. He could feel it in his bones and he didn’t like it. Once he had gone to the ocean with his cousins and had felt the tide pulling him out to sea. He tried to stand but kept falling, he tried to walk to shore but kept being pulled backwards and smothered by waves crashing over him and pulling him back. He had made it out by crawling to dry sand, finally escaping the tremendous power of the sea. He wasn’t sure that he would be able to crawl back to shore on this one. This tide was carrying them all somewhere they had never been.