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.

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.

Chapter Fifteen

Ordinarily most people don’t think much of ducks. They waddle, they swim, they quack, they fly, but they have always seemed rather unremarkable. But this duck was special. It isn't clear whether he flew there by accident or on purpose, or if he had missed the fall migration and been hiding out in someone’s shed for the winter, but on this particular morning, he lifted his beak, stretched his wings and flew around looking for an open patch of water. When he found it, it looked strange to the duck, so he rested on a ledge above the bird bath. The bird bath was located in the courtyard of the hospital, several floors below Timmy’s window. It looked like water, but it seemed strange to our mallard, who settled on the ledge outside Timmy’s room and waddled back and forth quacking.

Small birds came and went from the bird bath (which was heated to keep the ice away, though our duck did not know that). He wanted a pond or a lake, or even a slow moving stream, but all those in his memory were frozen solid and covered with snow.

He quacked his disturbed thoughts, his longing for water, his irritation that the smaller birds were flitting in and out of the only water he had found.

His quacking invaded Timmy’s icy slumber. His quacks were the song of spring, or the promise of spring, and so Timmy remembered. Somewhere deep in the back of his mind, in the depths of his somnolence, he felt a spark of recognition, which lit a glimmer of hope, and Timmy began to fight off the cold.

He heard the duck crying out for spring, he listened to the song of clear waters and reeds along the edges of the lakes. He heard the song of warm breezes and clear sunny days, of fish swimming beneath the surface. He heard the song.

When Timmy’s eyes opened, the first thing he saw was the mallard on the ledge, still frantically quacking away and waddling back and forth.

“It’s okay.” Timmy whispered.

Now whether the bird heard Timmy or understood what Timmy meant or not, in any case, he then turned and flew down to the bird bath and investigated the warm waters. And when Timmy’s parents returned to the room, he had a smile on his face and he looked as if he had fallen into a natural sleep.

Chapter Fourteen

Trying to be practical about it, they found a motel just a block from the hospital, but even though they were completely worn out, the elder Tuckers couldn’t sleep.

Eric, however, walked into the room, lay down on the bed and immediately fell into a deep sleep.

His parents lay there staring at the ceiling, then closed their eyes and tried to sleep, but finally, Mrs. Tucker got up and said, “Stay with Eric. I’ve got to be with Timmy.”

Soon, the door closed behind her with a soft click and Mr. Tucker gave up all pretense at sleep. Turning on the TV really low, he found a movie he had loved when he was young and sat in the strange room with the smell of pine cleaner and vanilla air freshener, and watched. Soon he was engrossed in the story and mere moments later he was asleep, sitting up, the remote still in his hand.

When he awoke, it was to find his wife sitting on the edge of the bed beside him, gently stroking his face. The room was dark except for the glow of the TV. Eric snored on the next bed.

“How is he?” he whispered.

“About the same, I think.” She whispered back. “I thought you guys would be hungry, so I ordered a pizza.”

And so she had. On the table in the corner sat a hot gooey delight, and suddenly he was ravenous.

“I haven’t had one of these since we drove the last of dad’s herd up to Wisconsin.” He bit into a piece with appreciation. “Should we wake him?” he jerked his head once in Eric’s direction.

“Let’s let him sleep. He’s worn out.” They ate in companionable silence.

Much is to be said for pizza, with all the cheese, the crust, the sauce, the pepperoni, the sausage, mushrooms and peppers. For the variety of toppings alone it is a wonder. For tonight, however, pizza had the added benefit of easing the knot of fear in their stomachs, and with each bite they forgot their worries for another moment.

Each day they spent with Timmy, and each night they took turns sitting by his side, talking to him, singing to him or merely stroking his face, but each evening, they took a break together and shared a pizza and a bit of warmth and comfort.

For three days Timmy lay in what the doctors called a near-coma, hovering between life and death. Three days they wept, they prayed, they paced, they sat and they worried, watching each IV bag change, staring at the monitors hoping for a change, listening to each breath with a combination of worry and hope.

It was the duck that saved him.

Chapter Thirteen

It was the neighbors who reached the doctor and convinced him how very grave the situation was. Unable to clear the roads fast enough, he called for a rescue helicopter when they assured him there would be a place to land. After their ordeal, it seemed that in no time Timmy was whisked away, unaware of the paramedics or of the ride to the hospital more than 30 miles away.

He remained unaware of the medicines pumping through his veins or the round-the clock nurses, or the oxygen helping him to breathe.

The county sent rescue crews to bring his family to the hospital, so before long the family was gathered in the waiting room outside ICU. The doctor entered wearing his long white coat over green scrubs, his stethoscope hanging around his neck. The strange orange shoes he wore made almost no noise when he walked toward them. Wearily he pulled the cap off his head and ran his fingers through his dark hair.

“Mr. and Mrs. Tucker?”

They began to stand, but he gestured them to sit. They introduced him to Eric who sat there exhausted and somewhat overwhelmed by the brightly lit corridors, briskly moving uniformed doctors and nurses, gleaming surfaces everywhere and the strange odors that together spelled hospital.

Pulling a short table in front of them he sat on the edge before speaking. “We’ve given him a shot for the allergic reaction, some IV antibiotics that he seems to be tolerating, we’ve increased his oxygen, and are giving him moist air treatments to open up his airways.”

“I-is he going to be okay?” his mother asked nervously.

“I’ve never seen a kid his age so sick from pneumonia before. We don’t really know how he will respond to the treatment, but we’ll watch him carefully.” Abruptly he began to rapid-fire questions at them. Had Timmy ever had an auto-immune disorder? Had been born prematurely? Had he grown normally? On and on the questions went, and just as quickly his parents answered. No, there had been nothing out of the ordinary with Timmy before.

“He’s always been pretty healthy.” His father said in bewilderment, before asking the question that weighed heavily on his mind.

“Did I hurt him by giving him penicillin?”

The doctor grinned. “Aside from the allergy, which you didn’t know about, you did what we would have done here. The difference is the size of the needle. Also, we have treatments for the allergies.”

“I thought maybe I hurt him.” With that, he buried his face in both hands and cried.

The doctor put a hand on his shoulder. “You may have saved his life. I’m pretty sure he would not have survived another day if you hadn’t gotten him here. Now we’re going to have to wait and see and do a lot of praying.”

“Now, no one ever listens to me when I say this, but you really should get some rest. You all look exhausted. You probably don’t want to go all the way home, but the nurses station has a list of places you can stay here in town.” They all stood as he rose to go.

“Thank you, Doctor…” Eric glanced at his name tag. “Dr. Shakes?” He grinned.

The doctor grinned back. “Yep.” He paused. “That’s why I don’t do surgery.” He held out his hand and waggled it in his face.

Chapter Twelve

The music was different, still there, but the themes had changed. No that wasn’t really true. Timmy struggled to think straight. It wasn’t that the themes had changed, but what he had been hearing was now in the background, swallowed up by the chorus of ice.

What other way could he say it? The song tinkled icy fingers on his skin, making him shiver. The wind whistled and blew a descant that chilled him. It was a cold song. It was full and menacing, even while the individual notes were sharp, even shrill. Slowly the arctic strain became an aria which sang of the cold north, ancient glaciers, the distant layers of the atmosphere where snow was prepared and kept in readiness.

It made his bones ache, his skin tried to shrink, and as the depths of winter sank into his lungs, his body tried to fight back. He could feel and hear the fevers begin, trying to dispel the frost from his being, but the song of the storm simply moved to its second act.

Through the layers of notes, melody, descant, and chorus, he struggled to hear and understand what his mother and father were saying. He knew his mother cried, but his heart and mind were so trapped by frigid anthems that he soon quit listening to anything but the wintry song and gave in to the numbness which slowly took more and more of him.

He did not know it, but he was close to death. He wouldn’t have cared had he known, so iced had his mind and body become. The wind cried “it’s hopeless”. The snow murmured a soothing psalm of rest. He had no sense of time or space, winter had him fully in her grasp and it was her siren song he heard.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Chapter Eleven

They came. On horseback, on snowmobile and on skis, lanterns held in front of them, but they came.

One went to check the animals, another, whose wife had ridden her own snowmobile over took over the kitchen and soon was ladling steaming soup into bowls for each of them.

The men gathered and went to look at the tractor, but quickly determined that they could do nothing about it.

“What do we do?” They asked each other. Two of the men decided to ride the snowmobiles as far as they had to until they reached a doctor or could find a working phone.

“Take my cell.” Mr. Parker said. “If you don’t get help before you reach the Thompson’s, it usually gets a signal right around there.”

And so they arranged matters to their own liking, fed the tired family and helped get Timmy to drink a little more of the water with the dissolved allergy medicine in it.

Chapter Ten

Exhausted by worry, Eric dozed, face down on the carpet with tears drying on his cheeks, his arm under his head. He hadn’t cried for a very long time. When he woke he would have been in total darkness but for the light from the kitchen door.

He could hear his parents worried voices in low conversation. Timmy’s coughing seemed to alternate with wheezing. He lay there trying to force himself to think of what to do.

If he had snowshoes he could walk out to the highway and flag someone down. If it was daylight he could strap on his skis and go cross-country to the Emerson’s. If only there was a way to signal for help. Tomorrow maybe he could figure out a way to do smoke signals.

Now he was sitting up, his thoughts racing. There was something else, wasn’t there? Something they had talked about when he was a boy scout. What was it?

He looked around the room, staring but not really seeing, until his eyes caught the outline of the flashlight on the table by the door. Then he remembered. Twelve boys on an overnight camping trip using their flashlights to send messages in Morse Code to each other, following instructions by one of their leaders.

Suddenly he knew what to do. The code for help was SOS. Three short, three long, three short. Soon he had all the lamps lined up at the windows, five in all, all plugged in to a single power strip. When he was ready, he flipped the switch. On, off, on, off, on, off. On, pause, off, on, pause, off, on, pause, off. On, off, on, off, on, off. Then he paused for the count of ten before doing it over again. Over and over and over. He wondered how long the generator would hold out. He went and turned off the kitchen light, went back and did some more. For half an hour he did this, then sat back for a minute. It wasn’t working. He thought that maybe the Emerson’s could see it, or even the Pearson’s. But then he thought maybe I need to be higher.

His dad had mentioned that the barn generator was working fine, which gave him another idea. What if he signaled from the top of the barn? Surely then someone would see him. Why from that height there must be fifteen or twenty farmhouses that could see the light.

Carefully he planned his next move. He would grab one of the big lights from the tractor barn and haul it up to the roof with a long extension cord. If he sat on the peak of the roof, he could signal for a while.

Climbing to the top of the roof was easy in the summer when the attached ladder was clear and dry, but in the dark, the ladder covered in snow and ice, it was hazardous. The first time he began to slip he realized that he needed both hands to grip the rungs so he sat down, tied the extension cord to the light and wrapped it around his waist so the lamp could dangle free. Continuing the climb his feet slipped out from under him as the roof was covered in ice just below the snowy covering. He banged his knees and his elbows, even hitting his chin once as his feet completely slid away from him and he clung by both hands, before he reached the top.

He straddled the peak of the roof catching his breath for a few moments. As he did he looked around in amazement at how many lights he could see. Surely someone would see him.

Through the light of the upstairs window he could see his parents huddled around his brother’s bed, holding hands and praying.

He turned to the task at hand. S. O. S. he flashed the code. Waited, then flashed again. Again. Again. His face was cold. Something was odd. What was it? Again he flashed the code. Again. Then he realized. The snow had nearly stopped. This would never have worked if it was still blowing hard. Intently he watched the neighboring farm houses for a response.

He saw his dad look up and see the code. A smile came over his face as he turned to his mom and gestured to where Eric was flashing the code. Again.

Again. Again. Again. Each time he tried to hold the lamp facing a different direction. Each time he peered out into the darkness between codes, hoping and praying for a response.

The wind was lightly blowing bitterly cold across his face. He began to shiver. Again. His fingers fumbled with the switch. Would they notice if he got the code wrong this time?

Three short, three long, three short. Again. Again.

There. What was that over there? Off over the ridge a house blinked back. He couldn’t remember the codes, but he was pretty sure that the flashing on off, on off was a sign he had been seen.

He flashed again. S. O. S.

The light went dark. Then flashed on off, on off. One more time for good measure he flashed the sign. S. O. S. Their lights flashed on and off over and over again.

Now that he had been seen what should he do? Keep doing this or hope they would send help? Eventually he decided to tie the light up there, leaving them a light to follow.

Slowly he climbed back down the roof.

When he got back in the house his dad greeted him at the door. “That was good thinking son. Was there any response?”

“I think the Parkers flashed back at me.”

Chapter Nine

Progress was very slow, but Eric pushed the snow forward, then right, then left, back and forth, gaining a foot or two with each pass. He cleared a space large enough to turn the tractor completely around, before he began to clear a path to the house.

The snow was still coming down, though the wind didn’t seem to be a strong. He worked on. How long had he been at it, twenty minutes? An hour? The snow was mesmerizing.

He looked ahead and saw a polar bear making its way across the drive. It seemed unconcerned with Eric, the tractor, or the house, so he kept plowing, watching the bear, wondering what he would do if it turned toward him. He blinked and the bear seemed to fade away, until it was as if it had never been.

The snow was turning colors, pink and blue and yellow at the same time. Then things blurred. Blinking hard, he tried to clear his vision, then rapidly shook his head trying to clear what must be visions. Things still blurred, but he kept going.

He felt rather than heard his father climb on, so the tap on the shoulder didn’t take him too much by surprise. “I said to come get me when you had the plow mounted.” His spoke close to Eric’s ear so he could be heard.

“I was just going to go until I got to the garage.” He had to yell back to his father.

“It’s okay now, you should go in and get warm. You did great.”

“Will you come get me after a while?” He put the tractor into neutral and stretched.

“You know I will, son.”

Hopping down, he walked quickly back through the barn to where the rope would lead him safely home. Moving seemed to invigorate him and his vision cleared. No polar bear. No tracks. That was weird.

They took turns for the next few hours. Slowly they cleared a path to the garage, and then began to clear the long drive toward the main road.

When each was done with a shift, they would drive back to the house to trade off with the other. Each time, they plowed away the newly fallen snow, keeping the path clear.

It was easier being on the tractor in the cold and blowing snow than to sit helplessly by listening to Timmy’s wheezing, the stubborn cough, or to watch him as he seemed to grow sicker by the moment. His temperature was high, and his lips and fingertips seemed almost blue.

Each time they walked in or out the door, they checked the phone for a dial tone. Nothing. They were completely cut off.

By mid-afternoon, Eric’s dad came in the door. No tractor sounds had alerted Eric, so he looked at his father in concern.

“I put ‘er in the ditch and I can’t get ‘er back out.” He sat at the kitchen table and covered his face with his hands.

Eric put a sandwich and a cup of coffee on the table then sat down with his dad. “What are we going to do?” he asked.

“I don’t know, but we’ll think of something.” He ate quickly, then went up to check on Timmy.

A few minutes later he raced back down the stairs.

“What is it?”

“I’m going to put the chains on the truck, then we’re going to use the truck to help pull the tractor out. Get your coat and gloves.”

Quickly they put the chains on the tires of their big old truck, then started her up and drove down to the rise in the driveway, where the tractor was tilted at an odd angle off to the left of the road.

Grabbing the heavy tow chain, they connected the back end of the tractor to the back of the truck. With dad on the tractor and Eric driving the truck they worked together to bring the tractor back onto the road. The truck tires spun at the unaccustomed drag, and twice Eric stalled the engine. Then they began to make progress. Slowly, the tractor began to back onto the drive.

Eric watched in the rearview mirror as the tractor began to back at a steeper and steeper angle. Putting more gas to the engine, he pulled and pulled, but suddenly the tractor began to flip over. The truck was yanked sideways, but stayed upright, while the tractor came to rest on its side.

Eric slammed the truck into park, jumped out and ran to the tractor, calling, “Dad. Dad.” His dad lay in the snow a few feet from the tractor. He slowly sat up, flooding Eric with relief. He got to his feet rather gingerly, dusted the snow off and looked at the tractor in disgust.

“Now what do we do.” He muttered when he reached Eric and stood staring at the tractor.

Snow was already beginning to stick to the side of the upturned tractor.

“Let’s go.” Dad winced a bit getting into the truck, and drove back to the house in silence.

It was a grim family that sat in the kitchen a short time later. Timmy was no better. They could hear him coughing and wheezing in the upstairs bedroom.

“What he needs it antibiotics,” Mom sipped her coffee. “What he needs is a doctor.” She got up and picked up the phone. Holding the handset away from her head, she screamed, “We need the phone!” She began to shake and cry. Dad got up and put his arms around her.

“Do you know what antibiotics they might give him?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Penicillin or something like that, I guess.”

“I’ve got Penicillin for the cows. Maybe we could figure out a dose that could work. It couldn’t be that bad for him, could it?”

“All I know is we have to do something. He’s getting worse!” then she broke into tears again.

They’d been in and out so many times they had quit putting their coats, gloves, hats and boots away, and had left them beside the door.

Eric reached for his coat, but his father stopped him.

“I’ll take care of this one, son.” He put his hand on his shoulder. “I need to read the manual and see if I can figure out what to do.”

Night had fallen, covering the drive in darkness with just a pool of light from the windows in Timmy’s bedroom and the kitchen, and the rope he had strung up to guide his return. In just a few minutes he limped back in with bottles, syringes and an instruction pamphlet in his pocket. Setting the items on the table, he scanned the pamphlet, turning it over until he found the dosage instructions.

He scratched his head, pulled out a pen and began doing figures in the margins.

“How much does he weigh?” he called his wife, who had returned to Timmy’s side.

“He was about 85 pounds last month at the doctor’s office.” She called out.

He figured some more.

“I hope this is right,” he muttered.

“I need alcohol and cotton balls,” he told Eric, who ran to get them.

The family huddled around Timmy’s bed as his father prepared the dosage.

“I don’t know if my figures are right, so I’m giving him less than I figured, just in case.” His face was grim and tense. Timmy’s body shook when he coughed and he seemed to be sicker and weaker by the moment.

“These syringes aren’t meant for little boys,” he choked back tears. He pulled back.

“Eric, please go check the phone one more time.”

The line was still dead.

His father grimaced at the news then gently swabbed his son’s thigh and jabbed him with the syringe. Timmy didn’t flinch or cry out.

The lights began to dim, so his father left Eric and his mother to go work on the generator.

By the time he returned from re-fueling the generator, he looked at Timmy and asked, “What’s that?”
They all looked at the red splotches that began to dot his face and neck. Timmy’s began gasping for breath. The splotches rapidly filled with fluid, alerting his parents of the worst thing that could have happened.

Timmy was allergic to penicillin.

His father held him and cried as his mother ran to the medicine cabinet for allergy pills. “We need to get these in him,” she insisted. “Help me get him to swallow these.”

For several minutes they tried everything they could think of, but nothing seemed to work. It appeared that his throat was swelling as his breathing was more and more difficult.

Eric was in a panic, but unable to do anything to help. He felt helpless just standing there, certain he was about to watch his brother die. Both his parents had tears rolling down their cheeks as they worked on Timmy.

Eric fled downstairs, threw himself on the floor in front of the couch and cried.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Chapter Eight

Calls to and from the doctor had not been encouraging, and then around noon, the phones went dead. Within an hour the power went out. Before long, their father came downstairs and grabbed his coat and a fresh cup of coffee.

As he slid on his boots he looked at Eric. “Going to get the generator running. Go sit with your mother.” His face was strained with worry.

Outside the winds were howling and the snow was coming down nearly sideways. Eric tried to watch his dad from the upstairs window, but before he turned the corner of the house he was already hidden by the storm.

The storm seemed to be agitating Timmy too. The worse the winds howled, the more he tossed and turned, and the more he cried out in his sleep.

He suddenly bolted upright in bed, eyes staring wide. “Make it stop! Please, make it stop.” The raspy yell ended in a raspy whisper. He collapsed back onto his pillow and despite the coughs which shook him, he was instantly back asleep.

His mother cried quietly into the afghan that she had wrapped around her shoulders.

Awkwardly, Eric went to her and put his arm around her shoulders. “It’ll be okay.” He told her, though he wasn’t sure he believed it himself.

After a while, the lights flickered then stayed on. The generator was working.

Eric heard the kitchen door slam and his father’s footsteps on the stairs. He gestured to Eric to follow him, so he tiptoed out of the room. His mother had gone into a light doze. He met his father on the stairs.

“I’m going to hook the plow to the tractor and see if I can clear the road to the highway. We need to get the doctor here or get Timmy to the hospital.”

“I know how to do that, Dad. Let me try.”

Silence greeted his suggestion. He waited what seemed an uncomfortably long time.

“We’ll take turns. You go hook up the plow and then come get me.”

Eric nodded, then went to get his jacket and boots on before heading back into the freezing cold.

His father followed him to the kitchen. “While I was out I ran a rope between the porch rail and the barn. If the snow gets so bad you can’t see, grab the rope and follow it.”

Eric nodded, pulled his hat on and went to the barn.

The wind had died down a bit, so he was able to see the barn’s outline across the yard. It made him nervous to see so little, so he reached out and touched the rope, keeping his hand on it until he was safely to the barn door. From there he broke a new path to the side door where the tractors sat idle.

It took a while, but finally he got the plow attached to the front of the tractor and started it. While the engine was warming up, he struggled to open the wide doors open to drive out. The snow drift in front of the door was four feet high in spots and looked like a mountain. This would take a while.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Chapter Seven

Timmy woke with his forehead pressed against the window. He had fallen asleep on the window seat, curled up, staring at the snow. The snow had fallen all night and now it covered the ground in a thick blanket that smoothed all the rough edges.

His father had already made tracks for the barn, so Timmy hurried to get dressed and go help. His mother had already set out his coat, mittens and boots for him, and was beginning a pot of hot cocoa on the stove.

“Hurry back,” she called as he opened the door to go out. “The cocoa will be ready in about ten minutes.”

He slogged through the knee deep snow as fast as he could, trying to stay in his father’s footsteps, though at times they were further apart than he could reach. He fed the remaining cows and horses, while his dad finished with the milking. In the old days, when the farm had been a dairy farm, there would have been hundreds of cows to milk, equipment to clean and sterilize, and tons of manure to haul away, but with just five cows, winter was a little easier than it had been for his grandfather.

Although sometimes his father would sing as he worked, bellowing out silly old songs like “Bill Grogan’s Goat”, today he was silent. The snow and cold often meant a quiet morning of chores.

He began cleaning out the stalls, but barely was done with one, when his dad got up and said, “The rest can wait a bit. No school today, so let’s go get warm and have some breakfast, okay?”

No school! Yippee!

Timmy grinned and followed his dad back into the house. Eric sat at the table, a cup of hot cocoa in his hands, pleased to have gotten out of a morning’s chores.

“After breakfast, we’re going to finish a few things in the barn.” His father turned to look at Eric, “You too.”

“Then we’re going to take the day off. As long as the animals are taken care of, the rest can wait.”

“Really?” both boys asked in unison, their faces shining with excitement.

“Really.” Their father sounded stern, but the corner of his mouth could not keep from turning into a grin.

Living on a farm, even a smaller one meant working all the time. It seemed there were always fences to fix, harnesses to mend, equipment to repair—a never-ending list of chores. Most were done by their dad and mom, but if the boys were home, most of their time was spent doing homework or doing chores. A day off was a rare treat.

Breakfast was hurried, and chores were completed with no complaints.

The two brothers came up with a whole list of things they wanted to do that day. Every possibility seemed open to them. An endless array of excitement awaited them. There were forts and snowmen to build, games to play and videos to watch. With only a day, they wrote down their list and tried to agree what to do. As they sat at the table going over their lists, they realized that their father was sitting at the table removing his boots.

“You aren’t working today?” they exclaimed.

“Not ‘til evening chores.” He replied. “I thought maybe you guys could clean your rooms, and help your mother clean the kitchen.”

At their groans, he grinned as if he couldn’t help it. “Well then. What shall we do today?”

Bringing their lists to him, the three put their heads together, deciding what to do.

“Save the movie for the afternoon.” Their mother suggested. “Then I can sit down and watch it with you.”

In the quiet excitement of their small farmhouse, the joy of the day filled them all, and though Timmy could still hear the music, today, the song was a still quiet interlude, one he could keep beneath the surface of his mind, a peaceful arrangement that did not threaten to overtake him during the entire snow day.

It was the kind of day one wishes could last forever, but if every day were like that, of what would memories consist? It is the standout days, the moments of peace and reflection, of a quiet interlude in an otherwise busy life that are special enough to be highlighted in memory for the rest of your life.

It is the day of marshmallow treats, of hot cocoa, and of families sharing games, snowball fights and movies that make the hard times easier to get through. It is the light in the darkness. No one in this little family knew what dark days were coming, and perhaps that is best, because the day which would become their fondest memory would have been tinged with anxiety and fear if they had known what was in store.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Chapter Six

Try as he might, Timmy could not get back to sleep. The previous night’s sound was stronger than before, and had woken him. He tried to resist the pull, but finally gave up and went to the window and stared out. The snow that had begun as he was walking home from the bus stop had left a thin blanket of white over everything. Off to the right the light by the barn cast a small pool of light, and aside from a few lights from neighboring farm houses, there was simply the night and a sky full of stars.

He stared as the deep resonance filled him. Stared at a sky of stars and wondered again. Could it be?

That star over there, or maybe even something behind it seemed to be singing. Not like any song he’d heard before, but more like one note, long, continuous and pure that seemed like it was part of something. Into his awareness broke other sounds, other notes that seemed to be coming from all across the night sky. Some seemed to be coming from the stars themselves, others from the spaces between the stars, where all was darkness.

He listened for a long time, while clouds slowly rolled in and blocked the stars. It began snowing again, a soft, lazy snow that seemed to provide a soft melody, playing off the night sky song. Strangely, he didn’t seem to be hearing it for the first time. It felt more like pulling cotton balls out of his ears and hearing something that had been an underscore his whole life.

It was wonderful. It was driving him crazy, but it was wonderful.

Chapter Five

The lunch room fell silent as he walked through the door. He couldn’t even tell himself he was imagining the reason as he could hear the whispers of the kids at the table next to the milk counter.

“He’s such a show-off.”

“What’d he do?”

“He played some dumb made-up song on his recorder and now Mrs. Clark thinks he’s some kind of music genius.”

“Yeah, it was really weird, man. His fingers were moving so fast I could barely see them.”

And on it went. He went to his usual table, but Matt and Josh didn’t look at him and or talk to him even when he said hi. He ate the macaroni and threw the rest away before going outside.

The day didn’t get any better.

He couldn’t concentrate on what his teacher was saying, and had to sit in the front row as punishment for “daydreaming”.

When he looked out the window he felt like he could hear the branches of the oak tree move in the breeze, even though the window was shut tight. At recess, he heard sad sounds and turned to see one of the third grader’s crying on the other side of the playground. He didn’t get to play tetherball because everyone acted like he wasn’t there.

He climbed into the bus when the day was over, sat down in the third row, pressed his forehead against the window and stared out in silence the whole way home. Even the thrum of the engine and the rhythm of the tires on the highway did not cheer him.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Chapter Four

It was mid-morning when Mrs. Clark, the music teacher came into the room for that most openly hated time of day. Recorder practice.

“Class, take out your recorders.” Mrs. Clark had one of those voices that was too cheerful, like the Glenda, the good witch in The Wizard of Oz.

“Turn in your practice sheets, now. Hand them toward the front.” Papers rustled in desks and backpacks as they looked for the sheets that proved they practiced at home.

Timmy sighed as he handed his forward. He didn’t practice Monday and his mother refused to sign that he did and let him make it up later.

Pulling the overhead proctor forward, Mrs. Clark turned it on and soon the music for “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” shone on the screen, and painfully, screechingly, the class played something that barely sounded like what they were supposed to play.

“That was wonderful, class.” Timmy looked at her in disbelief. “Just wonderful. It does sound like we need a little more practice, though, so keep up the good work, and let’s try that again.”

Several kids groaned, but for the next fifteen minutes or so, the painful sounds of brakes squealing, pigs grunting, fingernails raking the chalkboard accompanied the valiant few who could actually play the instrument which is the bane of fifth graders everywhere.

Mrs. Clark was rubbing her temples like she had a headache, but when they finished, she smiled. “Excellent progress, class! Just wonderful. We’ll be ready for your parents to listen to us in no time at all if you just practice, practice, practice.”

All around him, the other children were putting their music away, but Timmy kept playing softly, but none of the notes were on paper.

He tried to play the song he heard in his hands, in his feet, in the air, through the desk. The more he tried the louder he played. Louder and faster, trying to hit all the notes that surrounded him. The song coursed through him, and when he ran out of breath, he realized with some embarrassment that everyone in the room was staring at him. Some looked like they had been surprised by brussell sprouts in their lunch, but Mrs. Clark just stared at him with her eyes and mouth wide open. "My lands." she muttered.

Chapter Three

The thrum of the school bus motor and the hum of the tires joined with the music in his head. Music. He decided that was what to call what he was hearing. Unlike any music he had ever heard, but like it in other ways.

The bus driver had pulled to a stop beside him. He could see the kids peering out the window at him, laughing and whispering to each other.

“Done running, son?” Mr. Johnson had called out as the door opened. The words came from somewhere below or behind the bushy grey mustache that tried to hide a teasing grin.

“Yeah. I guess so.” Timmy hung his head, embarrassed.

“Sometimes a man just needs to run, but he also needs to get to school, eh Timmy?” He closed the door as Timmy reached the top step.

“Uh-huh.” He looked up into the kind eyes of the man most kids called “Gramps”. Some made it a joke, laughing disrespectfully at a man they saw as too old to drive, but some kids secretly wished they had a Grandpa like Mr. Johnson.

Timmy had never really been sure how to think of him until today, but looked at Gramps and smiled, letting the music lull him into a sleep that ended when the squeal of the brakes indicated that the ride was over.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Chapter Two

“Timothy Mark Tucker. Get out of bed this instant!” His mother’s voice woke him from sleep. Sleepily he scooted out of bed, knowing he better not wait for her to come to him.

Slowly, he walked into the kitchen, sat in his chair and laid his head on the table.

“Whatever has gotten into you this morning, Timmy?” his mother exclaimed. “Your father and brother had to do your chores this morning while you were lying in bed, and here you are falling asleep at the table.” She didn’t wait for an answer as she nudged his head off the table and quickly set down four plates, loaded with scrambled eggs, bacon and hash browns, just as his father and older brother came in the door.

“It sure is getting cold out there. We may have snow by this afternoon.” His father hung his jacket on the back of his chair before sitting down for breakfast. His brother did the same and sat down silently, glaring at Timmy.

Following the blessing, the meal commenced in silence, broken only by the sounds of chewing, drinking, and of silverware being set on the plates. Timmy glanced at his father wondering if he was angry.

“I-I’m sorry I didn’t wake up to do my chores this morning.” He glanced first at his father, then at his brother.

“I tried to wake you,” his father replied, “but you didn’t even wake when I shook you.” He paused then looked right at him. “Why do you suppose you’re so tired?”

How could he explain? It all seemed so silly now in the day time. What was he supposed to say? I heard a sound. Like music almost, but different too, and I wanted to see where it was coming from. I listened to it for hours, and that’s why I’m so tired.

No. He must have been imagining things. “Well…” he began, not sure what he was going to say.

“I’ll tell you why he couldn’t get up this morning.” His brother Eric’s voice was angry. “He was outside last night looking at the stars. I could see him from my window. I watched him stand there for the longest time, but then he went back to bed. I watched him, but I still got up.”

“You were outside alone, at night?” his mother sounded anxious.

“Yes.” He stared down at his hands.

His mother started to speak again, but was interrupted by his father. A strange look passed between them.

“We don’t want anyone outside at night without us knowing about it.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And we don’t want you not sleeping so that you can’t do your chores. After school, you will help Eric muck out the horses stalls, and you will take his turn hauling out the trash this week.”
Timmy looked at Eric, whose scowl turned into a smile at this pronouncement.

“Yes, sir.”

At that, the table once again fell into silence. The noise Timmy had heard in the night was gone. But wait. There it was again. He looked up quickly. No one else seemed to notice anything. It was the same, but louder and fuller than it had been in the night. He could feel it in his bones. That was when he realized that he had heard it all morning, just with his body and not with his ears.

He heard it. It vibrated through the fork he held in his hands, through the chair he was sitting on, through the table. He felt it in his feet and his hands. He felt it. He heard it.

No one else seemed to notice anything unusual. They ate in silence that wasn’t silent at all. They each rose and put their dishes in the sink without saying another word, but reverberations filled the air and soaked into his very pores.

It was noise. But it was noise he could hear with his ears and feel in his bones. Now that he recognized it, he couldn’t shut it out. He barely heard his mom telling him to get ready for school, or his dad telling him to have a good day. Not just one sound, like he had heard last night, but now it was more. He heard voices except they spoke no words--music, but he had never heard a song like it.

As the sun rose, the sounds grew until he couldn’t stand it any longer. He slipped into his coat, grabbed his backpack and ran out the door, down the driveway and kept running down the lane to the bus stop and kept running.

Only when he was out of breath and his heart pounding so hard that he could hear nothing else did he get any relief.

For a time, he managed to drown out the sound. For a time he could think straight. But he couldn't run forever. Would it stop?

Chapter One

It began with a sound, with a whisper of a sound or a dream of a note. He pulled the pillow over his head, but the sound remained. Small, but true. He tried to smother the sound while some part of him strained to hear more. As he lay there in the dark, he slowly quit fighting, loosened his grip on the pillow and simply listened. He listened until slumber took him and he heard it in his dreams.

In the early hours of the morning, while all the world was still save for an occasional mouse scurrying under the floorboards, it woke him and drew him into the back yard, peering out into the darkness to find the source. Now, dressed only in his blue-striped flannel pajamas, the one's with the third button missing, and with slippers on his feet, he stood under the leafless maple tree, staring between it's barren branches to...what?

What was he hearing?

At first he thought maybe it was the wind, but though the wind blew, it was not that. Then he wondered if it was the swaying of the trees in the nearby forest but, though he could clearly hear those branches moving and swishing against each other, it was not that. Nor was it the owl calling faintly in the distance, nor the cattle in the neighbors barn over the far rise. He could hear all those things for he had remarkable hearing, everyone always said so, but this was something else. Even somewhere else.

He lifted his eyes to the stars over his head, winking in the dark, moonless night. It almost seemed...

He shook his head with a laugh. No. It wasn't that.

He turned, shivering and ran back to the house, quietly letting himself in the back door and slipped back into his own room where he quickly slid into bed, pulling the covers to his chin.

He lay there, sleepless for the next few hours, staring at the ceiling in wonder.

It couldn't be that. Could it?