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.

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.