31 Dec

Sad Story About Time Passing

Chain Link Fence

I had this friend in 8th or 9th grade, his name was Mike Vandershoot. He kinda marched to his own drum, you know? One day, I was out walking my dog. It must have been late winter. Rainy, 40 degrees, muddy. Crappy weather. I went by the tennis courts and I saw Mike walking toward me. He was carrying a racket, bouncing a tennis ball on it as he approached.

“Hey,” he said, when he got close enough.

“Hey,” I said back.

“Your dog wanna fetch this ball?”

“No,” I said. “She’s got bad hips. Can’t run.”

He stuffed the ball in his pocket and turned the racket around so that the handle was facing me. “You wanna try something?” he said.

You never knew what to expect with this guy. “Like what?” I asked.

“Check this out.” He jabbed the handle of the racket at the chain-link fence surrounding the tennis court. “Did you know that eight out of ten times, the handle doesn’t go through an opening in the fence?”

I gotta be honest. If anyone else had been there, I would have called him a freak. You know how things are when you’re just starting high school. Teenagers aren’t the nicest people.

He didn’t look at the handle as he jabbed it at the fence. He looked at me and counted off ten attempts. Two of them went through. “See?” he said.

I looked at the fence with all that space, wondering how the handle didn’t go through more often.

Mike guessed what I was thinking. He nodded at me. “Crazy, isn’t it?”

I admit it. I was curious. “Okay, let me try,” I said.

He passed the racket and I jabbed it through the fence. It went through. So did attempts two, three and five.

“You’re cheating,” Mike said. “You can’t look at it. You’re influencing the results.”

So I looked at him and continued. The first five attempts failed. In the next five, two went through the fence. Eight out of ten. “How do you know that?” I asked.

“I’ve done it a lot of times,” he said.

I kept looking at him while I made more attempts. “How many times?” I asked.

“About 850.”

“Eight hundred fifty?” I said. “You’re sick.”

He answered by quoting this guy named Krishnamurti: “”˜It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.'”

“Who the hell is Krishnamurti?” I asked.

“The Dalai Lama called him the greatest thinker of the 20th century.”

I still don’t know what jabbing a tennis racket handle through a chain link fence has to do with some Buddhist thinker. I kept at it, though. Mike’s estimate seemed to hold up.

After I walked the dog home, I didn’t think much about it. In fact, I forgot about it for years.

I hung out with Mike less and less as the next school year came and went. And then, in the summer of our freshman year, he died. He was out West, hiking some trail in the Rockies with his family. He fell off a scenic overlook. Part of me thinks he did it on purpose, like he wanted to know what it would feel like to fly through the air or something stupid.

I tell ya, recently, I can’t stop thinking about that guy. I’ll be standing in line for the urinal at a football game or sitting at my desk on a Monday morning or I’ll get home from work on a Friday excited to let loose for the weekend and I’ll plop on the couch with a beer and then I’ll get all depressed thinking about Mike.

Crazy, isn’t it? I mean, that was 25 years ago, for Christ’s sake.

And besides, what do I got to be sad about?

22 Dec

Grenshaw and the Monster 16

“Dad?” he said.

“Hello, son.”

“Is that really you?”

“After a fashion, yes.”

“Are you part of the software?”

He nodded.

Grenshaw studied the man before him. He wanted to hug him, but he was afraid he’d fall right through the apparition. “Can I visit you like this?”

His father inhaled a large breath. “No. We decided it wouldn’t be healthy.”

“Who’s we?”

“The committee,” he explained. “After the Revolution, I got called to help develop an educational initiative. They were impressed by my anti-plastics campaigns.”

“Is that why you were traveling so much before you died?”

“Yes. We had monthly meetings all over the world. It was ironic, actually. We could have easily met via virtual conferencing, thereby saving some of the resources we were attempting to conserve, but nothing can really compare to face-to-face interaction, you know?” His father’s gaze was forlorn.

“I never got to see our work come to fruition, son, but they said it would be truly revolutionary. The people I worked with were genuine, wise, intuitive. It took ten years to develop the software. I can see now, that it was worth it.” He was crying. “You’re the first subject, son.”

The first? “You mean no one else has had a GCF Computer?”

“No. But others will follow.” He wiped tears from his eyes.

The two stood in silence for a minute.

Eventually, Grenshaw spoke. “Why are you crying, Dad?”

His father sighed. “It was a difficult decision, son. Now I see it was the right one.”

“A difficult decision? What was?”

“I had to make a big sacrifice for the project.”

Grenshaw felt a sudden wave of fear and paranoia. Perhaps he was the sacrifice. Was he being manipulated again? He thought back to the monster, to the Marigold café with the out-of-business sign, to Tommy. And then he remembered the chef’s comments and the brothers in the alley. “Dad,” he said, “did your sacrifice have anything to do with my brother?”

His father looked surprised. “What?” he chuckled. “No. You don’t have a brother.” He smiled. A peace-filled smile. “You have billions of brothers. And billions of sisters.”

Grenshaw exhaled a relieved breath of air.

“My sacrifice,” his father explained, “was a self-sacrifice.” And as the words escaped his lips, he began to flicker, like a weak hologram.

Grenshaw’s eyes widened at the sight of his fading father. “No!” He wasn’t ready yet. He had so much more to say, so much more to ask. “Wait!” he shouted. “Don’t go.”

His father held out his hand. Grenshaw reached for it, and in that last flickering second, felt his father’s touch one last time.

20 Dec

Grenshaw and the Monster 15

At the Marigold, Grenshaw took a seat on a sidewalk stool. The diner was alive. No “out of business” sign, no chairs tipped over and piled in a corner, and no lack of customers. Once he caught the chef’s eye, he smiled.

“Hey there, chief. How’s it goin’?”

“Great,” Grenshaw said. “How are you?”

“Can’t complain. Can’t complain.” He set a glass of orange juice down on the countertop.

“Hey, you know what? The other day, I had the strangest dream and you were in it.”

“Is that so?” The chef leaned on the countertop. “Tell me about it.”

Grenshaw took a sip of his orange juice. “Well,” he began, “I was looking down this alley at these glowing eyes and I asked you if you saw them.”

The chief nodded.

“They seemed like a scary set of eyes to me, but you were really casual about it. You said it was a mirror.”

“And was it?”

“Yeah. That’s all it was. It was just a mirror. I was looking at myself.” Grenshaw shrugged. “Kind of anti-climactic,” he added, but the chef didn’t seem to hear him.

“See?” he said to a passing waitress. “I’m always right. Even in other people’s dreams.” He laughed and served Grenshaw a plate with bacon and eggs, and said, “It’s on the house, chief.”

Grenshaw was astounded.

The chef laughed. “Hey, you know, chief, with that dumb look on your face, we kinda look alike – speaking of mirrors. We could pass as brothers.”

“You think?” Grenshaw said. As he ate his bacon and eggs, he glanced at the chef and toyed with this new possibility. Could it be? Did he have a long-lost brother he never knew about?

Nowadays, anything seemed possible.

Still, it would be mind-boggling. All these years walking this city alone, past throngs of people heading to work, past shopkeepers arranging window displays, past children chasing each other, making up the rules to their games as they go, past street vendors hawking discounted merchandise, past nighttime apartment windows glowing with life – and just to think, one of those anonymous faces might have been his brother. Crazy.

Grenshaw turned on his stool and looked at the people passing by. He felt oddly connected to them all. That woman approaching him now, the one with her head hanging down – was she a sister? Or that young man in the suit carrying the brief case and weaving through the pedestrian traffic skillfully – another brother? A cousin?

In that moment, Grenshaw felt an odd affinity for the entire city, even the mice scurrying down the alleys and the flying advertisements zooming overhead.

He left a hefty tip for the chef, who was occupied on the other side of the kitchen, and headed towards his bike. He called the office.

Mary answered.

“Mary, Grenshaw here.”

“How are you feeling?” She seemed concerned.

“Better. Much better.” As he spoke, Grenshaw paced absent-mindedly down the sidewalk. He looked like a man talking with a friend. “Listen, Mary, I’d like to lower the price on orange juice for all of our small business customers.”

“Yes, sir. Any particular reason?”

“They’ll be surprised, won’t they?” He paused, looked up from his feet, and found he was facing an empty alley. “Tell them it’s a Christmas present.”

“A Christmas present. Okay. So this isn’t a permanent thing?”

“Oh, no, it’s permanent. That can be a surprise too.”

“Very well, sir. Will that be all?”

“Yes, Mary. Thank you.” He paused before hanging up, perhaps sensing there was more to be said.

“Sir?” Mary offered.


“Take care of yourself, sir.”

“Thank you, Mary,” he said. “You’re too good to me.” After Mary hung up, Grenshaw considered the scene before him. The alley was dark, but not so dark that he couldn’t see to its end. “And thank you, Tommy,” he said to no one.

He turned to leave, but not before noticing a figure in the distance, slowly approaching. He squinted into the dark and saw the man’s face; he recognized it. It was his father.

to be continued . . .

18 Dec

Grenshaw and the Monster 14

Grenshaw awoke to lights – lights so bright he couldn’t keep his eyes open. “Where am I?” he said.

He heard a woman say, “Shh. You need to rest.”

When he awoke the second time, the lights weren’t so intolerable. He saw Mary standing over him. He was lying on a couch in the office. “Mary! How long have I been out?”

Mary didn’t address his question. “Can you sit up, sir? You need to eat.” She was holding a bowl of soup and a glass of orange juice.

Grenshaw rolled to his side and awkwardly moved his legs off the couch. Mary handed him the bowl. As he sipped the soup, he felt his strength returning rapidly. It was almost as if he hadn’t just been thrown through an alleyway by a whitewater rapids of churning orange juice.

“You know what I could really go for, Mary? Some bacon and eggs.” Mary winced.

“Sir, I’m not sure you should -” She put a hand on his shoulder to keep him from getting up, but it didn’t stop Grenshaw. He set the bowl down and stood up.

“It’s okay, Mary. I feel alright.”

He paced back and forth, testing out his legs. He checked his pockets for his keys. “Is my bike here, Mary?”

“Sir? I don’t think you should be riding anywhere right now.”

“Really, Mary. I feel quite good. A little weak, yes, but I’ve had worse days.” He walked toward the door.

“Sir. Why don’t I have the intern escort you to where ever it is you want to go?”

Grenshaw paused at the doorway. “Good idea. I’ll get ahold of him right now.” Grenshaw got out his phone and walked down the hall toward the elevator.

Once inside, he put his phone away and whispered, “Tommy, help me out here.”

to be continued . . .

16 Dec

Grenshaw and the Monster 13

It couldn’t be. Grenshaw squinted at the man in the doorway. “Tommy,” he said, “how is this possible? Even if this is just a computer simulation, I don’t understand how–”

“Do you remember the GCF slogan, Mr. Grenshaw?” Tommy interrupted.

“Tommy, I assume you are responsible for this vision. But how do you know what that man looks like?” Grenshaw said, pointing toward the figure in the doorway.

“The slogan is “˜Powered by the state of your mind.’ Do you know what that means, Mr. Grenshaw?”

“No, Tommy. I have no idea what that means. I only know that what is currently happening cannot be real.”

“As you know, Mr. Grenshaw, the computer itself isn’t powered by your mind. But the software is. Thus, I am.”

“And what does that mean?”

“It means this is not a conspiracy. There isn’t some faceless man at GCF headquarters pushing buttons and manipulating you. You control me.”

Grenshaw pondered the words briefly before saying, “Okay, then, tell me what’s going on here.”

“Oh, no. It doesn’t work like that.”

“Do I need a password?”

Tommy gave a half-grin. “Perhaps I should rephrase. You determine my actions. But the Universe controls me.”

“The Universe?” Grenshaw glanced at the four dark figures as he tried to decipher Tommy’s words. They weren’t exactly frozen, but all four had stopped their activities. It was like they were waiting for something, or maybe like they were eavesdropping. “Tommy,” Grenshaw asked, “can they hear us?”

“On a conscious level, you are not paying attention to the Universe. But on a subconscious level, you are attuned to the Universe. Mr. Grenshaw, I am here to help you move beyond your own self-deceptive consciousness.”

“Was that an answer to my question?”

“No,” Tommy said, “they can’t hear us. But they are listening.”

“There you go again with these damn riddles. You realize I don’t understand a word you’re saying?”

“You don’t need to understand what I’m saying. What you’re about to witness will speak for itself.”

Grenshaw opened his mouth to reply, but one of the boys drew his attention away when he said, “Did you hear that?” By the light of the torch, he could see the faces of both children more clearly. One of them looked alarmingly familiar.

“Tommy,” he said, “that’s -”

Tommy shushed him and said, “I know. Listen.”

“But that’s me!” Grenshaw exclaimed. When Tommy shushed him again, Grenshaw heard a tinkling of water and a distant sound like the rush of traffic.

“Boys,” the man in the doorway yelled, “it’s not safe out here. Come in.”

The ground suddenly began reflecting the torch light; Grenshaw looked at his feet and saw liquid parting around his shoes. The man in the blue coat grabbed a torch and began running awkwardly down the alley, toward the open street, yelling, “Everybody run!” From the doorway, the larger figure stepped into the alley. He grabbed the nearest child and said, “Come on.”

The boy dropped his torch and responded, “But Dad, what about all our earnings?”

The rushing sound was getting louder. “That doesn’t matter!” the father shouted, grabbing both children, yanking them towards the door, and causing them to drop their bags of shards.

Grenshaw felt a spray of liquid on his face just as the boy escaped his father’s grasp and stepped into the alley again, pawing at the ground for his lost “earnings.”

“Tommy,” Grenshaw shouted, “are we safe?”

The sound was now a deafening roar. “No!” Tommy shouted back.

The stream seemed to erupt as if from a fire hydrant. Preceded by a loose gathering of large droplets and stinging needles of liquid, it came with full force and knocked the boy and Grenshaw off their feet.

Grenshaw gasped before being carried down the alley, flipped upside down, slammed against the buildings on either side. His final thought, before everything went completely black, was that the liquid tasted like orange juice.

to be continued . . .