An Adventure Novel by:
Ryan S. Graybill
Author of Grace Leads Home
I started this story (my 2nd novel) a year ago and unfortunately haven't touched it since. I have yet to thoroughly read through it myself. I felt it interrupted my creative flow. I hope you enjoy! Feel free to comment!
Rolen Sparks once again found himself standing, searching for something in his dad’s workshop. Searching for what? Rolen didn’t have a clue, but while other twelve-year-olds were at home watching movies, playing games or calling girls, he was completely aloof to why he wasn’t doing the same thing. Once his dad went missing three months ago, Rolen found himself wanting to be around anything and everything that was part of his dad. Sure he missed him, but refused to think he was dead like others believed, but that wasn’t the reason.
Whatever the reason, it was eating at his insides. Sleep in the last months came only by a complete shutdown of his body. Not once in that time had he actually done the normal nightly routine of human beings such as brushing teeth and using the toilet before pulling down the covers and sinking into a peaceful sleep. Sleep came at his desk, on the workshop floor and even in the backyard on occasion – unbeknownst to his mother.
His mother wasn’t too blame, not entirely anyway. Her life in the last three months was difficult. That was the word she had used on the phone and to the people that stopped by to visit and check up on them. Rolen’s mother had lost some of her motherly attentiveness due to the recent happenings, but she also knew that her son was more resilient and responsible than most adults.
Right now, Mrs. Sparks was inside watching, and most likely crying, to one of her favorite movies. Rolen could see the flashes of the television coming through the curtains and windows. He felt badly about not accepting her invitation to watch it together. Sitting still just wasn’t an option for him, but yet, here he was standing completely still…searching…for something.
The workshop was separated from the house. Built to resemble a small barn, it was Rolen’s dad’s most frequented place outside of the house. Other than the door, the window above the workbench was the only natural source of light. Dispersed throughout the table were the tools left behind by his dad which was peculiar. Rolen’s dad always made it a point to return all tools to their proper place before calling it a day. Drawers and bins were labeled – even the old card catalog drawers, used for screws and nails, were specifically marked by tying that specific screw or nail to the outside of the drawer.
Several tools lay about as if he had to leave in a hurry. Rolen tried to think back to where his dad was last before leaving. He had gone on one of his excursions and Rolen specifically remembered giving him a hug by the front door the moment he left. Smiling, his mother kissed him and said See you soon. So why the clutter?
Hanging by a nail above the window was an old umpire mask that he had never actually seen his dad wear, but it was always there, right beside his baseball glove for as long as he could remember. Currently the evening moon, a silver platter on the Milky Way’s dark tablecloth, cast a shadow on the Oliver tractor giving it a streaky racing stripe quality. The Oliver tractor was another artifact from his dad that was just always there – just another of the hundreds of things his dad would tinker with, but never seem to finish.
Rolen reached up and grabbed his dad’s mitt and found some oil next to a shelf full of cleaning products that his dad didn’t have the heart to say no to. Always a sucker for sales people. In a perhaps waning hopefulness that his dad would one day return, Rolen lathered the glove, found a baseball nearby, placed it inside and set the glove back on the shelf after burying his nose inside. The scent, dad always told him, was what Rolen’s head smelled like when he was born. Harry’s going to call one of his home runs someday. He told his wife while holding Rolen for the first time.
Rolen, in attempt to break free from his stupor, began rummaging through his dad’s drawers on his workbench and around the shop. It wasn’t only tools his dad had, but his hoarding skills always led to little discoveries. Mrs. Starks always said people only have yard sales because they know Mr. Starks would come. Why they just don’t put it all in a truck and dump it all right here is beyond me. I’m going to start paying them just to keep you away from their sales.You just never know when you’ll need things, Dear. It’s good stuff. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be selling it. Mr. Starks banter always made Rolen chuckle.
Rolen opened a drawer and lying next to a mother mouse and her five newborns nestled together, was his dad’s old radio. It was yet another item that was always in the shop. Dad would have it sitting on the ledge of the window, the plug awkwardly stretching to the outlet, antennae extended all the up with a clothes hanger for supposedly better reception. And to boot, a pair of pliers keeping it all together. Dad would listen to Phillies always saying something about how much better games are with the voice of Harry Kalas. It was the same radio he took fishing and camping. So why buried in a drawer?
Plugging it in, Rolen decided to see if it would still work. If it did, it would just add to the mystery of why his dad’s favorite radio was hidden away. The static rang out and it was music to his ears. The sounds of baseball, his dad would say, through an AM station is right up there with fireworks on a cool summer night under a canopy of stars. The Phightin’ Phils were in the final stretch of a successful season and heading towards October playoffs. Through the static, Rolen could hear Harry the Great. Here’s the stretch. And the pitch. Ball four! The bases are now loaded with the tying run stepping up to the plate. Even if they don’t win this one you have to give these Phils some credit. Down fourteen to two in the ninth inning and now with the bases loaded, nobody out with a score of fourteen to ten….
Caught up in a memory of ballparks and hotdogs, Rolen couldn’t help but to smile remembering going to the games and just hanging out with his dad in the shop listening to the Phillies.
The static became too deafening. Rolen found the pliers and the solution. With Harry’s voice more clear, Rolen continued searching in drawers and boxes. With nothing quenching his thirst for a fun discovery, he grabbed a ladder and delved deep into the shelves that ran along the wall beside the Oliver.
Rolen came across more spiders than he’d prefer along with some oil cans and model plane paint. But it was what was lying on top of some very old newspapers that sparked an interest. Covered in a mountain of dust was Rolen’s great-grandfather’s answering machine. It looked like one of the very first ones. Grabbing it and then stepping down the ladder, Rolen brought it over to the bench with better lighting.
Now with one out Schmidt steps in having a great night…and he’s swinging on the first pitch and drives it in the gap! Samuel scores! Hayes scores! Here comes The Bull…he scores! It’s now 14-13 and Schmitty is standing on second with his fourth hit of the game!
Setting the answering machine down on the table, Rolen grabbed a wipe from the shelf under the baseball glove and cleaned off the dust. Then he decided to do what any curious person would do. He pressed the button.
Click click click click click. The noise signified the end of the tape. Blowing and wiping more dust from the device, Rolen removed the tape, blew on that as a cloud of dust forced a cough, and flipped it over to the other side. Just as he pushed play he heard his mother calling. “Rolen! Rolen!”
Rolen’s heart jumped. For an instant he had thought the voice was coming from the machine. The fright caused a gasping inhale.
“I’m out here! In the workshop!”
His mother, an attractive woman with shoulder-length natural blonde hair, stood on the porch in her pajamas, eyes half closed. “Come to the door so I don’t have to shout!”
Rolen hated being pulled away from something he was immersed in, but he obliged.
“It’s late, darlin’. Come in. We can dunk some Oreos before bed.”
The moment he was pulled away from the machine, Rolen realized just how exhausted he was. He calculated that he had had ten hours of sleep in the last four nights. “I’m coming,” he said turning of the switch to the shop and locking the door.
Rolen plopped into the chair at the table not even noticing the milk and cookies his mother had already laid out on the bar.
His mother grabbed his glass and Oreos and placed it in front of Rolen who despite his pure exhaustion had a dazed look about him. His mom could tell it was more than tiredness. Her son was thinking about something.
“What could your mind possibly have the energy to be thinking about this late at night?”
Rolen dropped two Oreos into his tall glass of milk and watched them slowly dissolve. Waiting for them to reach the perfect level of sogginess. “Just dad.”
“I know, Honey,” his mom said after inhaling sharply and exhaling with a sigh. She reached out and rubbed the top of his dirty blonde hair.
Within the last months, Rolen had heard –mostly overheard (spying was just second nature)- about how his father was dead. There was never a funeral, but cards were sent to the house – grievance cards saying they were sorry for the loss. Rolen didn’t understand why loss equaled death, but his instincts told him that that is what was meant by it. When people came to visit, their body language spoke volumes about how convinced they were that he was gone – meaning dead.
“Yes?” She had gotten up to put her glass in the sink, rinsing out the crumbs. Her pony-tail now unleashed.
“Do you…” He started, but couldn’t quite figure out either what he wanted to say or how to ask it. Do you think dad is dead? That’s what he wanted to ask, but considering the factors of time, fatigue and mom’s sensitivity to the subject, he improvised. “Do you think dad has…had…er, umm, has too much stuff?”
“I certainly gave him a hard time about it, didn’t I?” She softly chuckled. A half-smile in the corner of her lips. “He knew I was just playing with him. But, I told him, ‘You just keep that stuff out my kitchen and I’ll still love ya.’” Her smile remained in the corner of her mouth, but Rolen could tell she was lost in a memory. Her eyes then became sad.
Rolen’s clank of the glass in the sink startled her out of her reverie. “I will tell you this,” she continued. “If he would ever have to choose between us and all that junk out there,” she took a slight pause, “he’d burn that barn to the ground without a second thought and without regret.”
The thought of that sentiment brushed of the tiredness for a moment for Rolen to smile himself.
“Now off to bed, mister. And no more sleeping in the yard.”
“You know about that?
“Of course I do. I know everything,” her voice lowering to a lullaby-like whisper.
Then where’s dad? “How come you didn’t say anything or come and get me?
“Because you are just like your dad. And I’ve learned that sleeping in the yard is the farthest thing from out of the ordinary when it comes to your father.”
He had to admit that he missed his bed and bedroom. The conversation with his mom had made Rolen feel good inside. Even if for a moment, he was able brush aside the confusion and sadness about his dad. Even though he didn’t get to ask his mom whether or not she thought he was still alive, the comparison she made between he and dad felt honorable. Rolen didn’t admire anybody more than his dad.
Rolen’s room was, to put it euphemistically, organized clutter. Or meaningful clutter. His grandparents had always brought souvenirs back from their many trips. Rolen kept them –his favorite being a statue of the Ozarks - on his shelves beside his beloved baseball cards. Posters, maps, newspaper clippings served as his wallpaper. Minus the Oliver tractor, it wasn’t too far removed from his dad’s workshop. Of course he did have a poster of one.
Despite the fatigue, sleep didn’t come easy for Rolen that night. In fact, it didn’t come at all. He couldn’t get a grasp on his overabundant thoughts. They were like coins, a thousand coins, in a spiraling wishing well…aimlessly and endlessly circling and circling, but never dropping. They were all spinning around the hole. What was the hole? What did it represent? Then, like a bolt of lightning, the coins all dropped into the hole at the bottom. Rolen knew exactly what his thoughts were centered around…the one main thought that kept him from closing his eyelids. The answering machine.
Curiosity got the best of him. If the tape of the answering machine ran out, then that meant the tape was full which meant, obviously, messages were on it. Okay, so they’re messages people left for my grandpa. Old people leaving messages for other old people. Before he let doubt commandeer is thinking he realized exactly why he was so curious. Maybe his dad’s voice was there. Rolen felt himself longing to hear his voice again even if it was just a voice message.
While deciding whether or not to go back out to the shop, Rolen’s mind raced with his dad’s voice and everything he used to tell him about sports, girls and life in general. If you tell yourself you can’t then you’re absolutely right. So, stop telling yourself such nonsense. Rolen tended to take that one for granted and was mad at himself for not respecting it. He then remembered something else: Doubt is a car going in the wrong direction, in the dark, with no headlights, heading towards a cliff. Saying can’t…well, that’s an RV full of doubt right there.
Rolen knew he could sneak out of the house…knew he could go get the answering machine…and he knew he could get caught - by a mother that gets extremely angry when woken up.
The restlessness was going to drive him to scream bloody murder and that would surely wake up his mom. The sight of her looking like she just dug herself out of a grave wasn’t exactly appealing.
What to do. What to do.
Rolen tossed to one side of the bed before tossing to the other side while trying to justify going out to the shop at such a ridiculous time of night.
Flinging the sheets up - and off him and already in his sneakers - he decided to do it. Now the problem was avoiding the creaking steps. Ever since his dad…left, his mom became a very light sleeper. Rolen did too, when he slept. He figured they both had the same reason; maybe it was dad coming in the door.
Rolen had memorized the creaks a long time ago, but it was an aging house and new creaks appeared out of nowhere. Standing still and the top of the stairs, he felt like Indiana Jones trying to step on the right stones in order to make it to the Holy Grail. One wrong move and zombie mom barrels out of her room screaming like she’s gargling mouthwash.
Taking each step one at a time, – he had, briefly, thought about making one big leap – the descent was slow and painstaking for his level of patience which was about as…well, it was pretty much nonexistent. Finally reaching the bottom, he stopped, shoes squeaking on the wood floor, as if he had just come face to face with a rabid wolf. The key! After punching and kicking the air a dozen times and making several indistinct noises, Rolen began his ascent back to his bedroom – but, not without the continuing to mutter under his breath.
Since the stairs creaked going up as much as they did going down, Rolen lost about fifteen minutes. He didn’t have to be anywhere, but he was racing against time. Rolen knew if he got caught it would not go over well at all, but if he got caught at 1:30a.m. it was better than 2:30. He gauged how angry his mother would be based on the time of morning. The former time meant some yelling and zombie-like impressions. The latter meant arms extended, mouth gaped and ready to devour.
His escape record was pretty solid; Roughly fifteen attempts, one catch. Rolen was reminded of that one time. Waking up both of his parents, mom was ready to destroy holding a very heavy wooden bat, but it was dad’s reaction – a tiny, tiny smirk, but a smirk nonetheless, that made Rolen chuckle to himself. I wonder what dad’s escape record was. This thought then made Rolen wonder if in fact his dad was on one of his escapes and had gotten caught.
With his heartbeat accelerating, Rolen moved quickly passed the top three steps and did a tip-toe sprint down the hall, into his room where he grabbed the key and noticed it was 1:30.
Now back down again.
Rolen inhaled deeply, glanced over in the direction of his mom’s room and saw no light coming from the opening at the bottom of the door. Good to go. His steps were light as he again descended while avoiding the creaks. Rolen was still feeling physically tired, but with all of the planning and thinking, he felt mentally rejuvenated. His feet not so much. Misjudging the step, Rolen’s body thumped on the eight step and slid painfully and quickly down the remaining ones causing him to land awkwardly on the floor sprawled out like a squashed cockroach.
Lifting just his head, while the rest of his body lay immobile, Rolen stared at the shadows on the wall to see if they changed. Just as he decided to lower his head back down, the shadows changed. She’s up! Lowering his head, he braced himself, but the angry zombie mom never showed. Instead, the toilet flushed, the shadows changed back again. Thank goodness for the sweet sound of the a flushing toilet.
That was Rolen’s last thought before conking out at the bottom of the stairs.
Rolen’s body, in desperate need of a two-day sleep, managed somehow to awake a couple of hours later. Perhaps it was realizing it was not meant to be a contortionist. Blinking several times before wincing, Rolen, the stair-descender extraordinaire, stared blankly in confusion for a moment before remembering the slight misstep that now had him waking up in what was now the strangest of all places he had caught some Zs in the last several weeks.
Rolen moved slowly, grabbing his back while rising off the floor. Picking up his shirt from the back, he noticed a nice-sized, red brush burn. He couldn’t even see the entire thing. He glanced over to grandfather clock that set in between two windows in the living room. The reality that sunrise was less than two hours away set in and now he was faced with yet another decision.
This time the decision didn’t take long. It would be at least three hours before his mom woke up, made coffee and took her morning jog. If seen, she would simply think that he got up early.
Stepping out onto the porch, he was greeted by a fresh spider web and the humid August air. Checking his pocket, he was relieved that the key was in there. He had had his fill of stairs for awhile.
Turning the radio back on, he turned the knob, but realized nothing worthwhile was going to be on. Rolen was pleasantly pleased when he remembered the drawer with all of the cassette tapes in it. Picking up the first one, he realized it was the perfect one – The Beach Boys!
Rolen’s dad loved the Beach Boys. It wasn’t his only cassette he owned, but you’d never know it because he had them playing full blast all the time. Rolen smiled at the memory of his dad taking his mother and swinging her around and singing The Wanderer by their drummer Dennis Wilson. It was his way, one of his ways of joking with her. Being high school sweethearts, there was never another woman that Rogan Sparks was with or wanted to be with. Megan Better was his soul-mate. Rogan would have her name tattooed on both arms if he could, but he hated needles.
Rolen pushed play. The tape was already mid-song and Rolen sang along immediately.
Let me go home, let me go home
I wanna go home, let me go home
Why don’t you let me home
Hoist up the John B
I feel so broke up I wanna go home
Let me go home
He sang the last line and stopped abruptly while the song kept playing. Rolen stared out the window of the shop and a moment later he, with more force than necessary, struck and pushed stop on the player.
The lyric struck him hard. Is he out there somewhere wanting to come home, but isn’t able to? Why can’t he just leave and come home? Why did he go in the first place? Maybe he didn’t go. Maybe he was taken.
He was hit with another thought. Opening the cassette drawer he quickly noticed how peculiar the drawer was arranged. In the drawer were two rows of cassettes. Many were Beach Boys, but there were others. Rolen always knew his father only arranged his belongings in one way and one way only – alphabetically. Rolen pantomimed his movements from when he first came back to the shop. His movements told him exactly what he thought. He had picked up the first tape in the first row. Why was it the Beach Boys? Mr. Sparks had Abba as well. Why wasn’t that first? Abba was in the drawer, but behind the eight Beach Boys albums. So it wasn’t just out of place by one, but rather by eight. The discovery caused Rolen to speak out loud, even though he was by himself, and utter one of his dad’s favorite sayings, “What the world?” Now Rolen was wondering if he was meant to hear that particular part of the song. Thinking that his lack of sleep was fueling his paranoia, he stopped the tape and flipped on the radio – hoping noise of some kind would calm his nerves.
Rolen wasn’t the type of kid to get spooked, not easily anyway. He just didn’t scare over typical twelve-year old things. Jaws kept him up, but he was nine when he saw that for the first time – and hadn’t seen it since. Once, at a friend’s Halloween-themed birthday party, the haunted house was below mild at best even though it was obvious the parents went all-out in making as scary as possible. While some screamed and some wet themselves, Rolen couldn’t help but to yawn, but did his best to act scared. He just kept picturing the terrifying shark accompanied by the fear-inducing music.
If the barber hadn’t just shaved the back of his neck, the hairs would be standing on end. Other than the movie he’ll never watch again, being spooked was a new and unsettling feeling. His eyes then finally focused on the one item that made him come out here with subsequent brush burns.
Rolen placed the answering machine in front of him and once again was interrupted before pushing play.
The five o’clock morning edition news was on announcing some mysterious happenings. Then it cut to commercial. Rolen would have either turned it off completely or changed the station if the reporter hadn’t said, “in Shades Run.” That’s when Rolen realized the barber missed a few hairs on his neck because they were now standing on end.
“A total now of eighteen holes, each about three by four feet, have been found in the small community of Shades Run. Most have been found in wooded areas, off the beaten path, but a few have also been seen out in the open causing dangerous walking conditions…causing great concern for the residents. No suspects at this time, but the local authorities have asked to please contact them if you have any details pertaining to these occurrences.”
Rolen scratched his head and rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands before exhaling with a sigh. Turning the radio off in hopes to gather his curious thinking, Rolen stared out of the window. Hints of oncoming daylight could be seen through the scattered trees of the surrounding landscape. The news was replaying in his head, but too much like an orchestra routinely warming up their instruments before playing together. Failing to put a finger on why that particular story had his heart rate elevated.
Rolen turned one hundred eighty degrees and leaned his back against the workbench scanning in every directions hoping to see something to trigger his thinking. He paced around the shop three times.
On the shelves, where he had found the answering machine, was school projects Rolen’s dad had helped him make for school. A paper-mache planet Earth rested in the crack between two shelves. The material reminded him of a cast. Rolen’s elderly neighbor, Mrs. Young, had just broken her ankle while out for her usual late-morning strolls.
How did she break it? Rolen’s frustration was increasing because he just couldn’t put a worthwhile string of thoughts together without some head trauma.
Grabbing his dad’s glove, with the ball inside, Rolen put it on and continued his pacing all the while remembering that he still hadn’t pushed play on the answering machine. He tossed and caught, tossed and caught and tossed and caught a hundred times before finally realizing he had to once again go inside the house for the possible answer.
He had remembered entering the house yesterday after golf lessons and hearing Pastor Isaac on the answering machine. The pastor was going into verbose detail about how Mrs. Young had fallen and injured herself after stepping into a deep hole. Rolen could only hope that his mother did not erase the message. Considering the machine flashed the number twenty-one, he felt his chances were good.
Rubbing his hands together like a thief about to touch a gold and jewel-filled treasure chest, Rolen pushed play. Before long he wished he hadn’t.
The first fifteen messages were all about his dad. Not his dad leaving or being away, but his dad being dead as in no longer alive. Quite depressing. Rolen’s late morning flare he had caught by too much detective work was vanishing.
Then for an instant his eyes widened, his body jerked from fright while his arms flailed knocking the answering machine of the counter and crashing on to the floor. “Rolen Steven!” His mother shouted, eyes half closed, hair a disastrous mess. “Look at me!” she said tight-lipped.
Rolen looked and appeared to be a bloody, tired boxer struggling to hang on in the corner of the ring knowing a bashing blow was heading towards his face that would end it all.
“You didn’t sleep at all last night…again, did you?” The tightness in her lips eased as she click her tongue making tsk tsk sound. Her eyes warmed as she embraced her son. She knew what he was going through only to a certain extent. A wife of a…missing husband deals the loss differently, way differently than a twelve-year old son.
“Rolen? Please go up and go to bed and sleep for as long as you can sleep.”
Rolen gave no resistance. It’s was almost as if he needed to be ordered to go to sleep. He barely made it up the stairs before crash landing face first on his pillow. It would be dinner time before his mom saw him again.
His mother’s cauliflower casserole wafted through the house as if it had a super-hero cape on and heard Rolen’s cry of hunger. Feeling refreshed both physically and mentally, Rolen rose out of bed looking forward to devouring his favorite meal. While putting on a change of clothes, he thought back to his anthology of thoughts. He decided, while looking in the mirror (realizing he needed to shower badly), that some of his ideas about his dad were farfetched and simply a reaction to a devastating event.
However, Rolen was still convinced that his father was not deceased, but rather very much alive. Missing? Obviously. Hurt? Possibly. Somewhere nearby? He could only hope. It still vexed him that he felt he was close, but at the same time very far away. In any case, he was very much looking forward to another visit to his dad’s shop with a refreshed state of mind. He smelled under his arms. And without the foul odor.
His mother didn’t even bother to call him. She had a feeling that the smell of her son’s favorite meal would do the trick. He was his father’s son after all. She worked hard on creating a nice atmosphere. It had once been a monthly occurrence to have a date-night with her son. A time to be open and honest with each other and to share whatever was on their minds. A time to block out work, school, chores, phone calls, texting, television and focus on formulating a strong, trusting relationship. She knew that he had a lot on his mind, that he was scared and worried about his dad. She was too. A date-night, she thought, was overdue. Besides, she had things to tell him, but she wasn’t sure just how to say them.
Rolen sat down noticeably showered-clean and more importantly well-rested. Rolen’s mother, Gwen, thought it uncanny how much he looked like his father. From the dirty-blonde hair and the strong-jaw line to the dazzling hazel eyes. Even the freckles near his eyes seemed to be identically positioned.
The steaming hot casserole caused Rolen to inhale with wide eyes as he sat in his normal spot at the table. “Everything looks nice, mom. I’m so hungry.”
“Figured it be what you needed after finally getting some rest. I know it’s your favorite,” she responded with a smile Rolen hadn’t seen too much of recently.
Rolen found it hard not to devour the meal. He recognized what his mother was trying to do and appreciated her doing so. He and his mother were quiet before Rolen broke the silence. “This was dad’s favorite meal too, right?”
“Yes,” Gwen said laughing lightly at a memory. “He would request it so often, he even would offer to help make it. That’s how you know your father liked something. If it meant losing time out in his shop to trade place with the kitchen, then he definitely liked it.”
Rolen chuckled. “Yeah, he hated being in the kitchen.”
“Uh-huh,” his mother responded smiling with a mouth full of casserole. “Except for Rueben sandwiches. Of all things, he loved making Rueben sandwiches. I never could figure out how he was able to make them so good!”
Rolen laughed out loud at his mother’s expressions. She still had a bit of college theater in her blood.
They were both quiet for the next few minutes when Rolen reached for his glass of milk. “What’s been on your mind? I mean specifically. I think I have a good inclination of the topic.” She had noticed his nails.
“What do you mean?” Rolen asked putting his glass down.
“You’ve been biting your nails. What’s been on your mind?” she repeated.
Rolen bit his lip and his mother desperately wanted to tell him things and he desperately wanted to ask her if she thought he was alive.
She shook her head. “I’m sorry, darlin’. I shouldn’t have asked. I didn’t intend to ruin dinner.” She paused. “I…umm…I know it’s been difficult without your…”
“Do you think he’s still alive?” Rolen blurted out interrupting.
“That’s a dangerous question…on more than one level.”
“Why? It seems pretty simple to me.” Rolen had a bit of an edge to his voice.
“Because if I say what I believe…what I feel…then it create false hope.”
Rolen picked up his silverware. It clanged on his plate as he laid it down. He stood and took his plate to the sink. More clanging. “Dad said hope is important. He once told me if false hope and misery ever duked it out, hope would triumphant every time.”
“There’s a lot of factors involved in false hope.”
“He told me there’s good in everybody, but just because someone makes bad decisions doesn’t make them bad…there’s still good in them…somewhere. False hope is the same thing. It’s just hope making bad decisions…it doesn’t predict the future.”
“Then I want you to take what about to say very seriously because there are repercussions, ripples…it can get dark.”
“Darkness is one lit candle from extinction.”
“Keep in mind too that I will not have an answer to your follow-up question.”
Rolen knew exactly what she meant. He’s had this conversation all planned out for awhile now. He was going to ask it anyway.
“Rolen, your father…is alive.”
Rolen inhaled sharply. Weight left his shoulder in bundles.
“Where is he?”
Once again Rolen stood in front of the window at his father’s workbench. The constellations filled the summer sky. Silhouettes of nocturnal animals could be seen up by the railroad track running parallel from the shop. The answering machine still sitting there untouched, unplayed.
He knew she didn’t have answer. She even said so herself, but what she had said instead had added to the growing list on his mental checklist which subsequently was causing his irritation to grow as well and his patience to diminish.
She mentioned the library. Dad’s library. It was dad’s room equivalent to his shop except this was indoors and it wasn’t where he built or examined things with a hands-on approach, but rather where he read, studied and wrote. He would study into all hours of the night - books, maps, newspaper articles, audio and video tapes, DVDs. His writing would take many forms: poetry, short stories, reports, letters and most often a journal…many journals.
“Have you gone into his library yet?” She has asked.
“I’m not ready,” Rolen replied and in hindsight wasn’t sure if that was exactly true. The truth was that Rolen had been so preoccupied with items in the workshop…and before that with pushing away the thought of his dad being dead. It took Rolen weeks to go out into the workshop. The thought of going into the library never crossed his mind. Not once. The library was different. It represented a different version of his dad. Even though the library was an important and intriguing part of his life, the workshop represented something more tactile and something a twelve-year old could relate to – baseball, tractors, and classic rock-n-roll. In truth, that was only part of it. Something, now that he thought about it, scared him about the library. And it was so much fear as it was anxiety. Rolen could feel it just thinking about it.
With plenty of rest during the day, Rolen was ready for another all-nighter. What that involved exactly he wasn’t certain. The one thing he did know is that he was going to need snacks.
Rolen entered the kitchen in a rush. His mind was on mission control and he didn’t want any distractions. On the counter, lay a note from his mother. Beside the note lay snacks to last even a preteen a couple of nights – chips, pretzels, some drinks and an apple with hopeful intentions. Grabbing his backpack from the coat rack in the laundry room, he stuffed it with the goodies before reading the note.
I know you all too well. Don’t stay up too late.
Stepping outside with backpack in tow, Rolen paused to enjoy the starry sky and a few crickets conversing over harmonizing music that echoed from unseen parts of the forest enveloping the property. Reaching for the door knob to the shop, Rolen heard something faint in the distance. So faint and so distant that he almost shrugged it off and continued into the shop. He would have if the sound wasn’t accompanied by what he thought were voices. Rolen froze and closed his eyes attempting to focus his hearing on the sound.
Shuuurr-if. A few seconds pass.
After the second time, Rolen knew exactly what the sound was.
That’s right! Rolen told himself. I had forgotten all about that. Rolen’s breathing became slightly uneven. His eyes darted back and forth as he tried to gather his thoughts as what to do. Going into the shop and ignoring what he had heard wasn’t an option. Removing all but one soda, Rolen put on his backpack again and set out down the driveway debating every step of the way. The mailbox was the point of no return.
The mailbox stood at the edge of the yard where it met the cul-de-sac. Across from the mailbox on the opposite side of the cul-de-sac was a narrow clearing of trees. Rolen and his dad would often take that narrow clearing down to the path that led to the stream. Staring across at it, lit by the Milky Way, he began to realize how much he was missing him…especially since he now knew what his mother believed. Why didn’t she go into more detail? Great, now one more thing to add to the mental list. Why do they call it Type A personality? Wouldn’t a better name be Type Aaaaggghh!?
With his mind made up, Rolen turned and walked back to the shop…where he grabbed a flashlight and his dad’s softball bat and headed out across the cul-de-sac, down the short, narrow clearing where he heard the digging.
The canopy of treetops blocked most of the light, but Rolen decided not to use the flashlight just yet. He knew this path well-enough by memory. A flashlight could be too noticeable. Testing the flashlight first would have been smart.
The trails were heavily used and clear of any sticks and leaves for the most part. If he strayed from the trail, he’d know it. Either side of the trail had plenty of roots, rocks, sticks and briars.
A hundred feet in, the trail lead to a clearing surrounded on all sides by forest and was big enough for a Little League baseball field. The nearest road was a quarter mile west of the clearing. With the exception of a dirt path, barely wide enough for a car, nothing but dense woods was between them. The nine men that Rolen counted had no concern about being heard.
Three old pickup trucks, with their headlights on, lit the open field as each of the nine men dug separate holes. There wasn’t much conversation and after five minutes of watching from behind a fallen tree, not a single one of them ever looked over their shoulders. They had an agenda and they were completely focused.
Rolen, perused his surroundings looking for a closer look-out point. At the moment nine backs were facing him. With the clearing, the night sky lit up the night quite nicely, but Rolen didn’t see any fallen trees he could hide behind. He did notice the grass, or whatever it was, was long. He could sit on his rear or his haunches in the middle of the field and never be seen.
Then he realized how much space was under the pick-up trucks.
The moon was casting shadows of the tall trees on the east side of the clearing. With the headlights facing the opposite directions, Rolen felt he could sneak from shadow to shadow and eventually work his way underneath one of the pickup trucks. He figured there wouldn’t be a problem unless of course there were snakes along the way.
Putting the thought of slithering serpents out of his head, the best he could anyway, Rolen crept through the tall grass while the shuuurrr-if sounds of shoveling continued. Rolen found himself both impressed and curious at how quickly these men were working.
After shadow-jumping, Rolen crouched down like a catcher observing what was in front of him. There seemed to be no conversations, only digging. Five of the diggers were standing in the holes they were making while the others had either not gotten very far on their own holes or were starting new ones. Rolen quickly figured it was the latter.
Taking long, gentle strides towards the truck, Rolen found himself at the bottom of a hole that was four feet deep, only a foot shorter than he was. He must have unknowingly blurted out a yelp because while he was waiting for the dust to settle from around his face her heard one them talk for the first time.
“Quiet!” The digging stopped and everyone of the men dropped their shovels and scanned the premises.
Rolen, unhurt as far he could tell, stood up and watched, his eyes level with the ground. The men were circling around. They had flashlights attached to their belts and were now using them as searchlights. His heavy breathing increased even more when a big boot with heavy treading stepped on some twigs less than ten feet away. The man didn’t stay long, but rather continued his searching farther away.
Rolen, feeling the coast was clear, peeked out again over the hole and saw the man as he was walking away lift up the tail of his shirt and pull out a gun.
The man hadn’t taken astep closer to Rolen, but his gun was raised in his right hand, flashlight in his left. When Rolen lowered his head he again heard approaching footsteps. They were lighter this time, but it sounded like two pairs of footsteps rather than just one. As it approached, Rolen felt it coming behind his back. He froze – hoping the shadows would envelope him in its darkness. He tried to control his breathing.
Prrrrr. Prrrrr. Prrrrr.
What? A cat?!
Click. The man’s gun was cocked and the beam of his flashlight buzzed the top of his head right onto the black and white cat.
“It’s just a cat!” he yelled. “Keep digging!” Within seconds all nine men were back digging holes.
Rolen gathered himself breathing deeply and steadily. Along with its four-foot depth, the hole gave Rolen only three paces forwards, backwards and less than two side-to-side. He wasn’t quite sure how he was going to get himself out.
Feeling around, he found some rocks he could use for leverage. With that and every bit of strength he could muster, Rolen managed to climb out slowly. The most difficult part being not making a sound. If a mewing cat drew guns. A spying, nosy kid could certainly fire them.
Covered with dirt head to toe, Rolen lay on his back still breathing heavily staring up at the sky shaking his head questioning why he ever decided to come here.
Realizing the most obvious and perhaps safest option was to head back home and forget he ever saw anything, Rolen stood up and faced the direction home. But before he took a step, one of the men shouted.
“I hit something! I hit something!”
Some men dropped their shovels, others hung onto them as they scurried towards the man who was neck deep in his hole. With their backs towards him, Rolen sprinted towards one of the trucks and rolled underneath it. He instinctively shook his head over his decision, but his doubt grew exponentially when the driver’s side door creaked open and a pair of boots twice the size of his face stepped out.
The boots were the biggest Rolen had ever seen. How do they even make shoes that big? Certainly big enough to squash a boy’s head. To make matters worse, while attempting to tuck his gun behind him, he dropped it on the ground only about a foot from Rolen. If the, what Rolen could only imagine as a giant, got on his knees to look for his gun, it’d be the second time in five minutes he would have had a gun pointed in his direction. Rolen wasn’t sure if he believed in signs, but he was starting to lean in that direction.
Kneeling down, but not lowering his head to look underneath, the giant moved his hand back and forth trying to feel the gun. Rolen lay staring wide-eyed. Gathering enough courage, and knowing that if the man didn’t feel the gun he was going to look for it, Rolen pushed the gun away from himself just far enough for the man’s dirty calloused hands to grab a hold. The man then walked towards his fellow diggers.
They were definitely talking now. Rolen scooted up so he lay underneath the front fender. He could hear every word. He remembered how well the acoustics were in this field. On one Fourth of July, he and his dad came down late at night, or early in the morning, depending on how you want to look at it, and set off an array of fireworks. Mom said neighbors were calling and texting. Somehow they knew it was the Sparks. Mom had walked down the path to the clearing, arms crossed, scowling. It only took her a minute to join the fun.
“It’s definitely wood, a two-by-four, I think,” the digger of the hole told the crew. “It’s somewhat long because I can’t budge it from the dirt.”
“Alright, fellas, I want a fifteen foot circumference. Abandon your hole and start diggin’ here. Dawn’ll be here before too long. No breaks.”
Why would a piece of wood cause such a ruckus? Was it a buried treasure? Treasure boxes weren’t made from two-by-fours. Were they?
For the next thirty minutes, Rolen lay on his stomach watching the crew of ten dig a massive hole. “Boss, it’s just one piece of wood. There’s nothing else nearby.”
“Son of crap!”
One of the other men spoke up. “Back to our own holes?”
“No,” the boss responded. “To the truck.”
Rolen gulped. To the truck? Which truck?
“Not this truck, please not this truck, not this truck, please not this truck.”
Rolen soon found himself surrounded by twenty boots soaked in blood and sweat as the men surrounded the bed of the truck. One of them spoke. It sounded like the same one that was giving orders. Obviously the one in charge.
“Who has the map?”
Without a word a map that had been folded on countless occasions was sprawled out in the back of the truck.
Six flashlights clicked on joined by four cigarette lighters inclining the boss to roll his eyes. “Does it look like I’m smoking here?!”
A digger jabbed his soiled finger on the map. “Was this the last place, Boss?”
The boss shook his head. “No.” Then there was silence as all eyes perused the entire map. None more studious than the one in charge. “No, because we can always go back to the previous marks. Our calculations may be a bit off or the map may not be all that accurate. My guess it’s just giving us estimations. But, there is one more place we didn’t try yet. Looks like it’s north of here just a hair.”
Rolen’s eyes widened. North? A hair? Oh please let a hair be miles and miles away.
The boss continued. “My guess is about a quarter mile from here.”
Almost yelling out loud, Rolen covered his mouth with both of his hands. That’s a little over one thousand feet! That could be my yard!
“Problem is,” the boss continued, “It’s somebody’s yard. I passed it the other day while scoping out this place. Nice sized blue house with red shutters. Problem is, they’re night owls.”
“Holy crap!” Rolen mouthed without making a sound.
“We’ll have to figure out the best time to come. Until then, dawn’s coming so let’s roll out. Nothing left behind.”
The ten diggers piled into the three trucks, spun their tires and were gone – obviously having some practice of packing up and leaving in a hurry. Fortunately for Rolen, he wasn’t seen…or squashed during their exit.
If it weren’t for the adrenaline rushing through his body, fueled by what he had just witnessed, Rolen would have fallen asleep right there in the open field. It wouldn’t have been the first time he would have used the earth for his bed. He and his father had gone out camping, some father-son bonding time, and having arrived at their destination well-passed dinner and with darkness pulling the blanket over the eyes of daylight, they decided to get a fire going first thing. After their coffee-can casserole and his dad sharing more stories growing up in the mid-west, they realized no tent and no sleeping bags were packed. Too tired to drive home, the dirt served as their mattress and any leaves that had fallen from the trees above their snoring heads during the night was their comforter.
Rolen picked himself up off the ground, brushed off his shirt and pants and started his walk home when he found a shovel left behind. Thinking that the boss wasn’t going to be pleased with that discovery, Rolen picked it up and hurried home. The adrenaline wasn’t going to last for long. He knew he’d sleep where he’d fall.
Reaching his driveway he could feel the overwhelming tiredness creeping in. The events of the last hour were becoming blurred and dream-like. Rolen still decided to head into the shop rather than the house because for whatever reason he wanted to give the answering machine one more try.
It was the memories of the night that propelled him to continue moving rather than crash. Among the plethora of items in his dad’s shop was a shabby and grungy recliner – that Rolen was positive if he or his dad wasn’t sitting or sleeping on it, some nightly creature was.
Avoiding the temptation of more much needed rest, because it was the world’s most comfortable chair, Rolen’s last remaining amount of adrenaline had him standing in front of the workbench once again. Looking down on the old Panasonic KX-T1520, Rolen smiled at how much technology had changed and wondered how on earth people even survived without cell phones. But that was one of the reasons he enjoyed being outside in his dad’s working environment – it was a museum of artifacts from his dad’s life. Contradicting his previous thought on technology, Rolen realized how nice it would have been to live in a much simpler time.
Being the tactile individual that he was, Rolen touched the two knobs –one for volume, the other for rewinding and recording, and smirked at the idea that the device was the same size as his DVD player.
As implausible as it seemed, Rolen still wanted to hear his dad’s voice. And if not the voice of his father then…something…something else whether funny or just a simple message. Heck, he’d even love to hear a verbose message from someone rambling on about absolutely nothing only to end the message with, Well, anyway, wasn’t calling about anything important. No need to call me back.
Why call at all then?
Finally after all the interruptions and madness of the last several hours, Rolen pushed play.
Nothing. Well, there was the squeal of the tape signifying that the tape was ruined, but no voices from the past.
However, Rolen’s dad did teach him numerous amount of things right there in that shop and one of them just happened to be fixing a cassette tape. Rogan Sparks loved technology. He loved DVDs, computers, iPads – all of it. Except one thing. When he was in his shop, he only wanted to listen to cassettes. He would say it kept him grounded in a more innocent and youthful time. Rolen even remembered the first tape he helped his dad fix – Boy from the Irish band U2.
Pulling the cassette out of the drawer and putting it into the player, Rolen couldn’t help but to laugh out loud at how he and his dad would sing, I Will Follow, while pretending his old wooden tennis racquets were guitars. Rolen missed the silly side of his father. It taught Rolen to not take everything too seriously.
“You have to put everything in life on a scale. A scale from one to ten,” his father had told him. “If something angers you, you have to stop and decide just how angry it should make you. Something high on the scale such as a seven, eight, nine or ten, you can expect repercussions. Anger is one messed up ball game. It’s best not even to show up to the ballpark.
“But, it’s the same with other emotions too. Being the right amount of happy is always a good thing. Be happy for yourself and for others even if it seems trivial to you. Boosting someone else’s self-esteem can have great rewards. Both intrinsic and extrinsic.”
Rolen unscrewed the shell and was reminded of how many parts make up a simple cassette tape. After reattaching the tape to the hub, he found his dad’s special splicing tape before putting everything back together while singing out loud to the music.
If you walk away, walk away
Walk away, walk away
I will follow
I will follow
Rolen placed the repaired cassette back into the answering machine and pushed play. Again, nothing. But the tape was working, there just wasn’t any voices from the past like he was hoping for.
Keeping the play button down, Rolen decided to take a dangerous chance and sit on his dad’s recliner as he waited for a voice.
I was on the inside
When you pulled the four walls down
Rolen rested his head back and thought about those lyrics. He wondered if his dad was trapped somewhere waiting to be rescued. Rolen spoke the last words of the song before drifting off to sleep.
I will follow.
“Rolen!” His dad’s voiced shouted out. Rolen’s rapid eye movement slowed. “Rolen! Are you there?”
Rolen struggled to open his eyes. Rubbing them he answered, “Dad?”
“Rolen! Hey buddy, it’s dad.”
“I’m coming, dad. I was just out here in the shop. Let me get the lights and I’ll come right in.” Rolen, trying to gain his balance and clear the grogginess that had overcome him from his slumber, stumbled over to turn the lights on turned the knob on the door.
“Hey, buddy, it’s me.”
Rolen’s fog cleared and he realized the voice was coming from the answering machine.
The voice was coming from the answering machine!!
Rolen touched it as if it was his dad’s own face in front of him and he was welcoming him home. His body covered in chills and goose-bumps, Rolen breathed in the voice, the voice he had been longing to hear.
“Hey Little Guy, I need you to find the phone for me, okay? I know Grandpa won’t ever pick it up. Can you do that for me? I want to talk to him. I want to talk to you too. Check over by the table with the lamp on it. Do you see it? Are you having fun with Paw-Paw? Did he take you down to the creek at all?”
His father paused for a moment. Rolen’s heart sank. He was soaking in every word remembering now when his dad left that message. It was about five years ago when Rolen was seven.
“Alright, don’t worry about,” the message continued. “Listen, son, I need you to make sure Grandpa listens to this message, okay? My car broke down. I need you to come and get me. Okay? Can you tell him that? I need you to come and get me. I’m where the old diner used to be. Come and get me. I love you, son.”
Click. End of tape.
Rolen’s eyes filled with tears. “I love you too, dad.”
The message had left him emotionally exhausted and beaten. As a child, a younger child, Rolen would seek solitude after a tiring day or an argument with his parents in one place. Not the shop. Not the riverbanks with a fishing pole, not his grandfather’s tree house. Rolen would always retreat to his room. With the daylight pushing the darkness away, Rolen left the shop, walked up to his room in a stupor and crashed. Eyes red, cheeks moist.
While Rolen’s body rested comfortably, his mind did not. Dreams, vivid, real-life dreams filled his sleep. He called them continuation dreams. Occurring only rarely and without warning or reason, the continuation dreams would pick up right where the day’s – or night’s – activities ended.
It began with the message on the answering machine with Rolen’s father shouting his name. Rolen stood from his chair and walked over to the answering machine. Rewind and play, rewind and play. Rolen played the message over and over again. Then the door opened and his father was standing there which Rolen thought nothing about because the world within that particular dream, his father was alive.
“Didn’t hear me calling for you?” his father inquired.
“Yeah, I thought…” Rolen noticed his father was entirely covered in dirt. “What were you doing?”
“I have something to show you. Bring your bat.”
The two of them walked down through the narrow clearing that eventually led to the bigger clearing in the middle of the woods.
“It’s over here.”
Several pickup trucks lined the field with their headlights on. The diggers stood outside of the trucks, backs leaned up against the hood, shining flashlights for Rolen and his dad to see. They didn’t move or say anything. Just watched.
Rogan approached a massive hole and motioned Rolen to come take a look. Peering over, Rolen felt as if he was looking down upon a small city or community. Hundreds of people were moving about, but appeared very small from Rolen’s viewpoint.
Rogan spoke. “They’re digging in the wrong spot.”
“Who is?” Rolen asked.
“Them,” Rogan said pointing with his head to the men standing at their trucks who were now armed with shovels and appearing to becoming closer.
“Rolen, you need to jump.”
“What about you?!” Rolen asked, heart rate elevating.
“It’s okay, I’m over there, but listen to me. When you get down there, you’ll need to crawl to find me. Do you understand?”
Rolen nodded his head, but answered no. “So you are coming?”
“No,” Rogan pulled Rolen over to another hole. “I’m right there.”
Rolen peered over the hole, this one more shallow than the other. Noticing a man sitting with his arms wrapped around his knees, he asked, “Is that you?” Rolen looked up again, but his father was no longer there.
“Rolen! Are you there? Rolen!” his father shouted.
Looking over into the hole again, Rolen again saw his dad, but this time he was looking up and shouting.
“I’m here. Where are you?”
“Go now, Rolen. Remember to crawl. Hurry, now!”
Rolen turned towards the shovel-carrying men who seemed to be shouting, but it was inaudible. The trucks were and subsequently the headlights were too. The only light was from the universe. Glancing at the massive hole again, it seemed to be lit. Rolen looked at the men, looked at the hole, looked at the men again before making a tremendous leap into hole and fell a long, long way until there was a thud and darkness.
Rolen awoke with a wide-eyed startle on the floor next to his bed.
“Everything okay up there?” Rolen’s mother shouted.
“Am I in the hole?”
Rolen rubbed his eyes and slowly realized he was out of the dream, but still oblivious to what time of day it was.
“Nothing. I’m fine.”
Before hearing the recorded message, Rolen had felt that even though his father was no longer physically present that there was still a strong emotional tether that kept him connected…kept him hopeful. Now, for reasons Rolen couldn’t explain, hearing the actual voice of his dad had seemed to cut the tether and subsequently cause the connection to drift. Rather than feeling closer to his dad and even more hopeful he felt his father was a half-world away. The voice was from the past not the present. Lost in time.
Rolen rose to his feet, gained his balanced and stood completely still – his breathing matching the swaying of the trees outside of his window. Then the images of this dream invaded his mind.
Remember to crawl.
The gathering of people below.
His father going into his own separate hole.
What did it all mean? Did it mean anything?
Rolen needed fresh air.