Is Allan Vickery alive or dead?
After being hit on the head by a golf ball, Vic himself isn’t certain. It turns out he’s comatose and what he learns while unconscious is life-changing when he awakens.
A man in mid-life crisis . . .
Struggling to keep his faltering marriage alive while attempting to become a recognized painter and still succeed at teaching high school art, his new ability becomes a volatile accelerant for issues that merely smoldered in the past.
In the resulting inferno . . .
Vic finds passion in the arms of a lover and riches in the world of high-stakes golf matches. Whether you know the game or not, you will be gripped by Vic’s quest to answer the question . . .
How do you endure getting everything you wished for?
To purchase Difficult Lies from Werkman’s publisher, Rogue Phoenix Press, click HERE!
Shorter Works by Christopher Werkman
Found in Literary journals:
- Lynx Eye
- Quality Fiction
- Word Catalyst Magazine
- 50 to 1
- Litro: Stories That Transport You
- Journal of Microliterature
- 5923 Quarterly
- Specter Magazine
- Edge volume 7
- Cigale Literary
Found in Anthologies:
- Hannibal’s Manor
- Short Sips–Coffee House Flash Fiction
- Daily Flash: 366 Days of Flash Fiction
- Penduline Press’ Seven Deadly Sins Anthology
- Main Street Rag’s Voices From the Porch
Allan “Vic” Vickery pulled onto River Road from Bittersweet Drive and booted the gas. Something thumped the right front fender of his RX7, and a small object skidded over the hood and across the windshield. In seeming slow-motion, it pirouetted above the sunroof, shedding dark gray and orange feathers like sparks. In his rearview mirror, Vic saw a robin land upside-down, beating its wings against the blacktop. “Damn,” he muttered, stabbing the brakes. He was close to being late, and punctuality was an obsession with him. Still, no way would he leave a living creature helpless on the road, especially since he put it there.
After his car skidded to a stop, Vic looked to confirm there was no oncoming traffic, leaped from the driver’s seat and broke into a jog. The robin’s wings jack-hammered against the pavement, its beak open to the sky. “No. No, little guy,” Vic said, stooping to grasp the struggling creature. At his first touch, the bird seemed to relax and Vic slipped his hands around it. He folded the bird’s wings against its body and started for the curb. A man in a passing pickup swerved and honked. “Yeah, fuck you!” Vic shouted. Vic’s Old Man used to fall back on rage to deal with guilt or sorrow and, like him, remorse frequently put Vic a mere pitch-shot from a flash of anger.
“You’re going to be okay, little guy,” Vic whispered to the bird. He believed it. The bird’s wings were functioning, and Vic could feel its heart whirring like a little motor. The bird closed its beak and tried to peck at Vic’s thumb. Vic believed that to be a good sign. “I think you’re just stunned, buddy. I’m gonna put you down and let you get your bearings.” As he bent to place the bird on the grass, its head slumped. Its heart stilled.
“Son of a bitch!” He stroked the bird’s chest several times. “I’m so goddamned sorry. Why the hell weren’t you twenty feet up in the air?” He looked for someplace to put the small corpse. He decided on the mulch surrounding a planting of evergreens, not far from the road. Tucking it up under the foliage, he gave the bird one last caress before he stood to leave. Vic glanced at his watch. “Shit, already after 9:30.” He was supposed to meet the guys at the golf course in fewer than fifteen minutes. He started for his car. “I’m sorry,” he said, over his shoulder. It sounded so paltry. “If I’d only been on time.”
He jogged back toward his idling car. He’d been on schedule, but then he tried to arrange some after-the-round romance with Angie. Early in their marriage, Vic joked he could get sunburned if he stood too close to her. A mere decade later, it felt like a chilly overcast settled in.
Back in the driver’s seat, he waited for a car to pass, let out the clutch, banged through the first two gears and settled in at fifty. As upset and harried as he was, Vic couldn’t help but glance admiringly at the stately river houses he passed. A Toledo native, he spent his 1950’s boyhood wishing he could live in a house overlooking the Maumee River, with steps leading down to a fast boat tied off at a dock. His grandparents lived on the river back then. Vic spent hours scampering over the rock gardens they maintained on the sloping bank. That, and tossing baited hooks into the muddy Maumee. Such a house wasn’t in the cards for him thus far, but living just off River Road on Bittersweet was a close miss.
The dashboard clock said he had six minutes to get to the course. “God, after sacrificing the life of a robin, I hope at least I hit ‘em decent,” he grumbled.
To a large extent, Vic was late because Angie couldn’t understand why, on a beautiful late September day with an eighty-degree forecast, Vic wasn’t excited about playing golf. Sitting at her Ping-Pong table-turned-workbench, she was fashioning parts for the miniature house she was constructing. She saw an article about miniatures in a magazine several years previous and the build began as a lark, but grew to be a passion, the way brushing paint on canvas was for Vic. Angie bristled at the term dollhouse, so Vic always correctly referred to it as “the miniature.” She was a skilled builder, and the inch-to-foot scale replica of a Georgian-style country house wasn’t close to being a child’s toy.
“So what’s the deal?” Angie asked, when Vic stepped into her workroom to say goodbye. She gathered parts for a double hung window. “You’re usually grinning ear to ear when you’re headed out to play golf.”
“Yeah, when I’m playing for fun.” He stood next to her, watching her eyes as she positioned pieces of the window’s frame. Angie’s eyes were very close in color to cerulean, Vic’s usual choice for the sky in summer landscapes. “But the Chili Open is the last big scramble of the season, and the winning team splits five hundred bucks. The guys are all hot to take it home.”
“Look, nobody else would pony up the twenty-five bucks and fill in for Jay, right? You’re doing them a favor.”
“I’m not sure they see it that way,” Vic said. He had only been playing golf for a few years. Some of his teacher friends started a league and talked him into joining, promising it was only for fun and beer. Vic dragged out the set of clubs The Old Man gave him, the last thing his father did before he skipped to California. At first, it was fun to whack the ball around, but Vic hated being mediocre at anything. He started reading golf magazines and watching instructional videos. He even took lessons. Regardless, it became obvious he had no natural ability and was destined to be a hacker. He fought to keep his score under one hundred, and was overjoyed when he managed to break ninety. He accepted his fate, and golf evolved into more of a state of mind than a competitive sport. On the course, he found respite from his troubles, fellowship with his friends, and the beauty of nature. Deep down, however, he harbored hopes somehow he would develop the kind of game he could be proud of. The kind of game Jay Carlin had.
Angie put down her razor knife, used the backs of her hands to push her humidity-frizzed blonde curls from her forehead, and looked up at him. “You all take a shot and the team plays the best one?”
He nodded. “That’s a scramble.”
“So statistically, you only have to contribute one shot in four.”
“Statistically. But Jay was their secret weapon. The guys were counting on him to come through with a hell of a lot more than one shot in four. I feel like I’m on the hot-seat.”
“Hey, if their ‘secret weapon’ was drunk enough to break a leg falling down the stairs in some bar last night, how many of his shots could they use?” Angie picked up her knife. “You need to lighten up and enjoy playing golf.”
Though Angie had a point, Vic knew he couldn’t make the shots Jay would have, even if hangover demons were firing cannons in the man’s head.
Trying to fill Jay’s shoes was scary, but Vic’s inability to get Angie to understand how he felt bothered him more. It once was so easy to share feelings, fears and dreams with her. He missed that at least as much as he missed physical intimacy. Both seemed to have evaporated from their marriage. Angie hardly ever offered suggestions or insights regarding his paintings anymore, and she’d stopped asking his opinion on her miniature house. She no longer inquired about his classes or his students, and when he asked her about a legal case or the office politics at Jonathan Fairchild and Associates, “not much” was her likely answer. He wondered which they’d lost first, their mental closeness, or the sex.
After some super-legal speeds and a few NASCAR-like cuts and ducks through traffic, Vic slowed and turned into the parking lot at Heather Hills Golf Club. He found a parking spot, shut the engine down and glanced at the clock as the display changed to 9:45. On the dot.
Vic got out of his car. The pressure he felt to help the team win overrode his pleasure at being on schedule and made his stomach roil. The image of the dead robin was still fresh. He burped and wondered if he could get some Tums in the clubhouse. When he noticed a tuft of the robin’s down still stuck on the wiper arm, he pulled it free, let it fall, and watched its final flight. A few seconds either way would have made all the difference.
Vic was nerved up, but he reminded himself every round of golf offered a fresh beginning. The way he played the last time, or any time before that, didn’t count. Each round offered a fresh start. A clean scorecard. Teaching was like that; one reason Vic loved it so much. Start the kids on a painting or a drawing and in a week or two, that project was complete and it was time to begin another. Four or five projects later, it was the start of a new semester, with new students. Before long, another school year ended. He could make adjustments and changes in his curriculum with no carryover to influence each new beginning. If only marriage was like that, he thought. And if only he could play golf as well as he taught art. He pulled his clubs out of the Mazda and closed the rear hatch.
Phil Bartlett drove up on a golf cart, ending Vic’s time alone with his thoughts.
“Throw your clubs on,” Phil said, grinning like a carnival barker. “You and I are riding
Vic hoped he would be riding with either Sal Batik or Ron Stevens, the other members of the scrambles team. Phil was overbearing, always pontificating about things Vic already knew. Yeah, like I’m a dumb-ass, he often thought. Others had the same complaint. Phil never got off his teacher pedestal, even on the golf course with fellow-teacher friends.
“You ready to kick ass and take names?” Phil asked as Vic dutifully strapped his bag to the cart.
“Damned straight,” Vic replied, with all the enthusiasm he could muster.
“Great. Five hundred big ones to the winners today. You gotta help us win it.”
Vic sat on the cart and gazed off at the late September foliage that was showing tinges of fall color. It’s going to be one fucking long round, he thought.
Phil Bartlett may have been the fifty-year old head of Alexis High School’s social studies department, but forty-five minutes after they teed off, he bounced on his toes like a kid at a carnival. “Four under par after three damned holes,” he enthused. “And a sweet two on a par four! That eagle should win us some money, for sure.” The thought Phil was excited enough he might piss himself helped Vic mount a convincing smile. “We have to stay focused now,” Phil said, the way he might to his American government class. “Gotta birdie this par three.”
Vic was glad the team was scoring well, but felt detached. They hadn’t used one of his shots, although admittedly, he hadn’t made a shot worth using. While they waited for another group to putt out on the par three they were about to play, his attention strayed to a flock of robins who were prospecting for worms. He thought about the one he killed on the way to the course.
“Whatcha looking at?” Sal asked. A phys. ed. teacher, he was half a foot taller than Vic and could slam a golf ball three hundred yards with above average accuracy. Not only that, he was a good guy.
“Those birds,” Vic said, pointing in their direction. “A robin flew into my car when I was driving over here today.” The memory of the soft limp bird in his hands played in his head and he turned his palms toward the sky. “Nothing I could do.”
Sal nodded, then began taking practice swings, so Vic pulled his seven iron and began swinging it, too. Regardless, his mind was on the final exchange he had with Angie before leaving the house.
“I’m leaving now, sweetie,” he said.
“K,” she replied, not looking up. “Remember, just relax. You’ll play better.”
“I’ll try,” he said, bending to kiss her on the cheek. “I know I’ll be a heck of a lot more relaxed when this round is over.” A thought crossed his mind. “Hey, maybe I’ll pick up a couple steaks and some wine on my way home. We could grill ‘em up. Who knows what could happen?” He finished with a wink she missed when she didn’t look up.
“We’ll see,” she replied, in a distracted sing-song. Over the years, Vic learned that was Angie-speak for, “don’t get your hopes up.”
He couldn’t let that go. “Are you pissed at me?” he asked, trying to hide a flicker of exasperation.
“Pissed?” She looked up at him, squinting wrinkles into the skin on the bridge of her nose.
“Yeah. I just suggested some dinner and a little romance. Because I love you. Because we’re married. Also, because you never make offers like this to me anymore. And you’re not interested. So, what did I do wrong?”
Angie gave him her “I don’t have a clue” look. The wrinkles moved to her forehead and deepened as she raised her eyebrows. “I’m not mad at you.” She shrugged. “It’s so early in the morning.”
“I know. But I thought, well, tonight. We could have some steaks and wine and–”
“Vic, you’re talking eight or nine hours from now. I don’t know how I’ll feel then.”
He could feel his frustration and self-doubt peaking. Annoyance souped it up. Why was the template always the same? When Vic made an advance, she was too tired, or didn’t feel good. But she had to feel good sometime, and she never made advances anytime.
“But it’s not only today, babe. I understand you may be too tired today. But you hardly ever feel like making love, and it makes me feel like you don’t you love me anymore.”
Her eyelids began to flutter and redden. “It’s nothing like that. I told you before, I just don’t have much sex drive right now.” She spoke in the softest of whispers. Her watery eyes extinguished his kindling anger, the way they always did. Vic wondered if she counted on that.
“But you haven’t had much sex drive for a long time. And you’re only thirty-two years old. You were going to ask if it was the birth control pills you’re using. What did your doctor say yesterday?”
Tears overran her long lower lashes and she shook her head. “It didn’t come up.”
“Didn’t come up?” he said, fighting to keep his volume from increasing. “You mean you didn’t bring it up, like you said you would. Why not?”
“I take care of you,” she offered, wiping at her eyes.
He looked for something she could use for a hanky. “You didn’t answer my question. Besides, I’m not talking about a hand-job. I’m talking about lovemaking, where I make you come, too.” He found a scrap of cloth that looked clean and offered it to her. “Where we both participate. It doesn’t even have to be intercourse, as long as we’re both into it.” He knelt as she dabbed at her eyes, now looking more July-sky blue against their teary-pink surroundings. “It used to be so good, Ange. We used to make love two or three times a week. Are those days over?”
Angie snuffled. “Tonight,” she whispered.
He stood, but he couldn’t coax himself to smile.
“What? I said we’d do it tonight. What more do you want?”
Vic touched her shoulder. “And that will take care of today. But we need to get to the cause of the problem or it will keep coming back, like it has before. You’re the woman I love, but you never come on to me anymore. Since I’m always the one who brings it up, it makes me feel like you’re giving in to get me off your back.”
Angie stood and touched his cheek. “Tonight,” she said. “It’ll be good—honest.” She glanced at the clock on her workbench. “You better go. You’re going to be late.”
“Oh shit, you’re right. I am late.” He kissed her.
“Good luck,” she offered, as he hurried out of the room. “Maybe you’ll sink the winning putt.”
“Green’s open,” Phil said, catapulting Vic back onto the fourth tee. “Vic, you’re hitting.”
In a scrambles, the weakest player usually hits first. Vic teed a ball and put his best swing on it. The shot started for the green, but side-spin made it veer to the right, where it plopped into the grass near a green-side sand bunker. “Sorry, guys,” he said, sliding the club into his bag.
“An art teacher’s shot should be creative,” Ron Stevens, a math teacher, said as he teed his ball. “Shake it off.”
“I guess,” Vic allowed. He gazed down the sunny fairway and discovered if he squinted just the right way, his eyelashes refracted the light and made the course look like an Expressionist landscape. He wondered how Van Gogh would have hit it.
The others were unable to improve on their situation. Ron’s ball fizzled like a dud bottle rocket. Phil’s and Sal’s shots both landed in the same greenside bunker Vic’s ball narrowly missed. They decided to use Vic’s shot for the first time that day, but apprehension settled in like a bad neighbor when none of them pitched a ball close to the pin. Phil’s was nearest, a good fifteen feet away.
“Okay, we gotta make this putt!” Phil said, pumping his fist like a coach hammering out a half-time pep talk. He looked at Vic. “You putt first and show us the line.”
Crouching, Vic studied the stretch of green between the ball and the cup. The putting surface sloped to the right, but because the putt was uphill, he knew the ball would tend to roll straighter. Putts almost always came down to speed. A player could visualize the line he wanted the ball to follow, but to keep it on that path required the correct pace. He was never sure about speed until after he struck a putt, unlike good players who have a sixth sense about how hard to hit it.
Phil stood behind Vic, hunched like an umpire at home plate. “Sal … Ron … make sure you watch and get a good read.”
Vic noticed a dark spot in the turf and pictured the ball tracking over it to the cup. He stood and made several practice strokes, trying to synthesize a feeling for the speed that would keep the ball on line.
“Whatever you do, don’t leave it short,” Phil said.
“Fore!” a far-off voice called.
Vic felt a surge of confidence. “Don’t worry. I’m sinking it.”
“Fore!” The single voice became a chorus.
“Who are they yelling at?” Sal asked. “Is it coming this way?”
Vic stroked his putt.
“FORE! Fore on the green!” came another choir of shouts.
Vic’s ball rolled over the spot he picked out and held the line, but he heard a hissing sound. Faint at first, it intensified into a piercing buzz. Then the ball vanished. Was it in the cup? He couldn’t tell because he couldn’t see the cup. The buzzing stopped, but he couldn’t hear anything else, either. What the hell was going on? Something hit him hard on the right cheek. Whatever it was felt firm, but soft. It stuck to his face. He tested it, pressed and rubbed against it. It seemed like it was … grass?
He heard voices, like the cross-talk bobbing on the surface of AM radio at night—indecipherable background speech. At times, he could make out a word, but the rest was unintelligible gibberish in the rhythm of speech. He strained to make sense of it. Suddenly, it was as though a circuit slammed closed.
“– the goddamned ambulance,” he heard Sal shout. Vic caught parts of phrases, as though the radio had a bad cord. “I’ll stay with him. They’ll need to know – hell he is. You go – them – here!”
“Sal?” Vic asked. The sound of his own voice surprised him.
Sal’s reply came in pieces. “– awake! Hey, Vic! You –”
“What?” Vic asked.
“Are you okay?” A complete sentence. Then Vic could see Sal’s image, but it flickered as though someone switched the lights on and off.
“Yeah. What happened?” he managed.
“You got hit by some guy’s tee shot.”
“On the head. Lay still, buddy. You’ll be okay.”
“Am I bleeding? Who hit me?”
“Somebody from that tee over there. Here they are! They just rode up.” Sal turned and shouted. “He’s okay! He’s talking!”
“No! Tell him I’m hurt bad. Maybe they’ll buy me a beer.” Sal looked at him and grinned before disappearing into darkness again. “Did the putt go in, Sal? Sal! Did it drop?”
It all went dead. Someone shut off the radio and turned out the lights.
Vic’s next awareness was he levitated. He couldn’t feel the pressure of the ground against his body anymore. Oh, shit, he thought. This is not good. He rode the edge of panic. No ground. No gravity. Neutral. Everything was static. He didn’t feel like he was moving up or down. Hanging. Suspended. Physically and figuratively. A golf ball stopped his life. Forever?
He wondered if his eyes were open. It felt like they were, but he couldn’t see anything. He wanted to check, but he couldn’t find his arms. They weren’t there. No legs either. He was aware of his existence. He was Allan Vickery, and he could remember everything about himself and his life, but where the hell was his body? He wanted to shout or cry out, but he couldn’t find the route to his vocal chords.
He became aware of leaves. He first saw irregular blue shapes, and suddenly realized that was the sky. He shifted his attention to the leaves. He sensed he was rising through them, like in an elevator. He looked down now and saw he hovered above the tree, quite a distance from the grass below. That scared him. He’d fallen off a ladder once, and being more than four or five feet in the air made him nervous. Not panicky, but cautious and edgy. Strangely, now he was more alarmed by the thought he might float into the heavens than he was by the possibility of falling back onto Earth. He still couldn’t feel his arms or legs, but he could alter his field of vision.
He looked around and realized this was his yard, on Bittersweet. The tree he hovered above was the big maple standing in the center of the lawn he’d mowed the evening before. Friday. The day before the Chili Open. At Heather Hills, where he was clocked on the head.
Vic saw his house. He peered down on the second floor where the two dormer windows rose in precision from the slope of the roof facing the street, looking like angular frog’s eyes. He could see the balsawood glider the kid next door lost that morning, caught in the gutter. Little Freddy, crying at the front door. “Can you get it down for me, Mr. Vickery?”
“I have to leave for golf now, but I’ll get it this afternoon, Freddy,” he promised. He riffled the little guy’s brown hair. “If the wind doesn’t blow it down, I’ll get it for you when I get home.” It rested in the eave’s trough, right below the dormer window of Angie’s workroom. As Vic drifted closer to the house, the little plane was within reach, if only he could use his arms. He couldn’t, or he would have picked it up and launched it into Freddy’s yard.
He looked inside, through the dormer window, and there was Angie. She was still at her huge work table, the various parts of her doll house scattered like remnants from the aftermath of a tornado. Perched on the old bar stool, she wore one of his castoff dress shirts as a smock. With her blonde curls pulled back into a banana-shaped red barrette, she looked every bit the college coed he married eleven years earlier.
He began to drift away from the window. He didn’t want to. Like Fred’s little glider, he was lousy at controlling his direction. He felt like he was in a hot-air balloon. He wanted to stay. He wanted to look in on Angie and remember when she used to sleep in the nude with him, snuggled in his arms. He wanted to remember the happy times before he worried he was losing her, that she was drifting away. Now he was drifting away from her, and he couldn’t do a damned thing about it.
Grass pressed against Vic’s cheek again. He savored the sweet soothing aroma of the turf for a moment, and when he opened his eyes, he could see perfectly. Not only that, he had control of his whole body, and it was pain-free. Oh, man, this is great, he thought. I blacked out for a minute. It was all a stupid dream. I’ll let the guys know I’m okay.
He pulled himself into a sitting position. He was fine. He rose to his feet and ran his hands over his head. He couldn’t find any lumps, bumps, or sore spots from the shot Sal told him he’d taken, and he did a quick once-around to make sure no one witnessed his self-examination. It felt like a line of chilly dominoes ran the length of his spine. None of his playing partners were there. No one was. Then, another reality struck. He wasn’t at Heather Hills. This wasn’t even a golf course.
He struggled to understand. He’d struck a putt on the fourth green, and awakened into the weird floating dream. Now he stood in an open meadow near a large tree. To his left was a curtain of heavy brush and trees, which almost reminded him of the narrow area of woods that formed a barrier between Bittersweet Drive and the thirteenth fairway at Toledo Country Club. He ventured several steps in that direction, but it was obvious they weren’t the trees at the end of his street. Besides, he reminded himself, I’m no country-clubber. We were playing Heather Hills.
A lacy veil of clouds diffused the sunlight, disguising east from west and offering no clue as to the time of day. He looked at his watch and saw the second hand wasn’t moving. He tapped the crystal. “Goddamned thing,” he said. “I got hit on the head, not on the damned watch.”
That’s when he noticed something was wrong with the timbre of his voice. It didn’t sound like he was outside. Instead of melding into the surroundings, his words reverberated in an unusual way, almost as though he was indoors. He wanted to shout to test for an echo, but he had no idea where he was, or who or what might be within earshot. It was easy to talk himself into maintaining silence.
Across from the brush and trees was an asphalt road; smooth, and black as licorice. The nearby stretch was straight, but it curved and disappeared into a cluster of distant trees. He walked over to it and looked both ways. Where the hell does it go, he wondered. He wanted to see if there was a house or town nearby, but was unsure about wandering off. “I don’t know what to do,” he whispered, wondering how long it would be until a car or a truck would come along. He walked back to the big tree and spotted an inviting space where its roots disappeared into the ground. He sat down there and leaned against the trunk to assess his situation. Arguments for staying where he was paraded through his mind. Your plane crashes, stay with the wreckage. Your boat capsizes, cling to the hull. This is where I’m supposed to be, he decided. I’ll wait here until someone comes to tell me where I’m supposed go next.
With a soft shuffle of wing feathers, a robin fluttered from an overhead branch and settled on the grass no more than ten feet from where Vic sat. The bird hopped around, cocking its head the way robins do when they’re on the hunt for worms. He made a few soft clicking sounds with his tongue, and the bird turned in his direction. It looked at him with some curiosity, and little apparent fear.
“You’re the one, aren’t you?” he whispered, replaying the image of the robin that flew into his car. He reached out and the robin hopped toward him, coming close enough he could actually stroke its waxy feathers several times before it skittered off, to renew its search for dinner. Tears clotted at his eyelashes as a new possibility hit him like a hammer.
“I’m fucking dead.”
Vic slumped against the tree trunk and blubbered like a lost child. Sobs as violent as dry heaves wracked his body. He was engulfed by a sense of loneliness. Is being alone the worst part of being dead? He used his fingers to squeegee the tears from his cheeks, and swallowed down the urge to continue crying. Does Angie know? Did one of the guys call her? He hoped she heard the news from someone closer than an impersonal policeman or paramedic. He wondered what her reaction was. Maybe it’s a good thing our relationship’s so shitty. My checking out might be easier for her to live with. That thought had him teetering on the brink of tears again.
But maybe I’m not dead, he countered, trying to apply some logic to his situation. The friendly robin didn’t prove anything. Still, the fact was he’d been playing golf with friends, was hit by a golf ball, and now he was alone in an unfamiliar place. Another strange thought came to mind. What if I’m not even Allan Vickery? A fast inventory reassured him. He wore his favorite green pullover, cargo shorts, and the old running shoes he liked when he played golf. He yanked out his wallet. There were his credit cards. Sears. Sunoco. His name, Allan T. Vickery, was recorded in plastic relief. He studied his driver’s license picture. Brown eyes, dark brown hair, a square jaw and a stupid grin. Yeah, that’s me, he thought, tears re-blurring his vision. As he slid the wallet back into his pocket, a powerful drowsiness overrode his emotions. He curled up at the base of the tree, pillowed his head on his forearms and slipped easily into slumber.
When he awakened, he experienced one of those groggy moments of peace, before reality backhanded him into full awareness. Nothing changed. The light was the same, there was no wind, and no sound disturbed the palpable layer of quiet blanketing him. Out of habit, he checked his watch. The hands were still motionless. He could recall vague memories of bewildering dreams; high-pitched beeps and unfamiliar sounds reminded him of the voice-like noises he’d heard when he first got hit, along with recollections of pencil-thin white lights swooping back and forth. Again, he was tempted to explore, but caution kept him where he was. He wasn’t hungry or thirsty. He wasn’t in any immediate danger. He decided to stay put until any of that changed. Remain at the scene. Wait for the authorities.
His sense of security shattered when Vic spotted a man on the road, walking in his direction. Vic was lonely and lost, and he wanted someone to tell him where he was and how to get back to Toledo, but the sight of another human made his heart rattle in his chest. The voice in his head screamed … Run! Hide! But, like in one of those weird nightmares, he couldn’t seem to make himself budge.
A second look reassured him. Walkingman didn’t appear to be much of a threat. He wore a pair of tan Bermuda shorts, a collared white pullover shirt, and a pair of deck shoes with no socks. The wide brim on his straw hat cast enough shadow to obscure his face, and any hint of his age, but his relaxed athletic gait told Vic the man was at ease with himself and his surroundings. Rather than call out, Vic decided to wait and see if the man noticed him. If I’m dead, he might not be able to see me anyway, he figured. When Walkingman was no more than a hundred feet away, he happened to glance in Vic’s direction. Startled, the man sidestepped and stopped, peering at Vic for several seconds before seeming to regain himself.
“Hello. Are you all right?” Walkingman called out, in a husky resonant voice, the kind that would make a radio speaker throb.
The sound of another human voice made Vic blink back tears again. He stood, but leaned against the tree for balance, maybe even for comfort. “Yes,” he replied, his voice quavering despite his best efforts.
“Are you sure?” Walkingman held out his hands, fingers splayed like a piano player trying for full octaves. “Sit back down if you need to.”
Walkingman came closer and pulled off his hat. He looked to be about Vic’s age; in his mid-thirties, anyway. He was quite muscular from the waist up, but he was one of those men whose legs, though not spindly, didn’t appear to match the heft of his upper torso.
“You just get here?” Walkingman asked.
“No, it’s been a couple hours,” Vic replied.
“Hours.” Walkingman’s face creased into a smile. “Do you know where you are?”
He studied Walkingman’s clear green eyes, but they offered nothing regarding how he was expected to answer. For the first time in his adult life, Vic had no clue where he was. That was unsettling enough, but admitting it to someone else was terrifying. A moron wouldn’t know, but he wasn’t anxious to be included in that group. “I know I’m not in Toledo.”
Walkingman’s smile widened. “Toledo, Ohio?”
“Yeah.” He felt a surge of excitement. “Are you from Toledo, too?”
“No, not by a long shot. Syracuse … Syracuse, New York. But I’ve been through Toledo a time or two. On the turnpike.”
“The turnpike?” Vic almost shouted, smiling for the first time since he’d awakened. “I live about a half a mile from where it crosses the Maumee River. I jog over a bridge that crosses the turnpike almost every morning.” Even as he spoke the words, his happiness faded. He wondered if he would ever see the river or the turnpike again.
“Hmm, I can’t say I remember that particular river, but I’m sure I’ve crossed it,” Walkingman said, shaking Vic’s hand. “My name’s Bascolm and I’m on my way to drink a beer at a little place up the road. Join me?”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Bascolm. I’m Allan Vickery and, oh Jesus, a beer sounds
better than you’d believe.”
“No. Bascolm’s my first name,” he said, as they started down the road. “Bascolm Traskett.”
“Is it very far … to this place where we get the beer?”
“Nah, not even a mile.”
They soon rounded a curve in the road where a small cottage surrounded by trees came into view. The paint on the white walls and on the royal blue trim appeared to be fresh. A silvery metal roof topped the small building, and leafy shrubs flanked each corner. “Does somebody live there?” Vic asked.
“Not that I know of,” Bascolm replied. “I think it’s available.”
They didn’t cover another hundred yards before Vic decided knowing the worst was better than wondering what the hell was going on, even if asking the question did make him come off like some kind of whacko. He stopped. Bascolm stopped, too, and raised his eyebrows in that universal expression welcoming a question. “Bascolm, you asked if I know where I am. I’m gonna level with you. I don’t have the faintest damned idea. Do you?”
“That might be something best discussed over a beer, or maybe even something stronger.”
“Can I get a glass of Southern Comfort at this place where we’re going?”
Bascolm clapped him on the shoulder. “That might be a good choice.”
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