The Veil

The Veil

- 52 min read -

Day One

It was the hardest thing Rebecca had ever done in her life, leaving the room her father was now a residence of in the Sgt. Lester Howard VA Retirement Home and in the dementia ward.

As Rebecca stepped out of the room, she leaned against the door as it closed behind her. Tears welled up in her eyes and she ruffled through her purse to find some tissue. Not finding any, she tried wiping away the tears with her fingers before noticing a box of tissues on a nurses medication cart. She plucked a few from the box and dabbed at her eyes.

She had done her best to appear strong, positive, and confident in front of her father as she told him she’d see him the next day. She promised to bring his favorite ice cream sandwich – though not entirely sure how to keep it frozen in the middle of a sweltering summer from the nearest convenience store to the farthest room from the parking lot. Honestly, she didn’t really need to bring one as he probably wouldn’t remember the request and the conversation they had.

She began the long trek down multiple hallways of veterans from various wars and multiple branches of the military: J. Williams, Navy; S. Tucker, Air Force; D. Parker, Air Force; T. Dakota, Army; M. Bittle, Air Force. Room after room. Some with a single vet, others with roommates, some with couples. But Rebecca’s mind kept going back to her father.

Once a powerful figure in her life, hoisting her on his shoulders when she was little, fixing her car as a teenager, and standing tall at the altar when she married Thomas, but now the fragile figure sitting alone and unaware in a hospital bed. It was something that no one could prepare her for experiencing. Alzheimer’s was a son-of-a-bitch taking the minds of people putting a veil between their memories and the world that was filled with a lifetime of experiences and people who loved and cared for them.

As she passed by the room of T. Perry, Army, an elderly man stood in the doorway and said, “It’s getting dark, ma’am. Mind the bushes. The Strix love the bushes,” Rebecca just nodded, not sure she heard him correctly. Perry then mumbled other words she couldn’t understand.

At the commons room, many patients gathered. Some in wheelchairs, some just standing, and others seated in the furniture strewn about. They clustered together, she noticed. But in rows, in the case of the patients in wheelchairs. And a few standing were doing so with their backs to each other. The exceptions being of one man at the exit, and one near a doorway that had a view of two halls. A man in a wheelchair rolled up to her, looked up at her and simply said, “The baby is dead, ma’am. Twern’t nuthin I could do. It’s dead.”

Rebecca headed out the door and headed down the elevator leaving the dementia ward and her father.

—-

“You’ve got to get me out of here, Becky,” her father whispered over the phone at 2:00 a.m. in the morning.

“Dad? What’s wrong?!” She bolted upright, waking her husband, Thomas, who gave her an urgent inquisitive look as he turned on a lamp.

“There’s someone wounded and they won’t help him. He just keeps moaning for help!”

“Dad! Calm down just a bit. I don’t understand. Are you okay?” She heard a beeping in the background. “What’s that beeping?”

“I called for the nurse, but no one has come. She may be dead.”

“No one is dead. Why do you need a nurse, dad?”

“They got Tucker! Those bastards got Tucker and no one will help him. MEDIC! GODDAMMIT TUCKER NEEDS A MEDIC!”

The line went dead.

“DAD!?”

“What’s going on? What was he screaming about?” Thomas asked, trying to comfort Rebecca. She just shook her head and tears started streaming down her face.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s not real. It’s all in his head.” She composed herself. She looked at him, wiping the tears away. “But it’s real to him. How do you help someone when they believe something to be real that just isn’t?”

Rebecca called the nurses station on her father’s floor and waited as it rang nearly a dozen times.

“Floor six,” was the answer.

“This is Bob Steven’s daughter, Rebecca.”

“Hi Rebecca, what can I do for you?”

“Dad just called me and said some crazy things but I think he just needs some of his meds. I heard a beeping in the background from one of the machines in his room.”

The nurse paused a moment without answering.

“Hello?”

“Yes. Sorry. We had two people call in sick and it’s a little hard to respond to everyone. Plus,” she paused, “It’s a full moon and the patients get a little overzealous. I know it sounds silly, but…it always happens.”

Rebecca felt a little relief. Then, in the background, she heard someone yelling.

“HUUULLLP MEEAHHH!” a man cried out loudly in a deep voice. His voice was followed by several other screams and cries.

“Ma’am?” Rebecca asked.

“Hun, I’ve got to run. I’ll check on your dad. If anything is odd, I’ll call you back and let you know. I’m sure he’s fine.”

Rebecca started to say something but the nurse hung up and the line went dead.

“Is he okay?” Thomas asked.

“I’m going to go with the answer,” she paused, “maybe?”

Day Two

“Honey, you didn’t have to bring me this. Let me get you some money. There’s some cash in my wallet in the top drawer of the dresser over there.” Bob said to Rebecca upon her arrival on her lunch break.

“It’s no trouble, dad. And I don’t need any money.”

“Don’t be silly. You’ve got kids to feed. Take the two dollars at least.”

Rebecca went through the motions of picking up her dad’s wallet and rifling through it to take out money. There was, of course, no money in the wallet. They had been warned to not even leave any valuables out in the open as a resident, not meaning any ill will, just picked things up from time-to-time.

“So dad, about last night,” she started to say as she watched her dad dig into the ice cream.

“Yeah. That was something. Three of those bastards attacked us last night. Poor Tucker. He didn’t stand a chance. But he got us plenty of time to mount a defense,” some ice cream ran down his chin and on to his shirt. Rebecca grabbed a napkin and cleaned him up.

“Yeah, what was going on?”

“Well, apparently those strixy fuckers, pardon my French, only come once a month for three days. Just my luck you stuck me in this damn place on the first night they always show up.”

“Strixy?” she asked, taking a seat but her concern raised tremendously. She had heard of Alzheimer patients forgetting things, falling into old memories, and otherwise having the brain create false memories. She figured it best to just let it all play out.

“Yeah, the bloodsucking critters that live in the basement. It was hard to get information from some of the soldiers, but when the Strixy show up we go through the, what’s it called? Bola? Vola? Voal?, or some shit…sorry…some crap. Anyway, it’s cool ‘cause we get to all be young again and fight those crazy things.”

Rebecca was a little worried. Her dad wasn’t making sense.

“I actually took two of them out or gave them a whoopin. Sucker left some good bruises though.” he held up his arms and found them completely covered in massive bruises from just above the elbows to his hands.

“Jesus, dad! What did you do? Did someone do this to you?”

“Yeah. The Strix. I just told you.” He happily kept eating his ice cream like nothing bothered him.

“Does it hurt?”

He swallowed. “Not anymore. Not since I shifted back from the Voal. Yeah. That’s it! The Voal.”

“Maybe I need to get you into a new place after all,” she said.

Bob put down his ice cream container and began to protest, “No, no, no! It’s okay. We’ve got reinforcements now. Three new guys, plus an old nurse who is one of the guy’s wife. We came up with a good plan, plus some of the old timers gave us some advice on what’s worked in the past.”

Rebecca’s phone vibrated and she saw it was time for her to go and get back to work. She stood up, grabbed the trash, and gave her dad a hug and a kiss.

“Okay, dad. I’ve got to head back to work. I’ll swing by afterward. But I’m going to talk to the on-duty nurse about responding to your beeping from now on and see if we can watch those bruises.”

“Oh, I just unplug the machine now if it beeps too long,” he grinned. “And don’t worry, there’s a lot more of us than those Strix. They don’t want to drain us all at once. They need some of us around for next month. But don’t come too late! Sons-a-bitches will start swarming us again and I don’t want you to get caught in the crossfire.” He put on his glasses, turned on the TV, and drifted away.

Rebecca headed down the hall to the nurse’s station. While waiting, she noticed a room being cleaned out. An orderly came out carrying a chair and placing it on a large cart. The nameplate on the door said, ‘S. Tucker; Air Force.’

“Excuse me, what are you working on?”

The orderly put down the chair and said, “Just cleaning up the room and getting it ready for a couple coming in. An old army guy and his wife who was a nurse back in Korea.”

“What happened to Mr. Tucker?” nodding towards the sign next to the door.

“He passed away last night, ma’am.”

—-

Rebecca arrived back at the retirement home with extreme anxiety from what she’d been mulling on since her earlier lunch visit. Her dad was really diving into some fantasy she’d never even heard traces of him imagining during her entire life. Was there something on TV? He didn’t read much. She couldn’t imagine him finding some sort of video or story on his computer. He only used it to play solitaire and check the weather. That or download viruses that she regularly had to clean off and uninstall.

Were all places like this one? Was there always a hint of some outside influence that caused paranoia and delusions?

She had looked up ‘life in retirement homes’ online that afternoon and found most people just understood you had to either wait for the same bland food at meal times, tried not to upset the nurses or be too much trouble, and avoid complaining of fear of being labeled as a ‘troublemaker.’ But veteran homes were different. These were all people who served in the military, though, like her father, it had been fifty-five years earlier. But he strongly identified with his Air Force service, regaled us with stories of his time in the Vietnam war (though he never saw combat), and would update her on all the events, friends, and differences that were happening.

Her father, being on the dementia ward, was a whole different level. Dementia, Alzheimer’s and other memory loss diseases nearly always caused a basic shift in personality. Some for the positive. Nearly always in the negative.

But all of that wasn’t what was causing her anxiety. It was all the talk of the Strix and the strange Voal. It would be odd if it was just her dad, but two other vets had mentioned them as well. And, while an elderly patient passing away wasn’t unusual, it was how it had tied into the story of the vet’s passing.

Rebecca parked her car and headed to the entrance with trepidation. She glanced up at the huge thunderheads building up and blocking the sunset. Even with the knowledge, a storm was coming, the rays of sunlight streaming past the cloud tops were glorious.

As she opened the door, she immediately heard an alarm going off.

She picked up her pace to the elevators, forgetting to sign in at the front desk, but the receptionist, Debbie, called out to her.

“Rebecca! Wait!” the young woman shouted, jumping up and grabbing some keys. “You can’t go up that way. There are a few patients blocking the doors to your dad’s ward. Here. Let me take you around to the employee elevator.”

“Is everything okay up there?” Rebecca asked as they headed to a different elevator.

“Sure, this happens every now and then. With so many in wheelchairs and being short staffed, it just takes a while to clear the entrance. But then the alarm sounds, everyone gets more agitated, and it escalates,” she explained calmly as she inserted the key that was hanging from a cord higher than most patients could reach into the elevator panel. A few seconds later and the elevator opened.

“Why are there separate elevators?”

“Oh, for moving supplies, equipment, and access to the basement and loading doc. But this doesn’t stop on your dad’s floor but does above it. We’ll have to take the stairs back down to his floor.”

“That’s not very convenient for supplies and equipment, then.”

“True. Old building. Hadn’t thought of that before.” the receptionist said without looking at Rebecca. She shifted uncomfortably as if Rebecca had just caught her in a lie.

They made it to the floor above the dementia ward and headed for the stairs back down. The alarm stopped sounding just as they opened the door and stepped into chaos.

The door opened up just off the main common room that was next to the exit. There were still several patients in wheelchairs blocking the door, but people were able to get around them and out if needed. They had turned off the alarm.

“I’m going to go see if they need help. I’ll log you into the book downstairs and see you in a bit,” Debbie said to her as she rushed off to help the nurses and orderlies.

Rebecca just watched for a moment to see if her dad was out in the mix, and once certain he wasn’t, turned to head to his room.

On the way, one man was in the middle of the hallway in a wheelchair trying to get movement by moving his sock covered feet without success. His arms seemed too weak to move the chair on his own, but he acted like he was holding something. “Do you need help going somewhere, sir?” She asked respectively.

“Back to the front, ma’am. The storm is comin’ and the Strix will overrun us if we’re not ready,” he said with a bit of fear and determination in his voice.

Rebecca just nodded sadly and headed to her dad’s room.

“Hey! Why’d you ask if you ain’t willin’ to help? They’ll get you too, ya know!” he shouted at her.

—-

Rebecca took a moment to compose herself before entering her father’s room.

‘How many of these patients had bought into the Strix story? Was it something the nurses planted in their heads. Something to unify them and keep them more focused? Or was it just mass hysteria brought on by the full moon?’

She knocked on the door.

“It’s open.”

“Have you got your pants on dad?” she jokingly asked.

“Shit. Yeah. Of course.”

She came into the room and he looked a bit surprised.

“Becca! What are you doing here,” he asked angrily.

Taken a bit aback, she replied, “I told you I was coming back up today. I even brought you a soda.”

“I told you not to come up so late. I don’t need a Gawd Damn soda. What the hell are you doing coming back up here? I’m fine. The nurses can take care of me.”

He sometimes got like this. Angry. Belligerent. She tried not to take it personally, but when it came on suddenly, it took her a while to regain her composure.

This was one of those times she wasn’t keeping it together.

“What the hell, dad?! Don’t talk to me like that!! I’m going out of my way to make sure you can feel as ‘at home’ as possible!” She immediately regretted saying ‘…going out of my way…’

“Well don’t let the door hit ya on the way out. Just get out.” She didn’t move. “GET OUT, DAMMIT! NO BODY ASKED YOU TO TAKE CARE OF ME! GO!”

“YOU DID, DAD!” She slammed the soda on his overbed table and turned and left. Luckily, the doors all had hydraulic hinges or she would have slammed it.

A nurse rounded the corner almost running into Rebecca. They both came to an abrupt halt. “OH! I’m sorry.”

“Quiet alright,” Rebecca said.

“Is everything alright? I heard shouting.”

Rebecca dabbed her eyes and nodded saying, “Yes. He’s in one of his sudden onset angry spells, so be careful going in.”

The nurse, Shayla, Rebecca remembered, put a hand on her shoulder with empathy. “Its hard when their frustration flows back on family. He’ll come back around. You can’t let that aspect of their personality overpower the memories you have of them. It’s the disease. Not the person.”

Rebecca nodded feeling more tears welling up.

“You get on back downstairs. Visiting hours are almost up. I’ll take care of your dad. He talks some good smack, but I can give as good as he gets. I think that’s why he’s flirting with me when you’re not around,” Shayla winked. Rebecca laughed and groaned.

“Oh…a step-mom younger than me. Great!” she said sarcastically and with a smile.

Shayla patted her on the shoulder, gave her a little squeeze, and said, “We’ll see you tomorrow. He’ll be fine.”

Shayla headed on down the hall and Rebecca headed to the elevator.

On the way, she noticed there was still a bit of a commotion at the doors, so she went back down the stairs. It was labeled, “For Employees Only” and was locked, but a key hung up high on a plastic elastic spring. She reached up, pulled it down, inserted the key, and was able to open the door just fine.

Still shaking the sadness and anger off from her experience with her father, replaying the angry exchange, and trying to take some solace in realizing he probably wouldn’t remember any of it the next day, Rebecca realized she had gone done several flights of stairs and gone all the way to the ground floor. She had forgotten to take the stairs up so she could take the elevator back to the lobby. She looked back up the stairwell and decided that the extra exercise probably did her good.

Rebecca opened the door and stepped into a dark corridor. She squinted her eyes as the door closed and locked behind her. She had not exited into the lobby, but apparently, it was the basement. There was a foul smell, like something had rotted.

‘Was this the morgue?’ she thought before quickly realizing they didn’t have those in retirement homes.

Lightning flashed outside from the storm and small windows near the ceiling let in light to the basement she now found herself in. Large rooms seemed to open up at both ends of the short corridor. Trying to get her bearings, she decided the elevator to go back to the lobby must be to her left.

Sure enough, as she turned to the left, she could see an ‘EXIT’ sign and the dim glow of an elevator button. She quickly hurried to the elevator and pressed the button. Lightning struck again and lit up the room. She turned around, but darkness had fallen engulfed the room so she was unable to see anything. She turned back to the doors and pressed the button again, knowing full well it never did any good.

She heard rumbling from the thunder outside as lightning flashed again. She could hear the elevator nearing her level.

That’s when she heard the voices. Whispers, really. Not in English, either. She turned around scanning the darkness. The whispers stopped. “Who’s there?” she demanded.

The elevator answered with a ‘ding’ and Rebecca quickly turned and got in, hitting the lobby button and quickly looking back into the room where the light from the elevator spilled out from. Lighting lit the room again, but this time revealing three figures standing far to the back away from the light. She nearly screamed as she looked into the gaunt faces of three gangly men standing close together, their mouths hung open with teeth bared. Two of the men started to move towards the elevator, but one man put up his arms to stop them. He spoke hushed words and they stopped.

The doors closed and the elevator began to ascend.

As soon as the elevator doors opened up to the lobby, Rebecca lunged out and rushed to the to reception desk where Debbie was packing up for the night.

“Oh, Rebecca! I didn’t know you were still…”

“Debbie! There are some strange men in the basement.” Rebecca shouted, reaching the edge of the receptionist desk, and trying to catch her breath.

“What? Wait. What were you doing in the basement?”

“What?” Rebecca asked confusedly “Did you hear me? There were three men and two were about to attack me. They were just standing in the dark. The lights were out downstairs. There’s an awful smell too.”

Debbie picked up a phone but stared quizzically at Rebecca.

Rebecca let out a sigh, “I accidentally took the stairs down and missed the lobby.” Debbie nodded in satisfaction but still concerned.

“Joe. Debbie,” she spoke into the phone. “Yeah. The boys got back into the basement. Sounds like they may have even crapped up the place. … Yeah …. Yeah. Nearly scared Mr. Steven’s daughter to death. … Yeah. … She accidentally went to the basement via the stairs because of the door blockade.” Rebecca listened and slowly started to calm down. Debbie hung up the phone and turned to her, placing a hand on hers.

“So sorry, Rebecca, you probably saw Mr. Fitzgerald and his two tag-alongs, Mr. Jones, and Mr. Gattner. They’re kinda in bad shape. Cancer has eaten away parts of Mr. Fitzgerald’s face, Mr. Jones has become very emaciated due to treatment he’s going through, and Mr. Gattner has lost all his hair and avoids the sun at all costs, so he’s white as a ghost. It’s no wonder they rattled you. It would have me too if I didn’t know them.”

“Why are they down there? And, I think they were speaking a different language.”

“They’ve gotten ahold of the keys to the stairs sometimes. Sometimes, when its super noisy with the alarms, Mr Fitzgerald seems to come to a little clarity and can work his way out of the security. Still can’t get out of the building, but….” Debbie looked at Rebecca and grabbed her hands again, “Oh sweetie! You’re shaking like a leaf.” She came around the counter and wrapped her arms around her. “Let me take you on out to your car.”

The two walked through the doors and saw the storm was really powering up. They could smell the rain coming. Rebecca regained her composure.

“Good grief! It’s about to pour. I can make it to the car. You go ahead and get back in. I appreciate the help and explanation.” Rebecca said.

“Not a problem. The dementia these people go through can be a bit upsetting. You’ve seen your own father’s progression, but stepping into the middle or late stages of other people can be really unnerving. Their mannerisms and actions can seem bizarre if you haven’t been around them for years….and even then…” Debbie smiled weakly.

The wind picked up and lighting struck nearby with thunder following immediately behind. Rebecca and Debbie both flinched.

“Get back inside. I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Be safe!” Debbie said and ran back inside.

Rebecca made it to the car, started the engine and started to leave. She slowed for a moment to look up to her father’s room. The sky was black only occasionally lit by the storm. The light from her father’s room, and all the others, allowed her to see in. She looked up sadly, and then noticed a figure in her dad’s room that stood in front of the window. ‘Is that dad?’ she thought. He seemed too tall.

The rain started falling in large loud drops and soon it was torrential. She looked back up, and noticed all the blinds had closed.

She shook her head, slowly pulled out of the parking deck, and drove home in the pouring rain.

Day Three

‘I have NO idea how he’s going to be today, but at least there were no midnight calls,’ Rebecca thought to herself as she went up the elevator.

The thunderstorms from the night before had knocked out power to several parts of her home town. Their own power had been out for several hours. It didn’t seem like they had experienced any issues at the Veteran’s Home, according to the front desk when she signed in.

Being a Saturday, Rebecca decided to come up a little early. She had brought her dad a soda, some fried SPAM, and a new shirt she had found on sale. Historically, he’d either complain about it all or be extremely happy. She just never knew which would happen.

She said hello to several people, waved at the nurses at their station, and stopped a moment as she saw another person’s room being cleaned out. Shaw was their name. She also noticed a room that used to be empty now had a new person. She didn’t take time to read the name, though.

Rebecca paused at the door to brace herself. She knocked on the door, cracked it open, and said as always, “You got your pants on dad?”

There was no answer. ‘Maybe in the bathroom or in the cafeteria,’ she thought. Though he preferred food be brought to him. She went on into the room, “Dad?” she said.

She entered into the main part of the room to see her dad still sleeping laying on his side and facing away from her. Very odd for 10:00am on a Saturday, but not completely unheard of. He had gotten on some new medication that made him drowsy. She walked up and gently grabbed his shoulder, remembering to avoid the bruised area from the day before. “Dad?” She whispered.

Bob slowly rolled over onto his back and opened his eyes trying to focus. They were bloodshot and he had a bandage on his forehead where blood was seeping through, but dried.

“Dad! Are you okay? Did you fall?”

Bob smiled. “Hey Becky,” he said quietly. “Yeah. But I’m okay. Just tired. It was a busy night. We really put up a fight against the Strix. Only lost Shaw.” Bob’s eyes drifted off in a memory, “Shaw…man…that guy…” Bob’s eyes opened a bit wider with alertness, “What time is it!?” He asked as he started to sit up.

“Easy dad. It’s early still. 10:00am. I brought some fried SPAM and a new shirt for you.”

He relaxed a bit laying back down, but then sat back up, “SPAM you say? I can smell it! Oh! And you got me a Dr. Pepper. Thanks so much, sweetie.”

Rebecca, still concerned about the latest injury, calmly unwrapped the SPAM and handed it to her dad. “How’s Thomas and the latest on his car restoration?” he asked.

She was taken aback. Her dad hardly remembered Thomas’ name in months, let alone make any comment about Thomas’ restoration of an old ‘65 Ford Mustang. In fact, he’d never commented on it at all even though she’d shared the story a few times.

“Um, pretty good, actually. He said to say ‘hi.’ He’s only got to replace the door panels, and then start the engine rebuild and it should be ready to drive.”

“Hey, that’s something else. I remember when those came out. Kinda wanted one. Your mother wouldn’t have anything to do with the notion though.” He laughed. “Sure do miss her,” he said solemnly but with affection.

It had been even more months since he remembered her mom wasn’t with them anymore. He often would ask for her, or worse, think she was her mom.

“Well, let’s try on the new shirt. I might be seeing your mom sooner than later and I need to look good! Maybe you can give me a shave and a trim while you’re here?”

“Of course I can dad. And don’t talk like that about seeing mom.”

He stopped for a moment and grabbed Rebecca’s hands and looked at her with clarity and awareness, “It’s okay, sweetie. You’ve done good. I know I’ve been a son-of-a-bitch sometimes, and I can’t help it. And I was mad when you brought me here, though I knew I needed to be here. But, the past two days… while scary at first… have made me feel more alive than I have in years.” He smiled and lifted her hands up and kissed them affectionately.

The rest of the visit went remarkably well. She spent a good couple of hours soaking in the clarity her dad was experiencing knowing full well, it may be gone at any moment.

He joked around with the male and female nurses that came in during their rounds. “Can you put some Bud Light in the next fluid bag, Stan?” He asked.

“You know I don’t mess with that piss water, Bob. But I’ve got some Crown Royal I can dump in there.” He said winking at Rebecca.

“Hey, that’s my favorite. Put some of that shit in there, but not too late! I gotta be on my toes for tonight’s skirmish.”

Rebecca winced. The clarity was ending.

“Well, dad, I gotta go run some errands, but I’ll stop back in tonight…Not too late, of course!” She added quickly so he wouldn’t warn her against coming.

“Okay, sweetie. That would be good. I’m getting kinda tired again and could use a nap. Gonna be a busy night! Need all my energy. We’re going to run those sons-a-bitches out of here for good this time. We’ve got a rock solid plan.” He smiled. “Can you fix my sheets before you go? My feet are stickin’ out.”

“Of course dad.”

——-

Rebecca was late. She almost wasn’t sure she should drop by. She was afraid her dad may flip out and really wanted to remember the morning. It was completely refreshing from the past few weeks and months.

But, she needed to check on him. Thomas had said he probably wouldn’t notice if she didn’t drop back by. He was probably right.

But she’d know.

She entered the passcode for the doors, since they were locked after hours, and headed into the lobby to sign in. As usually, no one was at the desk after hours, but she signed in anyway.

When she reached the elevators, she discovered they were off, or just not working. She wondered if that was normal. Luckily, she knew how to get up to her dads floor after the blockade issue the day before. And as she went around to the employee elevator, she discovered it was working fine.

She stepped into the elevator and pressed the floor above her dads. As the doors closed, the lights flickered and a loud deep vibration reverberated around her. It faded as the lights came back on and the elevator started moving. But it wasn’t the smooth sounding elevator she had ridden in before. It was loud and shaky. As she neared her father’s floor, she thought she could hear pops, and bangs, and then shouting. A loud explosive sound caused the elevator to shake and the lights to flicker again. “What the hell?” Rebecca thought grabbing a hand rail.

The doors opened to the floor above her dads and she rushed down the stairs. The sounds of pops and bangs sounded more like gunfire, shrapnel hitting walls, and the shouting more like screaming now.

Rebecca grabbed the door handle in a panic and swung it open to see patients and nurses running up and down the halls. They were ducking behind furniture and, amazingly, running and diving at their ages without slowing down. She could hear the gunfire, explosions, and feel hot waves across her, but couldn’t see them.

She stepped into the hall to begin the mad dash to her dad’s room, but as she stepped across the threshold, the world shifted around her, and she no longer found herself in a hospital, but falling into dirt, rocks, shrubs, and crumbling, shell shot buildings. Suddenly, explosions lit up the woods and buildings around her. It was dark, but the sky was clear save for smoke from the explosions and burning buildings.

Gunfire erupted and pieces of the wall above her were pelted with bullets sending bits of cement and brick raining down on her.

Her mind spun. Was she in the “Voal” her dad had talked about? Was this real? “Dad.” She murmured to herself. How in the world would she find him. And, if this was real, were the Strix?

Another explosion went off a bit too close and she decided to run in the direction she normally would when visiting her dad. She got up, but stayed low. As she rushed forward, she saw soldiers in army, navy, air force, and marine attire firing weapons and hurling grenades. As she ran down what she thought was the hallway she always went down, something tackled her sending her and it tumbling. She twisted around to try to get up on her hands and knees, but someone punched her hard on the side knocking the wind out of her and flipping her onto her back. She felt someone climb onto her and restrain her hands and body. She opened her eyes to a nightmare.

Above her was one of the men she had seen in the basement in the shadows. But this was no man. His eyes were sunken, nose was missing, and a gaunt face that was part of a head that seemed unnaturally elongated. But not only that, he had pointed ears and a mouth full of sharp razor-like teeth that dripped with blood and saliva.

Rebecca screamed as the bald headed Strix opened its mouth wide to feast on her.

Out of nowhere, the butt of a rifle slammed against the Strix’ head causing it to tumble off of Rebecca. The soldier fired multiple times into the creature which then fled into the distance. The young soldier turned to her, looked shaken, but stuck out his hand to help her up. She looked at the man who was both familiar but couldn’t be who he looked like. She looked up past his out stretched hand at his Air Force uniform and saw the name “STEVENS” embroidered on his chest.

“Dad?”

“Sweetie, I told you not to come this late, but I’m glad I got here when I did. Let’s get you someplace safe,” he extended his hand out further with urgency.

“Dad? How can…”

The shriek of a Strix was near. Her dad whipped his head around and seemed to see something. He turned quickly back and this time grabbed her loose hand. “Come on, Becky. Move your ass!” She grabbed hold of his hand, jumped up and they both began to run.

“This way, Stevens!” a soldier shouted motioning them to a small building. His name was Parker.

Rebecca had completely lost her bearings and though she’d lost her mind as well as she ran with a younger version of her father she’d never met.

They rounded some rubble and into the half demolished building. Her father pulled her against a wall and had them quickly sit down on the ground. He scrambled on his belly to poke his head out of the doorway, pulled up his rifle to look through the scope to the surrounding landscape.

He backed up to her still staying low. “I think we’re okay Becky. For now. But if it’s anything like the last couple of nights, they’ll be back in 10-15 minutes. But, just gotta get to Parker and Bittle and collect some goodies that will get rid of these Strixie bastards for good.

“DAD! WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON? AM I DEAD?”

Her father looked at her with eyes she hadn’t seen in years. He put a hand on her shoulder like he used to when she ran into challenges in her youth and various times in her life giving her strength and courage.

“You ain’t dead, Becky. But you don’t seem to be affected like me and the others in the VA.”

“How is this possible?”

“I don’t know kiddo, but it’s a second chance for me and the others in here. I’m not sure how they do it, but I’ve watched enough scifi and horror movies with your mother to think that these Strix… actually, I think they’re Stragoi. Energy vampires from the old world of Europe. Maybe… Romania? Seems like I remember dumb stories while in my Vietnam tour, or maybe some books or movies. But I think they LIKE us to relive this part of our lives. It’s when most of us felt most alive. I know I do at the moment.” He heard noises from outside and turned away to keep an eye out.

Rebecca was still reeling. This was all impossible. But it was what was happening right in front of her. And her dad was now the opposite of a weakened old man who had trouble walking, thinking, or remembering what should have been the most memorable of pieces of his life. Like her.

“Dad.” She whispered.

He didn’t look at her, but kept on alert, ‘Yeah, sweetie?’

“I don’t want you to go.”

“I’m not going anywhere, hun. I’ll keep you safe here.”

“No. Dad. I’m not ready…” she whispered in a trembling voice. “I’m not ready for you to go.”

Private Bob Stevens turned and looked into his daughter’s eyes now welling up with tears. This wasn’t about the Battle in the Voal. This was about his battle with Alzheimer’s that was leading him to a place where he would forget everything and everyone including those closest to him. And his only daughter would have to face an angry old man who once loved her more than anything and would no longer recognize her.

Private Bob Stevens had not been a father while he was a young man in the Air Force. But Bob Stevens was. He put down his rifle, took off his helmet, took his daughter into his arms, and held on tight. Rebecca broke down into body wrenching sobs and tears, clawing at her father to get closer. He was the strong man she remembered growing up, though much younger. All the feelings she had came gushing out as she gasped for air in between sobs. “It’s not fair. First mom. Now you. I’m not ready to be alone. I’m not ready for you to go. Please don’t go.”

“I know, sweetie. I know.” He rocked her back and forth ignoring the shrieks, screams, and gunfire going on around them nearby. “I’m not ready to go either. But… being trapped in my mind is awful, sweetie. At this moment, I can remember everything from the past year and even this morning.” He looked down at her. “And you know I haven’t been able to remember even yesterday in a long time.”

Rebecca pulled away a little and looked up at her father.

“This… Voal… these Stragoi, I don’t know what they want, but I’m grateful I’ve gotten to be with you and remember. They lifted the fog I’ve been in for years.”

Rebecca hugged her father tight again and nodded.

“It’s gonna be alright. Maybe not right away, but eventually. Heck… how many kids get to play army with a younger version of their dad?” He laughed.

So did Rebecca.

He kissed her forehead.

Parker and Bittle burst in through the doors and dove for cover. Rebecca and her dad hopped up, her dad grabbing his gun and putting on his helmet.

“You boys ready?” her dad said.

“Hell yeah, Stevens.” Bittle shouted with a sly look.

“I got all the supplies. You sure you remember what to do?” Parker asked.

“That a joke, Parker?” her dad said.

They all laughed like people do when they’ve been under stress and need to let out the anxiety.

Parker and Bittle dumped a bunch of materials onto the floor and went back to keep watch.

Her dad started sorting through things while Parker and Bittle fired occasionally into the darkness.

“What are you doing, dad?”

“You don’t think ALL the stories I told you were made up did you? Whether these Strix did it on purpose or not, they gave me back my memories.” He smiled at her, “ALL my memories.” He turned back to his supplies and set to work.

That’s when it hit her. Her dad had been an explosives expert in the Air Force. He was making explosives from materials around the hospital. Somehow, they weren’t changed in the Voal. Fear swept across her.

“Dad. Things that happen in the Voal are real, though. What if other patients or nurses get hurt?”

“I don’t think the nurses actually come through the Voal. Just the vets. I think they know it happens, but I’ve never seen them. FIVE MINUTES, BOYS!”

“Still the same plan? Lead them down to the cafeteria?” Parker asked.

“Yes sir!”

“You think it will really take them out for good?” Bittle quizzed.

“Only way to find out.”

“Dad… what are you planning? Leading them somewhere to do what?” Rebecca asked.

Her dad looked up at her with a determination she hadn’t seen in years. “Going to blow these strix out of the building and into a million pieces,” he said as he held up a makeshift bomb and grinned.

“WHAT?!”

“There are three, really, though we’ve heard there are sometimes more. Parker, Bittle, and I are going to go hand-to-hand and lead them to the cafeteria, though it looks like an open area with a tent next to it at the moment. The Cafeteria is along the outside wall above the parking deck. So we’ll get them along the wall and at the right moment, I’ll trip the ignition on the bomb and toss it at them. It should blow the real cafeteria wall out and the Strix with it. They’ll be some clean up and I may get kicked out of here, but if we can end these Strix for good… well… that’s a mission worthy of all missions in my book. Right boys?”

“Hell, yeah!” “Bet your ass.”

“That’s crazy, dad! You could get killed. All of you could.”

Bob carefully set the explosive down, grabbed Rebecca, and simply said, “I’m going to go soon anyway, Becky. This will give me a reason and a helluva story… a story that you’ll never be able to tell anyone… or they may lock you up.”

Whether it was the craziness of the situation, the shifted reality, the adrenaline, or the fact that seeing her dad so vibrant and young, Rebecca grabbed her dad’s arms, smiled, and said, “Let’s go kick some Strixi ass!”

The boys yelled in approval and Private Bob Stevens and his daughter stood up to join the boys at the doorway.

“Question, and I’m no military expert, but… who the hell is shooting at you if the Strix are physically attacking you?”

The guys all looked at each other as if it had never occurred to them.

“She’s definitely your daughter, Stevens. Always bringing up stuff that has to make sense.” Bittle said.

“Maybe it’s friendly fire, but they want us to believe it’s them firing,” Bob said.

“Keeping your energy high. Dad, you slept all day today. Maybe they are keeping everything ramped up to feed off of all of you.”

“Okay boys, watch for friendly fire then. Only fire at the Strix.”

The three men fanned out and, although seemed to be moving through a wooded trail, believed it was a hallway heading towards the cafeteria. Bullets ripped into bark and whizzed past their heads.

“Soldiers! Cease Fire!” Parker shouted, “Call out! We believe we’re firing on each other. Parker, Air Force!”

“Bittle, Air Force!”

“Stevens, Air Force!”

“Williams, Navy!” a voice said close to them.

“Dakota, Army!”

“Perry, Army!”

This continued for a few minutes at varying distances. Then she heard, “Jones… Marines!” Something struck her odd. Then another.

“Fitzgerald, Army!”

“DAD!” Rebecca said quietly. “Fitzgerald and Jones were in the basement the other night. There was a third too… Ratner?”

“Gattner, Air Force!”

“Gattner! That’s the third. THEY’re THE STRIX!” she said.

Her father, Parker, and Bittle pointed silently getting directions on the three.

Parker questioned, “You sure? I play checkers with Jones. Seems okay. I little off. Now that you mention it…stays in his room all the time until dinner, when it’s dark.”

“Fitzgerald is a definite now that you mention it. That cancer story about his nose seemed off. He always had that ski cap on too… even when it’s hot,” Bittle added.

“Okay boys. Got your targets?” Parker and Bittle nodded. “On three… one…two…three!”

The three men opened fire at the targets Rebecca identified. Shrieks filled the air and the Voal shifted slightly as if all of reality suddenly became transparent and the Veterans home shimmered through.

“Push ‘em back, boys!” They continued firing and saw the three Strigoi run the opposite direction towards the cafeteria. Bittle saw them and broke into a sprint behind them.

“NO! Bittle! WAIT!”

Parker started after him. “Dumbass.”

“Dammit, they’re going to screw this up.” Bob looked down at his bomb and fiddled with something on it.

“What are you doing?”

“Making it so I can lob this fuc… sorry… lob this thing into the room. Gonna probably have to pull the guys out and hope we aren’t followed out. Plan won’t work if they get out of the cafeteria.” Rebecca watched what her father was doing.

“How do you set it and how long after you do?”

“Just pull here and you’ve got about to the count of three.”

She looked at him and nodded.

“You can stay here. I’ll be back after you hear the boom.” He smiled.

“Not a chance, dad. I’ve got your back.”

“Like you have the past two years.” He patted her face lovingly and then motioned to get moving.

Just as they started moving, he heard Bittle scream. It was like Tucker two nights before. They were tearing him to pieces in the Voal. In the real world it would look different.

“BITTLE!” He shouted breaking out into a sprint.

Gunfire erupted. Had to be Parker firing.

As they approached the field/cafeteria, it was mass pandemonium. It wasn’t just Parker and Bittle, but the three Strix as well as Dakota, Williams, and Perry. Everyone was in hand-to-hand combat with Fitzgerald, Jones, and Gattner. Though they looked much more terrifying, larger, and stronger than the men swarming them.

“Stay back, Becky!” her dad shouted and he tried to squeeze off a few shots before finally rushing in to fight as well.

Long taloned hands slashed at the young transformed soldiers. Rebecca watched in horror as she saw Gattner grab Dakota up by the throat off his feet and into the air. Two men tried to help, but their blows had no effect. She watched as Gattner took his free taloned hand and eviscerated the dangling man and listened to his screams. She covered her ears, but couldn’t look away this close to danger.

It was then that Bittle became the next to fall at the hands of Fitzgerald.

“NO!” Parker screamed.

“Push them back, men!” Her father cried as he swung his rifle butt and connected with Jones’ head. It was Jones, she knew now, who had pinned her to the ground and almost tore her apart as well.

“That’s it! A few more feet.” He shouted. The military men, though being beaten to death, had the Strix circled and their backs against the cafeteria wall, though to them it looked like dense trees.

Bob pulled the bomb out, “Ready to SCATTER, BOYS! IN Five…” her dad began the countdown and prepared to pull the ignition trigger. “FOUR!”

At that moment, Fitzgerald pivoted away from two men who had him pinned and right into the path of her father. With unimaginable strength, the Strix leader swung his arm and backhanded her father off his feet and flying across the room/field.

The bomb went flying and landed without incident sliding across the floor and stopping at Rebecca’s feet. She looked down for a moment, and then up at her father who was struggling to get to his feet.

Fitzgerald looked from her father to her and to the bomb. He turned and started towards her. But her father in his spry peak of youth, leapt onto the Stix’ back and yanked him backwards into the fray and towards the wall.

“BECKY! PULL IT AND THROW!” The Strix shrugged him off by flipping him forward over his head and onto the ground. Fitzgerald began pummeling her dad with his taloned hands. She watched as she heard clothing, skin, and bone breaking.

“NO! DAD!”

“DO IT, BECKY!” He screamed.

Rebecca grabbed the bomb, pulled the ignition switch and yelled, “THREE!” and hurled the bomb towards the Strix now gathered back together thanks to her dad.

The soldiers scattered and Rebecca ducked back. Her last glimpse of her dad was him rolling onto his stomach and covering his head.

The explosion shook the whole area. Debris and dust completely blocked her vision from seeing anything and her eardrums were ringing and she could not hear anything.

After a few moments, she thought she could see lights flashing and suddenly water started streaming down on her from above. She blinked and saw that the Voal was gone and only the hospital remained.

Nurses and security were running around trying to help evacuate the floor.

Fresh air hit her face and when she stood, she could see that the entire wall of the cafeteria was gone. Laying on the floor next to the opening, was her father.

“Dad,” she meekly muttered. She rushed to his side.

He lay face down in his t-shirt and sweatpants. She slowly turned him over to see no indication of being shredded by a taloned Strix, but he was definitely bruised and dazed.

“Dad!” she cradled his frail figure onto her lap and tears started streaming down her face. She wasn’t sure from relief, fear, sadness, hope, or all of the above.

His eyes fluttered. Still with some of the brightness from earlier, but definitely dazed. “Did we get them? Are they gone?”

Rebecca hadn’t even stopped to take stock. She looked around and saw many of the men who had just been fighting, though much older, weaker and frail. Parker was standing close to the hole in the wall with a hand resting for support as he looked down to the parking deck below. A few others were being escorted out of the building. Two men were laying on the floor like her dad. Maybe Bittle and Dakota. Neither eviscerated as in the Voal, but not moving. Fitzgerald, Jones, and Gattner were no place to be seen. “I… I don’t see them, dad. Maybe.”

“Damn.”

“No,” Parker said, slowly turning from the hole in the cafeteria wall. “We got them, Bob. We GOT them, goddammit.” Parker smiled as he moved close. “Well done, soldier. Solid plan.” Her dad smiled at him and the clasped hands for a moment.

A nurse came by, “Oh my god! Shayla! Mr. Stevens is on the ground. Get a gurney! Mr. Parker, are you all right? Let’s get you out of here. We’ll be back for you and your dad in a minute, Rebecca.” She grabbed Parker by the elbow and back and began guiding him away to, what she thought, was safety.

“Becky,” her dad said.

“Yeah dad?”

“You did good, kid. Nice throw.” Tears welled up again. Her dad coughed slightly and winced in obvious pain. “Becky… I gotta go now. I’m sorry.”

“Dad. No. We’ll get you taken care of.”

“Becky… you know I’ll be ‘gone’ in a little while. The Voal is gone. The Strix are gone. My mind will be gone soon too.”

She knew he was right. She wasn’t ready. But she was more ready after tonight. She had her dad back, if only for a while.

She smiled at him with tears in her eyes. “Okay, dad. Okay. I’ll be okay. It will be okay. I’ll just stay here with you.”

“You were the best thing I ever did, kid. You be good, okay? You be good. Be happy. Do something for yourself from time to time. Don’t put off anything. Okay?”

“Okay dad. I love you. I’m glad I got to see you in action. Even if no one believes me and wants to lock me up.”

Her dad chuckled. He closed his eyes and seemed to relax.

“Becky?” He said.

“Right here, dad.”

“Love you, kid. You did good.”

“Tell mom I said ‘hi’ and I love and miss her.”

“I will.”

He took a few more breaths. Then he smiled and quietly said, “I’m coming home.”

After

A year after Rebecca’s dad passed away that crazy night, the Veteran’s home was reopening the Alzheimer’s wing. There had been no evidence of foul play and the news reports said it had been a gas leak from the kitchen. Six men had died that night, three that had borne the brunt of the explosion out of the building, and three inside – including her father.

Since that night, Rebecca had poured a ton of money and time into helping raise money for a new Alzheimer’s ward at the VA. Because of this, they had decided to dedicate and name the new wing after her father: The Bob R. Stevens Alzheimer Veterans Ward.

She and Thomas were there for the ribbon cutting. On the entrance was a bronze image of her father’s face on a plaque with his name, the branch of service, and a short bio. The grand opening was bittersweet as she knew full well that others would have much harder struggles that she and her father had, but the new facility was filled with caring people and excellent professionals.

As the festivities came to a close and night began to set in, Rebecca said goodbye to everyone and thanked them all. She and Thomas headed down the elevator to head home. As they headed out, they stopped by the main desk to sign themselves out, even though she hadn’t been visiting anyone. She was tired but happy as she watched people still filtering in and out.

“Did you have a good time, Rebecca?”

“I did,” she smiled. “Thank you for asking.”

“Have a good night, now,” Debbie said smiling.

She turned and looked back for a moment remembering her very first visit. As Thomas held the door for her, she smiled and glanced back towards the elevators.

She paused for a moment and was sure that it was just a play on her eyes after a long day and memories of the past, but as the door closed, she could swear that an elderly man in the back looked just like the deceased Mr. Fitzgerald.

“Everything okay?” Thomas asked.

She stood there for a moment, turned to her husband, and finally joined him saying, “Of course. I’m sure it’s all okay.”

The Veil

Placing a parent in a retirement home is one of the hardest things a child has to do in life. But, it’s much harder for Rebecca – and stranger.

read more

Doorknobs

Some doors you can’t even find. This short story that opens the way for other times and dimensions – or at least to a field in Pettigrew, Arkansas.

read more

Fifty-Three

Today is January 20, 2019.Yesterday, I turned fifty-three years of age.Level 53.  It’s been nearly a year since I wrote a blog post. I’ve worked on some stories, however, over the past year and hope to start sharing again soon. I’ve also worked on my business, spent...

read more

Sponsor Creativity

If you’ve enjoyed anything on my site, please feel free to donate what you can. In turn, I’ll continue to add content and encourage others to live a creative life! Regardless, I hope you’ve enjoyed your time. If you feel like reaching out, please do so. I'm easy to find.

Doorknobs

Doorknobs

- 8 min read -

In the small town of Pettigrew, Arkansas, in a clump of trees on the land of Bob Pendergass, several thousand doorknobs lay strewn about. They ranged in age from a hundred years old or more, to some made of materials I’d never seen. From decorative to plain, they formed an arc on the ground over 50 yards long and 20 feet wide.

“This is the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen,” I told my girlfriend, Katy Pendergass. We had come to her folks house, taking a break from the college scene.

“It’s funny, most people don’t think anything about it, and I wouldn’t have even mentioned it except for your comment about our mishmash of doorknobs on my folk’s house. Now you know where they came from,” she took my hand and leaned in against me for a little extra warmth.

I looked down at her, incredulously, “No I don’t! What the heck? Where did these all come from? This is utterly bizarre.”

“That’s not all,” she pulled out her cell phone to check the time.

“What do you mean?” I looked down at her.

She nodded towards the newest doorknobs and said, “Watch. It’s almost time.”

I whipped my head around to see what she was talking about, scanning the horizon for whatever I was supposed to be seeing. I heard a crackling of electricity first and the hair on my arms and neck started to stand on end. Something flashed and I saw sparks appear in mid air a few feet above the newest doorknobs. The air shimmered and I could feel the low rhythmic thumping in my bones start to grow. The flashing and sound grew faster and stronger. Then everything was back to normal with a sucking whoosh, except a single doorknob which dropped to the ground and bounced away to join all it’s brothers and sisters in the field.

I stood there, transfixed. Thoughts poured through my mind from being ‘pranked’ to interdimensional aliens. But this was real.

I dropped Katy’s hand and went running towards the doorknob that had just fallen from nowhere. I was just entering the field of knobs when I realized Katy was screaming for me to stop. As I took my next step towards the center of where the flashing lights had been, everything went black and I could feel myself falling. 

I woke to sharp pains all over my body; arms, chest, knee, hip and side of my head. Something wet and warm was dripping over my face. I could feel Katy kneeling next to me. My eyes had a hard time seeing through the dark hazy tunnel-vision, but I could see enough to know that the jacket she had pressed against the pain on the side of my head was covered in blood.

I tried to sit up, but gravity was against me.

“Whoa there. Easy. Let me get the bleeding to stop,” she pressed the jacket harder against my head and tried to get me into a sitting position.

I was, no longer, in the doorknob debris field for some reason. “What happened? Did you drag me over here?” Waves of nausea washed over me

“Why didn’t you listen to me? Do you have any idea what might have happened? You’re just lucky the lights had just finished,” She just shook her head.

I pulled away, a little miffed, “How in the WORLD would I know a doorknob field would make me black out? No, wait! How would I know WHY a doorknob field would even exist?Hey, no…how about…How would I know a weird light show that deposits doorknobs in my girlfriend’s family field would make me pass out?!” I tried to stand up, but I hurt all over. I must have really wiped out on all the doorknobs. I was lucky none of them were too sharp.

Katy sat back on her on her feet and looked at me sadly. “Look, we just don’t talk about it. It’s weird, okay?”

“What do you know?” I pressed Katy’s jacket against my tender noggin. The blood was flowing a little slower.

She stared at me for a few seconds and gave a little shrug, “The doorknobs have been coming for at least 85 years, but maybe even longer. The older ones are more like doorhandles. Since most of the them are metal, they tend to rust and break down after several years. Not to mention the elements, grass and birds.”

“Birds?”

“Yeah. Birds. They like shiny things for their nests. Some birds, anyway.

Anyway, my great uncle studied the field for a long time and did some digging. He also was the first one to realize that the lights keep slowly moving south east. He thought maybe it’s just because the land is moving. Unfortunately, he never focused on timing when the lights, which seemed random, but arent. We’re guessing he either got caught in the lights while digging, or intentionally went into the lights, while he was here by himself. We never saw him again. Just found notes.

“I’m sorry,” I reached over and took her hand. She smiled.

“I didn’t know him. It was way way before my time. The late 40s, I think. But shortly after that people started testing the field. Even some military came out for a bit, but they up and left suddenly after a couple of years. We discovered anyone going into the lights never came back. And if you went around the effect right before or right after, you black out…as you’ve discovered.” I rolled my eyes, tried to laugh, but grimaced with the sharp pains in my ribs.

“Come on,” Katy said, helping me to my feet, “let’s get back to the house, clean you up, and get you some asprin. You’re gonna to need a lot of it.”

To be continued….

©2011-2019 Eric A HuberDoorknobs is a work of fiction. Photo ©iStockphoto.com/Spiderstock with photo editing by Eric Huber All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

The Veil

Placing a parent in a retirement home is one of the hardest things a child has to do in life. But, it’s much harder for Rebecca – and stranger.

read more

Doorknobs

Some doors you can’t even find. This short story that opens the way for other times and dimensions – or at least to a field in Pettigrew, Arkansas.

read more

Fifty-Three

Today is January 20, 2019.Yesterday, I turned fifty-three years of age.Level 53.  It’s been nearly a year since I wrote a blog post. I’ve worked on some stories, however, over the past year and hope to start sharing again soon. I’ve also worked on my business, spent...

read more

Sponsor Creativity

If you’ve enjoyed anything on my site, please feel free to donate what you can. In turn, I’ll continue to add content and encourage others to live a creative life! Regardless, I hope you’ve enjoyed your time. If you feel like reaching out, please do so. I'm easy to find.

Fifty-Three

Fifty-Three

Today is January 20, 2019.

Yesterday, I turned fifty-three years of age.

Level 53.

 

It’s been nearly a year since I wrote a blog post. I’ve worked on some stories, however, over the past year and hope to start sharing again soon. I’ve also worked on my business, spent time with friends and family, helped family, played with grandkids, and a whole slew of other things both simple and complex.

I awoke on my birthday with an air of contentedness. At age fifty-three, I still feel physically pretty great, though I could still stand to lose a few pounds and boost my activity level. I had my team at my business surprise me with some birthday celebration festivities. I still have a roof over my head, a loving relationship, and much much more.

I haven’t focused on anything negative over the past couple of days, with a few exceptions, which I won’t repeat here as it serves no purpose.

No, I spent the yesterday and today with a bit of reflection on ‘fifty-three’ and how do I really feel about it all, where I’ve been, and where I’m going.

As with most of my stories and inner dialogue, it all ended by circling back to Star Trek. I ended my birthday by binge watching five of the newest Star Trek series “Discovery” episodes.

As I drifted off to sleep considering what I’d watched, I realized how much it mirrored my own time on this planet.

You see, the new show was called Star Trek, it was based on Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek, and had many elements of Star Trek, but it just isn’t “Star Trek” to me. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s well written, great effects, and good stories, but it’s just not quite… right.

This got me thinking about growing older…ahem… achieving higher levels.

As each year passes, it’s not about ‘getting off my damn lawn’ or even ‘the good ‘ole days.’ It’s about the experiences you had when you’re younger compared to the experiences as you get older.

Remember the first scary movie you watched? The first kiss. The first… anything? Sure, movies are still scary, but much more immersive. A kiss is still thrilling and more, but not like the ‘first.’ And new technology that comes out isn’t so much that it is difficult, it’s just new. Handing a smartphone to a baby boomer who has seen the progression of desk and wall phones, pay phones, cordless phones, cell phones, flip phones, Blackberry’s… all that allowed you to call people… now have a piece of technology that allows calls sure, but also videos, business, banking, conferences, movies, photography, videography, and much more all rolled into one. Heck, it took me a while to use ‘bitmoji’ (which one of my friends says I should NOT be using at my age). You can send people photos, audio, and video of yourself – recorded or live – instead of emojis if you want.

So, as a kid, I would answer the phone, stretch the coiled cord into my room and close the door to talk to my friend or girlfriend for privacy. Now, I get on my smartphone and can take a walk, drive my car, or go into my room and close the door for privacy.

Like the new Star Trek: Discovery show, using the phone is the same, but… different.

Television shows have similar plots, set ups, but much tighter writing, cool effects, humor, realism, and over time… the same, but… different.

Food has many of the favorites, some new flavors, some new packaging, and over time… the same, but… different.

Friends have changed over time based on interests, our paths, and while some have continued over the years, many have come and gone all with personalities, humor, stories, and more that reflect my own life’s path and so a friend I have now may feel… the same, but… different.

I’m not the first person to reach level 53, I get it. I won’t be the last.

But, tonight, on the night of the Super Blood Wolf Moon Total Eclipse, I realize that the days ahead will continue to be filled with wonderful things, terrible things, and all things in between. I know that the old saying, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you decide to react to what happens” is very important and correct. I will continue to celebrate and rejoice in the wonderful things and will choose to respond to the terrible things by simply shouting “Plot Twist!” and move on. And for everything in between? I will react appropriately as I strive to attain level fifty-four in about three-hundred and sixty-three days from now.

The Veil

Placing a parent in a retirement home is one of the hardest things a child has to do in life. But, it’s much harder for Rebecca – and stranger.

read more

Doorknobs

Some doors you can’t even find. This short story that opens the way for other times and dimensions – or at least to a field in Pettigrew, Arkansas.

read more

Fifty-Three

Today is January 20, 2019.Yesterday, I turned fifty-three years of age.Level 53.  It’s been nearly a year since I wrote a blog post. I’ve worked on some stories, however, over the past year and hope to start sharing again soon. I’ve also worked on my business, spent...

read more

Sponsor Creativity

If you’ve enjoyed anything on my site, please feel free to donate what you can. In turn, I’ll continue to add content and encourage others to live a creative life! Regardless, I hope you’ve enjoyed your time. If you feel like reaching out, please do so. I'm easy to find.

Memorial for My Mother

Memorial for My Mother

This blog entry comes a few months into 2018 and the first blog I’ve written since my memorial to my dad and his passing last September 2017. Of course, this is a bit of a cheat as I’m actually going to share with you the memorial speech I gave at my mom’s service in 1997 on August 13. While we did have a chaplain from where my mother worked, I wanted to make sure it was done ‘right.’

My brother and sister both contributed, I think they recorded their sections. I, on the other hand, created at least four drafts. I remember standing up in front of family, friends, old neighborhood kids, and even my dad and my uncle (mom’s brother). I stumbled through it all and didn’t break down until we played the bagpipe version of Amazing Grace towards the end.

This past weekend, I’ve had to go back through all the boxes in our storage unit. Now, keep in mind, somehow I’ve been the ‘keeper of things’ since mom died, though there have been several purges over the years specifically when moving. The last move was done in a rush and many boxes had things thrown in to sort in a few months after we got settled. Yeah, that was four years ago. Time’s up!

The culling has been severe, but I’ve found a few gems, a few turds, and lots of memories…good, bad, and bittersweet. Reading through the various versions of the memorial, I kept thinking, “I thought I said something about X or Y?” and then I found the typed up version. I have a foggy memory that I took all the rough notes that I had been working on all the way to the last minute and made the final presented version. It seems to have everything I remember saying, plus a bit more I had forgotten about until reading.

Yes, it still hard. And yes, it brought up stuff about my dad too. Of course.

One final note before I share the memorial: Mom had passed away suddenly after a year of being sober after not being sober for many years. It was a shock and so sudden that we were not prepared at all. Having experienced both ends of the spectrum, neither are good (of course), sudden was easier in some regards, but we never got to say ‘goodbye,’ find out stories or learn recipes. But, watching someone suffer over the course of a year was brutal in its own rights.

I promise I’ll share stories and humor again soon. it’s been more trying than I imagined it would be. Some of you understand. Some don’t. And that’s okay. I hope you never have to.

Mom’s Memorial Service August 13, 1997

(My Part)

I want to thank everyone for coming and to thank those who wanted to but couldn’t.

There’s not enough time or proper words to truly describe who my mother was or what she meant to me.

Over the past few days, I have come to realize how many people’s lives we touch with our own. Sometimes only for a brief moment. And how, from time to time, someone special comes along and touches our lives.

My mother was a special person. She had an inner caring light that she shared with everyone around her. She had a strong soul that was tested heavily the past few years after her parents passed away. She triumphed over adversity with help from those around her. This past year, my mom came back to her children and became Pat to her friends once again.

I won’t go into a lengthy biography, except to say that my mom had several lives.

She had her life growing up in Pennsylvania. Twirling her baton while a marching band played. Looking to the night sky with the Astrophysical Club while Sputnik soared across the sky. Waiting tables in Ocean City, Maryland in the summer. Dancing with Gregory Hines in the Catskill Mountains when she attended Penn State College.

Her college friend, Katy Ping, said my mom would “always do what was conventional, even if it wasn’t always socially acceptable.”

She raised her kids to respect others, no matter how different they are. She was a student of the world. In recent years she kept true to form and dove head first into a complex computer mapping program for the Little Rock Police Department that few in the country can operate.

She touched each of us. We all know in what ways. Sadly, we forget until they are gone. But don’t be sad. Be happy that we had an opportunity to be with her.

Protecting her brother. Accepting a marriage proposal. Paying a babysitter. Swinging a child. Helping a single mother. Bandaging a cut or scrape. Cooking cinnamon rolls. Cooking Pot Pie. Cooking spaghetti and meatballs…

Listening to a beginning trumpet player, then a flute player, and then a choir singer. Giving praise for excelling and support for failure. Make each of us realize how special our individuality is. How important it is to NEVER stop learning. She never did.

Mom had some hard times, but she had great friends and you will never know how much it means to us that you helped her. And while it took her strength to take that final step, never forget that you gave her extra time. This past year has been filled with loss and mom has helped all of us through it.

I won’t go into much more. To be honest, I’m having trouble during all this remembering specific conversations with my mom. I hope they will come to me in time.

What I do remember is also what is helping me get through all this:

She loved her life being a crime analyst at the police department as well as the people she worked with. The technology both thrilled her and aggravated the hell out of her. She loved the vastness of the ocean and the promises of space. A campy science fiction show called Star Trek held for her the idea of a future where people got along and quested for the unknown, always learning as they explored.

She was happy living in Sheridan with a man instrumental in bringing her through the hard times. Mom told us kids how much she loved Carroll and so we all considered him her husband.

And she also seemed happy that her children had grown up into being people she enjoyed being with.

She was happy. Even though she’s gone now, I know she was happy.

Her friend Dave Parker remembered a conversation he had with her about dying. A passage in the book The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran held special meaning. A teacher once told her she could never sing. She didn’t have the voice. So she never tried.

“Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”

In closing, I just want to say I remember her always being there. Whether nearby or far away. I know mom was thinking about me. And while I might not have been at the front of her mind, I knew that no matter what, If I ever needed to, I could always go home.

Say “hi’ to grandpa, mom.

The Veil

Placing a parent in a retirement home is one of the hardest things a child has to do in life. But, it’s much harder for Rebecca – and stranger.

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Doorknobs

Some doors you can’t even find. This short story that opens the way for other times and dimensions – or at least to a field in Pettigrew, Arkansas.

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Fifty-Three

Today is January 20, 2019.Yesterday, I turned fifty-three years of age.Level 53.  It’s been nearly a year since I wrote a blog post. I’ve worked on some stories, however, over the past year and hope to start sharing again soon. I’ve also worked on my business, spent...

read more

Sponsor Creativity

If you’ve enjoyed anything on my site, please feel free to donate what you can. In turn, I’ll continue to add content and encourage others to live a creative life! Regardless, I hope you’ve enjoyed your time. If you feel like reaching out, please do so. I'm easy to find.

Dad, RIP

Dad, RIP

Last Breath

My brother, sister, and I sat around the bed our dad lay in watching each breath get more brief and shallow. It had been nearly six days of making sure there was no more pain, but that also meant there was no more ‘dad’ for us to connect with. I watched this once pivotal, bigger than life, story-teller of a man shrink and drift away.

Inhale. Exhale.

Inhale. Exhale.

And then a long pause.

Inhale. Exhale.

Inhale. Exhale. …

Another long pause.

We each placed a hand on him.

inhale. …

exhale. …

inhale. …

exhale. …

The vein in his neck stopped pulsing.

exhale. … …

We all looked up and said ‘good-bye’ as we imagined him finally being free of the pain he had suffered over the past year, both physically, and emotionally.

On September 2nd, 2017 at approximately 8:00 pm CST, my dad died.

The next hour or so was the three of us cleaning up the hospice room we’d been in for nearly a week, taking turns sleeping overnight, waking when his breathing changed, or chatting with family and friends who came to visit. But, to me, he had been gone for nearly a week.

With my wife and my brother-in-law present, both coming to hospice after dad’s passing, we said a prayer and a final goodbye as dad’s body lay in bed cool to the touch. We all left, and the funeral home people went in to take dad away for cremation. I decided to stay in the hall outside, while everyone continued to walk to the exit… except my wife who stayed by my side, holding me – just holding on to me.

I was his firstborn. I felt it my job to at least see his body taken away. Probably wasn’t, though. It was actually the first time I got choked up thinking about the fact that the man who had been there since the day I was born was really gone.

Denial

My feeling that this just couldn’t be happening had been going on for months. That there was no way dad could die from this stupid thing called cancer. His family genetics were strong and his own parents grew to be in their 80s and 90s, not a mere 74 years of age. His sister was sixteen years older and his brother, who had unfortunately passed away a little over a year earlier, was ten years older. How could dad die of cancer?

Where my denial came into play was only a few weeks earlier, just before the total eclipse of 2017 that was visible in the United States.

My dad had beat the cancer that had formed a tumor in his neck. Cancer was not a surprise. He was a weapon’s specialist in the Air Force during Vietnam loading up bombs, some of which were radioactive. He also smoked for years – apparently saying since he was fourteen, “But I’ve quit several times and can anytime I want,” he would tell us still smelling fresh cigarette smoke in the air.

There had been many issues as he had been in the VA system and from the time he was diagnosed to the time he started treatment was nearly three months or more. But we thought with the cessation of smoking, he’d have many years ahead.

There was no way he wouldn’t beat this too.

But a few months after finding out he had beat the throat cancer, they found spots on his lungs. His mental exhaustion kicked in. It was apparent he was tired of the process and had thought once he had finished the throat treatments, he could return to a normal semblance of life again.

Sunday’s were our time to ‘get out’ of the VA Retirement Home and grab a Dr. Pepper or snack and drive around town. While the conversations always started kind of negative, most of the time, by the end of the drive, there was hope and positivity.

When the treatment was to begin for the lung cancer, and dad’s physical issues really came into play: cataracts, on-going back problems, swallowing and refusing to even try to eat, receive physical therapy, or even speech therapy (for eating), I started to get really irritated with my dad.

How could he not do everything that was asked of him to beat the cancer?

Anger

Now here is where I vent.

We all were furiously frustrated with the VA System, the doctors, the hospitals, and many others for taking so long to get started. Once started, the process seemed overly complicated. My siblings and our spouses set up smartphone apps, email addresses, and more just to track all the medications, appointments, reports, logins, and crazy documents.

Dad would complain about the various staff, the doctors, the medications, the retirement home and staff, how he felt, the food, and many other things that escape me at the moment (or that I’ve blocked out).

All of us changed our schedules, missed meetings, missed days of work and home life. We tirelessly organized rides, made calls, and paid bills. All the while listening to our dad complain. ‘Was he always this way?’ I would ask myself.

His back hurt. He couldn’t see. He couldn’t taste anything. He couldn’t swallow. He couldn’t shower. On and on and on.

Compassion told me that he had isolated himself and needed connection.

Anger said he did it to himself. Sitting for ten to fifteen years in front of a computer, drinking beer, often smoking, not exercising, not eating well – or at all. He had ‘done everything’ he had wanted in life but did not participate in it at all. The few visits he had with his kids were generally relegated to us visiting him. His visits lasted an hour or so and he would leave.

Not always, mind you. He had engaged with us early on when he arrived after leaving his second wife in Canada. He joined a multi-level marketing company my wife and I tried involving ‘healthy’ chocolate. He even went out on some dates, but – from feedback we heard – they did not go well. He would go out to dinners, and events, and stayed active. Until he went to live by himself.

But I was angry because I knew if he didn’t do everything he could to beat the cancer, I would lose my dad. My dad who pushed me to do the hard things to be better. To follow the things you love to do. To experience the world. To – and here is where I get a little cheesy – seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before! Yes…he introduced me to Star Trek.

So when I got the call, after a particularly rough two weeks, that dad just wanted to go to hospice and die.

I was so angry I went numb.

Bargaining

“If only he hadn’t left mom and moved to Canada,” I thought.

“If only I had met up with him more often.”

“Made him get his back fixed.”

“Forced the doctors to start treatment sooner.”

“Been a better son.”

Yeah.  All that ‘bargaining’ and more went on and still does. But most of it goes back to wishing he had done things differently. I know that’s the selfish part, as now he’s not here to talk to, ask questions about the family, talk about heraldry, or just listen to his crazy stories. Stories, which we discovered after his passing, were what nearly all our friends in high school loved about coming to our house. Stories his friends shared.

I cannot recall a single fictional story, like short stories or novels, that he ever wrote, but I can recall a time my brother and I caught him making up a story to our sister’s boyfriend (way back in the day). It was the first time we caught him and it was huge for my brother and me to discover that, indeed, he made stuff up. He constantly defended his authenticity, but we knew the truth.

All that being said, I think the only thing I’d really like to bargain for is less for me and more for some of his friends and family. Too late we realized we could have used video calls to allow him some final words, but in the end, he said he was sorry. “I feel like I’ve let everybody down.” We tried to convince him we thought otherwise. And sad that one of his friends from high school drove nineteen hours to say goodbye only to find dad already drifted off in a morphine haze. He had said ‘no food or water’ and to bring him out of the drugged state would more than likely have been excruciating. His friend stayed for about three hours, visited with us, stood over dad’s hospital bed sharing some words, and left.

The trouble with dad’s oldest son is (as he writes briefly in third person), is that he knows what is right, why people do things they do, and can logically understand why his father made the choices he did until his death, but he feels let down – and guilty because of it.

Depression

This is not my first ‘death’ in the family.

Although I wasn’t as close to my grandparents, since they lived so far away in Pennsylvania, I still felt pretty sad. Though, if I’m honest, I think I felt more empathy for my parents at their loss.

My mother died twenty years earlier, suddenly. She had also struggled with smoking and severe alcohol addiction – one of the things that drove my dad away and had him file for divorce. We hadn’t ‘seen’ her for several years. Every encounter was a repeat of things discussed, or random slurred discussions we knew wouldn’t be remembered the next time we spoke. We were stunned when she showed up after a three-hour drive already intoxicated.

Luckily, after a second hospitalization due to extreme intoxication, an intervention with friends and family occurred and she went into rehab for several weeks. When she came out, it was the first time we had seen and heard our mom in years. She did the normal steps from those kinds of programs and apologized to us. We said, “We’re all still here, mom.” She looked and said, “Not all of you.” And we knew, she meant dad.

She had always said he had been a crappy husband but had been an awesome friend, and a great dad.

That year, several people she knew passed away. I attended a few of the funerals.

One week, mom called me at work. Busy, I told her I’d give her a shout that night. I didn’t call. I was watching a movie and feeling lazy.

Arriving at work early, I got the call she passed away the night before sometime. They were certain it was sudden. Sitting on the edge of the bed, one foot propped up on the edge, one on the floor, she was laying back with one hand on her temple – as if simply resting for a moment. I recalled the phone call and remembered she said she’d been fighting a bad headache.

The verdict was an aneurysm sometime after ten o’clock. About an hour or so later than when I said I’d call…and didn’t.

It was about two or three months later when I recognized that I wasn’t sleeping well, was breaking out into rashes, and otherwise feeling bad. I didn’t drink, at the time, but I did eat poorly.

Coming out of that experience, I know things to watch in myself for similar depression symptoms. I also know I’ve created an environment so stressful, that it is simply allowing me to avoid depression, sadness, and all the grief. I am careful in most other aspects, but part of writing this as a coping mechanism for what I’m currently feeling; hopelessness.

What’s it all for? What’s next? What am I supposed to do? How much time do I have left? My mom was 54 when she died. I’m 51 at the moment. Do I have another 23 until I reach dad’s age of 74? How can I motivate myself to do more? Be more?

Luckily, it’s all just ‘this moment.’ I’ve followed a fairly optimistic viewpoint in life. Maybe with a little pessimism. “Expect the worst. Hope for the best.” I heard…from dad, really. I have started three businesses in the past, endured heartbreak, loss, and failure. So, hopelessness for me is fleeting, but often crushing – only for a bit.

This phrase came to me while writing: As long as there is life, there is hope. As long as there is hope, there is life. I like that.

I wish dad would have believed it a little bit more.

Acceptance

This part has already come to pass.

While I don’t like accepting what has happened and will no doubt loop around the five stages of grief, I do accept it. Unlike my mother’s death, I was with my dad when he transitioned. I had better closure, I think.

Still so fresh in my heart, his passing, I still find times where I start to call him or think, ‘I should bring dad here,’ when I find a place or food he’d like. Reality quickly crashes back in, but not horribly. With my mom, it was more intense, but infrequent, and took a long time to heal. With dad, he made his choices, he lived his life, and he chose when he was done.

Mostly, and the whole reason I’m even slightly accepting of his passing is that I couldn’t stand to watch my dad suffer so much pain. My heart tells me that some of the pain he experienced was simply from numbing himself for years with beer, cigarettes, video games, and zoning out. That, in the end, he had to really feel all the things he had shoved away. Many conversations were had about mom, his leaving, his regret, and more. We’ll never really know what happened between our parents. Mom never really said. Dad only said a few things after mom passed, but they seemed – unimportant, somehow.

I’d like to think – envision – the two of them together as they were as teenagers. Before dad’s open heart surgery. Before mom’s struggles. Before money, fights, and struggles, that pushed them apart. Before their own parents passed. Even before us kids – though I know they loved us all.

No, I like to think of them back in their high school days, out with their science club on a hillside in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania on a dark night, their telescope out watching the stars, laughing, in awe, and thinking of a bright shiny future filled with possibilities.

Epitaph

David Earl Huber
Sept 30, 1942 – Sept 2, 2017
“See you in a bit” – Dave

Obituary
Facebook Memorial

On Pain

~ Kahlil Gibran

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Much of your pain is self-chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquillity:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.

The Veil

Placing a parent in a retirement home is one of the hardest things a child has to do in life. But, it’s much harder for Rebecca – and stranger.

read more

Doorknobs

Some doors you can’t even find. This short story that opens the way for other times and dimensions – or at least to a field in Pettigrew, Arkansas.

read more

Fifty-Three

Today is January 20, 2019.Yesterday, I turned fifty-three years of age.Level 53.  It’s been nearly a year since I wrote a blog post. I’ve worked on some stories, however, over the past year and hope to start sharing again soon. I’ve also worked on my business, spent...

read more

Sponsor Creativity

If you’ve enjoyed anything on my site, please feel free to donate what you can. In turn, I’ll continue to add content and encourage others to live a creative life! Regardless, I hope you’ve enjoyed your time. If you feel like reaching out, please do so. I'm easy to find.