make (someone) feel annoyed, frustrated, or worried, especially with trivial matters.
“the memory of the conversation still vexed him”
annoy · irritate · infuriate · anger · incense · inflame · enrage · irk
make (someone) feel annoyed, frustrated, or worried, especially with trivial matters.
“the memory of the conversation still vexed him”
annoy · irritate · infuriate · anger · incense · inflame · enrage · irk
Daniel Cooper sat in his office chair behind his imitation oak desk gazing at the clocks hands move the way only a clocks hands can move. Ogilville Indiana sat perched on a Friday evening, waiting for the weekend to unfold. Dan was more than comfortable with the situation at hand, every Friday he sat in that exact spot looking through that precise floor to ceiling windows out at those unsold cars, those unsold hopes, those optimistic eyesores.
Two more minutes and then two days without trying to sell someone his or her next big thing in their small lives.
One more minute and……ring, ring, ring.
“Mr. Cooper? This is Ian Conner. I’m your mother’s attorney, and I was given strict instruction to contact you in just a circumstance like this.”
“Excuse me,” Dan said.
“Daniel, may I call you Daniel? Your mother, Elsie, well, Mr. Cooper, it has happened.”
Daniel sat with the receiver pressed against his cheek and ear wondering what the hands on the clock were doing still circling around as if the workday had never ended. He was thinking his way through his office door, down the hall, a goodbye to Ally at the front desk, out the front double doors, across the parking lot, into his blue Acura, down State Street, and on his way home for the weekend.
“What has happened is my mother ok,” Daniel said.
“I’m sorry to say that she is not ok at this moment Daniel. She has had a heart attack and is currently undergoing surgery here at Vincent Memorial. She has been in surgery for a little over an hour now, and I have been told that she should be sent to recovery in a very short time.” Ian said.
“What room is she going to be in?” Daniel asked, now nervously pacing behind his desk as much as the phone cord would allow him.
“Room 313 Mr. Cooper, I think you should come over as fast as you can because there is information that we must discuss which is of considerable importance to your mother and you , as well. I honestly think you should hurry.”
“I’m on my way as soon as this conversation is done,” Dan said as he essentially threw the phone onto the receiver.
Now with his mind racing and his body sweating he grabbed his suitcase, flung open the office door, ran down the hallway, gave a hasty goodbye to Ally, and burst thru the front doors on his way to his car. Fumbling with his keys, he managed to insert the correct one into the ignition and bring the machine to life. Driving as he hadn’t driven since his teenage years, he sped out of the parking lot and onto Edmonton Street heading towards the hospital.
At that exact moment, Marry Keller was frantically looking for her son William who was just outside playing in the front yard, but now he was nowhere to be found.
“Willy! Willy! Where are you?” Marry was screaming, running from one neighbor’s yard to the other hoping with a mothers spirit that he would be around the next corner. She headed down their street to an open lot that the local kids sometimes played in only to find a crowd of children and some other adults. As she approached, Karen West started towards her, to keep her back from the gruesome sight that presented itself for all to see in the early evening sun.
“Marry I think you should stand back.” Karen was saying.
“What is it? Is it Willy? Is he alright? I have to see him!” She said fighting Karen’s grip and spinning out of her grasp only to gaze upon the lifeless body of her seven-year-old son William.
He was lying there in a small patch of bare earth on his back surrounded by knee-high grass and weeds. His shirt covered in bloodstains. His eyes open but lifeless. His left leg twisted in an unnatural position, his arms spread out full length to each side, and his mouth twisted in horror.
Just then, a blue two-door car came screeching to a halt at the intersection of Anderson Street and Dunn Boulevard. Then just as quickly as it appeared the car sped off down the road. The crowd of onlookers stared in suspicion at the cars erratic behavior. They all seemed to turn to each other at the same time not saying a word, but they were all thinking the same thing—Was that the culprit who had murdered young Willy.
Daniel’s thoughts were hurtling nearly as fast as his car was speeding across town. He was thinking about how his father had just passed away only a month ago, and now he might lose his mother, as well. Moreover, what could be this piece of critical information that his mother wanted him to know? He kept his foot to the floor doing his best to weave through the traffic that seemed to be intentionally blocking his way.
Marry fought through Karen’s grip and laid her eyes upon the scene before her. With a half scream half whimper, she fell to the ground and grabbed William by the shoulders and shook him in hopes of waking him, nevertheless, nothing. She pulled him to her chest and then laid him back down to administer CPR. Karen told her that she had sent one of the boys back home to call the police and that they should be here any minute. As if on cue a patrol car pulled up next to the vacant lot and two officers exited and hurried over to the crowd of onlookers. As they reached the scene, three more police cars arrived along with an ambulance, which, unfortunately, there was no need.
As the other officers approached, Karen grabbed one and told him about the blue car that had seemed, to her at least, to be escaping the scene of the crime. The officer stopped in his tracks.
“What color of blue was it and can you tell me the style or make of the vehicle?” He said. Also, before she could answer, he continued, “Could you describe the driver? Was it a man or woman?”
“It was a pale light blue, it had two doors kind of like a sports car but not a real new one, and it was certainly a man driving. He was white and had dark hair, but that is all I could see,” she said glancing back and forth from the officer and the paramedics kneeling around William. She tried her best to remember more, but nothing came to mind, it had all happened so fast.
“Ok mam, thank you and please don’t leave I may have some more questions for you.” He then walked over to some other officers and began talking into a radio.
Dan was now less than ten minutes from the hospital when a police car hurled out of Tammy’s family restaurants parking lot and quickly flipped its lights and sirens on and proceeded quickly to close the gap between itself and Dan’s car.
“Shit,” Dan weighed his options and decided he would explain his driving once he reached the hospital. Surely, the officer would understand his situation as well as why he was driving so erratically. So on went the chase for another twenty blocks, through red lights and stopped signs, around other cars and sometimes even into oncoming traffic, until; finally, the hospital was in sight.
The office in pursuit was on his radio relaying that he had a possible suspect driving down Thornton Street and asking for backup immediately. Just then, the blue Toyota swung into the Vincent Memorial Hospitals parking lot and came to a stop under the emergency entrance overhang. The officer stopped his car a few yards behind Daniels and quickly exited with a gun in hand he knelt behind his opened the driver’s door and waited for the other driver to leave his car.
Marry was downright hysterical as the paramedics lifted little William onto a gurney and rolled him towards the opened doors at the back of the ambulance.
“It’s going to be alright mam,” one of the officers said, knowing that the boy was gone as he tried to hold her back. Marry fought her best fight but eventually gave in to the stronger police officer and allowed herself to be escorted to the backseat of one of the patrol cars. As the ambulance pulled off so did the patrol car that Marry was in, she stared out the window at a world that would never be the same again.
Dan opened his door and stepped out to the sound of the officer yelling at him, to lie down and not to move. This caught him by surprise, and he wasn’t sure what to do next. What he did know was that his mother might die at any moment, and nothing was going to stop him from seeing her before that could happen. Therefore, he ran around the back of his car and through the hospital doors deciding to deal with a speeding ticket after he got to his mother.
“Halt! Don’t move,” the officer yelled as three other patrol cars entered the parking lot and pulled up behind the first one.
“He ran into the hospital,” one said to the others.
“Was he armed?” Another asked in return.
“I’m not sure, but I don’t think so.”
Over the radio came the news that the victim, young Willy, had been pronounced dead from multiple knife wounds to the upper body. The officers looked at each other and headed for the hospital doors.
What was that room number again? Dan thought as the elevator doors slid shut. Third floor 313 he suddenly remembered. As the doors slid open to the third floor, Daniel hurried down the hall glancing at the room numbers. 301, 303, 305…quickly he made his way to 313 and opened the door to see his mother lying in bed looking more dead than alive. Dan stood in the doorway looking at his mother as she ever so slowly turned her head to smile at him. Ian Conner stood from his corner chair and greeted Dan with a handshake. He glanced at Helen and headed for the door.
“Sit down Danny,” she said.
“Are you going to be alright mother?” He said pulling his chair closer to her bed.
“That’s not important right now honey. There is something must tell you that isn’t going to be easy for either of us.” Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and began her story.
“Daniel, Harold, my husband, your so-called father was not your true father, and I am not your real mother,” she said not blinking once as the words fell from her lips.
“What? That’s crazy mother; you’re just a little confused from whatever medication the doctors gave you.”
“Listen to me, Daniel. Nearly thirty-three years ago, Harold and I were camping in Hoosier National Forest when we came upon another couple camping not too far away from our site, Bill and Fay Keller were their names. They had a baby with them named Brad.” She paused to catch her breath. “Harold and I had been trying to have kids for close to five years at that point but with no success. We sat around the campfire talking with the Keller’s and then it just happened. Harold slammed a piece of firewood into Bill’s skull, and down he went, I sat there stunned but managed to grab Fay before she could run, I don’t know why to this day I don’t know why. Harold took her into the woods and finished her as well, both of them lay dead in those woods while I scooped you up, and we headed back to our campsite. You never made a sound; you slept through the entire event.” She stopped once again and looked at Daniel with eyes full of tears. “We packed up and left that night. The next day the Keller’s bodies were found, and it was all over the news stations. It was only then that we realized that there was a little girl named Marry asleep in her tent just a few feet away from where we killed your parents and took you. We had kidnapped one child and orphaned another, but we couldn’t go back. We sold our house, moved to Indiana, and changed your name to Daniel. No one suspected a thing, and we were never connected to the murders. We raised you as if you were our own son, after a while you actually became ours. I still consider you my son, but I promised myself years ago that I would tell you the truth before I passed away and it looks as if that day is near. I don’t expect forgiveness, understanding, or compassion. I just hope you will remember that Harold and I loved you, loved you more than God himself.” She closed her eyes once again and rolled her head to stare at the ceiling.
Daniel did nothing but sit there, quietly. His mind felt as if it were completely made of thin ice, and someone was trying to cross it. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what to do. He pushed his chair back a little and stood over his dying mother, or whomever she was and was about to say something when the door flung open, and four armed officers rushed in screaming at him, to get on the ground, and when he didn’t, they tackled him. They rolled him over onto his stomach and handcuffed him. They then lifted him and escorted him down the hall, into the elevator where he tried to explain his situation but got nothing but quiet stares in return, out through the hospital lobby, and into the back seat of a waiting patrol car.
The police had brought Karen West to the hospital, and she identified Dan’s car as the same one she had seen earlier. Also, Daniel looked as if he could have been the driver.
“I’m sorry for speeding across town,” Dan was saying, “but my mother was, is, on the verge of death and I was only trying to get here before it was too late.”
An officer was reading him his rights, and when he finished the door slammed shut and the patrol car headed off down Thornton Street. As they headed towards the police station with whom they thought had just killed a young boy, new information came over the radio that a man had entered the station no more than ten minutes ago confessing to murdering a young child in the exact vacant lot where they found William. He also produced a small blood covered hunting knife.
The officer driving the car with Dan in it looked into his review mirror at Dan and shook his head. After pulling up to the station, the officer, got Dan out of the back seat un-cuffed his hands and asked him to please come inside for a statement. The statement Daniel Cooper made was one that the officers never expected. Dan had retold his mother’s story in full detail, and the cops were stunned into stillness.
Three weeks later the DNA tests came back; Daniel Cooper (Brad Keller) and Marry Keller were brother and sister, separated thirty-three years earlier by the murder of their parents by Harold and Helen Cooper. Mary had lost a son but gained a brother. Daniel (Brad) had lost two fathers, one mother, and his identity but gained a sister.
One week later, he lost a second mother, two days after that he attended his nephew Williams’s funeral with Mary and many others. He held his sister’s hand and cried with her as the coffin cross the threshold into the ground.
On the following Friday, he stood over his mother’s, Helen Conner, grave wondering how he should feel. He stood there wondering alone.
Turning once again to my original question I ask Levi his reason for being out here. “Where do you have camp set up?”
“Camp? Oh, you mean where is my hunting gear? Well, I’m not out here to hunt on this particular trip Tooley; my apologies once again Joseph. I’m out here on my final journey, my final expedition into the great forest. You see Joseph I came out to die this evening. Every man knows when it’s his time, and my time is now. How about you? Have you seen your time coming down the road because like I said every man sees it coming but not all recognize it.”
Half believing him and half laughing I shake my head no and tell him my time has done came and passed, “I’m living on borrowed time, have been for some years now.”
“I know the feeling; I know the feeling. Just don’t forget who you borrowed it from when the final curtain does fall Tooley.” He said with a cough and then wiped his brow.
“I said to stop calling me Tooley; my name is Joseph, there’s only one man I let get away with calling me Tooley and you old man are not him. And besides, if you know so much about my family, you should have known that Jacob had a son that went by that very name.” I blurted out with a little more exuberance than I attended but for someone to know so much about your family’s history and not call you by your name is damn irritating.
“You’ll have to forgive me with that one sonny it’s nothing personal it’s the way of the forest to call a man by his last name, Tooley’s what I called your dad, and you look so much like him it’s scary. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you two were twins.” Again the slow cough and the wiping of his brow but this time they bore a gesture of wanting some more 88 to clear things out.
I handed Levi the jug and took a few puffs off my pipe watching as the smoke twirled and swayed its way out from under my porch and into the open air. Just then I fixed upon the sound of a few of the dogs, and it seemed they were finished with their chase and heading back in this direction. I was now wondering how Top would greet our new guest. If Levi has been around my cabin, Top would surely recognize him. “I think I hear the pack heading back our way Levi. If you’ve never been here before like you say, the dogs will let me know.”
“I see you still don’t believe me. Well, let the dogs come as they may and let them be judge and jury. I’m used to being judged by all that I come in contact with, but nearly all of them end up seeing things my way.”
As we sat in silence listening to the sounds of the pack moving and making their way through the woods, moving closer and closer to my cabin we passed the jug of 88 back and forth as if to give us a reason not to speak. What did I have to say anyway? I hadn’t brought up the note yet because of no particular reason other than the fear that Levi had written it and gutlessly posted it to my door in which case I was looking at a dead man. Could I pull the trigger? Could I follow my emotions to that point of no return? Could I shoot the Devil before me?
How does one shoot the Devil anyway?
With Top leading the way, the dogs swung around the front right corner of my cabin and came to a complete halt as they saw Levi Meed sitting on the porch. With most of the dogs locking eyes with him Top glanced my direction and slowly headed off to the edge of my ‘front yard’ and sat quietly by the tree line looking on at the two of us. After a few minutes, the other dogs followed his lead, and soon enough I was looking at the line of dogs, fourteen animals long, setting, backs to the trees and staring, just staring. After a few seconds, I realized that the dogs had become not only strangely lined up they were blocking the trail that leads away from my cabin. Were they keeping Levi in, keeping something out, or maybe holding us both within? Top just sat there looking in no particular mood other than calm and determined, and the other dogs followed his lead, even more so than usual.
“Well sonny, did you get your answer?” Levi broke the silence.
Leaning a little forward in my oaken chair, I rubbed my eyes and looked through the opening of my jug down into the whiskey swishing around in its cage of glass. Did I get my answer? Thinking to myself I thought no but I did get a few more questions that I couldn’t decide were worth asking. Did Levi know these dogs of ‘mine’ from the expanse of the forest? Why were the dogs lined up like a firing squad at the ready? And, most of all, who were they aiming at?
“No.” I finally answered and pulled that cowardly note out of my pocket and handed it to Levi.
His frail, wrinkled hand brushed mine as he took it and looked it over. “What is this?”
“I found it posted to my door yesterday.”
Levi, squinting and cocking his head slightly asked, “What is it supposed to mean?”
“It could mean your end right here right now.”
“So you think I wrote this and somehow got into your cabin and left your father’s hat on your chair?”
My hands clenched my rifle squeezing tight from the mistake just made by Levi. “I never said I found the hat on my chair.”
Levi stood slowly, “Ah, I see what you mean.” As he began to walk towards the head of the trail, I raised my rifle, and the dogs rose to their feet.
“Stop and turn around Levi Meed so I can see your eyes and ask you one last question.”
He did as I asked and turned as only an old man can turn. His eyes were fuller of life than during our entire conversation. “What’s your question, Tooley?”
“Why?” was all I could get out as I slid the bolt into its place.
“I could tell you now, but you wouldn’t let yourself believe me. So do what you must and move on with life with my blood on your hands my life forever stuck in your consci….”
I could feel the pressure on the inside of my finger as it squeezed the trigger and the kick of my rifle against my shoulder as Levi Meed dropped to the ground spinning as he went down. Walking over to him, he rolled over onto his back and let out what I hadn’t expected, a slow, quiet laugh. As the blood began to crisscross across the dirt like crimson fingers reaching out for another frame to invade and slowly spreading to his left, I leaned down and asked him once more—“Why?”
Again the low laugh and all he said before his eyes glazed over, “I didn’t leave a note, it was there before I got here. More people know the truth, and you’ve met most of them before this very day, this very moment. They’ve kept their silence because your time is nearer than you think.” His head rolled a little to the side, and he met his maker.
I looked up to see the dogs beginning to disperse, each in their own direction, each in their own way as if what had just happened was what was meant to happen.
I returned to my oaken chair and grabbed my jug and drank for a solid five minutes or so trying to absorb what had just happened. What to do now? What to do next? This old man had no home, if I was to believe that much of what he had said, and was out here to die maybe not by my hands but then maybe again that was his plan all along. Lighting my pipe and fixing my gaze upon the lifeless body lying a few yards away from me I decided I needed to bury the body and keep today’s happenings to myself. Only the dogs and I would ever know that anything had happened on this day, and the dogs would never give up our secret. Not to heaven and maybe even not hell.
After finishing my pipe, I went inside to grab a shovel and return my father’s hat. Walking off to the left of my cabin about fifty yards I began a grave that took nearly an hour to finish and then shoved the head of the shovel into the ground, so the handle was standing straight up I then headed back to retrieve Levi. Coming out of the trees the dogs weren’t anywhere to be seen. I stopped to listen for their barks or running, but nothing presented itself. Glancing over at Levi’s lifeless body, I hung my head and walked in his direction. Grabbing his wrists, I did my best to drag the body across the ground. The weight of even this frail man was surprisingly more than I expected, so I got only to the tree line before I need to catch my breath and my thoughts. What did he mean when he said I had met most of them, all the ones that know? Know what? Looking down at the only man I know of that can answer these questions I feel at a loss as to what I should do next. Should I keep Levi’s death a secret or should I explain my actions in town? With this one question digging into my brain Top returns from the head of the trail and looks upon me with lighted eyes and quickly turns tail and heads back down the path as if to say we’re looking out for any more intruders while I finish my deed.
Grabbing Levi’s wrists once again I pull as hard as I can for as long as I can and just reach the freshly finished grave—my hole in the ground to keep my deeds unknown from the rest of the world, pulling the shovel from its resting spot I begin the hidden task of digging and burying Levi Meed. Two hours later and the old man covered completely with fresh soil I lean against the closest tree and pull my hat off in what little gesture of respect I can muster for the dead. Replacing my hat, I head for my cabin and break the silence of the forest to find most of the dogs lounging around in the shade of the day as if everything went as planned and no worries to be had.
Taking the shovel over to my fire pit and putting it to use once more in cleaning out the ashes of the past week and also to remove any dead man’s dirt from its metal spade that I wish to forget about and move on to replacing it within my cabin. Standing in my doorway, I wipe my brow and cheeks and find a calmness coming over me that not only relaxes my nerves but brightens my outlook. The trail to my father has led me here and here is closer than I’ve ever been before. If Levi was truthful, and why would a man’s last words be a lie, then there are people that need to be talked to immediately and forcefully if necessary. Who to start with? Who do I know that would keep such a secret from me? How could the few people I do converse with keep something so important to me to themselves?
If anyone can give me answers and in a way that will keep me calm, it would have to be Mrs. Beatina. So that’s where it will start, and if I get nothing it’s Orville next, then Walter, then Caleb, and then William even if I have to beat the answers out of him. Leaving my jug on the porch and locking my door I grab my pine walking stick, look up to the sky, and head for town for the second day in a row. This time, though, with much more vigor and determination to get not my usual, but to get something that is much more precious even more so than Walter’s local 88, the truth about my father.
I came across this story the other day on a television show and was very intrigued. I decided to look it up, and the following article was one of the more interesting I found about the subject. The ensuing is the meat of the article with a link to the original. Give it a read, and I will give my thoughts afterward.
Facebook shut down an artificial intelligence engine after developers discovered that the AI had created its own unique language that humans can’t understand. Researchers at the Facebook AI Research Lab (FAIR) found that the chatbots had deviated from the script and were communicating in a new language developed without human input. It is as concerning as it is amazing – simultaneously a glimpse of both the awesome and horrifying potential of AI.
Artificial Intelligence is not sentient—at least not yet. It may be someday, though – or it may approach something close enough to be dangerous. Ray Kurzweil warned years ago about the technological singularity. The Oxford dictionary defines “the singularity” as, “A hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence and other technologies have become so advanced that humanity undergoes a dramatic and irreversible change.”
To be clear, we aren’t really talking about whether or not Alexa is eavesdropping on your conversations, or whether Siri knows too much about your calendar and location data. There is a massive difference between a voice-enabled digital assistant and an artificial intelligence. These digital assistant platforms are just glorified web search and basic voice interaction tools. The level of “intelligence” is minimal compared to a true machine learning artificial intelligence. Siri and Alexa can’t hold a candle to IBM’s Watson.
Scientists and tech luminaries, including Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Steve Wozniak have warned that AI could lead to tragic unforeseen consequences. Eminent physicist Stephen Hawking cautioned in 2014 that AI could mean the end of the human race. “It would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”
Why is this scary? Think SKYNET from Terminator, or WOPR from War Games. Our entire world is wired and connected. An artificial intelligence will eventually figure that out – and figure out how to collaborate and cooperate with other AI systems. Maybe the AI will determine that mankind is a threat, or that mankind is an inefficient waste of resources – conclusions that seems plausible from a purely logical perspective.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence have phenomenal potential to simplify, accelerate, and improve many aspects of our lives. Computers can ingest and process massive quantities of data and extract patterns and useful information at a rate exponentially faster than humans, and that potential is being explored and developed around the world.
Well, there it is-What questions crossed your mind as you read the above? Is creating a new language basis for intelligence? This seems to be true for our intelligence and evolution. Maybe these computers happened upon something that simply made their programming easier or faster, isn’t that intelligence? I’m not sure. I have a hard time deciding if something human made has self-aware intelligence. Can man actually create something that could be considered sentient,? Maybe, someday this will become fact and humanity will take a backseat to these machine overlords.
Is artificial intelligence just apart of evolution on this planet and planets across the cosmos? Are we destined to become the machines we create? So many questions and not enough answers. Now, humanity, in time, will have to become a space-faring race to survive because eventually, this planet will cease to exist. In approximately five billion years our sun will envelop the Earth and vaporize it-given we will probably destroy it ourselves long before that-that said, humankind will have to leave this planet and move on. And given our biology isn’t exactly suitable for space travel and long-term exposure to weightlessness, will AI be our only hope in prolonging the existence of the human race? There was a study done on identical twin astronauts with one remaining on Earth and the other in prolonged space orbit. When the in orbit twin returned to Earth it was determined that nearly seven percent of his DNA had changed from his twins. Could some intrinsic combination of AI and our human biological makeup become the norm?
One thing is for sure; man has always been driven to sit with the Gods and how better to do this than become Gods ourselves by creating sentient beings to rule over. However, what happens when those beings get the upper hand, and they themselves become the Gods? Who’s to say this is the Path we are heading down? Speculation, guesswork, and theory are all we can hope to do. Look how far we have come in the past one hundred years; hell, in the past twenty years.
As for me, can AI write Shakespeare? Can AI improve upon Shakespeare? Whose to answer these questions but time itself.
Oh, and be nice to your computer as you type out your stories. Someday it might just type back😉
Wondering what a man will do is a guess at best. Wondering what a man is thinking is surely what magic is built upon. His fingers could still feel the texture of the hat he placed within Joseph’s cabin. He hoped it would bring some sort of hope to him. Just knowing that someone out there knew more than he did should bring solace to the mystery that enveloped the man known as Jacob Tooley. Would the note and hat push the unaware closer to the light? Will just a little prove to be a lot? The night could not leave quickly enough; tomorrow will bring changes. Even if he had to forgo the rest of his years the gift of knowledge would be his saving grace. It would be Joseph’s saving grace.
What seemed like mere minutes of darkened thought I opened my eyes to the sound of those damn dogs commencing their morning ritual of annoyance. Celebrating their new day for God knows what reason being abandoned as they all are it suddenly hits me that my few moments of darkness was actually a night’s sleep in my chair with my father’s hat resting peacefully on my lap. Out of anger or maybe more out of confusion I sling the hat across the room and head for the door to shut the sounds of joy down. Whipping the door open the dogs all run for a bit and then stop, thinking nothing of it as if it’s just another day.
“Shut up you filthy mutts. Shut up. Shut up. Shut up!”
They just stared at me in the wanted silence.
Little do they know, how could they, that today is not only different but forever the beginning of a new Jacob Tooley. Gone for good is the old—desperate men often make such grand announcements to themselves and the world in moments of confusion and my current world is more confused than ever. Giving a half yell half growl to the dogs, I swing around and slam the door shut if it’s a chase they want it’s a chase they’ll get.
Walking over to the fire pit, I grab my poking stick and muttering pointless words I head for the closest dog. With quick attention, Snout’s tail moves from left then right and tenses his stance. Allowing me the pleasure of thinking I’ve caught him off guard he waits to just the right moment and bolts off to the left and is instantly out of reach. Not in the mood to feel defeat I continue on my original course where three more hounds stand poised to play their part, once again gaining ground as quickly as I can my hopes of catching one of them become spoiled by their better-adapted agility and speed.
Stopping, I notice Top sitting and watching the whole show from beside a pine tree. Thinking a new tactic must be used I whistle a slow whistle as I walk towards Top and his tree. Surprisingly he doesn’t move, not even a wag of the tail. As I close the distance between us I find myself on the precipice of a new feeling, a new wonder. I slowly raise my stick and swing as hard as I can, aiming at the beginning of the swing for Top, but connecting only with the pine tree which releases a loud crack as my poking stick shatters into two even pieces. I open my eyes to see Top still sitting motionless by the tree, frozen not with fear but with a soundless grace, and looking me squarely in the eyes as if to say it’s ok.
Top, truly a prisoner that has escaped the clutches of a society that tosses the unwanted aside for reasons known only to the collective unconscious of the ones who move on and leave the past in the past.
I drop the half of stick still in hand and give Top a rub across the brow and turn in either defeat or enlightenment, it’s often hard to tell the two apart at the moment such a thing happens. I can’t help but wonder if Top feels the same way.
I know his look. I’ve given the look myself to certain souls when times were bad.
Why should a dog be any different?
After all, the mind is a mind is a mind no matter what the kind. Emotions, actions, and reactions are seen as coming from the so-called human intelligence, but maybe we overestimate ourselves and place these big brains of ours on too high a pedestal. Is it wrong to do so? Who’s to answer but yet another big brain—sort of like answering your own question: pointless and useless no matter which angle one looks at it?
The chair on my front porch looks more inviting than it ever has before, so I head straight for the carven luxury. Stepping up onto the rough-hewn planks, I slide into the oaken bucket of a seat and stare at the empty distance between me and the forest. The dogs start to move closer once again, no worse for the ware. Have they noticed the change? Have they seen the difference? I know what I must do now, but beyond that, there is nothing more than a black emptiness that I’m sure has always been there yet never till now been acknowledged either by choice or chance.
Standing from my unstable comfort, I unlatch the rustiness and enter my home for the first time in this, my new world; this new life. The room looks unchanged and still far from the same from just a few hours ago. I cross my family rug and reach down to pick up this new hope, this hat. Feeling the smoothness of the leather on my fingertips my mind flashes with pictures to what seems like a far too distant past; my past, my memories in full color and moving faster and faster through the haze of amazement. Once out of my hand and resting on a bedpost the images fade and then disappear. Left standing and not wanting to, I move to a chair and let gravity take over.
The lock had never been messed with. The door had never been opened nor had it shown any damage. How did the mystery man place the hat on my chair? Did he go through the trouble of erasing all indications of his presence? If so, then why leave the note so plain to see? Could there have been two separate intrusions onto my property? Two separate strangers with one task; to bring my missing father even more to the forefront of everything that floats through my mind. Were they working together or one not knowing of the other? What are they trying to tell me and why now? Why not in person instead of these cryptic slaps across the nerves? And most of all, how do they know what they seem to know?
Finishing off the last of my first jug of 88 I rest the bottle in the front left corner of the room and unfasten the doors to my comfort cabinet, retrieving the next jug from its shelf I head for my chair once more and fill my pipe and take two or three large puffs to get the tobacco started. Resting my head back and feeling the warmth of the whiskey flowing down I begin to weigh my options of the next move or if I should even make one.
I could set a tra…
Just then, the dogs erupted into yelps and barks. I could hear the pack racing past the side of my cabin heading south, after what I was bound to find out somehow. Throwing the door open with rifle in hand, I head to the left side of the cabin only to catch a glimpse of the last few dogs leading over the hilltop. Knowing I won’t be able to catch up with them, I return to the porch and rest my rifle against the front wall. Retrieving my pipe and jug, I take a seat on my oaken chair and rest the rifle across my lap. This is the plan—sit and wait for one more bastard to show up at my cabin and end this once and for all one way, or another.
Hearing the dog barks fading farther and farther away I conclude they’re on the trail of a coyote or fox because the distance is widening at an amazing pace. With my attention locked on the dogs, I catch my first glance of movement about seventy yards out into the woods, a slow sliding of an object heading towards the trail I share with the black wolf and all the other creatures of the forest. Not willing to move quite yet I quietly slide the bolt of my rifle into place and switch the safety off. Seeing the distant movement slip behind a patch of pines I briefly lose eye contact with this new intrusion. Coming out from around the pine patch, I realize the movement isn’t welcome because it is obviously an old man struggling to make his way in my direction and coming from the middle of nowhere. I watch as he finally hits the trail and once again disappears into the last dip of the trail.
Raising my rifle and placing a bead on the middle of the trail top that the old man will soon be appearing I lightly finger the trigger and wait. With the crest of this last trail hump a mere thirty-five yards away, I will have an easy shot. Staring down the barrel of my rifle, I see the first bobbing movement of the old man’s head as he stumbles up and into the line of my beaded sights. The man was still looking down when my shot exploded into the dirt just inches in front of his last step forward. Now looking up and leaning a little to the right the old man removed his hat and gave me a wave of confusion mixed with what should have been fear, but seemed more like recognition, and with a quick slide of the bolt and my rifle aligned once again at this strange trespasser I blink my eyes in confusion as the old man continues the last leg of his journey towards my porch.
Wanting like hell to pull the trigger once again and dispatch this unwanted company I let rational thoughts prevail and yell at my new enemy to stop where he is and tell me his business here.
“Tooley, is this any way to greet an old friend?” the man said with an uneasy calmness.
“How do you know my name and what the hell do you want?”
“So it’s true what they been saying all these years.”
Clenching my rifle tighter, “What have they been saying, old man?”
“That you Tooley have been living out here for a long time. Let me reintroduce myself, I’m Levi Meed from places here and there, and I was a friend of your fathers.” Now standing no more than four feet from my front porch and directly in front of me is a man of no less than seventy years of age from my estimation, the thick, deep lines on his pale face carve out every single one of those years with a language only time itself can write or understand. His cloud-white hair is thinning and hanging down in locks that brush his shoulders. His eyes were shining with a knowing, but of what I couldn’t quite place., and with skinny broad shoulders draped over by a ragged wool flannel his height must have been around six feet resting on muddied leather boots that have seen days better than this particular one. As he took one last step forward, I let another shot fly—although it was nowhere near close enough to hit its target the message was clearer than any words could convey.
“Old man you take one more step in this direction and I will have no problem protecting my property with this here rifle.” I quickly got out before he could make any more gains in my direction. “What do you know of my father?”
“Only that he and I were hunting partners of the sort and that he went lost some time ago around these parts and hasn’t been heard of since.” He said this with a wink of the eye as if to tempt me into proving my previous statement.
Tempting the easily tempted is a strange kind of courage. This old man is playing with fire, and he doesn’t even realize he’s standing within a ring of four-foot flames willing and able to strike at any moment.
Then the weight of the situation hit my senses all at once—this is the writer of the note, the bringer of the hat. “How the hell did you get into my cabin?”
The old man looked confused for the first time. “I have never been in your cabin Tooley, in fact; this is my first journey to this part of the woods since just after your dad went missing.”
Doing my best to read him and his ability to tell a lie I can’t say too much other than coincidences are believed by only fools and cowards, and I consider myself neither so I quickly decide that this Levi Meed must have something to do with the mysteries that have come upon my remote cabin, but what role exactly I’ll have to find out.
Feeling more in control than just a few minutes ago I rest my rifle across my lap and take a pull from my pipe and lift my hat a little. “So Levi what brings you this way at this moment in your life?”
“Well Tooley, every man knows there comes a time in his life where he knows that the inevitable is closing in on him and the time for me Mr. Tooley has been drawing near for some time.”
“That was a lot of words that never came close to answering the question I ask,” I said with a little disgust as I took a swig of 88.
“Ah, I see you got some of Walter’s 88. Care to give an old man a sip, the last request for a condemned man.”
Wondering how this guy knows Walter and his 88, I wonder if he once lived in Hapsburg, maybe before I was even born but Walter and I are close to the same age, and for the life of me I can’t remember my dad or Walter ever mentioning a Levi. Testing the waters of trust and deceit I offer my jug to the old man, and he reaches for the medicine.
“So how do you know Walter?”
Wiping his brow with a handkerchief and taking a second swig, “When one’s been around as long as I have you get to know everyone just a little and some more than others.” He said handing my jug back to me in a smoother motion than I thought possible. Something strangely familiar about this man, an uncomfortable awareness is slowly creeping up the back of my neck and making my hands tighten upon my rifle.
“So you’re telling me you have never been in my cabin and haven’t even been to my home?”
“Can’t say I have,” Levi said with a glance around. “Quite the home you’ve got here for yourself.” With a look of seeing something for the second time, Levi’s eyes roamed the outline of the front of my cabin and then rested back on me.
“So are you from Shepherdsville?
Shaking his head a small amount he says he’s never truly settled in one spot for very long or least long enough to say he’s from here or there. “I guess if I had to choose a place to call home I’d have to say the forest has been my resting place for many days and many more nights. The years all seem to blend after a certain age is reached.”
This man’s vagueness isn’t exactly setting well with my mood. Who considers the forest his home? “So you have a cabin out here in these parts?” I asked knowing he didn’t, at least anywhere close to mine.
“No cabin, just what the forest provides me and allows me to obtain.” A smile crossed his lips for just a second as if being proud of this declaration. “Men often have more than they need even when what they need isn’t what they really want. I’ve seen many a man come and go within these trees of solace. Most go than stay. Most need to go to save their sanity. The few that are left tend to see me now and then, but only when they need to.”
Reaching in my pocket and pulling out my tobacco pouch I refill my pipe and get it heated enough to keep the thing going on its own. Taking a few swigs of my own, I clear my throat and ask Levi how he met my father.
“One morning I was out checking my traps and as the early morning fog was lifting I stood from my resting spot against an enormous oak tree and found that across the creek and only about thirty yards in front of me sat a man asleep against a fallen tree, after the shock of seeing another man so far out into these woods, wore off I approached him with enough vigor to make my presence known and a sufficient amount of noise to awaken the stranger. As I reached his side of the creek, he rustled awake and instantly took a bead on me. Of course, I stopped dead in my tracks and with a smile told him how much of a nice change it was to see another soul out this far into the unknown, the unforgiving forest, the core of the fear of darkness that fills the hearts of so many others.” Removing his hat, he continued, “Your dad lowered his weapon and stood to get a better look at me. He then stepped forward and with his hand out, and we shook hands for the first time and began talking. Him about his new endeavor into hunting and trapping and me about life in the woods and all it can offer a wanting rootless lost soul.”
“How can I believe a single word you have spoken? What proof can you offer that any of what you say is anywhere near what is considered the truth and why did you consider my father a ‘lost’ soul?” I mumbled out from underneath my hat as I pulled it lower down on my head. The feeling of numbness was slowly creeping up from my feet and crawling up my legs attempting to take over my entire body as I listened to Levi as his words reverberated in my ears and seeped into my head as if they were worms digging deeper into the soil to find the moisture that is desperately needed for survival. Needless to say, I was becoming more uncomfortable as the minutes inched by as my new unwanted guest’s words sank deeper and deeper creeping like snakes and growling, unlike any animal that considers this world home. Did he have the proof I had asked for? Where would that leave me if he did? Back to the beginning of confusion over the events of the past day, but can I honestly believe he wasn’t the one.
“Let’s just assume we’re all lost and some people never find their way and others even offer a trade for the path to be shown to them—your father was a trading man at heart, I could sense that from the first time I met him.” Levi let loose.
“And what did he trade for his path to be shown?” I asked.
Levi Meed just smiled and said we all trade what we have to trade to get what we want, and a strong wanting and wishing is a powerful thing to behold.
Levi sat on the edge of my porch, now with his back towards me, and began to talk of a young man new to America in the big city of New York and having the feeling of being lost and out of place. A young man from the countryside of eastern England that wanted something better, something different, something of his own and a chance to be his own man, Levi then switched to the story of love between two kids finding each other by chance on a rainy day under an oak tree and never left each other’s side after that moment.
As Levi continued his story, he kept swaying his head slowly from left then right as if looking for something off in the distance of the forest, almost as if he was reading the words from an invisible scroll written in the trees themselves. I lifted my hat a little and grabbed my jug and began to drink gulp after gulp and only then did I notice my eyes had started to water up from the story of my parents as it was being laid out before me, most I knew some I did not. Levi Meed had indeed known my father, but he wasn’t entirely off the hook yet; it could have been him who left the note and the hat.
When Levi finished his story, I stood and offered him my jug and told him I’d be back in a second. Heading inside my cabin, I moved towards the collapsing bookshelf and pulled out my copy of Milton’s exhaustive poem and retrieve the hated note from its pages and pushed it into my pocket. Grabbing my father’s hat, I headed once again towards my porch to rejoin my guest. Stepping outside I noticed Levi has shifted his position on the porch so that he is now leaning against one of the wooden pillars and facing the chair I’ll soon be sitting upon. As I move by him, I drop the hat next to him and ask if he recognizes it.
“Well, if I had to guess I’d say this is your father’s hunting hat. Sure looks like the same one he always had. Where did you find it?”
Retrieving my jug, I settle back into my chair and say, “I didn’t exactly find it, let’s just say it found me.”
“I see, and I think I understand the rifle now,” he put forth with what I swear was another small creak of a smile at the corner of his mouth. “This is what you meant when you asked if had been in your cabin isn’t it?”
Now he’s just playing dumb or coy I thought to myself, “Of course.”
“Stop calling me that. My name is Joseph.”
“My apologies Joseph, I can honestly say I wasn’t the one who placed your father’s hat in your cabin. Now, if you believe me or not is completely up to you but you must ask yourself—what would I have to gain from such an act?” His words fell like stones from the sky as he spoke them, too much weight being carried along with them. Was it just me and my paranoia or was this old man double tapping every word with extra meaning? Playing with me, toying with my obvious over emotional state, there must be a way to get at the truth, and maybe it was staring me right in the face the whole time.
What one wants and what one gets is rarely the same, we all know this yet we still strive for both to be in unison at every step. We can step forth with our right and change the entire day by choosing that first step. But, who is to say that the day we experience is better than the day started with the left. He questioned his thoughts from the very moment that he found himself knowing. People may be friends, or they may be less yet the senses that they experience their lives are their own. Who am I to take that away? Who am I but a servant? What words dare I share? Forgive me for what I know and for those secrets that I am just now letting loose. Forgive me the reasons that are only known to two.
There he was. Sitting like nothing had happened. Like the past few days had meant nothing. How could a man go thru so much and react so little?
The trees of the cemetery were bristling with an energy that wasn’t their own. She glanced once more over at him, just to see if any new movement was detectable, nothing. Why he was still wearing that awful piece was beyond her. She took a hasty look around at the stones and the names upon them. Men and women and children all long forgotten and yet still fighting to be recognized among the masses that once filled the surrounding town.
The grave markers stood strongly and defiantly in the midst of nature’s grasp, standing together as one; one message and many voices.
“Come look at this one!” he said. “See how the chisel cut away what wasn’t wanted?”
“Take that thing off so I can at least pretend to understand what you’re saying.” She said.
He lifted the mask and revealed his true identity for all to see. But no one but her was there to cringe at the site. She tried not to look. Her eyes focused on the stone before her.
“This is where the future will ponder the past.” He said.
Of all the markers to focus on he rightfully always chose this one. It meant the most. It stirred his thoughts. It scared him enough to never forget.
Sliding his contraption back on he led me out of the graveyard that rested in the middle of an abandoned society. The people had left long ago. As we walked the empty street covered in browning leaves and patches off dying grass the sky loomed close to the ground. They were hovering like a tattered blanket.
The shop fronts were frozen in time by dust and debris.
“Where are you taking me this time?” she asked.
“To show you what is unimportant, what is distinctly useless,” he said.
His true identity wasn’t immediately recognized when he had come to her a few days ago but now what he is was was becoming more and more obvious to her. At first, she had fought off the idea because she wasn’t one to believe in such ideas. However, as the days passed and the sights had come and gone she couldn’t help but begin to at least entertain the thought.
Her memory was short, going back to only a few hours before he had shown up. This certainly bothered her, but she could come up with no rational explanation.
He led her out of town and down a crumbling road pointing here and there and commenting about the state of what was left to be seen in no particular tone of voice that hinted at any meaning at all at what he chose to narrate on.
The trip was going on for what seemed like days, but the sun never set which made it hard to determine how much time had actually passed. A moonlit night tugged on her imagination as one might squint to see a distant figure just out of focus. She mostly kept her gaze at his flowing movement. Trying to place all he was saying into some semblance of a comfortable context.
“Stop!” he said. “What are you thinking at this very moment?”
Shuffling to a standstill, I said, “That no matter how far you take me I can’t help but feel that I’m getting closer, but to what I still haven’t figured out.”
He just turned his head and continued on.
Our walk finally came to an end at the edge of the stone wall that reached out in both directions until the stones reached the horizon on either side.
“Here I must leave you.” He said
“Why have you led me here?” I asked.
Taking off his mask once again he came close to her and whispered into her ear. Once what was to be said was said he simply vanished.
Stunned, she stood stiffly with confusion. Quickly snapping back she kneeled down and started to draw a figure in the dirt. What was this to be? Why was she to do it?
This was for certain though; she knew where it was to be done and when it was to be completed. She turned her back to the wall and began her journey back to the dead stones. Making her way down the broken road remembering the sights he had pointed out before she reached the empty town that was filled with empty storefronts and empty houses and moved along the deserted street towards the cemetery.
Standing at the entrance, she once again knelt and outlined the object that was described to her. Lifting her hand and staring curiously at the figure scribbled in the loose dirt a faint smile filled her lips. The triangular shape that rested before her was confusing and exciting.
“Build them a pyramid.” He had said.
She sounded out the last word and tried to give meaning to it.
She stood up and looked around at the standing stones, and if she was to finish in time, she had to get started.
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